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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ugruk and stuff

I want to write every day.  I really do.  But I don't.  Sorry.

We are too busy.  Busy taking care of food and busy soaking up a winter's worth of Vitamin D. 

My side of the boat

Smoking Fish, Cutting Ugruk, Boating, Boating and more boating. 

But now that it's been ugly for the last few days, and its forecasted to be ugly for the next week or so, maybe I'll post a few things I said I would a long time ago! 

Not today though.  Some of you already know and follow me on Instagram (seriously, if you like fish eyes, and bug shots, this is the place to be!) and plenty of you are my facebook friends.  So, you already know what's going on. 

In a nutshell:


My cousin, friends,  girls and I worked on a HUGE ugruk.  We did have to scrape some fly eggs off it though, and that was sorta gross.


We have been boating up a storm.  Every day it's nice out.  Excuse the butt shot.  (and the camo pants!)


Found some late babies.  Hope they survive.  I wanted to take them home and raise them to eat.  


Stupid horsefly population has been growing steadily.  These suckers bite HARD!  But, they don't stop us from going swimming or boating.  They're still gross all the same though.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicken Loon

I remember going to Chickaloon when I was a kid.  There was a "New Cabin" and an "Old Cabin."  The Old Cabin scared me.  My grandpa told me once that there were mice in it.  Mice freak me out.  My dad had some old reminants of a tree house over by the old cabin too that I never dared to climb.  The boards used said, "Snakes."  And my little 7 year old self didn't know that Alaska doesn't like snakes so they kicked them out long ago...

old cabin and sauna

I remember the New Cabin and my very own loft, that ended up housing lots of equipment and supplies.  I had a little potty in my grandma and grandpa's room downstairs.  (It's still in the loft, I see)  And I always kept my bear on the shelf to protect the cabin when I was gone.

Now, though, there is a "cabin," the "art studio," (otherwise known as the "commie cabin" because uhm, they did some communications in there... ;) ahem) and the "mansion."  The Mansion is my dad's huge cabin that he lives in year round.  It has two rooms upstairs and a bedroom downstairs.  I tried to claim one of the rooms but my mom says (she lives there too) the big room will house the Loom from my grandma, and all my dad's gun stuff.  (He has a lot of gun stuff)

wild rose

The other room, isn't quite done, nor is it really open, and bright like the other humungous room.  *Quick question:  Howcome I grew up in a tiny little shack and now we have these huge houses/cabins!?  Anyway, my dad is one of those "I'll just make it" types, (yes, I do get that from him...) so he has plenty of homemade gun racks, hangers, pot racks, chairs, tables, carts, stools, shelves, or well, shoot the he made the whole house...

Coltrane stuck in a tree

I like my mom and dad's new cabin.  But I'll always always love the "New Cabin" best.  According to my aunt, it needs work, and I can see the flooring (from circa 1972) needs replaced, but otherwise, it's in great shape.  It looks just like it did when I was there. 

The three middle kids (Clara, Kaisa, Coltrane) got to spend some time with my parents there a few weeks ago.  My aunts ("The Aunts" as I was referring to them as) were there as well.  The kids had art lessons in the newly named Art Studio, climbed trees and got stuck, made mud pies, and generally ran around like wild lunatics.

Art Class

I was able to go for the day.  So I did what was most important.  I took a sauna.  (And coincidentally, I ended up hauling a LOT of water that day!) 

When people ask me about the places I love most, my answers have always been Chickaloon and Sisualik.  And some "other people" have made Sisualik a dysfunctional place to visit, with fights, drinking, and stealing, so I rarely go there anymore, which is sad...but I'll save you the messed up details. 

People always ask about Chicken Loon.  The Johnson Homestead, Chickaloon.

Mom dad and kids

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wild Alaska Salmon

Quite recently, my daughter and I went on a little excursion.

Through the trees, on paved roads to a little town 4 hours outside of Anchorage to go Fishing.  "Catching" according to my friends son.  And he's right.  Fish Wheeling, is more like Catching then anything.  Still exciting, and a little tedious, sort of like ice fishing. 

You wait and wait for the THUD! of a fish in the box.  You wait and wait for that fish to die, so you can pull it out.  Exciting. 


I have never understood "fishing" with a rod and reel.  My husband loves it, and actually shot a documentary-type movie about fly fishing last year (it's being edited now), and apparently had the TIME of his life.  Me?  Nah.  I'd rather fish with a net or wheel, fillet for hours, vac seal and then be done for the day. 

Fish wheel

My life is much too busy to be relaxing on a river or a boat fishing with a line.  One fish at a time.  I'm too impatient.  I have too much stuff to do. 

Fish-Wheeling though, is fun.  Sleeping in the back bed of a pickup truck, not so fun.  But necessary, so no complaints.

ulu tools

We started our trip stopping in Chickaloon to see my dad.  He had a nice shiny new Ulu for me (it probably wasn't for me, but luckily I was the first of the girls to visit, so I took it!) and we really had to get our other ones sharpened. 


