Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Loading Logs onto the Ship

Here in Southeast Alaska logging is a significant part of the economy. I have complicated feelings about that, which I will go into in a different post. This post is a photo appreciation of the work involved in moving large amounts of wood to a cargo ship via water. Most locations here in Southeast Alaska don't have a multi-million dollar, deep-water dock systems to use for loading logs onto the ship, so the crew uses equipment and methods that have worked for over five decades.

The management at the sortyard allowed me to take photographs as long as I wore safety gear and stayed out of the way. I thank them tremendously. The logging industry here in Alaska is in a changing and controversial time, so it was very gracious of the people at this sortyard to let me record some images. I'm glad to get to share them with you!

In the photo below are logs that arrived at the sortyard on log trucks and were unloaded and stacked by a Caterpillar 988F log loader.

There's the loader on the right of the photo below. On the left is a log shovel, which is a modified excavator. It can nimbly move and sort logs.

The sort yard is a bit dusty, but that's way better than the other possibility - mud.

The spruce, hemlock, and cedar logs are sorted, scaled, and marked. This is valuable, old-growth timber headed for overseas markets that pay more than domestic buyers.

While the logs are in the bunks in the photo below they are banded into bundles.

It's pretty cool how the big loaders are articulated (they bend in the middle) so that they can maneuver in tight spaces.

The loader grabs up a log bundle and then drives over and dumps it into the water! At first I thought that the logs would just float when the loader released them, but I saw them slide out away from the beach a little.

I can see why the logs slide into deeper water as the loader operator deftly hooks the cable of the submerged log rails. He pulls the rails up the beach so that they will be in the proper place for the incoming tide.

The boom boat operator hustles over and collects up the log bundle. This bundle will join many more as the boom man builds them into a log raft. The next post will show more about boom boats and raft building! Give me a few days - I need to talk with a local boom man first.

I'm going to skip ahead to the log ship now...

Tied to two mooring buoys is the gigantic "Daiwan Dolphin." That's a BIG ship at 590 feet long and 98 feet wide, and it flies the flag of Panama. When the ship is loaded to the water line (where the black and red meet in the photo below) it draws 30 feet. Built in 2015, it is already showing some of the scuffs and dings of a boat that works for a living.

Pusher tug Sophia C and two boom boats assist in ship loading operations. The local crew also brought a small equipment barge that is tied near the stern of the ship.

The Sophia C and the boom boats make sure that the wood is where it needs to be when it needs to be there by towing and pushing.

Four men are on the floating log bundles next to the ship. One of the ship's cranes lowers a cable with a giant pulley (block) on it. Two heavy cables are attached to the bottom of the block. The loading crew runs those cables under the log bundle and hooks the other ends to the pulley. Then they get out of the way.

The guys are wearing boots with spikes on the soles (corks) along with other safety gear. They have long poles, called pike poles, that have a point and a hook on one end for pushing and pulling logs around. For the crew handling logs in the water it is very physical, repetitive work in a dangerous environment. They seem to take it in stride, though.

Depending on volume, time and available crew, the ship can load from both sides at the same time.

SO glad that is is good weather! Can you imagine doing this in the wind and rain?

The ship's crane operator lifts the wood onto the boat where crew settles it into place for the ride across the ocean.

The boom boat operator manages to catch a quick break.

So that's how it's done! Thanks for taking a look.

Waves and smiles to you,

Alaska Beachcomber and the Ship Loading Crew

Edible Goosetongue or Poisonous Arrowgrass?

It was so good to see the sun today! The lengthening days have me thinking of spring gathering, and that reminded me of a post that I didn’t get out to you last year. I’m fixing that today. So this year how about adding goosetongue to your veggie choices? It’s too early to harvest yet, but maybe this will take your mind off of the cement-like snowbanks lurking in your driveway.

Let’s go for a walk on the beach…

It is spring to mid-summer, the weather is pleasant, and things have greened up. A few seagulls are whining and looking aimless because the salmon haven’t come in yet. The eagle in the big tree on the point is watching you because, face it, you are the most interesting thing happening on the beach.

As you get close to the rocky point you notice goosetongue growing at the top of the beach. Some of it has bits of seaweed stuck in the leaves from the last high tide, but there’s some goosetongue above the tide line that looks pretty clean. Knowing that goosetongue is a tasty snack and delicious potherb you mosey on up to harvest some. A little tickle in the back of your mind tells you that there was something about a look-alike plant that is poisonous, though. Now what was it that the plant book said?

Well, let’s leave the beach for a bit so that I can show you some pictures of goosetongue and arrowgrass. Goosetongue is great food. Arrowgrass has a small part of the plant that might be edible in early spring, but the leaves are poisonous because they contain cyanide-producing glycosides. The two plants are similar enough that they do get mixed up. Worse yet, they often grow right beside each other.

