Monday, July 26, 2010

Credits and Out-takes

The family referred to in this blog flew uneventfully from Unalaska to Cheney, Wa., on Sunday, July 25. All of their luggage accompanied them, and they were met promptly at the airport by a good friend who delivered them safely home.

This blog has been authored and produced by Jan Abrams

Photography by George Abrams and Jan Abrams

Blog format courtesy of Google, "Simple" by Josh Peterson

This material is not guaranteed to be factually correct, although an attempt has been made to be accurate. All errors are the sole responsibility of the author.

No mammals were harmed in the making of this blog.

All rights reserved, July 26, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010


If you are reading this, it is because we actually got on the airplane and left lovely Unalaska today. Who knows where we'll be tonight--Anchorage? Seattle? or home tucked in our own bed!

What adventures will we have getting there? And what adventures will our luggage have that we never know about?!

This blog is almost done, but we will update you as to our final arrival home and our reactions to the huge weather change and the culture shift.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Local Arts and Crafts

One of the favorite activities to raise a little money in this community is to have an arts and crafts fair. These are usually planned for the days (Saturday every two weeks) when the ferry is in town or when a cruise boat is scheduled. This is with hopes that the Activities Director will include the fair on the one-day, whirl-wind tour of Unalaska and Dutch Harbour.

Since the native population is small (only 7%), and many of their arts and crafts have been lost, there is, unfortunately, little indigenous work. Most of what is sold is jewelry, hats and gloves, paintings, soaps, quilting and baked goods. (A bake sale always is held in conjunction with such an event, and today's sale had a Bar-B-Q in addition.)

The community shows up, and it is a fun event for all. There are usually four or five in the summer, and George has been to three, and I've been here for two of them this year.

Now that summer weather has finally arrived bringing temperatures in the mid to upper 60s, the wild flowers are fading away. Some few later-blooming species are making a big show now, like the wild iris, but the wild proliferation is notably absent. When the seasons are so short, change occurs more rapidly and is more readily noticed.

We're wondering how the birds, flowers, and weather in Iceland will compare with what we've come from here. Only problem will be that week or two of 85-95 degrees between the two trips!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Creatures of the Sea

Now that George is walking Marley in a new direction, it gives him access to the sandy part of the beach, rather than just the rocky part we had been traveling by. When it is low tide, there are interesting and wonderful creatures to observe.

I think we need a book on identifying the numerous kinds of jelly fish that we find. Some are really amazing--and big. Most are dinner plate size or bigger.

The sea urchins are also a bit larger than "normal" size--about 4".

There are also a lot of starfish in the bay. Maybe that is the identification book we need, rather than jelly fish! They are certainly lovely to find in the sand.

There are a variety of shells, most pretty typical of the west coast--clams, etc. But on occasion there is something unusual, like this whole sand dollar that George found. I haven't even seen any broken pieces, which are much more common, so this was a lucky find.

If Sandee and Marley can see each other, then they constantly strain at the leash to get together. That doesn't work well with the leashes. If they walk alone, at least Sandee is easier to manage. So, Sandee and I walk in our old direction if it is before or after rock hauling hours.

The dog makes the truckers nervous, even though he stands still on the shoulder and is obviously on a leash. Besides--they are noisy and dusty, so it isn't much fun to walk when they're working. They come by going either to or from the landfill area at the rate of about 25-30 per hour!

We're exploring other places to walk, now, but I will be very happy when our dog-tending days are over.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

That Bad Dog

Thought I'd written the last dog blog. That was until tonight. The story:

George went fishing today, and got home late and exhausted. Fell asleep in his chair and we didn't start eating until after 7:30. They got Dungeness Crab, halibut and pink salmon today, so we had fresh cracked crab for supper. Of course that takes some time to eat. By the time we were done, it didn't look feasible for me to clean the kitchen, walk the dog, write the blog, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour, so George offered to walk the dogs sequentially.

They had other ideas in mind, however. George went to the back yard and put Marley on his leash to take him first, and leave Sandee for second. However, when George opened the gate a crack for Marley to get out, both dogs stormed the gate, knocking George into the gate post, and lunging for freedom. Since Sandee had no leash, he was quickly gone--vanished, who knows which way in the tall grass.

