Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Well I'll Be Doggone!

As some of you have noticed, I'm getting more proficient--slightly! Have added pictures to some of the previous entries and to this one. No videos yet, however it would be great to have one of George being literally drug down the ramp from the deck by Marley! Here they are--Marley, the golden, and Sandee, the chocolate. Obviously I haven't yet figured out how to take good dog pictures!

There is a method to dog walking, and George seems to have figured out what works with these two. Since they both like to run over the hills, and when together won't always come when called, we're walking the more placid, gentle and well behaved Sandee on a leash. He behaves quite nicely, and Marley will always come back after a sojourn into the hinterland to be with Sandee. Marley is simply to strong and hyperactive for a leash, but this system seems good.

When Sandee sees or hears a car coming down the gravel road we walk on, he stops and watches it go by. When Marley sees/hears a car, his reaction depends on the speed of the car. If it is going really fast, he ignores it. If it is going really slowly, he tends to pay no attention. But if it is going "Marley speed," about 25-30 mph, he enjoys running behind or beside the car to pace his exercise, like any good runner. He doesn't "chase" the car, and there is no barking--he just keeps up the pace for 3 or 4 blocks worth of good sprint running.
Picture this. Two cars are going down the road in the same direction that the dogs are walking. Of course Marley is way behind, having made a big detour into the bush. Sandy hears the cars and turns to see them go by. He is looking at the first car and not paying attention to the second one yet. Marley has decided that the second one is a good "pace" car, and is running along, flat out beside the car looking up at the driver's door. He isn't paying any attention to anything but his great run.

Unfortunately, Sandee is standing directly in Marley's path. Without any warning, Marley plows into Sanddee and bowls him over. He doesn't miss a stride, however, and continues on down the road for a few more blocks. Sandee picks himself up in wonderment, looks kind of insulted, and appears puzzled about what had hit him. George just stood there and howled with laughed after determining that Sandee was OK.

Never a dull day with these dogs!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Illusion of Time

It seems like the days are really, really long here. We find ourselves eating dinner at 9:30 PM instead of our usual 6:00 PM. Of course the sun doesn't set until about 11:45 PM, so we still are going to bed after 11: 00 PM while it is light.

Because we're getting to bed so "late," we're getting up later--like about 8:00 AM or so, and of course it is light then, too. So it seems like the days are endlessly long and light. (Notice I said "light," not "bright." There is a saying here that the sun is always out, but not always shining. Clouds, clouds, clouds!) So I decided to check out this perception.

Guess what--the days in Unalaska are actually only one hour longer than in Cheney!! The problem is in when the hours of light occur. In Cheney, the 16 hour day currently runs from about 4:50 AM to 8:50 PM, so we get up when it's light, but the sunset reminds us to go to bed. In Unalaska, the 17 hour day doesn't start until about 6:40 AM, and it ends at 11:40 PM, so we miss our normal sunlight cues.

Because this is the "Land of the Midnight Sun," in Alaska there are many "Summer Solstice" events held throughout the state. In Unalaska, there is a "Summer Solstice Run," which is a two mile event. On Monday, June 21, it was raining so hard that they postponed the event--that must have been some rain! So, the run was held yesterday, June 28, and George took part so he could get the tee shirt. It was cold and windy, but 46 took part, and a couple of late-teenaged boys ran in their white shirts and ties and running shorts. The top time was 10:18--almost a five minute mile! The race was held at 7 PM, so of course by the time we got home, walked the dogs, and ate--well, it was another late night!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weather--or not

The weather in Unalaska is extremely varied. You can count on what you see, but it may change within an hour or two. Winds shift, cloud ceiling raises and lowers, rains and/mists come and go.

For example, Friday was very overcast, and often you could not see the tops of the mountains which run from 1500 to 5900 feet. (It is very obvious that this is a volcanic island--the hillsides descend directly from the mountain tops and plunge into the sea--very few beaches.) But Saturday dawned with a clear blue sky, only gentle winds, and stayed that way all day--eventually reaching a high of 58, so the locals all barbecued!

