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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We start to excavate the house

Today we started to excavate the Early Russian period house in earnest. It turns out that the house floor is only a centimeter or so thick. Is this because people did not live in the house for very long or did the occupants keep it super clean? Judging by the midden pile (read garbage dump) outside it looks like the former. The midden associated with the house is relatively thin, and this leads me to believe that the house was not occupied for a long period of time. Mark and I guess people lived there for less than 10 years.

While the housefloor is thin we have found quite a few artifacts. These include: a brass button, a piece of leather, a copper ring, glass beads, bits of ceramics, a 'lead spur' created when the occupants poured lead into a bullet mold. and an abrader and associated metal 'pin'. Lots of stuff and we have only excavated a little bit of the house. But really - relatively little metal or European goods. It looks like the house is early enough that the Alutiiq had not yet been flooded with 'European junk'.

Out in the midden in front of the house we also found a gun butt plate and a type of barnacle that only grows on humpback and sperm whales. Cool stuff - the Alutiiq who lived in the house obviously owned and used firearms and hunted whales. If you read the historic literature the Alutiiq were not supposed to own guns. Lydia Black, a renown Russian America scholar, always told me that the Alutiiq were allowed to own firearms and what we've found seems to support her viewpoint.

We've also determined that the siderooms associated with the house had roofs covered with sods while the main room appears to have had a roof of thatched grass. We've even found preserved wooden roof beams. I can't wait to excavate the rest of the house!

Photos: Marks screens the backdirt while Miriam and Amy excavate inside of the house. Bottom - the crew at work. Note Mark supervising the crew excavating the midden outside of the house in the distant middle.

Hunting 101 Reprise

With hunting season around the bend I thought I'd post practically verbatim a post from last year. My views have not changed and perhaps a hunter new to Kodiak might learn something. Also I updated the deer hunting photos!

Deer season opens in less than a week. Soon, instead of endless blog posts about skiing and snow it will all be about hunting and exploring the backcountry in search of various species of game. Time to fill the freezer. So in honor of the change in season, I figured I’d leak the secret to my success at hunting.

Rightly or wrongly, I do consider myself a successful hunter. I proxy hunt for a few people, and every time I go out deer hunting on the road system I harvest a mature 3 point buck with eye guards (see photos from last year). Most of the meat Zoya, Stu, Nora and I eat is something my hunting partners or I shot. Last year we ended up with over 1300 pounds of processed meat (deer, mountain goat, elk, and reindeer) – cleaned and cut up, wrapped, and sometimes ground – all in our own kitchen.

The secret to my success? I hike for my meat.

It always annoys me when I meet new guys to Kodiak who believe the first, and most essential piece of hunting gear they need to acquire is a four wheeler (ATV). Later, after the hunting season, I invariably find out that they did not harvest anything, or if they did, something puny. I’d say instead of spending 4 or 5 grand on a quad (if you’re lucky) – buy a custom rifle and good scope, really good binoculars, and the best camping gear and clothes you can afford. You can buy some pretty good stuff with $5,000. Put your money where you’ll need it.

Don’t get me wrong – an ATV is a useful piece of hunting gear. You can use an ATV to access some remote places. But the essential point is that it only gets you there – you still have to hike and hunt for your meat. Most guys who hunt from ATVs never get off of their ATVs. Worse yet, ATV hunters are generally all concentrated into the same areas, and the melee and noise drives all the game away.

It’s funny but some areas of Kodiak’s road system now have better hunting than they did 25 years ago. Back then practically everybody hunted on foot and hunting pressure was pretty evenly distributed about the road system. Today, most people hunt in the ATV accessible areas and the other areas see much less pressure than they did 25 years ago. The key to getting a big buck is to hunt areas where ATVs cannot go.

The sad thing about ATVs is that they are slowly but surely degrading the road system hunting. Every year sees new ATV trails into what were pristine hunting areas. And soon enough these same areas are devoid of game.

A common defense of the ATV hunter is that the machine allows backcountry access to the young, out of shape, elderly and crippled. And that is true – but the increased access also pushes the game further away from the road and makes it more difficult for the individual on foot. What about access to the backcountry for people who cannot afford an ATV? After all, hiking in is free, and most people can get in shape.

OK enough on my rant – but if you’re new Kodiak and want to get a big buck. Hunt high, buy great gear, and forego the ATV. Good Luck.

Photos: Two of the deer I harvested last year - a nice 4 point, and a roadsystem 3 point.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nora and Stuey-isms

Nora is becoming quite the little talker--she is still difficult to understand at times but her intelligibility improves all the time. Her sounds are becoming sharper.

