Monday, September 21, 2009

FALL 2 - Lost in the Shire

There is that opening scene from "The Lord of the Rings", in which the camara pans through a grove of fruit trees of the Shire. In that moment you see Frodo Bagins reading through a tome of long forgotten lore. Tales of lands that he could only dream of but will soon walk across. Adventure sounds grand when one reads from the safety of a protected Shire. When I first remember reading "The Fellowship of the Ring", I felt that same wanderlust surge over me. The feeling of walking from ones home out into the unknown, with distances and lands passing before me. With every step further, a slice of the world was added my own. In greater detail due to the act of walking. And yet it was all just a dream of travelling like such, something for another persons life.

The bins click by as I pick in my own Shire. Heavy with Red Spartants, they come down by the bag full. With each turn of the ladder, the limbs of the tree grown and spring back with their baughs reaching towards the Heavens. Released of thier summer burden, it seems now they catch the tussling wind through thier leaves. Rustling out a summers worth of energy. The breeze moves like waves through the sunlit canopy, and I myself much like Frodo, dream of far off places, while surrounded by the beauty of the Shire.

The sounds of the harvest abound every where. The tractor putters through the rows, hidden in a sea of green leaves and red bins. The clack of ladders being moved about the trees by other pickers seem to keep pace with my own. The farmer, an old Hungarian walks around checking the apples. This harvest is a culmination of all his care through the summer, beginning with the explosion of color back at the spring bloom. His light temperment always seems to impart a sense of deep patience that is held within this man. A reason I've returned to this orchard in particular, there is always more to learn.

As I find myself picking, I try and find that flow, where there is only the moment of action leading effortlessly, neither lingering nor forced. A task harder to accomplish then it sounds. There is where the balanced pace comes to this work. One which the old Japanese Fillet staff at the cannery knew well. It is one of those old lessons, to find a state of mindfulness in your actions. It seems that no matter the type of work, this act can bring a good state of being to the day. As I reach up for the next apple it seems that I can feel it before it enterns my palm. With a slight twist, it's weight falls into my hand flowing down to the bag. Action all in a flow as the day wears on.

Watching the sky, I have been keeping time by the passage of the sun moving along the Ecliptic Plane. I'm in the field before dawn, watching it rise from behind the ridge overshaddowing the Orchard. Through the day it follows it's steady course just up from the southern horizon before settingbin a brilliant glow near the lakes edge. I can almost see Apollo's Chariot as it moves across. But with night fall, the planets come out one by one following the same eliptical plane. It gives a man the moment to look at the world in a different perspective. Seeing the universe in a slightly bigger slice, knowing that what is in the sky is part of the same picture as the orchard that I pick in. One begins to feel the joy of Cupernicus' bodhi moment, when he saw things in the sky and the earth as connected for what the really were. Sharing in the greater motion of things.

Somehow as I take my break under these apple trees, with all the days thoughts swirling, it is just nice to take it all in, then enjoy you tortillia w/fresh veggies and the moment of rest before finishing out the day. For fall has that reflective sense to it, yet the urgency to bring the harvest in before the cold comes to the valley. So we'll work till the job is done, and move on once again.

FALL 1 -- Roaming the Central Pasayten

Every part of my body aches, and yet I push on. With each switchback the views of McCall Basin grow larger, and yet the top still alludes us. My steps have steadily followed the pace of my heart, matching step with each beat. Trekking poles extending outward, lengthening my reach. I stop go gather some water, as sparrows fly in mass around me. I hear only their wings beat the movement of air, and feel the slight breeze upon me. My two friends trek behind me, making their way up the open basin. Heads in the air, and eyes a wondering, finding themselves in heavens glen. Indeed we have traversed 15 miles this day, covering three passes and through many a forest creekside. To witness these days in the Central Pasayten, was our intended aim.

Reaching the summit of McCall Basin, the view hedges off extending. The ridgelines are clear, the route innumberable, the skies as blue as can be. On the horizon sits the Catherdrals extending across the 49th Parrallel into Canada. Rounded granite masses, and rocky spires, surrounded by the large U shaped valleys of the Ashnola and Spanish Creek. Here the only trees to grace these meadows is a mix of Abies lasiocarpe and Larix occidentalis. The larch is the king of this domain poking its head in groves where winter snows beat down without end. The bowls and cirques of Sand Ridge and Sheep Mountain show lines that would count man runs of a skier delight. But the sunset upon this meadow ridgeline is all that feeds me tonight.

