Tonight is (hopefully) my last night in Port Moller. If the weather cooperates, then tomorrow there should be a plane here to pick us up and take us back to Sand Point where we’ll catch the ferry on the 27th. This may very well be my last small plane ride of the summer, which is sad, but nice to start the homeward bound trip.
The last few days have been very exciting. Due to there not being much around for Rose and I to do here in Port Moller, Bob the Biologist sent us out to some of the weir camps on the peninsula. The weir camps measure salmon escapement on several rivers on the peninsula that allow Bob to make his management decisions for the areas that we’ve been sampling. I went out to the Sandy River weir for three days and hung out with a fellow Fish and Gamer named Kris. He was a pretty cool guy, and we had a good time cursing the weather, counting the few fish that passed through the weir, and firing crackers at visiting bears. I’ve gotta admit, it’s totally fun to shoot at something that could possibly shred you if it got close enough. The crackers we used are essentially harmless firecrackers that make noises and send out smoke that seem to do a good job deterring the bears from making any closer investigations to our cabin.
We busied ourselves the rest of the time with building a partition wall in the new portion of the Sandy cabin, which was built in 1965. Apparently this was before there were any kind of building standards, so to make the new section match the old one, some part of the roof had to be built at a slant. Ridiculous to say the least. I learned how to build a wall, though, and also discovered that the secret to fixing any wood working problem is to hit it with a hammer. Didn’t fix it? You probably didn’t hit it hard enough. Wood is such an amazing substance. While building this wall and attempting to hang plywood, I watched two pieces of wood that had both measured out to be perfectly square refuse to fit together. Silly and infuriating, but really cool in the end. Plus you get to hit stuff with a hammer.
Sandy River Lodge is a few miles down river of the weir and the weir camp, and the guy who runs it is an old timer named Mel who originally hails from Texas and still carries a little of the trademark accent. He helps out the weir camp crew by providing them with a place to shower, check their email, use the phone, and on occasion eat a fine dinner that they didn’t have to make themselves. In return, the weir camp crew helps him out around his lodge. The few days I was there, Kris and I went down to the lodge to see if we could help out (and to borrow some paint rollers). “Helping out”, I soon discovered, mostly consists of following Mel around while he gripes about the government, democrats, and the price of fuel. He also occasionally kicks the nearest object to emphasize his disgust.
Mel is one of those legendary hunting/fishing guides who now has retired to running the lodge, and could probably still wrestle a bear and win. He’s racist, sexist, and generally has some kind of issue with everyone and everything for some reason or another, but despite all his shortcomings he’s still one of those good people to know who will always help you out in a jam. And when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, that’s definitely the kind of person you want to have nearby. My favorite thing about Mel definitely had to be the huge cigar that he has stuffed in the corner of his mouth at all times. He could probably eat a full meal with that thing and not drop it once. I asked one of his guides if he ever didn’t have it in his mouth and my answer was, “Yeah, he probably takes it out when he sleeps.” I think the best part is that he doesn’t even light it. He EATS it. Totally disgusting, but true. To sum it up, note the Bush-Cheney bumper sticker he has on his tractor in the picture.
Other highlights of the Sandy River weir were the landscapes. There are all kinds of wildflowers surrounding the cabin as far as the eye can see. The river valley that the cabin sits in is totally flat with a few minor streams coursing through, and a ground cover of almost solid tundra. There are so many different species growing out there, it’s a botanists dream. I had a great time walking around in the evenings (with my trusty friend, Mr. Shotgun) smelling all the different types and trying not to sink in the marshy places. Sandy is also home to about a bajillion ground squirrels. Most of them had just had a litter of pups who were still working on the “get out of the way of the four-wheeler” thing. Being as my four-wheeler had no brakes to speak of, it was a comical game to try and avoid hitting them as they chose the precise moment of my passing to run out into the road. They sure were cute though. All of the local swallows had also just given birth, and one such brood had taken up residence somewhere in the walls of our cabin. I couldn’t find the hole they were using to get in (more specifically, I couldn’t find WHICH hole they were using. There were many to choose from.), but every time momma swallow came back with a mouthful of bugs to feed the chicks, there was a cacophony of chirping that could have woken the dead. Eventually you tune them out, but it was a little alarming the first few times. I thought were were having a bombing raid.
The other thing I learned out in Sandy was the downfalls of glass ball hunting. Kris had gone to the Ilnik weir to visit which is along the coast and had collected over a dozen sandbags full of glass balls. Once he got them all back to his camp (an exhaustive process by his account), he realized that his initial experience of Gollum and the Ring with glass balls had left him with, well, a whole bunch of glass balls. Pretty, shiny, and on occasion you can sell the, but for the most part you might as well have a whole bunch of glass bottles. He was kind enough to give me a whole bag full (nearly 30), and so now I’ve had my fill and am excited to send them to friends and eventually dump them all on my parents (you asked for it, Dad!).
All in all, my experience at the weir camp was a good one, and I think if I had a friend to work with me out there, it would be a great potential job for next summer. As for now, I’m back in Port Moller and the end of the season is showing its signs. Boats are coming out of the water and the tenders are starting to head back to their respective ports. Rose and I did an inventory of all our sampling equipment and packed it all up to fly out tomorrow. Now I just have to get all the glass balls I’ve accumulated into a reasonable amount of luggage for the trip home. It’ll be great to see my friends (and maybe one more visit to the bar for posterity’s sake) there and then spend a few days in Kodiak with Joe and his family. Then, on to Homer! I’ve tried to go back through my other posts from this month and add the photos I’ve been lacking. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer!