Day of Gratitude

Stopped by the shop with the crab cooking pot I cleaned from Chris’s boat. While I was there, he wanted to give me a couple quarters of deer from their hunt. We went to the freezer, he opened up an 80 lb box full  of quarters, and I grabbed a couple quarters. Chris added two more for good measure. They were beautiful. He’d glazed the whole quarters, just like you do fish.

It’s the first time I can remember I’ve been given raw meat because I didn’t get any deer myself, for the second year in a row no less. But also surprised at how grateful I am. Gives me a good sense of the gratitude others who’ve been on the receiving end of our sharing of fish and game and gathering over the years that I really hadn’t considered much until now. And Chris seemed really happy reminiscing about the success we just had getting king crab and how happy all the people that went along were – many who don’t set foot on a boat very often, much less a big platform boat like his.

Happy to be butchering meat inside with a cozy wood stove ablazing and unlimited espresso from the new machine while it’s a chilly 10 degrees outside, with sun, but that breeze on the waterfront that cuts like a knife.

deer meat on cutting board in a kitchen
Crab tail meat on a cutting board

Crab tails, coffee machines, alternators, and other life lessons

We pulled the king crab pot yesterday. I forgot on day 1 to keep the king crab tails. I kept them all yesterday, and sure glad I did. We got 8 more crab for the new people we had on board, and I saved the tails as we cleaned the crab. I steamed them when I got home, and opened each one up to get the meat out. There is a LOT of meat in a king crab tail – and 8 of them make for several crab sandwiches. The photo is of the meat from a crab tail on the left, the shell it was removed from on the right, with a Bic lighter for scale.

We had some of Chris’s crew and Sara’s staff on the boat today, along with my brother in law’s nephew and his boss from Craig, a Russian friend of the Ukranians who has lived in town a couple decades, and another friend of Chris. I had to twist Jeff’s arm to get him to give me his proxy form so I could bring one back to him. He likes to make it hard to do a favor for him.

Turns out one of Chris’s crew had worked in the alternator shop here in town, and she seemed to really know her stuff. I may get her to check out my whole 12 volt system on the tug to give me some advice to have enough juice to run the little freezer and maybe the new smoker I got for Christmas next summer. I had one of Sara’s staff, who fished and worked for Fish and Game out of Kodiak and the Bering Sea, talk to Chris about possible work at the legislature, as Chris is a wealth of fisheries knowledge and an excellent writer from his years working as a seafood consultant for his dad.

I went out to Chris’s boat today. We were careful to clean the crab well yesterday, and so I wanted to save some of the broth left in the pot from steaming them all for Chris’s daughter to use for stock. I poured some off through a strainer into a pickle container, then planned on cleaning the pot for Chris. The crab residue was frozen on, so I took the pot home with me to clean it properly.

I then went skiing at Montana Creek, and it was fantastic. But crap. I’m out of shape. It about killed me. But wonderful. Such a pretty trail that runs along beautiful Montana Creek. I was almost back to the start when Mark called. My alternator was fixed.

I stopped there on the way home, and he said that the alternator I took off was now cleaned and tuned up. And the brand new spare did not work. He asked several questions about where I got it. He showed me how it was supposed to be hooked up, which wasn’t the same hook up as the one I took off!  I may have fried the unit myself. More tuition. And it may possibly have been just a loose belt that was making the fluctuations in the charging, and nothing else. Chris’s dad Eric, who taught me to troll, told me to always suspect the simplest, easiest solution first when you have a problem. I did check to see if the belt was tight to the touch. And I thought it was. But Mark showed me how to test it properly – if I could turn the alternator pulley by hand with the engine off, the belt was not tight enough. I didn’t try that. More tuition.

When I got home, though, past tuition started to pay dividends. Sara’s espresso maker is kind of tired. I spend a lot of time trying to make it work for her (and occasionally me) properly. A person had a fancy shmancy Mr Coffee espresso latte cappuccino maker on Craigslist for 20 bucks. Said she only used it a couple times. I’ll take it, I replied. She could even deliver it when she took her kid to hockey practice. Then she got back to me and said the pick up tube for the milk was missing, so she’d just give it to me if I still wanted it. Sure!  I said.

