Sunday, April 28, 2013

If you can't tie a knot...tie a lot.

Its been brutally cold here at Mile14. I ran into my friend Pat Cowan who owns the golf course yesterday and he and I were both mooning over the situation, spring is waaaaay late. Only a few years ago I took a boat ride down to mile 8 and back on the last day of April....and....well it did cost me prop, I kinda 'shined' one up as we say in the business. But I did it. Not this year, in fact just today I finally had open water at Fall-in-Hole for one of my favorite things, marine salvage. Here's a pic of fall-in-hole on Thursday and then how it looked a few hours ago today, Sunday.

The last 4 days its been windy and no warmer than 45 degrees and its just been killing me to not be out on the river working and horsing around.  So today I piled on the gore-tex, grabbed the 44 and jet-dog and we're off.  Theres so little running water that the ice shelves are huge and I've never seen it before where they drop right off to deep water making it a bit dangerous. Usually the sun warms the rocks and it kind of peels the ice back, this year its just weird. But we have just enough open water that I'm on the look out and spotting something shiny in the river I head for this...

I get closer and walla...what a great find for my first of 2013 season, a nice danforth anchor wrapped up in an unusable landing net. For me this is the salvagers equivalent of hooking a King Salmon on your first cast. It's a flat out, super duper, moe-joe driven message...we're gonna have a great year.

So then me and Jet-dog get to sizing up the situation, mmmmm.....kinda odd. How do you lose your anchor and your landing net all at the same time??  Well, neither of us is a psychic medium but I'd bet you dollars to donuts it went something like this:   A young couple is out for silver fishing....

He : OK honey throw it out right there.
He: holy @%&&*#$ we're floating free, the @#%&$% knot must have come untied or the line broke...
He: oh wow...listen honey I gotta drive the boat, I'll get us back to where I think we were and you feel
     around on the bottom with this net and maybe we can snag it.
She: Oh! its stuck ....I've got something.....
He: @%&*$ why in the ^%$# did you let go of the net ????
She: but honey the boat was moving and....and was too @#%$ heavy...
He: well congratulation's, that anchor cost 65 bucks and the net 45.00
She: (thinking) its gonna cost you a lot more than that you #$%&^
She: maybe we can snag it with one of your fishing poles...
He: they're called rods, ya know, a pole is what you buy at the lumber yard.
She: oh....honey I forgot....maybe we just ougta go home....

Now I don't know how I know that, intuition I guess. It might be a little bit like the terminology I've heard at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. Honest now, they have and acronym they use, 'S.W.A.G.' = simple wild ass guess. But then again, I'm a riverman and know these things....and... actually MP helped solve the mystery and that's no 's.w.a.g'....thanks MP, Jet, Kenai River, Fall-in-hole for another collaboration.

And heres's the time lapse picnic table view of the ol Kenai. I know you've endured an awful lot of icey pictures lately when reading my blog. Sorry if it gets a bit old, that makes about 200 of us. Thanks  for reading.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ice Out

All over Alaska people have cabin fever, its just that in between time of year. I think it was our own Congressman Don Young who famously said...."you can't just let nature run wild". And I think Alaskans believe that, just today this picture was in the paper of two guys hurrying mother nature along by shoveling off the greens at the Palmer Golf Course.
So of course we're in a similar state of mind here at Mile 14. That darn river just doesn't want to 'break up' so with the leadership and counsel of my friend Lew Boersma we're helping it...
But seriously, we've had ice out here in 2010 and 2011 on April 15th, last year it was on the 18th and this year ??? well, its happening now as I type. Just a few minutes ago I took this pic from the sand spit half way down the road, The ice is collapsing and very spongy, today its supposed to get up into the 40's so I'd say its a done deal, break-up at last.
But on Saturday it was killing me, I'm a river man and I was seriously needing the sights and sounds of flowing water. So we went to one of my favorite places, the river walk here in Slowdotna which will be the future signature feature of our town if you ask me, This was the view, just gorgeous but as you can see  mother-nature has a lot of work to do in a short time, that's the Alaska story. Although it doesn't seem like it sometimes but nature happens quick here and within a week or two people will be floating through and enjoying this stretch of river.
Always on the look out for the unusual we came across this perfectly balanced ice sculpture. Just like music some art is fleeting, you just have to be there.
We came across this yearling, his prospects are looking up just like ours. Ya made the winter baby, good work.
As we circled back through town and walked by our old house we both commented on this tree. I guess its kind of our Alaska story in a took a long time to grow from that little sapling we planted 35 years ago but now its steady and strong. It's been nipped by moose, hit by cars and pee'd on by dogs but now its a thing of beauty, a Montana Ponderosa Pine right here in Soldotna. And the pic below the tree is my favorite of us, that is until my next favorite.