Marley, on the leash, was brought to a halt, and George looped the handle of the leash over the gate post, closed the gate (with Marley outside the yard), and went to get me to help find Sandee. Leaving the leash over the gate post works fine for Sandee--but Marley thought this would be a good time to jump over the fence! He did so, and amazingly the leash didn't come off the post. His paw came up under the latch, releasing the gate, which swung open just as he reached the top of it! When he landed, part of the leash, still looped around the post, wrapped around his hind quarters, effectively immobilizing him. And there he stood, inside the yard with the gate open, but unable to escape!

About that time, Sandee remembered that after a walk he gets a meal, and by golly it was supper time. So he returned to the yard, walked inside, and up on the porch to see when dinner would be served! He was gone less than 5 minutes. George saw what had happened, retrieved Marley, shut the gate and let Sandee inside for supper. No walk for Sandee tonight. Runaways don't get extra positive attention.

After tying Marley back up in the back yard, George had to go and retrieve me! I hadn't seen all this unfold, and was still wandering toward the church, leash in hand, looking through the long grass for a flash of brown.

George and Marley are now on their walk (actually, Marley is dragging George around the block), and I'm at the church writing this blog. It's 10:45 at night--so much for getting to bed at a reasonable hour!

Just when you think you have it figured out . . . !

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This is Strictly for the Birds

Unalaska Island is very famous for its wildflowers, as you already know. It is also an extremely popular site for bird watchers. Many birds here are specially adapted to the harsh weather and are not seen south of here.

Others are migratory, but may look and behave much differently here in their breeding grounds than in the lower 48. Their plumage may be different, their songs may change for courtship, and they may even change habitat. (My favorite example is the sandpipers that nest in Alaska's mountains, far from seashores and marshes--who'd have thought!) Some come in from Asia and return there, so are seen here as migratory, but not ever seen in the lower 48.

Of course in Unalaska, one always thinks of and is aware of eagles--whether one wants to be or not! Bald eagles spend the first three years of their lives as adolescents which camouflage colors. Some look pretty scruffy, but some are really handsome.

Currently there is an Ornithologist from Germany visiting here specifically to study the eagles. He has been coming every year for 10 years, he said, and he uses the church parking lot to make his observations and take pictures, since it is right on the edge of Iliuliuk Lake, and beyond the very small lake are peaks perfect for eagles to perch on.

My favorite bird to listen to is the horned lark. It's melodic sound is even louder than a meadow lark, and much more musically varied. It is a smaller bird, and primarily perches in willow shrubs and such, but is a great musician! (Remember, you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.)

George's favorite bird is the oyster catcher. It is stunning, and he often sees it on the shore rocks between the house and the landfill.

There are many, many species of ducks, and it is fun to see some of the ones we don't normally see at home. Identifying them, however, is an entirely different story! While we were left a bird reference book by the pastor, we aren't very proficient at using it.

When George was out fishing, he was fortunate enough to see a whole bunch of Puffins. They are very difficult to photograph from a bouncing fishing boat. We are hoping to see more of them when we journey to Iceland later this summer with our grandson.

We have many more pictures of birds in our cameras, but taking pictures of birds is much different than taking pictures of flowers! Flowers stand still, except for the wind, which is pretty constant. It is still less disruptive than the dramatic fluttering and flying of birds. Perhaps I should concentrate on taking pictures of rocks! They'd stand still for me at least.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fooled you!

Today at 1 PM the plane was supposed to fly--I had a 1 1/2 hour connection to make in Anchorage, and 1 hour in Seattle. Weather looked great--no clouds on Ballyhoo, which the airport abuts. (The picture above shows that the short runway is very unforgiving of those who take too long to either land or take off! Both ends of the runway look like this.)

Got packed, went to check in, and they said, "Well, you'll have to wait a bit. We decided to make two stops between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, so the plane won't arrive until about 2:30, and will probably leave about 3:00." So much for being able to make the connection in Anchorage.

