Thursday, July 30, 2009

Words that rhyme with goat

This is for you. You know who you are.

Moat Vote Coat
Sloat Wrote Stoat
Scrote Dote Smote
Pote Note Grote
Gloat Tote Bloat
Float Boat Rote

Some of these may not actually be words.

Building a house via the internet. In Alaska

We have been at this little old house thing for just over 4 years now. And what a whiz-bang adventure it's been too. Why, there's nothing to turn a normal, reasonable person into a screaming harpy-shrew quite like building a house with your chosen life-mate.

Have I mentioned that I live in a small town on an island enough? Because living here has turned us into the sort of scary dumpster diver hoarders that start collecting pieces of thread "because you never know." I know, I know. Life choices and whatever. But still. I'm from California (shh don't tell) and I should be able to go to the store and buy whateverthehell I want wheneverthehell I want it. It's my right as a consumer.

"Ho ho," Say the stores here in town, "Yes, muskeg harpy, you can buy this here for the low, low price of your first born and a toe. Plus a paycheck. Because, you know, we need to make you really feel that you live on an island with our punitive pricing. SUCK IT."

Sometimes we get stuck and have to pay an unreasonable amount of money for something stupid because we didn't plan ahead enough and buy it during one of our spending orgies away from our fair burg.

Now all of you out there in the webiverse are now screaming, "USE THE INTERNET YOU ZERO." Yes! The internet! Why hadn't I thought of that? Wow. What an amazing array of products and services! Huh, why does the $8 part cost $56 to ship. clicky clicky. Oh, it's because these pirates don't believe in the postal service, just UPS. Again the Island strikes again (only expensive 2-day air UPS, FedEx for me!).

Free shipping! Whee (except for those of you who choose to live in America's fake states like Alaska and Hawaii...they are not really part of America so they can take it in the shorts when it comes to shipping.)

The internet is an amazing marketplace where one can see pictures of a whole bunch of stuff without dimensions, installation instructions, or prices. Purchasing things for your house over the internet is based on faith. You hope it looks like the incredibly grainy picture. You pray they actually package it correctly and it doesn't break in either the truck or barge it has to travel on. Right now, as I type this missive, our $2000 euro-style acrylic bathtub (with flange) is on the barge to us. We hope that it comes with instructions since there are none to be found on the entire interweb. They may be in German since our tub is mfg'd in Germany. If they were in french then it would work. But something tells me that the German instructions would look like this:

halsenfrasssneeorpet (translated, place the tub on a level surface while balancing a goat on your shoulder. This is best achieved by using a Micronesian jumping long haired goat.)

See, it would take us at least another 6 weeks to get the specified goat for installation and we just don't have that kind of time. Story of our life. This is the saga of our house. We get something big, like a bathtub, but can't complete the task because some small, integral part is needed and we didn't know about it until the last minute.

We've made some gains recently, especially on the shipping. Since you can drive a truck across most of America we just have things shipped to a barge in Seattle and it magically appears at our house. It's amazing that you can put your name comma city above the address of a barge company and it gets here.

Our current problem, or problem du jour, are plumbing fixtures. There are approximately a frillion different types of shower and tub fixtures. Many of them are clearly from China with names like AwesomeBrass or Americans Best Shower and they are very cheap. Or they are very, very expensive. The tub faucet I really like costs about $1,100. The $1,100 fixture is probably exactly the same as the Chinese one but I can't tell through the magic of the tubes.

Agony.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Smoke out

There are 2 (two) radio stations here in Sitka. NPR and a butt-rock station called "the Rock". The Rock plays the same 12 songs every hour. As a result I hear Montly Crue "Smoking in the Boys Room" whenever I haul out the little Chief smoker and my old glass mayonnaise jar. It's time to smoke some fish.

Food preservation in the summer takes up entire weekends. Putting up fish is best done with a six pack and music that is decidedly not from The Rock (Although, I can brine the hell out of fish to Joan Jett). We don't smoke entire loins or fillets of fish anymore, we just smoke the bellies and collars. These are generally the waste cuts that aren't good for much else. They're also the fattiest portions of the fish and are amazing smoked.

Everybody here has their special brines or process and I'm no different. I learned to smoke fish with my dad. Every year at about thanksgiving we would make the brine with all sorts of sauces, elixirs, zests, salts for the rainbow trout we caught all summer. I remember being hunched over the deep sink in the garage while dad poured and stirred and grated.

