Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Winter wonderland

Have I mentioned lately how absolutely beautiful it is here in Sitka? Several inches of snow fell a few days in a row and the views are phenomenal. I'm housesitting at Davey's house, which is right on the water, so the views are especially spectacular.

Take a look at the most recent set of photos of the views, Louie, flowers Robin sent and the ducks.

Louie and I are having a great time ... hanging out, tromping through the snow, harassing -- uh, herding -- the ducks. It will be tough to go back to my place, that is for sure.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Monthly Grind

Sitka hosts a monthly event called the Sitka Monthly Grind, described by Frommers as "a music and arts celebration". I attended my first grind -- finally! I've been trying to attend one for some time but was always out of town. You must purchase tickets in advance ... and if you wanna go, you better because it sells out!

What is the Grind? Well, it's an evening of "family entertainment" that costs $5 for adults, $1 for kids. If you bring a dessert item, you get your $5 back. Once you arrive, find a seat; the place gets packed! This is vital if you are going to enjoy the hour-and-a-half entertainment event. Then, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

The show I went to consisted of a short story reading, followed by a set of trombone duets. I knew one of the trombonists (he was the guy house sitting here the week I was in Juneau). Then, a couple of guitarists played and sang. This was followed by the big event: Intermission.

Intermission is when you get to have dessert. What desserts they have. Wow, it was very hard not to eat those wheat-laden, delicious smelling items. You are encouraged to bring your own cup to reduce trash and waste.

Then, the middle school jazz band performed. They were awesome! Hard to believe they are middle schoolers. The last performance was a trio of 3 women singing harmony. They were fantastic, too. (I don't think I'll be up there with Tasha and my keyboard any time soon.)

The grand finale is the awarding of prizes for the best desserts. Who knew?!? They were good prizes -- significant gift certificates by local merchants. I'm gonna enter Mom's fudge next time (I think I'm in town then).

The venue is terrific. It's at the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Ka community house, home of the Tlingit Dancers who perform in connection with Sitka Tribal Tours during tourism season.

If you missed The Grind, don't worry. It plays on the local cable channel in rerun ... airing right after my presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Santa, helicopters and more

Where else but in Sitka would Santa arrive on a Coast Guard helicopter? Or where else would they have a "Landlubber Parade" at 6 p.m. in the dark and rain?

The parade floats were 10 pick-up trucks, each with a wooden frame in the back that had chicken wire stretched across the frame and an outline of lights. A few of the "floats" were hand-pulled carts with their own set of lights and decor going on. It's no wonder that the paper kept printing a call for generators. The parade lasted about, oh, 6 minutes.

This week they held the annual holiday lights contest, with Mayor Marko (yes, I've met him several times) as one of the judges. This is no ordinary lights contest either. You actually win prizes ... like a turkey, a bottle of wine or a $50 gift certificate. One stipulation is that you have to be home at the time they do the judging.

The community also hosts a free Christmas Dinner for all. How cool is that? Speaking of cool, it's not too late for you to get up here for the Solstice Dip, scheduled for December 22.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Duck detail

I knew I would be working on my patience this year. I'm not sure who said I'm not a patient person because that obviously isn't true. If it was, I woulda borrowed a shotgun and had some duck for dinner!

Actually, it wasn't so bad rounding them up yesterday. I got 10 of 'em in (one stray joined the group ... maybe 2 and I missed one of the originals ... it's hard to tell) and one squirrel.

I'm sure they will make up for their cooperation yesterday with antics today.

In the meantime, Louie was groomed yesterday and looks quite dashing. He's looking forward to showing off his new 'do today on our walk.

Ah, life in a small town!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Herding ducks

The neighbor next to where I'm housesitting has left town and left me with full responsibility for the ducks. Today was my first day trying to round up the ducks to get them in their house. (No, Louie the poodle does not help and is banished from this activity.)

The process is pretty much like you'd think. I make a lot of noise banging the lid where their feed is stored. Then I throw some corn around and call out, "Here ducks. C'mon ducks." Then I hope for the best. Yep, it's a good system.

Fortunately, I rounded up 9 ducks and was able to shut the door. I'm not sure they're the right 9 ducks but anyway, they're in! It's not my fault that some wild ducks sometimes hang out with these ducks. There are anywhere from 9 to 15 ducks hanging out at any one time.

Gotta love it ... it's Alaska!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

An entire month in Sitka

Well folks, it's nearing 5 months since I've been on my great adventure ... and what a great adventure it has truly been. For the first time since I left Colorado the first part of July, I will actually be in one town for an entire month (although not in one residence).

I spent the past week in Juneau, the capital city, for work. Let me tell you -- it was frigid. Highs in the single digits, wind blowing down off the glacier (Mendenhall), car engine blocks frozen. Yeah, it was cold. I saw downtown Juneau with my VISTA leader Liza (she's fabulous), spent time with SEAtrails board Ron and stayed at his and Molly's house (really, really nice), attended the annual Gallery Walk in downtown, saw Ron's boat and had a margarita (first one since June!). The really big event was that I went shopping at Walmart. I know, I know ... but it's really hard to find that stuff in Sitka, where there is nothing but the grocery or the Ben Franklin.

Now, I'm back in Sitka, house and dogsitting at my friend Davey's house till the end of 2007. It's right on the water, gorgeous. Plus, I'm with my best bud Louie, hiking poodle extraordinaire. I'm here till after Christmas and Louie and I are gonna have a great time. The only catch is that there are also 9 ducks (outdoors) that I have to feed and try to herd up at the end of the day to get them in their pen. I'm not sure if you've ever tried herding ducks but it isn't easy. Tonight, they're spending the night outside. At least it's a balmy 37 or so degrees!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Unique e-mail topics

Here are excerpts from some unique e-mails I received:

  • I am looking for a Petri dish to use in our new interactive exhibit down here in the reception area. I need one that is approx 3" in diameter and in good enough shape to be holding two beaver teeth on the display shelf. If you have one, and don't mind lending it for 4 weeks, please let me know, or better yet, stop by and see what we are doing down here!! There will be some interesting exhibits displayed down front. Thanks, and have a great day!
  • Thought I might point out a factual error: On Camping and Hiking in Bear Country you refer to "grizzly" bears as "ursus arctos horribilis." I believe that "ursos arctos" and "ursos horribilis" are different names for the same bear, excepting for habitat. You can refer to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game site for more specific information.
  • The doctor adjusted my medication recently so if we've had a conversation lately about reserving a conference room or anything else, don't be upset if I forgot it. If you reserved a conference room, come and check to make sure it really is reserved. Don't be surprised to find me a little sleepy at the desk either.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Beautiful but brisk

It's nearly as cold as it will get here in sunny Sitka by the Sea. We're into day 5 or so of brilliant sunshine and brilliant blue skies. The night-time stars have been brilliantly bright as well.