Since the visibility was so good, we did some driving around the island on what few roads there are. Took the Ford Explorer over some extremely rocky rutted roads, but saw spectacular views, lovely early wild flowers, and evidence of both volcanos and glaciers which ground down some of the heights. The vehicle is not in the best shape. It is missing the driver rear view mirror and gas flap, the passenger seat belt sticks and is very difficult to get out of, and the driver's door does not open and close. This necessitates crawling over the consul to get in and out. But worst of all, the seat belt warning bell rings constantly regardless of seat belt usage. If you come to visit us :-) we can show you around, but we'll have to use that ding-y vehicle!

After that glorious day, Sunday dawned with thick fog and a ceiling of about 50 feet. Stayed that way all morning, but 20 people came to church, so that was good. In the afternoon, George went halibut fishing with one of the parishoners. The weather cleared, the sun returned, and the sea was totally smooth. They caught 4 halibut (one was 30 lbs.) and one large cod. We had really fresh fish for dinner--and we'll be eating a lot more while we're here.

For those wondering, my suitcase arrived exactly 24 hours after I did. We had to retreive it quickly, as the baggage area closed 10 minutes after they called to tell us the bag had come! Also, the church computer is back up now--hooray!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Eagle has Landed!

Sorry for the skip in this blog. I left Spokane Thursday, and after 13 1/2 hours reached Dutch Harbor. (That includes a 5-hour layover in Anchorage.) Upon arrival I learned that the internet connections in both the church and the parsonage were out of order. We've spent two days unsuccessfully trying to get them back running, but today I found the library, so we're at least re-connected with the outside world. While I'm blogging, George is out fishing with a member of the congregation who last night left three live Dungeness crabs on our doorstep. Today, I think they are fishing for halibut.

First impressions: There are eagles EVERYWHERE! They perch on the light standards (sometimes two to a post), the big TV dishes, roof tops, fences around the graves in the Russian Orthodox Cemetery, and any other spot they can find. Since there are no trees here, they make their nests on the ground on the steep hillsides, and you can see them everywhere. They fly overhead, and at this time of year there are a lot of adolescent birds. They are particularly ugly, with scruffy brownish feathers and no white head. They look like turkeys perched on the light posts--not at all the attractive regal bird that we usually think about when imagining Bald Eagles.

The locals say that the eagles have over-bred because of the fishing industry here. There is not nearly enough salmon to support a population this size, but they feed on fishery wastes, and continue to over-populate. It is amazing to go to sleep and wake up in the morning to the sounds of the waves on the bay shore (which is just across the road from our bedroom window) and the eagles talking to each other. They have a high pitches almost laughing king of sound that sounds like Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee, wheet, wheet, wheet. There are variations, of course, but this is the most common cry at the parsonage. Maybe it means, "Look out for the two big dogs in the back yard!" (The picture was taken from the parsonage window!)

My plan remains to write daily here, and the public library is open from 10 AM to 9 PM Mon-Fri and weekends noon to 6 PM! That in a community of 4000 people. They do not require residency to use the free library services, either. Compare that with the library services where you live! The computer room has 8 stations, and today it is almost totally full, mostly with youngish men, who may be on a break from fishing jobs. I frequently find myself to be the only woman in stores and other public venues--and if not the only woman, almost certainly the oldest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Air Travel in the "Bush"

Flying into Dutch Harbor is by small commercial airplane (Penninsula Airlines, or "Pen Air"), so it does not qualify as "bush pilot" flying. However, it has its own interesting quirks. Security is somewhat more relaxed in remote Alaskan locations like Nome, Barrow, and Dutch Harbor. For example, in transferring from Alaska Airlines to Pen Air, you have to leave the "security" area. However, you just present your boarding pass, and they don't screen you again, as they surely would in Spokane!

Luggage is often left behind in Anchorage, depending on the weight of the airplane. Passengers come first. Generally speaking, your bags are expected to arrive within 24-48 hours of your landing at "Dutch." George was lucky--he landed at 6:30 PM, and his bags came the next morning. This does mean that you have to do some extra planning--and the Unalaska residents just routinely figure this into their plans.

