Neighbors
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On calm days with calm seas sound travels across water, bringing bellows and roars to our ears as the Steller sea lions hauled out on a rock a mile or so away make their presence known. Sometimes one of us is compelled to "speak" back to them across the distance. It's spring here and that means every form of life is waiting for the herring to arrive, to feast on the six-inch long, 200-gram herring ready to spawn. We know the sea lions use those calories and we would like to get a few ourselves. Perhaps if they spawn in Village Islands this year, we can collect some kelp with roe on it for a delicious spring meal. Our favorite way is to take fresh herring roe sacs and lightly boil them in salty water for 5 minutes until just cooked. The texture and taste isn't far from shrimp, mild with that little pop on the first bite.

Since it's still too early for the herring, and one never knows where they will spawn anyway, we, as well as the sea lions, wait. One recent day when we were in the skiff anyway on a mission to collect beach peat from Uganik River as compost for our garden, we decided to pay these blubbery neighbors a visit, keeping a respectful distance. That these marine animals, graceful and swift underwater, manage to heft their bulk (males can be almost 2,500 pounds, while females grow to be 1,00 pounds) onto tufts of shale boulders jutting up from the ocean is a testament to their incredible strength. We marvel and photograph them, no plexiglass windows or chain link fences separating us while we share the environment around us. Not wishing to disturb their rest, we leave them to their outdoor perch to catch more sun while day dreaming of tasty oily herring. 

And then there are the human neighbors, much quieter but still a pleasure to visit. In this little corner of the world, we can count 2 families and 3 individuals who reside here year round. A day or two after our visit to the sea lions, Tollef brought the old-timers who live a walk away some birch water from our trees (read last spring's post about the birch water), garden mint, and newspapers. He came home with 2 pieces of leftover salmon servings for our lunch. Ironically, though we sell our lovingly-caught salmon from summer through late winter, we do not keep a freezer connected at our house when we are gone in the winter, so springtime leaves us without any fresh frozen salmon. The salmon we eat in spring is all our own canned salmon we put up last fall. We relish that, but it is an unexpected joy to remember the clean taste and beautiful, almost astonishing, bright red color of Uganik bay sockeye fillets. This humble gift of home and of place fed our hearts just as much as our muscles.

How lucky we are to be able to live among such neighbors.

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Equinox
 In honor of equinox, raindrops balance on salmonberry canes, adorning our habitat with calm.

In honor of equinox, raindrops balance on salmonberry canes, adorning our habitat with calm.

If you google Equinox, it will tell you that the date of equal day and night is March 20th this year. It is associated with a time of balance, and of course a celebration of spring. And we can definitely appreciate all those sentiments!

But in Kodiak, things feel a little different to us, perhaps less on the side of calm balance and more on the side of excited energy. We actually broke 12 hours of sun above the horizon a few days ago, on the 18th. Today the sun rises at 8:10 am and sets at 8:24 pm here and we are gaining more than five minutes of daylight a day. Add on the lingering hours of twilight in the morning and evening and it feels like we have come light years from the depths of winter. The accelerating pace of daylight gain (more than 30 minutes a week) is like the highest quality caffeine pumped directly into our nervous systems.

 Grinding off the mangled/rusty end of the trailer tongue. Can't wait to get the skiff in the water!

Grinding off the mangled/rusty end of the trailer tongue. Can't wait to get the skiff in the water!

It's time to get out to Uganik, and we can't help but start thinking and talking more frequently about fishing. In just a few days, weather permitting, we will be there. Now we are busy getting ready. Maintenance is a required chore in a maritime environment with salt and humidity throwing their weight around heavily. The skiff trailer, though galvanized steel, had some metal fatigue on the tongue where the receiver for the ball hitch is bolted on. Switching out the lower unit on the outboard was a necessity due to the strains of rapid shifting in heavy weather while jockeying up to the net. And then there is the ordering of supplies to come up by barge from Seattle - greenhouse material to keep expanding our home-grown food ability, 150-pound anchors for the sets, and a bulk food order, to name a few. In town we are loading up with new web, leadline, and corkline for new nets; a new wind generator (living off the grid in winter, especially in a northern latitude with limited solar gain means harnessing free wind power); building supplies for working on our house, including sacks of special high density concrete to make our wood stove hearth safe and create a heat sink; gardening supplies; food (do we need 5 dozen eggs or 10 dozen for a month stay?) and what seem like a million specific fittings, for indoor and out.  Each day we ponder projects over coffee, walk in and out of stores with multiple lists, and though crossing things off is a particular joy, somehow daily we seem to add as many things to them as we accomplish, so the lists never seem to shrink!

In just a few days, weather permitting, we will be laying a frothy white wake behind us pointed 60 miles to home, away from the trappings of commerce. Our brains will begin to change frequency to a slow nature-based rhythm that takes some time to fully reboot to. Being joyfully busy with meaningful projects while attuned to Alaskan life where work is visible and deeply satisfying is what we love. All the while everything is wrapped in mother nature's embrace, suitably balanced. 

Of Water Towers And Mountains

Musings inspired by a drive through Southern Minnesota

 Mountains of Kodiak Island rise up seemingly straight from the ocean.

Mountains of Kodiak Island rise up seemingly straight from the ocean.

Last weekend's quest for just the right display freezer to showcase our fish led us on a wild goose chase involving almost three hours of driving. But it was a beautiful goose chase. With eyes still partially dilated from the morning’s optometrist visit, I relaxed in the passenger seat under ridiculous clunky shades while Tollef drove, taking in the subtle grace of southern Minnesota’s gently rolling snow-bright farmland and endless cloudless skies. 

