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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Afognak Finally

This past winter in the dark, rainy doldrums Stuey would ask, 'when are we going to Afogank?'  We would always answer, 'not until the end of May'.  Stuey would reply, "ahhh...I want to go sooner." As a child I can remember waiting for summer and the end of school and that it seemed to take forever.  Now it is Stuey's turn.  But for this year the wait is over - the end of May arrived and we spent Memorial Day weekend at Lipsett Point out on Afognak.  Finally! More to come...


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Inflatable kayaks as a survey platform

We surveyed as far as you can see and a bit further - and behind the camera as well!

While on recent survey to Malina Bay I did some thinking about better ways to survey Kodiak's coastline for archaeological sites, and I decided that for what Michael and I were doing the inflatable Innova 2 man kayak is about perfect (click here for a similar post).  It fit in the plane, handled rough seas, and carried all our gear with room to spare. And, best of all, we were seeing the coastline from the same perspective as the Alutiiq peoples who created the sites.

The inflatables are also fast and we were able to cover a lot of coastline quickly.  Our kayaks only felt slightly slower than a hardshell kayak.  And while not as fast as a motorboat, we were able to get into shallow rocky areas where motorboats would fear to tread.

But what I really like about the inflatables is how easy they are to pack with gear and how easy it is to jump in and out of them.  There are no hatches or spray skirts.  On survey we were constantly going to the beach and leaping out to check out potential sites.  If this had been at all difficult I doubt we would have gone to shore all that much.  Patrick

Michael added an elk horn to the front of his ride

A tidal lagoon reversible rapids - not a great place for motorboats

Michael took care of the boats while I walked extended lengths of beach

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Cliffside kitchen

I'm home. After two months of being with my mom in her final two months of life in Anchorage, I am back on Kodiak. My mom passed away on Saturday morning with my sister and I right beside her.

My mom was one of our top Blog readers. My heart aches, I get intense waves of sadness. Part of me doesn't want to write knowing that she won't be reading it.

But I know she wouldn't want that. She was so supportive of my writing. She wants me to continue writing. It just hurts~the sadness of knowing she isn't over in Anchorage reading.

This morning both kiddos took to their drawing pads before school. Stuey was in the living room drawing and came in with the picture above. It is of Nora sitting at the kitchen counter drawing.
The scene warmed my heart, especially the rays of light coming down from our kitchen light fixtures. As well as all the items stored on top of the fridge! :)

Being around Nora and Stuey and their joy helps my grief. Stuey's mischievious smile and dimples lighten my spirit. Nora is a beautiful nurturer of me right now.

Today was the last day of school. And summer begins. I am glad for the change of seasons, the warmth on Kodiak right now. It all helps me heal and take one step forward at a time.


Fire in the Forest

Yesterday I drove out the road to Chiniak to do some survey work in the area that got burned in last fall's fire (click here for news story).  I went out there expecting a few burned trees, and to see a recovering forest. I was not expecting a complete waste land of dead trees.  

The fire burned through the tree crowns and had killed all the trees.  The main fuel was dry moss and all the moss in the trees and on the ground was consumed.  Even though it was a quick and fast-moving fire it killed all the trees over a vast area because Sitka Spruce is very intolerant of fire. These are not the Southern Yellow Pines of Georgia that can withstand a yearly burn of the undergrowth.

The scene reminded me of spring in a forest of Larch trees. Larch trees are 'pines' that loose their needles every winter.  The bright green of the new ferns and salmonberries contrasted sharply with the black, charred trunks and brown dead needles.  

My photos do not do it justice - I couldn't capture the crowns and the ground and the vastness of the dead forest.  The tops looked too small if I tried to capture both the tops and the ground, and I could not keep the trunks parallel.  Maybe if I had climbed a tree and tried a panoramic from half way up?  Patrick

Monday, May 23, 2016

Firepit Season

It's fire pit season!  We had one earlier in the month, but firepit dinners aren't really firepit events with out Zoya.  Sunny green and warm.  Brewster stuck close.  Patrick

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Archaeology of Malina Bay

Rolan helped us survey the lakes

Despite high expectations we did not find very many sites on our survey of Malina Bay.  Last time I surveyed a bay I found a site every time I went to shore (click here for story).  And lakes where red salmon spawn (like at Malina Lakes) are always a hot spot for archaeological sites.

