Saturday, December 27, 2008

Daylight and Dark

As most people know, Alaska can be dark during the winter. Fortunately for us, we are only at 57.5 degrees north.  Now if we lived in Barrow, AK, at 71 degrees north, there would be 6 weeks of complete darkness.  This city of 3900 inhabitants is the northernmost city in Alaska. Its residents never see the sun above the horizon from November 18 until January 22.

Since we are much farther south, our hours of daylight are only limited to 6 1/2 hours on the shortest day, December 21st.  On the that day, we saw sunrise at 9:47 am and sunset was reported at  4:21 pm. With the sun just below the horizon for a period of time, the actual visibility is increased somewhat. So, we could actually see outside by 9:25 am but it was totally dark by 4:45 pm.

We are on the positive side regarding weather now. Even though the wind is blowing, like yesterday with gusts to 70 mph, and the snow flurries are getting more frequent, the days are increasing in length.  The ice skating rink is open daily and some of the ponds have frozen. Some have tried skiing in the mountains but there isn't much snow for a base yet.  Carlos has managed a few x-rays from those unfortunate souls.

When you add cold and windy weather conditions to limited sunshine, people tend to get a little tense at times.  For this reason, you will see many of the airline seats filled as many Alaskans head for Mexico and Hawaii, or anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, with increasing frequency.  You'll find us in south Texas during January.

If you would like to see an sample of our daylight hours, you can view photos at:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cooler weather

I left a glass of ice water in the van this morning. I was in a hurry to get out of the house...we were running a little late and I had to take Carlos to work before going to school.  Anyway, I got to drink some of the water and left the rest in the van when I entered the school.  This afternoon at 3 pm I got to go home.  I finished my "Ice water" then.  Yes, it still had ice cubes floating in the water. Guess it was a little cooler in the van than in the school.  Actually, everyone thought it was fairly warm yesterday and today. The temps were up near 40 both days.  Guess you just have to be here to appreciate it.

Boat Sinking and Bear Mauling

Things have been sadly exciting here  in Kodiak in the last week.

1) You might have heard of the sinking of the Katmai below the Aleutian Islands on Oct 22. It wasn’t here but the locals really keep an ear out because it could happen to them. It wasn’t a tiny boat: it was a 93 foot fish processor. Its home port is right here in Kodiak, but it is owned by a Washington company and none of the crew was from here.  Four were picked up by the Coast Guard from their float; 5 bodies were recovered (their raft had overturned) and 2 have not been found. Turns out that the SOS was not heard, but it was found to be recorded during the later investigation.  They got word of the sinking by a satellite email the ship sent out and it was picked up by another ship about 1 ½ hours later.

All that happened in the weather whose day-after  pictures we put on the blog this weekend, talking about our first real storm of Fall.

2) The other going-on here has to do with a bear mauling: it teaches us a lot about what not to do. It was in the paper, so I am not telling you anything I should not.

So these 2 guys are out deer hunting out on Larsen Bay (not  the Anton Larsen Bay which you have seen on our kayaking pictures;  its a bay further away). One guy from Montana leaves to scout things out by himself, sees a deer and shoots it. He puts down his gun, is packing up the deer to bring back to camp. A bear sow and her 2 cubs show up, attack him and he goes unconscious. When he comes to, he sees the sow and cubs eating his deer. So he gets up and starts screaming at the bears to leave his deer alone. They do; they attack him again. This time he says he feels the mother bite him in the neck. From what I saw, I can imagine him being swung around by his neck…like the tigers shake their prey till they kill it on the Discovery or nature channel. But bears are not so mean: after a little shaking (and a good size scalping) they leave him alone. There is a happy ending: his buddy finds him, is able to carry him off to a cabin, and uses a VHF radio to send a message heard by a passing float plane. The message is passed on and the Coast Guard helicopter comes to the rescue again!

So what should we learn? 

a.  If a bear wants your deer, let him or her have it. If the bear is nice enough to leave you alone, don’t try to shout him/her away from the food.

b.  If you go hunting with a rifle, take at least one hand gun (a 44 Magnum) and keep it on your body at all times: you might have killed a deer with that rifle, but the moment you lay it down to handle the  deer you are unarmed.

c.  When in the woods, don’t shoot off a gun for the fun of it. Bears have learned to equate a gunshot with the sound of a dinner bell. 

d.  If you plan on using pepper spray: wait till the bear is closer than 30 feet and be sure the wind is not blowing back into your face before you press the lever. And whatever you do, don’t spray pepper spray on your tent trying to keep the bear away from your camp. They actually love the smell and taste of dilute pepper.

Now that you are Bear Aware, happy hunting.

PS: be sure to stock up on guns and ammunitions before the liberals take away or rights to protect ourselves!!!





Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winter comes to Kodiak

It is the last week of October and the temperatures have started to drop into the 30's on a regular basis. We had our first snowfall of about 1 inch this past week. Fortunately, the temperatures increased enough to melt most of it within a day or two.  Last nights cold front brought winds of at least 50 mph but only snow flurries. The seas were "angry".  We went out to Spruce Cape where the winds made it difficult to walk.  We kept Raton, our 10# dog, on a leash to avoid having her washed out to sea.

At times we actually see surfers in the waters around Kodiak.  The water temperature was a warm 44 degrees today but we expect it to decrease to 32-34 by the end of the year.  The waves were up to 15 feet high about 1/2 mile from the shore. The were still about 6 feet high when they crashed at the beach. It was a spectacular show of nature.  Unfortunately, it means that Carlos had to store the kayaks for the winter. 

I have learned in the past week how to operate of wood stove. With the costs of heating oil rising along with gasoline prices, we decided to purchase 5 cords of wood.  This wouldn't be enough if we were here all winter, but should cover the 3-4 months we will need it.  It manages to keep the house a comfortable 58-60 degrees during the day.  

Snow now covers the mountains surrounding Kodiak. There is not enough for skiing yet, but it shouldn't be long.  Their elevations are only 1500-2500 feet around the city.  We are still seeing small streams with runoff along side the roads.  Pretty soon that will all freeze and we'll have some spectacular icicles covering the hillsides.  

Carlos is waiting for the first ice storm.  He knows when winter truly arrives that there will be plenty of broken bones from falls on the ice.  We have to put ice cleats on our shoes when we go outside. The temperatures stay so close to freezing that walkways and streets might have a layer of ice covering them at any time.  The snow melts quickly, but usually the following day there is a sheet of ice to we have to deal with.  We had to change the tires this week to studded tires for driving on ice.  We will keep them on the car until about mid-April.  Crazy people like Carlos will put studded tires even on their bicycles.

The last of the salmon are finally coming upstream.  And in the bays fishermen are now allowed to "snag" the fish instead of only catching them in the mouth since their end will be the same anyway.  Carlos is hoping to catch his first fish this way.

Come January it will be time to go ice fishing on the lakes.  What is now our municipal float plane airport will become a completely frozen lake.  There will be an ice skating rink set up in the city park for the public.  It is still possible to hike in the parks during the winter but you have to have your ice cleats for stability. 

The bears are starting to go into hibernation now but the ones out and about are still hungry.  They are, also, not as respectful of people as they were before.  Now is the time to carry your 44 magnum at your side.  Here it is legal to carry your weapons in plain sight.  It is not unusual to meet a hiker with one and occasionally you see someone wearing one into a store.  
We'll be traveling to the south a couple of times in the next few months.  That way the short days and cold temperatures don't get us down.

For some photos of our coming winter in Kodiak, go to: 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Living with bears in Kodiak

Most everyone has heard of the Kodiak Bear. It lives only in the Kodiak
Archipelago and is the largest of the brown bear.  They arrived originally
from Russia during the last ice age.  When the ice connecting us to the
mainland receded, the bears became stranded.  They have continued to
develop to the point they are considered a separate subspecies
from the grizzly bear.

These bears can weigh between 1500-2000 pounds as an adult male. A
bear that stands 5 feet tall when measured at shoulders can be 10-13 feet
tall on his hind legs.In fact,  8 of the 10 largest bears ever killed have
been in Kodiak.  Needless to say, these bears can be intimidating to mere
humans.  And as the natives, we tend to show respect towards them, if 
only to give him or her the right of way.

The island of Kodiak has around 3000 of these bears, most living in the 
uninhabited 97% of the island. They feast on salmon during the spawning
season and eat berries during the summer months. They are usually very
full and ready to hibernate as winter arrives.  Most people who live here
have stated they have never seen a bear up close.

Unfortunately for those bears that live in the woods around the town (yes,
we have city bear residents), they have a more difficult time building their
body fat. Berries are limited as we tend to enjoy them as jellies and
fishermen are frequently in their hunting grounds as well.  Carlos has
displayed a avid interest in the bears lately, or maybe they just keep
finding him.

After establishing residency of one year, Carlos was able to purchase his
fishing license. Of course he also needed a rod, reel, lures, knife, and 
waders. After the expenditure reach $300 he realized that the first fish
he caught would be very valuable. As of this date, the only fish we have
eaten was given to us.

His first expedition was with another doctor. When they arrived at the 
river and were ready to cast they noticed the bear behind nearby bushes. 
As they waited he wandered out into the river (where they had been 
fishing) and proceeded to catch his dinner.  Carlos and his friend left 
empty handed.

