Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feral Update

Feral Bueller, the formally wild cat, has had in interesting winter. The good news is that her fur is almost fully grown in after her terrible flea infestation in the fall. The bad news is that she had a rough day after falling through thin ice on the bay. The good news is that she was only in the water for a short time and she had no ill effects from her dunking. Jen is going to post her recollection of the incident--see the "Feral Bueller's Ice Capade" post.

Feral is a snow cat--she really enjoys running, burrowing, chasing, and hanging out in snow!

She also likes to snowshoe (or I should say tag along when we snowshoe).

On the trail to "town".

Feral takes on the moose.

Relaxing after a rough day in the snow.

Feral Bueller's Ice Capade by Jennifer Price

This is an edited version of my journal entry (Jen) on Sunday, February 20, the day of Feral's soggy caper:
OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. It is 1 p.m. now, and Feral and I have been back in the house for about 20 minutes. Rick and I took Feral with us in the skiff to the floathouse (which we need to keep clear of snow) in the adjacent bay, but we had to start pushing through thick ice quite a ways out from the floathouse. I mean, the ice was thick enough that I wasn’t sure we should go through it, but Rick said it was fine. At one point we backed out (at my worried suggestion) and were gonna go home (at my suggestion), but Rick said it was okay and would do no damage to the boat, so we started back through the ice path we'd already blazed.

Feral's not real fond of the skiff, but we take her on short rides to get from one place to another, as she always enjoys exploring new places. When we take her out in the skiff she often perches on the bow or stands at the side of the skiff, paws on the rim, and I sometimes fear she might jump out—but would she really jump from the frying pan into that watery fire? No, surely not when she can see the fluid liquidity of the water we are moving through. But I have always kept a plan in the back of my mind for what I would do if she did jump, or if Rick fell overboard for that matter (for Feral I'd jump in after her; for Rick I'd extend my pinky and give him hell if he got me wet).

As we were breaking through the ice today Feral was in the front of the skiff, climbing on top of the bow as the ice crunched and groaned giving way to our motion; I feared this meant she was considering jumping out, so I held on to her. I mean, to a dopey cat the ice probably looks like terra firma, and surely is more pleasant than this noisy, bouncy skiff (which was not bouncy at this slow speed). Rick was actually heading through the ice towards an open part of water for easier maneuvering . I had been making pictures, and somehow between my holding on to Feral and letting go to reach for the camera SHE F**#ING JUMPED ONTO THE ICE! She jumped onto the ice and started walking away from the skiff! Sh*t! What the hell can you do? The ice wouldn't hold my weight to go after her. Of course we frantically called to her, but do you think there was any way she was going to come to us as we tried first firmness and then cajoling? I tried saying, “Feral, NO!” in that bossy voice I use on Rick, but she continued heading away from us, exuding Pure Cat, doing whatever the hell she wanted. And right now what she wanted was to walk directly towards shore, looking back tauntingly over her shoulder at us, twitching her tail in that nyaany-annny-annn-yaaaa manner cats have when they ignore humankind's useless commands.
Oh my god I felt sick inside as I ordered Rick around and god knows what I was saying and I was afraid that if we followed right behind her it would scare her and cause her to move faster towards the edge of the ice and I don’t really remember what we did as we watched her walk farther away from us towards that open span of water but I know we weren't moving and I know we were calling to her and I was freaked and freaked and panicked and thinking about where she would go and what she would do once she fell through the ice and if she'd end up under the ice and it was terrible terrible terrible and absolutely terrifying!
What seemed like an hour probably took less than a minute. Feral kept walking towards the edge as we did whatever we were doing, and then it happened. She stepped onto thin ice and was in the water in a matter of seconds. SH****T! She was about twenty yards from us and I was calling to her as Rick barreled through the ice to get to the open water and Feral was flailing madly, head above the water, ears flat back, trying to get a grip on the pieces of floating ice and screaming that short, piercing yowl of hers when she is terrified. She kept grasping at ice, gaining no solid ground, and at one point her little head went underwater after a wicked piece of ice ditched her, and I was ready to jump in after her, but by now we had almost reached the open water. It wasn't until then that we could actually hear that heart-wrenching scream of hers; clearly this little puddy did not realize that screaming while struggling in ice-cold water is not a good way to conserve one’s energy, nor to avoid taking in great gulps of salt water.
I am literally trembling as I write this. Once we were in the water Rick was able to bring the skiff towards her and I was calling to her, and she was looking at us and paddling madly and screaming madly and I tried to reach her from my side and as I leaned over the water she was too far away and I was telling Rick I couldn’t reach her—where’s the halibut net when you need it—and then he managed to get the stern close enough, and he reached in and grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, scooped her into his arms, and handed her off to me. OH!!!! God, how I grabbed that wet, scrawny little pudster and wrapped my arms around her on my lap, hunching my body over her to warm her, never ever to let her go. She didn’t say anything at first, but sat there, hunkered down, letting me sqeeze the water out of her paws, while I gasped out another of what was probably a torrent of commands, “Home, Rick, we’re going home.”

