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Monday 21 August 2017, week 15: Buldir Island, 22:39

As the wind strengthens and the rain intensifies, I find myself alone in our main cabin, writing in the dim light of day that remains. The clock above me ticks away the seconds that make up minutes, but I can’t help but notice it’s also ticking down the minutes remaining in my second season on Buldir. Today was our final day off of the summer, and the Tiglax will be here to pick us up next Monday afternoon.

Whenever someone wishes me a “happy Friday” in an email, I have to laugh; in field camp, days of the week have almost no meaning. AK Maritime pays us for 6 days a week of work, expecting us to take one day off per calendar week. That day depends on the needs of our work schedule and very rarely falls on an actual weekend. The whole idea of weekday vs. weekend is laughable in a remote field camp; it’s not like we’re going to hit the local bar or catch dinner at a restaurant.

So what happens on a day off in a remote field camp? This summer I’ve gotten in the habit of watching episodes of “The Office” late at night. Knowing I don’t need to wake up for a particular hour makes it easy to let the episodes slide by. Although I love sleep, there’s something about that show that makes it hard to turn off earlier than midnight.

The morning of a day off starts at a different time each week, but usually gastronomic interests get me out of bed. I enjoy having the main cabin to myself and listening to music while preparing food in the morning, so I often am the first to rise. Although Kevin, McKenzie, and I generally don’t have rushed mornings of quick breakfasts, we tend to cook something a little more complex and crew-wide for a day off brunch. Oatmeal pancakes, sourdough pancakes, or potatoes with/without corned beef hash are the usual suspects. This morning we had potatoes and also finally cracked open the jar of salmon that our friendly neighbors on distant Chowiet had sent us. Our bagels and Alaskan lox were divine.

After eating, activities vary throughout the day. With the ship coming so soon, none of us needed to wash laundry. (Yay!) If we hadn’t had the start of a wet weather system coming through, we would have been more inclined to leave camp. Today I continued reading one of the books my parents sent at resupply, A Walk Across America. While I read, Kevin and McKenzie worked on updating their CVs to send off for their next round of hopeful work. For the career seasonal wildlife tech, this is a never-ending task.

When I decided I’d sat around reading for long enough and needed to satisfy my baking urge, I whipped up a batch of muffin tin brownies. Last season I was informed that brownies baked in a muffin tin provide every brownie with the center’s usual softness and the edges’ chewiness. Brilliant! Unfortunately these were just mixed from a box because we’re nearly out of flour. Still, I knew they’d be appreciated by all of us.

Post-baking I returned to reading and then back to watching “The Office.” While the rain we’d been expecting hadn’t quite materialized, the vegetation was wet and the sky gray; donning raingear on a day off lies near the bottom of every Aleutian field tech’s activity list.

After drinking a few rounds of hot beverage, eating a light lunch while trying to ignore brownies, and finally writing some overdue emails, it was time for me to get out of camp to stretch my legs. The air had been dry for awhile, so I switched from Crocs to Solomon shoes and grabbed my binoculars and camp pager for a mosey down the beach to NW Point.

While I slowly walked on the dry rocks, I basked in the novelty of wearing footwear other than XtraTufs. Along the way I watched a mother eider paddle away with her 2 ducklings, murres dive beneath the water, cackling geese nervously fly off the beach, and puffins fly by on their way home from fishing. To the west of NW Point I found that our poor weather didn’t appear to be coming from that direction; the sea was calmer and the sky not quite as gray.

On my return walk, I decided I needed to do what I’d nearly forgotten about: take my dip in the Bering Sea that happens every time I live on its shores. Although a previous day off of blue sky would have been preferable for a swim, I knew I’d regret not taking my plunge. My northern soul needs its summer swim in cold waters.

Kevin and McKenzie had both showered by the time I returned to camp, leaving me free to heat a pot of water for my own shower. As that heated on the stove, I mixed up a batch of cornbread to go with Kevin’s chili. I pre-set my post-shower clothes in the hanging net of the shower stall and changed into a swimsuit before mixing cool water with boiling water and pouring it into the shower bag. With shower water in place for a nice hot shower, I walked through a light mist down to the beach.

