Murphy’s Law

IMG_1108 (1024x759)Our lives have come to revolve around the seasons much more than when we were younger.  I’ve come to think of winter as the months that bring wood to our beaches so that we will have wood for our smokehouse during fishing season.  Spring is when the plants start emerging, birds lay eggs, and the anticipation of good weather, calm seas, and fishing start ebbing in the corners of our minds.  Summer, of course, is the time of plenty.  Plenty to hunt and gather.  Plenty to do.  Fall is when we are racing against time to finish gathering the last of the berries and hoping for good weather to hold long enough to be able to get enough silver salmon for the family.

Last September the husband and I were feeling quite fond of ourselves.  We had successfully gotten some silver salmon.  The weather was beginning to turn, so we decided it was time to take the boat out of the water for the winter.  I will tell you that there are two days of the year that I dread more than any others.  The day we put the boat in the water and, worse yet, the day we take it out.  Husbands and wives should really not do this task together. Especially when you have a cheap husband who insists on doing everything as cheaply as possible.  Out of principle.

The boat trailer we use is a homemade trailer.  It basically consists of a homemade frame with wheels.  Lights and wiring that is not functional.  And where most boat trailers have some sort of rail system where the boat is winched up to rest on some sort of frame that has little wheels for smooth movement of the boat, we have two huge sheets of what looks like Teflon, set in a “V”.  No winch.  When putting the boat in the water, we have to back it down the ramp and into the water deep enough so that when we slam on the brakes the boat will jerk and then slip into the water.  When taking the boat out of the water, this system necessitates actually driving the boat up onto the trailer with enough power to get it up, but not enough to go through the back window of my car.  Let me tell you that the cussing and screaming is embarrassing to say the least.  I am traumatized beyond belief on those two days.

So last September after we had successfully gotten the boat out of the water and backed up into the driveway, I was so pleased to have that done with for another season.  It was then that my husband says that he feels like we forgot something.  But he can’t think of what.  Naturally, being the OCD candidate that he is, he finally slapped his forehead several hours later and exclaimed “We forgot to take the buoy and the anchor out of the water!”  Sure enough, there was the buoy floating out from the beach about 300 feet. You can kind of make it out in the picture.  It is pink.

Many people leave their buoys and anchors out year round.  They are not in the boat traffic path and it is one less thing that you have to do when  you are ready to fish.  We never have.  But I was not about to go through the boat fiasco again.  So it stayed in the water, wintering quite well.  It was something that my husband would look at each morning when going to the beach, and something that my mother looked for out her kitchen window each morning that she got up as soon as there was enough light to see.  Wouldn’t you know that on the 10th day of spring we would have a storm that was surprisingly stormy.  And our darned buoy is gone. And worse, yet, we have no idea where the anchor is resting.

Now the husband is busy hoping that the line broke where it attaches to the buoy, and thinking of what kind of gaff he needs to devise in order to be able to get that anchor back.  I’m just shaking my head.

Hunkering down

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When you live in Alaska there are just certain things that you expect.  You expect the long days of summer when the sun barely sets before coming above the horizon again.  You expect to spend a majority of your time hunting and gathering from May through October.  You don’t know when, but you expect that first dusting of snow on the mountains, more commonly known as termination dust.  And you expect it to be cold.  In the Aleutians, we also expect wind.

February was called Qisagunax^ by the indigenous people of the Aleutians prior to 1834.  This means famine.  February was the month when you were gaining about 4 minutes of daylight per day.  It was the month when you had already braved the storms of November, December, and January.  It was the month when you were coming to the end of some of your subsistence foods.  So food was scarce.  The communities were hungry.  It was a time when you needed to get out there and find something to eat again.

It is amazing that February is also the month during our long winters that can have some of the most beautiful weather.  Perhaps my ancestors knew this about February, so they were not particularly careful about their food stocks.  They did like to party and were generous to a fault.  Perhaps they knew they could count on the most gorgeous, brilliant sunny days in February, when the tide was out really low.  And the winds abated.  They could get out in their iqyan and fish, or hunt for that stray sea mammal.  Or access the tidepools for delicacies like sea urchins, mussels, clams, octopus, limpets, chitons, and seaweed.  Then they would hunker down when those north winds picked up again, coating everything in ice from the sea spray.

On days like these ones, I like to pull a fish out of the freezer and enjoy the fruits of our labors from the summer months.  I like to be warm and toasty in my little home, not caring what is going on outside my doors.  Like the windows, everything has a hazy, muted feeling of being cut off from the world.  Especially if the wind is blowing and your ability to hear anything besides the wind is gone.  Yes….just hunkering down and enjoying my solitude.

The constant ocean.