The next week Carlos had a couple of days off work and went to the 
river around 8 am.  He found a 400 pounder by the picnic table so left
for a while.  When he returned another fisherman reported that the bear
sat by the dumpster for a while but then left.  Feeling he would now be
uninterrupted, Carlos stepped out on the wooden deck.  There was a
terrible commotion underneath and out comes the bear.  He was less
than 10 feet away!  He looked straight at and then ran across the river
to the other side.  

Bear appearances, unfortunately, have not been limited this year to the 
rivers.  Just this past week one of the elementary schools had to cancel
outdoor recess due to roaming bear visitors. He also showed up in the
hospital parking lot twice in one day.
You can log on to our gallery of photos and see some of the pictures
we've managed to take.  One of them is of the bear that made Carlos
leave his fishing site.  Another is the sign posted in the school parking 
lot.  Some photos are of the black bears we observed on the mainland
during our summer vacation.  To view this site copy and paste:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Changing seasons in Alaska

Seasons in Alaska are different than in the lower 48.  Whereas, in 
Texas, we used to dread the coming of summer with its record-
breaking temperatures and high humidity, we now welcome the
season.  And even though different durations, we still have all 4 

This summer (that time from June to August) we visited the 
mainland, or main area of Alaska.  We actually were there during 
August. Temperatures ranged from the 40's to upper 70's.  When
we reached Fairbanks we were amazed at the number of flowers.
They were at businesses as well as homes and were all colors and
types. Each small town seemed to have a farmer's market as well. 
It seems that their growing season is from June to August only. 
But with daylight lasting from 19-23 hours,the plants grow at
tremendous rates. This accounts for the extremely large veget-
ables we saw at the markets.

Now, not all 3 months are considered summer to these 
folks.  Basically, June is designatedas spring with the
temperatures staying above freezing, and August is
autumn since the temperatures are beginning to drop
and the leaves are starting to change color.  So, that
leaves July for summer. The temperatures are comfort-
able, the plants are growing, and everyone is outside.

Kodiak does not have the extreme temperatures that 
are evident in Fairbanks.  As a result our seasons are
more typical. We have to start mowing the lawn in May 
and just finished the end of September.  Temperatures 
are comfortable during these months. It might occasionally
freeze at night but the days warm up to a comfortable
upper 60's or low 70's. We are able to wear our short 
sleeves and shorts and spend quality time outdoors.

Now that October is here, we are seeing the leaves change.
This lasts for a few weeks before they all fall off.  Autumn
is short and with the changing weather comes the time we 
have to consider putting studded tires back on the cars. 
There is some snow on the mountains in the distance.  We
probably won't have any snow until November and even 
then it will not amount to much.  

Winter is an entirely different topic, so I'll write later about
the problems when days are short and people get tired of 
being cooped up.

If you would like to see some photos of our changing scenery,
go to:

or photos of the Fairbanks flowers during the summer:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Progress in Kodiak

In any town there is always some excitement when a new business 
opens or there is a change in the way the city operates. That is especially
evident in the town of Kodiak. Although we boast a population of almost 
10,000, if you count the outlying areas, we are quite supportive of new
businsses. This was particulaly obvious when we had a new eating
establishment open. The turnout on opening day was phenomenal! Even
the owner commented that other openings had not had near this 
enthusiasm. With the grand opening there were cars filling the parking lot
and people in line to order. Yes, Taco Bell had come to Kodiak and
people were excited. In fact, the demand was so great that the wait in
line was up to 2 hours. And someone else reported that they waited 3
hours in the drive-thru lane. The last time I drove past, on Friday evening,
most booths were full inside and there were 7 cars waiting in the drive-
through lane. Where in the lower 48 can you see this much support for
the local economy? Maybe it was the combination with Kentucky Fried 
Chicken that brought the people. We really don't know, but everyone 
agrees thatwe are seeing progress in the town.
This opening does not come close to one a few years earlier. This 
store brought so much community support that their grand opening at 
midnight found cars filling the parking area, people standing in long 
lines at the door, and cars lining the street for over one mile with 
people anxious to see what the store had to offer Kodiak. This support
was for our own mini-Walmart. It's not nearly as large as most, but 
can you imagine if we ever got a Super Walmart what would happen?
New eating establishments aren't the only progress here.  The city
just completed some road rennoavations. This prior intersection had a
flashing red and yellow light. With the completions we now have
our first traffic signal that changes from red to green. Wow! We also 
have a police car nearby to remind citizens that the lights is different 
from the prior one. Now, we have to remember that a few years ago the
city tried to make this change. There were 4 car accidents in one
morning. By the afternoon they were back to the blinking light. We will
have to wait and see what happens this time. The only other intersection
that comes close is the 3-way stop sign near one of the elementary
schools (we have 4).
As the city continues to plan for the future we hope to see more
progress occurring. But as things go now, we wil just have to wait and 
see. If you would like to see a few recent photos of our city, here is a 
gallery of photos:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Catalog Ordering

I realize that some of the things that happen in Kodiak are due to the fact that we are a small town. Recently, however, living on an island in the state of Alaska has created new difficulties. Yes, shopping is limited. We have a Walmart and a local sporting goods store, Mack's. There are other smaller stores, but these are most frequented. They even have sales every so often. We were notified the other day that Mack's had a 20% coupon and Carlos and I couldn't decided what we needed the most. Was it new waterproof pants or long underwear for winter? We are still undecided, but we have through the weekend.

