to the Van't Hof family Alaska diary!
This is the story behind the
story of Finding their own Dance: Reawakening
the Alaskan Alutiiq Arts, a documentary
On July 24,2006 Ellen,
Dave, and Luke left for nearly four months to Sterling, Alaska.
For her sabbatical leave from Calvin College, Ellen researched
and gathered footage for her documentary film titled "Finding
Their Own Dance: Reawakening the Alaskan Alutiiq Arts".
Please bookmark this site and check back for photos and updates
posted by Ellen, Dave, and Luke.
October 22-27, 2008
Ellen: Rob, David & I flew from Grand Rapids
to Anchorage to attend the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.
Dave and Dar Kuiper generously allowed us to stay at their
place. We showed the documentary twice in conjunction with
the Anchorage Museum's opening of the "Like a Face" exhibit
there. We had a chance to catch up with some of our Alaskan
friends. We spent one day driving our rental car to Sterling
to visit Dave and Leora Pooler and visit the VanKooten cabin
again. A great time! On a spectacularly clear, crisp and
cold day, we climbed toward Flat Top, a mountain that overlooks
the city. From the highest point we reached, we were able
to see Denali in the distance, a rare sight from so far away.
May 22-27, 2008
Ellen: Rob, David and I headed up from Grand
Rapids to Anchorage and on to Kodiak to attend and document
the "Like a Face" exhibit of Alutiiq masks collected by Alphonse
Pinart in 1872 and housed in a French museum ever since.
The Chateau Musee' lent 33 of the masks to the Alutiiq Museum.
It was also the weekend of the Crab Festival in Kodiak. We
ate crab on dockside picnic tables to our hearts' content.
Our film debut received front page status in the Kodiak Mirror
and the 3 showings were well-attended and well-received.
We were also able to schedule a Sunday interview with 4 prominent
Alutiiq elders who consented to talk with us and speak in
Sugpiaq (the Alutiiq language) on camera. We captured some
wonderful footage to add to the documentary.
May 4-7, 2007
Ellen: I flew to Anchorage and met Rob. We
flew together to Kodiak and then on to the small village
of Old Harbor. We interviewed 3 directors of the Nuniaq Alutiiq
Dancers, some of the dancers and filmed a dress rehearsal.
It was a beautiful weekend in a remote and stunning location.
We flew back to Kodiak and filmed the "Awakening Bear" dance
January 14, 2007
Ellen: David and I flew to Anchorage where we met Rob. We
flew to Homer and boarded a small plane for Nanwalek, across
Katchemak Bay. We spent the weekend meeting and interviewing
the Nanwalek Alutiiqs about their Russian Orthodox New Year
"Masking" dances. On Sunday night, we filmed the
entire night of dance festivities- a fascinating tradition
that has died in most Alutiiq communities but is still going
strong in Nanwalek
SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER and NOVEMBER 2006 entries below:
Thursday, November 16
Ellen: David and I packed up early and got on the road from
Iron Mountain at 6:00 AM. We drove all the way to Holland
and got safely home by about 3:45. It is very good to be
We won't be posting daily updates for a while. (You would
be bored with our days now that we're home.) We do, however,
have several more trips to AK planned. We'll be heading up
in the middle of January, in March or May, and then for a
month or so in the summer. For each trip, we'll post pictures
and updates, in case you're interested. Thanks for your faithful
visits so far. It's been wonderful to think of all of our
friends and family joining us every day. Please check back
Wednesday, November 15
Ellen: Opening day of deer season. David and Mike hunted
all day with no luck. We really enjoyed our day off
and the second evening with our great friends Mike and Colleen.
Tuesday, November 14
Ellen: Today we got to the Bemidji Woolen Mills when they
opened at 8:00. David found a few beautiful wool items that
he'll get for Christmas. Then we headed out on the road.
We drove on clear and dry roads to Duluth and stopped there
for an hour. At about 5:10, we arrived at Mike and Colleen's
in Iron Mountain. It was so good to see them again. The last
time we saw them was the first day of our Alaska adventure
on July 24. They graciously listened as we told stories and
showed pictures from our last 3 1/2 months. We had a wonderful
Monday, November 13
Ellen: Today we left Regina SK at about 7:15, got gas (it's
much more expensive in Canada but we had Canadian money left
since the last ATM withdrawal yesterday), and had breakfast
at Tim Horton's. We drove to the border and breezed right
through. Under partly sunny skies, temps above freezing,
on dry roads, and in flat country, we sped down US 2 through
North Dakota and kept going until we stopped in Bemidji,
MN.That's where we're staying tonight. Tomorrow we
plan to get to Iron Mountain, MI by suppertime and visit
with Mike and Colleen Holmes (see the very beginning of our
trip, July 24, for our last visit with them, about 114 days
ago). David will be able to hunt on Mike's land for the deer
season opener on Wednesday and then we'll drive the final
stretch home on Thursday.
Sunday, November 12
Dave: Today we drove from Dawson Creek, B.C. to Regina,
SK, over 800 miles and 14 hours behind the wheel! We started
out with about a foot of snow and -4 degrees and ended with
no snow and 25 degrees. The credit card stopped working for
gas so we have to find ATMs for cash. (We filll up about
four times a day.) We called VISA and they told
us that we should instruct the cashier to "check with their
merchant bank". As if! Good roads, flat country, just cows,
we're tired, good night.
Saturday, November 11
David: Today was a day of numbers. 1,000 Kilometers or 620
miles, from Watson Lake, Yukon Territory to Dawson Creek,
British Columbia. Watson Lake is on the Yukon/ British Columbia
border and Dawson Creek is on the B.C. / Alberta border.
About $200 in Canadian gas! Eleven hours behind the wheel,
seven hours without a car in front of us or behind us. The
temp was +8 degrees all day. We saw about 50 bison, 35 caribou,
thirty deer (white tails), 9 moose, one elk, one stone sheep,
one white weasel, and one coyote. Yesterday we never saw
an animal. Here's one of the caribou along the side of thep
about 4 times a dayroad.
And we ended in Dawson Creek at mile marker 0
of the Alaska Highway. But numbers can't quanitify the scenery
which was spectacular! The northern Canadian Rockies are
stunning, and seeing them in winter is a special treat. The
roads are well maintained but we learned that we definitely
want to drive on the top half of our gas tank since many
gas stations are closed for the winter. Here's just one of
the fabulous views.
Friday November 10
Ellen: Today we got up early and David started the car without
a problem, even though it was close to -30 degrees in Beaver
Creek, Yukon Territory this morning! Thank goodness for the
the block heater. We drove about 550 miles through the Yukon
Territory today. Sometimes we traveled up to 50 miles without
any sign of human habitation: no other roads or buildings.
Often we went for 15 miles without seeing another car. It's
pretty remote. About noon, we stopped at a Tim Horton's in
Whitehorse (the capital of the Yukon Territory, pop. 22,000)
for chili. When we got to our Watson Lake motel tonight,
we were eager to check emails and post the website using
their wireless internet. Unfortunately, it is so slow that
I couldn't even answer an email, much less upload the website.
Needless to say, there's been no cell service for 2 days.
Saturday night we hope to be in Dawson Creek, British Columbia
and hope to have better internet service there. Then we'll
be able to post these updates. Here's a mountain scene in
the Yukon Territory along the Alaska Highway.
Dave: Yesterday as evening aproached, Ellen mentioned that
her side of the car was cold. In fact, a cheap thermometer
we set on the floor registered 0. It turns out the heater
vents on the passenger side work a little but there is a
huge draft as well. Towels jammed in the gaps didn't help,
so today she rode with her legs bundled in a sleeping bag.
If the temp is above 0, it's OK. Interesingly, it was 103
degrees in Montana
on our drive to Alaska last July, and now its about -30.
The Jeep didn't handle either temp well.
Thursday, November 9
Ellen: We put Luke on the plane for home, repacked the car
(we did end up with a few things on the cartop carrier),
and began driving. This is a shot of the Matanuska Glacier,
along the Glenn Highway in Alaska.
We drove in and out of weather, sometimes
sunny and sometimes snowy but getting progressively colder
throughout the day as we headed inland and a little north
through Tok, Alaska. This is one of many spectacular vistas
along the road to Tok.
We crossed the border into Canada without incident.
In fact, the border guard extended our hunting gun registration
that expired in September. (To take firearms into Canada
you have to buy a $25 permit that is good for 90 days.) We
didn't have to pay the $25 . We got to our motel just across
the border at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory. It was already
-22 degrees so we were willing to pay a surcharge to plugin
our block heater and very glad we had installed one last
Dave: Today we left Alaska. For those of you who have never
been there, DON'T GO! Leaving is far too painful. We saw
three groups of caribou in the road near Tok.
Wednesday, November 8
Ellen: We had a pretty busy morning finishing up packing
and winterizing Jan and Gerry's cabin. Dave and Leora came
by in the final stage and were very helpful as we tied up
all the loose ends. We are so grateful for their advice and
friendship. They are one part of Alaska that we will miss.
At about noon we had the car packed to the hilt. (David will
tell you a little about that!). Packed like sardines, we
drove to Dave and Dar's house in Anchorage. They had generously
offered to let us stay at their beautiful house overnight
even though they were on vacation in Mexico. One of the key
interviewees for our documentary project, Perry, invited
us for dinner at his house. We got to meet his wife Ardene
and had the most wonderful dinner in their lovely house,
but the best part of the evening was the fascinating conversation
with fascinating people. We will miss them too. This is what
our last sunrise looked like.
Dave: The idea was to pack the car so that we had nothing
on top. Coming up to Alaska we had two car top bags and two
tubes full of fishing rods. Well, the plan didn't work. We
ended up with one cartop bag and the rod tubes. Luke and
Ellen each had bags on their laps. Only Luke's stocking cap
and eyes showed among the bags. ("It's only to Anchorage,
Honey") Shoes, boots, books, road food, and maps were jammed
into every conceivable crack. Tomorrow, after Luke leaves
on the plane, I will repack. I just noticed the four pillows
that I had vaccum packed in a trash bag are starting to expand.
Maybe I can jam one into each wheel well.
Tuesday, November 7
Ellen: Today we marveled again at the beauty of God's country
here as we reluctantly continued packing and preparing to
leave. We will be closing up the cabin on Wednesday morning
and driving into Anchorage. Please continue to visit our
site, though. As we send Luke home and begin our drive across
Canada, we'll be updating on the evenings that we can find
a solid wireless signal. As one adventure ends, another one
begins. Please pray for safe travel for Luke and us.
