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





Random Thoughts

I am just batty enough that finding a sea slug in a tidepool makes me giddy.

It is a pretty neat creature, though, isn't it?

So here's some random thoughts in no particular order:

Four wheel drive is great,

but sometimes a chainsaw gets you where you want to go.

Better yet, tuck the chainsaw into the gun rack and add a generator for good measure.

To really be prepared you need to have a safety pin in your kit to make field repairs.

I just know that this boat will grow into the trailer...

Feed that little skiff well and it will grow up, right?

Sometimes things just don't come out the way you want them to.

Halibut sez, "So close! Now if I just had thumbs."










Old guys' brushpile starter kit.

So many stories behind this sign!

Grumpy Eagle gonna stay grumpy all day!

Or maybe Grumpy Eagle has just been hanging out with the vultures too much.

Below is a little perspective on living with adversity. Makes me feel that I've got it pretty good.

I already ate my pint of ice cream (a flavor that he doesn't like), and he still shares his equally. He just melts me.

Enjoy those cool little moments in your day, Dear Ones!

Alaska Beachcomber

A Few Poisonous Plants

*Please Note*  This is serious stuff, and I'm not mincing words in this post. Parents, please pre-screen this page to decide if it is appropriate for your children. This is an introduction to several plants, and is not a technical monograph of each plant.

I've been telling you about plants that you can eat or use for medicine for awhile. Now, just so that I don't lead you into thinking that nibbling on ALL of the pretty leaves is okay, I will highlight a few of the poisonous plants in Southeast Alaska. I don't mean just barfy poisonous, I mean they can kill you. No reset button. Ever. So they are worth getting to know so that you can avoid them.

Say hello to baneberry:

Baneberry hanging out with salmonberry. Baneberry leaves on the left, and salmonberry leaves on the right.

Red baneberries just ripening. Note the more rounded leaves.

The entire baneberry plant is poisonous. The shoots can vaguely resemble fiddleheads in the springtime, but if you are at all observant then you won't confuse the two. The blossoms are frilly white clusters. Leaves can be somewhat like salmonberry leaves.

Baneberry is a shrubby plant that proudly displays red or white berries in a cluster above it's leaves. The berries are shiny and quite attractive, but leave them alone because they are deadly. Eating just a few baneberries can cause sharp stomach pains, vomiting, dizziness, make your breathing stop, and give you a heart attack. The rest of the plant is no friendlier - right down to the roots.

This is monkshood:

The lovely blossoms may invite you to put them into a bouquet, but why pick flowers that are so poisonous that you have to wash your hands after you touch them?

This is another plant that has no safe parts. Ingesting even a small amount can cause death within hours.

Monkshood leaves appear similar to wild geranium.

Meet false hellebore:

This image has been Photoshopped to isolate the form of one false hellebore plant. Pretty, no?

I have to admit a great fondness for this plant. It is only a love of the plant's beauty, though, as (here we go again) it has no compunction about murdering mammals. My enjoyment of false hellebore is purely visual.

Large, pleated leaves curve out of the stem in a graceful dance. During the summer it grows a spike up to eight feet high that cascades out sprays of green blossoms. 

It is during the spring, though, that false hellebore causes most poisonings. At a very early stage the shoots can look similar to several kinds of edible shoots. The unwary forager can expect severe gastrointestinal distress or worse from eating this plant. Numbness and paralysis are symptoms, and asphyxia from paralysis may lead to the end.

Mature, blooming false hellebore plants.

Cow Parsnip:

Let's lighten this up a little. Not all of the poisonous plants will kill you. Some just give you blisters, pain, respiratory distress, and eye damage, like cow parsnip.

I haven't talked about cow parsnip as an edible, which it can be, because every year a few people in Alaska go to the hospital after eating this plant. Now with knowledge, care, and if you are not allergic to it, certain parts of the cow parsnip are edible and medicinal.

There is a very deadly plant that looks very similar, though, so please know EXACTLY which plant you harvest. (Oops, I didn't really lighten that up, did I?)

 I've had itchy, ouchy blisters from brushing lightly against cow parsnip while hiking. People have had severe reactions from trying to eradicate this plant from the disturbed soil that it loves. Heavy gloves are not always enough. If you want to use a weed-eater to cut cow parsnip I would recommend a full Tyvek suit, respirator, and eye proctection. Any little splatter will burn you, so better yet just don't weed-eat it. And don't burn it! Just don't burn cow parsnip. Blisters in your lungs would hurt.

Here's quick shots of two more types of berries to avoid:

Queen's cup, also called blue bead, is in the lily family. It is considered poisonous.

Devil's club berries are poisonous to humans.

devil's club berries Southeast Alaska

That's probably enough for today, don't you think?

Wishing you a healthy New Year!

Alaska Beachcomber

Books with more info: A Guide to Deadly Herbs by Julie Gomez, Discovering Wild Plants, Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest by Janice Schofield, Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska from the Cooperative Extension Service

Please go to the Food and Medicine from Nature index to learn more about Southeast Alaskan plants!