Well, it’s been awhile, but time to fill the woodshed. April and spring weather is here. We got our first sprinkles in a couple weeks today.

I built the wood shed last summer. It was my first real woodshed. Prior attempts were piling wood on pallets with tarps over the top, and that was certainly hit and miss for good wood drying.

We used wood from about exactly half the woodshed this winter, so unbeknownst to me, the shed seems like the perfect size. I should be able to dry wood for a year and a half before I use it.

I got out my saws. Both are Stihls. One is an 028 my dad bought me when I came to Alaska in 1983. The other I bought from Ron when he left town – an 041. It’s older than the 028, I assume, since it has no chain brake like the 028 has. It took about 10 pulls for each saw, and each sprang to life. Amazing. They’ve been sitting for at least a year, maybe 2.

The chains were in various degrees of dullness. I have bought about every type of sharpening device ever made, and I still cannot sharpen a chain very well. It’s one outdoorsman skill I have not mastered, along with sharpening a knife on a stone. I took the chains out to Don Abel, where the manager is the best chain sharpener I’ve ever been around. That was a week ago. Like most businesses, they are short handed. And this is thatching season. Which I didn’t know. They are busy renting and rerenting thatching machines like crazy. So no time yet as of today to sharpen my chains.

So, I stopped by Tyler Rental with the 041, and the tech lined me out with a new chain. He asked several questions I didn’t really know- like did I want an aggressive chain?  I had him explain what these terms met. In the end, he said the standard chain was best for me. So the standard chain, it is.

I got home, and put the new chain on the bar. Managed to knick myself on the finger with the chain. Dang, they are sharp out of the box.

I took the saw up to the wood pile, along with my 16″ inch stick and some chalk. I moved a couple logs into position with the peevee, marked out my cuts on a couple logs like my dad showed me with the stick and chalk, then cleaned where the saw would cut with my heavy gloves, either removing bark or sweeping any sand or stones away.

I put on my ear muffs with face screen, my heavy leather gloves, and cranked up the saw.

I was careful to only cut part way through each log, then roll it and cut through the top. I’m alot more careful now than in my younger years to keep the chain sharp. Especially knowing I suck at trying to sharpen one.

I had bucked up several logs when Bob showed up. I shut down the saw, and we caught up. He was just back from working in Bethel. When I told him of my chain woes, he said he had a sharpener and could make the chains razor sharp. Why do good friends keep secrets like this?  I’m guessing he’s told me this in the past- maybe even shown me the sharpening unit- but I just forgot. That seems to happen more and more these days.

After Bob left, I split several rounds, and made two trips with cart loads of wood downhill about 25 yards to the woodshed, and tossed them in. The cart is a rubbermaid cart that Bob and I found on the beach when we went hooter hunting several years ago. It’s hands down the best cart or wheelbarrow I’ve ever owned. Takes a heavy load, rolls easily, and easy to maneuver.

As I was finishing stacking the two loads, Kurt showed up. Then Sara right behind him. So we went in and had coffee.

When Kurt left, I decided to try tipping the rounds into the the cart, hauling them whole down to the shed, then splitting them there and tossing them in. I moved about 5 big rounds and many smaller ones down to the shed. Only one big round would fit in the cart at a time, so it took several trips.

I split the small rounds, then several of the large rounds til my arms and shoulders had had enough, tossed them into the shed, and then stacked them. I think I like this method best.

I’ll chip away at the logs till the shed is full, at which time I always feel a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of sort of sadness, since I enjoy splitting wood about as much as any activity I do, and when I finish, it will be another year before I do it again.

Springtime in Alaska

I scored a free working propane smoker on Craigslist. I fired it up, and it all seems in working order.

I took out 2 big bags of moose pieces to make jerky. Sara found some ancient bottles of marinade we bought at Costco. I picked one, and cut up the moose and put them in the marinade for an over night soak in the fridge.