Monday, November 6
Ellen: Not an especially exciting day but every one of our
last few days in Alaska is remarkable to us. The day dawned
clear and stunning at -(that's MINUS)10 degrees. Leora and
I decided to delay our 5-mile walk till afternoon. We plugged
in our block heater and tried to wrench our Jeep's frozen
doors open. David and I ran some errands in Soldotna, returned
some CDs to the library and picked up a few more survival-on-the-road
items like "spare tire in a can", lock de-icer, handwarmers,
kitty litter (for traction in the snow, if necessary. Otherwise,
we might need to get a cat when we get home). We also picked
up some almonds, wasabi peas, and dried apples for snacks
on the road. Doesn't that sound like a feast? We continued
to pack up most of our stuff and clean the cabin. Just
to give you something interesting to look at, here's
another picture from yesterday's drive.
Sunday, November 5
Dave: Ellen and I took a drive this afternoon because the
weather was so nice. It was -8 degrees when she and the neighbor
went for their walk this morning. It's clear and dry with
no wind, no bugs. We drove the Skilak Lake road which has
several vantage points with beautiful views. This is the
east end of the lake with the Kenai River coming in on the
left and some glacial melt water at the lower right.
The Moose River in front of our cabin is frozen
solid. Some kids were running it in 4-wheelers towing sleds.
I cleaned the garage and Ellen did some packing today. Then
we spent a quiet evening reading and listening to 93.3 K-BAY
(Katchemak Bay) out of Homer, Alaska's premier Oldies station.
When is the last time you heard the Troglodyte song, you
know, the one with: "her name was Bertha, Bertha Butt,
she was one of the Butt sisters."
I've heard it twice in the last two days. Don't you wish
you were here?
Saturday, November 4
Dave: The weather forecast for today was for clear and
cold so Luke and I decided to walk up to Crescent Lake. This
lake is known for its big grayling (20"). We never had a
chance to go up there earlier, so today we went just to check
it out. It was a 13 mile round trip hike, but fortunately
the trail is well maintained (for mountain bikes) and has
a gentle incline. It was 2 degrees when we started, and because
the last three nights have been around 0 degrees, we figured
the bears where denned. We didn't take the gun. The weather
and scenery were stunning. Below is a picture of a cow parsnip
covered in frost. These plants grow to 4 or 5 feet high.
The trail follows Crescent Creek up to the
lake and runs between two high mountain ranges. A short distance
up the trail from the parking lot, we ran into our first
bear track. It was small and probably a black bear. About
two miles up, the small track was joined by the biggest bear
have ever seen. That's Luke's size 12 next to it. Notice
it extends beyond his boot in the front and back. The little
one off his other foot is the black bear track. The further
we went, the more tracks we saw. (I know you're sick of bear
track pictures but ours are bigger than Ellen's. Hers were
little girly tracks in downtown Sterling and ours were manly
tracks in the untamed wilderness.) It became a bear freeway.
We weren't scared, though. As you can see in the picture
we had our bear stick. It had a real sharp point and it worked
as well as a shotgun because we didn't see any bears.
WARNING, IF YOU ARE DISTURBED BY SCATALOGICAL
DESCRIPTIONS, READ NO FURTHER!
We did observe something kind of interesting.
One of the bears on the path had appearently feasted heavily
on berries. It was defacating as it walked down the path
and left about 30 feet of partially digested berries in the
neatest zigzig pattern. You know how their butts swing back
and forth as they walk. The picture didn't turn out so well
- you had to be there.
Friday, November 3
Ellen: What a beautiful day! It was below zero when Leora
and I headed out on our walk. Today I remembered to take
the camera along. It
was cold, clear, and crisp again. This is how the hoarfrost
looked on the trees in the morning sun. By afternoon, most
of it had drifted off like tiny snowflakes.
We walked a different route and stopped often
to take pictures. We were out for over 2 hours. On one detour
down near the Kenai River, we saw this fresh track and several
others in the snow. That's my boot, for size reference. Apparently
the bears aren't hibernating yet! After spotting these, Leora
and I talked a little louder than usual.
Looking ahead to the long drive through Canada,
we decided to make sure we were well prepared. We got a block
heater installed on the Jeep and bought some fuel additive,
extra quarts of oil, 2 new headlights, a tow strap, 2 sterno
cans, and extra-long-heavy-duty jumper cables. And the sun
keeps rising later and later and setting earlier and earlier.
Thursday, November 2
Ellen: Today was cold and crisp. We woke to about 10 degrees
and an ice fog over the river. Leora and I walked more than
4 miles over the crunchy snow and admired the hoarfrost,
crystals almost 1/2 inch thick on the branches. It was beautiful.
As the sun rose in the blue sky, the fog burned off and the
daylight lasted about 8 hours. Luke worked on his
homework. I continued to tie up the project's loose ends
and began to plan the drive home. We need to book lodging
ahead as much as possible since many motels close for the
season, but it's hard to predict destinations when the weather
could have a huge impact on how much ground we can cover
in a day. We've decided to install a block heater in the
Jeep just in case we run into really cold nights. It'd be
a real pain if the car didn't start in the morning. Dave,
our next door neighbor, called his mechanic friend in Soldotna
who's willing to work on the Jeep tomorrow. Meanwhile, we're
just soaking in as much beauty as we can, hoping it'll stick
with us for a while.
Wednesday, November 1
Dave: At dusk today (about 5:00) the mountains lit
up with alpenglow, a pink cast from the sun, low on the horizon,
lighting only the mountaintops. Ellen took a picture
but it doesn't do it justice. This morning it was 10 degrees
at dawn and slowly warmed to 35. After Ellen's daily walk
with the neighbor we got to go shopping in Soldotna. We picked
up some Christmas presents and a few groceries. We also got
four books on CD from the library for the ride home. Two
of them would not load on the computer and iPod. Once we
got home, I took a nap. Shopping just wears me out. I made
fried clams for dinner. Ellen and Luke don't like them too
much so I got to eat ALL of them!
Tuesday, October 31
Ellen: Happy Hallowe'en! We bought one bag of candy but
no kids came by. This morning while walking with Leora, I
saw, right up close, the mama moose and calf that have been
leaving tracks in the snow through the yard. There
they were, standing in a driveway as we walked by. It always
shocks me how tall they are.
We've made a change of plans.
It looks as though we will be heading home to Michigan a
bit earlier than we thought. We had to postpone the final
interviewing trip, scheduled in a couple of weeks to Old
Harbor Village on Kodiak Island, until
spring. So we decided to pack everything up by next Wednesday,
put Luke on his plane on Thursday morning, and keep driving
from Anchorage to Canada and, ultimately, home. We hope to
be home by the 16th. I've got a lot of work to do before
that, tying up loose ends on the project.
Dave: Luke had been working hard on school assignments,
so at about 1PM, he and I took a break and went fishing/hunting.
Cast and Blast! I had located an area that had both fish
and ducks. Upon arrival at the river, we jumped about 8
mallards. Luke got one shot and missed. The fish were not
interested. We had a couple of half-hearted strikes, but
no hook-ups. This was a very bittersweet trip, possibly
our last chance to hunt/fish in Alaska. Who wouldn't miss
the scenery, the trout and the bear tracks on the sand bars?
Ellen, after much anguish, decided we will head home on the
9th of Nov. It's time. Termination dust was falling in the
Monday, October 30
Ellen: Another work day for Luke and me. I worked on thank-you
notes to all the AFN interviewees and answered lots of emails
that accumulated over the last week. I tried to work through
the logistics for a final trip to Old Harbor Village on Kodiak
Island. I realized, after checking flight prices on several
different websites, that it would cost Rob, David, and me
over $2000 just in flights! Prices have suddenly increased
hugely. We may have to postpone that trip until we find out
whether a National Endowment for the Arts grant comes through.
We might not be able to get there until next spring or summer.
Luke worked all day on his "Global Warming in Alaska" project
for school. My only break today was a 4 mile walk with Leora
in crisp mist this morning. We had a little snow, a little
sleet, and a peek of sun today. It gets dark now by 5:00
PM. We still have not seen northern lights since on nights
when it's been predicted, we've had cloudy conditions.
Sunday, October 29
Ellen: Today was a decompression day. After the frenzy
of the last 4, David and I rested, unpacked, and caught
up on emails and phone calls. Luke worked all day on his
homework. His work comes in spurts and there's quite a bit
of it right now. It warmed above freezing and began to sleet,
rain, and then mist. The sky changed from moment to moment
with occasional patches of blue becoming dense fog over the
river. Beautiful. Leora and I walked 4 miles and caught up
on the Sterling news. Since daylight savings change
we've got nightfall by about 5:00 now. Losing almost 6 minutes
a day of daylight, the days are getting very short, only
a little over 8 hours.
Saturday, October 28
Ellen: With the interviews done, we said goodbye to Rob,
Melissa, and Autumn as they headed to the zoo for a few hours
before beginning their drive back to Fairbanks. We went back
to the native arts fair and bought a few Christmas gifts
and gave away some bookmarks from our project website to
After we checked out of the hotel, we drove along the Turnagain
Arm and watched for Dall sheep as usual. We almost always
see them on the mountainside there. Today, in the cold but
bright sunshine, we saw several dozen. This 3/4 curl ram
was particularly impressive so we actually stopped along
the side of the road like the rest of the tourists and took
It's been well below freezing during the nights and not
much above during the day so we saw snow along the road most
of the way home. We drove about 25 miles out of our way,
nearly to Seward, to drive into Exit Glacier. We hoped to
take pictures of the receding glacier for Luke's Environmental
Science project on global warming. Unfortunately, even though
the weather was spectacular, the road into the glacier was
closed. They take "off season" very seriously here. Almost
everything that might be of interest to a tourist is closed
down now. Rats. We were disappointed. As we finished the
drive back to Sterling, the snow increased a bit and we found
this view across the now-frozen river.
Friday, October 27
Ellen: WHEW! What a day! We started out by visiting the
native arts exhibits and buying a few things while I connected
with the Alutiiq artists, many of whom I have met
before. For the first time, we met Helen who is an Alutiiq
elder, historian, watercolorist and mask-maker that I
had heard and read about. I talked to her about our project,
bought 2 of her prints of Alutiiq dancers, and got a commitment
to interview her later in the day. Then we traveled to a
condo where Sperry, an Alutiiq teacher, language specialist,
and dance choreographer, was staying with his wife and 4
day-old baby. They were in Anchorage for a short time so
that they could deliver the baby at the Native Hospital before
returning to their tiny village on the west side of the state.
His native village is Nanwalek. The interview was amazing!
