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Thursday, March 15, 2007

World Class Summertime Fishing

I have been asked by a few die-hard fishermen to post the salmon runs in case they, or anyone else for that matter, can work out the funding to come up on a fishing trip. I would be more than happy to play the role of guide and help someone catch some salmon, trout, or pike.

Here are my guiding guarantees:
  1. You will go fishing.
  2. You will get something to eat.
  3. You will be bitten by many mosquitoes and other biting insects.
  4. You will see beautiful scenery.
  5. You will be given a place to sleep.
  6. You will enjoy my company while fishing.
  7. You might go for a walk, get lost, survive in the wilderness alone for a few months, get rescued (fly in a helicopter!!), write a book, and become famous. Maybe even rich!
  8. You might have fun.
  9. You might see cool wildlife (bears, caribou, moose, salmon, etc.)
  10. Lastly, I might even let you catch a fish or two.
Based on number seven, visiting us up here should be considered an investment! Anyway, I am looking into getting a boat. . .I think I have it squared away already. . .so I will be able to travel up and down the river to the good fishing holes and be able to go camping out in the wilderness!

Here are the general guidelines for seasons in Koliganek, Alaska. Keep in mind that I have not been here in the summer yet and am basing everything off of what I have heard and researched.

Rainbow Trout - As soon as the ice melts up to the time it freezes again. . .There are highs and lows.
Grayling - As soon as the ice melts up to the time it freezes again. . .There are highs and lows.
Northern Pike - As soon as the ice melts up to the time it freezes again.
Chum Salmon - Mid June to mid July
King Salmon - Mid June to mid July
Silvers - Early August through the end of August
Pink Salmon (even years only) - Late July through mid August

Berry Picking (blue berries, salmon berries, high and low bush cranberries) - Mid July through mid September

There you have it. I have been hearing of catching rainbow trout that are larger than 36 inches!!! I can't wait to get a line in the water! Depending on when school starts for me it sounds like mid August provides some of the best all around opportunities with berry picking and fishing for silvers. The end of June would be great except Molly and I will be in Wisconsin this June. . .Maybe next summer!

Do not worry if you can't make it up to fish with me this summer. . .I will post pictures!


I caught my first wolverine yesterday!!! Check out the picture in the picture archive.

Ron and I have been focusing on an area where we have seen many wolverine and wolf tracks. We have a few traps out that we have very high hopes for and finally yesterday. . .they didn't catch anything, but the set we put out almost two weeks ago with no success had a wolverine! Luckily for me he got caught in a snare on his way into the bait and then put his foot in a wolf trap. Between the two traps he wasn't going anywhere. I have been told how mean and wild they can be when in a trap, but I didn't quite realize how wild until I saw what he did to me snare. The individual wires were breaking from being twisted and chewed on. . . If he hadn't stepped in the wolf trap I may have lost him.

I have come to find that what takes Ron 5 minutes to do will take me at least 20! In terms of skinning anyway. I spent 3 hours skinning this wolverine last night and only because of Ron's help did I get to where I did! I just need more practice. Next time I will have to save him until a weekend so I can spend all day working.

So far I have caught 1 wolverine, 1 porcupine, 1 marten, 1 fox, 1 spruce grouse, and 1 ptarmigan! I am doing well with the variety factor!

Teaching in Bush Alaska!

Molly and I have come to find out that teaching in bush Alaska is truly an adventure. Every new week is different from the prior week and we never know what to expect next week! So far we have dealt with extreme cold and white-out blizzards, no water. . .twice, power outage, a fire, basketball season (remember, teams fly to their games and sometimes get weathered in there), sewage backing up into our bathtub, high winds (makes our apartment cold), and this week one of the generators broke down causing there to be very little heat in the school!

Last week the heat stopped working in the shop and we could see our breath during class! I asked my students if they wanted to go to my classroom and have a free day to work on other things, but they said they would rather deal with the cold. We spent three days wearing winter gear in the shop while handling metal tools for 55 minutes! It was cold! The gymnasium was also very cold and students had to wear their hats and jackets while playing basketball until they warmed up a bit! This was because of the wind outside combined with an old, drafty school.

