Category Archives: Historical

Wild Pets

Bald Eagle

The Munsey kids usually had domestic cats, but they also had many wild pets over the years.  Today, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) laws prohibit feeding and taming wild animals, but in the 1960s and 1970s, ADF&G not only allowed people to rescue wild animals, but ADF&G employees, themselves, often rescued animals and brought many of these animals to the Munseys to care for, nurse back to health, and re-release into the wild.

A few of these animals were good pets, but most were not.  Mike remembers a baby bald eagle, rescued after falling out of its nest, being a particularly bad pet.  Whenever anyone left the house, the eagle would chase them, demanding food.  According to family legend, young Bob wore a red coat that the eagle found particularly attractive, so whenever anyone wanted to leave the house, they’d coax Bob to put on his coat and run the opposite direction.  The eagle would chase Bob, and the other family members could escape the house unmolested.

Baby seals abandoned by their mothers were cute but often did not survive, and it is likely there was something wrong with the babies to begin with, and that’s why their mothers abandoned them.  A few of the seals did make it, though, and I’ve seen 8mm footage of Pat in the water in hip boots, coaxing a baby seal to swim.  Pat remembers the mess the seals made when the kids would sneak them up to their rooms.

Two of the favorite pets were birds.  Tom Emerson with Fish and Game gave the Munseys a one-legged magpie that he had taught to say, “Maggie,” her name.  Herbie was a seagull chick the Munseys raised, and he became very attached to the children.  One time, just as Herbie was learning to fly, the Munseys were returning home by boat.  Herbie was so excited he took off and flew toward them, but he hadn’t quite perfected the art of landing, and he crashed into the water beside the skiff.  The kids scooped him into the boat and dried his feathers.

Red foxes are easy to partially tame with food, and at times, the Munseys had as many as eight foxes in the yard at mealtime.  A man in Kodiak gave Park six raccoons, and Park released them at the Amook Pass home.  The raccoons would join the foxes for meals, and sometimes the raccoons and foxes would enter the house, where the Munseys’ Siamese cats curiously watched them.  As hard as it is to believe, these wild and domestic animals peacefully co-existed as long as there was plenty of food.

The Munseys soon realized that releasing the raccoons had not been a good idea.  The raccoons began to breed, and since they are not native to Kodiak Island, ADF&G biologists became alarmed that these invasive predators would climb trees and eat the eggs of endemic birds.  ADF&G hired a young woman to stay with the Munseys and shoot every raccoon she saw.  Unfortunately, the raccoons were most active at night, when it was too dark to hunt, and how could she shoot these animals the kids considered pets?  Eventually, to the relief of wildlife biologists, the raccoons died off and did not become a threat to the resident birds.  I should point out that tempting as it may be, biologists now feel it is a bad idea to feed wild animals.  The animals need to learn how to procure their own food, and human intervention, no matter how well-meaning, interferes with their survival instincts.

Mike, Bob, and their fellow crewmen rescued the eagle pictured at the top of this post when Mike was a college student, and he and Bob spent their summers working as commercial gill-net fishermen at Greenbanks, a fish site near the mouth of Uyak Bay.  They found the eagle floating in the water nearly dead and picked him up and took him to shore.  They threw a tarp over him, and the next morning, he was sitting on the tarp.  He was tired, weak and looked terrible, but he accepted food and slowly gained back his strength.  He devoured the fish the guys tossed to him, but he would back away when they tried to approach too closely.  Finally, after two weeks, he flew away without a backward glance.  Mike took the photo at the top of this post the day before the eagle departed, and a few years later, the photo graced the cover of Alaska magazine.

It was a magical childhood to grow up in the middle of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, surrounded by wild animals and even having a few of them for pets.  I marvel that after all these years living in the wilderness, Mike still smiles when he sees a deer in the yard or a fox on the beach.  He has never lost that childhood thrill of seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat.

 

Growing up in the Kodiak Wilderness

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When I hear my husband and his siblings talk about their experiences growing up in the Kodiak wilderness, I envision a 1970’s Disney Movie, complete with wild pets and adventures in the air, on the sea, and in the woods.  All six Munsey children grew up to be tough, self-reliant, and creative.  They love nature, and I know they would all agree that they are more comfortable in the woods than they are in a city.  Growing up in the wilderness is not an easy life, though.  Your only close friends are your siblings, and your parents need and expect you to help with the endless chores that are required to carve out a living in the wilds.  When you do move away to go to college or get a job, you may be ill-prepared to deal with the drastic lifestyle change, and none of your new friends understand what your childhood was like.