I am much more lazy. My brine is 2 ingredients (4 when I'm feeling fancy). I use a dry brine because it really pulls the moisture from the fish. By the time I get around to getting the fish in the Brine, we've been cutting and vacuum sealing fish for close to 3 hours and I am OVER dealing with fish. Get it in the jar and get it done. Brining is just the beginning though. Smoking fish takes at least 2 days.
I inherited this smoker from my dad. This is a Luhr Jensen Little Chief electric hot smoker. It works ok.

Muskeg Harpy's tried and true dry Brine
2 parts brown sugar
1 part rock salt

Fancy add-ons (totally unnecessary but make you feel fancy).
1T Celery seed
1T dried Dill
King salmon belly, cleaned and ready to go. These can be really kind of ugly looking so don't let that deter you.
Slice the belly (or whatever else) into reasonable chunks. Score the surface of the flesh if you are as lazy as me and don't feel like slicing off the membrane (It doesn't hurt anything but it will restrict the brines penetration into the flesh.)
Dredge the salmon in a big bowl of your brine. Make sure the meat is well coated. Really, this brine is very cheap so don't be stingy.
Layer the dredged fish in your mayonnaise jar (really, any non-reactive container will work. I just like that my jar full of brining fish says best foods). Dump any leftover brine over the top of the fish. You can see how the fat and moisture from the salmon are already dissolving the sugar and salt. Place jar in the fridge for at least 12 hours, but not more than 36.
Take the pieces of fish out of the brine and rinse them in cold water. The brine is a gross, fish syrup at this point and will stink up any cloth it touches. Place them on racks to dry for at least 12 hours before smoking. This forms the pellicle, or skin or crust, on the outside of the salmon that gives it the characteristic chewiness. I put this rack in the oven so the house doesn't get too fishy. Let it dry for at least 6 hours if not 10.
Once everything is dry, you put the fish on the racks of your smoker. It sometimes helps to grease the racks so they clean easily. The strategy is to place the thicker pieces on the bottom rack and the thinner ones on the top. My little chief is hottest at the bottom, nearest the element and chips.
And the racks go into the smoker. I use apple chips for salmon, its a sweet smoke that won't over power the fish. Hickory is alright but mesquite is pretty extreme on fish.

And that's it! All you do is watch 4 episodes of The Riches on DVD and your fish is done. (4-6 hours) You need to add chips periodically to keep the smoke going.

Smoked fish keeps for a long, long time in the freezer. It's important to refrigerate the fish that you make because it will spoil. Cold smoking is better at preserving food for storage outside the fridge than hot smoking.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mustard Greens Pesto

Summertime used to be like one of those dumb Countrytime Lemonade commercials. All sepia toned with oldtimey oboe music and tire swings. Summertime now is a never-ending cycle of work-house-yard-fish-canning-work-garden-deer-work-sleep. It's a rhythm you get into here where a person is busy all summer and sort of lazes all winter.

Example: this weekend I put up a flat of peaches, a flat of strawberries, processed 3 king salmon (includes freeing most of the fillets, making lox, and smoking the bellies and collars), weeded the garden, made brioche, burned a huge pile of plywood in the yard, picked mustard greens to make 8 cups of pesto, all after working a 60 hour week in the field. My dear old husband called me a maniac because all this required getting up at 530 every day. I can only maintain this pace because I know it will end in about 8 weeks and I can go back to knitting and making complicated desserts.

And onto the real reason for this entry: Mustard Green Pesto. The abundant sunshine this summer helped to produce an unreal amount of mustard greens. Like way, way more than we could reasonably eat. (Especially since we've been eating greens twice a day for two weeks.)This is a picture of my garden after I picked all the greens for the pesto. (FYI, raspberries have started, peas are finally taking off, and I can't keep up with the arugula.)

I read around the various nooks and crannies of the interweb about pesto. Those much better at food than I said that pesto = nuts+hard cheese+oil+greenstuff. I really, really wanted a way to stretch my garden beyond the growing season and there's only so blocks of frozen blanched greens a body can take (current count is 5). So, pesto!

