Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alaska. Fish, Fools, Follies and Foils.

  I have been having a hard time writing this blog about how my summer was in Alaska.  I know people have a lot of questions about how it went and what exactly I was doing, and mostly they want to know how fun it was and to hear my crazy stories.  Trust me, I will get to that, and there are plenty of hilarious stories to share, but there are a few truths about this summer that are unpleasant to say and unpleasant to hear, but who are we if we don't speak truths?  So bare with me as I explain a few things, and clear the air before I break open the hilarity jar...or just skip toward the "Summer Fun" portion of this post and let the silly stories take you away, or just look at the photos and videos I have to share, because who doesn't want to see pictures of Alaska?

  First off, I am a bit on the defensive because I have received several comments as of late about how I always seem to be on vacation.  One in particular really shook me up saying that I was too busy "living a thoroughly vacuous life of bourgeois royalty...You have clearly gone wrong in several ways, starting with confusing the decadent exploitation of white American privilege with winning...By all means have fun and enjoy the perks of the middle class capitalist lifestyle.  It's why we bomb little brown babies, suppress labor unions, and undermine education.  Just don't confuse it with winning."  He went on to scold me for traipsing around the world, pole to pole, and only visiting "the safest places on the planet."

   This reflection of me comes from a man whom I met once, (on one singular occasion), over a year ago, and was delivered through Facebook messenger.  This series of comments have thrown me for a loop and gotten my mind whirling on overdrive, and to say the very least hurt my feelings.  To think that anyone might see me as this terrible image painted is disgusting to me.  All this being said, this is not a pity post and please don't feel the urge to try and talk me up, because lessons can be learned in every situation, and I have already had much time to think this through.  What I'm getting at here, by confessing this blemish on my heart, is to clear the air, not because I owe anyone an explanation, but because there are curiosities which should be scratched.

#1.  I am not independently wealthy.  I work my ass off for everything I have.  I worked 3 jobs for well over a year to get to go to NZ on the terms I was looking for.  I wanted something, and I put a lot of effort into it.  I wouldn't be fast to claim backpacking is bourgeois.  There is nothing sexy about digging your own hole to shit in, filtering your drinking water out of streams and puddles, or walking 20 miles carrying a 30 pound pack which leads to bruises, rashes, acne, and an extremely potent "all natural" smell.

#2.  As a tiny woman who travels solo, you bet your ass I am careful about where I go.  As a red-head I know I stick out as a foreigner everywhere but Scotland or Ireland which exposes me even more as an easy target.  Regardless of that, a girlfriend and I were disguising, just this week,  that even living in a safe city such as Boise, you have to be hyper aware of your surroundings.  She admitted that no matter where she is, be it a restaurant, walking down a street, or even entering a room, that she is always looking for a "way out."  Looking for an escape route, should anything unwanted happen.  She does this, not out of PTSD from past encounters, but because we have been trained, and hard-wired to know the consequences and possibilities of what could happen if we, as women, let our guard down for just a moment, in the wrong company.  I also have been alive 33 years, I have only been keeping this blog for the last couple, there are several countries and places I have visited that have not been mentioned, perhaps some day I'll write about those as well.

#3.  My time spent in Alaska this summer wasn't a vacation.  It was a job.  12-15 hour days, 6 days a week, for 17 weeks.  Everyone keeps saying that my photos looked amazing and they want to know if Alaska was amazing.  They keep saying the word amazing, because that's what they want to hear.  I try very hard, and for the most part succeed, in staying positive.  I go out of my way to only post things on Facebook that could possibly, in any way, bring a little light out into the world.  Everyone looks great on Facebook.  It's the glamour shot of social media platforms.  Blur the rough edges enough and everyone looks like a rodeo queen, with mysteriously buoyant fountain bangs and a distant dreamy look in their eyes.

#4.  You know what? Alaska was amazing.  It was amazingly rough.  It was amazing that I lost and found myself as many times as I did in such a short time.  It was the Alaskan version of Groundhog's Day and I was Bill Murray.  Every day blurred into the next, so we resorted to making them as strange as possible, just to differentiate one from the other.  Costumes abounded.  I did get to see so many wonderfully amazing things as well as meeting amazing new friends, and we all got through the strangeness together.  So there you go, Alaska was amazing!

#6.  I love being positive and have zero intentions of quitting.  This life is beautiful.  I get to eat every day, I get to drink clean water, and have shelter.  On top of that I do have countless bourgeois accouterment.  I am a very lucky woman.  A very hard working, and grateful, appreciative, lucky woman.