Bob, the fifth child in the Munsey clan, was born on a blustery March day in the middle of a storm, when the weather was too nasty for Park to fly Pat to Kodiak to the hospital.  Pat somehow had a premonition the baby would come early, and she might not make it to town for the delivery.  Since she was a nurse who had helped deliver many babies, she prepared an emergency kit and told Park what to do if he needed to deliver the baby.  That day, Eddie Paakinen, the caretaker of a nearby cannery, stopped by to visit.  When Pat went into labor, Eddie nervously waited in another room while Park delivered the baby.   The delivery proceeded without a hitch, and the baby boy was christened, “Robert Amook” after Amook Pass where Munsey’s Bear Camp is located.

The Munsey children had numerous adventures, and every time the family gets together, I hear new tales.  This summer during the family reunion, they were laughing about the time some young fisheries researchers were staying with them and built the kids a zip line.  Apparently it was great fun, but there was no braking mechanism on the rope, so the ride ended abruptly by plowing into a tree trunk.

Mike and Bob helped their Dad around the lodge, and both followed him into the field on hunting expeditions as soon as they were old enough to carry rifles.  Toni, Patti, Jeri, and Peggy helped their mom in the kitchen and around the house, but all the kids were proficient with outboards and knew how to handle guns.

Mike remembers miserable, stormy nights when he and Bob had to help their Dad keep the floatplane tied down and water pumped out of the floats.  One late fall, the Munseys had put all their boats up on a ramp and were closing down the lodge, preparing to move to town for the winter.  That night the wind howled, and when Park checked on his airplane in the middle of the night, he found the dock had been ripped apart by the storm, and there was no way to get to the airplane, which was tied at the end of the dock.  He quickly woke Mike, who was twelve at the time, and they pushed a boat in the water and put an outboard on it.  They quickly raced to the end of the dock, and Park got in his plane and told Mike to head back to shore.  As soon as Mike started for the beach, the engine choked and died, and the wind began to blow him away from shore.  He repeatedly tried to start the outboard, but it wouldn’t turn over.  Park began yelling for him, and Mike was terrified as he continued to pull the cord.  Finally the outboard roared to life, and Mike made it to shore.

In the winters, the Munseys usually moved to Kodiak for a few months, and the kids had to transition from being home-schooled to attending public school.  Even more difficult, they had to learn how to interact with other children and fit in with “town” life.

Life in the wilderness is often not a Disney movie for a child, but as I sat at the table at the recent Munsey reunion and listened to their stories and laughter, I knew not a single one of them would have traded his or her childhood for a more conventional one.

 

Amook Airways

 

Munsey Family is greeted by the Governor of New Hampshire
Munsey Family is greeted by the Governor of New Hampshire

Park Munsey became a pilot in the late fifties, and in the 1960s, he started Amook Airways, a small air-charter business. His wife, Pat, was his dispatcher, and their home in Amook Pass was their base of operations. Park not only flew his hunting clients, but he also flew for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and delivered mail and supplies around the island. Over the years, he owned an Aeronca Champ, a Tri-Pacer, a Cessna 180, a Cessna 185, a Twin Seabee, and a Grumman Widgeon.

Park bought the Tri-Pacer in 1961, and that winter, he, Pat, and the children flew in it from Kodiak to New Hampshire to visit relatives. In preparation for the long flight, Pat got her pilot’s license, so she could help with the flying. When the Munseys reached New Hampshire, they presented the governor of that state with a gift from Bill Egan, the governor of Alaska.

Pat remembers one harrowing day when the crankshaft broke on Park’s Cessna 185, and he was forced to land on Olga Bay in heavy seas. The hard impact of the landing caused the floats to rupture, and as the floats filled with water, the plane flipped upside down, and Park climbed onto the floats. When he didn’t return home and didn’t call on the radio, Pat contacted the Coast Guard, reported him overdue, and braced herself for the worst. As the waves lapped over the pontoons, the floats slowly filled with water, and by the time the Coast Guard arrived, they found Park straddling the sinking floats, writing a last letter to his wife and children.

