Saturday, January 27, 2007
A week in the Life.... Mine in Alaska! This is Living!
A Week in the Life
Lynn Lati/Noel 99
Raspberry Island Alaska
The week began not unlike many other weeks in this place. AKA-Fred arrived after traveling several nautical miles from another local remote port to pick up Randy myself and our big dog "Iron Bear" hereafter know as "IB"
This was my first trip to my new home on Raspberry Island. Our transportation was a 17' bass boat with a 90 hp Johnson outboard. The boat was loaded with supplies for a couple of weeks until the main supplies arrived. As Fred and I completed lashing down the supplies R&C cast off the bow and stern lines.
Fred jumped on the controls and the engine responded rising the bow. I stepped forward to the bow and the boat was soon up on step and our friends quickly disappeared as we rounded the first bend of this inner bay.
It was September and the fall colors of the Poplar, alder, and fireweed set the landscape ablaze with color. From the shores to the valleys, over ridge down and up again to the tops of the surrounding peaks the land was alive in color.
The sea in the bay was flat and calm. Reflecting the surrounding landscape on the surface of the water like a mirror. The only thing that broke the scenery was the wake of the boat as we sped along.
Randy and Fred began recounting a story of their last trip out to Raspberry Island. The waters outside of Antoine Larson Bay were rough and the Shelikof Straits and Whale Passage were very rough with tide swells. Then there was Kupernof Straits. I had only been in Kodiak for two days and had already heard much of these waters. The history of these waters surrounding Kodiak is very old and the waters have claimed many boats and fisherman. Some of the locals describe the waters as a Nasty Piece of Real Estate.
Now Fred and Randy were telling me how they were crashing through green waves on their last trip. Today seemed different. The day reminded me of one of those rare days growing up in Hawaii. The seas were dead calm. Clear and reflective for miles. This was going to be one of those days I told Fred and Randy as I settled in on the bow between some ropes and the anchor. Randy replied." We'll see. It may look calm here but just wait. Fred nodded in agreement.
It took about fifteen minutes to get outside of Antoine Larson Bay. The bay snaked it's way round several bends. The inner bay was so calm. A few cabins dotted the shores tucked within the spruce forests or peeking out sitting on the edge of a bluff overlooking the bay. It gave me an idea of what was to come.
The Shelikof Strait was now open before us. A open crossing of several nautical miles to Whale Passage. The Shelikof was also flat and calm. Fred was quiet and Randy was still holding his breath. Within minutes we crossed the Shelikof and headed into Whale Passage. The tides that usually rip through the passage were calm today. Slack Tide. We hit the passage perfect. We began to emerge from the passage and Fred looked our into the Kupernof Straits scanning the horizon. Within minutes Fred shouted. "looks like it's going to get rough in the Kupernof. I turned my position to gain his prospective. As my eyes fixed on the horizon I could see what Fred was talking about. You could see the white caps breaking wildly. I could not believe the weather could be so different within a mile or so. Fred assured me the conditions can and do change within minutes all the time.
I started to button up my gear as we watched the waves breaking in the Kuperonf. Our gaze became fixed on the horizon watching the waves break in the distance. Suddenly they stopped and the seas became calm again. Then erupting again. It was then that Fred shouted. "Whales, it's whales"
We were moving fast, about 40 knots and fast approaching the pod of whales. As we got closer we could see they were Orca or Killer Whales. We were still confined within the waters of Passage, just preparing to enter the Kupernof as the pod surrounded us. We counted seventeen adults and three new born orca measuring less that eight feet in length.
Within seconds we were surrounded by the pod. Two of the largest Orca came about and flanked our boat as we passed through the oncoming pod. The pair swam within six feet of us, dwarfing our small boat. Their dorsal towered above us like mountains just off our stern. You could look into the waters beside the boat. Clear and emerald waters within which you could look into the eyes of our guides. It was truly a magical moment.
I was trying to get Fred to stop the boat so we could spend some more time watching the pod swim by. Yet our guides seemed to be urging our movement away from the pod. Perhaps is was because of the young. Fred, Randy and I were in a state of euphoria. Clapping our hands and hoping and hollering. Fred has lived and boated these waters all his life. He has had many experiences with marine life, but none compared to today he commented. I to have had many encounters. But none to match this. Randy was speechless.
