WILDERNESS LIFE HACK: OTTER COFFEE
"What did you say?" My sister Megan looked at me like she couldn't believe what she was hearing. As if I'd morphed into a monster (or our older brother) right in front of her. It was just one hour into her visit up here to Alaska this summer and already she looked like she was regretting it. Actually, she looked like she was about to hyperventilate, meltdown, and possibly die. "What do you mean your French Press is broken?"
She stared from the package of ground Starbucks' French Roast in her hand and then to my apologetic face and shook her head. "Nooooooo. That's impossible!" She sounded just like Luke when Vader tells him the truth about his parentage.
"I've got another one coming in the mail," I said soothingly.
Fat lot of good that did. She knew perfectly well that we get mail once a week by floatplane, weather permitting--a whole week, possibly longer, without coffee? I could see she was about to faint, or her head explode, or both at once, so I thought fast.
There was only one thing to do: It was time to pull out my wilderness life-hack super powers!
"Now don't go dying on me," I said encouragingly, in my best Jim Carrey voice. "I've got it covered."
Daring to hope, since her big sister had never let her down and had even saved her from lynchings, stranglings, and other older-brother mayhem in our childhood, Megan watched trustfully as I compiled what I needed on the kitchen table.
I unearthed the cup filters that I used in the winter when I melted snow for drinking water to filter out pine needles: the Styrofoam cups I had on hand for when water got low and dish washing wasn't possible; and--most importantly--the otter coffee mug that an otter-obsessed reader of my blog had sent me.
With the knife I pierced holes in the bottom of a Styrofoam cup, stuck the filter in it, poured in some of the ground coffee and held the cup above the mug as I poured hot water over the coffee. Voila! Megan was saved!
Unfortunately, there were unforeseen consequences to my life-hacking super skills. As it turned out, the coffee in the mug was about 5 ka-trillion times stronger than any coffee Megan had consumed before.
The next thing I knew she was out on my floating walkway jump roping like mad, water splashing in all directions. Then she had a sledgehammer and was pounding on a foam-filled tire (usually used for dock bumpers). A manic gleam in her eye, she ran to me, panting, and said, "I need more otter coffee! Otter coffee! Otter coffee! I need more otter coffee!"
A litte worried about what was happening, I nevertheless gave her more otter coffee.
Off she went, running back and forth across the beaches, leaping rocks, climbing cliffs (in her rubber boots no less), and racing after whales. She is now known as Runs With Whales.
"Otter coffee! Where's my otter coffee?" she howled.
Frankly a little fearful now, I gave her more otter coffee.
She starting flinging flour and yeast around and made maple bars, using some very old maple flavoring that had, unbeknownst to me, turned into pure alcohol. The Booze Bars combined with the otter coffee and exploded inside her. She tore off into the teeth of a gale, laughing like a maniac as I followed, more than a little frightened. As she stood on the cliffs of insanity, taunting the waves, I wondered how to wean someone off otter coffee. Maybe, if I could get a good signal, I could Google it?
Before I could do so, she turned to me, with the waves pounding and bursting around her, blonde hair whipping in the wind, and yelled, "I need more otter coffee. By the way, where's the machete?"
I slowly backed away. "Otter coffee? And a machete?" This did not strike me as a good combination.
I was wrong. It was an inspired combination! For the last few years since I started my blog and column the only way to send them off with pictures attached is to go to the one beach where there's a good signal. I have to wade through a sea of entangling salal brush to get there. When it snows or rains I get soaked when I struggle through it.
Well, once Megan had juiced up on the otter coffee and snatched up the machete, she went at the salal brush like Alan Rickman goes after the bad aliens in Galaxy Quest. Before I knew it, as she hacked, tossed, and hacked, I had a hallway through the brush that I could stroll through easily.
This time, when she came up for air, eyes wild, I was the one who suggested, "How about some more otter coffee? Oh, and by the way? I could really do with some kindling stocking up. Feel like cutting some?"
"Otter coffee. Kindling. Otter coffee." She nodded, her hands jerking spasmodically.
It was the best wilderness life hack so far! By the time she left, I was set for the coming winter like I'd never been set before.
This blog is dedicated to my otter-obsessed friend. I couldn't have done it without you! It is thanks to you that we got so much accomplished and filmed this summer that we've managed to put it on Megans YouTube channel, you can view it HERE.
(Disclaimer: Do not do this at home. I'm an experienced wilderness life-hack expert.)
Guest Blog: My Sister creating a Painting of my Brothers 49er Themed Alaskan Fishing Boat
My brother Robin, who splits his time between Ketchikan, AK and Meyers Chuck, AK, our two Alaskan hometowns, wanted me to paint a special painting of his boat the "Sultan". Hope I did it justice! (Megan Duncanson)
Robin lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, and works at the local shipyard in the winter months, he also has a Salmon troller that he fishes out of in the summers in our little hometown village of Meyers Chuck, AK called "Sultan". He is an avid San Francisco 49ers fan, so of course he had to give ode to them with his boat, haha!! Hence the colors and the flag proudly saluting fellow 49ers fans...or taunting their rival Seahawks fans, all who pass him by on the Alaskan fishing grounds.