Park sold his last plane, the Grumman Widgeon, in the mid 1970s, and he and Pat began spending winters in Hawaii. Mike purchased Munsey’s Bear Camp from his parents in 1980, but Park continued to guide bear hunters during the spring and fall hunts.

Never content to sit idle, Park bought a boat in Hawaii and started a SCUBA diving business. He taught SCUBA classes, and he and his boat could be

chartered for diving trips. In 1982, Park competed in the famous Iron Man Triathlon in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and finished eighth in his age bracket. The following spring, at the age of 54, he collapsed while guiding a bear hunter out of an interior-lake camp near Spiridon Bay. He died a few days later from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Pat remarried in 1984, and she and her husband, Wally, still live in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, DSCF1006where Pat works in real estate. This summer (2015), Pat, Wally, Toni, Patti, Jeri, Bob, Peggy, spouses and several grandkids all visited our Amook Pass home, where we celebrated Pat’s 85th birthday.

 

 

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Munsey’s Bear Camp

 

Munsey Family 1960
Munsey Family 1960

By the1960s, the Munseys spent most of the year at Munsey’s Bear Camp, their lodge in Amook Pass, where Park guided bear hunters in Uyak and Spiridon Bays.  He soon established another hunting camp at the south end of Becharof Lake on the Alaska Peninsula, where he guided bear, moose, and caribou hunts.  Park was a registered guide and eventually became a master guide, holding master guide license number twelve.

Munsey’s Bear Camp was not just a lodge, it was a home.  Pat cooked for the hunters and then held school for the kids in a corner of the living room. Mike and Bob assisted their father during the hunts as soon as they were old enough to climb the mountains.  Toni, Patti, Jeri, and Peggy helped their mother in the kitchen, and all the kids learned how to safely run boats and shoot rifles.

Pat running the skiff
Pat running the skiff

Fish and Game employees and others often brought the Munseys sick or orphaned wild animals to nurse back to health or to raise.  I’ve seen 8mm-movie footage that shows Pat, dressed in a raincoat and hip boots, standing in the ocean gently urging a baby harbor seal to swim.  The pup had been abandoned by its mother soon after birth, so Pat assumed the maternal coaching responsibilities.  Other pets included foxes, a magpie, and even a bald eagle that had fallen out of its nest.  Their favorite pet, though, was a seagull they named Herbie.  Once Herbie mastered flying, he would often fly out to greet members of the family when they returned home in their skiff.

Park and Mike
Park and Mike

During the March 27th, 1964 earthquake, Mike remembers walking to the generator shed with his father when the first jolt hit and sent him sprawling.  They returned to the house and switched on the single-sideband radio, where they heard people yelling for help.  The marine operator told listeners that there had been an earthquake and to standby for a tsunami warning announcement.  Park and Pat gathered supplies and led the children up the hill behind the lodge, where they sat, huddled in sleeping bags, and waited for the water to subside.

Pat, Toni, and Patti
Pat, Toni, and Patti

The Munsey children have all carried remnants of their unique childhood into their present-day lives.  Cooking is Toni’s passion, and she owns The Rendezvous, a bar and restaurant near Kodiak.  On her menu, you will discover a few items that were inspired, at least in part, by recipes she learned from her mother at the lodge in Amook Pass.  Patti and her husband, Rick, are both captains and have spent many years running large yachts.  Their busy schedules have taken them to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, among other places.  Jeri and her husband, Mark, are also captains and operate a number of tour boats as well as a beautiful, 57-ft. sailboat on the island of Maui in Hawaii.  Bob is a commercial fisherman and fishes a gill-net site at Chief Cove in Uyak Bay.  He also guides bear, deer, and goat hunters alongside Mike.  Bob’s wife, Linda, is a nurse.  Peggy lives in Oregon with her two, beautiful children.  She is a nurse like her mother, but she now operates a dog kennel and an animal sanctuary.

Munsey Family Reunion, 2006
Munsey Family Reunion, 2006

Mike and I still run Munsey’s Bear Camp.  In 2016, the business will be sixty years old, and for fifty-eight of those years, Munsey’s Bear Camp has been in Amook Pass in Uyak Bay.  Mike and I have expanded the activities at the lodge to include wildlife-viewing and sport fishing.  Both Mike and Bob are master guides, and they still guide bear, deer, and mountain goat hunts in Uyak and Spiridon Bays.