The rest of the trip to Raspberry Island was flat as glass. The fall sun though low on the horizon was bright and warm. We traveled in silence. In reverence and in awe as the landscape continued to open itself to us. We crossed the Kuperonf and followed the shore of Raspberry Island. Sea otter, eagles and gulls doted the air and water spaces for the remainder of our trip.
As we approached Onion Bay you could see a old trapping cabin just above the high tide line. Looking at the cabin, I realized my life would never be the same. I have traveled literally thousands of miles perhaps more to come to this place. More than miles. I have spent my life preparing for this day. The day I take a step back in time, or back into time.
Much of my life has been typical in terms of living, working and relationships. Living: looking for more in life. Time, possessions, material benefits or comforts. Working: mostly for larger corporations in the computer and retail professions. Relationships: Twice married and divorced. Two children and a handful of family and life long friends stand beside me today in support of my dreams.
Others... just do not get it. Primitive, dangerous, isolated, are just a few of the words they use to describe my decision to move to this place. Yet in their eyes, hearts, their lives I can see the part of me that moves me to this place. Never enough time or money. The time they generally have is spent working, traveling to and from work. The rest of their day/night is spent balancing family, friends, activities, and in the maintenance of their lives/lifestyle. Most I know are not happy, yet they defend their lives as full and rich.
As I steeped off the boat on the beach in Onion Bay. My feet met my home. The tide was high and before me was a "man way" a log bridge rising up from the beach about twenty feet. Wow ! My driveway... cool !
I turned back to look at Fred and Randy and saw a box coming my way... "better catch" says Randy, don't want to break the eggs! Unloading the supplied and personal gear commenced. Next was the trek up the man way to the bottom of the bluff. Had to accomplish this before the tide came up much higher.
It took the three of us about thirty minutes to get all the loads up the bluff. The walk/hike up the bluff is only about 150' perhaps a bit more. You disappear into the spruce forest at the top of the man way. The trail winds steeply along the edge of the bluff deeper into the old growth forest. Cresting the top of the bluff for the first time was breathtaking.... Old growth Spruce towered hundreds of feet above the main house. The forest floor was open and covered with moss, ferns, and other native plants. Sun filtered through the forest lighting this grand open space with golden light. It was truly impressive.
A further tour of the property included the discovery of a old trapping cabin which had been converted to a BANYA. A Alaskan steam bath/bathing area. Also a place of gathering of friends and family. There was a platform for the Yurt we would soon be erecting between the Banya and the Main House. All three set near the front of the property overlooking the bluff and Onion Bay. A few hundred feet back from the house you could make out another larger building. Our shop. It was twice the size of the Main House.
I marveled at how my partners had accomplished so much in such a short time and given the bluff we just hiked up. Packing the materials must have taken hundreds of man hours and toil. Then I was introduced to the "Green Machine" A Dodge power wagon with a ten ton winch. Anchored between two 200' Spruce the Green Machine it lowers a slightly modified snowmachine trailer to the bottom of the bluff. Then hauls up to 3000 lbs back up for unloading. It takes about an hour to move a full load up the hill, off load and return the trailer to the beach for another load. It is quit impressive to see the trailer creeping up such a rugged trail. The truck doing the hauling and another crew belaying the trailer on a safety line... just in case the cable broke !
Looking at the Green Machine. I realized it was the last vehicle I would see in a long time and it was not for driving. I also for the first time realized just how much of my life had been spent, often wasted in a car or truck trying to get someplace.
As the next few days settled in I discovered much more time in my days and nights. Time once spent watching TV, stuck in traffic, being places I did not want to be or trying to get to places I wanted to be. I also discovered a quiet I had never heard. Though I have traveled many times into the mountains and or remote places within the lower 49 states none were as truly quiet and devoid of human sounds as this place.
The only reminder of that life was when the generator fired up to charge our battery bank and broke the natural silence or when the occasional bush plane or fishing boat would buzz on by.