It’s now 8 pm and I’m sitting here looking out our window on North Douglas Highway watching 4 mountain goats across Gastineau Channel feeding on the mountainside above town. They look ravenous feeding on whatever they are finding.

It’s in the 40’s.  I cross country skied Montana Creek trail today. I was the lone skier. Lots of pine needles on the trail, but the needles did not seem to impede my skiing. Still lots of snow. Maybe 2 more weeks of skiing.

When I got out to the end of the 3 km trail, I paused to listen. And there they were. Hooters booming from the hills across the valley.

I didn’t regret bringing a gun or snowshoes to go after them. They were farther away than I was willing to hike.

As I close in on 60,  hearing them is as fulfilling as harvesting them. Maybe more so.

At about 445 pm, I got the phone number of my old friend from Cuba, NY, Ozzie. I came to Alaska with him, Scott and Bob on 1983.

I texted him first to see if he was up as it was 4 hours later in NY state. He was. And then I called and he picked up before the first ring ended.

We hadn’t talked for 30? years. He sounded the same now as we did when we were both about 20 when we drove up to Fairbanks in 1983. And we talked like we hadn’t talked for a week, and not 30 years.  One of those people in your life that you shared a life changing event.

So good to talk to him. Maybe he’ll come see us next year.

Springtime Retrieval Friday

Larry and I put the bow ramp back on his boat yesterday, after he took it off to have a receiver plate welded to the top for ramps to attach to the bow ramp for loading tractors, etc. for transport. We also put on new “Ruth Evelyn” vinyl signage on the boat. It’s beautiful spring weather right now. Sunny and in the 40’s during the day. About perfect weather for me. I don’t need it any warmer. Lots of boat owners were at their boats, taking advantage of the spring weather, readying their boats for spring and summer use.

This morning, I drove up to road to load a big pipe I’m going to use as a culvert. My boat trailer is empty, and the 30″ diameter pipe was about the same length as my boat, so it fit perfect when the operator loaded it on with a forklift. Problem was getting it off when I got home. I tried jacking the rear end up with a floor jack, but now what?   I tried various iterations but no dice. Then I saw it. Back up to a nearby tree, chain the end of the pipe to a tree, and drive away. Perfect!  Now I have  my empty trailer back.

Next, I met Larry at the boat about noon. Another bluebird day, and finally the winds have laid down. We ran the boat around to my boat at Horse Island. I brought lunch because, well, after a year with Larry, you know to bring lunch. Smoked black cod, sharp cheddar cheese, and Ritz crackers. I could see Larry savoring every bite, and every other cracker sandwich he offered me. Such a treat.

As we rounded Middle Point, Larry pointed out a cow and calf orca whale.

We pulled into the anchorage where my boat was bobbing nicely behind Horse Island. We first pulled my crab pots and loaded them on board. Then Larry dropped me off on my boat, which I untied from the haulout line, and then paddled the boat out to deeper water, where Larry backed in and we tied my boat off to a tow line. We took a leisurely hour tow into the Auke Bay launch ramp. We saw a pretty big pod of harbor porpoises near Colt Island, then a little pod of Dall Porpoise joined us by the Colt Island reef. We could clearly see them speeding by the boat in the clear spring water. It never gets old.

We arrived at Auke Bay about an hour later. I had dropped my truck and boat trailer earlier in the day, and Kurt had picked me up and dropped me off at Larry’s boat. Larry dropped me and my boat off to the dock, and then proceeded to the idle up the coast to the drive down crane dock a little further north.

I put my boat on the trailer, and dropped it off at the boat mechanic to troubleshoot the injector error issue on the smart gauge, then returned to pick up Larry and we headed to town in more sunshine.

man on sled with moose on sled on bright snow of alaska

Dipnetting for Moose

man on sled with moose on sled on bright snow of alaska

Author headed south from the Yukon River to the Kuskokwim River with a load of moose meat.  Photo by Valerie Bue.