As the darkness blankets the land, the sun giving the Cathedrals it's last glow, we set up camp and begin to reminisce about our sore feet and muscle whoas. With tarps pitched among the Larches, looking far off to the east, a blazing light flies overhead, tracked by another shape. It takes us awhile, but it seems that we could reach up, if only to touch this bright star. Later to figure that it was our Shuttle and Station dancing and maneuverings through the dark side of our planet. Later on, the stars come out, brighter then one could ever see at home. That orange and purple tint the Milky Way, featuring the stars of Cassiopeia with her noble crown. The skies are what highlight this trip, blazing in the darkness of the skies away from the city lights. And hours are spent looking about, watching Jupiter along the elliptical axis. Soon the streaks reach to the north, fireballs descending from the heavens. Somewhere in the midnight observation, I find myself resting in the heavens.

Morning comes and wanderings begin, as we trek to find Jake's Lake. A small pond at the end of a ridge, to go cross country we must take. First comes a boulder field of solid granite, scrambling brings the pulses higher. Once we reach the top, the views expound... Nohokomeen, Picketts, and Baker... The entire line of the North Cascades, a crested Wall of rock and Ice stand before us. Views unbounding in 360 degrees, and our desire to explore expounding. The Pasayten gives that sacred gift that Yamabushi implore, “... Mountains and Rivers Unbounding.” From ridgeline to long valleys, these lonely mountains do play to the explorers needs to find themselves somewhere bigger then themselves.

We follow the ridgeline out towards the pond, freely walking among the alpine grasses. Over hill and knoll, climbing rock and stone, soon the plateau comes into view. Jake spoke hightly of his desire to visit, a small pond at the end of a lonely ridgeline. Now sitting above it, with the fields in view, reflecting the haunts of the Cathedrals I see the true beauty. Silence falls through us all, as we each take separate paths down below, and come into to contact with wilderness on our own. The silence of the place serves to remind us all, how remote and pristine it is. Only the breeze seems to whistle through, the few standing firs and larches. And soon, we find ourselves memorized along it's glass calm shores.

These are the places that speak to men souls, that tell of her hidden secrets. That sense of landscape to open a man up, towards the world and it's endless possibilities. In a country so large, that you feel like an ant, walking among it's folds. It is surprising how, it drives to the core and makes you fee so humble. This is the spirit of places like the Pasayten, as Ken Burn's titled, “America's Greatest Idea.” To save this land so others can experience, what it had to impart to the travelers. Grand cannot begin to tell, how open skies and backcountry miles can seep into a mans soul. The gospel once spoke, my a lone man Muir, can still resound in a mans heart in these times. We are in love with her graceful lines, and the words she speaks through the winds.

Through the rest of the trip, we move camp twice and circumnavigate the mass of Sheep Mountain. Perfect lakes and open lands, lead thought forward against tiring limbs, pushing us to campsite after campsite. Soon the wonders of a setting sun cast across Whistler Basin, and we like pilgrims, make camp below her sacred bowls. The view to the West is of the Cascade Crest, with the golden and red hues outlining. Even though the next day will take us out, our hearts still wish to follow trails unwinding. The marmots call, echos the sense of emptiness of a ancient Pleistocene cirque. The meadow casts it's hues as the sun lays down, and soon the stars take command. These place are sacred if ever I did tell, not by just by the act of existence. It is the imagination and the way they change a man, that gives perspective on to where they are going. I think to others that I wish could be here, but cherish the time with friends. For the mountains have that enduring call, and some cannot refuse her stirrings.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

AK 14 – Fading of An Alaskan Summer

AK 14 – Fading of An Alaskan Summer

The buzz of the single engine roars over the muffled directions of the pilot, in echoed tones he tells us that we have arrived in the Misty Fiords National Monument. I look down into the blue waters of Behm Canal, streaking north the ebb tide that is flowing towards the head of the sound. New Eddystone rock shines in the afternoon sun, like a Druid Obelisk standing 100 feet above the sea, marking the entrance into sacred land. For as we approach the fiords in this small Cessna float plane, you gain the true feeling of entering into something grand. Low laying mist whisks around the sound, but still the large granite walls of the fiord come into view. This is all I would imagine that Norway would be like. One cannot understand the magnitude in words that 4000 ft from sea level a solid granite wall gives. Those who fly here often just call it, The Wall. Banking our turn, we feel as if only one extra wing tip from the rills of granite descending to the sea as we pass by. My eyes watch each line, looking for cracks and impurities that would avail an ascent. The yamabushi always asking in me, “How does one get to the top of this Temple Mount.”