Within a week I settled further into the routines of the bush life. A typical day begins early around 6:00am. Climbing out of the bed, stoking the fire and putting on some coffee. Warming the house. sipping coffee waiting for the sun to rise. Writing, reading, cooking breakfast and relaxing. It's a gentle awakening. No alarm clocks, deadlines, meetings, distractions.
The bush life requires outdoor participation and activities as a routing in life. Little time is spend indoors. Building a dream also requires active participation so our days are filled with activities ranging from wood gathering and chopping, maintaining and or building additions to our facilities. Hiking the terrain around the property daily to inspect our water supply lines and to see check up on our neighbors. Roosevelt Elk, Sitka Deer and the most famous the Kodiak Brown Bears.
On one such day. I was heading to disconnect one of the water supply lines to prevent it from freezing as he temperatures had began to drop below freezing overnight. I was alone on the island except for my two friends Iron Bear and Tequila (two dog buddies). Great companions but like all friends sometimes they bring trouble.
This day the trouble came in the form of two 800 pound Kodiak Brown Bear cubs recently kicked out by their mom and they weren't none to happy about it as far as I could tell. It all began with Iron Bear hereafter known as "IB" and Tequila heading down the hill to the river below. Once there a yelling match developed erupted between the two cubs and the dogs. Growling and barking "IB" had the pair in tow and was fast approaching me.
Fortunately I knew "IB" did not like guns and I drew my 38.cal pistol and fired a shot off in front of "IB" changing his direction. He continued to run up the valley away from me and the bears. The shot did not detour the first cub in his quest for "IB". By this time I was headed for a cabin some 60 yards away. I was running a parallel course with the second cub who was still coming in my direction.
Running towards each other in this way was the only way to safety. I made it to the cabin before the bear reached the top of the bluff. Within seconds I climbed on top of the roof of the old trapper cabin and was looking flat as a shingle. Trying not to move or make any noise. The cub stopped for a brief moment scenting the air with a couple of gruffs and disappeared into the valley below after his sibling and "IB".
It took several moments to gather my thoughts and for my heart to settle back out of my throat. It was about then that Tequila showed up. She was being real quiet and waited under the cabin for me to climb down. I was not done thinking!
Ok. I said to myself... accessing my situation and options. It's getting dark. I know there are two bears wandering around in the forest. All I have for protection is a 38.cal and a 44.cal pistol. I'm about a half mile from the cabin and it's going to be dark before I could get there. Oh. One more thing. If "IB" makes it home first thing he's going to do is try to get in the back door of the cabin. If "IB" is successful I could have the "Three Bears" waiting for me when I got home.
Well now I'm thinking to much and don't want to go home. I spend the next hour making my way to a neighbors cabin. He had left a couple of days before and had showed me how to get into his cabin in case I needed anything. This seemed like a good option to me and Tequila didn't seem to mind. We spent the night at John's cabin getting inside well after dark.
Richard Prooneke. PBS
I started a fire while Tequila poured us some Blackberry Brandy. What a good dog ! We heated up some grub and settled in for the night. Morning came finding Tequila passed out on the floor by the fire and me in the chair next to the fire. Downed a couple of cups of coffee while dressing up and headed out the door leaving Tequila to guard John's and the Brandy.
I decided to hike down to the beach rather than walk in the forest. The terrain is much more open and I figured I have a better chance of seeing the bears if they were still in the area. I hiked down the bluff from John's down to the beach. The tide was low so the exposed beach was wide. I stayed near to the edge of the bluff moving my way down the beach towards our cabin with caution. Still only packing a 38.cal and a 44.cal pistol(s). I was wishing I had taken the shot gun.
When I got below the our cabin. I decided to climb the bluff about 50' and then to climb a tree to a height sufficient to view the cabin and surrounding area safely. I climbed the last few feet in the tree and looked out over the property. All seemed quite. no movement of any kind. I called out "IB" and out he came from under the house. None worse for the incident. Although he was a bit grumpy for a day or so. Trying to tell me... What the hell were you thinking. I'm being chased by bears and then you start shooting at me. I hate guns and bears !
Spent the rest of the day securing John's and rounding up Tequila and getting some fire wood bucked up. I figured the additional noise of the chain saw would help to deter the bears from the area. It began to get dark and I was on the way to the shop to fire up the generator for a coupe of hours. I get back into the house and hear the VHF radio chatter. "Abby Joe" Calling US Coast Guard. Please respond.