The ride back was quick but long, if you know what I mean, and occasionally Feral would quiver and even muster a few feeble Yowls of the Wild, just for good measure. When we reached the dock I never let go of her, never helped Rick tie up and abandoned him, leaving the cameras, the shovels and everything as I headed up to the house with my soggy little ward. We had pulled out a towel stashed with my cameras, and had wrapped it around her, and as she and I got halfway up the boardwalk Feral wriggled out of the towel, ready to walk the rest of the way up the boardwalk herself. She followed me, trilling and trotting behind, just as she would on a normal day, as if she had not just narrowly escaped joining the sea stars at the bottom of the bay. Is this resiliency why cats have nine lives?

Once inside, the monumental chore of licking herself dry in front of the fire began. May I rub you down with a fresh towel first, Your Highness? “Nnnnnnnuuuunnnnn!” was the response, just as a two-year-old declares “I do self!” and so I left her to her grooming and just sat and watched her and tried to gain my wits back from wherever the hell they went. I’m telling you, I’ll have no problem evacuating an airplane if the time ever comes, but if I had Ms. Bueller on board with me I'm not so sure my priorities would quite be where they belong.

And now Feral is dry, has been lying by the fire, has grabbed a nibble of food, has drunk water deeply from the bucket in the small bathroom, and after that last cool drink she's retired to her bed upstairs. I think I’ll take a valium or two and go join her.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running Water!

We are celebrating having running water after 12 days of freezing temps and a frozen waterline. We carried 40 to 50 gallons of water a day, toted in 5-gallon buckets. Estimating an average of 45 gallons a day for 11 days would make 3,960 pounds, or just under two tons of water that we carried about 50 yards from the hydro shed to the lodge. Jen is very proud of both half-filled buckets she lugged (8 pounds or .002 tons). I have to admit that she always offered to help, but it was just too painful watching her struggle with two half-filled buckets, then return to the water source with two empty buckets only to reach the house with the equivalent of one full bucket.

Here we are lamenting the lack of running water on day 11. I discovered that Head and Shoulders shampoo just won't lather in the snow. We had to wait for the temps to get out of the teens and closer to freezing before attempting to get the water running again. Our next problem, once temps warmed up, was that both our waterlines had ice blockages, and are buried under several feet of snow, compacted with rain, and frozen into a concrete-like consistancy. The solution came to me one day when I was working under the deck and looked at the empty waterline running from the lodge to the dock, which we had drained in the fall. I got my long tape from the boat and measured it at 175 feet. The distance from the lodge to the hydroshed......175 feet! Problem solved.

Of course, nothing ever goes entirely according to plan. When I first tried to hook the line up, I discovered that the valve at the supply end was frozen--there was heat tape around it, but I had unplugged it after the pipes froze. I plugged the tape back in and went up the next morning to discover that the heat tape was dead and the valve still frozen. I put a new heat tape on it, and after a few hours I heard the roar of water coming from the valve. Yesss! I hooked up the waterline and opened the valve, but was shocked to find that not a single drop of water was coming out of the lodge end of the line! I took the whole 175 foot line off and dragged it down to the beach to let it warm in the salt water of the bay. After soaking for a few hours the ice blocking the line melted enough to shake out, and we were finally in business with our makeshift waterline to hopefully last us until the end of April!

Clean dishes, clean laundry, clean hillbillies--one happy crew after a 12-day drought. Feral, always fastidiously clean, shot this epic photograph.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Snowstorm

As we came out of our cold high pressure weather pattern, we had a snowstorm that gave us 17 inches of wet, sticky snow over a period of about 36 hours.

Clearing off the dock.

We always have to keep the area behind the lodge clear so the snow can shed off the roof. It's always harder to clear, either with the snowblower or shovel because it gets compacted and may have ice or icicles from the eaves buried in it.

Looking out at the bay from the side of the lodge.

Our cold spell had freezing temps for around 3 weeks and the last 10 days or so had highs around 20 and lows around 12. This put a layer of ice on top of Sadie Creek, so when it snowed, the creek pretty much disappeared under the snow and ice.

We had a pretty good snowload on the dock--this is looking up at the lodge from the dock across a snow-filled skiff. (you can see the center console and steering wheel on the right.)

The morning after the storm broke to more clear skies and sunrise colors.

Feral watches for birds and then calls Jen when she thinks it will be a good photo.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

For the Birds!

We saw our first Trumpeter swan of the season moving through the bay last week. We weren't able to get any photos because our skiff 's control cables were frozen and our resident photographer refused to snowshoe over to the falls where the swan was hanging out.

We do have large flocks of resident seabirds and a few other individuals consider the lodge their territory.