She dropped it off, and it did look like new. I saw where the tube had broken off. When I tried finding a replacement online, I could not find any vendor that had one in stock. The tube fits into a socket, and the top part of the tube was up in the socket, but the part from end of the socket to the bottom of the milk container had somehow broken off. I took the top of the container with the socket to the hardware store, and found a piece of 5/8 inch clear tubing fit snugly over the socket (not inside of it). I paid the $1.72 for the foot of tubing, and headed home. I measured the tubing to the bottom of the tank, and needed to cut it in half to be the right length. Which was great, as now I’ll have a spare. I filled the container with water just to try it, and it worked!

I bought milk on the way home from skiing today. I poured the water out of the milk container and loaded the milk. I first tried the latte function, and out it came. First the milk. Then the espresso. Perfect!  After I finished that, I tried making a cappuccino. Same result!   I looked up the machine online, and a new one is over $300. A win.

So 1 loss and 1 win for this 60 year old this week. I’ll take it.

Crab tail meat on a cutting board

Winter King Crab

We got about a one week winter king crab season for personal use fishing in the Juneau Area.  The season opened yesterday, and I went with Chris to set his pot.  The regulations allow one pot per boat, and one crab per family, for the season.  So it usually works out that people with boats and king crab pots and usually a mechanical puller (run by hydraulics, gasoline or dc electric) set their pots, and then they go out to check the pot with a bunch members of other families, each with a permit for one crab.

I hadn’t had much contact with the Ukranian family since late last winter, when they would go out with us fishing for salmon and crab in the channel.  I was out on the tug most of the summer and so regrettably didn’t get them out salmon fishing.   I got in touch with them and they were eager to go.  Mom was working now for the school district, dad for a contractor, the older son in high school still didn’t talk much, and the elementary school daughter was a chatter box, now with perfect English.

Two of Sierra Leoneon sisters also went – Absatu and Dorothy.  Chris’s cousin who recently moved back to town, and who had done missionary work in places like Peru and Papau New Guinea were also aboard, along with Bob and I.  It was like a floating United Nations out there.

It was a cold morning, so we let the boat warm up a half hour, then steamed about about 45 minutes to the pot Chris and I set the day before.  I hung the buoy line with the grapple hook, helped Chris work it onto the hydraulic hauler, then Chris had me run the hydraulic valve while he coiled the line by hand.  The pot came up from about 300 feet in a minute or two.  And it was plenty full of keeper king crab, along with a few tanner crab.

Chris and I attached the bridle of the pot with the hook from a line on the boom, then Chris lifted the pot with the hydraulics over the deck.  His cousin let loose the bottom purse of the pot, and the crab fell to the deck.   I rebaited the bait bags while the rest of the crew ogled all the crab.  We took the 6 biggest king crab and 2 tanner crab, and threw the rest back – many of which were also legal size.

Chris re-positioned the boat to the spot he wanted, and he and I and his nephew pushed the pot back overboard.  Tomorrow we’ll have new people with us to get crab for them.

Before we headed to town, I filled out my crab permit with my catch of one, and I helped the Ukranians and Africans fill out their permits, as permits need to be filled out before leaving the harvest site.

Next, I lit the crab cooker as Chris headed the boat back to the harbor.  I put a few inches of sea water in the bottom of the big pot. Only 3 halves of king crab would fit in the big pot at a time.  It took about 10 minutes of steam to cook each batch.  As we pulled into the harbor about 45 minutes later, we were pulling out the last batch – the two tanner crab – and all the crab was cooked when we tied up.

A beautiful day, with high overcast skies and temperature in the 20’s, and a lot of happy campers.

fishermen on crabbing boat in Alaska
man lifting a large crab net on boat in Alaska

New Year Subsistence

Back to Juneau and glad to have some subsistence activities to do, even though I hadn’t got any deer this year. First, Chris said to come get some tanner crab left over from the pile that his girls couldn’t finish eating. Happy to!  He had a half a 6 gallon bucket full of cooked halves. I spent an hour at the sink picking all the meat. Got about a dozen cups of crab meat, I’d guess. Of course I had to eat some as I picked. Oh, it’s my favorite crab. Felt good to stand. But when I tried to take a step after standing there all that time- oh, my knees were stiff. 60 sucks.