With Covid waning somewhat and a vaccine available, the stars otherwise lined up for another trip of a lifetime to hunt moose in the winter from Bethel. I arrived mid-day on Wednesday and Doug and Valerie had much of the trip preparations already taken care of. Their friend Phil would join us. Like Pat, he’s a wildlife manager for ADFG. I used Doug and Val’s extra snowgo, and Pat loaned us an extra tow sled. Weather was forecast in the 20’s with not too much wind.

We got started about 9 pm. We headed out of town. There was snow, but not much and certainly no new snow. The trail was hard and icy in most places, but not bad otherwise.

About 15 miles out, the mount on the main suspension shock on Phil’s snow go broke. We put Phil’s snow go into one of the tow sleds. Phil rode the snogo in the sled, and Dug said he could make engine sounds in his throat as he was towed back to town. We arrived back to Bethel, and Phil quickly swapped for another of his family snogos, and we were on our way by about noon.

Although I’d taken this same trip on the same trail a few years ago, it was like the first time. The earlier trip was thick fog, and while I returned on a fog tree trail that trip, the direction you are going in this country looks very different traveling north versus traveling south, as the horizon has different mountain ranges and hills in the distance.  We passed some dead snogos on the trail. One that hadn’t been abandoned very long had a coat hanging from it, and that was kind of spooky.

We traveled north to the Yukon River, about 70 miles away. Most of the trip is over tundra, with increasing brush as you reach the Yukon River drainage. We stopped for lunch about half way there. We had made sandwiches of sliced moose roast, raw onion, and either mayonnaise or horseradish, and they were the best sandwiches ever. We made camp about 15 miles from the river in a rare stand of small spruce trees, which provide a good wind block. There were tracks everywhere as soon as we left the tundra and entered the brush. Fox, marten, lynx, moose, and maybe wolverine. After an hour setting up camp, we headed on to the Yukon River, arriving about 430 pm.

We crossed the river to an island covered in willows, the primary winter food of moose here.  The willows were all about 7 feet tall, and not a single tree was unmolested. And, there was lots of moose scat. Clearly, there were lots of moose here. It took perhaps 15 minutes, when we started seeing moose, then more moose, and more moose. Groups of one or two here, 3 or 4 there, and some groups even bigger. The moose were a little nervous as I would stop to try for a shot. It wasn’t about closing the distance, but getting a clear shot at the vitals. Much of the time the moose was standing in the brush, with only the upper shoulder, hump and head visible. I’m not comfortable shooting a moose in the head at any distance over 20 yards as there’s so much mass there that could simply injure the animal, and not kill it.

Phil and I were the shooters, and he soon took a fork in a trail when he saw a moose. I continued traveling the trails, trying for a shot. Finally, a cow presented herself for a shot, and she fell where she stood. Phil already had a moose down, and I looked for more as the limit is two moose. Thankfully, I got my wits about me and thought – lets process these two first before we take any more. We’d already arrived late, and it was slowing moving towards dusk.

I’d taken a very large cow.  I pulled up alongside her with my snogo and sled. Doug unhooked the sled, and slid it under the side of the moose. Doug, Val and I then all got on one side of moose, and pushed for all we were worth and it piled right into the sled. I hooked up the sled, and returned to the fork where I left Phil, unhooked my sled, then proceeded to find Phil, who was not far down the trail working on his animal, also a large cow.

The 4 of us butchered Phil’s moose. We didn’t keep the hide, and laid the moose pieces on a tarp on the sled, and then bundled up the tarp to keep the moose in place and protected.  The sun was setting as we moved the short distance up the trail to my moose. We broke our headlamps out, and took a little break to stretch our backs before starting in on the butchering. A nice moose came out  in the open right next to use not 50 yards away. I don’t think any of us thought it would be a good idea to take a third moose.  Moose hunting here is like subsistence fishing for salmon.   Not with a gillnet though, since you can set out your net into a school of fish and before you can get it in, have way more than you want. Moose hunting here is more like dipnetting. You can meter your harvest and quit before you get too many.