  Now that those little bits have been exposed, and I feel exonerated from someone's misplaced guilt trip, lets set the scene and tell the stories that made up my summer in Alaska, shall we?

Summer Fun

  I worked on a very tiny island in Halibut Cove, which was an hour boat ride across the bay from Homer.  Island residents number about 100 people during the summer season and dwindles down to 15-20 who are brave enough to winter over.  Upon the island are two fine art galleries, one small coffee shop, and a fine dining restaurant called The Saltry.  This restaurant is where I worked, along with 6 other very talented people, and eventually one of them had to leave to start his semester at college, leaving only 6 of us total.  This means 6-7 people played the rolls of head chef, pastry chef, server, bartender, busser, dishwasher, prep cook, cleaning crew...everything.  We each took turns having a day off, and we each had a day to make breakfast for everyone.  Breakfast was the only part of the day when we all got to take a moment and sit down together.  It may have been the only 20 minutes we got to sit down at all.

 A typical day for me at work, not including extra chores which varied and added a few more hours to the week:
 - Stock firewood
 - Clean outhouses (sounds pretty glamorous so far, eh? Haha!)
 - Water and dead-head the nasturtiums
 - Wash dishes for roughly 12+ hours while also running the cold food station (yes my pictures are great, but my main view was the corner of a banana-yellow painted kitchen)
 - Shuck roughly 6 dozen oysters knowing this will not be enough, and more will have to be shucked as the day continues, but a nice head start is a good idea, and who doesn't like a constant fear of slicing their hands open?
 - Break down and clean the restaurant at the end of the night.
 - Sing to myself, tell terrible jokes and puns to anyone within vicinity, and form a love and hatred for that damn banana-yellow wall I had to stare at for 12 hours :)

 - Smoke endless amounts of cod and salmon. Always smoking. 

All the fish was caught locally and fabricated on site.
The looming creepers in the background were included, whether you wanted them or not :) 

You know you've become a master shucker when you give tutorials to the locals.
 Master Shucker status achieved!!

The fireplace where we would often sit after long days. Whale bones.

  As I mentioned, we each took turns having a day off.  Luckily for me I actually got to share a day off with Chance.  He's the best thing ever.  I mean look at him!

The adventures of Batman and Lazyboy, a day off.

  This particular day I had a game plan for not leaving my cabin and buckling down, very responsibly to write.  Chance had other plans.  He usually appeared at my cabin with a load of un-ignorable enthusiasm, a grand idea of adventuring, and some sort of spiked beverage.  He was also obnoxiously persistent.  I absolutely adore him for it, and for getting me outside.

Wildcrafted blueberries!!!!

Batman Returns

The lighthouse to welcome you safely to the island.

My favorite view from the boardwalk.

So many crows. So many murders.

Tiny Charlie the Sparrow, and Oh-So Tired Saratops.  We both have dramatically baggy eyes.

Once on our day off, we got to go to a beautiful waterfall.

Fish wasn't the only seafood fabricated at the fish cleaning station. High tide.

Rise and Shine Tentacles

One morning as I stepped into the kitchen to begin my day, Chance and Sita asked me excitedly, "Are you in or are you out?"
  "Am I in or out of what?"
  They repeated even more anxiously, "Are you IN, or are you OUT?"
  "What does that mean?"
  Slowly, and with raised eyebrows they sounded off again, "Just tell us if you're in or you're out."
  Confused and not yet awake I said, "I'm in, I guess."
  This was the day I truly began to understand how fun Groundhog's Day can be.  Lets get weird. 
  The instigators had gone their rounds with everyone at work, asking them if they were in or out, refusing to divulge the rules of the game we were about to play.  The rules went as follows:
 - Write your name on a piece of paper and put it in the hat
 - Once all names are in, each participant pulls a paper out of the hat, revealing a name
 - The name of the person you drew from the hat, is the person whose bellybutton you will suck an octopus tentacle out of, and eat it.

  I hadn't even had a cup of coffee yet, but I can attest, this was a far more effective and hilarious way to start the day.  And so began the game of "In or Out," which helped us laugh through the summer.

  Jellyfish arrived early for the season.  They ranged from huge, to just barely as big as a fingernail.

My one glorious night as a deck hand.
  Toward the  end of the season several people had left to resume expanding their minds in college.  It left everyone a bit short handed.  So one crazy night the ferry we use to transport the passengers to and from the island, was short a deck hand.  I volunteered.  I gladly threw my kitchen apron down, grabbed a coat, got a quick lesson from the captain, and away we went across the bay under the watch of a slivered moon.