Then started in on making bone broth. Chris’s hunting crew saved a big fish box full of leg bones for me, which I put in the freezer before I went to Craig. I cut the bones into pieces with tree limb loppers to expose the marrow, and filled up my big canning pot until near full. That used about half the bones from the box. I put the remainder of the bones back into the freezer.

I took the pot of bones down to the stove, removed the bone pieces from the pot, and roasted them on baking trays in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes until the meat on the bones was browned. Then put the wire jar holder into the bottom of the pot, and piled all the bone pieces back into the pot, filled it with water, and put the pot on the cook stove. When the water was simmering, I transferred the pot to the wood stove for a long slow simmer through the evening and overnight.

This morning, the broth was gelling- which signifies perfect. I put the pot into one sink and an empty canning pot into the adjoining sink. Then pulled out the bones from the stock with the jar holder and put the bones into the other pot. That worked pretty good. Only a few bones fell back in the pot or into the sink.

I filled the pot of bones with water and put it on the stove to simmer. Looked like I could get at least another batch of stock out of these bones.

I took a handled strainer and skimmed off the pieces of meat, fat and gristle from the stock. Then ladled the stock into large Costco yogurt containers – about 6 cups filled each container. The first batch made 7 containers, plus a couple cups Sara wanted left out for immediate use.

When the the second pot of bones was simmering, I transferred the pot to the wood stove for round two as light snow flurries fell on the barren yard. We sure need snow. Still not cross country skiing and it’s January 2.

Another good friend is in failing health. He has been my fish business mentor since he started processing salmon for me more than 2 decades ago, and been down in Washington for some time. I called down a few weeks ago and spoke to his daughter, who said her dad was resting and comfortable. Wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. When his plant manager called me this morning and said he was in Hospice and wasn’t coming back to Juneau, well, that answered that question. He has been such a kind friend to me all these years, giving me valuable advice on fish processing, shipping, and many other aspects of selling fish that saved me a lot of mistakes he’d already made. Plus, of course, his colorful opinions on city, state and national politics and issues. He has been a quiet pioneer in Alaska processing, introducing such things as canned fish in pouches, and after helping me develop a recipe for dog treats from salmon scraps for my own business, continued on with them on his own when we quit selling them ( With a heart of gold,  he gave many people jobs who likely couldn’t have kept one elsewhere. His plant was his home and staff his extended family.

Postscript: Dick passed away today.  This is a photo from the Juneau Empire. Dick was active in the VFW post here.  Rest easy, Dick.

jars on counter of pickled vegetables

Well, I’m 60

Made it to 60. Not sure if others are as terrified as I am reaching 60. Worried mostly about having to “slow down”. I got out about 10 days of deer hunting this year. My hip is my biggest concern. I’ve got bursitis, so it’s not a replacement kind of thing to fix it. Just need the bugger to heal. It’s been bothering me for about 15 months now, and that’s what I’m scared of I guess: coming to a day I can’t go deer hunting by myself. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if I had a lot of hunting partners, but I don’t. Partners I’ve had either moved or got married or are hobbled themselves.

My siblings were good about not buying me birthday presents. They know I don’t need anything. They donated money to the local Salvation Army. My only gift was from the state of Alaska. I got my lifetime hunting, fishing and trapping license when I turned 60. What  a deal.

Another reflection at 60 is all the people who mostly didn’t make 60 that I’ve lost along the way, mostly over the past 10 years, from family back home (Emily Schreiber, Johnny Lindquist, Clyde Peabody, Mike Darling, Gene Ayers, Butch Lyautey, Mark Dubose, Todd Metz, Mike and Jolie Eaton, my cousin Elaine Eaton’s daughter, and Jim Aiello), to a friend from St John Fisher College I attended from 1982-1983 (Heather Gould Williams), to friends from University of Alaska I attended from 1984-1986 (Scot Geiger, Simon “Hubba Jay” Harpak, Kathy Stockholm), to my friend Jimmy Rayburn from Mississippi State University.