Goosetongue and arrowgrass growing together

Goosetongue (Plantago maritima ssp. juncoides) is in the plantain family. It is also called sea plantain, seaside plantain, and ribwort. The less-used common name, ‘ribwort,’ makes sense to me because of the plant’s ribbed leaves and ‘wort’ meaning ‘useful plant.’

Goosetongue leaves and stems grow in a cluster from the ground. Each fleshy leaf has ribs running lengthwise up its back. The rounded, leafless stem has a dense flower spike at the top.


Okay, let's compare that to the poisonous arrowgrass.

Arrowgrass (top) and goosetongue (bottom)

Arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) has fleshy leaves that are narrower and more rounded in cross section than goosetongue. Like goosetongue, arrowgrass has a leafless stalk with a flower spike at the top. Arrowgrass grows taller than goosetongue, so it is easiest to confuse the two in the springtime.

Arrowgrass leaves (top)and goosetongue leaves (bottom)

Arrowgrass (top) and goosetongue (bottom) have similar flower spikes.

A friend related to me that she was walking along the beach munching on greens one day and asked her companion, “What is this plant that tastes like bitter cilantro?” Right then her heart started to pound and she felt short of breath. She was lucky that her symptoms passed after some time. Arrowgrass can cause headaches, heart palpitations, and convulsions. It can be deadly to livestock.

Look for the ribs on the backs of the leaves and choose goosetongue.

Goosetongue leaves have ribs on the back.

Goosetongue is salty and succulent. It is very high in vitamin A, high in vitamin C, and a good source of iron. Best of all it tastes good! Goosetongue can be eaten raw, lightly steamed, sautéed, and can be preserved by pressure canning or by blanching and freezing. Munch it as a beach snack or gather some and add it to stir fries, salads, omelettes, and casseroles.

Goosetongue is best in spring and early summer. When the seed heads mature goosetongue leaves become stringy.

And that mosquito bite that you got on your neck while you were picking goosetongue? Crush a goosetongue leaf with your fingernails and apply the mash to the bug bite. Like other members of the plantain family, goosetongue will quiet the itchiness.

Goostongue is abundant in much of Southeast Alaska

Smurf Cod!

We went out for a nice day in the runabout last summer. It was one of those misty, occasional rain showers, Southeast Alaska days, and the fishing was unusually slow. Slo-ow. Which gave us time to look around at the mellow day.

We were glad to see that the eagle was on station to watch over things.

A humpback whale worked the edge of a kelp bed, but didn’t seem to put much heart into the activity.  The cormorants just hung out on a kelpy rock.

A pod of killer whales cruised over to check things out, but they kept on going. That’s a good sign that there just isn’t much going on.

They did stop out at the edge of the kelp patch and toss around some ideas about where to go next.

It was a kelpy kind of day.

Suddenly my fishing pole dipped hard and I thought that I had caught bottom (again). Then it reeled hard and I thought that I had caught kelp. It finally bounced and I had a fish on! We brought in a lingcod, which is delightful because they are yummy. I stunned it, cut it’s gills, and then started to put it onto a stringer to let it bleed out. The blue-green mouth caught my attention.

 Hmm, interesting. Pretty…but weird.

Nice teeth, huh? Very effective, too. Lingcod also have very sharp gill rakers, so mind your fingers if you pick one up by the gills.

When I cleaned the fish its cavity also had that strange color. I started thinking about, well, you know, Martians and all. Now stop laughing at me! Nobody knows for sure that Martians have to show up as little green men. After all there’s all that talk about Mars having water way back when. If I was a smart fish and my planet was drying up then I would surely put intensive effort into the space program.

Back on shore (here on Earth) that evening I set a cutting board on some rocks and filleted the lingcod. I started to actually get a little bit concerned. Blue-green flesh? Ling cod meat is usually white.

A trip to the internet eased my mind and slowed my imagination. Lingcod meat can be white, green, blue-green, and even turquoise blue! The blue ones are lovingly called Smurf cod. The reason for this remarkable color is not entirely clear, but it has to do with a bile pigment called biliverdin being responsible for turning the blood serum such a lovely color. Beyond that there appears to be a lot of speculation about diet and habitat. The good news is that Smurf cod are delicious and healthy to eat, just like the standard white-fleshed lingcod.

Another name for Smurf cod around here is 'green ling' (pronounced with a pause between the two words), which is interesting because lingcod are not actually a cod. They are in the greenling family. Greenlings, such as the kelp greenling and rock greenling, are also known to occasionally have blue-green meat. 

Ling cod is one of those fish that you can cook a hundred different ways and all of them are delicious. Here’s some more good news: the green goes away when the meat is cooked. On the plate Smurf cod is tender, bright white, and scrumptious. Maybe it is even tastier than regular lingcod - just because it is special.

Wishing you interesting colors in your day,

Alaska Beachcomber