Other times, the items we want are not available. You have to go online or catalog shop for these things. Now, normally, if you live in the Lower 48 (this is Alaska language), you can get overnight shipping if you are in a hurry. Even 2-3 days shipping is easily attained and frequently even free. Such is not the case here.

I recently found an item in a major department store online catalog. It was exactly what I needed and it stated that shipping was free in the United States.  Well, I really thought that the Alaska Territories became a part of the United States in 1959. Maybe I was mistaken, but shipping was not free to Alaska. In fact, I have since found that many stores will not even ship to Kodiak. This does create somewhat of a problem at times.

What is a little more interesting is the UPS situation in Kodiak.  We recently had an item recalled by the company. They explained that a pre-paid UPS sticker would be send to us and we only needed to have the UPS pick up the item. We know that the UPS truck travels the island. We've received packages. But when you try to schedule a pick-up, the automated telephone person states that there is no such delivery area. This was a problem.

We started asking others in the neighborhood if they had ever encountered this problem. Needless to say, they had. And their need to watch for the driver when he is making deliveries and flag him down! I think we've taken a step backwards in this area.

Yes, we finally got a package picked up, but it was only because there were regular deliveries at the hospital and Carlos was able to slip our package with theirs.

From now on, let's hope most deliveries are via FedEx. They have an office.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Attack of the Killer Orcas

Most people don't realize that Orcas (Shamu to many) are really part of the dolphin family. And to think that I used to like dolphins! Recently, Orcas in the Kodiak area have been attacking the baby Humpback whales that have been migrating. Watching the migrating whales is an activity enjoyed by many of the residents, as well as visitors to the island. There are numerous places along the coastline for viewing.

Anyway, with regard to the Orcas, they are not whales due to the presence of teeth. And with these teeth, the Orcas have starting attacking the lower jaws of the infant whales. As a result, we have a small Humpback whale that died and was beached along the state park coastline.

Luckily, most of the pod have been able to continue that migration and have been seen at different areas along our coastline.

BTW, if I get information wrong, please be gentle when you send me corrections. Thanks.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Description of the Island

The island itself, is one of lush landscapes with mountains covering much of the terrain. We have over 70 inches of rain on average each year, leaving us with a rain forest environment. There are numerous hiking paths and trails that give the average person an insight to the beauty the island displays. 

We live only a quarter miles from Abercrombie State Park. This hilly and lush area is home to a variety of ever-changing plant life and the remants of a World War II fort. It is accessible year round and many people hike, job or walk their dogs in the park daily.

With mountains surrounding the town, there are frequent hikes up to the peaks. These range from fairly easy to those that require extremely good fitness levels. I speak from experience. Although I managed one such hike last year, I realize that with age, and a lack of personal fitness, I will have to limit my hikes to those of a more sedate pace.

Of course,with the idea of this being an island, there is plentiful water in which to participate in boating activities. Many people enjoy fishing and although Carlos and I love to eat fish, we haven't really participated in this leisure activity yet. Really, we decided to wait until we've had our driver's licenses for one year since that makes us official residents of the state. So, come September, watch out fish!

Even though we don't fish, Carlos has decided that we should enjoy the water via kayak. Having lived along the Gulf of Mexico most of our lives, we have been used to water temperatures in the 70-80 degree range. This is not the case here. We have recently reached the high temps for the summer. We attained the high temps of 51 degrees. Needless to say, you don't usually plan on spending in the water, only above.

I'll let you learn about wildlife on future posts. There is certainly an abundant amount of various types.

Moving to Kodiak

This is the first of, hopefully, many posts about our life on Kodiak Island. We live southeast of the Aleutian Islands and west of the mainland of Alaska. Since we are an island, all transportation must be by boat or plane. With our continually changing weather, this can be difficult at times. Flights are frequently cancelled due to winds or fog. Ferry rides to the mainland are especially turbulent in the winter months due to high waves. 

Just remember as you read the posts, this is a small town of about 6000 people. There is a large US Coast Guard base just outside the city and they have a population of another 4000. As a result we have been able to support the neighborhood Walmart store and Safeway grocery.

I’ll try to keep you up to date on the sometimes humorous aspects of small town life as well as living in the Alaska bush. Oh, and don’t forget the Kodiak bears. I have much to say about them.

Check back frequently.