The dirty fisherman and I spent an evening wrapping the greens around various nuts and whatnot to figure out the best combination. Mustard greens are garlicky and bitter so they needed a neutral to slightly sweet nut. We even tried mixing mustard greens and mint but that was gross. Eventually, we settled on almonds and asiago cheese.

Full disclosure: my mother-in-law is in town so when I say "me" I mean the royal "me" which actually means "us."

We made an experimental batch last week to figure out the proportions. I sort of view this recipe as more of a formula to be sized up or down based on the quantity of ingredients on hand.

Mustard Greens Pesto*

1 cup packed clean, dry mustard greens
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
1/4 cup Asiago cheese**
2 cloves garlic
5 Tablespoons olive oil***

* This quadruples nicely as I found out

** or whatever hard cheese suits your fancy. I live in Monty Pythons Cheese Shop sketch so my cheese options are limited.

*** (Yesss footnotesss) This makes a very thick pesto, if you plan on using this immediately over pasta, you may need to add more oil.

Chief is clean, dry greens with their stems removed, almonds, cheese, garlic, and olive oil. I left salt out because I prefer to season at the end of dishes and I wasn't worried about any preservation due to the crapload of oil I (we) added.

We had to grind all the ingredients in batches so we didn't over process the greens or nuts. First we ground the nuts, cheese, and garlic to a medium-grind consistency.
This only took a couple of pulses.
Then process the greens to a fine chopped mass. (If you're only making this recipe with 1 cup of greens you can ignore the batches thing, but the order of work is the same).
Pulse the greens so that you get as even a chop as possible. Every food processor is different so do what's best with your machine.
If your doing the batch thing dump it all back into the bowl of the processor and drizzle the oil in with the machine running. Try to balance trickling the oil in without making a paste, you still want some identifiable chunks.

At this point you can season it how you wish (olives, serranos, salt, whatever). At first we omitted the garlic because mustard greens are pretty darn strong, but the first batch had a garlic-shaped hole. Be warned, this tastes very sharp and bright right at first. It mellows considerably after sitting in the fridge for a day, let alone the freezer for a month. My plan is to use this as a base and add to it as needed.
I froze the pesto in small canning jars and in an ice cube tray for later. You can preserve it in your chosen method, or use it right away.

We eat a lot of game so I see this as a base for the crust over roasts. I can also see adding capers or peppers to have this over pasta. Whatever works. With the success of mustard greens this summer I hope this recipe grows with me and gets adjusted as I learn more about cooking. Right now, I'm just happy to have it done and in the freezer.

Major, major aside: I made a tart from the Martha Stewart baking Book and it was terrible. Like the tart crust (followed perfectly) was too dry, but all of the crusts from that book end up too dry. I thought it was me but the fat:flour ratio is wrong. Peter Reinhart talks about a 3-2-1 ratio for pie crusts that didn't exist in Martha's altered magic fat world. Also, the pasty cream from her book suuuucks. Somehow it didn't set up like it was supposed to. Never, never again. I will be using Larousses tried and true pastry cream recipe in the future. What a bloody waste of a vanilla bean. Does anybody else get really upset when a recipe doesn't work?

Friday, July 17, 2009

When fire attacks

We went back out to the xtreme blaze today. I took some pictures for all the soily peeps who may be reading this. The fire burned through the soil, and sort of creeped through the tree roots while the organic peat (yes, organic peat is redundant but go with it) insulated the burn and did a bit of burning itself. I was very impressed.
The fire burned through about 3 feet of duff/peat. It was still warm this afternoon while we were cold trailing. I sort of stood there dumbfounded at what a small blaze could do. Lately, I've been doing a lot of reading about soil carbon, so seeing the amount of carbon that could be burned really stuck with me.
All of those roots were growing in organic soil that was burned away. All that's left is some bare rocks. These fires are smokers instead of huge flames that tear across the countryside.

Another day, another completely awesome thing I get paid to do. My job is the best.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fighting fire. A hat I wear

I am a badass fire fighter. I bet you didn't know that about me. It's one of the many hats I wear in the bureaucratic land management world I work in. So yes, today I went a fought a fire on America's Temperate Rainforest.

Last night I ran around like a crazy, gathering up all of my gear--hard hat, gloves, nomex, goggles, 6 water bottles, line pack, and red bag. All of this stuff has been stored in our unheated house for about a year and it smelled curiously of ash and mildew. I had to run into the office and pick up my radio. I also dropped off my red bag with the gear I didn't need, figuring storing all this crap at the office would be a better place than the house. Went to the store to buy some snacks and a candy for the old man. (He was grumpy because the call for me to go out on the fire came at about 8pm, and he was already in bed).