Yet we did not find any prehistoric sites on the lakes.  In retrospect this makes sense.  Relative to the big south end systems Malina Lakes actually has a pretty small red run.  But more importantly, it is an EARLY run.  On the Karluk, Red, and Olga Lakes systems we have found that the prehistoric sites tend to be situated where late run reds and silvers spawn (click here for post).  On those systems the late run reds spawn in the beach gravels while the early run reds spawn in the tributaries to the lakes.

So perhaps the Malina Lakes early fish were not a focus because there were more important subsistence activities taking place on the coast in the early summer?  Michael pointed out that maybe the prehistoric villagers did not want to catch too much fish in the early summer because they would be difficult to store during the heat of summer.  Whereas in the fall it is only a short time until winter when the stored fish would be needed.  Also there are no where near as many bugs and flies in the fall up on the lakes, and the conditions make it far easier to dry fish.

In any case, we did not find any obvious prehistoric sites on the lakes.  I'm still positive that people did travel up on occasion to the lakes to catch fish and hunt ducks, but they did not do it intensively enough in any one place to leave behind an obvious site.  It looks like at Malina Lakes they did most of their salmon fishing by the salt water at the mouth of the creek that drains the lakes.

The apparent lack of sites on the coastline of Malina Bay is more puzzling.  We only located one small village in the entire bay and less than 10 sites total.  In comparison, Uyak Bay has hundreds of sites dotted along its shoreline.  So what is going on in Malina Bay?

I think that there are 2 causes for the lack of sites.  First of all, Afognak Island in general has a very active tectonic history.  It sinks dramatically whenever there is a large earthquake - in 1964 most of Afognak Island sank 4-5 feet.  After these big events there is a lot of coastal erosion.  The margins of Malina Bay are lined with dead spruce killed during the 1964 earthquake subsidence, and we could see that a lot of the shoreline had been cut back dramatically.  A great many sites probably eroded away and disappeared completely.  We found one site that had half eroded away and had had beach gravel and sand thrown into the remaining house pits.  

Elsewhere on the archipelago the land does not rise and fall so dramatically during earthquakes and the coastline has remained largely the same for millennia.  You find deep sites where people have lived at the same spot the entire time.  Not so on Afognak where people had to move their villages every time there was a big earthquake.

But I don't think erosion is the whole reason we did not find all that many sites in Malina Bay. On our survey I noticed that Malina Bay in comparison with other Kodiak bays just is not all that rich in subsistence resources.  There are no big salmon rivers, and the inner bay shoreline is mostly straight with low cliffs - it lacks the islands and convoluted coastlines of the more rich bays.  

And the only known sites are mostly in the outer bay or near where we saw the seals.  I just don't think there was much to eat elsewhere in the bay. In confirmation of this, we did examine places that did not erode in 1964, and many of these places were perfect for settlement.  We'd float up to them and I'd tell Michael that my 'site radar' was screaming, and that we would 'find a site for sure'.  And then we wouldn't.  We only found sites near where there was some sort of desirable subsistence resource.   Patrick

Michael contemplates an archaeological site

A lot of in an out of the kayaks while checking on likely spots along the coast

The spruce tree grew around this split red cedar firewood stacked in the crotch

An ulu drilled for a handle lashing found on the beach below a site

Stuey Still on Snow

Stuey and I climbed up Pyramid Mountain this morning for some skiing.  There is a lot less snow than there was the last 2 times that he went (click here and here for links).  The last time Stuey went skiing was just over a month ago, and the first time he went up almost 2 months ago! The conditions still seem about the same to me, but when I look at the pictures from our previous trips up I realize how much the snow has melted.  Time has passed and spring is moving into summer.  The ski season is winding down.  Patrick

Friday, May 20, 2016

Teepees, Glowing Woodstoves, Morels and Nettles

Michael by our first camp

One of the highlights of the survey was finding the elusive morel mushrooms.  It seems whenever I go out looking for them - I never find them.  But then suddenly you do find them (click here for last survey where we found them).  And they are everywhere and very very delicious.  I think mostly it is about timing - the morels are only present for a short window, and it changes depending on the year.  In my limited experience the morels should be out when the pushki plants on the hillside are close to knee high.  Green up is advanced but not quite full blown with leaves on all the trees.

