Tag Archives: Alaskan wilderness

Guest Post by Marcia Messier

While Robin and Mike are on vacation trekking through New Zealand, I agreed to do a guest post for her, and I decided to write about two of the friends I made while working as a cook at Munsey’s Bear Camp.

The Gentleman

By Marcia Messier


I fell in love with Fletcher the moment he sauntered out of the house to greet me. Anyone who has known a Maine Coon Cat will agree they are magnificent animals. All that fur! It springs out of their ears and sticks up through their toes; it flows over their shoulders and back, culminating in a luxurious feather duster tail.

Fletcher was a mature gentleman. He never raised his voice or lost his temper but you were never in doubt he was the master of his house. To qualify as camp cook in his house I learned there was an initiation ritual, a series of tricky situations (don’t ask, don’t tell) that must be passed through. Eventually, I navigated this unknown territory without screaming out loud or making too much fuss and was accepted into my position.

My first summer in camp was a little difficult at times. I had so much to learn! By the end of the busy day I collapsed on my bed exhausted and maybe a little homesick. Fletcher could see I needed help so every evening he came upstairs to talk. Sometimes he would discuss the art of catching birds (a specific bird he alone may have put on the endangered list), or perhaps how to disembowel a vole, making absolute certain to leave the tiny green parts on the doorstep as a special offering to the” house spirits”.   Fletcher carefully explained how I should ignore the silly otters that lived under the dock in summer, and especially to be very careful of the smelly slippery mess they made on it (I slipped anyway). Most importantly, he lectured me on how far I could expect to walk on the beach without meeting a bear casually strolling past camp. After our comforting chat he would sing a purr-fect little song and I’d peacefully doze off.

Summer passed quickly. Soon Fletcher and I were sharing one last hug and one last bird story by the kitchen window. It was time to go.

The Game.   

By Marcia Messier


Gizzy was a beauty, a beauty with an attitude. Her long thick golden blond, carefully coiffed fur glistened and her large golden eyes blinked as she regarded everyone with an expression of absolute boredom.

Guests were sometimes spellbound by her beauty. Bear, fox and bald eagles were forgotten as they rolled around the lawn with cameras focused, trying to capture the perfect angle of the Kodiak sun shining through Gizzy’s luxurious golden fur, creating an aura of light about her body.

As a matter of fact, her fur was the exact color of the seaweed that washed upon our shore in the summer.

One day, Gizzy bored as she was, decided to have a game of “Hide & Seek” with the new cook. It was mid-afternoon before I realized she hadn’t been on her perch all day. Nervously, I began to search, upstairs, downstairs, and in the cabins… no sign of her. Finally, looking over the edge of the bluff down onto the beach I saw the golden seaweed surging back and forth with the high tide. Had she fallen into the water? Did I see something that resembled her body in that thick seaweed?   No, no, impossible! Still, how was I going to explain to Robin and Mike I had lost the cat? Nonetheless, presently I had to move on; it was time to suspend the search and prepare dinner. Later on, nearly in tears thinking Gizzy was gone, while tidying-up before guests arrived, far back in a corner near the wood stove and curled up behind a pair of boots was Gizzy! Flipping her tail and grinning slyly up at me, I had to concede, Gizzy had indeed won her game!



The List

Grocery Delivery
Grocery Delivery

“The List”is another guest post by Marcia Messier.  In case you missed her earlier posts, Marcia cooked at Munsey’s Bear Camp from 2003 to 2011 and has written some wonderful stories about her experiences.  Marcia, Pat Munsey, and I are working on a cookbook, and Marcia’s stories will be included in that.

One of the toughest things to learn as a cook at a wilderness lodge is to plan ahead on groceries and to be flexible.   During our summer trips, I e-mail the grocery order to the store, they fill it for us, and we receive the groceries on the plane with our next group of guests.  Even when we do a perfect job of remembering everything we need, the grocery store may be out of something, or they may misunderstand what we want and replace it with what they think we want.  For example, this summer we received our groceries, but there were no eggs.  We checked the note from the store, and in neat hand writing beside my order of eggs, was the message that eggs were out of stock.  I assure you, it is not easy to substitute for eggs, so Mary, our current cook, went into “creativity mode,” and I am certain none of our guests were any the wiser.  Another example of adventures in e-mail grocery ordering was when Marcia cooked for us, and she asked me to order malted-milk balls, because she had a cookie recipe that called for them.  When the order arrived, we were surprised to see that they sent us moth balls instead of malted-milk balls.

