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

Winter Now and Then

This has been a winter of wind storms in parts of Southeast Alaska. Two nights ago the wind picked up in the evening and by 3:30a.m. it was screaming through the rigging. Our boat doesn't have much rigging, so that was a pretty good feat.

We spend some 'awake time' on nights like that. There is just enough light on the dock to see waves breaking over the bull rail and the spray whipping past our boat. Creaking lines are a good sign that we are still attached to the dock, and the soft bump of the boat against the dock tells us that the fenders haven't popped.

Wind and waves at the harbor Southeast Alaska storm

We gear up every hour or two and do a walk-around to check lines, shining flashlights around and trying to keep our back to the wind. This last go was a warm wind, almost forty degrees in the rather lively night! For February that is downright balmy, but not unusual. Back in the seventies I remember the pussy willows coming out one February.

My friend, A Daughter of the Walrus, is in a much more exposed location, and the wind storms of this winter have been brutal on her and her family. She writes the Alaska For Real blog, and has done a couple of posts about the storms. I am going to use inspiration from some her posts, pull out some photos from the shoebox, and tell a family story.

Way back when there was a pretty tough, very cold winter. My dad, Chuck, and his sister, my aunt, were teenagers in 1950. They were in Hood Bay on Admiralty Island. My grandpa - Charlie - was a logger, a faller to be more specific. Grandma hashed in the cookhouse when the crew was in camp. Of course she was pretty young then. They were wintering in the floating logging camp.  The boss, his brother, and their families were there, too. The logging operation was shut down for the winter.

Icy walkways at the floating logging camp 1950 in Hood Bay Admiralty Island Southeast Alaska

The camp froze down to the mud flat at the head of the south arm of Hood Bay, which worked out just fine. The big camp barge and collection of floats with cabins and gear were not bothered by being frozen in. Walkways between the floats became covered with snow and ice, though, and were pretty treacherous.

Fresh water from two creeks flowed out over the salt water and froze. The sheet of ice crept further and further past camp, and then the winter got really cold and the salt water started to freeze. Eventually it froze three miles out - to the end of the south arm. The winter residents donned ice skates, shoveled the snow off of a big figure 8, and skated almost daily. 

The men walked for the mail once a week. There was a cannery on the north shore across from the rocky point where the north and south arms of Hood Bay meet. The float plane delivered mail to the cannery weekly. Chuck, at age 14, walked with his father and the boss's brother, Shiner, out to the point across from the cannery. The first time they went for the mail that winter they got to the rocky point and Shiner fired a 30.06 rifle several times to signal the cannery winter watchman. The plan was that the watchman would hear them and then run the skiff across to pick them up. It was just a fluke that the watchman's kids barely heard the gunshots that day.  They needed a better signal.

Walking on ice Hood Bay Admiralty Island Southeast Alaska 1950

The second time that they walked for the mail Shiner tucked a case of dynamite into his backpack. When they arrived at the point he took six sticks out of the wood box and stashed the rest of the box of dynamite under a tree. He bound the six sticks together with tape, inserted a primer and two feet of minute-a-foot fuse, laid it on a big, flat rock on the beach, and lit the fuse.

The three men crouched behind trees, fingers in their ears.

It made a RESPECTABLE sound.

The watchman motored over in the cannery skiff, beaming and exclaiming that he heard the signal loud and clear.

After that Charlie taught Chuck how to prime dynamite. At age 14 Chuck would walk three miles in snow and ice, bundle, prime and set off six sticks of dynamite, get picked up by the watchman, spend the night at the cannery, get dropped off at the point the next morning, and then walk back to the logging camp. Alone.

Continued in the next post....

Oh, it won't be that long. More about the winter in Hood Bay in three days.

Alaska Beachcomber