For what it is worth we also saw the occasional blooming lupin.  So things are very early this year.

We also found lots of nettles and cooked up Spam and Nettles every night.  SPAM goes very well with nettles (click here for recipe).  Michael had never gone camping with a woodstove before, and I think he liked the slow pace of cooking on it - lots of courses - nettle appetizer, tea, then main meal, then more tea.  Cooking as entertainment!

Of course the stove was also a godsend the one evening we got to camp and it started to rain.  It kept the tent warm and dry.  No condensation of the inside of the teepee.  Patrick

2 morels caught by the camera before Michael could snap them up

Second camp and Michael sawing and splitting wood

We stored the morels in the egg carton to keep them from getting crushed

Michael had never camped with a woodstove before - he liked it!

Prepping the morels

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Malina Bay

Michael enjoys the view across Shelikof Strait on the first night - that's Devil's Desk on the left

Earlier this week I conducted a 3 day archaeological survey of Malina Bay and Lakes.  Michael and I got there by float plane, surveyed the lakes, and then used inflatable kayaks to travel around the entire inner bay - camping along the way.  It's a big bay and I am a little amazed we got it done so quickly.  Maybe that's also why I am still exhausted 2 days after getting back home.

I've been hunting elk in Malina Bay every fall for almost 15 years, but we generally hunt in the outer bay and climb up the mountains.  It was a whole different experience exploring the coast in spring time.  And then looking up and seeing the mountain tops I already know so intimately.  I think Michael was getting a little tired of the 'once on that mountain top we .. ... ..' , or 'there's a trail along that ridge right by that tree. .. .' stories.

For such a beautiful place I was surprised that we did not find very many sites (more on the archaeology aspects in another post).  I guess it just goes to show that you can't eat a view.  The bay does seem to lack the subsistence resources more common to other bays around the archipelago.

Anyway, Michael and I enjoyed the trip.  We camped, saw elk every day, found and ate nettles and morels, and did a LOT of paddling.  There will be posts to come covering camp life (and the morels!), archaeology, and how the inflatable kayaks worked for survey.

This post is all about the scenics.  Patrick

Seagulls wheeling above a recessional end moraine island near the head of the bay

A small lagoon we surveyed - I once carried an elk out along the beach on the right

This looked like the perfect place for a site - but we did not find one here

Beautiful sunset

It's a great big bay

View from our second campsite - I once shot an elk on that hillside on the right

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Skiing in dresses is a family tradition

 A number of people have commented on the pictures of Nora skiing in her dress (click here and here for blog posts), and it reminded me of the photos of my mom skiing in a dress on Mt Ranier 52 years ago.  She too hiked up in her ski boots and carried her skis over her shoulder.  The little girl in the photos is my sister Polly.  I had not been born yet!  So I guess skiing in dresses is a Saltonstall family tradition.  Patrick

Spring Skiing with Nora

Yesterday afternoon Nora and I took advantage of the glorious sunshine and went skiing.  Zoya came home in the early afternoon and got some one-on-one time with Stuey. They played basketball and belly laughed while watching 'America's Funniest videos'.  In the meantime, Nora and I took the doggies up the mountain.

On the way to the mountain Nora looked out the window and declared, 'but daddy there's no snow'.  I assured her that we'd find plenty of snow, but it did take some faith.  This was especially true when we first left the parking lot and hiked through the spring time greenery to the accompaniment of chirping birds. It was very hot.

But a whole lot sooner than you'd think we reached the cool, cool snow and there was a lot of it.  I boot packed a stairway up the snow for Nora to follow and when we got to the top she had a snack while I got her ski boots and skis out of the pack.  

Then it was ski time!  The snow was perfectly corned up for skiing.  Neither too deep, nor sticky and slow.  Nora had a blast and declared that she 'can't wait to go to Alyeska next spring'. 

Mission accomplished!  Patrick

It's getting pretty green down low and HOT

Finally we reach the snow

Boot-packing it up to the top

Snacks at the top

Ready to rip! With Afognak Island in the distance

Really good snow conditions

Proud dad and daughter