Several Peace Corps friends are gone – Bob Dach and Suzanne Stenholt Wolfe from cancer. Phillip Hellmich and Jean Wenzel died their own way. Kevin Honness drowned when his kayak capsized under some sweepers on the Bad River in South Dakota. Andrea’s husband Allen Lowe died from an aneurysm. After miraculously and courageously surviving the civil war in their country, Francis Kamara, Solomon Saidu and Tamba Saidu died from Ebola in Sierra Leone just a few days apart.

Then there are all the Alaska friends who’ve passed away  – several workmates like Jim McCullough, Arnie Shaul, Scott Shelton, and Dave Owen from my Kodiak days. From Sand Point, Judy Hamik lost her son Kai at sea on a fishing boat, and her husband Tom passed unexpectedly soon after. Sara’s sister Jane died from MS and a multitude of health problems.

We lost Scott Johnson and Debbie Uotila to cancer here in Juneau. Clyde Andrews died of a heart attack walking his dog, I think. And less than a year ago, we lost Terry Schwartz to an undiagnosed brian tumor.

That seems like a lot of people dying too young to me, and not sure if others that reach 60 have had the same experience, or I’ve just been lucky to have so many good friends from so many places. It’s seems important for me to remember all these friends who passed away and somehow think me remembering them means something to their time on earth.

These friends, of course don’t count my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and others that died of old age or a combination of cancer and old age.

Still, I’ve got lots of friends and family still around and feel lucky to have them all.

Looking back on 60 years, I think back on life changing events. The first was moving to Alaska. I was at SUNY Cobleskill in 1982 when a kid from the next town over, Scott Jordan, said he was going to Alaska. They had a college up there he was going to. I couldn’t have found Alaska on the globe at the time. I only knew that’s where I saw Virgil Ward catch all those fish on his tv show. I want to go, too, I told him. Soon, there were 4 of us, and we left late the next summer. Scott in a little hatch back, and me in a Ford F100 with a 3 on the tree. I worked 3 jobs that summer and my dad and brother did body work to fix up the truck I think I bought for $300. My uncle Dick gave me a nice topper he had. Off we went.

The first years in Alaska were where I found some independence. I was a long ways from home, so had to figure it out myself. Many of my new friends were in the same point in their lives. The Alaska kids that befriended me helped me feel at home, especially when they saw I looked like a lifer for this place.

The biggest life changer, however, was joining the Peace Corps. I drove the shuttle bus from lower to upper campus at UAF. The bus would get you up there in short time. If you had back to back classes on each campus, you couldn’t walk the distance in time. That’s where I met Don Jackson, an Arkansas native who created quite a buzz in the fisheries department. He was a guy who cared about the importance of fish to people, not just the status or economic importance of a fish stock. He’d just come back from the Peace Corps in Malaysia, where he was an instructor at the University there. Don would ride the bus and we talked about life and he lit a spark in me about the opportunity for professional enrichment – not a humanitarian pilgrimage – by joining the Peace Corps. By the next spring, I completed the onerous application process for the Peace Corps and eventually got my assignment to Sierra Leone – a country I’d never heard of. Didn’t even know what continent it was on. But as long as I was doing fisheries, that’s all that mattered.

I was to meet 7 of my closest friends to this day. We trained together for 10 weeks at the University of Oklahoma. It was an intensive, non-traditional training. They groomed us to be aquaculture extension agents, and not hopeless romantics out to save the world. By the time we were on our way to Africa – 3 of us to Sierra Leone and the other 4 to Liberia – all we wanted to was build fish ponds and get raising some tilapia. All the intercultural experience was just a necessary evil to get raising fish.