For over a year I have wanted to meet and talk to him but
this is the first time our paths have crossed. It was worth
the wait. It looks like we'll need to follow-up by traveling
to Nanwalek in January for their Russian Orthodox New Years
on January 14 to film their "masking dances". We hurried
back to the convention center to meet Helen as she packed
up her art booth. With permission from the convention video
crew, we interviewed her in a corner of the large auditorium.
Unfortunately, workmen were setting up the stage for the
evening dances and often yelled to each other across the
auditorium. Not ideal filming conditions. Immediately after
finishing with Helen, we headed to the dancer dressing rooms
to meet with Lena's dance group that was performing at the
Quyana that night. We got some shots of them getting ready, performing
on stage, and reveling in a good performance afterward. We
finally got back to the hotel about 9:30 after stopping to
get some take-out hot wings. Luke worked on homework most
of the day and then attended a forum at the convention where
the 3 candidates for Alaska governor spoke. He'll be reporting
on the session for his US Government class. A long but fruitful
day for all. The wings really hit the spot.
Thursday, October 26
Ellen: Today was a busy day at the Alaska Federation of
Natives Convention. We began with a 2 hour interview of Lena,
a young mask-artist, song-writer, and dancer from Old Harbor
Village on Kodiak Island. Then we interviewed Perry, a mask-artist,
about the mask he created to celebrate the retirement of
Dennis from the presidency of a native corporation. We spent
an hour with Perry and Dennis discussing the mask and
dance at his retirement party. Meanwhile, Luke and David
attended a 2 hour session with the state-appointed panel
studying the affect of global warming in Alaska. Luke's working
on a project on that topic for his Environmental Science
course. In early evening, we spent an hour filming at the
Koniag Native Corporation gathering where Loren's dance group
performed. After many shufflings of schedule, we met from
9:30 PM until almost midnight with Sally, a native-speaking
Alutiiq elder from Nanwalek, and her son Leo, a Russian-style
guitarist who accompanies their village dance group. It was
a long and fruitful day.
Wednesday, October 25
Ellen: After running a few errands in the morning, we headed
for Anchorage for the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.
We arrived to our hotel at about 2:30 and I started getting
ready for the interviews to come. Rob and his family arrived
by 4:30. David, Rob, and I walked up to the convention center
to meet with some dancers performing that evening. We interviewed
June and some of her dancers before filming their performance
at "Quyana", a gathering of dance groups from across Alaska
from 7:00 to 11:30 for the next 3 nights. We got some great
footage of the Alutiiq dancers and June was terrific to interview.
At 8:30, David and I tried to find a place to grab some
food. It was nearly impossible. There were bars
galore downtown and they were very well-attended but we finally
settled for Subway, not the fine dining experience David
was looking for.
Tuesday, October 24
David: Ellen worked on planning for the next 4 days and
Luke had a lot of math homework today, so we agreed that
if he got done on time he and I would do a hike into the
mountains east of the house. Ever since we arrived we have
driven past several trail heads that lead up into the Kenai
mountains. The Fuller Lake Trail is the only one we have
ever hiked, and that was to fish. We decided on the Sky Line
Trail. The guide book said it was "extremely strenuous" and
the map showed lots of contour lines bunched together. The
weather was just below freezing with a gusty wind at the
bottom. I wanted to try my new heavy duty pack frame (from
the Soldotna Hardware, like Graafschap Hardware but with
a lot of hunting/fishing gear at incredible after-season
prices) so we loaded it with water and extra clothes. The
top was about 2.5 miles up, up like an uneven staircase.
The first 1.5 miles were very steep and covered with rocks
and roots. The last mile was not as steep but ran along the
face of a very steep slope, as you can see below.
At the top there was a metal pole and below it was an orange
waterproof box. In the box was a log book. Luke and I quickly
scribbled the date and our names and the weather conditions
in the book. The temp was 22 degrees with what I estimated
was a 50 to 60 mile per hour wind. It was difficult to stand
without being blown over. That's why Luke has his hand over
his mouth. (that's the east end of Skilak Lake off Luke's
behind) This hike gave us an appreciation for those who are
into sheep and goat hunting! Going down is murder on 55 year-old
knees. The elevations were about 500 feet at the bottom and
3295 feet at the top.
Monday, October 23
David: Today Ellen and Luke had work to do, Ellen on project
logistics and Luke on homework. I went fishing. I drove to
a spot on the Kenai River that I located a few weeks ago.
The water has dropped, so it's wadeable. The fishing was
slow but I did manage to catch three dolly varden on pale
orange beads. After taking a break to warm my hands over
a small fire and eat some lunch, I tried something differant.
Luke found a large fly on the Russian River last weekend
that he called a "bird fly". It was about as big as a chickadee.
On my second cast I caught a dolly about 17". That was it,
no more fish for that pattern, so I tried a "flesh fly".
These flies are tied with rabbit fur and when wet, look just
like a floating sloppy glob of rotting salmon flesh. The
dollys and rainbows feed heavily on salmon flesh as it rots
off the millions of carcasses littering the river. (And I
mean millions!) On the first cast I received a solid strike
but missed it. The second cast yielded a beautiful 18" rainbow.
A beautiful fish in a beautiful location. The picture below
is of " the dolly hole". It is a side channel off the main
Kenai River and is well known by guides and local fishermen.
Sunday, October 22
Ellen: We packed up 2
boxes of frozen fish and game meat to send home with Ian
and Mike and then we all got on the road by 5:00 AM. On the
dark drive to Anchorage, we saw several moose along the road
and even had to hit the brakes to avoid 2 lynx on the road!
That's a rare sighting. We got Ian and Mike checked into
their flights without incident and they left within 1/2 hour
of their scheduled departure. David, Luke, and I went out
for breakfast and then to the Anchorage CrossPoint Church
for an excellent service. We drove back to Sterling and got
home mid-afternoon. We heard from the boys that they arrived
safely and were able to deposit the meat in our freezer at
home. We appreciate that the boys and their families were
willing to help out with the meat so that we wouldn't have
to deal with it on our long drive home.
It's quiet again now that we're down to just 3 of us. We
really miss all the guys.
Saturday, October 21
Ellen: Today was supposed to have been dreary and rainy
but after a nippy 25 degree low, we woke up to a beautiful
sunrise and blue sky. We watched 5 moose across the river
in the frosty field. I went for a refreshing walk with Leora
while the guys decided to head back to the Russian River
in the Jeep and Starts' rental car. They wanted to give
the fishing there another try. After fishing until
midafternoon, Dirk and Ted headed back in their car to
Anchorage to catch their evening flight home. They wanted
to drive it in the daylight to see all the gorgeous scenery
they missed on the evening drive to Sterling on Wednesday.
They're supposed to fly out on the red-eye at about 9:40
PM. I worked most of the day on scheduling and the bookmarks
that we'll be giving away at the native convention next
week. I stopped for about 1/2 hour to watch another cow moose
and her calf across the river. Dave, Luke,
Ian, and Mike got back about 5:30. Mike and Ian packed up
tonight so they can just roll out of bed and go at 5:00 AM
tomorrow when we head for the airport. They'll each be taking
back a box of frozen fish and game to put in our freezer
Dave: Fishing was slow today. Only Ted landed one, a nice
dolly. Luke lost a large dolly at the bank and Mike had a
big rainbow break his line. Ian hooked and lost a dolly on
his second cast. Yesterday
we saw two brown bears in the river on the way to our
fishing location. While on river today we met another fisherman.
He had an air horn in one hand and a can of bear spray in
the other. He told us he had just run into two brown bears
and he was leaving! We continued on but didn't see the bears.
To be safe, we had taken the gun today and it worked its
magic again, no bears. I have seen bears on the river four
times now when I didn't have the gun. Every time we take
it, no bears. And that is good.
Ian: Fishing was not good today, but the weather forecasters
were wrong for the 5th day straight so we had a clear day.
Alaska has been awesome, and the Van't Hof's are wonderful
people to stay with. I hope to come here again.
Mike: Sadly this will be my last post. Today we went fishing
on the Russian River once again, but the fishing wasn't quite
as good. I did have a pretty big Rainbow break my line but
I wasn't able to land him. Ted and Dirk left us around five
today, so again it was just the five of us around the dinner
table. We ate and Dave told us DNR stories for about an hour.
Those are always fun to listen to. Another good relaxing
night. Tomorrow Ian and I will be leaving this beautiful
state and we will be flying back home.
Friday, October 20
Ellen: All the guys headed to the Russian River to fish
today. All predictions said it would be rainy but the sun
came out and the weather was fabulous. I stayed home and
worked all day. I was able to get the 300 bookmarks printed
in Kenai and then brought them to a shop in Soldotna where
I laminated them, trimmed them, and punched a hole for ribbon.
They look pretty good. We'll be handing out lots of them
next week. I also worked on some logistics for next week's
interviews and for a future trip to the town of Old Harbor
on Kodiak Island. I'm concerned that we may have to charter
a plane to get there from Kodiak. I'm checking out all the
Luke: These fellas might try to convince you that they are
the best fishermen but I'm just gonna say it like it is.
I caught the biggest and first fish of the day (a steelhead).
Ted: I'm by far the best fisherman, because the first day
we went fishing on the Anchor River, and out the other five
guys I was the only one who caught a fish. It's that nice
dolly varden trout that's about to slip out of my hands for
the fifth time.
Mike: today we fished the Russian River. I caught my fish
way before Ian caught his because I am a much better fisherman.
Ian: we fished in the Russian River today. We were able
to catch about 4 fish between the six of us. I caught an
arctic char fish. It was cool and on the way up to the river
I saw a couple grizzly bears. I am getting to the point where
I can walk a lot easier in waders. So I don't lose my balance
as often. Also my fish is so much bigger than Mike's small
Thursday, October 19
Ellen: The weather forecast said today was the least likely
of the next few to be rainy so we decided to go to the Anchor
River and Homer. We loaded up all the fishing gear in the
Jeep and Starts' rental car and headed to Soldotna. On the
way we had to practically stop on the highway to let a cow
moose and her two calves cross. We had breakfast at the Moose
Is Loose Bakery and then bought licenses at the Trust Worthy
Hardware Store for Dirk, Ian, and Mike. (Ted is young enough
not to need a license yet.) On the drive south, the clouds
opened up and the sun came out. We pulled off the road and
admired the volcanoes that had appeared across the Cook Inlet.
I took this picture of the guys in front of Mt. Redoubt.