Surely the gulls wondered what I was doing, seeing as I hadn’t brought out our slop bucket to dump for them to scavenge. I dropped my towel on rocks and entered the water, adopting my “no time like the present” or “don’t think, just do” cold water swimming mentality. After carefully walking out to waist depth, I took a breath and dove forward to submerge myself. Either the wind provided just enough nip to the air to make it actually feel cold, or I’m getting weak. Instead of having my usual thought of “this isn’t so bad,” it took me 4 or 5 breaths to recover from hyperventilating, and I acknowledged the Bering Sea was cold. For once I immediately turned back toward shore, but I caught myself and turned parallel to swim a few strokes to make my plunge legitimate. Although I was cold, I was happy I hadn’t skipped out on my polar bear swim.

On my way to the shower, I coasted through the main cabin to pop the cast iron of cornbread into the oven and let Kevin and McKenzie know they didn’t need to rescue me. Then I entered the shower stall and basked in the hot shower; it was my most-appreciated shower and final field shower of the summer. After all, all good things must end.

The evening brought warm chili, fresh cornbread, and entertaining conversation questions provided by the Chat Pack we’d been gifted at resupply. Kevin, McKenzie, and I know each other well enough to predict each other’s answers, which makes it humorous on multiple levels. McKenzie’s answers will most likely be related to outer space/the space station, Kevin’s answers will be related to McKenzie, and my answers will be related to puppies, biking, or New Zealand.

After washing the dishes in our Rubbermaid dish basins, I settled into a chair to write a few more emails before 21:00, our radio check-in hour. Lisa chatted with the Tiglax before calling us to hear about our day. Although some of the camps have too weak of transmissions to make radio call worthwhile, we thoroughly enjoy hearing what the ship and other camps have been up to each day. Lisa’s ever cheerful outlook makes for nice day’s end conversation.

Being a book-based camp, we read until our beds called us to come read there. These days the daylight for good reading is gone by 22:15 – a sign of the season’s change. Fortunately we all have Kindles and reading lights attached above our bunks.

Tonight I’ll be drifting off to sleep to the sounds of rain and wind, knowing that our final day of relaxation has come to an end. It’s bittersweet to know the end of such simple life is so close, but my personal horizon looks pretty good.

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Saturday 17 June 2017, week 5: Buldir Island

Coming up with weekly topics is proving more difficult this year. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m struggling to balance it with my same two hobbies from last year, either; reading and journaling are still the evil culprits. Just to send all the blame away from myself, it’s also Kevin and McKenzie’s fault that I’m not writing. They’re always reading, so I want to always be reading!

Instead of forcing some topic, I’m playing my Get Out of Blogging Free card early this year. In the meantime, anyone reading this should go read a book. Here’s what I’ve read since leaving Fairbanks at the end of April:

1. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud – Essentially about making the most out of life. I could relate to some characters more than expected.
2. The Sea-Wolf – I like being on ships but not with this captain. Life on the Tiglax is much better.
3. Finding Mars – About a Japanese permafrost researcher (based in Fairbanks) who has adventured and/or worked in Australia, the Sahara, Greenland, Antarctica, the Amazon, and Alaska.
4. Snow Falling on Cedars – From the list of options on my AP English summer reading list… I only got around to reading it over 10 years later.
5. The Pleasure Instinct: Why we Crave Adventure, Chocolate, Pheromones, and Music – Lots of science behind this. Interesting to read about babies’ development in the womb. 6. Me Before You – About life for a quadriplegic and his caregivers.
7. Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – About sea journeys and land expeditions from New York to establish an American empire at Astoria in the early 1810s. (If you’re looking for a book, choose this one!)

Currently reading:
The Possibility Dogs: What I Learned from Second-Chance Rescues about Service, Hope, and Healing – Not the most well-written, in my opinion, but interesting to read about dog training and various types of service dogs.

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Thursday 28 July 2016, week 11: Buldir Island, 20:46
Sorry, but there will be no post for this week. Before our overnight at Spike Camp, I had 2 different posts started, but the words weren’t coming. Books are also to blame, as I read the first 75 pages of The Last Season in an afternoon and the first 90 pages of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid last night and this morning before leaving Spike. The Last Season is the story of a long-time backcountry ranger in the High Sierra who went missing, and the other is by Bill Bryson, possibly my favorite author. Enough said. Back to reading! I’ll try for better posting next week.

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You know what kids have so much easier these days? The chance to read.