This problem was fixed, but then on Monday the classroom portion of the school was somewhere in the 30's when we got to school. By noon with all the students there and the sun shining it got up to 45 degrees, but we let the kids go home early. It's very difficult to write with mittens on and even more difficult to write with cold hands!! This was fixed that evening and now all is toasty again. . .Although, I never had heat in my room and still don't so it is quite chilly in the morning, but warms up eventually.

The funny thing about these issues is that I kind of enjoy them! I like the adventure of it all and as long as nobody is hurt, starving, or freezing I will continue living each day as a new day. Living in the bush is kind of like having Christmas every day; I go to sleep at night not knowing what I will get in the morning!!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oh No!

When Molly and I got up on Saturday morning we were surprised to see a lake on the street in front of our house! Did the weather get warm? Nope. There was a stream of water flowing from under our house out to the street!! Ron and Rondee had been without water for a few days because of frozen pipes and we were worried that this just happened to us as well, but our water still worked so. . .

As it turns out this was from Ron and Rondee's house. Their pipes were leaking water in several places, and the water was flowing under the snow to our house. A lake formed under our house and eventually began flowing out to the street. If we hadn't noticed this right away, the water would have froze under our house, and we would have been without water until summer!! Whew, there is always something exciting going on in Bush Alaska!!

We also found out that because of all the situations with water and electricity we may get some money back from our rent!!


After caribou hunting for four hours Nick invited me to come steam with him and Roger. If you thought driving around a snow-go with a gun slung over your back is manly, try getting naked and sitting in a steam house!!! Anyway, I have learned a little more about steaming and how it is properly done.

When Molly and I steamed we just sat in the "hot room," it is like a sauna, to wash and relax. I now know that you are supposed to go in the hot room for a bit then back into the "cold room," this is like the entryway to the steam house and gets very steamy when the hot room door is opened. After sitting in the cold room for a few minutes, you go back into the hot room, then to the cold room, then to the hot room, and continue this for as long as you want. Each time in the hot room you may do some washing or just sit and relax. The very last time in the hot room Nick "bombed" the room by adding a lot of water to the rocks making it extremely hot. It felt kind of like pouring molten lava over my body! OK, so it wasn't that bad, but it was hot and did feel good in the end. The best part is sitting in the cold room with all the steam. It is interesting how for hours after steaming I still felt very warm and cozy, even when I went outside and my wet hair froze, I felt warm.

Last thing, if anyone has questions about steaming, school, trapping, hunting, or any other experiences we've had please add them as a comment. We try to explain anything that may be interesting, but it's easy to leave bits, pieces, and whole stories out because we see it every day.

Caribou Hunting!

I got to go caribou hunting yesterday!! Maybe I should call it caribou looking for and not finding because we didn't see any, but it was still fun. A friend in the village stopped by in the morning and told me he heard that a heard of caribou were moving our way and he wanted to go shoot a few. Of course I said that I would love to come too! He told me to bring my rifle and a thermos of something hot and to be ready in half an hour. We drove to the Mulchatna River and followed it for miles and miles, but found no caribou. We were looking for a heard of around 1000 caribou so I think they would be hard to miss if they were near. I did roll the snow-go over while trying to get up on a large drift. It wasn't very eventful. . .just a slow motion roll over which popped some screws out of my windshield. Other than that nothing is broken. I also got to see another 30 miles of country I hadn't seen before which was great and there is just something very manly about driving around with a rifle slung across your back!!

The season closes very soon so I hope I get the chance to go out again. . .This is a subsistence hunting season.

More Trapping Adventures!

Ron and I have been doing a bit of exploring lately and been thinking up great plans for next years season since this year is nearing its end. On one such exploration trip I found a den of some sort back in the brush. It seemed to big to be a fox den, not big enough to be a wolf den, and maybe the size of a wolverine den. In any case, I was going to find out and catch whatever it was! The den was oval in shape and the very interesting part about this den was that there was frozen strings of pee all over the trail coming out of the den. This critter did not stop to go, it just went as it moved and the pee froze on top of the trail! The day after finding the den Ron and I went back to set some wolf snares, wolverine traps, and one trap in this den.

