It's that time of the year again when we do our usual Fall things, but there was nothing usual about the bullets coming at me as I hid behind an inadequately-sized tree.
The day started out windy, chill, and overcast, blowing from the north. I needed to pump water to our holding tank, and also walk the waterline to level it. Soon enough I'd need to be draining the line every time I pumped so it wouldn't freeze; it's important that the line is level for it to drain properly. I found that many of the support boards that keep it level had rotted and fallen. We'd have to replace them.
The week before, my dad had replaced the recoil cord on the pump, but even with that helpful accessory, the pump was resistant to starting. After a dozen yanks and two squirts of ether it finally caught and ran smoothly. I noted the time and strolled through the woods toward the beach where I'd wait for thirteen minutes to let the pump fill the tank before I turned it off.
I was almost to the beach when I heard nearby shots and bullets strike close to me and I dropped instinctively. Out on the bay a fishing boat had crewmen on deck with guns in their hands aimed toward shore. Apparently they were getting ready for hunting season by sighting their rifles in at the trees around me.
I ducked behind the nearest tree. I didn't dare go on the beach to reveal my presence because with their fingers on the triggers they might think it was a deer and only notice it was a person after they shot me.
My handheld VHF was in my pocket and my dad demanded an answer to his first call. I fumbled for it, realizing that of course they thought the shots were from me. There were still bears around and I never went anywhere without the .44. Not to mention there shouldn't have been anyone else in the area.
In addition, the guys on the boat had just measured off three deliberate shots, apparently unaware that that's a universal signal of distress. My parents had brought all of us kids up to know that, so they would naturally assume I was signaling them. (I later found out that when they heard the first shot my mom grabbed her cane--she has severe knee problems--and started hobbling for the door. I don't know what she thought she could do, but obviously she wasn't going to let the bears have her daughter without some kind of a fight.)
"It's not me," I said into the VHF. "It's some idiots on a boat shooting into the woods."
They continued to shoot, firing off multiple rounds fairly quickly as I remained as still as possible behind the not very big tree. My dad suggested I fire off my gun to let them know I was there, but I didn't think it was a good idea to move that much. I was too close to the beach and they could see the movement and fire at it.
My dad, instead, took one of his rifles and stepped outside to shoot. It had the desired effect. The fishermen were obviously not locals and had no idea people lived in the area and they quickly put their guns away. I remained in the woods just to be safe and turned off the pump when it was time. (Because it was blowing a strong northerly with the pump situated to the south of them, they wouldn't have heard it over the sound of the waves striking their anchored boat.)
I returned home, happily un-perforated but with a serious adrenaline rush.
At this time of the year we're also busy stocking up on fuel and propane and especially winter groceries, which means taking advantage of the case sales offered by the store in Thorne Bay. The last time I was in Thorne Bay, one of the cashiers asked me how much it took for us to stock up for winter. I told her, "Not nearly as much as it used to."
When there were seven of us and we had around twenty dogs our fall stock-up amounted to probably a ton of supplies which we'd buy all at once and then have to unload and put away all at once, as well. These days we don't have as much to deal with and we make sure we do it in installments.
Of course the tides never cooperate and this time, as per usual, we wound up hauling the perishables, the produce and the frozen foods up a low tide beach. Happily, the hand truck with the oversized wheels made tackling the mud flats and rocks fairly easy. We left the cases of dry goods in the skiff until the tide came in (covering the boxes with a tarp to protect everything from the predatory ravens and crows) and then hauled the boxes of cans, jars, etc., into the house. They wound up stacked on every available surface, waiting until they could be put away...or eaten.
It's also time to work on corralling as many firewood logs for winter as possible. While my parents and I were scoping out the beaches slightly to the north of the village, my cousin Darrell approached us in his skiff with a log right inside it. He and my brother Jamie are both strapping six footers and when they find themselves without lines and logging dogs, they don't hesitate to pull a log out of the water and into their skiff and take it home.
In this case Darrell generously offered his catch to us. While myd ad pounded a logging dog in it, after Darrell rolled it back into the water, my mom chatted with Darrell, asking after his mother, her sister Shirley who used to live in the village with her husband Herb. After catching up on all the news, we went our separate ways and we had one more log to tow home behind us.
There are still many more projects to do to prepare for winter....
My second youngest brother Robin, who makes my Internet access possible, works at the shipyard in Ketchikan and he sent me the following photos of the kind of snowfall they're dealing with as they do their best to keep up with the ships they have to work on. Above is the M/V Kennicot, one of ferries in the Marine Highway System fleet that caters to coastal living Alaskans, and keeps Southeast Alaskans connected.
A mountain of snow at the shipyard with snow-covered mountains in the background. The snow-covered mountain is across Tongass Narrows on the island where Ketchikan International Airport is located. Below is a photo of what the jets looked like when Robin went to see off a friend. He had to cross on a ferry to get to the airport.
Below is the view from Robin's front steps. Time to go to work...yay!
Thanks for the photos, Robin!
He said that he's hoping to come out here on Memorial Day for a visit, which we're looking forward to...barring weather complications. I plan on interviewing him and sharing the results on here, so stay tuned for more on the shipyard.
The one good thing about this horrible, stormy winter has been the lack of snow. I congratulated myself on it almost daily. Surely, the sheer power of my dislike of snow was keeping it at bay? And with spring just around the corner it looked like we'd squeeze by without having to deal with all the hassles that snow brings when you're a floathouse dweller.
And then it started snowing. And snowing. And, then, guess what? More snowing.
My dad, who had just turned seventy, had to saw and chop wood in a blizzard. High winds tossed the thick snow over him and coated him even as he swung his sledgehammer to break up particularly stubborn spruce rounds. My mom bundled up and did almost all the stacking and hauling into their house, despite dealing with debilitating osteoarthritis in her knees and hands. (I'd had a bad fall and she valiantly took up the slack.)
Our mail came in days late, the floatplanes unable to fly in the blizzard conditions. When it finally got here, my dad, after shoveling a foot of snow out of the skiff, couldn't get the outboard engine to start--the fuel was frozen in the line and the carburetor.
My brother Jamie stepped in and brought our groceries and mail out in his skiff in snow so thick that he had to hug the shoreline with almost zero visibility in pretty good size seas. Thankfully he knows the area extremely well and didn't wreck, or hit his propellor on anything.
The real problem with snow and floathouses is the weight, which can sink a float. My column this week at www.capitalcityweekly.com, appearing on Wednesday, March 15th, is about how we deal with this issue.
In order to get the column off I had to cross through the woods to get to the beach where there's a stronger signal than I can get at my house. I bundled up and like every other danger-defying columnist out there, braved deep snow in high winds with a brutal wind chill that froze my fingers as soon as I took them out of my gloves to hit send.
Here's hoping spring is just around the corner.