Out of the corner of my eye a white water tower broke the horizon, momentarily confusing me into thinking a mountain existed. I laughed at the thought, knowing how far we are from that kind of topography, but I supposed my brain was just using its unconscious mental shortcut, built over a lifetime of living in Alaska, that turns a mindless glimpse of something white and taller than all of the surroundings into a “snow covered peak,” especially since there are no water towers that stand out like this in Kodiak.

While my Alaskan soul is filled with water and mountains, I am grateful to be putting forth roots and deepening my sense of the spirit of this part of the world. Perhaps there’s a kind of similar energy between the wild ocean-meets-mountain makeup of Alaska and the vastness of wide-open former prairie of Minnesota. And perhaps that energy was permeating my psyche when my brain turned a water tower into a mountain. 

As my mind wanders, Tollef is also lost in his own thoughts, both of us captivated by the  passing landscape.


The fields flash by on the way to Rochester, not familiar to Adelia but full of connections for me: Cannon Falls, where my grandma was born near where we would stop at the landmark Cannonball gas station on the way to visit relatives in Wanamingo. My great-grandparents lived in a little white house there in the 1980's after farming for 40-some years in the area. The next exit, Pine Island flashes by and the urge to pull off is stronger, with more vivid memories of visiting the same great-grandparents in a nursing home there in the 1990's, and of Grandpa showing me his "crooky" finger after it was slammed in a cattle gate many years prior. I look at my own hands and think it would be interesting to compare our hands, fisherman to farmer; though I have a significant scar from ripping a halibut hook out of my finger, I bet he would have won the gnarly hands contest at this point. Another exit is coming up, this time for Red Wing where that same grandpa had worked at the Red Wing Shoe factory until he was 30 and said the heck with that life and took up farming his wife's family's small dairy farm.


As a hawk soared over an undulating wave of farmland, the intrinsic connection we share with those who derive a living off this land of water towers was strong in both our thoughts. Whether it's from the farm or from fishing, both supply raw food to people, and there is the similar satisfaction of accomplishing what needs to be done with one's hands, of experiencing the full-body tiredness at the end of the sun-up to sun-down kind-of-work. The productivity of both farmers and fishers fuels people for their daily lives and our work fuels our souls, allowing the raw elements of mother nature to permeate our skin cells, whether that's the dirt of the land, or salt from the sea. All of it soaks through to the core of our being, building who we are and forming our energy into dreams, the impetus for fashioning the world around us for future generations. 

-Adelia and Tollef

 

Bent Icicles
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You know it's been windy when your icicles don't hang down straight. A good few days of Northwest 40 followed by Northeast 50 will do that, we learned. The wind is a vital part of the landscape and life we've chosen, and even when it changes our plans, we find ways to appreciate it.

Last week we wanted to fly to Kodiak to visit friends and family before heading off on another jaunt to Minneapolis. Tuesday was clear but with a stiff Northwest breeze. Watching the whitecaps building on the rising tide, we doubted a plane would come. The mail plane, a DeHavilland Beaver providing once-weekly USPS service, did make an appearance, but the pilot decided, when he was about 10 feet off the water, that it was too rough to land, so he pulled up and flew away to wait for a better day. Wednesday, the weather switched to Northeast, with blowing snow and zero visibility. 

Thursday brought waves from one of the highest tides of the year, 22.4 feet which, combined with storm force winds, completely obliterated the beach, surging up into the grasses on the bank. A 30-foot driftwood log drifted in on the waves and rolled against our shores while long-tailed ducks and otters floated, buoyant and graceful. Five or six bald eagles congregated on the other end of our beach, and soon ravens circled over to take a look, wondering if something interesting had been stirred up by the storm. 

Our animal neighbors seem to be unperturbed by the storm, even in their element. And we, too, are more than happy to be exactly where we are. Knowing that travel in Alaska, especially in winter, happens according to mother nature’s schedule, not ours, we have left many days’ buffer between our trip to Kodiak and the next plane – a 737 to Anchorage. Eventually the wind and snow will subside and the plane will come, but for now we are happy to be given a little more time to soak in the unique energy of our ever-changing home.

The wind also gives us the not insignificant gift of more time to get our home buttoned up properly before our absence. Leaving isn’t just a question of locking the door behind us and walking away. It’s about timing everything to be wrapped up by the time the plane comes but not too much before. We drain the water system in the house, because even though we have used pex pipes that can expand with water freezing in them, the fixtures don’t like it at all. We found that out last year, losing a nice Delta faucet to freezing. There are the ashes to empty from the wood stove and the firebox to stock up, making sure nice dry wood is ready to kick on when we return. The old 4-wheeler must be maneuvered under the house, the back-up generator stored with fuel stabilizer, and maybe most importantly, we have to remember to pack the almighty list generated from projects that need more parts or materials needed for the next improvements. There's nothing like being your own designer, engineer, carpenter, plumber and welder, or maybe more appropriately, jack of all trades and master of none. Working at the art of living in remote Alaska and sustaining ourselves, we are all the while following in previous footsteps and learning from those currently around us.

Our house is ready to hibernate, leaving us ready to go. And finally the weather clears for a brief window before the next storm system rolls in. In to town we go, loading the plane with a lower unit from one of our outboards, an empty propane tank, and our personal gear. The wind-induced home time has slowed and centered us,  and the feeling is only amplified by the calm flight over Kodiak's fjord-like bays and snowy peaks. We don't feel rushed, just grateful for the wilderness and its attendant weather. It's all about waiting for the perfect timing.

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