When we were growing up, my brother and I both read books in bed when we should have been sleeping. Many nights a flashlight and book could be found hidden underneath my pillow. Over the years a bulky flashlight transitioned to a small Maglite that could eventually be slipped inside a headband for fancy hands-free lighting. I had a Mighty Bright clip-on book light at some point, but that was a bit awkward to use while hiding under the covers.

It’s pretty needless to say I lost a couple hours of sleep to reading while growing up, and that hasn’t changed. Now I just don’t have to try hiding it from anyone! The perks of being in charge of my own sleep deprivation are great.

In December 2013 I finally joined the ranks of those who take reading in the dark very seriously. Although I had qualms about reading on a Kindle, the idea of being able to take unlimited books into the field with me was too tempting. Travel via 9-passenger planes, snowmachines, boats, and ATVs is just not conducive to extra weight and bulk, so being able to carry a library in a 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ device won my favor. Now I don’t even need to worry about a light because it’s built-in! Seriously, any kids like me have it so easy now.

I have not completely said goodbye to hard copies of books. I’ve always loved turning the pages and monitoring my progress with a bookmark, and so I actually have to confess what happened the first time I cracked open a paperback last summer. After having read strictly on my Kindle for months, I didn’t understand why tapping the bottom right corner of the first page of Cannery Row wouldn’t turn the page. Oh dear, I thought to myself as I likely reddened and realized how quickly technology had changed me. That’s why I won’t be ditching actual books altogether, and it sounds like no one should.


The Amazon Kindle store is impressive, and there are obviously other places to buy books online, but eventually the cost of books can add up. That’s why I have my Kindle to thank for helping me rediscover the power of libraries.

Through the library, I can read and listen to books for free at any time, in any place – provided I’ve planned ahead. I’m able to check out items, download them, and have family hop on my Amazon account to return them. Never have I appreciated libraries as much as I do now. I do sometimes have to go on a waitlist, but there are so many books out there that it doesn’t really matter. Hopefully the rest of America/the world who had, like me, somewhat forgotten about the power of the library will remember how fantastic of an institution it is.


As I mentioned, I do enjoy borrowing and reading tangible books. Although I try to avoid acquiring them unless I can trade them in for credit, I admit my favorite book is one that I could never read on a Kindle and will never trade.favorite bookTrixie is a retired service dog trained through Canine Companions for Independence, and living with Dean Koontz has given her some fantastic insight into life. I laugh out loud every time I read this book and highly recommend it to any dog lover. (Anyone else think I should go on Reading Rainbow?)

SummerintroJobs

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One friend once told me he doesn’t think many people have as much fun as me. I’m very rarely unhappy when I’m living in the field – probably because I think of the jobs I’ve held as adventures rather than jobs – or traveling. I think I have Trixie Koontz to thank.

connections

*hopefully she doesn’t mind I shared so much of her book*

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I’m doomed. While in NZ I discovered that author Bill Bryson writes highly entertaining books, and many of them just happen to be about his travels. I’ve read a fair number of them since, and a friend just passed on another to me: Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe.

I knew I’d be in trouble dreaming up trips before I even cracked open the book. Bryson didn’t fail to meet expectations, as I found myself wondering where exactly his first stop – Hammerfest, Norway – is on a map. He opens the book with:

“In winter, Hammerfest is a thirty-hour ride by bus from Oslo, though why anyone would want to go there in winter is a question worth considering. It is on the edge of the world, the northernmost town in Europe, as far from London as London is from Tunis, a place of dark and brutal winters, where the sun sinks into the Arctic Ocean in November and does not rise again for ten weeks.”

My response? I want to go!! Then he makes the draw even stronger by making comments about other passengers and a rest stop in “Where the Fuck, Finland.” I want to go to WhereTF, Finland! First off, its actual name is Muonio. Secondly, middle of nowhere tiny towns tend to make me laugh.

I’ve found that certain Finnish tendencies run in my blood. I’m an introvert, I love taking real saunas and then jumping in cold water (Lake Superior or the Tutakoke River), and I don’t mind the dark or cold of snowy winter. Also, check out the look of the Muonio region, the area of Finland that supposedly has the longest snow season. Now check out the look of Interior Alaska – minus the large mountains. Coincidence? I think not. Both places are essentially boreal forest and northern lights. Hmm, Fairbanks may have been my destiny.

Reading this book can’t be healthy for me, seeing as I’ve already looked up places on maps, searched for pictures, and wondered about airfare. Although my interest in travel may be a bit extreme, nobody in my family can call me strange. Wanderlust is in my blood.