Stuey is speaking up a storm as well.

Lately Stuey is very good at saying "hi" "bye" and "thank you". He says thank you sometimes unprompted, which just blows my mind away! Even when he says it once a week unprompted I am incredibly happy, as the other one thousand times are prompted. I don't mind prompting all the time if needed until they get the hang of it because good manners are important in the world.

Stuey also says, "Uh-oh, big truck mamma" at every big truck, tractor we see in the world. He is such a truck guy. Its not like we've groomed him to do this in ANY capacity. He has a fascination with trucks. Makes me think the truck/car fascination with little boys is more nature than nurture.

The other day we were salmon berry picking and Nora at one point asked, "Is this bushwhacking mamma?" I laughed to myself-as we stepped over a few salmon berry and blueberry bushes. our daughter knows the word bushwhacking in her vocabulary from hearing Patrick talk about it with regards to hunting trail conditions. She is our little bushwhacker in the making...:)

When we were berry picking, with virtually every berry Stuey saw, he would say, "Boo-berry, Mamma". He believes that every berry out there is a blueberry, and it should be picked and eaten. This goes for even the horribly under-ripe, practically green berries. He eats them all with a big smile. I think as far as he is concerned, if he picked it off the bush, its going to taste good. Hes the little gatherer in the making!

This age with the kids is so fun-there are funny interactions between Stuey and Nora.



Yesterday we mostly excavated outside of the house. It had rained hard overnight and the house was a little mucky for careful excavation. But we had plenty to do and find outside of the house. Our biggest discovery of the day is that the site appears to have 'multiple compnents'. In other words, we determined that the house was built into an older site.

Everywhere outside the house we found tiny beads and bits of ceramic probably associated with the inhabitants of the house. We found these historic artifacts in the top 0-5 cm below the 1912 Katmai ash. Below that the excavators started to hit pebbly dark soil and find REALLY OLD artifacts - 3,000 year-old U-shaped abraders, cobble scrapers, red chert flakes, notched stone netsinkers and even a 6,000 year-old microblade core fragment. 'Uh oh', I thought. 'It looks like the Black Kachemak' - shades of virtually every other Community Archaeology dig for the last 11 years. And, yup, I do believe that is what we got.

It looks like there is a 3,000 year old site below the 200 year old house. After people abandoned the nearby Zaimka Mound site it looks like they just moved closer to the beach. We know that prior to about 4000 years ago the ocean partially eroded Zaimka Mound, but by 3,000 years ago they were living on the beach in front of the mound where we are digging today. Then 200 years ago it looks like Alutiiq people returned to the site and dug housepits into the much old deposits. I believe that the house we are excavating had the back half of it dug into the older deposits and that the front half was built up directly onto beach gravels with the walls made from the excavated dirt and sods. Pretty complicated scenario, and we will need to dig a bit more to see if I am actually right.

Photos: Mark on the screen while a USCG cutter cruises by in the background (far left). Second photo is of Jill and Alisha excavating. Third photo is of Amy Margaris and shows where we were excavating yesterday morning on the landward side of the house. Bottom photo is of the crew hard at work.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The big Dance

Last night we celebrated Meghan and Bruces recent engagement with a party! It was a Kodiak-fare style dinner, including deer burgers, goat sausage patties, grilled halibut, king crab, buffalo burgers, a large salad comprised of greens from our garden and home-made hamburger buns. (the hamburger buns were an experiment-a first time attempt and turned out fun! They were mini "White Castle" style buns for mini hamburger patties!)

One of the highlights of the party was dancing! I compiled a dance play list and around 8:30, we pushed the furniture aside in the living room and danced away. The kids were SO into it, as was myself, Meghan, Bruce and a few other adults. Video to come on future post.... :)

Meghan and Bruce are preparing to leave Kodiak in the next few weeks for their new life in Anchorage. As Bruce put it, "they'll be close in our hearts and closer yet on Facebook..." :)


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stone, Iron and Ceramic

Yesterday we finally got our first full day of excavation. No more removing grass sods or shoveling off ash. No rain either. Cloudy with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away - perfect for digging. Everybody was happy to settle down and start to find stuff. And we did find stuff.

The artifact of the day is the slate ulu that Miriam is holding in the bottom photo. What's cool about it is that it shows that the Alutiiq were still making ulus out of slate rather than metal at least 50 years after Russian contact. Did they prefer slate or was metal still too scarce to waste on ulus? We also found lots of European ceramic sherds.