We'll see how lucky I am!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Three Mystery Packages

Everything that comes to Unalaska must come in by ship or by plane. Knowing how to retreive shipments is a challenge for the new-comer. George's first such challenge was when a shipping company called and said that if he didn't pick up a shipment and pay the $700+ owed on it, they were going to send it back! George didn't know anything about a shipment, so inquired how big the package was. They advised it was about 10 feet by 5 feet and 2 feet deep--weight about 560 lbs! Not exactly the kind of thing you can just go and "pick up" without a fork lift!

He said he'd come look at the package, and asked where they were. He didn't know any of the local landmarks, of course, so after being given instructions like, "Turn right at the street with no name, then left at the bait shop--we're down by the radio transmitter," he set out.

After driving around in the commercial/dock area for over an hour with no success, he gave up and went home. The next day, being the resourceful fellow that he is, he went to the tourist information center and asked them to draw a map for him! Great idea--but it still took 45 minutes to actually find the place. Turns out that the church had ordered a commercial hood for their commercial range in the kitchen and an air conditioning unit--and they were shipped together on three pallets. The treasurer wrote a check, and eventually the men of the church figured out where to store it, got together, and moved it. (The shipping company was more cooperative when they'd been paid!)

When George got home from his first inspection of the hood package, there was a voice mail saying, "This is Joe down at the dock. I've got 23 crates of vegetables for you to pick up." Who is Joe? What dock? Why would there be a need for 23 crates of vegetables?! What was he supposed to do with them?

Turns out there is a "produce club" on the island that people pay to belong to, and they receive a crate of fresh vegetables every week. The parsonage is the distribution point, in spite of the fact that they get no vegetables! Mystery solved--and one of the church members showed him the way to the dock and helped retreive the first of what will be weekly loads of produce--see picture.

And finally, one that was easier! The post office box contained a book from Amazon that George hadn't ordered, addressed to him. (I hadn't ordered it either.) It's an interesting book on World War II in the Aleutian Islands, but it is a mystery where it came from--no packing slip. This kind of mystery package, however, is vastly preferred over the first one. George is pleased to have "relevant" reading material.

Since this kind of thing "comes in threes," will this be the last?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sandee & Marley (The dog formerly known as Takwanda)

The parsonage in Unalaska comes furnished with two Labrador dogs—a chocolate, named Sandee, and a golden whose owners call him Takwanda. George has re-named this dog Marley, for reasons that will soon become obvious if you’ve seen the movie or read the book “Marley and Me.” Yes, I’m allergic to dogs, and it is our hope they won’t bother me. The bedroom we’ll sleep in has always been dog-free, and heating is by baseboard, not centralized, so I’ll take my Claritin and hope.

The dogs are used to being in the house, but are becoming accustomed to being outdoors—sort of. Sandee is well behaved, stays in the yard or on the sun porch, comes when called, doesn’t jump all over people. Then there’s Marley.

Here is the first of what will probably turn out to be several dog stories. The first night at the parsonage, George let the dogs sleep inside as usual. He was awakened by scratching on the bedroom door, so went to let the dogs out into the yard. The house is on one level with the living room having a patio sliding door out to the sun porch whose door was open leading down three or four steps to the fenced back yard. Looks good, so George opens the slider to let the dogs out. Marley started in the middle of the living room at a dead run out through the slider--across the sun porch--through the door--down the steps--across the yard--and over the fence and was gone!! So much for the fenced yard! One side is 8 foot cyclone fence for the ball field, but the other is obviously inadequate.

George was still tired, figured the dog would return on his own (as the owners had indicated) so went back to bed. In about 20 minutes he got a call from a neighbor saying his dog was out! So up, dress, take Sandee to find the dog, because it becomes evident that he’ll follow Sandee wherever he goes. Dogs home and confined to sun porch. What to do. . .

Purchase a 15 foot chain for Marley. Tie it to the deck so he can get out of the weather. But of course Marley wraps himself tightly around the deck support post. New plan: Tie the chain to the clothesline which runs across the yard. Marley can’t reach the deck, and has more room to run along the line which extends from the house to the cyclone fence. Looks good. George is monitoring the dog, when suddenly Marley jumps the short fence—chain and all! He could just barley reach one corner of the fence. Fortunately, Marley got his feet on the ground and didn’t hang himself, and fortunately George was watching.

