Posted in Ketchikan, Writing Nothing until Something Appears

Nesting in Ketchikan

October:  we and the bears are chubbier.  As fall moves along and our tummies start rumbling.  The scent of winter is in the air, and there is still work to be done.  We survey our cupboards, and a bear cub wanders into Tatsudas market and takes stock of the produce case.  Subsistence hunting and gathering is an important part of Southeast Alaskan life.  Halibut is frozen, salmon smoked, dried, and canned.  Seaweed collected in late spring is brined and dried.  Bears and people have finished the grand competition for salmonberries and blueberries, and pies and jams are in good supply.

Containers, I think they’re wonderful. Photo by V.L. Hendel

Ketchikan hangs tightly to the rocks on the south-western edge of the Revillagigedo Island.  We are connected to the food lines by barge and the suitcases of friends who’ve made recent visits down south (note:  down south refers to the lower 48 as compared to out south which refers to the road south—actually east—of Saxman).  The general wisdom has it that you always pack one set of clothing in a very large suitcase so that there is plenty of room on the return trip. I myself have carried Fat Tire Ale and Humboldt Fog cheese back home in my suitcase.  I was in empathy with the man at the luggage carousel carefully checking over the box of his mother’s boysenberry pies.  They were intact, thank god.

The barge comes in on Tuesdays, so the selection in the grocery store is best on Wednesdays.  We can’t feel right about things until the pantry shelves are bursting with collections of canned foods.  Out in the garage, we locate the spare tanks of propane gas and attend to the wood pile now stacked nice and high, heating oil topped off. . .we’re ready.  Bring on winter.

For reasons I’d love to open for speculation and discussion, food variety is limited here despite modern transportation.  We live on a rock island in a rainforest.  No arable land.  Daylight is short, energy is expensive.  So we don’t grow too much.  I  love to watch the barge crawl up the Narrows.  It snails along with an impossible load of containers.  It brings everything. . .except tourists.  I get a secret pleasure singing “oh oh the Wells Fargo wagon is a comin’ down the street, I wish I wish I wish. . .”  You get the idea.  I want my raisins from Fresno.

Yes, we do have restaurants.  We have Burger Queen, affectionately called the Burger Bitch.  I think they even have tee-shirts that say that.  We have a McDonalds with free Wi-Fi.  Way out north—which is actually west—you can get sweet potato fries and all things fried at Knudson Cove.  The best food in Ketchikan is always always found in people’s homes or at potlucks.  Gastronomically speaking, what makes here here are the goodies people have collected.  Fresh halibut—I love the cheeks!  Go down to the dock and buy a crab from a boat.  Or set your own pots.  Coffman Cove oysters are the best anywhere.  Barter for some moose or deer from a hunter friend.  Winter salmon is divine.  There is no shortage of shrimp at any gathering.  Ah, sweet winter.

Posted in Ketchikan

How Fall Snuck Past Summer

A Nutmeg Morning
Comfortable in her coat, Nutmeg enjoys the "clear golden light" cast on Deer Moutain.

The clear golden light of the morning is a pleasant ruse for the temperature which is somewhere between brisk and snappy.  I dash back inside and put on my jacket.  I’m confused because it’s sunny out.  Then it hits me:  Fall has landed in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The steam curls from the wooden steps of the boardwalk street I call home.  At the top of the sixty-seventh step, I turn around for the view looking over the tops of the downtown  buildings and on east down the Narrows.  Steam is also rising from the roofs, but otherwise the air is perfectly clear.  To the west—what we call out north—a little pouf of smoke hangs over someone’s fire as they burn salmonberries.

I collect my mail and head back down and on.  As I walk, a decided stink in the air pulls me sharply out of my reverie and announces that I am approaching the creek.  The gulls ecstatically disagree with the attitude behind my wrinkled nose.  It’s raucous down in the creek.  To the birds the creek smells deliciously of free salmon—salmon with no fight:  the ones who couldn’t.  And hey, who doesn’t like free salmon?

Some guy falls in step beside me.  He tells me about how he had been laid off of work.  “So I set up out north and caught fish.  I smoked two hundred pounds of salmon and sold it.”  He moves on with the easy comfortable air of a man with a full freezer.

Yes, fall is here.  And if there is a need for more proof, the calendar hurdles toward the second Monthly Grind of the season.  The second.  Monthly Grind—for those who don’t know—is the means by which two hundred and fifty plus locals scooch together tightly in the Saxman long house to keep warm.  We sing and make merry.  It’s a sort of organized open mic with dessert.  Five dollars or a dessert donation gains admittance.    It’s down home, it’s local, it’s grand.  The gist of Monthly Grind is to seat oneself strategically so that when intermission is called a quick and effective lunge to the dessert line is achieved.  Twelve-year-old boys are experts at the dessert table strategy.  I’ve seen it time and again and have tried to get it down.

The last proof to offer for those who still wonder when summer is coming is how the apetites are sharpening.  Fall signals the necessity to put on a good winter layer.  The bears do it.  They’ve polished off the berries and salmon and are heading off for the winter sleep.  I’ve got my winter pop tart stash but could use some more smoked salmon.