I got up bright and early to get ready by 7. Getting dressed I couldn't find my green nomex pants. I ran around for a bit, looking for them but I brought them back to the office. Efficient. We stopped by the office go get my pants. The whole time tDF was singing, "no pants! No Pants!" It's our dorky no pants song. Off to the warehouse where we loaded 600' of hose, a pump, a chainsaw, a saw kit, a pump took kit, saw gas, and pump gas. Then to the office to talk to dispatch, where we found out the AFMO was peeved that we didn't engage last night. On to trying to find a boat. We called around until we located the keys to the Gillraker, and by 9 am we were loading the boat and heading to the fire!

We got to Aleukina cove and started looking. The column was an extreme wisp that floated along the shore. After sizing it up (it was 150 square feet, maybe) and implementing LCES, we engaged. The little pump was set up on the drop bow of the boat and we unrolled 100 whole feet of hose. My job was to watch the pump and keep the boat of the rocks during the falling tide. The incident commander hosed the creeping fire for about a hour. Then he whacked at it with a pulaski before hosing it down again.
I watched a pair of eagles teaching their fledgling to fish and the coast guard helicopter practice their hovering over water. We got done hosing it down and then we puttered around the bay for an hour before we checked again on the fire. It was cold.

Back to town by 1pm. Extreme.

Edited to add: Right after I clicked publish, an ad popped up for Carhartt flame resistant work wear. Strange, eh? I don't have ads on my page at all, but some interweb gnome thought I need some rugged Carhartts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's bear week, apparently

So I realized I've been talking about bears a lot. I guess they're on my mind and in my trash. I'll wrap up with my all time favorite photo I ever took of a bear. This is at Anan, during the amazing summer of 2004. Whenever anybody up here talks about the summer of '04 they get a wistful look in their eye and they sort of sigh. The weather was unbelievably good that summer. Hot. Dry. Amazingly unlike Southeast Alaska. Conversely, if you talk about the summer of 2006 you get dirty looks. Nobody likes to remember the crap summer.

Back to Anan...It's a wildlife observatory on the mainland, nearest to Wrangell. We used to live in Wrangell and my brother spent a few seasons working at Anan. What makes this place remarkable isn't really the bears, it's the pink salmon. There are so many that they look like rocks.
All that dark stuff is a huge school of humpies. This place smells like a cannery/outhouse.
I know all of you are wondering what my brother looks like. Here he is in the hottest leftover 30-year-old USFS garb. The pants are America's best high-waisted polyester sea foam bell bottoms. The shirt is a less offensive cottony number. He's packing both a shotgun and pepper spray. (My brother needs nothing but his awesome clapping skills to get a bear off the trail and out of his way.) There's a radio stuck to his shoulder too, for some communicating. HAAA. I love this picture. The workers at Anan got to name all the new bears, and my brother named a pair of young brown bears Walter and Donny after the Dude's bowling teammates.

I'm sure I'll hear all about this. At least I didn't post the picture of tDF trying to start the kicker on our piece-of-crap bayliner. Oh you want a picture of our shiz boat too? You got it.
My friends, that is some orange Naugahyde making up the canopy. We were able to purchase this boat after some guy ran off with an 18-year-old and his wife started selling off all of his stuff. Win!

Back to bears. I guess this is a set up for the most magical, majestic, rugged, individualistic, natural, special, wild, free picture of a bear you will ever see.
That's a tapeworm.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nature in my backyard

I was puttering around the kitchen this morning. Making coffee. Taking the salmon out of the brine to dry on racks before smoking. You know, the usual. (I should also brag that it was about 630 and I got up without prodding. It was a proud moment.) Ole dirty fisherman asked me if I was downstairs. I said no. Then he said he thought he heard something knock over the garbage can.

I toddled out to the porch and lo--a sow and her two cubs were about to eat our garbage. I shut the door. "Honey," I trilled "There's a bear in our trash." tDF got up and went outside to shout at the bears. I probably should have done than initially, but I wanted the both of us to go out as 2 people are much scarier than one little 120# person.