I gave the set three days and when I returned I walked up to the trap cautiously because I didn't want to be surprised by a live wolverine or something like that. When I could see the trap I thought, "yeeessssss, I got a wolverine! Wait a second, something looks a bit funny. . .A PORCUPINE!!?? I was expecting a wolverine and the porcupine with his winter coat looked very similar until you touch him or look at his head. I guess I can say I am an expert porcupine trapper now! Apparently porcupine is very good to eat, but I didn't want to eat this one because he had been caught, killed, and left laying for up to three days. I also didn't find out about porcupine meat until I left him sitting in the shop for a day and a half, which isn't going to help the meat at all.

I am doing a pretty good job of catching one of each creature out here. . .I still think I will get a wolf and wolverine yet this season!

Ptarmigan and Spruce Grouse

While out trapping I carry the .22 pistol Ron let me borrow to put down animals and shoot ptarmigan and spruce grouse. Both birds are just like ruffed grouse we have back home, but a bit smaller. Spruce grouse spend a lot of time up in the trees and seem to be more solitary, while ptarmigan are always on the ground and in small groups. Ptarmigan are neat because they are almost entirely white during the winter and soon they will begin changing back to brown for summer.

I shot my first spruce grouse while snow-shoeing with Molly. There are always bird tracks all over the place and we were following fresh ones hoping to find them to shoot. I had given up on the tracks and said we should probably be going, but it was at that same moment that Molly said, "Brian, there is a bird right next to me in that tree." Sure enough, there was a spruce grouse about 15 feet from her in a tree just sitting there. Being the expert marksman I am, I shot six times, reloading and continued shooting until it finally fell out of the tree. I thought I was just a very bad shot, but it turns out that I actually hit it most of those times! I don't know how it stayed up there, but it was one tough bugger! I wanted to eat it, but being shot so many times made it only good for trapping bait. . .Which I needed badly.

The ptarmigan I shot was even more exciting! Checking traps with Ron I saw a few fly up as I drove by a patch of spruce trees. I stopped and drew my pistol at the sight of several ptarmigan walking around on the snow. With the first shot I hit it, but like the spruce grouse it somehow managed to keep going and proceeded to run away from me. I continued shooting as I chased it through the trees and across a crick before I caught up with it. I made a diving leap, grabbed it, and fell through about two feet of hollow ice on the creek! The important thing is that I got my first ptarmigan! I really need to get a shotgun up here!

Marten Trapping

I caught a marten!! If you are not sure what a marten looks like check out the picture in our pictures archive. They are basically like a really large squirrel except they eat meat rather than nuts. Although most of our snow disappeared during the warm spell, Molly and I went snow-shoeing a couple of times in the trees along a creek where the snow still ranges from one to eight feet deep. We found marten tracks all over the place! I told Ron about them so we set out to trap martens.

Here's how it works. In the area where I found several sets of tracks we looked for a leaning tree. Ron set one trap and I set another about 30 yards away. We set and wired the traps to our trees, put a ptarmigan higher in the tree, added some marten lure (very smelly), and hung a wing with fishing line to add some motion to the set. Simple! The next day Ron had a marten in his trap and the day after that I had one in mine! My marten was bigger of course and I claim the title of a marten trapping guide because I picked the spot. I wish everything else was this easy to trap. It's been almost two weeks since this and we didn't see another marten track until the day we had to pull out the traps because marten season is closed now.

Maybe I shouldn't have given away my marten trapping secrets, but as long as nobody plans to come trap them from Koliganek, I guess it is OK. Ron and I already have big plans for trapping martens next year because we have come across several areas with a lot more tracks. Last year a marten fur brought in around $80, this year only $30, so we are hoping the price jumps back up for next year.