But, days without clouds means the temperature drops. Today's high temp is @ 13 degrees with a windchill of 3 degrees. Fortunately, it's warming back up to the usual 32 degrees tomorrow. (You can always check out what it looks like in Sitka by taking a look at the webcam.)

Unfortunately, I'm headed to Juneau, where it is currently 5 degrees with a windchill of -13 degrees and only warming up to 18 degrees. Brisk! I think that's too cold to ski.

If you are a fan of the cold, you'll want to make sure to take part in the Polar Dip, scheduled for December 22. According to the local paper, the Sitka Sentinel, "Dip psychologists will be on hand to offer direction and Certificates of Insanity. Hot chocolate and other incentives will also be available for dippers." (I'll let you know what the "other incentives" are.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to fry a turkey

I tell ya, there really is never a dull moment and I am learning sooooo much! Like how not to fall off the bucket while peeing on a floating platform. How to cut hair using this giant clippers without bloodshed. How not to kill or maim a hotel roommate who gets up at 3:30 a.m. for a two-hour bath. The proper techniques and safety precautions for deep fat frying a turkey. The list is endless. (Oh yeah, I'm learning stuff working, too.)

I spent Thanksgiving week with Robin in Gustavus and it was fantastic. We (Robin) deep fat fried a turkey (following instructions downloaded from the Internet -- not sure if that was a good thing). It only took 30 minutes! A few items to remember if you try this at home: make sure the turkey is DRY with no water on it, take the proper safety precautions (welding gloves and a fire extinguisher) and do it outside! The turkey turned out really tasty, too.

One of the days we took a trip partway up Glacier Bay to check on a floating fuel barge and winterize the floating ranger cabin. It was great. It was a bit choppy on the way up but things settled down and the weather cleared out by the time we headed back. We saw whales, porpoises, puffins and some pretty impressive mountains. Plus, it was a blast (not literally) to turn the heat on in the cabin and have a cup of tea while floating in the bay.

See some great shots of my awesome man and the Glacier Bay trip.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shooting in Seward

The other week, my travels took me to Anchorage for VISTA training (which wasn't really training at all, but more of a check up by the VISTA people to make sure you were alive) and to Seward (where I met Robin's kids, Josh-26 and Nick-24).

I was there for the first snowfall of the season, which was pretty cool. I took advantage of all those guns laying around and we went shooting some more (plenty of camo there!). Plus, Robin got to play with blow torches, fry fish and catch up with an old Park Service friend. I saw my first beheaded buffalo (you just never know what a day in Alaska will present!) and gorgeous mountains, icefields and glaciers during the flight from Juneau to Anchorage.

See the photos and stay tuned for an update on my exciting turkey day, complete with fire extinguisher action, whale sightings and more.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just another bizarre day in Alaska

As my loyal readers know (yes, there are a few of you out there), life is never dull here in the 49th state. Take my friend Allison, for example (you can see pictures of her at the Alaska Day Ball and at the Stardust Ball). Because I've been traveling for a mere week-and-a-half, I missed out on a huge event in her life. Seems that the cat she lost in June somehow survived being carted off by a bear. Allison spent the past week getting the cat vet-checked-and-approved-for-flying and then flown from Anchorage to Sitka. Read the full story.

Other recent bizarre occurrences include:
  • A dead body was found in the cemetary by my house.

  • While petting a dog at the airport and conversing with the owner, I discovered that the owner was actually someone I knew through teleconferences.

  • My friend Davey's hunting trip was extended because a bird hit and broke the windshield of the small plane they were in. They had to wait for a new windshield to get flown in.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gunning in Gustavus

I spent several days in Gustavus and had an absolutely great time. Robin and I went target practicing (in a gravel pit) with lots of big guns ... things like a 22 revolver, 22 semi-automatic pistol, 357 magnum revolver and a 44 magnum revolver. (Now ~that~ is a big gun!) I almost hit 100% of the targets with the 22 rifle.

See photos of the shoot out and incredible views.

The weather was pretty good, too -- not the usual snotty and rainy stuff. It cleared out and I actually saw some of the mountains there for the first time. It was astoundingly beautiful. The snow was incredibly white and the peaks are so rugged. Temps were in the low to mid 30s.

Robin moved into his new house. It has great views of the water. It is awesome. One day I saw a sea lion and several times I saw a seal -- all from the living room. We even saw a young moose running down the road and I saw my first porcupine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top 10 things Mom and Robin have in common other than loving me the best

  1. Both like a can of cold peas eaten right out of the can for lunch (and both admit having tried it with green beans but say it just isn't the same).
  2. Both have similar levels of worry (wondering, thoughts, concern, worry).
  3. Both insist they are patient.
  4. Both like halibut.
  5. Both like to supervise my cooking (even though I need absolutely none whatsoever).
  6. Both prefer a 44 magnum revolver as their weapon of choice.
  7. Both like coffee.
  8. Both have the same favorite TV show: America's Funniest Videos.
  9. Both let me drive their vehicles as long as I don't squeal the tires.
  10. Both have their cupboards more than well-stocked with their favorite groceries (but at least Robin has good stuff in his -- not packed with salmon and pumpkin like Mom's).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Where in the world am I now?

If you guessed Sitka or somewhere in Southeast Alaska, you would be wrong. I am now in the bustling metropolis of Anchorage (south central Alaska). Let me tell you, I am having culture shock.