We stopped at the Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik and
then drove down to our favorite clamming spot. It was high
tide so we couldn't clam today. Then we checked
out a few spots to fish on the Anchor River and found a good
spot where there were no other fishermen. All the guys fished
for steelheads and dolly vardens. Ted was the only one who
was able to land a fish and he caught a 14 inch dolly. While
they were fishing, it clouded up and started to rain. With
the turn in the weather, we were pretty sure we wouldn't
be able to see the mountains across Katchemak Bay but as
we drove the 10 miles toward Homer, the sky cleared enough
for us to see the fabulous view from the bluff overlooking
the city. We drove out on the Homer Spit and were surprised
at how quiet everything is now that the tourist season is
over. We walked the docks of the harbor for a little while
and then got back in the vehicles to drive home. At home
David cooked up 10 spruce grouse with wild rice. Good food.
Good company. Good day.
Wednesday, October 18
Ellen: We woke up to drizzle this morning. I went for a
walk with our neighbor Leora. David made eggs and bacon
for breakfast and the guys packed up to drive to the Skilak
Lake Road where they did some hiking. They saw quite a few
spruce grouse and lots of evidence of bears. The weather
cleared a bit while they were out. They got back late afternoon
and just hung out the rest of the day. They're really enjoying
I worked all day on contacts (phone calls and emails) for
next week's conference in Anchorage. I got a quote from a
printer in Kenai on printing up bookmarks that I designed.
We'll be handing them out at the conference to promote our
project and its website. I also worked on bookkeeping, wrote
a letter of recommendation for a colleague, and submitted
a report and receipts to one of my grant organizations. A
At 8:30 PM, Dirk and Ted landed in Anchorage, picked up
their rental car, and headed toward Sterling in the dark.
They arrived about midnight Alaska time, 4:00 AM Michigan
time, and hit the sack. It's good to have them safely here.
Tuesday, October 17
Mike: Last night we went camping in a town called Hope.
We set up camp by a river, we started our fire and cooked
our day's kill over top of it. This morning we woke up and
instead of making our own food, we went out and bought some
breakfast. Ian ate half his weight in food. It was sweet.
Ian: We came into the town of Hope to see gravel roads
and a stream running past it. We spent the night on this
river, only further upstream. We panned for gold for about
10 minutes, but it was pretty cold so we did not do that
for long. On the bank of the river we had a nice campfire
that never really got to be all that big. We all ended up
sleeping pretty well inside the tent except for Luke who
was cold because he forgot all his warm clothes at home,
and he used a sleeping bag that was not suitable for the
temperatures. When we woke up we realized we had slept for
13 hours. Soon after waking up we packed up and went to the
Discovery Cafe. They had excellent food there and I ate a
lot. We also went to a movie tonight and it was pretty cool.
Monday, October 16
Ellen: Luke, Ian and Mike left at about 8:00 AM to scout
for spruce grouse. Luke did the shooting since he's the one
with a hunting license. They got 2 grouse and saw a cow and
calf moose on the way. When they got back, they hurried to
pack up for camping overnight in a tent near Hope. They're
hoping to pan for gold (in 40 degree stream water!). As you
can imagine, the packing did not occur in any systematic
order. David and I fired off lists of things they should
take as they tossed items into the Jeep. After they drove
off, we found a backpack with Luke's cold weather gear, a
box of crackers (supper?), and 2 folding chairs that were
left behind. Since all of them had turned off their cell
phones to save battery power, we couldn't reach them. Oh,
well, it'll be an authentic Alaskan adventure. If worse comes
to worse, they can drive back home. Luke called when they
got to Hope and wasn't concerned about what he left behind.
Sunday, October 15
Ellen: We rousted the guys at about 7:30 and headed out
on a sunny and frosty morning for Seward. On the way, we
drove through beautiful snow-capped mountains. We had a little
lead time in Seward before our 3 1/2 hour cruise so we wandered
the dock and shops for a little while. We were boarded
the boat about 1/2 hour early and were able to scan the mountains
along the harbor with our binoculars. We saw at least 6 mountain
goats and 3 black bears on the sheer mountainsides. Then
we pushed off from the dock. The boat trip couldn't have
been better. We saw lots of scenery and wildlife. I'll let
Mike and Ian describe it:
Mike: The cruise was amazing, we had great weather. we got
to see lots of awsome animals. we just got back from hunting
this morning (Monday), and we are just about to head out
camping with just me, luke and ian and we are going to pan
for gold and get filthy rich. we are pretty excited. we will
maybe post later.
Ian: The cruise we went on was very cool. There was a lot
of things that I had never seen before. The trip went for
about 3 and a half hours. We saw sea lions and sea otters.
Also there were bears in the mountains, but they were far
off. There were mountain goats/sheep that were on ledges
far too steep for anyone else to be able to stand there.
When heading back into Seward we were able to see some black
and white porpoises. The whole thing was really awesome
and we got free hot chocolate on the boat. See you.
Saturday, October 14
Ellen: Luke, David and I drove to Anchorage today amid clear
blue skies and heavy frost on the the ground. It was a beautiful
drive. After running some errands and spending some time
at the Anchorage Museum, we waited at the airport for Luke's
friends Ian and Mike to arrive. They came pretty much on
time. We collected their bags and made our way back to Sterling
in the dark. We used the new driving lights for the first
time and, at one point, David was able to pick out a coyote
on the side of the road. They work great illuminating the
road. The boys were pretty tired but had lots of catching-up
to do before hitting the sack. Tomorrow we drive to Seward
with them and the weather promises to cooperate.
Friday, October 13
Ellen: Well, Friday the 13th has been gorgeous here. It
was below freezing at night but reached the high 40s with
sun in the afternoon. I hear that it was a good day for
the Tigers too! Michigan, we heard, got a snow storm. You've
got us beat. There have been a few flakes, but nothing on
the ground yet except in the higher elevations.
We picked up some groceries to stock up a bit. We've got
some company coming soon. Luke's friends Mike and Ian will
be flying into Anchorage tomorrow night and we'll pick them
up and get them back to Sterling by about midnight. We're
all looking forward to having them here for a about
a week. Also, next week our brother-in-law Dirk and nephew
Ted will be visiting for three days. Good times ahead!
We're hoping for nice weather since there's so much to see
and do if it's not raining.
I got some work done today. It looks like
our 4 days in Anchorage from Oct. 25 through 27 will be packed
full. So far I've got interviews planned with at least
7 key artist/dancers and hope to interview several elders
too. In addition to interviews, we hope to film several dance
rehearsals and performances. We want to accomplish as much
as possible in those few days in Anchorage because many of
our people will be gathered. We can save a lot of time and
travel money meeting them there.
Thursday, October 12
Dave: Ellen and Luke were busy today, Ellen working on budgets
and Luke on math, so I went exploring. I decided to hike
up the Resurrection Trail. This trail goes through the mountains
from Cooper Landing to Hope (see Sept. 10), for 40
miles. I went about 4 miles in to these falls. On the way,
I saw a spruce grouse. I decided to shoot it in the air and,
after some persuading, got it to fly. I missed! I couldn't
believe it until I opened the gun and found that I had shot
at it with a slug. When hunting on foot with my double barrel
I usually put a slug in one barrel if I am in bear country.
This was bear country with lots of berries and some magnum
poops. Lucky for the grouse, I got my barrels mixed up. There
was no mix up on the second one. I had him for supper.
Wednesday, October 11
Dave: Luke and I got up early to go grouse hunting Alaska
style. We drove. About thirty miles later we had three
for supper. In Alaska you can have a loaded and uncased gun
in the vehicle, however you cannot shoot from or across a
road. The grouse are in the road so the drill is to get them
off the road. This is done by driving towards them slowly
until they fly into the trees beside the road. Being spruce
grouse, (aka: fool's hens) they usually go just far enough
to avoid death by vehicle. This puts them in the perfect
position for death by gunshot. We have noticed that most
northern game is not that wary, eg: moose, caribou, spruce
grouse. They just can't seem to make up their collective
minds. Our host in the Healy B&B claimed he hunted caribou
by locating a group and waiting until they saw him. He would
then fire his gun in the air and lie down. A few would then
come over to check him out. Curiosity kills the caribou.
When Luke shot his caribou, the rest of the group, about
ten animals, milled around for a while before heading off.
God must have realized that people at these latitudes would
have enough trouble getting by, so He gave them animals that
were a little easier to get.
Speaking of animals, Ellen was working at the computer this
morning when she noticed a bull moose (30 to 35 inch spread)
below her in the yard. Behind him were three cows and two
calves. A herd! She even got it on video. We leave the camera
set up on a tripod at the front window just for these occasions.
They left moose stamps all over Gerry Van's yard!
Late this afternoon we had a brief rain, then sun and
then a brilliant rainbow.
Quote of the day seen in the restaurant down the road:
" Unattended children will be given a double expresso and
a free puppy." Enough.
Tuesday, October 10
Ellen: Today was a work day for Luke and me. David went
fishing on the Kenai River but found it very high and not
fishable after yesterday's rains. In Seward, the highway
washed out and there was some flooding and evacuations. The
paper had a picture of a salmon swimming across a flooded
road. We heard that there were 22 inches of rain in 2 days
in the Seward area. Wind speeds reached 80 mph in some areas
of the Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Peninsula. Wild.
Monday, October 9
Dave: The day dawned cloudy and windy and warm. It got
to 63 degrees! Ellen and I walked to the post office, closed-
Columbus Day, duh. When we got back, Ellen went to work on
her emails and scheduling and I started a job I had been
dreading, installing driving lights on the Jeep. I have noticed
while driving at night up here, it is very dark. There is
no ambient light from towns, houses, or other vehicles. The
roads are not straight and are unfamiliar. Last of all, my
night vision is not what it used to be. The drive home on
the Al-Can Highway with only 5.5 hours of daylight is bound
to be dark. So I bought some lights (all the locals have
anywhere from 1 to 3 pairs on their vehicles. They use them
to dodge moose. The big black buggers are hard to see and
their eyes don't reflect like deer). Now, I hate electrical
things. Electricity only works for those who believe in it
and I'm an agnostic at best. It didn't help when the directions
seemed to be in every langauge but ENGLISH! And, oh, by the
way, a different switch was provided (thanx) but they neglected
to color code the new wiring diagram. I would have expected
this from lights manufactured in China, but these are German.
Those people are almost Dutch! I added my own color at this
point, albeit linguistic. Well, four hours and one trip to
the auto parts store in Soldotna later, I was done. Luke
removed all ammunition and other flammables from in and around
the vehicle. I carefully turned on the head lights while
Luke monitored the engine compartment for smoke. Headlights!