After driving forever, we stopped in Tazlina to say hi to Elmer and help hang king salmon strips for smoking.  The wheel had been in the river for a bit so we knew we'd cut when we got there. 


Ulu's in hand, we started cutting and cutting and cutting.

If you don't know how to cut a salmon.  My NINE year old will give you a lesson.  By the way, none of us Eskimo girls can cut with a fillet knife.  We use ulus.  So, we carry them around with us everywhere.  And you start to receive them when you're two years old and can contribute to the family's subsistence lifestyle.  ALSO P.S.  You can fillet without cutting the head off, but this was easier and the butterfly fillet was the choice so we could use all the belly strips too.  Also P.P.S. her Ulu is sharper than a kitchen knife.  :)

Step One:  Cut off the head.  Using the tip of your ulu, break the backbone and remove the head.  (If you're eating the head, then throw it in a bucket to take care of later)

cut head off

Step Two:  Follow the line of the backbone and cut on the side of the bones, trying not to leave any flesh.  Cut through two sets of pin bones up to the ribs and stop.

cut down backbone

Step Three:  Do the same thing on the other side.  Don't stop at the ribs, keep going, right next to them until you hit the belly.  Cut through to the tail but don't remove the tail.

fillet across bones

Step Four:  Flip it over and finish the other side.  You should have an "open" fish fillet with a middle section of bone sticking out still connected at the tail.

do the other side

Step Five:  Pull the bone section up and cut away any membranes connecting it to the stomach. 

pull back bone out

Step Six:  PULL the bone section up and over the fillet and cut the tail off.

pull backbone up and cut

This step was a little hard for her, because you can actually just RIP the bones off at this point, but she had to use her Ulu. 

 cut off the tail

You should have a pretty translucent set of fish bones at this point (Like hers) connected to a tail.  If you see to the right, she has a pile of fish eggs.  We eat those too.

 see the bones

The fillet should look like this when you're done.  Then we just rinse and wrap, flesh to flesh and start on another one.

see the fillet?

We ended up with about 10 King Salmon and maybe 50 or so Reds.  We cut into the night, then woke up at 6:30 am to cut some more.


Making sure your family has enough fish to last through the winter is very hard work.  We never EVER buy salmon,  unless it's in Sashimi form.  And even then, we only buy it from local restaurants who buy local salmon.  I would never eat a farmed salmon.  And luckily for me, we have an abundance of Reds, Silvers, Kings and Chum (which are REALLY good from here cause they're still ocean fish) around us. 

My husband likes to smoke them, then can them.  I like to cut the butterfly fillets into family size meals, then vac seal them for dinners.  We compromise and take half of the fish each time.  Half to smoke, and half to eat.  With about 1/3 to give away.

Omega-3's baby.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Living together

kiddos chick

I've been gone for a while. 

A long, long while.  Lots of things have happened since I've been gone.

Lots of not-fun things.  People have died.  Friends, uncles, co-workers.  It's not been the greatest month, June. 

But, no matter the tragedy, life does on.  You wake up, if you're lucky, if it's God's will and you go to work.  You make dinner.  You feed your dog.  You hug your kids.  You go to bed.  And do it all over again the next day.


Sometimes you can't sleep.  Sometimes you want to cry.  So you cry.  And life still goes on around you.

Kids still need to be taken care of.  Fish still need to be caught.  Seals still need to be cut up.  Berries and greens still need to be picked.  You still need to pay your cable bill, even though no one has turned the TV on for three weeks.

My friends have gone through the toughest time of their lives this past month.  The world going on hyper speed, while they slowly make their way around.  Fast Forward is pressed around them.  You see them at the store, buying groceries to make their children dinner.  You see them checking their mail.  You see them going to church.  You see them on Facebook.  Because life has to move forward.


So you take your kids and grandkids to fish camp.  You sleep in the back of a truck on hard blankets.  You stay up until 3:30 am watching the fish wheel.  You teach your daughter how to correctly butterfly fillet a Salmon with an ulu.  You get thousands of bug bites.  You catch several King Salmon.  You even let one fall back into the river and then JUMP in after it.  And you get it.  Because laughter is the best medicine after prayer.  And then you put your fish away for the rest of the year. 

kaiki rock

You watch your grandkids joy as their eyes light up by walking in water.  You watch your daughter claim "king of the hill."  You take your kids innertubing, because that's what their dad would do.  You take all your fish to your best friends funeral because that's what she would have done for you.  You take care of her kids and hug them tight.  Then you hug your own kids tight.

Then you visit your parents because after so many deaths in such a small region, you feel awfully mortal.  But, the kids make everything OK.  They have the time of their lives.  Even without running water and forced to use an outhouse.  Because they see Joy in everything around them.

aana tatta chick

So life goes on.  But you still cry.  And your friends grieve for you.  And that's OK.  We want you to cry.  We want to cry with you.  We want to hug you.   We want to drink wine with you and let you reminisce about your friend/uncle/husband/nephew/cousin/co-worker.  We want to see you laugh again.

So you do.  And so do I.  We laugh together.  We cry together.  We live strong together.