Friday, March 9, 2007

I Have Been Busy

I know that it has been a long time since the last (and only) time that I submitted a posting, but after getting hired at the school, I have been so busy! My classes are going pretty well. It has been somewhat difficult teaching two art classes without many supplies. I have been trying to get a list of supplies approved or at least something approved so that I can order a few things, especially for my high schoolers, but I don't think that I'll get anything before the end of the school year. I've got some ideas for the rest of this year, though, and then next year I can get what I need.

If anyone has ideas on teaching a first grader the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that they make, let me know. That has probably been the most difficult thing for me to teach. I'm really running out of ideas.

Another huge dilemma for me has been grading. I took over classes about six weeks into the quarter, so it's been difficult trying to figure out how to combine grades or what exactly I need to do. Today is the last day of third quarter, so that all has to be figured out by Tuesday. Eek!

Yesterday another one of the teachers and I rearranged our classroom. It was pretty exciting! It feels more like my room now than someone else's room that my desk is in. I'm getting some artwork on the walls, too, so it's looking brighter. A few of the students have made comments about how much nicer it looks now!

For those of you reading this who are not teachers, I apologize for so much boring school talk. Other than school, I have been trying to keep up on baking bread. I had ordered two five pound bags of whole wheat flour since the stores here don't carry whole wheat bread, so I baked a couple of whole wheat loaves last weekend. After they had been baked and I was slicing them, I noticed how white they looked. Brian and I discussed for quite a while about how interesting that was and that wheat breads must always have caramel coloring in them. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I realized that the flour that we had received was actually unbleached white bread flour. I was so mad! Maybe someday I'll get some whole wheat bread.

I have also been doing a little artwork outside of school just for fun and for something to hang on the boring white walls in our house. I have been painting on the brown packing paper that we have so much of since it comes with our groceries and just about everything else that we order.

Lately it has been very cold here. The temperature has been right around zero most of the time, but the windchill has been the worst. For a few days earlier this week we were really struggling to heat our house. When I woke up Monday or Tuesday morning, the thermostat was set at 72 degrees, but it was 52 degrees inside! It was quite a struggle to get the temperature up to the mid to upper sixties. There was one unit of teacher housing that the pipes froze. They haven't had water for a few days now. We have also had to cancel gym and shop classes because you could see your breath in those rooms! Hopefully it will be getting warmer soon. Of course the days have been getting a lot longer just like everywhere else. It is just so nice when we are finishing up with dinner at 7:30 and it's still light.

I'm not sure if we've mentioned this before, but we order most of our groceries online. This works out pretty well for ordering nonperishables (except for when you get the wrong flour!), but in order to get perishable foods, you have to pay a lot more for shipping. Brian and I have avoided finding out exactly how much more it costs by not ordering these items, but it gets frustrating after you've gone so long without salad, fresh fruit, or any other fresh produce. One of the other teachers went to Dillingham, our regional hub, over a weekend and brought salad to school for lunch when she got back. I told her that I was jealous, so the next day she brought in a huge bowl of salad for everyone to share! Then another one of the teachers went to Anchorage for a week, so I requested some spinach. When she returned with spinach and lettuce, our co-op got a shipment of produce! It was the first shipment that I had ever seen (in the month and a half that I have been here), so I hurried down as soon as the students left school. It had already been picked through, and there were no more oranges, but I got some green peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and lots of apples! Then next day Brian bought a kiwi! We've had salads, BLTs, and great snacks! Yummm!

Some more exciting news is that we got satellite TV a couple of weeks ago! Of course this has caused a couple of problems in getting things done, but we've been able to watch our favorite shows, some movies, and even the news!!! I heard today on the Today Show that gas prices have gone up again. They said that the highest prices in the nation are in California at $3 something a gallon. I found this amusing since gas here is $5 a gallon and this has been the price of gas for the past couple of years! Some people told Brian that the price of gas never changes in the village (or at least not like it does back home).

I'll try to write again soon so that it's not quite so long next time. If you have any questions or comments, please write them. You can leave them at the end of each of our postings. We would really like to hear what you are wondering or interested in hearing more about.

P.S. Brian and I will be home in June for my sister Katie's wedding on the 22nd!