We bank our turn and begin to descend towards Punchbowl River. This is no easy task! The plane takes a sharp starboard side turn and makes a 180 degree pitch as we follow the opposite granite wall opposite of “The Wall”. I feel my body press against the seat, and my soul whisk sideways towards the nether, it is exhilarating. The promise of the trip begins to take shape. More then just a tourist flight of an hour, I roped myself into a 3 stop tour of the monument to resupply cabins for the coming big trophy fisherman. Something only talking to the locals can gain. I figured I had earned my turns, pushing fish and packing for an entire summer, and it payed off. The wilderness before me was unmatched in remoteness. As soon as we finished the turn, and I gathered my composure, I felt the sudden slap of hard water... The pontoons begin to vibrate against the small ripples that make up the upper reaches of Rudyard's Inlet. The plane slows with rapid speed and we find ourselves gliding into the safe harbor of the Punchbowl Lake Float.

I feel like Tyler from Never Cry Wolf, the extremeness of the mountains and the suddenness of events, I hear the pilot ordering me to drop off the crates onto the dock... “Oh they will be fine there till the tourist arrive. The bears never wander down the float...” So I comply in the only way I can, stacking them one by one as quickly as I can, knowing of the place he still wishes to show me on this clear SE Alaskan Day. Five crates out, we are ready to go. Strapping in, I hoped that I got the right boxes, due to the nature of our journey and limited fuel we still have two more cabins to go. The roar of the engine as we gain speed bouncing off that fine surface of the ocean tide, bouncing in all angles till finally the elegance of a cushion of air pulls us upward. There just is no other feeling like it. The hum of the engine begins to flow over me, as we climb 5000 feet in height to rise over the gap in the fiord to begin our journey across the high mountain ranges. Looking over glaciers and deep valleys, those fabled lines of Dogen Kigen ring through my mind invoking my tough to speak them at that monument, “Mountains and Rivers Without End...”

We follow the rest of the afternoon, dipping down to river streams and paddling the float plane up to watch the bears feasting on the migrating Pink Salmon. Caught in the moment of the moment of the kill as the bears clampering down upon the moving body of fish churning up the shallow streams. Then returning to the skies, to find a new cabin tucked within a glacial cirque, that needs supplies for those in the lower 48 to keep them comfortable enough to enjoy the wilds of Alaska. This is a practice of most Alaskans, as they try and scratch out a living obligated to the demands of those who come from very different realities. Yet the wilderness remains theirs, even when the tourist leave with the last passing cruise ship. It is a hard thing to explain, but being Alaskan, is observing an ever present tone that tells you that Nature is master to all, and mind it, fight it, or flow with it, but never forget it or it will, take you in. Flying through these mountains after spending six months tied to it's seas is an ever present reminder to these lessons.

One cannot hope to explain the total Alaska in words that can be sent in one email. The people are of a different character, and a place that holds only the ability to inspire. In my last days here, I spent time Kayaking out to Lord Islands. A collection of rocks, occupied only by seals, ravens, eagles and two deer that must have washed ashore. I felt as lone as any human could feel, yet as empowered by the crashing of waves, the sound of an raven hovering in air or the concouphany of seals over taking a beach as a man could endure. In the end, even as I paddled against the 4 foot waves back to the relative security of the Pacific Queen, I felt a vitality that I had lost long ago. Through all the bullshit that comes with being on a fishing boat for so long, I felt as vital as a man as one could hope. And knowing that I was leaving Alaska, deep within I knew it would not be for long.

A few days later, after saying good by to some friends I meet near to the end of my stay, I flew over the fishing grounds near the East part of Dixon Entrance, AFNG 1B-101 (Tree Point Fisheries). What had taken me time and time again 8 hours to transect by a 7 knot boat, passed by in mire minutes. Leaving Alaska, I felt the mass of memories the last few months had brought me, and would continue to play within long after I left. With that a sadness to leave a land as big as a man could imagine, but as available as a woodsman would try... Some place we all have dreamed and will hold it's spell..

