Friday, August 27, 2010

Signs of Autumn's Approach

:: squirrels burying walnuts in the backyard

:: giant cobwebs pinned to every tree along the riverbank, each dotted with as many as 10 spiders

:: sun so low in the sky as to render our north-facing deck a chilly place to hang out

:: grasshoppers everywhere

:: football and soccer cleats stacked in front of the door

:: cool nights, pleasantly warm days

:: thoughts of returning to that wool sweater I started knitting last winter

:: no more fans blasting me as I try to sleep

:: soup for dinner

:: galas and honey crisps at the market this morning

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Egg!!

The girls must have heard the muttering going on lately: damn chicken poop, damn dirty water, where's the eggs?, what kind of chicken dinner should we have, etc.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Backyard Houdinis

Lady the dog is already an accomplished Houdini. Whenever we open the front door long enough to ferry luggage to the car, or groceries into the house or, as happened two days ago, couches out to a pickup, Lady slips out and goes adventuring. Usually she only makes it down to the gazebo at the neighborhood park (good picnic leavings for munching). After playing with anyone who will notice her at the park she usually makes her way back home. Grace and I went swimming during the most recent door-opening--I couldn't bear to watch the couch wrangling--only to return home to find Lady patiently waiting in the front yard, Dave inside, blissfully ignorant of her latest escape.

Until yesterday I figured Lady was the only escape artist-in-residence. That is, until Dave came home to find all five chickens hanging out on the wrong side of the fence.

They look innocent enough, don't they?

Dave herded them back in, we looked for obvious holes, launching points (yes, we've seen Chicken Run, we're hip to all the various escape plans), missing tools, whatever. Nothing. A couple hours later they were out again. This time Dave didn't open the fence gate when he shooed them back. Amazing to think that these big balls of feathers can squeeze through the fence slats. Well, all of them but Martha, who is so big she must squeeze under the fence. Did they learn this manoeuvre from the cats?

We put up a board and made plans for thwarting future escapes. When I noticed them congregating around the fence yet again in the evening I put up even more boards. The situation being dire by this point I was happy to shut them up for the night.

This morning Grace and I set to work like real ranchers--we patched up the fence with what we had at hand.

Okay, it's a little cheesy and, as Grace mentioned many times, colorful. But the last thing I need to worry about right now are flattened chickens in the road or losing them to someone for dinner.

Oh, and did I mention that our chickens have also discovered an inner craving for rhubarb leaves? My lovely rhubarb, the first I have ever been able to grow, has become their salad bar. I know, rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Apparently chickens can eat the leaves without outward symptoms of poisoning. The talking heads on Google fall into two camps: chickens will eat only what they know they can eat, rhubarb leaves serve as some kind of wormer, etc. etc.; rhubarb leaves will ruin their kidneys, render their eggshells excessively fragile or even keep them from laying (no, no eggs yet, that's another story). Considering how much I love rhubarb, ripping the plants out was not an option. So here is our solution.

We won't win any prizes for beauty in the garden, but at least my rhubarb is saved and my chickens are deterred.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


On a really hot morning we decided we needed blackberry cobbler for dessert. With our friends we scavenged Zintel Canyon, netting a lot of berries, a few scratches, and a couple passes on the rope swing.

Samuel and Will took it upon themselves to crawl into the bushes to grab the choicest of blackberries.

The rope swing at the end of the trail.

Grace's turn on the swing.

The end result of a hot and sweaty afternoon: our blackberry cobbler.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer in Naknek

The Naknek river and our dock. The fresh/frozen plant is on the right with the red roof, the cannery is on the left, fish tanks in the upper right corner, two of my refrigerated containers in the foreground.

Once again I have survived a summer in Naknek. Five weeks of working everyday, three weeks of which we were on a 24-hour work schedule. I worked between 16 and 20 hours a shift during that period. While it was happening I had all kinds of things I could have written about, had I had: 1) a decent internet connection; 2) energy; 3) time. And some things it's just as well I didn't commit to "paper". I either want to forget them, they are no longer important, or my perspective has changed greatly since catching up on my sleep.

When the salmon finally hit all of my time boiled down to working, eating very hurried meals (ghastly food but that's all in the past, no point in flogging that one), and sleeping. It's a pretty amazing experience: the work that gets done, the demands made upon my mind and body, the people I work with (Mexican, Samoan, Burmese, Cuban, Filipino, Japanese)... above all the people, how we survive, laugh, stress out, cope with boredom, become fast friends as only can happen in such an intensely stressful situation.

Until I finally figure out how or what to write about, I'll just post some pictures to give a sense of where I go every year.

Along the beach of the Naknek river. Gillnetters tied up to our dock. We are very close to the mouth of the river which empties out into Bristol Bay, and then the Bering Sea. The tides are huge: when the tide goes out it looks like you could walk across the river.

A gillnetter.

Dawn on the dock, looking back towards the plant from the edge of the dock. The blue totes hold whole fish and ice, the red totes hold headed and gutted salmon waiting to go through the fillet line.

The shipping office. Alex is the other shipping supervisor--beard nets are required, I'm happy not to have a beard. You can see that I have a huge puddle of water in there. It seeps in from the ice house next door. The tally girls (who operate the computer that generates bar-coded labels for the totes) dubbed the puddle "Lake Ari." The machinists have promised that after years of me having wet feet, they are finally going to solve the leak problem, and I should have a dry office next year.

Junior loading thousand-pound totes onto the shipping truck. The boxes go up the road, across the street, and are loaded into the appropriate freezer container. By the end of the season I had 8 or 9 containers going, all with different sizes or styles of salmon and different destinations. It's enough to make a sleep-deprived gal's head spin.

Unfortunately, sometimes fully-loaded containers have to be unloaded because the wrong product is in there, or a there is a missing label, or a partially-filled box is in there by mistake. I don't remember the reason for this particular unloading, but I do know that my forklift driver was not a happy camper. 36 boxes are a lot to unload, even with the help of a forklift.