I've been reading what Dan Thompson has to say about the ceramics found at the Castle Hill Russian fort in Sitka. He reported that in Russian America the Alutiiq preferred the painted tea sets and decorated ceramics over the plain utilitarian wares. They appeared to have enjoyed a certain amount of ritual with their daily tea. Dan reports that a certain lead-glazed earthenware made just outside Moscow occurs in Russian American sites dating to between 1815 and 1858. It is rarely decorated and appears to have not been popular with the Alutiiq and other native Alaskans. Archaeologists rarely find that it comprises more than 2 % of a site's ceramic collection. Only at the Russian fort in Sitka (a distribution center) did they find appreciable quantities of the distinctive lead-ware.

However, at Miktsqaaq Angayuk we appear to have quite a bit of it. What's going on? Were the Alutiiq who lived in the house poorer than most? On the other hand we have also found a great deal of the gaudily painted 'tea set' sherds (see Alex with painted sherd in the top photo). I have sent photos of the ceramic sherds we've found so far off to Dan Thompson, and will be interesting to hear what he thinks. Perhaps we've mis-identified the lead-ware; perhaps we've got something interesting going on. Patrick

Friday, July 24, 2009

House appears beneath the 1912 Katmai ash

We finally got all the Katmai ash (from the 1912 volcanic eruption) off of the multiroom house. We have opened up a HUGE area and the ash had blown into the house pit - so we had A LOT of ash to remove. Once the ash was removed the house features are quite clear. The main room never had roof sods so the hearth and sub floor pits are all exposed right on the surface. Note box hearth in the middle of the house, doorway pointing out to the right, and sideroom connected by a tunnel between the crew and the main room. The main room measures around 3 by 4 meters. I took these photos from the top of a nearby tree.

Yesterday, after I took these photos, we started to excavate in the midden outside the house and we found excellent faunal preservation. We found out what the Alutiiq people who lived inside the house had eaten and thrown away. We found mostly cod bones, some seal, clams, blue mussel shells, chitons, and lots of sea urchin. I only saw one salmon vertebrae. Sea urchins produce roe in March/April and cod come inshore in the late spring. So what we've found so far looks like the remains of a late winter/spring feast.

Last night Mark and I also re-evaluated our guess as to when the house was occupied. I had previously guessed mid to late 19th century based upon one ceramic sherd of what I call 'gaudy ware' and the fact that the house had completely collapsed prior to the 1912 Katmai volcanic eruption. Last night we referred to a report on the Castle Hill Excavation of the Russian Fort in Sitka put out by the State Historic Preservation Office and noted that the most common ceramic we have been finding peaked in popularity around 1815. We also found one drawn and cut blue bead which is also typical of the early Russian period. I also realized that we have found none of the sponge stamped light green and red ceramics typical of the late Russian and Early American period. So I am tentatively going to say that the house was probably occupied in the early 19th century. However, we've hardly begun our excavation and this conclusion is based on a tiny artifact sample. So take it for what it is - a very preliminary guess! Patrick

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sticking it out in the Rain

This week we started our Community Archaeology excavation out at Cliff Point, and, of course, it started to rain. But as you can see from this photo we've been sticking it out. In fact, things have been going pretty darn well. We have already uncovered an entire multiroom house. I have never seen a house so clearly after just removing the layer of Katmai ash - they are usually far more deeply buried. Judging by the bits of metal and ceramics we've been finding the house appears to date to the mid 19th century. It has a slate box hearth and a sideroom attached by a tunnel so it is clearly an Alutiiq house. I had been a tad bit worried that it would end up as a rancher's barn or something. Prehistoric multiroom houses were occupied by several related families, and it will be interesting to see if this one was a single or multiple family dwelling. Patrick

Monday, July 20, 2009

Community Archaeology Begins!

It begins! Community Archaeology 2009. This year we are digging out at Cliff Point on the Miktsgaaq Angayuk site. We are excavating an entire, early historic Alutiiq multiroom house. I made a video of our first day of excavation. I put a camera on a tripod and had it take a picture every 8 minutes. It recorded away as we removed the sod from the 116 square meters that we plan to excavate. That is a HUGE excavation. More to come, but check out the video at youtube - address below:

Enjoy, Patrick

Nora's First Pie

Yesterday Nora helped with her first salmonberry pie. We went for a walk and found plenty of berries right in the road and along the side of the road on the way to the park. Nora even managed to find a few blueberries and even a couple of ripe strawberries. It took quite a bit of effort to not to eat all the berries as we picked them. But Nora reminded herself as we picked that she was going to make a pie, 'and Uncle Gregg will have some, Stuie will have some, Mommy will have some. ... ..'

Uncle Gregg did the actual pie making, and instead of a true pie he made a crumble. I actually liked it a lot better than most pies I've ever had. Nora was ecstatic. Patrick

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Zoya's Eco Challenge Video

My first imovie production!