Doug and I discussed this massive animal we were slowing taking apart. How would I ever pack a quarter if I had to?  Could I ever do it?  They just seemed too heavy to imagine I could. The four of us got the hide off.  Phil and Doug then did the cutting while Val and I did the the pushing and pulling of the limbs to get the quarters off. Then Phil and Doug worked their knives around the brisket. They pulled the brisket plate off, then pulled on the rope we’d tied around the esophagus and trachea to pull these towards the back, and then all the insides piled out of the moose. Next Doug started cutting off the rips while Phil worked on the neck. We cut the backbone in about half, loaded all the parts on the tarp in my sled, piled the tarp around the meat, and headed for camp. Snow white ptarmigan with their jet black tails exploded on wing in front of us as we traveled through the edge of the willows,

We arrived at camp about quarter past midnight. Valerie had made chicken and potato salad the day before for our dinner, but everyone decided to just crawl into our sleeping bags and hit the hay. What a day. Lucky for me, Phil had brought some super cool and skookum cots for the two of us. Called Roll a Cot, they only weigh 10 lbs, fold up into a compact carry, and are stout enough to hold my lard ass. Having learned from Brian than cots make all the difference in camping, I was thrilled. I felt guilty when Val harassed me the next day about not being a gentleman and offering her my cot, but I got over it pretty quick. She’ll have a cot to sleep on soon enough.

We got up the next morning about 8 am. It was well after sunrise, which surprised me when I exited the tent, since the double walls of the arctic oven blocked out the early morning sunlight. Of course we were all famished now, and Doug passed around the chicken. He also handed out some large chocolate covered salted caramel candies. The coffee in my thermos was still warm. When Phil started the fire in the little wood stove for the tent, we reheated the coffee in a pan, and enjoyed relaxing sitting on our cots and sipping coffee. Phil asked if I’d punched my tag and I realized I hadn’t, so I did that right then before I forgot.

We were in no hurry now. Doug tried to bait us to go back and get more moose, but nobody bit. We leisurely dismantled camp, loaded up our sleds, adjusted our facemasks and goggles, and headed for town in lovely spring weather of about 20 degrees. Like last  year, when we got near Bethel, we took a different route out to the Kwig River and then to the Kuskokwim. It was Friday now, and lots of activity. Lots of trucks were in one spot with people jigging for pike through the ice. Trucks were headed upriver on the ice road, some likely headed for Aniak for the camp out race back to Bethel the next morning.

We worked our way back to Bethel. When we arrived back at the house, we stretched our bones for awhile.  I helped Doug put together a rack in his shed to hang our meat. He then cut several pieces of cord for hanging. Doug and I then manhandled the quarters into the shed and hung the quarters from the rack with the cord.  Now it was time to really relax. We had soup with fresh moose for dinner. Doug played a legendary cd of music about Bethel called Paris of the Kuskokwim, and I enjoyed it so much I ordered it online for home. Now that I’ve been to town a few times, I at least sort of get the fun in the songs.

Val and Doug invited Pat and Louise and Sam and Santina and their kids for dinner the next day, as they wanted to hear about the hunting. Val broke out some of the halibut I brought out with me for them to make her signature halibut pie.  Conversation centered around hunting and trapping. And dog mushing. Dog mushing in Bethel is like hockey in Minnesota or wrestling in Iowa. Everyone knows the mushers personally, having either grown up with them, or worked or socialized with them in the community, and/or married into their families. There was a weekend race going on called the camp out race, I think. The mushers run their dogs or drive with their teams in their vehicles up the ice road on the Kuskokwim River to Aniak, camp over night, and then race back to Bethel the next day. Non-mushers go up and camp and follow the teams back to Bethel as well. There may have been some prize money, but it wasn’t much. The race is more of a fun run and spring tradition.