Dad

My Dad on a trip to the Grand Canyon

 

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Some relatives and friends consider me crazy for taking off to the middle of nowhere to live in a tent for months, driving around NZ on my own, and wandering through Tiananmen Square during an 8 hour layover in Beijing. I’ll admit the Tiananmen adventure was something else, but everything else I’ve done pales in comparison to finding myself a job on a fishing vessel during winter in the Bering Sea.

From my journal the night I arrived in Seattle:“Ummm, what have I gotten myself into? After a lovely flight with 3 exit row seats to myself, I rode the Light Rail downtown, hailed a taxi driven by a Somalian, and found myself outside a locked gate, peering through the darkness at the illuminated F/V Starbound. Fortunately the gate code worked, and I approached the vessel and security tent to meet the drowsy guard at 23:30. After a brief panic about where my ID had gone, I located it and got squared away with a bunk and room number. Then I was free to climb aboard, but there was nobody to show me where to go.” How many people climb on a legitimate boat and have to start wandering down halls to find their room and climb in a bunk for the night? I didn’t know a soul on that boat and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing to “backload” at 8 the next morning. For a quiet person like me, that’s gutsy.

Life started making a little more sense the next day when I saw the 2 friendly HR ladies I’d met in Seattle 2 months before. Eventually I started getting my feet under me, but I also learned I was one of 4 new employees surrounded by over 100 people who knew what was going on. In general, I feel like I never know what’s going on.

 

Well, so far life on a fishing boat has been like what many people would consider a boring cruise. There’s been a lot of sleeping, eating, looking out the window, and reading. I have no problem with it, but sadly for my mental health and gladly for my bank account, life’s about to get real.

You see, while I was enjoying all of the above-mentioned activities, we were merely making our way from Seattle, WA, to Dutch Harbor, AK. Aleutian Spray Fisheries pays by share rather than working hour, so while some companies make workers clean the factory or stay busy on the trip up, ASF pretty much lets workers relax. We worked 2-3 hours a couple of days, but we were mostly free to do whatever we wanted. Hence the glorious sleeping.

Along those lines, I’m 1000% glad I asked for a Kindle for Christmas. Working remote field jobs that limit my luggage/weight and living on a boat with limited locker space means traveling with adequate reading material is extremely difficult. Fortunately, a Kindle can hold more books than I could ever read in a field season, so that’s no longer an issue. Since leaving Seattle on Saturday the 11th, I’ve read…

  1.  Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Ken Ilgunas)
  2. Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck)
  3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum)
  5. The Time Machine (H.G. Wells)
  6. Paper Towns (John Green)
  7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

Book #8 is If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It Isn’t Big Enough: A solo journey around the world (Kristine K. Stevens)

We reached Dutch Harbor on the afternoon of Saturday the 18th. Usually it’s a 6 day trip, but as we approached the Alaska Peninsula, a storm picked up and forced us to take shelter by an island overnight before we could cut through “the pass” that separates the North Pacific from the Bering Sea. I wish I could post videos to show the view from the wheelhouse and the video I took of waves crashing over the bow of the boat and splashing across the wheelhouse windows. Apparently 65-70mph winds are pretty impressive, even for seasoned captains. I was asked for the umpteenth time if I’d been seasick yet, and when I answered with a negative, the captain and 2 others said that was incredible. Everyone’s been telling me that if I haven’t been sick yet, I’m safe, so I’m praying they’re all correct! (We encountered quite the waves right from the get-go – compared to usual – and they lasted the first 4 or so days.)

We were supposed to have a pretty brief stay in Dutch Harbor and be back out on the water to start fishing when pollock season opened at noon on Monday the 20th. However, while using the bow crane to offload supplies that first night, the crane broke and fell onto the dock! (Once again I was shown that I possess very little of the self preservation gene. I heard the loud clatter, felt the boat shake, and then rolled over to fall back asleep. Many people jolted awake wondering what had happened while I contentedly returned to dreaming. I’m glad I’m so concerned about safety.)

We couldn’t go anywhere with the crane broken off, so Sunday and Monday were spent fixing it. Apparently the bolts had tired out, let go, and let the giant arm topple over. The manly men went about fixing it while the rest of us went back to reading, sleeping, watching movies, showering while not having to deal with a rocking boat, calling our parents to ask for entertainment, etc. Fortunately the life of nothingness ended last night. The crane was once again operational to offload the rest of the supplies overnight, and I felt the boat leaving port around 6 this morning. We’re back at sea!

