Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Pictures

Christmas was a pretty sedate affair at the Baker's Alaska compound. Here's a brief update in pictures.

A few days before Christmas, Aaron decided to shave his beard. It had gotten pretty bushy...

The "after" picture was a little blurry, but here's a picture of us on Christmas eve after we opened all our presents...

Aaron is clean-shaven, and we're covered in a pile of goodies from our friends and relatives. Thanks everyone!

We have a guest for Christmas and New Year's Eve. It's our friend Atticus.

Atticus belongs to Erin and Anthony, who are in Kansas for the holidays. So we're cat-sitting. He's a pretty good cat and has gotten used to living here for a bit already. He does seem to know how to open the freezer, though, which is strange. We taped it shut for now. (With the bright green duct tape that Aaron got for Christmas!)

For dinner on Christmas day, we went to Ginger and Terry's house. (Ginger is Samara's boss.) Their daughter Aurora was there, along with their (former) foster child Lauren and her sister Ayla, as well as one of Lauren's friends. Here's Lauren (on the right)...

Ayla acting silly...

And Aaron and Aurora acting silly...

It was a nice dinner. Ginger and Terry made a ham, as well as mashed potatoes, salad and a wonderful diced cranberry dish. Samara brined and cooked a turkey, which came out great. Soaking the turkey in brine overnight before cooking is a great way to keep it moist!

The rest of our holiday weekend has been pretty tame. Aaron went next door and played some video games with Tim, we watched marathons on TV, and slept a lot! On Sunday, we felt like we needed to get out of the house, so we went to the shooting range at the dump.

Samara wanted to test out the new lighter trigger pull on her Glock. (The new trigger connector was an early Christmas present from Aaron.) She says she likes it much better now, and she's getting pretty good at hitting targets. Saramay apparently got a .44 magnum revolver for Christmas from her dad, so there may be all-girls shooting trips in the future.

Here's Samara shooting her 9mm...

If she ever gets tired of her job at SAFE, Samara could always apply to be a Dillingham cop. She's a natural with the Glock, and they definitely need the help!

Well, Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you got everything you wished for. Now it's time to do some dishes, hang up the laundry and exercise on Samara's new Wii Fit. (Sorry, she won't let me take a picture of her doing that!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More snow pictures

We haven't been updating the blog recently. Basically, what you're getting is more snow pictures.

Check out our amazingly long icicles.

Sometimes there's snow to clear off the car in the morning.

Sometimes that requires a shovel and a beaver hat.

This weekend the snow actually melted quite a bit because it was rainy and warm. Now our driveway is just a sheet of ice. I can't wait for more snow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter Freaking Wonderland

The snow was late this year. Last year, we had feet of snow by this time.

This morning, when I got up and went to work, the ground was dry. No snow. Not even frost on the windshield.

By the time I got home from work today at 4:30, my house looked like this:

Yeah, that's a good couple of inches, with the wind blowing drifts up to a foot deep.

Ahh, Alaska.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New Orleans

I recently went to New Orleans for a work related conference. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days down there before my conference started. I got to meet up with one of my cousins that I hadn't seen in 15 or so years. And we had a few days to hang out and run around the French Quarter.

This is Kyrstin, my coworker, eating alligator for the first time. She told me later that she didn't really like it. To me, it tastes kinda like chicken. I thought it would taste fishy, but it doesn't.

This is my cousin Gina. She live up the road a way in Mississippi, but she made the trip to come for a visit. She was a lot of fun and I hope to get a chance to go down there for a visit sometime next year.

We took a carriage drive around the French Quarter at night. It was really pretty and we stopped a couple times for drinks. It was neat being able drive though and get drinks. It was also neat walking around with fruity frozen drinks in our hands.

On one of the nights, Gina came down with Aunt Lynn and we all went to Emeril's restaurant for dinner. The wine was good. The food was great and the company was beyond compare.

The conference was good too, but who takes pictures of that? I learned a lot and it was a great experience. But the best part was visiting with Gina and walking around New Orleans.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Long-Awaited Update

I've been hearing from various people for a while that they were still watching our blog, waiting for new posts. It's been over a month and a half since we've posted, so I guess it's due.

Samara started a post about our vacation to Kentucky, but it didn't get finished, so I'll start by describing that trip.

We moved to Alaska at the end of August in 2008. We finally made it out of Alaska for a visit to Kentucky in August 2009. This was the first time we were able to visit the lower 48 in over a year. This was big, at least to us it was.