On Saturday, Doug and I started in on the butchering in the shed while listening to old time country music on KYUK until it was time for the March Madness games streaming on XM radio on my phone.

I deboned the four quarters into game bags, and each quarter averaged about 45 lbs each in meat. Doug cut the ribs to size for their instapot, They love moose ribs, and there’s lots of ribs on a moose. Doug also trimmed the meat off the neck, which is considerable. We then cut out the back straps, the meat between the ribs below the back straps, and the tenderloins. Doug and Valerie ground this for burger and it totaled 50 about 1 lb packs, and they were happy campers. We saved the bones and brisket for their neighbor, and also trimmed a front quarter that Pat gave her.

The Camai dance festival was also going on. It’s a big deal, with dance groups from all over coming in, and this year’s event was the first semi-normal one after the event was cancelled for the past year or two due to Covid. Louise mentioned there were vendors selling wares. I noticed she was wearing some ivory earrings of Billikens. I thought- I should have gone over to get something for Sara.  Of course I had this revelation on Monday, after the event was over. I asked Louise about earrings, and luckily she found some vendors were advertising on Facebook after the dance. I found some earrings I thought Sara would like, and arranged to go get them after Doug and I returned from checking his traps.

On Monday, we headed out to some beaver ponds not far from town on the snogos to check Doug’s sets. He had three sets of 330’s set for beaver and otter.  We took .22’s in case we found some ptarmigan.  The sets were empty, and Doug reset them all. We got near a small flock of ptarmigan on the way home, and Doug got one.   Doug sent me a photo today and said he got a beaver in one of the sets.

We ran over to get the earrings. I was met by a nice elder woman who thanked me in Yupik for buying her creations. We refilled the gasoline jugs we’d used on the hunting trip, and I was surprised to see the fuel price was the same as Juneau. Modern snogos seem incredibly efficient, as Doug thought we’d burned about 10 gallons per machine going to and from the Yukon River, including the switch back for Phil’s sled. And pulling all the camping gear and  moose in the tow sleds.

One of Val and Doug’s good friends, and also a friend to my niece, asked us over for dinner on Monday. They have a new house on Brown’s Slough, and their 2 year old is like a grandson to Doug and Val. The mother is a nurse at the hospital, and dad works on the slope. The chili for dinner was made from chicken and white beans. I’d never had it before and it was fantastic. The couple had grown up together in Bethel and loved living there, it seemed.

The meat I brought home as luggage made it fine in two 33 gallon totes, and the meat I air freighted in two similar totes came in early the next morning. I butchered one tote of meat after working my part time job back at ADFG before the scout meeting, then a second tote after the scout meeting. I did about 90 lbs in 5 hours, so about 18 lbs an hour is my rate to dissect, trim, portion, bag, vac pack and put the meat into the freezer. Why I care about this measure, I don’t know. I did the front quarters tonight, and they took a little longer, but Sara helped by doing the vac packing and labeling. Part of the satisfaction of butchering is thinking about the whole trip you did getting the meat.

We had moose pepper steaks with onions and peppers over fresh salad both nights.

Tenakee Run

Went to Tenakee with Larry and his friend, Pastor Gordon Blue, and a couple people heading to Tenakee, along with a load of freight. Lumpy run down Chatham, and really lumpy across the mouth of Freshwater Bay as the tide was stacking up against the wind. Once we turned into Tenakee Inlet, it was flat calm all the way to town. We saw the usual group of sea lions lounging on their haulout.
We offloaded quickly with our extra help. Gordon was a career crab fisherman before a pastor, so was a great help. We picked up a short term deckhand from the crane dock, and took him with us to help Nick and Molly load their table saw at their beach to send it to their friend in Juneau.