This is the earliest plane out of the airport every day--nothing leaves earlier. The plane from Seattle to Spokane is the last flight of the day. Everything has to work! But remember, this is "When Air!" The next flight with empty seats without an overnight layover in Anchorage would be Saturday! George flies home Sunday, and they had space on his flights, so we decided we'd just fly home together on Sunday, July 25. That way if we get stranded, we'll at least have each other for company! Daughter Kris in Tacoma is standing by to rescue us at SeaTac if we get that far but miss the Spokane connection.

See--traveling in the Aleutians is an adventure in and of itself! We listen to fishing and cannery people saying that it costs them $1000 for every day that their bags are late and they can't work. Today we heard a man say his suitcase contained $6000 worth of sensitive meters, gauges, and technical equipment, and if his suitcase didn't leave with him on the plane, he wouldn't go either! (His suitcase was huge--not a carry on by any means.) The outside world doesn't understand the system here, and travelers look astounded when told at the desk that luggage arriving within 24 hours of the passenger is considered "on time!" (It's been 48 hours and the German tourists that we met are still waiting for their luggage.)

So you'll get a few more days of blog than you originally thought, and I'll get a few more days of this marvelous adventure!

Monday, July 19, 2010


Tomorrow I fly out, presuming PenAir (short for Peninsula Airlines, but locally called "When Air" because of it's erratic arrivals and departures) flies when it's supposed to. Today I thought I'd give you some brief observations and impressions which I have gathered about this place.

+ The tundra is absolutely wonderful at this time of year. It is thick with wild flowers, blooming heather and berry plants, and soft as a bed. George and I sat on a tundra knoll and fell over backwards, it was so soft. And it is beautiful. From a distance the peaks look emerald green, and up close they are a riot of wildflowers.

+ When the weather is nice here, you can't imagine why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else. (In that respect, it reminds us of the Puget Sound--only Unalaska has even fewer nice days!) Yesterday was super nice--68, 7 mph breeze, clear blue skies and sunshine. A day not to be forgotten.

+ There is only one paved road in Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. It runs from the airport in Dutch, across the "Bridge to the Other Side," through Unalaska and out to "the valley," which housed World War II Army Troops. All other roads are gravel.

+ The last several days it seems like our house is on the edge of a construction zone. They are hauling dump truck loads of rock out to the landfill--probably land to use for the fill, but it is certainly noisy!

+ Unmowed lawns here have at least two distinct summer seasons. When I came, they were absolutely full of dandelions. I didn't think too much about it. But the dandelions went to seed, and no more grew! Strange. Instead they have been replaced by equally riotous yellow tall buttercups!

+ Can't figure out why Marley likes the table on the sun porch so much. Sandee never climbs on a chair, much less the table, but Marley acts as if the sun porch was his own personal gym!

The hospitality of the people here has been wonderful. We've eaten in people's homes and watched Blu Ray movies with them, been given food--seafood and unique jelly, had help with exercising the dogs, and made to feel most welcome. It is hard to leave this place, which will always remain in memory.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sandee Escapes!

First an update on the earthquake yesterday, which everyone was talking about today because, "It was a pretty big one for around here." It measured 6.28 and was located 6 miles deep about 17 miles SE of Mt. Cleveland. Mt. Cleveland is located on the second island to the west of here, and is considered an active volcano. People were amazed at how long it lasted, the strength of the quake, and the fact that it was absolutely noise-free. No Tsunami warning (which I'd forgotten to even consider in our ocean front house!) By tomorrow nobody will be talking about it.

Marley has been getting most of the press in this blog, but Sandee can also provide humor and excitement, so I'll give you a bit of information about him. He has some interesting habits, such as preferring to lay down when he eats.

He also does a wonderful trick. When he wants to come in, which is always, and he thinks someone might actually open the door, he jumps straight up in the air--all four paws--to a level of about 24 inches off the floor! Puts him looking almost eye level with me--and he always has a happy, hopeful expression on his face.

However, he is a master of opportunistic escape. He has seized the moment, when the gate is opened just a bit too wide, to dash out of the yard. The most recent example, however, was pretty funny.