I hit the high beams: High beams! I hit the driving light
switch: Highbeams and DRIVING LIGHTS! I hit the low beams:
just low beams. Halleluia! I seen the
lights! I'm a believer! Life is good.
Sunday, October 8
Dave: Today was cold and windy so Luke and I decided to
go fishing in the mountains. We climbed up to Fuller Lake
where we had caught grayling before. On the way up we took
the picture below. Now that keeps you looking over your
shoulder! There were also some magnum grizzly poops in the
path (sorry, only room for one picture). The shotgun is very
comforting at times like these. The fishing was poor (none)
so we hiked another mile or so to Upper Fuller Lake. We saw
a small bull moose (30" antler spread) in the mountains above
us. The wind was blowing too hard to fly-cast so we poked
around and then headed back down. We got to the car just
as it started to rain in earnest.
Saturday, October 7
Ellen: Another quiet day on the river. The day began with
a heavy frost over everything and fresh moose tracks along
the south yard. It became cool and rainy. The snow on the
mountains keeps sinking farther and farther down the slopes
and the leaves are mostly on the ground. I worked on some
research while Luke did homework and took two tests. David
caught up on some reading. We
kept checking the computer for updates on the Tigers since
we weren't able to get it on the radio. How 'bout those
Friday, October 6
Ellen: We've decided to send Luke home a little bit earlier
than originally planned. If he goes home mid-November, he'll
be able to get back to school earlier. It's been a real challenge,
missing all the in-class explanation and discussion, to keep
on top of his subjects. Also, his teachers, who have been
working hard to keep him informed, are hampered by inconsistent
mail delivery here. He's doing some work by email and some
by snail-mail. Anyway, yesterday I started working on getting
him a one-way flight home on my frequent flyer miles with
NorthWest. I started with the on-line booking but it wouldn't
work because he's under 18, so I had to call. You can imagine
the hassle that ensued. I began calling in the morning and
ended up calling about 6 times throughout the day. Each time,
I had to answer a number of questions with the automated
voice-message system. Finally, the nice virtual lady would
I'll transfer you to our next available agent" with
a smile in her voice. I would wait and wait, and finally
a recording would announce that "Because
of unusually high caller volume, we are not able to take
your call right now. Please visit our website. . . or call
back later". At
about 10:00 PM our time, I went through the rigamarole again,
only to be told, after all the introductory stuff, that "The
office is now closed. Please call back between 5:00 AM and
10:00 PM Central Time". I stayed awake reading until
2:00 AM our time, 5:00 Central, and tried again. The virtual
lady still sounded cheerful at that hour but I wasn't. This
time, though, after only an 8 minute hold, I talked to a
real person, Robert. He was able to book the flight for Luke,
costing a lot more miles than they advertise, of course.
Funny, though, I had to book a round trip because they won't
do one way! (Anyone want a free flight from GR to Anchorage
on Thanksgiving Day? There will be an empty seat.) He assured
me that the email confirmation would come in a few hours.
I finally went to sleep. In the morning, I checked email
- no confirmation. So I went online and checked the confirmation
number he'd given me. The itinerary was there. YES! BUT,
the date was wrong! I got to give all my information to the
nice virtual lady again and wait on hold for about 10 minutes
before I talked to a living, breathing Brenda. She was able
to straighten out the date. Even though I was able to call
up the correct reservation online and print it out, I have
still not received an email confirmation. Since there's only
24 hours to make corrections without penalty, it would now
be too late. Do you suppose they plan it that way? I'm pretty
cynical about it all now.
Today I spent the entire day working at the desk and on
the computer corresponding with our project
interviewees and taking care of some Calvin issues. Luke
studied all day and took a quiz and a test. He's got two
more tests that came in the mail today. It looks like he'll
be working over the weekend too. When it rains, it pours.
Oh, did I mention that it rained today?
Thursday, October 5
Dave: It's been a quiet day in Sterling. Luke did a lot
of school work and Ellen sent e-mails to people she hopes
to interview at the upcoming Alaska Federation of Natives
Conference. I went to Soldotna and stopped at the hardware
store and Fred Meyer's. I love reading the "for sale" items
on the bulletin board: #1: Marine grade 870 Remington 12
ga. (nickel-plated) $450. #2: Moose cabin, wood stove, lots
of extras, must be moved, $32,000. #3 Ivory wedding dress
(the picture of the bride wearing it has a mustache
inked in.) "only worn once, by mistake", $400. #4 Cessna
140 with 85 HP engine, cruising speed 125 MPH, flies good,
$23,000. #5: 40 KW diesel generator, low hours (picture shows
it in the back of a pickup truck), pickup truck free, $2500.
All this got me thinking: I could buy the cabin and then
I would have a place to stay when I come back. The generator
could be used for lights, TV etc. I could also learn to fly
and the Cessna would cut down on the commuting time. I could
leave the 870 Remington at the camp. You can hunt anything
with an 870. I could get the dress for Ellen, that would
keep her happy. For about $59,000 I'd be all set. I'm going
to keep my eye open for a set of floats for the plane. You
can all check out the bulletin boards at Meijer's and let
me know if you see some.
After Luke finished his work we went fishing. He caught
a rainbow and a dolly varden on beads. I caught a couple
as well. Saw two moose along the highway on the way home.
Another moose stood across the river while we ate supper.
Wednesday, October 4
David: Today I learned how to fish beads! (see 9-28) Luke
had homework to do and Ellen was writing emails and dealing
with logistics, so I went fishing. I fished the Kenai a few
miles below the Russian River. I talked to another fisherman
from Anchorage and he told me that the trick was fishing
the right colored bead, but he and his buddy were having
trouble catching fish today as well. After he walked upstream,
I tried a different color and caught three fish on the next
five casts. The other fisherman came over to see what I was
using and he offered to take my picture. This fish is about
a 25 inch Dolly Varden. We estimated it at 7 pounds. It turns
out he is a surveyor for the BLM and works just down the
hall from Nathan Erickson, my friend Leo's son. Small world.
I gave them some of my beads (8mm, pearl pink) and they caught
fish as well. I ended up with 8 fish, five dollies and 3
rainbows. They were all too big to keep. In this area you
may have only one dolly and one rainbow under 16 inches.
Later, two brown bears swam across the river and disappeared
into the woods about 50 yards away. I was so astonished I
forgot to get a picture.
When I got home, Luke had finished his homework. He and
I paddled upriver to jump some ducks. On the way we saw
two moose, a cow and a spike bull. We jumped one mallard
in the open area and Luke pulled off a long shot. We paddled
back in the rain with ducks and trumpeter swans flying all
around us. Fish, ducks, moose, bears, and swans with a back
drop of golden aspens and snow-covered mountains... God
Tuesday, October 3
Ellen: This morning, just as
David and I were getting ready to run a few errands, we saw
the cow moose and her calf across the river. They were apparently
preparing to cross it. As we watched, they waded across the
river toward us and scrambled up the bank near the boat access
site next door. Soon they emerged from the brush heading
our way! In single file with the cow in the lead, they crossed
directly in front of our window, up the gravel path on the
north side, along the cabin's north wall, past our Jeep behind
the cabin, up the back hill and across the
road! It was pretty exciting. We even got some film footage
from the camera set up at the front window. (If I can pull
a still shot from that footage, I'll post it.)
Luke and I
worked most of the day on our projects and homework. In the
afternoon, we saw over a dozen trumpeter swans and lots of
ducks in the river. The scenery from the window changes minute
by minute. Unfortunately, we're losing at least 6 minutes
of daylight every day. At the winter solstice, it'll be
down to about 6 hours of daylight here!
Monday, October 2
Ellen: Today we did lots of catching-up work. After walking
a few miles with our neighbor Leora, I followed up on emails
with prospective interviewees. I'm trying to schedule
some meetings soon. I also took care of some issues back
home at Calvin. (I can't really cut those ties!) Luke received
some more schoolwork by mail and worked all day on that.
I gave him his math quiz this afternoon. Grace returned to
Grand Rapids from Nashville late last night. She emailed
me some pictures and I loaded one of them into our September
28 entry. Check it out. We've had a bald eagle hanging around
today. It perched high in a tree across the river between
sweeps up and down the river. An eagle is a very impressive
bird. We had rain on and off. The mountains across the river
are snow-covered now.
Sunday, October 1
Ellen: It was an interesting night in the Roadhouse with
the cardboard walls and communal bathrooms next door. We
got up and out by 7:50, after buying three freshly-baked
cinnamon rolls from the Roadhouse's bakery. We drove south
under overcast skies to Anchorage and arrived at the Crosspoint
(CRC) Church in plenty of time for their 10:30 service. We
were very impressed with the facility that sits in the corner
of a mall. It's a contemporary church with lots of young
people and families. Dave Kuiper is the pastor. We thoroughly
enjoyed the service and meeting the people afterward. It's
too bad that we live 2 1/2 hours away, or we'd be there more
often. After church we headed home to Sterling and arrived
mid-afternoon. We did some catching up with emails and Luke's
assignments before we noticed the moose calf and his huge
mother across the river. As we watched through binoculars
and Gerry's spotting scope, we noticed another "animal" on
the prowl. While the cow was grazing in the trees out of
sight, a man who lives down the river was sneaking along
the shore toward the calf with his camera in hand. The young
moose saw him but seemed unconcerned as he allowed him to
get pretty close for his picture. As the man returned to
his house, the mother emerged and acted wary, looking in
his direction over and over. Finally, the cow and calf
headed up the hill into the woods again. We wonder whether
the man knew how close he was to the mother, or, in fact,
even that she was there.
Saturday, September 30
Dave: Today dawned cold, clear and bright. After a
wonderful breakfast, we had to borrow an ice scraper to clean
off our car before we could hit the road.
We drove to the park only to find that the park service,
in its infinite wisdom, had closed the road at mile three.
It seems there were two inches of snow and some ice on the
road starting at about mile 9. Not two feet, two inches!
What is this, Nashville? Luke and I had hoped to fish the
little clearwater stream for grayling at mile 14 and Ellen
was hoping to film some wildlife. The Park Service lets a
great number of wackos from all over the world dive into
crevasses while staggering around on Denali's glaciers with
altitude sickness. Yet, Ranger Randy won't let normal folks
drive 30 miles in 2 inches of snow. We didn't want to go
to their stupid old park anyway. So, that being said, we
drove south and stopped at several of the pull-offs on the
Parks Highway. We stole the picture below of the south side
of Their Mountain beyond the Chulitna River. As always, the
picture doesn't begin to do it justice. Of all the times
I have seen Denali (4), I have never seen it this clear and
Tonight we are staying in the "Roadhouse" in
downtown Talkeeta. This town caters to tourists with "flight
seeing" tours of The Mountain and jet boat excursions
on the river. Lots of climbers (wackos) fly out of here to
the base camp at 7,000 feet on The Mountain. The "Roadhouse " was
built in 1917 and has yet to have its first makeover. When
our gracious host showed Ellen the room... well let it suffice
to say that Ellen has difficulty masking her feelings. It's
OK though, there are other elderly yuppies slumming it here
as well. At least there are not any Princess Cruise Line
buses careening about. They can't, due to the pot holes.
The town is one giant sodden speed bump. The vehicle parked
next to ours tonight is a 4X4 18 passenger van with a deflated
raft on the roof, two spare tires on the back and a double
dirt bike rack welded on the front. The front bumper also
sports a 4 foot jack, long-handled shovel, 8000 lb winch
and two gallons of windshield wiper fluid. A humvee would
be envious. I think they use it to take the little ones to
Friday, September 29
Ellen: After checking weather forecasts last night, we decided
to head out this morning for Denali National Park. We heard
that the park road is open to car traffic for 30 miles until
snow closes it. We were pretty sure it was WAY too early
to worry about snow and we were hoping for photo opportunities
for film footage of wildlife and scenery. We drove north
for about 6 1/2 hours and this is what we found as we got
near Denali. I think that there are spectacular mountains
beyond these trees:
We checked into a wonderful geodesic dome B
& B in Healy, just north of the park. Then we took a
drive in the snow to the Stampede Road where my cousin Caralee
Witteveen lived alone in a rustic cabin
through a winter about 10 years ago.
We were able to find it! (That's also the road where "Into
the Wild" by Jon Krakauer takes place) Tomorrow we'll
drive to the entrance of Denali and see whether the snow
(which continues to fall as I write) is enough to close off
the road for the year. Stay tuned. . .
Thursday, September 28
David: Luke and I fished the Russian River today after Luke
checked his mail and e-mail and didn't receive any new homework.
We found a pool with several coho salmon and a school of
rainbow trout that were feeding on eggs and chunks of rotting
salmon flesh. We have been trying to learn how to catch fish
on beads. Its a very popular method here where a small plastic
bead is placed on the line about 2 inches above the hook.
(beads come in a hugh array of colors and sizes, plus most
guys also carry many colors of fingernail polish to doctor
them) We talked to one guy who claimed to have caught 6 rainbows
over 25 inches last Saturday. Another guy had just caught
a 24 inch dolly varden. Well, we tried but we just can't
catch fish on beads! While talking to a friendly guide, I
watched his friend catch an 18 incher out of a hole that
Luke and I had fished earlier. Armed with a few new tips
we hiked back to a spot we had fished earlier. On arrival
Luke fell in and filled his waders. We drove home with Luke
in his boxers. We'll figure this out yet.
Ellen: I downloaded a 3-day trial version of XM Radio on
the computer to tune into channel 14, the Bluegrass channel.
Grace attended the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association)
awards ceremony in Nashville because her friend Nicky is
a fiddler with a bluegrass band (the Steep Canyon Rangers)
that was nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year. We were
able to hear the award presentations live and the Steep Canyon
Rangers won! Pretty exciting. Here are Nicky and Grace (in
the vintage dress she bought and altered while she was visiting
us in Alaska and wearing Grandma's jewelry) at
Wednesday, September 27
Ellen: Today I saw 5 moose! In the morning when I walked
with Leora, we saw a huge cow and her two huge calves on
the side of the Sterling Highway near the post office. A
State Trooper car passing by sounded his siren, standard
practice for discouraging moose from crossing the road, I
guess. A little later I saw a huge cow and her huge calf
cross the open field on the other side of the river from
the cabin. They all look huge to me! I worked on communicating
with potential interviewees, scheduling to meet with
them in the future. Luke worked all day on his homework.
David is smoking some caribou meat in the neighbor's smokehouse.
He also took the canoe upriver duck hunting and came back
with a widgeon. In the late afternoon we three headed into
Soldotna where we ran some errands, went out for Chinese,
and sat through a Soldotna City Council meeting (an assignment
for Luke's US Government class). It was very interesting.
Tuesday, September 26
David: Today I continued my caribou smoking project. I
had been brining the meat for about a week and yesterday
I started smoking it. The neighbors have been gracious enough
to let me used their industrial-sized smoker. I also cooked
up a huge pot of caribou and vegetable soup. When we get
sick of caribou, we have trout, salmon, halibut, clams and
grouse in the freezer. I'm almost giddy. Of course I would
hate to figure the per-pound cost! Today while running, (Luke
and I run on a 4 wheeler track that parallels the Sterling
Highway) I was passed by a guy on a 4 wheeler, being pulled
by 7 huskies. I've never had that happen in Holland.
Ellen: My project continues to unfold quite well. I'm working
on scheduling 3 days in Anchorage for the Alaska Federation
of Natives Convention in a few weeks. I hope to schedule
a number of interviews and filming of dance groups during
that week. In the meantime, we might be able to get to Seldovia
or Nanwalek to do some interviews.
Monday, September 25
Ellen: A quiet day in Sterling. The day dawned cold (28)
and beautiful. I walked with Leora in the crisp air.
They say that only the orneriest of the bugs survived the
frost, but now they're REALLY ticked off. David got bit pretty
badly in the afternoon by a particularly cranky one. I'm
getting bookkeeping and scheduling work done every day. I'm
involved in several ongoing email conversations with key
Alutiiq elders and artists that we hope to interview in the
future. We're enjoying checking the new dustings of snow
on the mountains, the ducks and swans in the river, and the
falling yellow leaves. We're over the peak of autumn now.
Soon we'll see only bare trees and spruces.
Sunday, September 24
Ellen: This afternoon I worked on emails, thank-you notes,
research, and websites for the project. It was a partly
cloudy day around 50 at the cabin.
Dave: Today we went in search of grayling and, as you can
see, Lucas and I found them. A guide book said that a small
lake about 20 miles east of the house had grayling in it.
At the trail head the sign stated that the lake was 2.8 miles
in and the hike was "strenuous". It was . The elevation
difference was 1400 feet. There were lots of bear signs,
especially in the highbush cranberries along the trail. Once
there, we realized we had forgotten the tackle box with the
spinners and spoons for the spinning rods. I had a fly rod
and flies and fortunately the banks had room for a back cast.
Luke tied on a streamer and clamped on some split shot so
he could caste with the spinning rod. Soon he got a beautiful
grayling of about 14 inches. The guide book said they only
ran about 9 inches in this lake. He caught a few more small
ones while I changed flies, looking for something that worked.
Finally I tried an elk hair caddis tied by my nephew Drew
Rosema. They loved it. I caught a couple and so did Luke.
We kept two for dinner. Before the logging era in Michigan
all of the northern lower peninsula streams held these beautiful
fish. The town of Grayling is named after them. They require
extremely high water quality and the sedimentation and lack
of shade caused by logging in the late 1800's did them in.
They are also very easy to catch. Can you tell which one
is the fish?
Saturday, September 23
Ellen: Today our niece Lies Rosema married Phil Kelder
in Grand Rapids. We're so sorry we had to miss the ceremony
but are praying for a long and wonderful life for them. Grace
was there and called to tell us about it.
This morning, as we drove home from Anchorage, we stopped
to check out the Crescent Creek trail. When Luke's friends
Ian and Mike come to visit, we'll backpack 6 1/2 miles
into Crescent Lake and stay in a US Forest Service cabin
there for 2 nights (we reserved it online). We'll have the
use of a rowboat and lots of fishing and gold-panning possibilities
For hours this afternoon and evening we watched
a young moose grazing across the river from the cabin.
David: We started out the morning driving back from Anchorage
in the rain. Its definitely autumn here. All the aspens,
birch and willow are golden and there was new snow on the
mountains along the Turnagain Arm. We spotted three beluga
whales. The sun started to poke out in the Portage Glacier
area. The yellow aspens contrast with the dark green spruce
and the mountains were rust-colored below the snow. As we
drove west coming into Sterling, Mt. Redoubt glowed white
to an impossible height in the distance. Redoubt is the mountain
Luke and I flew by and saw the active steam vent.
"I don't know....I don't know....I don't know where
I'm a-gonna go when the volcano blow!" -Jimmy Buffet.
Luke and I drove down the Swanson River Road and tramped
a few trails looking for spruce grouse but didn't see any.
On the way home, we spotted one on the side of the road.
Luke got it with one shot with a sling shot!
It's getting dark now and the
moose across the river is bedded down and chewing its cud.
I think I'll do the same.
Friday, September 22
Ellen: David and I headed to Anchorage early, in the rain.
We picked up Rob at the airport. Then Rob and I met with
the president of the CIRI Foundation and the grants officer
of the Alaska Humanities Forum, the two Alaska grantors to
our project. We updated them on the progress of our project,
asked questions, and received advice. Then we had a little
downtime where Rob helped me with this website. He set up
the "July and August" page that you can now click on above.
This should help with loading time when you visit our site.
We met a Koniag Corporation person at O'Malley's
On The Green, the venue for tonight's retirement party
where we'll film a native mask dance. We were able to figure
out logistics about filming the dance tonight. Then
we drove to the Alaska Native Heritage Center where we
watched and filmed the rehearsal of the dance group that's
performing. We got some great informal footage and spontaneous
interviews. When they finished their rehearsal, we drove
back to O'Malley's where
we were invited to join the party attendees for a wonderful
dinner. When it was time for the dance, we filmed the performance,
complete with the mask created for the retirement party's
guest of honor. We followed the dancers back to their
dressing room and filmed their reactions to the performance.
As Rob said, "This is golden." Very rich footage!
We drove Rob back to the airport in plenty of time for his
midnight flight to Fairbanks and we crashed at Kuipers' place.
A very long but productive day.
Thursday, September 21
Ellen: Another low-key day. David and Luke put in the canoe
at lower Skilak Lake and floated downstream
to Bing's Landing. They caught a few pink salmon. I worked
all day on our project website, emails, and finalizing the
plans for tomorrow. We'll be going into Anchorage, picking
up Rob from the airport, and meeting with both the foundations
that have given us grants. Then we'll be filming an interview,
a dance rehearsal, and a dance performance. Quite a few details
that seem to be falling into place.
Wednesday, September 20
Ellen: Today was primarily a work day for all three of us.
Luke worked on his school assignments most of the day, David
cut up the caribou, and I worked on emails, phone contacts,
and logistics for future interviews. David and Luke took
a little time off to duck hunt from the canoe to the north
of the cabin on the Moose River. Luke shot a widgeon.