This mixed group is mostly male and female Barrow's Goldeneye and Surf Scoters.

This Bald Eagle was giving his cry from the top of a snowy hemlock tree.

This Great Blue Heron hangs out around the lodge.

We often see the Heron's tracks after he takes an early morning circuit of the dock.

The Mergansers don't seem to be bothered much by our cold weather.

This immature Bald Eagle was drying his wings out after our snowstorm.

Our Belted Kingfisher has been hanging around the lodge all winter.

I know that Sitka Blacktail deer are not birds, but we've had a lot of them around the lodge the last couple of weeks. This one's name is Ringo because of the white ring around his muzzle. There is also a smaller deer hanging around we call Pee Wee. There have also been a few other deer working their way through the grounds that Jen hasn't been able to photograph.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spring Visitors

It's March and the time of year we start to get more boats coming into the bay as fishing seasons are getting closer. People and boats are moving around, getting ready for summer.

Chase and Hillary Bell are back in Alaska after their honeymoon in Thailand, and stopped by the bay on their way back from False Island to Petersburg.

Chase bought this big landing craft last summer in Kotzebue and barely made it back to Sitka in time for their wedding in September. I can't pronounce the 14-letter Inuit name of the boat, but it will be called Lituya as soon as the paperwork comes through.

Trevor and his crew stopped by on the Afognak, which is a tender, heading from Petersburg to Sitka for the herring opening. A tender is a boat that offloads fish from the fishing boats, then delivers that fish to the processors, allowing the fishing boats to continue fishing in their current location.

I realize how small Sailboat Bob is when a big boat like the Afognak ties up to the dock!
Trevor brought an unexpected surprise--Lizzie sent a replacement popcorn popper since our popper's top was melted in an unfortunate American Idol incident.

The Afognak left the next day during our snowstorm.

And that same night Jim came in with the Kupreanof. Jen's not happy with this photo, but she just ran out and snapped it as Jim went by the lodge.

We still cut some firewood on the days between snowstorms. Jen is happy when it's warm and dry in the lodge. And when Jen is happy.....Rick is happy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random February photos

My goal was to post to this blog every week or two, but somehow it's been a month (the shortest month) since I've added anything. Jen just gave me a thumb drive of photos, so I'm just going to put then up randomly.

This is a snag on the point across Sadie Creek from the lodge. A definite eagle hang out!

Here's the same point under the snag.

And the same eagle who just grabbed a piece of freezer-burned hamburger off the dock, dropped it in the water, and then circled around and picked it up again before it sank out of reach.

Some mergansers cruising by.

Shoveling snow on a warm morning.

Jen shot me from the bedroom window (upstairs).

We've had a lot of very cold weather in February (lows in the low teens, highs around 20) which causes ice to form around the edge of the bay. It also caused our running water in the lodge to freeze up as well as the drains. (They're still frozen)

This is what happens to a hot air popper if somebody leaves it on too long while they're watching American Idol.

This is how you fix the melted top of a hot air popper if you're living in the wilderness and don't have access to a hardware store or Costco. We are actually using the melted base with a modified plastic oil container screwed onto it and a baseball cap to deflect popcorn into the bowl. There's a quality control inspector keeping an eye on things on the left side of the popper.

We snowshoed up to Baranof Lake (just to the left of the tracks) on one of the many cold, clear days we've had.

Here's the view of Warm Springs Bay, Chatham Strait, and Admiralty Island from an overview above Baranof Lake. I know you've seen it before, but we never get tired of it!

A snowshoer and a snowshoer supervisor.

Feral enjoying some sunshine on the deck.

And since she's on the deck, she'll also enjoy a little lick of bacon grease.

We have a ramp to bring the snowblower up to the deck, but it's a pretty tight turn at the top.

We're out in the skiff on our way to shovel off the remote floathouse.

Schooner Cove, where the floathouse is anchored was all iced in.

We backed out once, then decided we could make it if we went slowly.

It was at about this point that Feral decided she could make better time jumping out of the skiff and running on the ice. She did just that, and the ice was too thin for us to chase her on foot. If you look at the upper lefthand corner you'll see a small area of open water. She made a beeline in that direction and it was there that she fell through thin ice into the water. What seemed like an hour actually took about a minute of maneuvering the skiff to get to her while she flailed and splashed, grabbing at ice that wouldn't support her weight....Jen is going to give you full details in a separate post--see "Feral Bueller's Ice Capades".

On our way back to the lodge to warm up a wet, cold cat!

This looks like a female goldeneye doing an "eskimo roll".

A sparkling surf scoter.

A red squirrel with a spruce cone from his cache.

What's left of the cone after the squirrel has peeled it and eaten the seeds.

This is the squirrel scolding Jen for getting too close!

Kayaking on a calm day.

Ice forming in the bay in front of the lodge.