We left on August 26th. We were on the 9:30pm flight out of Dillingham. When we went to check in, they told us that the flight was going to make a stop in King Salmon. In case you don't remember King Salmon, I had a bad experience the last couple times I was forced to go to King Salmon. We then went home for a while and started walking to the airport at about 8:50. As we were getting closer to the airport, 2 airport attendants yelled towards us asking if we were on this flight. We told them we were and they asked us to hurry so the plane could leave earlier. So we boarded the plane at 9pm and we were off to Anchorage.

It wasn't easy getting back to Kentucky. We had to fly from Dillingham to King Salmon, to Anchorage to Seattle, to Chicago, to Louisville then drive to Winchester, pick up a car and drive back to Lexington. It was a long trip. I will spare you the details of flying the red eye with 2 screaming children and the long lay overs.

When we landed, we were greeted in Louisville by our good friend Amanda. She was sweet enough to pick us up, take us to dinner and loan us a car for the duration of our stay. As we cruised us to Winchester to pick up Amanda's spare car, I saw my little brother, Michael, at the stop light. I yelled towards him and we got a short visit with him before we left for Lexington where we proceeded to pass out at our house.

One of the first things we did when we got up the next morning was to eat at Chik-Fil-A! Mmm... fast food chicken.

Samara even bought a Chik-Fil-A tshirt.

Hooray for chicken!

Friday, we did a little shopping and were suppose to meet up with our friends Scott and Kirsten to celebrate their son's first birthday. We couldn't find the park for the party and ended up having dinner with Ann and other Anne. Later in the week, we did meet up with Scott, Kirsten, Violet and Wip.

On Saturday, Aaron's parents and sister came up for a visit. Aaron and his dad worked on Ann's car while the girls went shopping. It was a good visit with them and Natalie got to visit with the kitties. She was more excited to see the kitties than she was with us. I can't say I blame her. Pippin is such a sweet cat and Eve is just as naughty as ever.

Here's Ann's car, in partially disassembled form.

Aaron and his did get Ann's car put back together and running, which was good. I think they enjoyed spending time together on that project.

We visited with a lot of our friends over the rest of the week that we were in Kentucky. I snapped this picture of Aaron eating ice cream with some of the boys.

Of course, I got a few shots of some of those boys in their drag outfits, as well. We spent a lot of time hanging out at Pulse Nightlife in Lexington. Two of our friends are the owners, and they've built a really nice bar/nightclub.

Another thing did during the time we were in Kentucky was hook up with our tattoo artist and get some new art. Aaron got a flying skull on his arm, which we didn't snap a good picture of yet. Samara got a tattoo that people either understand or don't: bacon in a frying pan on her leg.

The real reason for the entire trip to Kentucky was that Aaron needed to get sworn in to the Kentucky bar. So we went down the Kentucky capitol in Frankfort and did the whole official deal.

That's it. Now Aaron can practice law in Kentucky.

We paused for a few pictures in the stately capitol building. Isn't Samara cute?

Check the credentials on our famous Kentuckians.

And what's a trip to Kentucky without a tour of horse country?

Samara had a visit with her mom and sister (who was about to pop!).

On the second weekend we were home, Aleks and Jenny drove up from South Carolina to visit with us. Our first outing was a nice trip to the Pioneer Festival in Winchester.

Al was very excited about the Pioneer Festival.

Jenny, maybe not so much.

But we did do other fun things while they were there. Mostly alcohol-related. First, there was the winery.

Then, we checked out the distillery.

The free samples were better at the distillery.

I'm sure there was a lot more we did while we were in Kentucky. We saw a lot of our friends, but not everyone, unfortunately. (Sorry Matthew and Hideko!) The flights back to Alaska were better than the flights down. We got to go straight from Chicago to Anchorage, instead of stopping in Seattle. We also had an overnight layover in Anchorage. We crashed at our friends Nathan and Trevona's place. We even got to go out to eat with their daughter Sailor.

She tried all the different foods at the Yak'n'Yeti, which is pretty amazing for a kid that young.

We got back a while ago, obviously. What have we been up to since then? Well, mostly business as usual. Aaron is still working at the courthouse and doing Deputy Magistrate duties on weekends. Samara is still working at SAFE and trying to teach kids not to commit domestic violence. Aaron cut some wood for the steam, bought a big game tag for bear and replaced the water pump on our Canyonero. He's living the Alaska lifestyle. Samara's big news is that she got to go to Anchorage and then New Orleans on a two-week training conference extravaganza.

This is the part of the post where we promise to make better efforts to update our blog. Well, we'll try. But no guarantees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moose Hunting

This past weekend, I went moose hunting.