David: Luke and I got up early and paddled upstream on the
Moose River in front of the house. While taking a break I
spotted a moose on the oposite shore. We decided to stalk
it and got to within about 80 yards. It turned out that it
was a spike bull. Spike bulls are highly sought after around
here, they're tender and easier to pack out plus they're
a lot more common than 50 inchers. Not only that, but today
is the last day of moose season! If we had spent another
$400 for a moose license we could have had more meat in the
freezer. Instead we told the next door neighbor. He went
to the area in the evening but there were all ready two trucks
Tuesday, September 19
Ellen: I worked all day on emails, phone calls, and project
bookkeeping. Luke continued to do his schoolwork and hopes
that he's worked out some communication kinks. We shipped
Tom and Linda some frozen halibut, red salmon, and clams
by overnight FEDEX. They'll surely be having a party soon
and I think you're all invited! David worked on the caribou
meat that's just now thawing enough to begin cutting it up.
All predictions said today would be rainy but it's actually
quite nice, with dramatic clouds and gorgeous fall colors.
Soon, I think, we'll see snow on those mountains in the distance.
Luke's been watching lots of ducks flying along and landing
on the river. Here's the latest view from the front window:
Monday, September 18
Ellen: OK, we're in Zwiep-withdrawal today. It's a painful
condition but we're toughing it out. We heard from Dad and
Tom that they were safely back home tonight.
Today I worked most of the day on the project and made
some decisions about the trip to Nanwalek. After making a
number of telephone calls and sending a number of emails
to try to finalize plans, I found that two
key interviewees will not be in town next weekend. I decided
to postpone our visit to Nanwalek. I'm working on altering
Rob's itinerary to include only our filming in Anchorage
on Friday. That'll free him up for a little family time over
David: I spent the day cleaning and packing away equipment
that I didn't get to after the caribou hunt . Luke and I
hope to hike into Cresent Lake tomorrow to fish for grayling.
It's a 13 mile round trip on foot and right now the weather
doesn't look great. Fall is well advanced here. The aspens
and cottonwoods are all bright yellow and contrasting beautifully
with the dark green spruce. Days are in the 50s and nights
in the 30s.
Sunday, September 17
Ellen: Today began by packing up, checking out of the
hotel by 9:15, and heading to the Kodiak airport. It was
raining again -Surprise! Our flight to Anchorage went well
although we couldn't see much scenery below because of the
weather. It was actually sunny, though, when we landed in
Anchorage. We had to wait about an hour for our luggage because
our flight was overloaded and some bags were bumped
to a later flight. Except for one of Dad's, all of ours were
bumped. Once we got our bags, we headed for Dad, Mom, Tom,
and Linda's hotel, close to the airport. They got checked
in by about 1:30. Then we all piled into the minivan for
one last shopping spree in downtown Anchorage. We had an
early supper together at "Rum Runner's".
After a short stop at REI, where we all saw things we liked
but no one bought anything, we returned to the hotel to pick
up our Jeep. We hated to leave after such a wonderful 9 days
together but we wanted to get back to Sterling before dark.
We hugged everyone goodbye and left Mom, Dad, Tom, and Linda
in Anchorage where they'll be take a morning flight back
home tomorrow. Our drive was beautiful. The sunset was vivid
orange and, since it was quite clear, we could see the
tall silhouette of Redoubt about 100 miles away - a tremendous
sight. It's good to be home but it's awfully quiet and kind
of sad now that we're down to only 3 again.
Saturday, September 16
David: I went to bed last night feeling a lot cleaner than
I have in months, thanks to the banya. (Leo, forgive me,
it's been 10 months since my last sauna- during deer season.)
They use a a tangle of beach grass roots as a body scrubber
here. I finally got the bug dope and tundra grit from the
caribou hunt off. We toured the town of Kodiak during
the morning. From the boat harbor docks, we watched a Stellar
sea lion eating fish. Tom took this picture. You can see
the sea lion and his fish:
We also watched Saga, the
crab fishing boat from the Discovery Channel's show "World's
Deadliest Catch", come
in and tie up. We had seen this boat and the Time Bandit from
the same show in Homer when we were halibut fishing there.
After we finished with the interview at the museum in the
afternoon, we dropped Rob at the airport to return home to
Fairbanks. Then we drove Dad's rental van to the end of the
south road on the island. We crossed several streams that
were choked with salmon, mostly cohos. The view along this
spectacular coast was diminished by low clouds and perpetual
drizzle. That's typical weather for Kodiak Island. Tomorrow,
we'll all fly out to Anchorage in the morning where Mom,
Dad, Tom, and Linda will check into a hotel for their last
night in Alaska. We will return to Sterling tomorrow afternoon.
Ellen: Rob, David and I spent several hours with another
key interviewee. We were very happy with the footage we were
able to record. I also received a voicemail and email from
an Alutiiq elder that I've been trying to reach. She contacted
me through the email information on our project website.
We hope to see and interview her in Nanwalek next Saturday.
Friday, September 15
Ellen: We all got up at about 4:00 AM to drive to Anchorage.
Rob, my project partner, flew from Fairbanks and met us
at the airport. We flew to Kodiak in low clouds, rain and
high winds. While Mom, Dad, Linda, Tom and Luke drove around
in a rental van, Rob, David and I spent the afternoon interviewing
the director of the Alutiiq Museum and Archeological Repository.
We got some great footage. After supper, he invited Rob
and David to join him in the "banya" (sauna)!
Thursday, September 14
Dave: Tom, Luke and I planned to fish on the Kenai River
from the lower boat ramp on Skilak Lake to Bings Landing.
It was too rough on the lake for a canoe. Also, from Bings
Landing to the Moose River is not navigable by canoe because
of heavy rapids just below Bings Landing. So, we fished from
shore at Bings and in Sterling. Luke caught one pink salmon.
We're back to the 50's with rain today so we took it easy
and packed for Kodiak.
Ellen: Today I made a lot of connections confirming
interviews in Kodiak tomorrow and Saturday and in Anchorage
and Nanwalek next week. I also worked out some transportation
bugs. Fortunately, a key person who hasn't answered my recent
emails assured me by phone that we're on for the scheduled
interview. I also spent quite a bit of time packing up the
equipment we needed for this shoot and researching the questions
we need to ask tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 13
David: Today was another very busy day. We drove to Homer
and the three of us, Lucas, Tom and I, went on a halibut
fishing charter. It was a large boat, 55 ft, (see
below) and it was making its last trip of the season. Homer
is rapidly closing down for the year . Everyone on board,
about 18 people, caught their limit of two halibut each.
There are no pictures of the halibut because they were small!
Size doesn't matter. Luke also caught a small shark (size
doesn't matter), known as a dogfish. While Ellen, Linda,
Mom and Dad drove around Homer, they saw four moose, a small
bull,(size...) a cow and two calves in a residential area.
They also went to a Russian Cafe' in the Russian town of
Nikolaevsk, where they were bossed around by Nina, the owner
and bullied into buying vast quantities of tea (Russian?)
made of weeds that grow in the ditches of local roads. The
concoction was packaged in ziplock sandwich bags and sold
for the same exhorbitant amount as another green leafy material
sold in the same bags.The proceeds of the sales go to feed
starving children (babies?) in the Mother Land and one bossy
cafe' owner. It seems Ellen forgot "most
important Russian word: NYET!"
Ellen: We were pretty bowled over by Nina!
She just wouldn't take "nyet" for an answer. We
couldn't get out of there quick enough! On my project, I
continued to plan the logistics for several upcoming trips.
I sent a number of emails trying to set up dates and times
to meet with our key artists and dancers. Some are falling
into place, others need more work.
Tuesday, September 12
David: Today we went with Mom, Dad, Tom and Linda
Zwiep to Cooper Landing where the Russian River flows into
the Kenai River. Ellen and Linda hiked up to the falls on
the Russian River and then continued on to a scenic overview
of Lower Russian Lake. Notice the glacier in the mountains.
They also saw a spruce grouse but didn't throw any rocks
Lucas, Tom and I fished the Russian River downstream
to the Kenai River. Twice we had to stop and let "Gimpy" fish
through. Gimpy is a well-known grizzly bear on the river.
She is a three year old female who was shot in the left front
paw two years ago. Her mother was killed in the same incident.
Watching her fish was more fun than fishing ourselves. We
saw her catch and eat just the skin of several sockeye salmon.
At one point she disappeared, only to reappear about 20 yards
behind us! When we noticed her, we were a bit shaken and
immediately gave up the gravel bar to her. I even forgot
to take my fly rod and had to wait about 45 min. to get it
back. Below is Tom having a Timothy Treadwell ("Grizzly Man")
moment with Gimpy.
Ellen: I continued to develop some email conversations
with future interviewees. I developed details for a scheduled
visit to Nanwalek, an Alutiiq village across Katchemak Bay
from Homer, for next weekend. I'm working on research to
prepare for interviews with Dr. Sven Haakanson, an Alutiiq
man who is the director of the Alutiiq Museum and Archeological
Repository in Kodiak, our primary project consultant. We
will be interviewing him in Kodiak this Friday and Saturday.
There are lots of exciting possibilities but sometimes the
logistics of getting Rob and me to the remote locations when
the key people are available can be daunting.
Monday, September 11
David: Low tide in Ninilchik was at 12:30 and
Tom was eager to use his $55 fishing license. Armed with
the JAM (Jackie, Anne, and Marge) ladies' clam guns, we hit
the flats. Clam guns are 4 inch PVC pipe with a cap and a
T handle. There is a hole in the top that is covered with
your thumb after you push the gun down over a "dimple".
You then pull up the gun and with it, a column of muck,qq
and hopefully, a clam. Usually you don't get the clam, so
you have to plunge your hand down the hole and feel for it.
(see David and Luke below)
If you're lucky or good, you end up with a
clam, which makes you happy as. . . Tom. (See below.) By
the time the tide came back in, we had about 3/4 of a 5 gallon
bucket. Well, those of you who have taken a 5 gallon bucket
of smelt know what it takes to clean them. Two hours to catch
them and 3 hours to clean 'em! Supper tonight was surf
and turf: clams and caribou. It don't get better than that!
Mom and Dad Zwiep took a boat cruise out of
Seward today. They had gorgeous weather and saw beautiful
scenery of mountains, ocean, and glaciers, but didn't see
a lot of wildlife. Puffins and whales have mostly headed
Ellen spent a several hours connecting with
native artists and elders she plans to interview and film.
Today she was able to develop a contact with an artist
from Old Harbor, a small village on Kodiak Island, and is
making logistical arrangements to interview her.