The "CG" responded. Abby Joe this is the USCG standing by. The captain of the "Abby Joe" responded. We are located on Raspberry Island. There are six in our hunting party and one of our group is missing. USCG: Please move to channel 22. I also switched channels to stay with them.
Abby Joy. USCG Standing by. Abby Joe responded. We lost our partner about two hours earlier. The last we heard from him was several shots fired in rapid succession. We know he had limited ammunition and also some physical limitations in terms of sight. The hunter had eye surgery in one eye shortly before this trip so his sight was impaired.
By this time the weather had kicked up. Pitch black in the forest. Fifty to sixty mile per hour winds pounded the rain against the windows of the cabin. The CG said they would be unable to help till morning light and suggested the rest of the group continue to search for their friend as long as it could be done safely.
The GC and the Abby Joe determined a radio contact schedule and agreed to keep in contact with each other every hour till in the morning. By this time I figured the party was not far from my location. Less than a mile. Further that the missing hunter was in the area where I had seen the bears the day before. I grabbed the mike of the radio and spoke: Shoonaq' calling the Abby Joe.
The Abby Joe. responded. Abby Joe Standing by. I told them that I lived within a mile of their location and informed them of the bears that were also in the area. We arranged for their group to meet me at my cabin leaving one of their party there in case the missing friend returned on his own.
It took about 30 minutes for the three to arrive at the cabin. I met the three men coming up the hill from the beach below. I invited them into the house so we could make a plan and so that I could show them on the map where I had been with he bears in relation to their friend. Sure enough. All three were in the same area together.
I asked if they had tried to fire off any shots to try to get a response from their friend. they had not. I went out immediately and fired off three shots. The wind and rain were howling but through all the noise I heard a single shot response to my call. The others heard it as well.
We gathered some of our gear from the house and grabbed a couple more flashlights and a flair gun and proceeded out towards the Shay's cabin. The spot overlooking the area where they had last seen their friend and where I last was looking like a shingle.
I must admit the tension was high in the group. Flashlights do not carry far in the forest. You couldn't hear a sound above the wind and rain which further hampered our vision. Lastly walking was made difficult by the terrain roots, tree falls and mud patches. We reached the Shay's cabin after about twenty minutes. Hiked out to the edge of the bluff and fired off a few more rounds. No response this time.
We waited about ten minutes scanning the horizon and the valley below for any signs of light, perhaps a fire. Nothing. We fired off a few more rounds and again waited. Nothing. We then decided not to risk hiking about in the woods and getting someone else hurt or worse having a run in with the bears. I escorted the party to a point on the bluff just above their cabin and traveled alone back to our cabin. When I arrived back at the cabin I heard the Abby Joe calling me on the radio.
I responded. Abby Joe. Shoonaq standing by. The captain of the Abby Joe had been in contact with the party I was with and they arrived safely back in camp. The winds and waves in the bay were to wild for the captain to anchor the Abby Joe for the night and he informed me he would be in the bay all night on wheel watch to ensure the safety of the boat. Further he would keep his search light scanning the beach and keep in contact with the CG as we agreed. He then said get a good nights rest and we'll hit it in the morning.
By 8:30 am it was beginning to get light enough to continue our search for their friend. The rain and winds had subsided and the Abby Joe had anchored out in front of our cabin and the crew was walking up the bluff to the cabin. We wasted little time in making out way to Shays cabin and began out search again. Splitting up into three groups of two we found the missing friend within an hour. Cold, Alive and kicking. He was injured. He had fallen into a patch of Devils Club and injured his good eye. Now he could barely see.
I never got the whole story as the man was rushed down the beach and put on the Abby Joe and transported to Kodiak for medical attention. Everyone else stayed behind to continue the hunt. I hiked back up the beach to the cabin. After a nerve racking couple of days I just hung out and got some needed rest. Two days later while sitting on the couch reading I heard three shots ring out and they were close. I jumped up and into my boots heading out the door to see what was going on.