A five-minute documentary of the Eco Challenge race I did yesterday. Includes race footage, trail conditions and my video journals from the trail!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kodiak Eco Challenge 2009-Team "Pushing Up Daisies"

The Eco Challenge is over and it was SO FUN! I never imagined it would be such a great time. The team I was on was absolutely amazing-the 3 guys were ambitious, humorous as well as concerned about team well-being. Being the only girl, they checked in frequently, asking "You ok, Z?".

The race began slightly past Kalsin Bay Inn on the trail to Summit Lake. We ran/hiked 3 miles back to Summit Lake overlook, then ran/hiked back along the river while holding innertubes and floatation devices. The plan was to have us inner tubes down the Olds River, but the water levels were too low.

We scampered along the riverbanks, crossing the river close to 20 various times. Once we got back to the road, we headed to the head of the Olds for a check point and ran the length of Kalsin beach where we got on our bikes. The ride to the American River was about 6 miles and included some major muscle cramping and having to ascend the dreaded Kalsin Bay Hill. But we did it and at the American River checkpoint Patrick was waiting with the kids-so fun to see them. They re-energized me. Up until that point the majority of the race had been drizzle or moderate rain and it was fun to see such bright-eyed bushy tailed faces.

The way the Eco-Challenge works is that at each check point you're given a different topo map location, which you have to find where the next check point is. The check points verify that we have all necessary safety gear, and that we're headed the right spot before they send us off. It was a very well organized system of volunteers along the way.

I didn't expect to have so much fun. I think I expected to be in a LOT more pain. There was such contagious excitement and energy--one couldn't help but want to run through the wilds to the next check point! We finished the course in 5 hours, 10 minutes and took 6th place out of 11th place (exactly in the middle!!).

I'm going to make my first imovie with footage I took- which I'll soon post!!


One last ski video

Yup, it's another ski video. I swear this will be the last until next year! I fully realize it's time to get with the program and give up on last winter. It's summertime and I should start to do summertime activities. From now on it will be Community Archaeology, rafting, hiking and hunting. No more skiing - I swear!

Photo is an interesting type of panoramic taken by Bruce of me cooking dinner.


Here's the link to the video:

Also - at this minute Zoya is doing the Eco-Challenge. Go Zoya!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eco Challenge Jitters

Wow. I have the eco challenge jitters. I am packed and ready for the race tomorrow. 6 AM check-in at Nemetz Gazebo, race starts at 8 AM. We get our compass points and find our first destination. Who knows what the terrain and trail will be-its all a big mystery until tomorrow morning. 6-12 hours it takes to finish the race in our team of 4.

Our team name is "Pushing up Daisies" and our team leader is Chris Dameron. He has somehow talked me back into doing the race 3 or 4 times. Several times this past week, I have backed out and he talks me back into the race. Very convincing arguments. For instance, I was up last night until 1 AM with a mom in labor so this morning I called and told him I wouldn't be doing the race and the back up (Bree) would do it. Plus, its raining outside. Weather was less than pleasing. He once again talked me back into it.

"Zoya, you want to do this race, right?" he asked.

"yes. I'm just worried that if I"m tired and its been raining then the biking will be hard and I might fall down on the bike...." I replied."

"Don't worry. We're there as a team. If you have to walk with the bike, no problem. Last year I walked with two bikes for part of the race. Its not a big deal." He reinforced.

Hmmm.....pretty convincing arguments. And I knew that if I didn't do the race, I would be way bummed and so curious about what it was like. And my team mates have such a great sense of humor and easy going--how could I say no.

So here I am, camel back filled with water, bike in the back of the truck, snacks, powerbars--ready to go. Just excited and wondering how the heck I got convinced to do this. But so curious about tomorrows adventure!!!!!!!!!

Off to bed now....


Karluk Lake Revisited

The last few days I have been working on a video documenting our recent Karluk Lake archaeological survey. As part of the process I have been going through all of the stills that we took. I have been finding quite a few gems that were overlooked the first time through. Here are a few that Aubrey Morrison took.