I saw a Starbuck's and a Chili's at the airport and couldn't believe it! One of the malls (yes, one of the THREE malls) even has an ice skating rink in it. There's a multi-lane highway with stoplights, overpasses and everything. It was a tough decision whether to eat at Arby's or TGI Friday's. (I couldn't decide and ended up having gyros and a Greek salad at this Greek place that didn't have Greek salad dressing!) Hey, it's Alaska and you just never know what to expect.

Thanks to your taxpayer dollars, I am attending VISTA training, although I use the term "training" very, very loosely. Because the VISTA program tries to save money by making everyone share a room, I was fortunate enough to get a room mate who gets up at 3:30 a.m. to take a 1 1/2 hour long bath. Thus, I now have a special dispensation to bail out of training this afternoon and go take a nap...which I will be doing shortly!

This past weekend I was in Gustavus. This weekend I head to Seward. Then I go back to Sitka for a week before another trip to Gustavus and then one to Juneau. As soon as I'm back in my home base, I have some outstanding photos of Gustavus, Juneau and Anchorage mountains and more entertaining stories to share. Now, it's NAPTIME!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Better than the Oscar's

The Stardust Ball is ~the~ event of the season in Sitka. This annual Halloween celebration brings out quite a creative, festive crowd. The $15 entry fee is way worth the price of admission.

Where else can you see two guys dressed up as Batman and Robin (not my Robin) lip synching and dancing to Dirty Dancing's "I've had the time of my life"? Or Barbara Streisand dressed in a fur coat performing "Memories"? The hour-long lip synching contest was won ... drum roll please ... by a couple dressed up as the guy from Meatloaf and a woman lip synching "Paradise by the dashboard light."

Between the Amazon Afro-dye-tee (my friend Michelle), Thing 1 and Thing 2, DNA, Bun-in-the-oven-along-with-chef husband and lots of fish-oriented get-ups (like the famous fish box), it was hard to take it all in. I tried and you can get some ideas for your next year's costume by looking at my photos. (Sadly enough, I simply went as "An Alaskan" and had to borrow the proper shirt!) Bun in the oven won the costume contest. (See the other listings of winners.)

After the lip synch contest, this great band flown in from Seattle played (I forget or never knew their name). After, of course, everyone heads to the P-Bar because what would a Sitkan Saturday be without a trip to the P-Bar?!?

Suprisingly enough, the Monday Police Blotter was sorely lacking in content. At least I wasn't in it! Mark your calendars for next year's event ... scheduled for November 1, 2008. Better yet, just book in for the entire month of October till November and you can hit Alaska Day, Stardust Ball and Whale Fest!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Airlift Alaska

I just learned that Alaska's one and only elephant is leaving the state. (I also just learned that there ~is~ an elephant in this state.)

Anyway, Maggie, an elephant originally from Zimbabwe, has been alone for the past 10 years. Prior to that, she was with another elephant, Annabelle, who's premature death was caused by a nasty case of foot rot. (Gold Bond, anyone?) There has been a huge fundraising and media campaign to move Maggie because she was "being deprived of what it means to be a real elephant."

You can read all about Maggie and her uplifting story on the Friends of Maggie web site and the Air Force's plan to fly her out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Alaska Day Action

Last week was the annual Alaska Day festival in Sitka, THE place to be for Alaska Day. (Sitka is where the transaction between the U.S. and Russia to purchase Alaska actually occured.) It was a week-long schedule of events including a croquet tournament, kayak race, a formal ball, a parade and a demonstration of a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. However, this year's Coast Guard rescue swimmer demonstration was modified so the swimmer could swim to shore and propose to his girlfriend (she said yes). Unfortunately, I missed the fish pie sale (I have no idea what fish pie is ... maybe next year).

I took a slew of photos so if you're up for a long slide show, check it out. Make sure to read the explanatory captions. Plus, you can see some incredible shots of Sitka in fall, me and my friends and me and Robin. (It is absolutely gorgeous here.)

An Alaska Day tradition and must-do is the annual Alaska Day ball, formal wear or period costume required. Obviously, I didn't pack anything like that. I borrowed something from my friend Michelle and bought great shoes for $2 at the White Elephant. Michelle was a costume designer in college and actually made her own dress! Another friend, Allison, also borrowed formal wear from Michelle. It was hysterical!

I helped out with the first annual smoked salmon competition (put on by Jim, the bear spray guy) and made the Forest Service banner for the float. Smokey Bear made the annual appearance in the parade, as did the Volkswagon van drivers and the Harley contingent. Noticeably absent was the presence of any horse or other type of animal. The weather was typical for Alaska Day: rain, snow, more rain, hail, a little sleet, more rain and some sunshine.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stiff biathlon competition

I was in my first biathlon over the weekend. Yes, biathlon ... a running/shooting event. Do I shoot? Well, not really. Did I train? Well, no.

But I was told it was only a 1.5 mile run so who needs to train for that? However, it turned out to be a 5K run! I wasn't quite prepared for that (mentally or physically). Plus, I hadn't fired a 22-caliber rifle since the gravel pit/dynamite fiasco when I was 10 but hey, I figured, "Why not?"

I ended up placing second overall in the Women's Division (yes, there were more than 2 entrants in the category...maybe like 6 but who cares?). Anyway, I won a $25 gift certificate to a local sporting goods store. Right on!

This was just one of a multitude of activities taking place for Alaska Day. This festival is a huge deal here because Sitka is where the Russians transferred the purchase of Alaska to the U.S. on October 18, 1867.

I will also help out with the smoked salmon contest and the parade. I plan to attend the ball -- provided I can find some shoes (just like Cinderella) because that is one venue where XTra Tuffs are not allowed.

Friday, October 12, 2007


That was the headline of the letter plastered on the torn, beat-up-and-taped-back-together box that arrived in my mail this week. I'm not quite sure how they were able to damage it that way (and frankly, I don't want to kinda scares me).

The letter states:
"We sincerely regret the damage to your mail during handling by the Postal Service. We hope this incident did not inconvenience you. We realize that your mail is important to you and that you have every right to expect it to be delivered in good condition."

Hmmm. Delivered ~and~ in good condition? I didn't know I had the right to expect that from the USPS. Plus I have a hard time believing they mean that "sincerely" thing.