I emerged from the house and scampered out to the edge of the bluff. I saw Fred and Randy coming up the bay in Fred's boat. I ran down to the beach to greet them... bounding out of the forest above the man way. I yelled to Randy and Fred. Was that you guys who fired the shots? Now was their reply. Another boat was speeding our way. They were the group of hunters I had met earlier while searching for their friend.
They hit the beach and one guy jumped out of the boat. Running towards us with a rope in hand he began to shout. Did you guys see that bear chasing the bull elk down the beach? What bear ? What Elk ? We missed the whole thing and it happened right in front of us.
The group of hunters watched what they estimated to be a 1100 pound Kodiak Brown Bear and a Bull Roosevelt Elk of equally impressive size cover more than a half mile of beach within a mater of moments. Two of the hunters were walking on the bluff when the Elk crested the top of the bluff right in front of them. Within seconds the bear also crested the top of the bluff and was charging right for them and the elk that had just crossed hair path. One of the hunters fired off the three shots deterring the bear off the elk.
The bear took a quick turn and headed back down the bluff to the beach. Then the bear jumped into the water and began swimming across the bay and doing so right in front of Fred and Randy as they came into the bay.
Fred had brought Randy out to the island so I could go back out to Kodiak to meet with my partner Rick. We had to move fast according to Fred as the weather was kicking up in the Kupernof. The forecast was calling for NE winds to fifty miles per hour. I ran back to the cabin and gathered a few things, grabbed my dry suit and headed back down to the beach where Fred was waiting. I jumped on the boat with a push off the shore and we were off.
We entered the Kupernof and were immediately met with wind driven and tidal driven waves. Now I was going to get to experience the power of the Kupernof first hand. Fred's 17' bass boat was feeling really small in the churning seas. Fred and I stood behind the small center podium trying to keep the freezing spray and waves from crashing directly on us. The waves pounded the little boat relentlessly as we hugged the shore of Raspberry Island, slowly making our way towards Whale Passage.
No whales today. We reached the point where we had to make a dash across the Kuperonf and head into Whale Passage. Crossing the Kuperonf was very different today. The 5' to 7' ground swell combined with the high winds whipped the Kupernof into a boiling sea of whitecaps and breaking waves which pounded at our boat. Fred clung to the steering wheel and managed the throttle, while I tried to keep hold of the side of the boat and a rail on the podium. We stood so as to lesson the pounding on our bodies as the boat met the waves.
As we entered Passage we saw two large tugs pulling barges. One tug coming towards us and the other entering Whale Passage from the opposite side. We had to pick out lines in between the barges and the tides. It was bad enough to battle the tides, but the huge waves cast off the barges and tugs tossed us around as we weaved out way through the passage and tug traffic.
As we came out of Whale Passage into Kuichuiak Bay the meeting tides of the passage and the bay boiled and churned. It reminded me of some of the big water rivers I have been on. Eddies, huge boils seething up from the depths. Whirlpools that would easily suck a kayak beneath the surface. The most impressive feature of the seascape was the most spectacular standing wave I have ever seen.
This wave stretched across the bay for more than 2 miles in length. It's face was smooth rising about 6' plus. The wave itself was very stable and regular with only the top of the wave curling off the face. The 40 mile hour winds held the face of the wave up like a wall. The wave tops were carried off the backside of the wave in a fine silver mist which stretched out behind the wave like a fine silk vial.
I have seen this wave many times during my travels to and from the island. Both on the water and from the air. I can't wait for my whitewater boat to arrive this spring. Once on this wave you could literally travel miles traversing the wave. A squirt boat would really have some fun in the eddies and whirlpools. Some of the waves made me feel like we were in a squirt boat as we bounced our along the transition between the wave and the boil line of the meeting currents.
Making a dash for Antoine Larson. We made the shelter of Antoine Larson Bay. Tucking into the bay just ahead of the approaching storm front. I was glad to step off the boat onto dry land. Fred still had to travel 12 nautical miles to get back to his home. He headed out just as the storm hit the top of Antoine Larson Pass. Within seconds the wind squalls were chasing him out of the bay.
I met Rick at the dock and jumped in the truck and headed off for Kodiak. It took most of the 21 miles to get my drysuit off and get warmed up. Just in time for dinner and some brews with some friends. Can't wait for next week....GRIN