He was a fun 30 something to talk to. He’s met his wife in Idaho, she visited his family in Tenakee, and said “let’s move here!”. So they did. The kid said he was doing odd jobs around town, which I think can be a full time job in this town of retirees and continuous construction, remodel, appliance repair, commercial fishing, and firewood cutting.  When I asked what his dad did, it sounded like the same thing. And his dad was a Toyo stove fixer, which is always in demand. I thought how refreshing it was to meet someone (and apparently his father) just living sort of in the moment, and not on some career path or corporate ladder or professional job with a mortgage. Remote, community life as in much of Alaska’s rural communities without a road system. A lot different perspective that those of us in larger towns with soccer practice and Costco and running around all the time. Every passenger we take to or from Tenakee seems to have their own unique story.

I did all the driving and maneuvering this trip. Earlier, Larry would do the close up work around the docks, and I’d take over for the open water driving. I’m finally getting the hang of twin jets with Larry’s coaching. The main thing to remember is whether you are going forward or reverse, turn the wheel in the direction you want the bow to go. When maneuvering, you generally put the boat in gear, at an idle, and then use the forward and reverse levers on the jets to move to the moorage.  Larry picked it up a lot faster than I did, and now he’s getting me there.

The way home was a lot better seas. We made it back in half the time as the trip down, as we had a lighter load and ran on step the whole way. Still not many boats out this time of year, and I saw one humpback whale heading north near the Kittens Islands at Funter Bay.

Tenakee Whale

Went with Larry on a trip to Tenakee today. As we rounded East Point into Tenakee Inlet, we noticed something different floating to the south. I thought it was some kind of big metal buoy with a lifting eye on it. Others thought it might be an overturned boat. As I idled over towards it, I looked through binoculars and………..it’s a dead whale with a raven on top.

This is the first dead whale I’ve seen up close.  It smelled a bit, but the smell was not overwhelming. As we were approaching the whale, a very live bull orca swam by at a distance. It did not seem interested in the carcass.  Tenakee being Tenakee, several of our passengers from Tenakee are on the whale entanglement response group or did other marine mammal work, so they all got busy taking photos of the whale, the gps position on the plotter screen, and speculating on why the whale may have died.

The whale was clearly a humpback whale, with long white pectoral fins, and it was floating belly up. About 10 to 15 feet of the pleated lower jaw was out of the water. At first I thought it was a juvenile whale. But as we came around to the rear of the whale, I could see the peduncle and the tail – 10 to 15 feet below the surface. So at about 30  feet, this seems to be an adolescent or young adult.

I wondered what this whale had seen in it’s life. From being born elsewhere- probably Hawaii – to it’s migrations to Alaska. Maybe it went back and forth to Hawaii most years, but maybe it stayed here some winters, as humpback whales do. I don’t know enough about humpbacks to tell it’s age, but they can live as long as we do, and maybe longer.

We off loaded people and goods at 2 beach locations in front of passenger’s homes. We arrived right at high tide, so lucky for the passengers to get their goods off loaded so close to their house for a short pack in. I’m still learning to drive the twin jets on the boat, and got backed in to one beach, but we were easily pushed off.

On the way home, we swung over to Corner Bay to pick up some yellow cedar heading to Juneau, and we were on our way.

On our way back to Juneau a couple hours later, a slight chop had replaced the flat calm seas we had on our way in. We could not find the whale again for the young mother and her toddler heading to Juneau with us to see. The whale may have drifted south, and we were heading north, and the chop made seeing it at a long distance more challenging.

We did sight what we thought was the same lone male orca whale we’d seen near the humpback whale, heading the same direction as we were.   Shortly after seeing the whale, I noticed the port engine was a little over normal temperature. I reduced speed to an idle, and turned off the port engine. Larry cleared out the intake screen, where I’d likely sucked up some debris when I got backed into the beach. I restarted the port engine and turned off the starbard engine and Larry cleared that one, too, just to be sure. That solved the port engine issue and we made our way home in about 2 hours. Another trip to Tenakee, and no two are the same.