The letter continues:
"Although every effort is made to prevent damage to the mail, occasionally this will occur because of the great volume handled and the rapid processing methods which must be employed to assure the most expeditious distribution possible."

Rapid processing methods? Most expeditious distribution possible? I guess it was sitting in Seattle that extra week or 10 days because someone was looking for the tape dispenser.

"We hope you understand. We assure you that we are constantly striving to improve our processing methods in order that even a rare occurrence may be eliminated. Please accept our apologies."

Wow, I don't even know what to say. It brings a tear to my eye to know how much a government agency cares about me! Maybe they should talk to the baggage handlers for the airlines. Now ~that~ would be something!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It's PFD time

And PFD doesn't stand for Personal Flotation Device. It stands for "Permanent Fund Dividend." This is the money that an Alaskan resident receives thanks to the sale and royalties from Alaskan oil, gas and other minerals. The fund, managed by a semi-private corporation, was worth $734,000 in 1977 and is now worth $40 BILLION. It's earmarked to "benefit current and all future generations of Alaskans."

Retailers and businesses really cash in on this annual October fund dispersement. There are sales galore on everything: automobiles, furniture, special CD rates -- even Alaska Air offers a special PFD (Priced for Departure) sale.

This year's amount is $1,654. But it isn't free money for all. There are a few stipulations, such as you must be a resident for the entire calendar year and you must "intend to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely." Hmmm. Sounds a little suspect. I will be eligible next year, provided I "intend to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely." There is a huge fraud division to check out claims, so be warned.

A few interesting highlights from the PFD website:
  • 1989 Felons not eligible for dividends. Physical presence requirement established. (Makes me wonder about what the requirements were prior to this.)
  • 1996 Misdemeanants with two prior crimes not eligible for dividends. (Makes me wonder about what the requirements were prior to this.)
  • 1998 Physical presence changed to 72 hours every two years. (Boy, that's pretty lax!)
  • 2001 Alaska Supreme Court rules that immigrant aliens who form intent to remain in Alaska qualify for dividends. (Huh.)
  • 2002 Misdemeanants with one prior felony or two prior misdemeanors not eligible for dividend. (How is this different than the rulings in 1989 and 1996?)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Slug hunting in Sitka

I must say, there is never a dull moment in beautiful Sitka by the sea. This weekend's big activity was a slug hunt held in honor of National Public Lands Day.)

According to Forest Circus officials, this was an "all-out effort to rid Starrigavan Recreation Area of the invasive European Black Slug." Hosted by the guy who accidentally released pepper spray in the office, more than 75 Sitkans participated in the hunt.

The event started with an informative lecture followed by a deomonstration of the proper slug-capturing techniques to use. Hunting gear was provided and included rubber gloves, slug-capturing devices (rubber grabber things) and buckets.

See pictures of the hunt and the free t-shirts that were handed out to the crowd (funded by a grant from our generous government).

Volunteers then mounted a safari for the slimy black invaders. At one point during the hunt, there was a fervor among the crowd because of a brown bear sighting just off the trail. Fortunately, the bear decided to head away from the people.

More than 418-some slugs were collected for proper disposal (which is drowning them in a bucket of bleach, reportedly the "most human way" to kill a slug). A marshmallow and hot dog roast around a campfire followed for all the hungry hunters.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Ferry ride to Alaska: $984
Round of skeet shooting: $11
Gallon of gas: $3.31
Pound of honey crisp apples: $4.99
16-oz carton of dried milk: $12.35

Pleasure of living in Sitka: Priceless

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My first birthday in Alaska

I had an incredible birthday ... complete with brownies and ice cream -- yum. I went halibut fishing again. I did catch fish but none as big as the first time I went fishing. It was fun. Who wouldn't have fun seeing a bunch of porpoises while fishing?!? On the way back to the rig, I had my first black bear sighting! It was running across the parking lot and was really neat to see.

I've been on another whirlwind tour of Southeast Alaska. It started with a jet to Juneau and then a small plane to Gustavus for my birthday (near Glacier Bay National Park) then a small plane back to Juneau to get on a ferry to Skagway (for a conference where I had to present to an audience of 200 -- yikes!) and then back on the 18-hour ferry ride to Sitka. Make sure you check out my photos of Juneau, my birthday and more.

The hardest part about being in Skagway was the absence of any sort of reliable phone service and the presence of hoards of people. It was crazy and made me absolutely fu*#ing insane! The 10,000 people getting off the cruise ships were definitely not happy about the lack of phone coverage. (You will note that there are no photos of Skagway because that is a place I would like to block from my mind.)

In Juneau, I took the tram up to the mountain top. However, it was completely socked in so no views. It was so much fun being with all the girls riding to the top! I went to Mendenhall Glacier (awesome, awesome -- I must return!). They have a lot of bear issues there but of course, I didn't see any.

I was really, really happy to get back to beautiful Sitka by the Sea!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Top 10 facts I learned about Alaska

  1. Open carrying of a firearm is legal with two exceptions: You cannot legally carry a weapon into an establishment that serves liquor or into a governmental building.

  2. You can have a message relayed to someone who doesn't have a telephone by contacting the local radio station and they will broadcast your "muskeg message" (free of charge).

  3. Because of the frequency of weather-delayed flights, you can often obtain a "distressed traveler" rate at many hotels.

  4. If you are flying Alaska Air on a flight within Alaska, you are allowed an extra bag at no cost (probably because of the frequency of weather-delayed flights).

  5. No-seeums are nasty little bugs that cause nasty itching that lasts a very, very long time.

  6. There are three criteria to establish prior to dating someone: Does he have all his teeth? Does he have a job? Does he have a place to live that isn't a boat and has indoor plumbing?

  7. The offical Alaskan sneakers are Xtra Tuffs and they are also the offical Alaskan footwear. In fact, Sitka hosts an annual race, Running of the Boots.

  8. The offical Alaskan luggage is really plastic bags you get from the grocery store (so you'll have plenty of food to get you through those weather-delayed flights). Carrying a sleeping bag is also recommended.

  9. You better learn the 5 kinds of salmon. Each are known by two names, which can be confusing: king (chinook), sockeye (red), coho (silver), pink (humpies) and chum (dogs).