The bears took off and I cleaned up the mess. Thankfully they didn't eat anything just knocked the can over. As a precaution, we emptied the garbage can and took the trash to the dump. We'll probably do that for the next week or so. Bears will return at least 3 times if they get their paws on a treat. The last thing we need is for a mama bear to be teaching her two cubs that this is an easy meal.

No photo. I didn't see the camera and there is something less-than-great about taking a picture of your screw up. (We are supposed to keep our trash in such a way that bears will not be attracted to it.) In general, we dispose of our truly stank trash--like fish ick--away from the house. It's people's responsibility to keep bears relatively wild, I sort of take that seriously.

Holy mother of pearl was that sow big.

Monday, July 13, 2009

on a Sunday

We are crazy fun people. Sunday we woke up (voluntarily) at 0315 to drive out to Herring Cove and hike 3 miles to Medevici Hatchery. The kings were in, maybe, and we needed some fish. It was an amazing morning, there was some sort of Foehn wind warming the air. (You know, like a Santa Anna or Chinook wind.) We made a pot of coffee and waited for it to get a bit lighter. We knew high tide was at 0408, but the chances of encountering a bear in the predawn were pretty high. We opted to go when it was a little lighter, thus improving our mental state in the chance we would see a bear.

I packed my waders and shiny-new wading boots in a pack with assorted snacks, flies, and bear spray. The Dirty Fisherman had two spinning rods strapped to his pack, and assortment of megabaits and other heavy metal lures. We trudged along the worn road, marveling at how people only picked the red salmonberries but left the yellow (better ones) on the bush. We counted bear turds (3) and tried to figure out where the bears were spending their time.

I think we got to the estuary at about 0445. We were fishing by 0500. It's a sight, those 30 pound fish leaping from the water. A jumper doesn't always indicate a school of fish but if there are a lot of jumpers, the chances are that the area is plugged with fish. We started on the northern shore of the estuary, but moved to the southern part after tDF said he never caught fish on the northern shore.

My catch on the southern shore: four (4) pycnopodia, 3 little king smolt, and one 8 inch teenage king. TDF caught a sea cucumber. I decided we needed to move back to the northern shore because there were actually fish jumping there.

There, I waded into the frigid butt-deep water and tried to entice the schooling kings with about 15 different flies. No dice. But it was really neat watching a clump of 20-40 pound fish school around me. Every time they got close my adrenaline would take over and I would stop being cold. I don't know if my waders leaked or what but I was soaked from the knees down. I finally left the water when my hands were shaking so bad I couldn't tie a knot anymore. I wish I caught a fish on a fly. tDF caught one, I didn't. I need some better flies and a lesson on casting (me not so good).
That's me looking better than I actually was. I am standing on a little shelf and the blue-y water is where the kings were schooling. I tried pink flies, Purple flies, purple egg sucking bunny leaches, adams, sparkly red ones, sparkly orange ones, blue one. Nothing.

It's not exactly a wilderness experience, this. Catching fish at their terminal hatchery is sort of cheating but this is the source of our King salmon--even those caught in outside waters. Those are the rearing pens right behind me.

We're smoking the bellies and collars. I think I'll try Salmon tartare too. Mostly it's just good to have a bunch of fresh fish again. It feels like it's been ages.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Oh! Majesty.

Bears are everywhere. Chichagof Island has the highest concentration of brown bears in America. Kuiu island has an extremely high concentration of black bears. On a good day you see lots of little furry butts running away from you into the undergrowth. Watching bears fish from salmon-choked streams or snacking on blueberries in a clearcut is a wonder.

Ever felt the hair raise on the back of your neck? You body knows there's a bear around before the non-lizard portion of your brain figures it out.

Eagles are the symbol of our country. Soaring above the clouds, clutching things like arrows and a 'murican flag. They will swarm the beaches when the herring spawn washes up on the shore. They will cackle and fight over scraps of bear-torn salmon. In the movies, they always foley the sound of a red tailed hawk over the eagle.

These two very rugged, very majestic symbols of Alaska are hightly sought by the frillions of tourists. In Yakutat, the prime bear and eagle viewing is at the dump. The. Dump. (I should tell you, now, that they named all the dump bears in Hoonah. The largest, fattest, meanest boar was named Welfare.)
While we were there, observing the wildlife at the dump, one of assertive male bears chased of a less-than dominant male bear. There are 3 bears in the above photo, one is hidden on a pile of debris in the upper left in the photo.