And below is the pic I promised to take every entry. It sure looks an awful like the last few pics but change is going to hit over drive here real soon...that's the Alaska deal. So please come back to the Mile 14 blog, I think the next few weeks will be interesting and entertaining. I know they will be for me anyway.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mile 14....A Short History

I'm often asked why our place is called Stewart's Landing and just how did we end up with what might be the most beautiful piece of property on the Kenai River. So I figured that it would make a pretty good story for my readers, its certainly been magic for MP and I.
When I first set eyes on this place in the 1970's that's what it was called. I built this sign for Loren Stewart in 1984 as part of our mutual support system. I met Loren through fishing of course, Woody and I would use the property to launch a canoe and fish silvers at Fall-In-Hole. Woody was a cop at the time and no matter how Loren protected the use of his private property Woody was a hard guy to say no to. Loren was an important man on the Kenai Peninsula. He came after the war and homesteaded using the veterans program and started the first Newspaper on the Peninsula, the Cheechako News. Soldotna was booming with the discovery of oil at Swanson River and the Cheechako was an important part of  the area's maturing process. To this day I'm always impressed by how many people I know that worked for Loren back in the day. Here's a series of picks from the Volume #1, issue #1 dated October 30 1959. You'll get a feel for the times, kinda funny that we're still kicking around the natural gas deal all these years later. And of course you'll see that we didn't even all agree on the name of the town yet and in the last pic you'll see ol Loren had a pretty good sense of humor, my friend.
With homesteader ingenuity Loren took a cat and just pushed gravel to create the road and parking lot pretty much as you see it today. He kept the place private for himself and his many friends through the 70's but by the 80's with a competing newspaper in town he saw the business opportunity and opened the boat launch for public use at 5 bucks a launch. I had my first real boat and as I was spending more time on the river than most of the seagulls, Loren and I got to know each other...and strangely became friends. I say that because we just viewed life and politics a bit differently. Loren could have been the first Tea Party member in the state and me, well I was a little liberal in the day.  Loren didn't like change to well and he really didn't like fishing guides so well. But as the years passed I liked him and he liked me, for a while I was the only fishing guide he allowed to use the place. I'd spend every Monday hauling garbage to the dump. We'd work on the property together, it wasn't long before we were fishing and hunting partners. Some of the best times of my life were hanging out at the launch and sharing 'fellowship' with Loren. Here's a picture of him on a day in the mid 80's  when we were out fishing.
Loren left the planet in 1991. He had a heart problem that he really never told me about. I was a pall bearer and MP took over the everyday business of the boat launch while his daughter Nikki who was in Anchorage made arrangements for the future. Here's a picture of Nkiki on the 3-wheeler with Sam in the 80's, notice that our boys had their life jackets on as soon as they got out of the truck.
Nikki ran the launch some through the 80's and some years MP ran it. Nikki was kind of an Anchorage girl and that with the fact that the boat launch isn't really easy to run she decided to sell the house and the launch. I'll never forget the phone call. She had a financial adviser named Shelia who asked me what I thought the place was worth...I spit out a figure that was huge and Shelia agreed that  number was the same one she was thinking of, we had a deal.....except for one thing....even though we'd worked hard and had saved the 20% down payment we couldn't get financed. Banks only lend money to people that don't need it eh? But this is where friendship came in.  We got direction from people who cared and trusted us. Thanks Chris and Geno. The entire process was gut wrenching and took over a year but in December of 1996 we signed papers and paradise was ours...and the banks. After Nikki signed the papers I confided in her that we kept it secret from everybody (and in Soldotna that's a good trick) because I was afraid somebody with deep pockets would hear about it and make her an offer. She seemed a little stunned and said " but Jeff I wouldn't have sold to anybody but you".

So I learned am awful lot about friendship and the code of the west. Just lately Nikki has sold the last of the Stewart Family river holdings, an 80 acre parcel downriver from us that is now in a Conservancy, more good news for us and the river. We've never really thought of changing the name of Stewart's Landing, after all I believe in what they say about property really only rent it from your kids. And, I think to keep the name is a cool way to memorialise Loren and the Stewart family, keep their contributions to our area alive.

For our part we've made a conscious effort to keep the place the same as it's always been and be good stewards of it. We know its an important part of the river culture. We have friends who's family memories go back to this place. Unlike other large river parcels we've resisted the opportunity to develop , we love this place just the way it is and hope to keep it that way. It's special.

Below is this morning's pic of the conditions here at Mile 14....anybody got an icebreaker to rent?
And finally a pic courtesy of my friend Chris Fejes. You know what I say about things when they get a little tough....ya gotta want to do it !