  10. Everything revolves around when a hunting season opens and you better schedule any event accordingly. Deer season starts on Aug 1. Moose season starts on Sept. 15.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Life in Sitka

Sitka is a small, friendly and very scenic town right on the water with about 8,000-9,000 people. Almost everything is walkable, provided you don't mind the rain but hey, that's why everyone has a rain coat, rain pants and XTraTufs. There are a few restaurants in town and they even deliver.

Living in Forest Service housing is, well, interesting. Other than the impossibility of the boys upstairs getting me a phone message or telling people I don't live there (and aside from the asbestos signs, other warning signs, peeling linoleum and disregard for housekeeping), it's been great. All of the seasonal employees will be moving out within the next couple of weeks. This means I will have the place and the phone to myself until April!

People tell me there are bears on my street and in the surrounding forest. I haven't seen any yet but I know they are there. It's only about a mile from work and I walk to work every day, which is fabulous. Downtown and the water are only a few blocks away. The airport is an approximate 6.5 minute drive, 8 if I have to wait for the stoplight, although the flight out is at 6 a.m. so there really isn't much traffic at that hour.

Take a look at the photos of Sitka and my place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Drinkers needed

This was a posting on a bulletin board in my local bank:

Drinkers needed
The Public Safety Academy is conducting an alcohol workshop to train the current recruit class on how to deal with drinkers and how to perform field sobriety tests. We need participants.
  • You must be sober when you arrive.
  • Don't eat 2 hours prior.
  • Married couples shouldn't participate because a dispute may arise.
  • Transportation is provided.
  • You will get pizza at the end.

Please call 747-6611.

Now who wouldn't want to participate in that?!? What a great public service participants will be doing.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Top 10 things I learned about Alaska Airlines

  1. If you're 5 years old and carrying a fish in a glass jar filled with water (and it's more than 3.4 ounces and not in a quart-size ziplock bag), they will let you and your fish on the plane.
  2. If you just had back surgery and need to go back to the hospital for a pain killer shot because your departure flight was delayed, they will call the ambulance for you.
  3. Taking a Leatherman from the airport is a ~very~ good thing but leaving a Leatherman at the airport is ~never~ a good thing.
  4. If your flight was supposed to depart at 6 a.m. and you're still sitting there at 8 a.m. because of a weather delay, one of the airline people will make a donut run to the local grocery store and bring back donuts for everyone.
  5. If you just had back surgery and your flight is on a weather delay, left the plane to go back to the hospital for a pain killer shot, and returned to the airport, you can still get back on the same plane (if it's still there because of a weather delay) without any hassle.
  6. If you need to reschedule your flight for the next day for any reason (even if the reason is that it's sunny in Sitka), you are pretty much guaranteed that they will change your flight and not charge any fee to do so.
  7. Beverage service is not offered on the 12-minute flight from Gustavus to Juneau. It's also not offered on the 27-minute flight from Sitka to Juneau.
  8. If you're only flying in Alaska, you can check an extra bag over the allowance at no additional cost and you get an extra carry on (usually it's food and/or a sleeping bag because of weather delays).
  9. If you're nice to the person checking boarding passes before security, you can see real-time photos of the airport where you are flying and she'll check for any other connecting flights on any of the other carriers.
  10. If you want to purchase a flight leaving in 40 minutes because the small plane you were scheduled to fly on is on a weather hold but jets are still flying, you can buy a ticket at the regular price, get through security and still get on the plane.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pepper spray is not adequate

Comment overheard in the Forest Service office.

"We don't recommend relying on bear spray or bear bells for protection. The only thing we sanction is a weapon and the weapon better be at least adequate."

I guess I'll have to get a gun?!? That's scarier than thinking of Doogman carrying an ax around!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Best police blotter of the week

At 8:50 p.m., a man was seen carrying an ax in the Indian River Subdivision. The man said he was using it for bear protection, and would leave it in the bushes when he was out of danger.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pepper spray, law enforcement and more

Well, my grueling work schedule and hazardous work conditions continue. Turns out that this very experienced guy named Jim (super nice) was testing the safety on the pepper spray yesterday in preparation for a bear safety talk that evening. The canister was obviously defective because it released a little bit of spray and should not have. I would hate to experience any larger amount of spray. Jim's throat barely recovered enough to present his bear safety talk that night.

This is first-hand info because Jim gave me the scoop when I went out with him and Mike (Forest Service law enforcement) for a day-long search (under not-quite-radio silence) for outlaw cabins in the Tongass.

What a day, too. We landed the boat at many, many stops to get out and explore. Fortunately, it was also a good opportunity for bathroom breaks. This is no ordinary peeing-in-the-woods experience ... not when you are peeing in bear country and have seen recent tracks of a mother and cub!

I did see remains of an outlaw cabin and one scheduled for deconstruction. What a structure, too ... framed out windows and everything; very impressive. The deconstruction process entails going back out to the site, tearing down the cabin, hauling the shit to shore, lighting a fire and letting the tide wash away the ashes.

See my pictures ... remember, all you have to do is click "View Slideshow;" you don't need to sign in.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The hazards of working for the Forest Service

Just announced over the building intercom system (cough):

"There has been an accidental release of pepper spray on the second floor. If you can avoid the second floor, please do so."

I am starting to choke up (really).

Gotta go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AWOL in Alaska

SITKA -- August 19, 2007

Local residents and SEAtrails board members were in a state of panic (well, maybe "concern" is more accurate) when SEAtrails VISTA volunteer Karen Smith could not be located this past weekend.

"I called her house and the guy who answered the phone said she moved out," said Davey Lubin, dad to Louie, the whale watching and hiking poodle extraordinaire. (The brilliant guy upstairs deduced this based on the lone piece of evidence that the Jeep was not in the driveway for a few days.) Davey, who spends a lot of time out on the water, really let his imagination get carried away. "I thought maybe she'd flipped out or something or run off with a bunch of Forest Service guys."

"I don't know what all the hooplah was about," responded a relaxed and unfazed Karen Smith. "I told my supervisor that I would be out playing all weekend. Everyone knows the boys upstairs never relay any message, whether it's in person or on the answering machine. All I did was go fishing."