We have a lawn mower (the two-legged 12-year-old male variety named Harley) who pushes a lawnmower (the noisy gas-driven kind) to cut the parsonage lawn. Harley came to cut the grass, and when he does the back yard we have to either take the dogs for a walk or lock them on the sun porch. This day Harley said he would only do the front, and would come back next week to do the back. So we left the house and went to the store.

Harley changed his mind and decided to mow the back yard. He calculated that he could ease the lawn mower through the gate by standing close to it, and the dogs would just get out of his way when he mowed.

Unfortunately, Sandee saw this as his big chance. Just as Harley and the lawnmower were coming though the gate, Sandee rushed the gate, scaled the lawnmower and knocked the lawn mower (Harley) flat! (Harley has not yet started to put on his teenage growth spurt, so he is not a very intimidating figure--shorter than I am by quite a bit.) Then Sandee was off to freedom.

He ran over by the church, a distance of about 3 blocks as the crow flies, or the dog runs. Harley pursued him, and when we returned from the store, we found Harley grasping Sandee by the collar and struggling with him about 2 blocks from home. It was unclear whether Sandee was leading Harley around, or whether Harley was leading Sandee home. George helped get Sandee home an in the back yard.

But the dog trials and tribulations were not over yet. The next morning, George walked the dogs as usual, and Marley did his usual stopping of and chasing after cars. The animal control people along during the walk came and said they'd gotten so many complaints, that Marley would have to be on a leash now if he was going to be walked on the road. Busted!!

So after some consideration, we are now walking both dogs on leashes. George seems to be able to manage Marley if he does not also have Sandee to contend with, and I can (barely) manage Sandee. We have to keep them way apart so they don't get the leashes tangled up--we looked like the keystone cops until we figured that one out! After I leave, George will walk the dogs sequentially. Since they're on leashes, we're also able to use a new walking route that has less traffic, which is somewhat helpful.

How could such appealing animals be so much trouble!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mount Ballyhoo

The small island (Amaknak) where Dutch Harbor is located can be divided into three sections. The southern quarter is a series of peaks with little to no population. The middle 15% is the commercial center of Dutch Harbor, and the rema . . . EARTHQUAKE!!

As I was sitting here typing about 10:00 pm, an earthquake just came rolling through Unalaska. No idea how strong it was, but definite rolling motion that lasted about a minute. I'll try to update you about this as soon as possible, but may not have any facts until tomorrow. Wow! Talk about an Aleutian Adventure!!!

Now, as I was saying--the remaining 60% is Mount Ballyhoo, pictured above. (This is the mountain that we see to our left as we look out on Iliuliuk Bay.) The mountain was allegedly named by author Jack London who was in Dutch Harbor on his way to the gold fields in Nome in the late 1800s. No one has been able to prove this, but it is accepted as a "common fact" by the population here. This mountain is interesting for several reasons.

First, there is a one-mile long natural spit which juts out into the Bay at the base of Ballyhoo, about in the middle of the mountain. The area confined by the spit and mountain are what was originally known as Dutch Harbor, and it is the scene of the Port of Dutch Harbor today. There are docks, a salvage company, container ship facilities, etc.

Second, this was one of the most heavily fortified of the areas around Dutch Harbor in World War II. It is one of the areas where WWII building debris is everywhere, particularly on the northern most end which guards the harbor.

And finally, it is the scene of the annual Ballyhoo run! This is no traditional road race. It is more in the spirit of the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska, on the Fourth of July up a mountain over 3000 feet tall. The Ballyhoo run goes straight up the south end of the mountain which is 1635 feet tall. People of all ages race--kids go up only 3/4 of the way then must return; adults go clear to the top. The winner today completed the run in approximately 24 minutes! It is probably a grade of about 35%. Amazing to watch. Our favorite 6 year old was in the front row to start the race!

We have enjoyed taking part in local events and interacting with people of the community. We are recognizing a surprising number of people now, and that makes it seem a bit more like we belong.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Unangen People (Aleuts)

The Native population of the Aleutian islands dates back by archaeological finds to about 9000 years ago. Since the glaciers receded about 10,000 years ago, this certainly makes them the indigenous people here.