From the Waters of the Inside Passage,
Jorj (Ridgewalker)

Monday, September 7, 2009

AK 12 -- Echos of Tongass Island Village

AK 12 -- Echos of Tongass Island Village

The rhythms of waves rolling into the breakwater and reefs just off shore seem to leave a fair roar among the trees of the island. No matter where you go, you are always connected to the ebb and flow of the North Pacific coming into Dixon Entrance. Old growth groves of Sitka Spruce and Alaskan Yellow Cedar stand just at the shores edge, a carpet of False Solomons Seal extending out from their base, and the blue skies of the beaches filtering through the stand of shore pine making up the backdrop. Silver Poles of housepost and fallen Totem lay just beyond this Silvan temple, echoing a past when the T'Simpshain made this their home before moving to Ketchikan. Yet now nature has reclaimed it, swallowing up the clearings in thickets of alder and devils club, and only Raven remains watching with his curious eyes, cawing out his distant questions.

With fishing slowing down in the south-end, time has allowed me to journey to shore and up the channels in my Kayak. Tracking treelines and ridges, collecting along the shore, and just taking in the tideline of the Misty Fiords. This landscape feels haunted with spirits still living. Welcoming them in to the curious at heart. A vitality so rich you could reach out and tough it, not muffled by the works and pursuits of man. I follow tracks of otters moving from the tideline through the forest floor. Crossing a small divide in the island to forage for Dungeness amount the crabgrass bay on the otherwise. No matter where you go, layer upon layer show themselves to those who would care to watch awhile, letting the cloak unfold.

I think of the people who traveled between these islands. Fishing by cedar bark nets and woven fish traps. Harvesting from the land and the sea to live rich lives from the bounty, and to return to ornate clan homes. Paddling all the channels and passages we work our way through. Stories attached to each rock, bight and bay. A familiarity with the landscape that surrounds me today. Lost to story and echos of a life once lived, walking the groves and shores I still feel connected. Here a sense of home among familure places seems to call me in. And Raven always watch, following me around my walk and back to the boat. The sequential of the Tongass peering down from the ancient boughs heights. The old spirit of long forgotten clans that called this island, home.

From the Waters of the Inside Passage,
Jorj Aldair

AK 11 – The Fish Buyer

AK 11 – The Fish Buyer

Slap... Slap... The sound of salmon hitting the wet deck. They lay awaiting to be weighed before heading to ice totes. The fisherman leans over to see what price he will yield from the two King Salmon. Monsters of the waters, they come in at 30 pounds each, dressed. At $2.75 per pound the pair will bring the man around $165, not a bad bonus for his last set of the day. A grand smile gleams across his face, "There's plenty more where that came from." The crew of the other boat throw a glance knowing the fisherman always keeps their`1 favorite grounds a secret. Always shifting to keep the others guessing as to where he actually makes his big sets. In the end, with 14 King Salmon, and 6,000 lbs of salmon, he was High Boat for the day, something to be truly happy about.

On the starboard-side of the back deck, brailer bags swing in the air, after being plucked from the small gilnet boats loaded down with Salmon. Water trails across the hatch, till Jordan steadies the load. "Dogs...Twelve Seventy Five," calling out the weight to Brian at the crane. With a jerk of the tail rope, the bag releases it's load in an explosion of water as each salmon slides into the tank. Water boils over the tank and onto the deck, draining out of the scuppers to each side. As soon as it is empty, the bag swings over to the rail and is drapped over, in time for the fisherman to grab it, and pull the crane hook over for the next bag. All the while ice is being loaded onto he port-side boat, to ready it to head back out to the fishing grounds.

Another bag is steadied over a stainless-steal tray, "Mixed!" Fish fill to the rim, and hands begin to grab salmon by the head and the tail tossing them into white trico bins. Fish flying in the air, coho's with their silver square tails, all dressed in one direction, and sockeye vibrant with clear green, blue and silver lines, with an white-opaque tail. These are the money fish of most gilnet sets. In the other direction goes the dogs and the Humpies filling larger tricos with each throw. These are the most caught, and the bulk of each set. Dogs or Chums, each around 12-19 lbs take two hands to launch towards the bin, while the Humpies or Pink Salmon are 2-3 lbs and can be thrown by the head two at a time. The sorting goes on, fish flying everywhere, with very few missing the tote. After a month of this routine one gets good at launching at totes while keeping there eyes on the tray to sort. Soon the tray is cleared and the tricos weighed and placed into tank and totes. Completing the buy.

On busy days there is always a flurry of activity about the Tender. We move from anchorage to anchorage up the coast line from the US/Canadian Boarder towards Ketchikan and Revillagigedo Channel. Each place clings to the edge of the Tongass Forest with Bonsai looking trees clinging to weather battered rock. Vibrant contrast of green trees, white granite, black lichen and tan barnacles make up the tide line landscape. In the distance the mountains of Misty Fiords National Monument rises above Dixon Entrance. The echos of fish buying overtake these coves as we watch kayaker's move into the beach-side camps.