You can see pictures of Smith's weekend whereabouts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top 10 things I've learned about Sitka

  1. Never refer to the bears around Sitka as grizzlies. Although they are, you must call them "brown bears" or be deemed daft.
  2. Be prepared to wait in line if you show up when the White Elephant opens (it's true; I have seen the line!). This second-hand store is THE place to shop in Sitka. Free books are outside the building on the left-hand side of the store; books you pay for are on the right.
  3. For the absolute best wildlife viewing tour in town, go to Captain Davey of and let him know I sent ya. Or drop him a note and tell him how much you love his website and my blog!
  4. There are two stoplights in town and one four-way stop sign. These markers are virtually always used for any sort of directions, so know their locations.
  5. If you see people walking around singing, clapping their hands and otherwise carrying on, it isn't because they're crazy or just plain happy (although both might be true). Most likely, it's because if you make a lot of noise, the bears stay away.
  6. The best days to get the local daily paper are Mondays (for the police blotter), Wednesdays (for the grocery store ads) and Friday (for the TV listings). Uncannily enough for you Smith Sentinel fans, it's called the Sitka Sentinel and eerily similar.
  7. If a guy named Odin estimates a time for any sort of hike, double that amount and you might be close.
  8. If you want to run into any of the guys from Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, go down to the Pioneer Bar (locally known as the P-Bar) or hang out around Thomsen Harbor.
  9. There really is a literal end of the road; one end is 7 miles northwest of town and the other is 7 miles southeast of town.
  10. For the best milkshakes in town, go to Lane 7. A milkshake at this joint is what saved Tess' life (see You know it's a small town when...). If you want the best meal in town, go to Ludwig's — but make a reservation. This place is tiny and might seat 12 if you suck it in.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

First ascent of Mt. Verstovia...

By a poodle of Arrowhead. See my photos of this absolutely great day, including one of where my house is and other cool stuff.

I did this fan-tab-u-lous hike. The weather was stunning; warm, sunny, unbelievable...the perfect day for a hike. My hiking buddies and I (Davie, Odin and Louie, the dog, of course) climbed Mt. Verstovia. But we didn't stop there. I let Odin convince me that it was only 45-minute hike to the top of Arrowhead. I didn't really believe him but was game. So we hiked all the way up to Arrowhead, Louie, too. For a poodle, he's a pretty cool dog. I can't believe he made it all the way. That is a 3,300 ft vertical foot climb. For those of you not into hiking and vertical feet, that is a f@#$ing lot of feet to climb. Parts of it you are literally climbing the rocks. It was such a clear day I could see the Fairweather Mountains west of Glacier Bay -- about 90-100 miles away.

We did rest along the way and picnic but left the summit when one of the local gallery owners, a Russian named Eugene, wanted us to go so he could sunbathe in the nude. And he did!

I don't think I'll be attempting Everest anytime soon, but Louie might!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Odd signs posted in my environment

  • Dangerous Invader
    (in reference to the New Zealand sea slugs that have somehow taken over the island)

  • Service dog in the building
    (in reference to the Rottweiler in the Forest Service building who is still waiting for his "official" vest)

  • Suspicious mail alert
    (in reference to weird or Anthrax-laden packages you might receive in a U.S. Government building)

  • Evacuation plan
    (in reference to how to get out of my 4-bedroom apartment that only has one door; they recommend using the door)

  • Do not create dust
    (in reference to how the apartment is old and has asbestos in the ceiling, linoleum, walls, etc. and they don't want you to saw walls or paint the ceiling or anything)

  • Have you seen this bird
    (in reference to letting someone know if you see any black oystercatchers because they are very rare and they're trying to get a population count)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

You know it's a small town when...

You've only been in town a few days and you know the person who's house was destroyed by the float plane crash.

Yes, there was a float plane that crashed a couple blocks from my office on my first day in the office. Fortunately, the person I know had left the house 10 minutes prior to get a milkshake. Unfortunately, it was a fatal crash. Read the story.

My float plane experience was great...I even got to sit in the co-pilot seat. Note: If you're in a float plane and taking pictures, keep your camera ~away~ from the open sliding window if you ever want to actually see those pictures.

See pictures of my Prince of Wales trip, including my float plane pictures (near the end.)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Back in Sitka

Whew, it's been a whirlwind! I am now on my first second-day-in-a-row in Sitka. I returned Friday p.m. after my tour of Prince of Wales Island (photos to come later). In that 24 hours, I went on a 6-mile hike w/ Davey (one of the founders of SEAtrails) and his dog Louie. Then Davey took me out on his boat for a wildlife viewing adventure. I saw sea lions tearing at fish, puffins, whales, seals, sea otters -- it was fantastic. Best part is I can count it as "work". Ha! I have yet to go to the office but should be there on Monday ... at least for part of the day.

See some of my photos of Sitka.

I've been everywhere, man; I've been everywhere...

Crossed the Strait of Georgia, man
I've breathed the fumes of ferries, man
Of travel I've had my share, man
I've been everywhere

I've been to:
Provo, Twin Falls, Boise, Hells Canyon, Coeur d'Alene, San Juan Islands, Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Bellingham, Ketchikan, Wrangall, Petersburg, Sitka, Hollis, Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove, Naukiti, Craig, Klawock

Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere...I've been everywhere.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

My mailing address

I haven't even been in town to set up a P.O. box but it appears you can send stuff to me anyway. It appears that you can go to the post office, wait in line, and they'll hand you your mail. Who knew? How crazy is that? I plan to set up a p.o. box but in the meantime, you can snail mail me at:

General Delivery
Sitka, AK 99835

Ferry trip photos

My great adventures and travels continue so I haven't had time to get these posted until now.