The small brown shed on the right is actually the post office.  Halibut Cove hosts one of the only floating post offices in the United Sates.
Spot 99 was rescued by Marion Beck as a small pup.  She bottle fed him and he sticks around the island, stubbornly forming a blockade on the post office dock and barking at the passer bys.

The owner of the Stormbird, (which is often used for the postal delivery), was upset that once this shed was built, he couldn't see his boat from his home.  So local artist Tara Alverson fixed the problem.

  One evening, that just happened to be my day off, the community gathered on the isthmus for a shwenker grill party.  Everyone brought what they wanted to throw on the grill and it became the best seafood potluck I have ever seen.  Mussels, sausage, corn, and the evening was never complete without salmon.  Check out the king salmon fillet in the middle of the grill.
  At one point a potato gun was brought out onto the beach.  Everyone was so surprised that I seemed so familiar with it, until I reminded them that I am from Idaho, and it was not my first experience launching potatoes.  It was however my first time launching them into the ocean.  I can't help but laugh at what the tourists thought of us as they kayaked past and through the target practice.

  For the first time, in The Saltry's 31 years of business, the doors were closed for the evening, and all reservations cancelled due to inclement weather and violent ocean swells.  The crew was ecstatic, reacting as if they were small children who had just been told we were going to go to Disneyland.  We cleaned the kitchen faster than we ever had, and made our way to the top of the island to play Crobocce (a mixture of croquet and bocce).  Above pictured was the view of the mainland.  So powerful.

  With so much to tell it's hard to narrow things down, but I cannot fail to mention the end of the year Pirate Party.  The Saltry was the epicenter of fun for the island, and the Saltry crew were the instigators.  We decided we wanted to host a party toward the end of the season in order to spend at least one night of quality time with the community, all together.   In having to take turns with a day off, and spending the summer getting to know so many wonderful locals, it was time to have an evening of play, when we could all attend.  Also to mention that its was approaching the time of year when people were leaving the island because school was starting, the weather was cooling, and the window for a gathering was narrowing.

  We called the reservations kiosk and found an evening with no bookings, and blacked it out for reservations.  We spent weeks preparing costumes and making flags, and correlating anything pirate into our vocabulary and surroundings.  We made it quite clear that anyone who attended the party not in costume would be forced to walk the plank, meaning that we would literally walk you off the end of the dock.  Impressively, every single person who came, showed up dressed in full attire.

Pirating, with Scurvy the crow.

Dramatic Pirating with Barnacle Bill.

  So, I mentioned before our breakfast duties, and therein lie several hilarious stories.  Every time it was Chance's turn to make breakfast something weird happened.  Pictured below was one example.
Popcorn and scrambled eggs look exactly the same. They were served in a pile so you were never quite sure what you were about to put in your mouth and every bite was a surprise, paired with, yes, red vines and gummy bears.

 There was once a breakfast featuring oreo cookies as a side dish.  And one of the most interesting was the morning we woke to find corn dogs and pickled eggs.  The last day of breakfast duty happened to fall on Chance's breakfast day, and he had been plotting for a while.

Our last crew breakfast

  Mimosas, coffee, a PBR and four neon colors of mashed potatoes.  If you haven't seen the movie Hook, featuring Robbin Williams as Peter Pan, you have homework to do.  It's a great movie and there is one hell of a food fight scene featuring brilliantly colored food, the likes of which would make Dr Suess proud.  We had our own Never Never Land.

  With one last day on the island before we made our way to Homer and caught flights home, Dave and Marian took us on a boat ride to Seldovia.

From left to right: Adam, Myself, Sita, Jessie, Jasmine (who came up to visit a few of the crew), Chance, Greg, Dave and Marian beck (the owners of The Saltry), and Piko...wonder dog.

The things I find in towns...
  While riding around in the boat we go to see some incredible things.

The tow

Fog on the water, birds in the sky.

  There are way too many stories to tell, this is just the skeleton of the fun.  I work hard, but I also am smart enough to find fun and adventure wherever I go.  Wonder is everywhere, you just have to keep your mind and eyes open to see it.

  If you want to check out what the NY Times has to say about the Saltry:


Or for what Coastal Living had to say:



  1. Well Sara, quite an enjoyable read spiced with wonderful pictures. You did a superb job of capturing feelings and flavors. Best of luck to you and your trucking about this wonderful universe! It was a pleasure to get to know you, however brief.

    Mark Ervice, Liz's mate, the old welder guy.

    1. Mark, thank you for reading it! Also, you were a great person for me to have met this summer, you were very easy to talk to. I think you'll be happy to know i just got back from visiting my dad for a couple days, and I took advantage of his skills, and swindled a few welding lessons from him :) Take care of yourself!