I'm lucky to have made friends with Tonya and Rich. They've been instrumental in more than one of my authentic Alaska experiences: commercial fishing in Ekuk and now moose hunting on the Snake River.

After hearing all the locals getting excited about the beginning of moose hunting season on August 20th, I expressed my interest in moose hunting to Tonya. She told me that Rich was going moose hunting the first weekend of hunting season. I got invited along with her, the girls and Rich down to their cabin on Snake River, which comes off Snake Lake.

I'd been to Snake Lake before in the winter on a snowmachine, but I had never been all the way out to the lake in the summer. Let me tell you, it's a pretty big difference from the frozen, snow-covered lake that I'd seen before.

In preparation for my hunting trip, I packed a backpack full of old clothes and made sure I had soft-point bullet for my Mosin rifle. Then I went down to the N&N Market and bought my resident hunting license for $25. (Hooray for being here a year and finally being a real "resident"!)

Now there are actually two moose hunting seasons in the fall in Dillingham. One is a regular harvest hunt, which requires you to take a bull with at least 50 inch antlers. The other is a Dillingham-resident-only hunt that starts earlier that allows you to take any bull moose. To participate in this hunt, you have to get a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Under the permit hunt, you have to report back whether you kill a moose or not so they know how many animals were harvested and how many people hunted. I picked up my permit for free at the ADF&G building.

While I was preparing to hunt, everyone I talked to seemed to think that it was a foregone conclusion that I'd get a moose, since I was hunting with Rich. Apparently he's got a good reputation for getting his moose. I already knew from talking to Rich that he is a self-described lazy hunter. Moose often weigh hundreds and hundreds of pounds. Shooting one deep into the bush is a nightmare once you realize that it all has to be cut and carried out of the woods. Most locals try to shoot one as close to their boat as possible so that the packing is minimized. Rich doesn't want to shoot a moose any farther than a few hundred yards from the river. That sounded perfect to me.

You may be wondering why I bothered to get a permit for a moose. After all, Samara and I don't have a big deep freezer and we couldn't possibly eat an entire moose. Well, to be honest, I didn't expect to harvest a moose for myself. Rich was planning to get one for his family, but he's done enough hunting in his life that he didn't care if I did the shooting. I got a permit just in case I got to be the one that dropped the hammer on the moose.

On Friday, Tonya and I cut out of work early and did some quick shopping before meeting Rich at the landing at the end of Snake Lake Road. We had just enough time to stop on our way over the mountain so that I could sight in my rifle. At 25 and 50 yards, three quick aimed shots resulted in groups small enough to put a bullet solidly in a moose's vitals, so I was good to go.

We got to the landing and met Rich and the girls in the skiff. It's a small aluminum skiff with a outboard jet motor. It steps across the lake pretty well, even when there's a bit of whitecaps. Where it really shines, though, is when we get into the river, which is pretty shallow. Without a jet, you can't run the Snake River without running the risk of tearing up your outboard's prop.

Rich and Tonya own acres of land out along the Snake River. They've built a cabin right on a small bluff overlooking the river.

They laugh about how rudimentary it is, but it is actually pretty comfortable. It has a main floor and loft, with a wood stove for heating. There is a nice gas grill outside for cooking, as well as being able to cook over the fire. There an outhouse (with an actual toilet seat) and plenty of chairs to lounge around in. When you're relaxing in the wilderness, what more can you ask for?

Of course, Rich has his big boy toys out there. Not satisfied with just a 4-wheeler, he actually has a D3 bulldozer for blazing trails. Besides the skiff, he's also got a canoe for paddling the river.

After we got our stuff unpacked and dinner started, we went back up the river a little ways so that the girls could do some fishing. This river has lots of red salmon this time of year, which don't tend to bite much, and tons of world-class rainbow trout, which definitely will bite when you use salmon eggs as bait. I actually managed to catch a few fish myself on this trip (which we threw back, of course). I caught some rainbow trout, which put up a good fight. I also got a red salmon on the line, who seemed to just want to give up once I hooked him. One of the girls hooked a silver salmon, which made Tonya pretty jealous. She's always wanted to get a silver salmon on a fishing line, as opposed to the way she normally catches them in a big commercial net. This 6 to 7 pound silver wasn't going without a fight through, and finally broke the line before Rich could get it in the boat.

After a dinner of pork loin and potatoes, we got to bed. I slept in my sleeping bag on an army cot next to the wood stove. It was pretty cozy. The dogs, two big labs, slept downstairs with me.