I'm currently in Ketchikan, going to Prince of Wales Island. I've only spent 2 nights in my new Sitka home and may return there on Friday ... but who knows?!?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on the ferry to Alaska

  1. Duct tape is essential. This is especially true if you're pitching a tent on deck.
  2. If the life ring deploys accidentally, a smoke flare marks the location and they WILL turn the boat around, lower the little chaser boat from the ship and retrieve the life ring. This may delay your arrival into the next port, depending on how quickly it takes to circle the ship around. (Seems the bosen was checking the life ring and accidentally launched it, causing great excitement on board and a flurry of activity with the crew. They later announced it was a "training exercise" but I got a tour of the bridge and learned it was an accident.)
  3. You have to pay a $5 fee to be searched for any Alaska Marine Highway Ferry going northbound. (Yeah, right ... like I should ~pay~ to be searched! That is really adding insult to injury.) Before boarding, they actually search your vehicle with a K-9 unit. (Of the 4 ferries I took the car on, this was the only one where they searched vehicles and checked your ID ... and it was no simple search, either. They use a K-9 unit!)
  4. Pick up your feet when using any doorway and be aware. Sometimes, but not always, there is a step over the threshold. Just to make things really tricky and let you know if you drank too much, the only doorway on board where it is a step over and then step down is the women's (not the men's) bathroom next to the bar. In addition, the push/pull direction of doors is the opposite of whatever you think it should be.
  5. Smoking is on the port side of the ship only. (Apprently, this is true of all ships but I have no idea why.)
  6. You will be instructed on the use of TPAs (thermal protection aid) and PFDs (personal flotation device), all of which is no BFD and no one on board paid any attention whatsover to the demonstrations.
  7. Listen to the cook. If you place an order and they yell a number from the menu at you repeatedly, don't argue. Even if your order is not the food associated with the menu number, use it. For example, I ordered two eggs and two bacon ala carte, which is close to a number 6 (one egg, two bacon, one piece of toast). That is the number they want you to tell the cashier and it saves you $.
  8. Any and all water used (cafeteria, bathroom, etc.) is "treated and released" when at sea. (I'm not sure if I like the sounds of any of this and I bet the sea life likes it even less.)
  9. I cannot stress enough how essential duct tape really is. A little rope doesn't hurt, either. Both are especially useful when the wind on deck kicks up at night and blows your neighbor's tent onto yours (because he skimped and only used 2 pieces of duct tape per tie down.)
  10. Don't bother bringing a book. I brought 3 and read 0 pages. One guy got through 10 pages of his book. Another woman got through 20 pages of her book.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back in the good ol' U S of A -- photos available

OK, here's what you've all been waiting for: pictures! Yeah! You should be able to click this link and see the road trip photos:

I made it through customs and all that with relatively little hassle, although the guy kept giving me a hard time that Alaska was the other direction. He also really, really wanted to know what I do for a living. Could that possible matter?

Although the line to get in was relatively short (90 minute wait), I about asphyxiated myself from all of the exhaust fumes from hundreds of cars, semis, RVs, etc. idling and inching forward 5 feet every 5 minutes. Good thing I had some easy Sudoku puzzles with me!

Now, I'm in Bellingham, WA. Tomorrow I board the ferry (finally) for the last leg of the journey. I'll be on the ferry from Tuesday until Friday. Hopefully, I will see lots of whales, dolphins and scenery (fog and rain does ~not~ count as "scenery" so keep your fingers crossed for me). I doubt I will be able to blog any until the weekend ... unless there's somehow wireless on the ferry? Is that even possible?

Friday, July 20, 2007

They'll let anyone into Canada

I made it into Canada with relatively little difficulty. Of course, I made it on a ferry, not the traditional border crossing, so that helped some. The loaded-down Jeep with the snow shovel sticking out was a big topic of discussion. (I doubt my trip back across the border will be as easy.)

I'm now on Vancouver Island and headed to The Buttchart Gardens later today. Tomorrow it's over to Vancouver (another ferry) to see Della (friend) and Jelly (friendly dog). Yesterday was beautiful and sunny but today is rainy. This is good training for my days in Sitka. With all this humidity, my hair is bigger than it's ever been. I must be 6 foot tall now!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on San Juan Island

  1. A lone British pig was the one and only casualty of an England vs. U.S. skirmish over this territory. The poor pig was simply searching for potatoes but mistakenly rooted in the wrong American's soil.
  2. Popeye is a resident seal who lives in Friday Harbor where the ferry docks.
  3. Don't take any advice from a woman named Donelda.
  4. The town has two gas stations less than a block apart owned by the same person. One of them is a penny less per gallon ($3.52 vs. $3.53).
  5. The window of opportunity for doing most things is very small. Things don't open till late (10 a.m.) and close very early. Few restaurants are open past 9 p.m., so plan accordingly if you're arriving on the 9:30 p.m. ferry.
  6. There are no chain stores here, which has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, everything is an adventure. On the minus side, you never know if a place will be open or not (even though the posted hours indicate it should be open), or what the food will be like.
  7. Restaurants are pretty hit or miss. Recommendations: hit the Blue Dolphin; miss the China Pearl. If you hit the Blue Dolphin during the morning rush, don't worry. A nice local going in for coffee club is likely to let you have his table.
  8. If you want coffee, get it before 1 p.m. After that, every coffee shop in town except the one by the ferry closes. (Don't expect the coffee to be very good, either.)
  9. You can find free 8-hour parking by the courthouse at the end of 1st and 2nd streets.
  10. Wanda, the dog in the wine shop near the ferry, has a lot of food allergies. Only give her attention (she loves it) and no doggie treats.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wired in Washington

Wow, Washington has wi-fi access and free coffee at every rest area. Caffeine, cooler temperatures, precipitation and all that oxygen from being at sea level are making my head spin.

I'm now on San Juan Island and will be taking a whale watching tour later today. I took a sunset ferry over yesterday and it was spectacular. The scenery is just like the photos with the mist hovering over the water and around the islands. I even saw several dolphins.

Temperatures have definitely cooled off to a wonderful 70 degrees with a light rain. I had to break out one of my new raincoats and I'm in shoes for the first time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Burning in hell

Hells Canyon is on fire — literally. I took a jet boat tour on the Snake River through Hells Canyon and there is a wildfire burning. You could see the flames. There were even a couple of helicopters filling their buckets from the river and dumping it on the fire. It was pretty awesome to see. (Yes, I have photos but no time to upload them so hang tight ... lots of photos are on the way.) And, don't worry. I was on the water so not in any danger of burning up myself, unless it's from internal combustion. Did I mention it's ~still~ extremely hot here? Over 100 degrees every day but after 114, it's really quite mild at 105.

