Since leaving the boat the fam’s been busy. Wee Kiera-Lee joined the world, born at Community Hospital here in Sitka at a whopping 7 pounds 8 ounces (the doc predicted 6-2 – whoops) on October 21st. Seventeen months to the day from Haley. Bears were all over town for a bit – more on that in a moment. We’ve been stocking the freezer with deer, which have taken it hard this year. I think the warm winters have upped the numbers, they’ve been all over the beaches.
But first, Kiera-Lee. She’s long and lean, huge for her age. A bit weepy at first but I do believe she’s getting used to the world. Haley Marie didn’t appreciate her existence at first. I think she’s had to come to terms with the fact that she’s not the center of the universe anymore. I suppose, like chicken poxes, it’s best to get such viruses out of the system early.
In December we had some good snow, and took full advantage, getting out to sled. Then a spate of rain, and now we’re in the middle of cold clear weather so typical of January. Heavy snow forecasted for next week although chances are it will turn to rain. I’ve got one more deer tag left. Wrapped up teaching “Writing the Wild” at Stanford – incredible students, already looking forward to next year. Also a lot easier on the back than fishing, holy hell.
And speaking of easier, we’re off the boat, buttoned up in a house, with a garage and clicker and the full damn nine yards. (Although as you can see from above we make special use of the garage.) I’m not going to say it isn’t nice here, by the fire, watching the hemlocks do their wind dance outside, with chickens who are kind with their eggs, and this amazing thing called a thermostat.
The state of the Adak is strong, the Americorps taking good care. I spent the other day in the engine room, draining water from the block in preparation for the cold snap. Cleaning up the deck. Checking the lines and adding buoy balls. I sometimes wonder what weight might be lifted if/when my watch on the boat ends. I think about her all the time. When it rains I think about the drips, how they’re getting into the scantlings. Creating havoc. It pains me. I miss the boat – Rachel and I both do. The clunk of the laundry in the galley, the swaybacked counters. Waking in the morning to the sea lions and otters. Haley picking starfish and mussels from the dock posts. The briny air and the virtual ribbon of it stretched between the portholes when the wind blows from the southwest. Even the whine of Ken Bellows’ floatplane at first light.
But man – that stove here at the house with the switch on the back. Boom. You’ve got heat. Dylan Thomas croons in his Welshman’s accent A Child’s Christmas in Wales on the record player. “Cats…” Venison jerky from the fifth deer this season dries in strips in the dehydrator; chicken soup in the pot on the stove, and Rachel making brownies. I’m not making any of this shit up.
The other day I shot a deer. And it was the most incredible thing. Of course Haley couldn’t be stopped, and wanted “up” into the truck bed. She began picking leaves from the critters’ fur. We hung him in the garage, and Haley cuddled by his head, and then saying “MMMMMMM! Deer? MMMMM!” She just wanted to eat him, and quickly.
I’ll tell you, the biggest gain living on land? Time. So much of it. Not bundling up for the walk along the docks. Not chopping wood. Not starting fire or gathering kindling or changing propane tanks or any of the other countless tasks life aboard the Adak requires. Not checking the bilges or the blackwater timer. Instead we’ve got time to mess around, say, tying wire to a ski pole and drying a turkey from it. Or hunting, or getting eggs with HMJ each morn. Through it all the kiddo has been great fun, game for all of the zany projects Dad has in mind. She’s become proficient with a hammer – if anything needs fixing, including electric stove that won’t start, or the chicken who won’t lay eggs, the answer is always “hammer.” (The chickens I don’t think appreciate the suggestion.) Astonishing though how often “hammer” seems to work.
This fishing season has been slow from the October 15th opener of winter troll. In fact the whole damn October was strange. An ungodly amount of sun – we average 13.3 inches in October, and got less than five. A ton of bear attacks. A University of Alaska professor leading an expedition got dragged off a cliff after encountering a sow and a cub. Then a Yakutat man had his head chomped while filling his water canister. A wilderness guide was attacked. A Kentucky dude who paid good money to hunt bear with the primo bear guide in Alaska got mauled himself. The list continues. The bears are deeply, deeply unhappy with the situation on the ground here.
Both mothers came to town for Kiera-Lee’s birth. As usual, it rained. It always rains when my mother comes. Out walking on the cross-trail town we encountered a man with hiking poles. “No bears ahead!” he said with great gusto. (I had along the Glock 20 in my backpack – I had run into a bear out hunting a couple weeks before, and got chased out of a campsite by a brown bear in my twenties. They scare the bejesus out of me.)
“Is that usual for people to say?” my mom asked.
About a month back hunting just north of town I scoped in on movement in the sedge grass just above the tide line. I lowered my eyes and backed off as the bear rose from the grass. Creepy feeling, that moment going from hunter to hunted. About a week later, in the same area, a sow charged a former Search and Rescue Captain. He shot twice with a .44 revolver, somehow hitting a bear traveling at 30 MPH in the head. The creature slid to a stop five feet from where he stood. Most likely the same bear.
And meanwhile looking at the mountains behind town – no termination dust on the peaks, just the steadily shrinking ice fields to the east where sometimes with a spotting scope you can see clusters of mountain goats cooling their chests on abnormally warm days.
The bear problem isn’t limited to the 17 million acres of rainforest around town. (About the same amount of woods in all of Pennsylvania, where I grew up.) This summer a bear was sighted a hundred yards from where we live in the center of Sitka, probably hunting chickens in the neighborhood. That same bear, police think, followed a local welder on his bike before a driver saw him and pulled over to cut the bear off. Police have said they will kill the bear when they next encounter it.
Alaska State Troopers killed a sow guarding a cache of garbage just above town, along with her two cubs. (There were no requests from zoos for Alaska cubs – and, as Bethune pointed out, they weren’t likely to survive after being conditioned to eating garbage.) The meat was donated to the local raptor center, I guess making the eagles happy at least. Not often I’m sure they get to dine on brown bear.
In the meantime we keep on. The summer was a thrill touring around with the book, with the kid nearby. She also got some good city time, where she became obsessed with walking the streets of Philadelphia.
Yesterday listening to Obama’s farewell speech, wondering about what the future holds, it was moving to hear the thing he was most proud of was being Sasha and Malia’s dad.