You can see the hidden bear a bit better here. (s)he was waiting for the premium garbage to be chucked into the pit.

This guy was the meanest of them all.

Magical. This is really what Alaska is all about. Watching the bears a the dump. It's not all nature loving and rugged individualism here. No matter what you hear.

Salad Champloo

I got home from Yakutat at about 11pm on Wednesday. I was wrecked, but still had to work on Thursday. Should you care? No, not really but it was in this frazzled state of mind that on Friday I made a totally silly, delicious salad out of an assortment of random pantry items and stuff from my Garden.

I called it the Salad Champloo after the incredible show Samurai Champloo that I watch all night on Thursday. It's my perfect anime--strange hip-hoppy music, Japanese History/mythology, a flying squirrel, and swords. I liked it so much I watched DVD twice and put the rest on my netflix list. Love.

Champloo, is a englishified Okinawan word for "something mixed." I guess what I came up with qualifies as mixed.

Most of Friday was spent blanching and freezing various greens for later. It's kind of a lot of work for a tiny wad of greens, but I hope it's worth it.

After nearly two weeks of crappy, starchy, preservative-laded field food I needed a salad. I made a nori-based dressing from Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku cookbook. I decided it wasn't salty enough so I added a dollop of white miso. My rocket (arugula) had just exploded in my little garden, so I snipped a bunch of that. (In a former life, I hated arugula. I am reformed.) I fried an egg and some sliced tomatoes, added some julienned Japanese pickled radishes. I mixed the whole shebang together in a large bowl. I loved it. The runny yolk mixed with the pungent miso, coating the fresh arugula and tomatoes.

I took a picture, but it looked like a gloppy mess so I won't burden you with a yummy/ugly salad picture.

Speaking of things that are strangely delicious: Cherry goo and jalapenos! I was making cherry filling for turnovers on the stove and making jerked chicken. At one point, after the turnovers were in the oven and I had just chopped a jalapeno I dipped my spiced finger in the cherry residue in the pot. Whoa. I now need to make a spicy cherry thing because that was terrific. I guess I've heard about the spicy-sweet combination before but I've never really been confronted with it. Ingredients here are generally pretty expensive so I tend to stick with safe "winner" recipes when I buy something like cherries or other stone fruit.

Time to be more adventurous.

Also: I made a complete mess of the kitchen and was chastised by my husband. "I've been trying to keep the kitchen cleaner now that it's done. You use more dishes in the 3 days that you're home than I use in the 10 days that you're gone. I guess you make better food than me but still. You are a slob."

Ha. And point taken.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Building Character: Things I do for work

Someone is making coffee. I can hear it through the faux-pine paneling of our broken down trailer. The turd grinder is happily grinding away in the yard, filling the broke-down septic tank in the compound. It's 4:30. The bad kind of 4:30. The am kind. My field partner gets up at the ass-crack of dawn everyday. At least he makes coffee. I roll over because I will not get up until 6 to be ready to leave at 7. My other field partner joins him at 5 am and they chatter about all things soils. I lay there, the sun streaming through the old sheet I tacked up on the window. Summer field season mornings are beautiful and a drag.

I roll out of bed and pull on my 5-day funky field clothes (I wear the same outfit everyday on my trips because I don't care): thrift-shop, patched Gramicci pants, Patagonia base layer (in the poor-choice color of ultra-stainable lemony yellow), t-shirt, and pink bandanna. I stagger to the bathroom and pray that the toilet flushes and won't back up due to the sub-standard septic system. --Oh, that septic system? It's installed on a terrain where the water table is at about 2 feet for most of the year. Not exactly sanitary. But, hey, it's Yakutat! I pour myself a cup of coffee in the totally inadequate demitasse-size cups in our trailer. The sky is a non-committal high overcast, it could go either way. We hope the clouds burn off and it's sunny but we could be in for a deluge. Who knows? So you pack for the rain.

Lunch is in the pack, rinse out the water bottles (one is full of dirt and dead mosquitoes. How'd that happen?), unplug the Trimble Nomad from the charger, pull on damp waders, crawl in to the surplussed USFS green Ford with the leaky front gas tank. Drive.