Of course, the intercultural experience made the lasting mark, along with the fish work. I could never see the world or my place in it the same. I consider myself as overly rich, while not having done much to get it. I worked my government job, invested money for retirement, and when I reached age 55, I retired. Had I not been to Sierra Leone, I would have considered myself a self-made man, accumulating savings by frugal spending and showing up for work everyday. But I now knew there were people who worked twice as hard as I ever would, who literally grew their own food, who could save money all their lives to no avail since their currency was worth so little, who had no stock market to invest in even if their money was worth something, and certainly no pension or social security system to retire on. Retirement wasn’t a part of their lexicon. Someone would only quit working if they were physically unable to, meaning they might likely be at death’s door.  This whole 40 hour work week and saving for retirement and vacation and a car are purely a Western condition. For Sierra Leone farmers, life is their farms and family and village politics and secret societies. Not unlike Alaska villages, I was living with a village of people whose family tree extended back thousands of years at this same location. Their village was central to their being, consciousness, identity, and self-worth. They were happy, for the most part.  With no money.

Learning that money doesn’t make you happy was an important lesson. Many never learn or learn it too late and die with millions in the bank in poor health, having not gone on that deer hunt so they could cash out their vacation leave when they retired, or got themselves so in debt borrowing to buy a house or car or boat above their means that they have to work til they’re old, or get a second job, that they are a slave to the American way of life. I was lucky. I didn’t just see retirement and investment and saving and living within my means as a practical thing to do, but saw it as one of the biggest privileges we have born into this country. But it’s also a choice: a person can easily get in over their head buying shit they don’t need or that’s above their means, only to be a slave to it the rest of their lives.

And of course, another game changer was meeting Sara. We joke that although we were at UAF at the same time, there was no way in  she’d have dated me then. When we met in Juneau, though, I’d spent 2 years in west Africa, and Sara a year in Vladivostok. Yes. THAT Vladivostok. So we both had shook much of the success = a house with a 2 car garage and a pile of debt living paycheck to paycheck.  At the time, she was the lowest paid lobbyist for group of conservation groups and I a biologist for ADFG. We both had moms that loved to garage sale. And my dad always wheeled and dealed in second hand everything. Nearly 30 years later, we may debate a lot of things – mostly politics – but money isn’t one of them. We’ve lived in the same house we bought when we got married, never paid 5 figures for a vehicle, never groused about giving money to those who need it, and always love spending our money on our nieces and nephews. And she’s always been agreeable to buying a new used boat as long as I made a good case for it. We both retired at 55, although she’s continued working ever since she retired. So have I, sort of, but only for fun. And we each fit into each other’s family like we’d been raised in the same town.

Sara also supported me when I needed to quit my job with the state over an ethical disagreement I had with my superiors. I couldn’t buy a state job after that, likely having been black listed. In desperation, and also for something to do, I took a job with the school district as a teacher’s aide helping out a teacher – Craig – and his aide –  Aldwin – who both have been friends ever since. Aldwin was also a hand troller, and when Eric hired me at McDowell Group, that led to both many more new skills learning economics, as well as a new career trolling for salmon. Later, of course, we started selling fish from our boat. Then came the selling fish in a variety of product forms. That has allowed me to travel all over the developing world evangelizing the virtues of fish quality, preservation, and direct marketing to fishermen and fish farmers in Haiti, Mali, Ecuador, Madagascar, Liberia and Jamaica to date. Hopefully there will be more destinations to come. In hindsight, one of the best things I ever did was quit my job. It led to a lifetime of learning new things starting in my early 30’s.

jars on counter of pickled vegetables

And still more things to learn all the time. The latest is pickling!  All the years of throwing away vegetables. I could have been pickling them. Sometimes I do that now as the primary use of the vegetable – like we found with cherries and rhubarb – rather than just to preserve them til later. This morning I made us fried eggs from Roy and Brenda on half a bagel with cheese and pickled peppers, onions, and avocados I pickled last night. Plus all the smoked canned king salmon I put up this summer and canned moose in the spring. We eat like millionaires around here.

So, I’m a little more content with 60 now, especially after a birthday dinner Sara arranged with 7 of our closest friends and 2 hosts. Everyone was older than me. We have to do that more often.  Maybe I’ll make it to 70.

The Long Slog

I flew down to Petersburg with Chris yesterday. My first trip there since Paul’s passing. I asked some of Paul’s other friends if they needed anything from Juneau. Steve ordered 2 quarter pounders. I picked those up on the way to the airport, along with a couple large fries.