Next new plan: Tie Marley to a different place in the yard, and get another 15 foot chain so he’ll have 30 feet to roam. As George was connecting the chain, apparently he didn’t get the hasp closed just right, and about that time the children across the street came outside with a little black poodle. George said Marley must have been able to get up a better head of steam as he broke the hasp and barely paused as he scaled the fence dragging the 30 feet of chain! The children shrieked and headed for their house! George was so concerned about the children that he jumped the fence to get a hold of Marley. All’s well that ends well, and Marley spends the night on the sun porch.

George says that he’s got a system and a tie-up that works for Marley now, but warns that when I come I can’t help chain Marley because he is so big and jumps and licks and resists getting tied up—even with the reward of a treat after the chain is applied. (Treats are met with massive sliming of the person offering the treat.) The mischief continues, however, as the first day on the new chain Marley completely shredded his plastic water dish and left the tiny pieces scattered all over the yard!

This is what I have to look forward to when I get to Unalaska. George says he’s not sure if he’s a Pastor or a dog sitter. The owner’s request was to walk the dogs to the recycle plant and back (2 miles round trip) four times a day!! George has settled on twice a day—and both Sandy and “Marley” have accepted this plan as well as Marley’s new name readily.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Geography & What's in a Name?

For those of you not familiar with Alaska's geography, here is an explanation of where Unalaska is. The Aleutian Chain is that long group of small volcanic islands which extends from the most soutwest corner of Alaska in an approximately 1500 mile long line running southwest toward Russia from the most south-west corner of Alaska. (The last US island on the chain is Attu.) Unalaska is about 1000 miles from Anchorage, via ferry. And--no, sorry, you can't see Russia from there!

The native peoples, Aleut or Unangan, have lived on Unalaska Island for thousands of years. The Russian fur trade reached Unalaska in 1759. The Unangan people, who were the first to inhabit the island of Unalaska, named it “Ounalashka” meaning "Near the Peninsula." The name Unalaska is probably an English variation of this name. The regional native corporation has adopted this and is known as the Ounalashka Corporation. Dutch Harbor was named that by the Russians because they believed that a Dutch vessel was the first European ship to enter the harbor.

The naming around Unalaska is confusing for some. The name Unalaska is the name of the island. It is also the name of the major town on the island, population approximately 4000, making it the 11th largest city in Alaska! Dutch Harbor, the official name of the city's port, is often applied to the portion of the City of Unalaska located on Amaknak Island, which is connected by bridge to the rest of the community on Unalaska Island. The bridge is known as "The Bridge to the Other Side"--the other side being Amaknak. Interestingly, the airport is called Dutch Harbor (because it is on Amaknak Island), not Unalaska, and they actually have two post offices--one for Unalaska, the other for Dutch Harbor.

OK, so I know, that's way more than you wanted to know!! Happy Father's Day :-)

Saturday, June 19, 2010


It's a beautiful day in Cheney--73 and a sunny, blue sky. But it's time for me to pack for Unalaska, where the weather forecast for the next 10 days is all the same--a high of 48, 60% chance of showers, and 15 mph wind. (In other words, the same March weather we've had around here during June!) It's difficult to get in the mood for turtlenecks, sweaters and warm coats today.

Husband, George, is already there, and he reports that the "rain" thus far has been mostly mist and showers, with only one real "rain," and it was short. "Summer" in the Aleutians! The mosquitoes don't come out until the temperature is higher, however, so that could be good. Mosquito season is generally in mid-July, so that's something to look forward to!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Welcome to Aleutian Adventure! This blog will cover an approximately one month stay on the Aleutian island of Unalaska. Home base will be in the town of Unalaska (yes, same name as the island), where the commercial port is called "Dutch Harbor." You may recognize that name as the port from which the TV series "Deadliest Catch" originates. No, there won't be any crab fishing, as this is not crab season, but I'll strive to give you interesting historical tidbits, funny dog stories, observations of nature and people, and anything else I think might be interesting.