On the way through Boise, I noticed the Extreme Makeover crew/show was in Boise. But, they had enough volunteers so I didn't help out.

On the way to Hells Canyon, I ended up staying at a combination cafe/motel called Bucky's. They had three rooms. All were available. We discussed the differences between Room 1 (twin beds), Room 2 (full beds) and Room 3 (queen beds), deciding to take Room 2. They weren't willing to give up Room 3, I'm not sure why. But in the cafe, I had the world's largest piece of coconut cream pie. Yum!

I'm currently in Coeur d'Alene, ID, more or less back in civilization. (Civilization being defined as cell phone coverage and working pay phones.) Once I left Boise, there were no working pay phones and absolutely no cell phone coverage until Lewiston, ID...about 6 hours/400 miles or so.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The road to hell runs through Idaho

The stench of smoke was in the air. The charred ground next to the interstate was still smoldering. My eyes and throat were starting to rebel from the raging and unruly fires not far from I-84 in Idaho. Combine that with outside temperatures hovering between 104 degrees and 112 degrees in a vehicle with no air condition...well, you can imagine the stench in the car (and who knows what the internal car temperature is — I can't even guess). The only good part so far is that I'm making excellent time because I don't have to make any bathrooms breaks because I'm sweating out every stinkin' drop of fluid in my body. Who knew Idaho would be so f*&#ing hot?!? Well, maybe some of you did and warned me but I obviously blocked it out.

I spent the night in Twin Falls, ID. This location is the only location in the U.S. where base jumping is legal all year round (there's one location in West Virginia or similar that opens up for base jumping for a week each year). Plus, it's all the location where Evel Knieval tried (and failed) to jump across the gorge.

Where am I headed, you might wonder? Where else ... Hells Canyon. For all you particular people out there, no, there isn't an apostrophe missing. It truly is Hells Canyon. In fact, there was a government commission who studied the issue and made the determination some years ago that in fact, it is and would remain Hells Canyon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Top 10 things I learned about Provo

  1. There is some sort of disturbance in the space/time continuum happening here. There's seemingly no Starbucks in town. Having covered more than 3 miles walking yesterday, I spotted 0 (yes, zero) Starbucks. Incredible. Plus, people here don't know what an Internet cafe is and if you're looking for a pay phone, forget about it. No one has seemingly ever heard of either. Tip: If you are traveling in the area, forget about paying the $3.95 the hotel wants for 15 minutes and go to the library. You'll get 90 minutes of Internet with your "Internet Passport" for a mere $1. What a value!
  2. Provo isn't normally hazy. The haze surrounding the town and mountains isn't pollution ... it's smoke from the state's largest-in-history wildfire and three or four others burning within 100 miles.
  3. The Utah Conference Center headquarters is just around the corner from my hotel ... only in the best spirit of Corporate America, they're holding their conference ~in~ my hotel.
  4. Despite results from an informal survey of hotel workers where everyone says the train definitely does not stop in Provo, I would testify in court without fear of perjury that Amtrak does indeed stop here. (Results based on a survey of 4 people, all over the age of 18.)
  5. Weirdness isn't the (only) reason people walk hugging the buildings ... it's the shade they're clamoring for. It's hot and dry here (even compared to Denver standards); 104 degrees at 11 a.m.
  6. If you're looking for a scintillating conversation, plant yourself across the street from the Marriott. That's where all the people are hanging out in front of the Judicial Center (is the term "court house" somehow politically incorrect?).
  7. If you stay at the Marriott, you receive a complimentary membership to the "club." This entitles you to the privilege of sitting in the bar and drinking (gasp) alchohol. Or, budget in $5 for a temporary, 2-week membership. But that's not all! You can also bring along, free of charge, 5 of your closest drinkin' buddies. You also have the option for an annual membership that's $25.
  8. The grocery store chain here is called Smith's ... what could be better? Maybe I should see if they'll give me a discount.
  9. If you need a Galaga fix, it's only 25 cents in the gameroom of the Marriott. Of course, ya gotta withstand the hot air steaming the room from the hotel laundry room.
  10. The Travelodge serves a mean breakfast burrito, included with your room, one per guest.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on Amtrak

  1. Bring food. The dining car ran out of some food by noon (I left at 9 a.m.), and it closed down completely after noon because the A/C quit entirely. I wondered why it was so hot in there at lunchtime!
  2. Don't drink — anything. The toilets are so tiny that there was not enough room for me, my backpack, and the toilet. Let's just say I basically had to have someone outside the bathroom hold my backpack for me. Needless to say, the toilets were a mess.
  3. Bring plenty of entertainment. Track work prevented this train from going faster than 50 MPH, which was excruciating. My train was more than 2 hours late!
  4. Don't expect to get off the train. Of the 7 or so stops the train made prior to my final stop, I was allowed to get off only once, and then only for 15 minutes. That's hardly enough time to make a phone call (the Mennonites were hovering to use the phone), go to a restroom wider than 14 inches x 14 inches (and the line was unbelievable) and get back on the train. Plus, there is no where to buy food, either, even if you had time.
  5. Pick your seat wisely. Don't even try to sit on the lower level — those are the handicap-accessible seats and someone will sure let you know it, even if there's no one in that car.
  6. Don't believe a word anyone from Amtrak (the government) says. My nifty brochure detailing the ride talked about a quiet car (no cell phones or babies allowed), on-board movies, an on-board Forest Service Ranger narrative about the area and much, much more. None of that was available.
  7. If you smoke, wear the patch. Maybe two (or three). Unless sucking in enough nicotine in 2 minutes or less every 3 hours or so works for you, you and your surrounding passengers are in big, big trouble.
  8. Bring Purell or similar disinfectant for your hands. Between grabbing onto things to maintain your balance whenever you get up to walk around, the bathrooms, and lack of general train cleaning, I cannot speak highly enough about this substance.
  9. The Amtrak workers are just as strange (if not more so) as many of the Amtrak riders.
  10. I now completely understand why Amtrak is not a successful government enterprise (nor will it ever be at this rate).