We got to Petersburg about 230 pm and went right to the boat. Chris owns the Marson’s, a wooden seiner about 50 feet long with a friend Kurt in Petersburg. Kurt told me he went to school with Nina and Nevette, and that Paul had been his favorite teacher. Kurt uses the boat to seine for salmon in the summer, and Chris does some longlining and crabbing with the boat. He also does an annual deer hunt from the boat with his fishing crew and friends and family.

Kurt had installed a new digital compass and other items for the autopilot, and the two of them spent an hour fine tuning it out in Wrangell Narrows. The boat was parked just down the slip from the Cisco, Paul’s boat, which was in its usual shrink wrap for the winter. The girls are going to hang on to it for the time being, and Steve will look after it.

We dropped Kurt back at the dock and headed out to Frederick sound after 4 pm. It was right at dock, and several boats that had been out fishing or hunting were making their way back to the harbor as we departed.

The boat has big sodium lights for seeing out in front of the boat. Sara was concerned we were traveling at night and there might be icebergs like the one Larry and I encountered a couple years ago bringing his boat back from Wrangell. The lights gave us good forward vision for ice bergs and other obstacles, and I felt safe.

Chris and I chatted about his fish business and the state of the fish markets that had been soured for Alaska fish by Russian harvests and by higher interest rates for purchasing fish to process and sell. We also talked about his late dad Eric, who alongside Chris, helped me buy my power troller Dutchmaster, and then Eric helped me rig it and showed me how to troll.

Luckily, I brought food – bagels, some cheese from Portugal, pickled rhubarb, and a pint of my jarred smoked king salmon. Chris had brought coffee. The cupboards were absolutely bare in the boat switch out. Chris really liked the pickled rhubarb and cheese, and said the rhubarb really complimented the smoked salmon.

We yakked til about midnight, when Chris said one of us should take a nap. I said he could, as I felt pretty good. He laid down on the bunk next to the captain’s chair in the wheelhouse while I took the helm.

We steamed up Stephens Passage in the pitch black, with lots of rain and some tailwind chop. You just stare out into the scope of your floodlights, just like driving a car at night, I guess. We seemed to be going past lots of birds – seagulls, murrellettes, grebes, etc. It seemed like an unrandom event that we could be 5 or 10 miles from the shore and these birds just happened to be out in front of us here and there. Maybe feed is attracted to the surface by our lights, and the birds know this.

We passed a single boat just as we entered Frederick Sound from the Wrangell Narrows. Then just one more boat – I think a tug and barge – up Stephens Passage. I also saw a boat with lots of lights tied up in Taku Harbor at the dock. Otherwise, it was about as unscenic a trip as you can make, running a boat all night in the dark with no moon or starlight.

I figured Chris would get up about 4 am on his fishermen’s clock, and he’d told me to wake him for wheel watch. But he was still fast asleep at 430, and I just let him sleep. He’s got a lot more on his plate in life than I do, and I’m guessing maybe this was one of his rare chances for a good snooze.

He finally woke about 530 am as we started around Douglas Island for Auke Bay. He went down and grabbed a cup of coffee, and we swapped places. I was asleep in minutes. I got up, very chilled for some reason, as we were steaming into Auke Bay just after 7 am.

When we got to the dock, I tossed over the starbard bumper buoys. Chris maneuvered the big boat to the lee side of the dock in a stiff wind, and I threw the midships tie up line to one of Chris’s fishing crew waiting for us on the dock. He got a bite on the dock bullrail with the line. Chris then ran forward on the pivot line to get the boat closer to the bullrail, and his crew member and I secured the bow and stern tie up lines. The crewmember, who also happened to run the private marina where we moor the tug, took me to the shop where I’d left my car. We talked about the marina, and it was good to now know the manager now for future moorage.

I threw my sea bag in the car, and headed for home. I stopped at the Breeze Inn for an apple fritter and a coffee. I jumped in bed straightaway when I got home, and by 1130 am, was up and ready for the day.