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When I am away from home there are quite a few things I miss.  The fresh, salty air of living in a seaside community.  The oft-times starkness of the mountains rising out of the sea.  Being able to keep track of the traffic at the airport because more often than not, I hear the planes landing and departing;  turbo props, not jets.  The background noise of gulls, ravens, eagles, geese, oyster catchers, and a dozen species of ducks.  The thrum of boat engines leaving the harbor.  The wild sound of the Aleutian winds.

At the top of my list is the constant sound of the ocean.  My house sits on a natural spit of land fronted by Iliuliuk Bay which is fed by the Bering Sea.  Even on a calm day there is the little slap of waves on the beach.  As the seas get  bigger, the sound of rolling pebbles and rocks being pulled by departing waves is quite satisfying.  But the best is when it is really blowing from the north and the waves are pounding the shore like a big bass drum.  That is the time when the waves are so constant and so powerful that they shake the shore and the land, the very air that we breath, and my soul.

On the spur of the moment

My friend Zoya, who is a crazed walker and runner, called just as I was getting ready to take my husband some lunch at work.  The wind was muffling her voice so I knew she was outside.  She says “I am out at Priest Rock (I know she means Little Priest Rock) and there are so many seals sitting on the rocks, about 12 of them.  I’ve never seen so many together and they are so big.”  I verify that they are seals and not sea lions.  “Oh no, they are seals and they are so fat.  You should come take some pictures.”  (And you have to read this with an Armenian accent, by the way.)

By the time I got out there after going all the way over to airport to drop off lunch, they had decreased in numbers to about 9.  But they were so roly poly fat.  And all different colors.  Just basking away the afternoon in the winter sun;  sharing space with Emperor geese who were grazing in the near shore waters.

There are actually 8 harbor seals, but one is kind of on the other side of the rock.

There are actually 8 harbor seals, but one is kind of on the other side of the rock.

There is nothing better than being able to drive out Summer Bay road in January.  Typically we are unable to drive it past November due to snow and avalanches.

This fatty had a rock all to himself.

This fatty had a rock all to himself.

And there is nothing better than living in a place where a spur of the moment phone call from a friend equals basking harbor seals…

I love how they relax!

I love how they relax!

…and feasting fowl.

I'm assuming these guys were grazing on mussels.

I’m assuming these guys were grazing on mussels.

Thanks, Zoya!

Happy 2013!!!

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Cousins….cool cousins with their ultra cool New Year hats from the Grand Aleutian Hotel. Awaiting midnight.

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Bubbly at the ready.

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A pretty amazing show put on by the the City of Unalaska!

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Love being able to watch the show from my driveway!

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12312012 011a We had the birthday cake and cupcakes for the two New Year Birthday babies.

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Happy Birthday! Happy New Year!!

Could I say a mother’s work is never done?

Having just celebrated Mother’s Day by making my mother and myself prepare brunch for the multitudes (okay – it was totally impromtu), I have been reminising lately about motherhood.  Maybe it is because Alena has been off island attending school so much lately and we have had the added responsibility of looking after grandson number one.  You know the drill -making sure homework is done, and vitamins are taken, and enough sleep is obtained.  Schedules of school time, early release days, when is the after school program?, boots for PCR, and the ultra important – inside and outside shoes.  Of course having to also take care of the dog and cat is reminisent of something Caleb and I have already done, and vowed to never do again.  We can’t stand it when they die. 

Wild geranium (cranesbill) and wormwood (artemesia)

Perhaps it is the coming spring that is making me so introspective.  Maybe it is all the things about Unangan values and culture that I am still learning from my mother and am passing on, in a continuous stream of consciousness, to my children, who must pass it on to theirs.  It could be that life seems to be rushing me along, each year getting shorter and shorter – or so it seems.  I do find that I no longer have time to spend on folks who focus on the negative, so I have made a conscious choice that my time is no longer their time.  I know.  Radical, but good for the soul.  I would hazard a guess that turning to the far side of 50 has had a great impact on what I do and what I think!

Ah, motherhood.  The one thing I don’t miss about it because I am still totally immersed in it, is worrying about the welfare of my offspring.  So, I guess this all started on Mother’s Day, when after helping with the dishes, Laresa said, “Gotta go”, to her grandmother and me.  Off sailing.  Her second sailboat ride.  The first in the near bays.  I know that this one will be out of the bays.  And like any mother, I am a worry wart. 

She says that the sailor sailed it all the way up here by himself, on his way to Russia.  It is safe.  There are survival suits. 

I have to say that I am a bit ashamed of myself.  When Laresa got back home from her sail, she mentioned that she got a little seasick at one point.  I was tickled; full of glee.  Safe in my hope that she won’t make a real habit of sailing off into the Bering Sea.  Good god!  I am hopeless!