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Song List

The other day I booked a guy who is one of those people you can just tell that you're going to like real well. He had read this blog and told me that I should look at his brother Jason's web page, he said that we kind of  have a lot in common. Well, Jason's page is fantastic. He's a sailor and is a musician who's worked tugs in  Alaska. But the coolest thing he had on his web page was a song list, the stuff he plays, the music that he's all about. Not only does he have 100 songs but the chords and lyrics as well, many of my favorites and it's true....we have a lot in common. It got me to thinking of my song list, here's a pic of what I work with daily. It's always changing, evolving. Having the list is important. Its not that I'd forget how to play the song, what happens is I forget that I know the song. The list is just a reminder.
My favorites come and go. Sometimes it takes so long to 'work up' the song that by the time its ready for human consumption I'm tired of it, and I know MP is REALLY tired of it. But my signature song for the last 40 years has been the great balladeer Harry Chapin's Taxi. My friend sang that song so many years ago and it was always way to much for me, it had bar chords and a B minor not to mention volumes of lyrics. But after the accident and he was gone one night at a party I just had it. It was that simple, the words just rolled off my lips and the B minor was perfect. It was a gift, or so I thought. Through the years I've played Taxi for bars full of people I don't know, I've played for Ben Ellis every time I see him, I've played it alone with my thoughts...I've played it thousands of times I'd guess. Well, I'm not playing it anymore, never again.
I guess I just lost track of what the gift was. For so many years I thought of it as a way to keep the memory's  alive, a way to stay connected with the guy that did so much for me, taught me so much. So I'd close my eyes and crone away the song , " its been to many miles and to little smiles....but I....still remember you". For the first 10 or 15 years people knew what it was all about and then I think people would wonder, whats with all this emotion, whats it mean ?....And then the other night I felt the same way. I started the song...and stopped...I didn't  know what it meant anymore, if it was keeping me connected I guess I was tired of being connected. It was holding me back, it was the last thing still alive from all that anguish. It was keeping me in the wrong era.  So sorry Ben, when you come over its going to have to be something new....and I've got about 200 of them. And  if Trevor e-mails me with permission I'll post Jason's web page for you, its fantastic and I can tell so is he. Thanks to my new friends, I have 100 new songs to learn and fill in for just that one that I've round filed.
If the pic below looks familiar its not trick photography. I took it just a few hours ago and doesn't look much different than last weeks. I don't know if I'm overly anxious but it seems spring is coming a little slower than normal, like real slow. But, that's surely open water you're looking and as I focused the camera I saw a fish unusual swirl.......mmmmm............

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sonar @ Mile 13.7

It's that season. I have a friend who is leaving for Hawaii tomorrow so that they miss break-up, good plan. On Saturday it rained on top of our snow all day making for about the iciest condition's on the planet earth. Our gym owners are 7th Day Adventists so no gym on Saturday and then Easter is closed as well and we just gotta have some exercise. Two days without it is way to much for a health nut and a guy who's got ants in his pants....So it was either ski and hope to avoid breaking you leg or go for a walk and hope to avoid breaking your leg.
That was the scene in town yesterday morning at 10 am. Its an Alaska deal, cold at night making for a fog  from the freezing rain. We put our carbide ice cleats on and clickity clicked our way around town for a few miles.   The town was really quiet and we both liked it real well, just another way of nature telling us that this place is different. So as I was thinking just how different this place is as I opened the paper and this ad jumped out at me....
The other day I went and paid my lettuce and got my permit to guide yet another season. This year I also got the permit for upriver to give us more options as the season progresses. The have an April 1st deadline and just like my income taxes I waited until the very last sense giving Uncle Sam your money  early, he's just going to spend it  frivolously anyway. When I left State Parks I was given this notice of the new sonar going in at Mile 13.7 of the Kenai River, my back yard.
One thing I've learned as I've gotten older is to seek and accept the counsel of people who know more about certain things than I do...I knew all about this project and we do need better King Salmon sonar info but I was surprised to see the 'fixed partial weir' to be built in the 'slough' where I've spent half of my adult life. From what I know about weirs the purpose is to stop or direct salmon passage...and I think that's exactly the problem, our poor salmon are being stopped and directed enough. If anybody had asked me I'd tell them what I know for certain....King Salmon don't swim there like the sonar techs must think they do. Ol slimey  takes the path of least resistance and he likes deep slow water. You can see in this picture that the water upstream from the red circle is dark...that's the bottom eh...shallow water...and the current accelerates up against that bank tremendously. The King Salmon that move up the river do so in the main channel, many of them spawn in the slow water at the downriver tip of this island. This I know for sure. My concern of course is for the fish that do like this type of water, our silver and reds that are going to be stopped or directed. I don't get it, why didn't somebody ask ? And never mind the fact that us river people are going to have to put up with a bunch of ADF+G junior achievers running around the woods, stomping down trails and putting man made things into the ain't right is all I can say. Done.
So there's a pic of the 3 us last night. After our traditional Ham feast we walked down to the river, it was still frozen. So come back to Mile 14. I have a cool idea. On every entry from here on out I'll post a pic of the river taken from the same place every time so you can see the season develop. So this is the first one, I elected to do it at the boat launch itself so as we go on with the season you'll see the river and the most important part...the people, our fishing friends at Mile 14.