The day passes along, and we make our way through to Foggy Bay. The fisherman of this community begin to call their sets and work their way in to rest of the evening after a long day on the swells of the ocean coast. We work into the evening, watching the day fade away, and sunset cast against Mt Tamgas across the Channel. Colors of light turn more vibrant as the sun hits the water, and then fade as we continue the same routine boat after boat. Sending each away, we whittle away at the line, till the last boat comes up to outside, always the Eclipses, a gilnetter from the waters of Puget Sound. After our business is done, the floatilla will leave with the anchor pulling and wilderness returns to these coves and inlets. In some places small floats make up little evening community of gilnet boats, yet quiet places as the fisherman rest of their 3am start the next day.

Finish cleaning the deck and taking the time to grab dinner, we begin our 6 hour journey back to Ketchikan every other day to offload our fish. I usually take watch in these late night hours till 3am. Watching the failure lights and channel markers on the horizon, while listening to my music fill the wheelhouse of the Pacific Queen.These sentinels become friends marking our progress north. Black, Hog and Spire Rock. Mary, Angle and Twin Lights, till arriving at Mountain Point/Tongass Narrow, Ketchikan's beginning and the the start of the Captains Watch.

Peaceful and calm after a long day of hectic fish buying, it is a fine end to a long day. At times, I feel we are constantly in motion, serving as the face of the company to the fisherman, and the bus driver of their product to the plant. All in all, it is the life of a fish buyer with the rewards of the stories told over each encounter of your regular fisherman. With each pitch-off, you get to know them just a little more, yielding to the small floating community of this East Dixon fishing fleet. Acting sometimes as the main human interaction for many of these fisherman who go about bobbing along, setting, watching and pulling their nets, to harvest wild salmon from the sea, Alaska's Life Blood and age old trade.

-- Ridgewalker

AK 10 – High Seas of Dixon Entrance

AK 10 – High Seas

WHAM! It hits like a sudden freight train. Something out of the unexpected. Just after you have gotten used to the rolling of a wooden boat to 6 foot seas along Dixon Entrence, it happens without announcement. You know that it is intense, when all you can see out the window is green water, not the usual spray of white. The boat pitches wildly to the starboard side. Almost turning over, much of the galley crashes to the side, and all of the pots and the pans forcefully move within their respective cupboards. But as sudden as it happens, the ol' Queen correct herself, and soon righted, the wooden boat bobbs along like a cork in a barrel. The commotion sends alarms in the engine room, but they stop as soon as they started. Water on engine coolant temporally displaced is the culprit. I collect up my things from the galley table, papers that had boat tallies and load numbers, are in and about the cabin.

I start to look around to anything that may have caught loose on that last one. Outside on the deck I hear the sliding of totes across wood planks. Our main strap holding back 5 tons of fish has broken and with each wave the totes rock back and forth. Every pitch brings them closer to the other side of the deck and an precariously unbalancing the boat. To much and the next wave could roll it. So I grab Jordon and head out to the deck with crowbars in hand. Jordan grabs the new ratchet strap and sets it up on the rails, as I begin to pry the totes across the deck. At 1 ton each, I wait till the boat pitches to the port so to allow the totes to slide downhill. One by one they begin to move back towards the guard rail. Aligning up... Success... Then another roller comes in. As soon as I saw it, the wave crashed over me. Reaching out for the strap that we just ratcheted in, I feel my feet sweep away from me. Water surfs over me, and I feel what it must be like when an Orca takes a dive... Some how when I pop up again I feel refreshed, and alive. Looking around the deck, I see that Jordon is against the totes on the starboard side. He is dazed but jumps up quickly and gives a barbaric yelp! This is life on the high seas at it's greatest. For every trip, a little water must come over the side in the Inland Seas of the Dixon Entrance.

Brain turns the boat with the stern facing the waves. After that, the roll underneath the old Pacific Queen, and after an hour the Swells from the SW subside. Rounding the deck, I deal with the lids of the totes. One flew off in the crashing waves, so I begin to load the ton of sockeye salmon into a ice bag and lower it into the tank. For the most part the week has been chill and relaxing. The job of the tender buying and loading fish relatively easy to that of the fisherman. But in these moments, the job gets a little more alive... Another storm is setting in tonight, and we are likely to head out in the morning back towards Tree Point and Lord Rocks. The fish must be delivered, so we go...

– Ridgewalker