For many years they lived in this harsh climate taking fish, seals, and otters from the sea, and having as neighbors the Eagles and Ravens. On some islands there are bears, but not on Unalaska, and it is on the Unalaskan natives that I'd like to focus.

In the late 1700s, the Russians came to the islands and instituted a very harsh oppressions of the native people. They were forced to hunt the fur bearing seals and sea otters, and the native population dramatically decreased due to their enslavement, mistreatment, murder and disease. When the Russian Orthodox Church became involved, conditions improved somewhat, but were still very bad.

When the United States bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867, they continued to utilize the Unangan to procure furs. Although the Unangan were now technically American Citizens, in practice they remained under foreign domination.

A huge change came to the islands with World War II. First there was a huge influx of soldiers and sailors, then Dutch Harbor was bombed in June 1942. Shortly two of the other Aleutian islands were captured by the Japanese, and it became clear that the US could not provide protection for the people living on the islands. So with only 24 hours notice, 880 Unangan were told to pack one suitcase and board a ship to be taken to safety. Strange--the Caucasian spouses of the Unangan were not allowed to go with their families. Were they not also endangered??

The Unangan were not told where they were being taken, because they had been snatched up so quickly that not even the ship crew knew where they were going. Those from Unalaska ended up for the short term on Sedanka Island to live temporarily in tents. From there they were shipped to an abandoned cannery near Ketchican nearly 2000 miles from their homes in the wet rain forests.

According to one survivor, "The overcrowded conditions were an abomination. There were 28 of us forced to live in one, designated 15' x 20' house. There existed no church, no school, no medical facility, no store, no community water or sewage system, no skiffs or dories, no fishing gear and no hunting rifles." The camps were dilapidated, dangerous and unhygienic, food was scarce, and they faced disease and deprivation. The people, used to treeless wide open mountain peaks, were severely demoralized by the closely growing large trees pressing in on all sides. They could not recognize plants needed for medicine to treat illnesses in this strange place. The refugee camps claimed one our of every 10 Unangans.

When the Unalaskans were sent home in the spring of 1945--the last of the Unangan to return--they found little remained of their villages, homes or personal belongings. Homes had been looted and vandalized, ransacked or neglected; furniture stolen, plywood pried from walls to line foxholes. What was intact had often been ruined by exposure to the elements.

The Unalaskans at least were allowed to return. For the people from four of the villages there was no return home. The government would not allow it because of the small population and total absence of supporting infrastructure that had been present when they left.

While in the camps, the Unangan had been made to feel ashamed of speaking their native language and clinging to their usual ways. When they returned, they did not resume speaking their native language or practicing their traditional ways.

Today the schools are trying to help the children recover the language while there are still a few native speakers still alive. Sharon Svarny-Livingston teaches the medicinal use of plants which she has been able to learn about from the elders. (She also gave us the tour of the Russian Orthodox Church.)

Her mother, Gert Svarney, is a master carver and basket weaver who is now 80. She was 12 when she was relocated from Unalaska, and has vivid memories of leaving, and of returning to find things in such disarray. She still helps pull in the fish nets.

Sharon's Daughter, Laurissa, is learning to weave baskets. She has obtained traditional face tattoos like those pictured in early drawings from the 1800s and has her nose pierced as well, although she does not wear the long traditional nose beads. She works at the Ounalashka Corporation.

There are other families of Unangans here, and many have married "outsiders." Many have left--dispersed to Anchorage, Seattle and beyond. The struggle to maintain culture remains. The Unangan population is now only 7% of the population in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. If you see a person of color here, now they are more likely to be Philippine, the largest minority.

The Unangan families still set their nets at the end of Iliuliut Bay, and catch red salmon as seen in the hand of the nearest fisher. Some days are better fishing than others, and they share with whoever is there helping.

We often hear about the relocation of the Japanese from the west coast during World War II. We don't hear about the Native peoples of the Aleutian Islands--Aleuts (Unangans) who suffered perhaps more because they lost not only their freedom, but their culture.