Living Alaska

Aug 3, 2014 | 0 comments

I forgot how much I love late summer in Alaska. There is so much to do; the scenery is ever-changing; salmon are schooling at the mouth of the river; and the rainforest has exploded with a buffet of wild edibles. Salmonberries, blueberries, and huckleberries weigh down the bushes and color the landscape with dots of blue, red, orange, and yellow.

I’ve vetoed blueberries for the rest of the season though, ever since I picked an entire 32-ounces worth only to find they were infested with horrifying maggot-worm-things. STUFF OF NIGHTMARES. Apparently that’s normal here, and all the locals told me just to flood them out overnight or “chew really well.” I’m going to just say no, and stick to salmonberries.

Salmonberries are, of course, named for their likeness to salmon eggs, which I have also seen a lot of lately. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to get out on a friend’s boat several times for some salmon fishing in the nearby coves around Baranof Island.

Out on the water, Alaska is a whole different world. Humongous sea lions roll out of the way as we cruise along at our top speed of 7 mph in the tiny vessel. Murrelets and auklets dive into the crystal clear water when we pass by, while gulls fly in closer to see if we have any fish to spare. Sometimes a seal will poke its head up, with just its eyes blinking curiously above the water’s surface. 

A very skinny, very far away brown bear

My favorite thing by far, however, are finding brown bears on the islands. They usually look up and sidle into the forest when we cruise by, often disappearing before I’m close enough to get a good picture, but so far I’ve seen several every time I’ve gone out. It kind of drives home the fact that there are a LOT of bears out here, despite the fact that I never see them when I’m on land.

Even though it’s always been cloudy and rainy when I’ve gone out, the scenery never fails to disappoint. Southeast Alaska was born for the rain, and as much as I love sunshine, the rain fits this place much better.

All the light blobs are jelly fish!

Our last fishing trip was the most exciting. A small group of us puttered two hours out to a hidden cove near a Forest Service salmon weir, where we were sure to land some pinks before they launched themselves up the waterfalls to the river. We tied the boat off on a buoy and rowed to shore in a little inflatable raft, carefully balancing the four of us along with our fishing poles and backpacks.

As we got closer to shore, we realized that the water was jam packed with jelly fish! Huge, amorphous globs of flesh-colored jellies were congregated in the cove, some caught in the tide pools, and others moving more intentionally along through the gentle current. I still have no idea what species they were, or why there were so many, but I managed to get some awesome GoPro videos of them, nervously holding my camera underwater and hoping they weren’t the stinging-type.

During our couple hours on shore, there were at least two bears that came by, both of which I missed. The first one was sighted by some nearby Forest Service workers who happened to be on bear watch, and phased it away with an airhorn; apparently it walked right by where we had left our backpacks up in the trees. The second bear was wading through the fish weir, and by the time my friend called me over to see it, it had wandered back into the depths of the woods. It was one of the few days I was actually really glad to have my bear spray on hand. 
By the end of the day, we had only caught two salmon, but they were huge and had enough meat on the fillets for several days worth of meals. The next day, we grilled them up with a honey mustard marinade and a side of fresh salad. YUM!

Other days out on the boat have been equally interesting, though we don’t always come back with fish. The first time out, I was set on filming the sea lions underwater with my GoPro, but they stayed too far away to capture on camera through the silty water.

That time I almost got frostbite

On top of that, I also got some first-hand experience (no pun intended) on how cold the water is here. It didn’t feel too bad, but after we got back on shore, my last two fingers didn’t get the memo that the rest of my hand had warmed back up! They were completely numb for about 45 minutes until I got home. Once there, I ran warm water over my fingers and rubbed them vigorously until the bloodflow returned, but they stayed slightly tingly and sensitive for about half a day afterwards.

So Southeast Alaska right there…

Really though, Sitka is by far the most incredible place I have ever lived.  There is so much to do and see and experience. Clearly, others feel the same way as well,  as evidenced by this love letter to the town that was found on the fence at the Russian Bishop’s House a few weeks ago:

Someone left a love note to the town on the fence

I have so many more pictures and stories to post, but the last piece of news I have time to share tonight is that I’ve picked up a second job in town.

After work four nights a week, I change out of my ranger uniform and into an apron to wait tables for 5-6 hours.  It’s exhausting and overwhelming and stressful, since I’ve never worked at a restaurant before, but I’m learning a lot and it’s nice to have a little extra cash in my pocket. The main motivation is that I really want to get my DSLR soon, and with the additional income, hopefully within a week or two I’ll be able to do that. Fingers crossed! I hope this is all worth it, because MAN, am I beat! It’s all part of the experience though, and will make a great story one day.

I’ll try to catch up on more posts in a few days, next time I have a night off. I have a lot of new observations I want to share, and simply not enough time to write everything down! Such is the life.


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