Out the road or to the airport, it varies. Let's say we're flying today. So off to the WWII era hanger at the end of the Yakutat airport. Meet with the Helicopter manager and get briefed on the cluster of a schedule. We get to fly out first (we ostensibly have priority over the gigantic, disorganized sling job nearby). Don the Nomex prisoner-orange flight suit, lifevest that comes in two sizes XL or XXL (I choose the XL), flight helmet, gloves and place the nomad in my pocket. Make sure the shovel, auger, rifle and field pack with survival gear is loaded into the pod below the Hewes 500. Haul myself into the canvas and steel seat in the back of the aircraft. The pilot, Brad, is cordial.

And we're off. The mist and low clouds give way to miles of open bog, dark forest, dunes, glacially-fed streams bent by longshore drift. We fly along the pristine beach all the way to Dry Bay at the outlet of the Alsek river. A few sealions are visible against the milky green water. Glacial silt sifts and moves giving the waves a softness and depth. Arcpad tracks our progress on the little Nomad. The little target slides down the shore at 110 knots, just like us.

Dry Bay. We fly over our forested unit, unable to see anything but the thick, bright green between the blue-gray spruce. We find an old, uplifted estuary covered in Myrica Gale and buck bean. After landing we waddle forward of the Hewes and remove our orange garb, load the rifle (away from the helicopter) and gear up for our slog. I carry the shovel, my field partner carries the rifle. Into the woods.

Devils club leaf.
This is the first time I felt I lived in a rainforest. The devil's club averaged 8-9 feet tall with ropey salmonberry filling in the spaces in between. Both have thorns that tear and scrape my waders and raingear. Each little spine seeks out the soft pads of finger tips and the never-idle knuckles. We are swimming in brush, rarely touching the ground.

The first stop. Rain has filled up all the voids in my mosquito headnet so I can't really see what I'm doing. It's ok, as long as I'm moving the little buggers keep their distance. Digging, digging, digging in soft aeolian sands and uplifted beach sediments. At least the digging is easy today. Down, down, down to 40 inches. lean back, avoid sitting on something sharp. Something that could puncture $300 waders. I dig out my little trowel and seamstress tape. poke, scrape, taste, describe the spodosol developing on this dune-influenced beach ridge. They are beautiful reds and grays. Identify the plants: Sitka Spruce, Devils Club (Oplopanax horridus), salmonberry, enchanters nightshade, forest violet, stink current, sitka alder. Pack up. Move on.

It takes 15 minutes to walk 150 meters.

Saw away the veg to make a space to dig. Dig. Describe. Fill. Have a snack. Repeat.

Until 1500. Start hiking back to the LZ. get a call at 1520. "We're not going to make a 1600 pick up, will be closer to 1700." shit.

Get to the lz at 1545. Stand around and discuss the geomorphological process that built the feature we just traversed. Breathe the slightly stagnant air inside of headnet. It stopped raining so we dry our our jackets. 1615. Dig another hole to see how deep or shallow the mineral soil is below the organic. It's about 20 inches. Terric Cryohemist. Sticky blue glacial silt sucks at the sharpshooter. (Razorback, of course.)

1630. Begin looking at the plants. The lupine has caught a perfect raindrop in the base of its 5 leaves, it shines like a jewel. Stands of white bog orchid. Little creeping cranberry. 1645. Poppa-Echo-Echo (pee) behind a willow. 1700 the no-see-um hordes arrive. They swarm my waders, face, hands, neck. Crawl down my shirt. Tiny prickly bites on all the warm parts of my body. Oh, they're in my hair. 1702. Begin pacing, hoping that the movement distracts them. How do moose live in this?

1735. "51Victor landing Dry Bay." They pick up the other crew to shuttle them to the end of the road. We're next. They're coming. They're here. We get to go home. 1805 putting on the sopping wet nomex suit. Running to the helicopter. Getmehome. Getmeouttahere. Nomorebugs. Pilot and manager make cracks about blood loss and whatnot. I am humorless. Fly over the forelands. I can't even admire its beauty. The perfect glacial ridges. The shifting icebergs in Harlequin Lake. Nature sucked today. Screw the bitey, prickly, slick outdoors.

1855. Home. Shower. Dry socks. Food (only what it takes to fill my belly with something warm and salty). Piss and moan. Key out the plant community. go to bed.

Repeat.