Top photo is of me flyfishing for dinner at the mouth of Thumb Creek on Karluk Lake. The next photo is of Aubrey's dinner (fish and nettles). The third photo is of a red fox. These things are practically tame. Finally the bottom photo is of Rose Kinsley and I running the Thumb Creek rapids after completing our survey of Thumb lake in the big red innova inflatable canoe. Patrick

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mojitos on the Deck

Patrick recently planted a mint plant by the house--something I"ve been wanting for a long time. Patrick picked the first "batch" of mint the other night and made me a home made mojito. The fresh mint was just wonderful! What a difference from store bought mint. I remember a HUGE mint patch at the house I grew up in--and I"m hoping ours gets just as big.... :)


Monday, July 13, 2009

More Copters & Snow

I took so many pictures on the heli-camping trip that I just had to post a few more. Tom Walters of Maritime Helicopters flew us up to the top of Center Mountain - and for 2 days of skiing our helicopter bill will be a lot less, per person, than two days of lift tickets at a ski resort in the lower 48. Go figure.

Photos: We had a full load - 5 in back and big Steve W up front with the pilot Tom. Helicopters float along and do not seem constrained by direction. Weird feeling. Second photo is of Tom taking off after dropping us off. He did a 'hot landing' (never turned the helicopter off), and as always it was very exciting. Snow bits and dirt flying with the load roar of the rotor overhead - I had 'Apocalypse Now' flashbacks running through my head. Third photo is of Bruce, Steve and Mike enjoying the sunset at midnight. Fourth photo is of Mike and Bruce at the bottom of the first run on the way home (about 1400 feet lower than where we started). Bottom photo is of everyone hiking back home carrying their skiis after we could ski no further. Patrick

Camping & Skiing on Center Mountain

On Saturday I took a helicopter ride with Mike M, Bruce, Lisa and Gregg and Steve up to the top of Center Mountain to go skiing and camp for the night. Yesterday we skiied and hiked back to town. The great thing about helicopter camping is that you can bring extra food on the trip and have fresh legs for skiing. It seems like cheating a bit - but then again you do have to walk home.

The weather was spectacular with virtually no wind and a glorious fog covering the sea and lowlands down below. At one point Sunday morning even Old Womens and Pilar Mountain disappeared beneath the blanket of fog and all we could see of town was the windmills poking up through the fog. I wondered what it would have been like up on the top of one of the windmills with nothing but a sea of white down below.

Photos: Lisa enjoys the sun setting over distant Shelikof Straits. Mike looks over towards Crown Mountain soon after our arrival. The snow is still great and we got in one run that had a 1,750 foot drop in elevation. Third photo is of our camp and kitchen at sunset. We all slept under 'Megalight' tarp tents. Fourth photo is a panoramic towards Kizhuyak Bay when we were almost halfway back to town (but still on skiis!). Finally the bottom photo is of Mike and Bruce enjoying lunch and the fog show while on the way home. Patrick

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dog Days of Summer & Eco Challenge

We've had a gorgeous streak of weather-temps in the 60's and 70's and the air is warm. This hardly ever happens to Kodiak--Mill Bay Beach has been full of 20-30 people swimming in the water and playing on the beach every evening. (Roxy keeps escaping from the house and going to the beach to eat hot dogs and leftover food ...we have to go retrieve her frequently. And if Roxy is heading there for food the bears ought to be following soon!). The other afternoon when I got home, the kids and I went down to the beach and just stood in the water for close to half an hour. It felt great!

Recently I have been training for the Kodiak Eco-Challenge. It is on July 18th and I am VERY excited about it. I was asked to be on a team last weekend at a party. At first I thought, "No, I can't do that" but then after 2 or so minutes of convincing from a friend, I thought "Ok! I can do this!". There is chance I won't be able to do the race (a doula client is due that week), but I have a back-up person and I figure that no matter what, the training and conditioning will be good for me!!

Yesterday for training I went speed walking up Old Womans mountain then went back to work and did 1/2 hour on the spinning bike. Felt great to do the combination of exercise. As I was headed down old womans, I thought, "I wonder how getting on a bike will feel on my legs?" but it felt great.

Our team name is "Pushing up Daisies" and the group is easygoing and fun. The fact that I only have 2 weeks to train is good--because its not like i'll be stressing about the training for months and months. Details swarm through my head regarding race day preps...what will I bring, drink, eat, wear...long sleeve or short sleeve? I have the same anticipation that I have before doing the Tour of Anchorage ski races, although this time training seems more serious because I'm on a team. I'm used to doing long races but never with a team-and training takes on a new edge. I don't want to let down my team. We all have to stay together on race day. The race consists of hiking, biking, possible boating, a bit of running...and we don't know what is to come until the day of the race.

Patrick probably can't wait for race day to come and go, as every day I say, "honey, I"m so excited for the race!!". He understands my excitement for the race, with all the races he does. It gives him something to train for in the thick of winter.

Photos are from the past week....Stuey's first sparkler...Nora playing "Airplane" on my feet....Meghan and I at the Pillar Wind Mills last weekend...good times this summer....