Sunday, September 10
Ellen: Today we all drove to Cooper Landing and attended
the little Baptist Church there. We met Jackie, Anne, and
Marge at church. (see Aug. 20 for more information on these
ladies). We enjoyed lunch with them at the Kenai Princess
Lodge, overlooking the Kenai River. They were delightful
company and had wonderful stories about their last 50 years
in Alaska. David mentioned that he, Luke, and Tom want to
take advantage of low tides tomorrow to try some clam digging
again. The ladies offered to lend them 2 clam-guns, just
the ticket for getting more clams than the shovel-and-grab
method. (check out their last clamming experience on August
27) They're eager to try anything that might increase their
yield. After lunch we drove, all seven of us in the minivan,
On the way to Hope, we drove along the south side of the
Turnagain Arm for about 6 miles. At one opening in the woods,
Luke saw something white surfacing in the water. We all watched
as at least 3 beluga whales ran together with the outgoing
Unfortunately, the salmon
at the mouth of the Resurrection Creek were mostly gone (see
August 27 for our last trip to Hope when there were lots
of fish). Tom decided that he wanted to try panning for
gold in the Resurrection Creek but he needed his own pan.
He ended up talking an old prospector who runs a little
"pan for gold" concession in Hope into selling
him one of the pans. It took a while to convince him but
Tom's pretty good at persuasion. It was an especially
good pan, according to the old guy, because it was "broken
After about 2 hours of panning, they came out with lots of
bug bites, a soaked digital camera after Linda's spill from
a slippery rock, and 2 or 3 gold flakes to add to
the tiny vial from last time. Another big pay-day!
Saturday, September 9
Ellen: A great day with Mom, Dad, Tom and Linda. We drove
around and stopped wherever we wanted. (at a Harley Davidson
dealership, for example) At about 3:30, we got the call that
the plane was on the way back with David and Luke on board.
We all met the plane as it landed on the lake. I'll let David
tell you about the trip:
David: As you can see below, Luke got a caribou. We arrived
on site on September 1. The plane set us down on a very small
lake that was about 350 yards long and about 50 yards wide.
Shortly after the pilot left, we saw caribou on the ridge
across the lake about a mile away. Later that evening, Luke
noticed a sow grizzly with two cubs on the side of a hill
about two miles away. The bears were below another camp on
top of the hill, about 2 1/2 miles away. Later we learned
from one of the other hunters that they could see a large
grizzly on the hill behind our camp. On Sept. 2 we could
begin to hunt. About 4 miles from camp I spotted a group
of 10 caribou. They were all cows but Luke decided "a
bird in the hand...".
He stalked the group and cut the range down from about 400
yards to 102 yards. One shot dropped it.
By the way, caribou are the only deer species in which the
females also have antlers.
After carrying half of a caribou
four miles back to camp, I decided I would do my shooting
much closer to camp. Two days later I shot
one within sight of camp. Luke watched me make the stalk
on a about a dozen caribou through the binoculars. He was
frantically trying to get my attention because just below
the hill I was on, there was a herd of about 75 that I could
not see. The herd also contained a couple of bulls. Out
of the approximately 1,000 caribou we saw on the trip, only
about 5 were bulls. Oh well, a bird in the hand... Speaking
of birds, Luke and I each got ptarmigan too. The only downside
of the trip was the two days of perfect weather, 65 degrees
with clear skies and no wind. The bugs came out in Biblical
proportions. In your eyes, ears, and up your sleeves. We
spent the better portion of one day in the tent . The second
day we sort of got used to it and went about our business
in spite of them. As Ellen already reported, we were a day
late coming out. We had 50 to 60 mile per hour winds and,
as Luke put it, "horizontal rain". The flight in
and out alone was worth the price of the trip. Glaciers,
steaming volcanic mountains, rivers and endless tundra just
off the wing tips. And we got to stay an extra day for no
Friday, September 8
Ellen: During the morning, the wind began to build. Apparently
there is a storm system in the Pacific that has a long reach.
The flight service could not promise that they could land
to pick up David and Luke today. I kept the phone nearby
all day while working. At 3:30 I got the call that the plane
was returning from across the mountains but didn't have Dave
and Luke aboard. The pilot was not able to land on the lake
by their camp. Apparently the winds were 50-60 mph. They'll
try again tomorrow. I'm sure David and Luke are fine with
an extra night since they took plenty of food and the weather
has been pretty good. Unfortunately, they will
not have hunted today since the law states that you cannot
hunt on the day of a flight (to prevent hunters from an unfair
advantage by spotting game from the air). I hope they'll
come home tomorrow. The forecast looks like the wind might
diminish by then.
Dad, Mom, and my brother, Tom and sister-in-law, Linda landed
on time (5:00 PM local time) in Anchorage, picked up their
rental minivan, and drove the 2 1/2 hour stretch to Sterling.
The wind was pretty brisk on the drive around the Turnagain
Arm and across the Kenai Peninsula. They arrived at the cabin
a little after 8:30 (after midnight, eastern time). I'm so
glad they're safely here!
Thursday, September 7
Ellen: I took a walk with Leora this morning. The rest of
the day I worked on budgets, schedules, mail, and email.
Not too interesting. It was a nice day, partly cloudy and
cool. Tomorrow David and Luke come home and Mom, Dad, Tom,
and Linda fly up!
Wednesday, September 6
Ellen: It started out overcast and cool (mid 40s) and pretty
much stayed that way. There was a bank of low-lying clouds
masking the mountains across the river. The pilot/owner of
the flight service delivered the caribou meat in cloth bags.
Unfortunately, he had no story to tell. He picked it up from
Dave & Luke's
campsite while they were gone. He did say that they've had
great weather. I can't wait to hear the details when they
return on Friday. We hung the bags as high as possible under
the north eave of the cabin. We want it out of reach of bears
and protected from sun and rain. We had sprinkles in the
afternoon and cool temps all day. Toward evening, Dave and
Leora, our next door neighbors, came over to encourage
me to put the meat elsewhere. Dave was afraid it would spoil
in the dampness and that it would attract bears. Gerry
and Jan's freezer in the garage was nearly empty so after
Leora found a clean piece of cardboard to put under the
meat, we hauled the meat bags down and into the freezer.
I'm glad I won't have to worry now about a bear in the night.
Tuesday, September 5
Ellen: Today I ran errands in the morning and worked in
the afternoon. Somehow I missed a call from the caribou flight
service. The owner/pilot left a message that they had flown
out one caribou from David & Luke's
party! I don't know any other details or whether it's Dave's
or Luke's. Please check back. I'll upload it as soon as I
Monday, Labor Day, Sept. 4
Ellen: Another quiet day in the north country. The mist
lifted by 10:00 and the sun came out. I noticed some tracks
in the freshly sown topsoil in front of the cabin. Yes, the
famous "moose tracks". Not the ice cream flavor,
the real thing. Our neighbor thinks it might have been a
bull since the tracks are quite big and the dewclaw left
I guess the moose came through in the night,
passing within 3 feet of the north side of the cabin!
The pic below is the front of the cabin, overlooking the
river. You can see how the windows sit high for great views.
Unfortunately, I missed viewing that moose stroll through.
In the afternoon it became overcast. I think the high was
in the mid 50s today.
Sunday, September 3
Ellen: A quiet day catching up on mail, email, and scheduling
for future travel. The weather turned beautiful (up to 63!)
in the afternoon. I hope Dave and Luke are enjoying the same
conditions. Here's the view from the cabin as the sun sank
Saturday, September 2
Ellen: Today was a busy working day for me. I got up early
and drove over an hour and a half to Homer. On the way, I
kept looking west across the Cook Inlet at the spectacular
mountains that were sometimes visible. David and Luke are
out beyond those mountains on their caribou hunt. (No news
yet) I wanted to attend a "native landing" at the
Homer Spit. The Spit's a long thin strip of land extending
into the Katchemak Bay with tourist shops, halibut
fishing charters, and a huge marina. You can see it in the
distance in this pic taken from the hill north of Homer.
Yes, those are glaciers out there, too. They come down
from the Harding Ice Field to the east. A pretty amazing
setting for a town, don't you think?
A number of kayaks (bidarkas) arrived
on the stony beach, paddled by leaders from three native
villages across the bay: Seldovia, Port Graham, and Nanwalek.
The population of these villages is largely
Alutiiq. A Russian Orthodox priest blessed the bidarkas and
led a short ceremony on the beach, followed by two
native dances. I connected with several Pratt Museum people,
sponsors of the 2-day event. They invited me to a potluck
that was to follow. Everyone was asked to take something
from their culture to share. I went to the Safeway and bought
a Dutch apple pie. OK, pretty lame, but I wasn't about to
cook something and who doesn't like apple pie? Fortunately,
I was able to just set it on the table and step aside. The
other food was fascinating. In addition to the more ordinary
potluck fare, we had seal meat, fish of all sorts (baked,
poached, smoked, and dried), and seaweed salad. David and
Luke would have been more adventurous in trying everything
than I was, I'm sure.
I enjoyed meeting a few leaders from the villages to whom
I had written letters and emails last weekend. I got written
permission to film their dances at the evening performance.
(We always have to do that, but sometimes it's a hassle.)
Rehearsals started at 4:00 in the Homer High School's Mariner
Auditorium. I set up my camcorder in the back of the auditorium,
helped backstage, and visited with the dancers. I got some
interesting footage of the dances during the well-attended
evening event. I'm especially interested in following-up
with the Nanwalek dancers. They're doing some innovative
dances that I'd like to learn more about. There are also
some important elders and native speakers in Nanwalek.
Rob and I will have to take that trip, I'm sure.
The drive home was grueling because the 2-lane
road is narrow and winding, the drizzle
had started again, and I drove in and out of foggy patches
in the dark. Fortunately, there were no signs of moose or
bear on the road. Knowing that I'd need some wind-down time
before sleeping, and not having a TV to shut my brain down,
I stopped in Soldotna's Blockbuster and rented a few DVDs
to watch on my computer. I finally crashed at 1:45 AM. All
in all, a very good and productive day.
Friday, September 1
Ellen: OK, everyone's gone. This morning I dropped Luke
and Dave at the flight service for their week-long caribou
hunt. They're traveling about 150 miles west to the Alaska
Peninsula, across the mountains. Here they are loading their
gear stored in a shed since the weighing:
The plane (a 4-seater Beaver floatplane) was
filled with extra fuel and gear, leaving only the co-pilot's
seat and one back seat for David and Luke. Luke got to take
the co-pilot's seat!
He looks good there, doesn't he?