Any time now someone will come knocking on my door for me to go start making money. I’m on the first shift, meaning my hours will be 4am until 8pm. I’m a little bummed I’ll be without windows for all daylight hours, but I’ve also been told there’s not much to see. After all, I’m not getting paid to enjoy the scenery. Nope, my job – no joke – is pulling guts out of fish.

Note: While, amazingly, there’s internet in the Bering Sea, it’s not particularly speedy for uploading photos. Unless it happens to seem fast when I have time to post, you’ll have to imagine what it looks like out here. Sorry!

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Ah ha! How refreshing it is to read a book that seems to be teaching me about myself. I come from a family of readers, so you might think I’m always reading something or other. However, my reading has happened in waves ever since I started college, and I’ve primarily read books just for kicks since freeing myself from the school system.

My parents recently sent me this book as part of a birthday package.bookI’ve only made it 39 pages into the book, but I can tell it’ll be a good read. The subtitle says it all: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The fact that my mom picked it out for me makes me laugh because she’s very much an extrovert who can’t stop talking. In fact, after moving to Alaska for college, I recognized that I was able to stay quiet while growing up because she’d answer questions for me during conversations with others. Don’t worry, mom! It was very handy. 🙂

Lately I’ve been trying to decide where I might fit on the Myers-Briggs personality test. So far I’ve only determined that I’m definitely more introverted than extroverted. This paragraph from Susan Cain’s book (photo above, published 2012) sums it up nicely:

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

It’s so simple for me to refrain from talking. Unless I feel strongly about something or have a good story, I generally don’t feel a need to speak up. Too frequently people cut others off mid-thought in conversation; as a quieter person, I don’t want to fight to be heard. While growing up I never understood why kids shared whispered conversations while a teacher taught the class. Generally I’ve always thought, “What on earth is so important that you can’t wait until the instructor is done before you start talking?” Sadly this even applies to some college courses where students go into debt to “listen” to a professor!

Friends say I became more of a talker and more outgoing during college – a statement with which I generally agree. However, over the past couple years I’ve found myself regressing to a less active social state. When I’m on the road traveling, meeting people and sharing stories is one of the highlights! When I’m at “home”… it’s different. I don’t need to go out with friends or call/text just for the sake of having something to do. This is partially because I’m frugal and dislike spending money, but also because I’m content just reading, cooking, writing, biking, taking my nice camera for a walk, dreaming about travel, running, or thinking about life. In fact, I don’t need a lot of social interaction to get through a day.SnowfallLast night while I was trying to convince myself to sleep, I sat on the couch and watched the snow fall as I read the introduction of Cain’s book. Therein I found some insight into my combination of heritage, personality, and travel style. Bear with me on this one as I stretch some statements to be entertaining.

According to Susan Cain and some Google magic, Finland is known for being quite introverted. Guess who happens to be 50% Finnish? That’s right, I cry inside whenever someone mispronounces sauna. Apparently Finnish introversion skipped my mom and jumped straight to both my brother and me.

When I learned half of my heritage is introverted, I googled the concept to see what other people had to say about the Finnish culture’s personality. One particular article I found tickled me. The Huffington Post Canada wrote an article entitled 10 Places Perfect for Introverted Travellers. Obviously an article about this is subject to personal travel styles and opinions. Some introverts like connecting with locals and fellow travelers while on the road, but others probably travel to get away from having to deal with people and instead seek anonymity, solitude, or the simplicity of nature. Personally I combine a little of both and end up with well-rounded experiences.

Seeing the first two travel destinations in this article cracked me up. #1 wasn’t too hard to guess based on what I’ve been reading: Finland. Apparently I do need to visit the land of my mom’s ancestors. #2 is the icing on the cake for all of this introverted business and my personality. Ready? Destination #2 is…

New Zealand!

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Aoraki Mt. Cook & Lake Pukaki

How’s that for a sign? Clearly there’s nothing scientific about this article, but I find it rather hilarious that my heritage and favorite country top the list.

I’m intrigued by the entire introvert-extrovert spectrum, so Quiet should offer plenty to think about. Perhaps I’ll even learn more about how to deal with myself – whoever that may be.

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