The "Sultan" is the oldest active troller in Ketchikan, and is being recognized by the Ketchikan Historical society for it's long standing history of fishing the Alaskan waters for almost a century. The wooden boat was built in 1926, in Seattle, WA. Some of the characteristics of the Sultan are: it is a double ended fir planked power troller, OAL 43'' long with a 10' beam and has a 6' draft. It is documented with the USCG, number: 226195, and more information on the boat can be found by entering the doc number on the Coast Guards website.
It's been my brothers dream to own his own fishing boat for as long as I can remember, and in May of 2019 he decided to make his dream come true. He first found a boat in Hoonah, AK that he was interested in, and so him, and our oldest brother James, traveled up there, only to find the boat was in horrible condition. So, back to square one and the hunt for the perfect troller. He then heard about a boat in Sitka, AK and they went to check that one out, hoping it was the perfect dream boat, there he met the "Sultan" and a couple days later she was on her way to Meyers Chuck, AK, her new home.
Of course with a boat that is almost a century old, and made of wood, living in the harsh climate of Alaska the boat requires continuous maintenance and costs to keep it seaworthy, but my brother is up for the task and regularly spends 300 hours, and $5,000 a year to keep her running. But, it is worth it to live out his dream and join the ranks of all the other Alaskan fishermen in our family.
Interesting side note, it is the 2nd red power troller boat in the family that is unmistakeable in Southeast Alaska. Our uncle and aunt, Rory and Marion, also fish the same grounds with their boat the "Isis". Maybe our brother James, and cousin JoDean and her jusband Joe, need to paint their trollers red now too, hmmmmm.
Looking forward to seeing the colorful Sultan pass by in front of MAD Island while I am working up there this summer, building my dream artist retreat and seeing his dream boat fish on by.
Click on the photo below to watch the making of the original painting on YouTube
Imagine you're on a trip to SE Alaska in your yacht or your sailboat and you see a fishing boat up ahead of you on a broad bay along the Inside Passage. As you draw closer you realize something's not right. The boat isn't under power and there's no movement on deck, no sign of anyone onboard. What would you do? What made me think about this is something my brother told me recently after he fetched some fuel and groceries for us in his fishing boat. The tides were a mess, they were super low high tides that came in extremely slowly. Our skiff wouldn't float so I wouldn't be able to go out and meet him to offload the fuel and groceries from his boat. He thought he could bring his boat into our little tidal bight later on in the evening just before dark, but even then our skiff wouldn't float. It was decided that I'd walk out on the big breakwater log that stopped the worst northerly swells from assaulting our floathouses to meet his boat.
The problem was, the breakwater log had been out there for a long time and had been severely eaten up by wood-boring sea gribbles. It wasn't much more than a floating slab and wasn't as stable as it used to be. It was the only option, though, so when Jamie called and said he would be here in a few minutes, I left my floathouse, clambered over the rocks and stepped onto the big log that was tied to shore. It has a lot of burls and moss growing on it, but wasn't as tippy as I'd feared it might be.
I got to the very end of it where it had the least stability and balanced there, waiting for Jamie to arrive. I could hear his boat growling along, but it was taking him longer than a few minutes. I occupied myself by swatting noseeums, taking photos of the sunset, and trying not to fall off the log into the jade green water. Jamie's boat finally entered the bight. He was having some engine problems and I wondered if that had been what had delayed him, but when he finally reached the log and I helped tie his boat to it, he said, "I'm sorry it took so long to get here. I was drifting farther out than I realized." "Drifting?" I asked. He said that he'd shut down his engine and let the boat drift while he slept, waiting for the tide. "It made me think of Ray. He used to do that all the time." Ray was a close family friend who died last year and had been the captain of the large fishing boat Jamie had been a deckhand on for many years.
"You mean," I said, "that you guys would just drift around in some bay with everyone sleeping inside?" "Yep. It was super peaceful." I'd never heard of such a thing, but I couldn't see why not when I thought about it. In the more remote areas there's very little traffic, and most of the water is extremely deep out in the middle of bays, and if the weather was nice--why not?
As I thought about that he handed me out 9 jugs of gasoline, each weighing around 40 pounds. I had to carry them along the log and line them up, walking back and forth as the log rocked. They took up most of the space on the log so it was tricky getting around them. Finally he handed out a bag of potatoes and assorted other groceries. "Where are you off to now?" I asked as he started the engine back up. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe I'll go back out there and drift some more."
Tara Neilson (ADOW)