The twins, Rich and Tonya all slept up in the loft in their beds. Like I said, not too primitive. Rich even had a generator to run for lights and radio once it got dark.

Rich set the alarm for early Saturday morning and we got up before the sun even rose. We got our gear together and took the canoe down to the river. I was hunting with my Russian surplus Mosin Nagant, but Rich hunts with an old 7mm mag Savage bolt action. His rifle looks rough. The bluing is practically gone from the barrel and there's an old sock wrapped around the stock that he uses to cover the scope. To get it ready for hunting season, he douses the thing in Marvel Mystery Oil and lets it drain off.

He's had a lot of people laugh at that rifle, but he can make some amazing shots with it. He says the first two shots are always extremely accurate, and after that, the pencil-thin barrel starts to heat up and the shots wander all over. He told me that he once won a few bet with a customer that he was helping his brother commercial guide by hitting a wounded brown bear just behind the ear from over 500 yards away with his ratty old rifle. Still, I thought it was pretty funny that my half-century old surplus rifle looked like the prom queen leaning next to his old Savage.

Saturday was a rainy morning.

We paddled down the river, watching for moose in the trees and over the tundra. The rain seemed to be keeping them all bedded down, though. Rich saw a cow in the trees at one point, and we found the spot a little farther down river where she'd crossed and left tracks.

I got a great picture of Rich with one of his classic expressions on his face. He looks like I just asked him how many legs a moose has.

As we paddled down, we passed a bald eagle's nest, with the baby eagle still hanging around even though he was getting pretty large. We also saw the mother and father flying around the area.

A little past the nest, we turned off into a slough that went back up and let out near the cabin. It was a long and winding waterway, and there was plenty of chance to watch for moose as we paddled along in the spitting rain.

After a while, we hit a beaver dam, and had to portage the canoe across. We took that chance to look around a bit, and saw some bear tracks, as well as a bunch of moose tracks. Rich figured they weren't very old, and indicated a cow, calf and a bull. That's when he decided they must all be bedded down because of the rain. There was a beaver swimming around the pond behind his dam, and when he saw us, he slapped his tail on the water and dove.

Before long, we got back on the water and headed further up the slough. There were some more beaver dams, but they had all been broken and the water was pouring through with no sign of the beavers.

We saw plenty of ducks during this time, but no moose. The slough put us right back up at the foot of the cabin, which was nice because it was getting to be breakfast time.

Rich and Tonya sure do eat well when they're in Ekuk or out at the cabin. We had bacon, eggs, toast and southern-style hash browns. After a nap, we decided to take a little fishing trip. We packed up the twins and Tonya, then headed up to the lake to another fishing spot.

After crossing the lake and finding the creek outlet we were looking for, there didn't turn out to be any fish hanging around.

There was a fat seagull, an otter, and lots of views of the pretty mountains, though.

Pretty quickly, we headed back down the river.

We found a better fishing spot and threw a few lines in the water. The girls really enjoy fishing, especially when it's so productive. They catch plenty of nice rainbow trout on the Snake River. It's always really easy to spot the red salmon as well.

Later that evening, we decided to take another try at the moose hunting. Rich and I took one of the girls, Caiti, and floated down the river in the skiff for a little ways, watching for moose.

Even though the rain had let up, we still didn't see much. Rich got off the boat and did a little stalking in the woods while Caiti and I fished.

When he got back, he said he'd seen a bull off the tundra, but when he tried to stalk closer, a swan took off and blew his cover. The bull disappeared into the woods. Since we weren't likely to get a moose that night, we did a bit more fishing and headed back.

That second night, I was plenty tired and slept well! Sunday morning, we got up early again and Rich and I took the other twin, Shari, with us on the moose hunt this time.

We floated down to the spot where Rich had seen some moose before and got out to look around. Rich found a shed antler, so he scraped and banged it on a tree for a while. That got one bull curious enough to peek his head out of the woods, but he was still way too far to shoot. We waited for a while along the shore for moose to show themselves, but didn't have any luck. There was one seriously pissed-off beaver hanging around our skiff, slapping his tail in the water, so we headed back up the river and did a bit more fishing. Then it was back to camp for breakfast.

That afternoon, we got all packed up and headed back across the river to home. It might not have been a productive hunting trip, but it was a pretty good fishing trip, and the views of the mountains and Alaska wilderness were amazing. I really enjoyed getting a chance to get out into the bush and away from the hustle and bustle of Dillingham, such that it is.

I hope to get another chance to enjoy Snake River before winter, but if not, I'm sure I'll be back the next summer.