I think Marcia does a beautiful job summing up the never-ending adventure of ordering groceries in the Alaskan wilderness.

The List

by Marcia Messier

A major grocery store has never been more than 10 minutes from my home.  If the egg or bread supply is low, no problem, jump in the car and go to the store.

Robin taught me about planning ahead and “The List”.  It was simple, notice when an item was low and write it down. Plan the weekly meals and make sure you can cover them. Groceries came from Kodiak on a float plane along with the guests, once a week, as long as the weather was flyable.  If the grocery store in Kodiak didn’t have what was on the List, we didn’t get it, or we got some strange, useless replacement item.  If produce was wilted and old, we got wilted and old, or none at all.  I remember a young man who filled our orders at the grocery store in Kodiak one summer.  I vowed when I got back to town, I would track him down, and I would speak to him about how his inattention to our List……made me a better cook!

There were instances, however, due to my own inattention, that I forgot to write items on the list and we had to do without that item until the next plane….for instance, eggs and bread!  To my surprise, guests seemed to like sausage gravy and biscuits, piles of pancakes, apple crisp, potatoes, beans and breakfast meats.  No one seemed to notice (or were too polite to mention) the absence of eggs on the table.  At lunch, Focaccia bread sandwiches were wildly popular as a substitute for sliced store bread, when I failed to notice every last loaf in the freezer was gone.  Maybe that had something to do with fish taking over my corner of the freezer…maybe not.

Now, once in a while there was something beyond my control that upset the menu.  Something got into the soup?  Open a few cans of canned soup and throw in a few odd spices…exotic!  Veggies all torn up from a rough ride in the plane?  Open a few cans of green beans and make a casserole…yum!  Salad boring?  Cold canned carrots and sliced onions in a vinegar dressing….surprisingly tasty!

Our guests were always happy and had a big appetites after being out on the water all day fishing and bear viewing with Robin and Mike.  At the end of the day this made me happy too, and the List was forgotten, until tomorrow.


Living in the Kodiak Wilderness


Living in the Kodiak wilderness is not a lifestyle most people would choose. Over the years, many of my high-school and college friends have visited me here, and some say to me, “You are so lucky! I’d love to live here!” Others, though, give me a bewildered look and ask, “How can you stand to live out here all by yourselves?”  A few of my friends even seem to pity me, which amuses me, since I think I am lucky to live and work in the wilderness. People either tend to romanticize a peaceful life away from civilization, or they picture it as a type of prison. From my perspective, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Living in the wilderness is much easier today than it was even fifteen years ago. We no longer have to depend on spotty radio signals to communicate with Kodiak, as we did when I first moved here. We have a satellite phone, satellite internet, even satellite television. We are fortunate to receive essential air service once a week in the winter that brings us our mail, freight and groceries. When I need to order something from the grocery store, I simply e-mail my order to the store, they fill it, deliver it to the airlines, and we receive it on our next mail flight.

Munsey's Bear Camp
Munsey’s Bear Camp

The scenery on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is spectacular during every season, and we often have deer, eagles, and foxes in our yard, and whales, seals, sea otters, and sometimes sea lions in the cove in front of our house. The quiet is complete, especially in the winter, and I don’t miss the hustle and bustle of the holidays. We work hard from April through November, so those peaceful, winter days are a nice change of pace, and should the mood strike me, I can always spend a day shopping on the internet.


Living in the wilderness does have its drawbacks, though, and this life isn’t always easy. I miss having close friends, and most of the friends I do have, can’t relate to my lifestyle. I miss attending concerts, plays, movies, and other cultural events, and I definitely miss going out to dinner. My husband, Mike, grew up in the wilderness, and he said the hardest part as a kid was the lack of friends and the social awkwardness he and his siblings felt when they did go to town and were around other children.

From a practical standpoint, you must be a jack of all trades if you live in the wilderness. From fixing our outboard to our computer, if we can’t figure out how to do it, we’re out of luck, at least until we can get the broken item to a repairman in town. If it breaks, we either have to fix it or buy a new one. If our internet goes out, we’ve lost our main source of communication, including the internet provider who could help us fix the problem. Calling help lines on a satellite phone is expensive and frustrating, since the call is often dropped before we can talk to a live human.

Frozen Stream
Frozen Stream

We are also on our own if we have a fire or need immediate help from law enforcement. The troopers will arrive eventually, but they are a long distance away and can’t provide immediate support. We can call the Coast Guard if we have a serious injury or a medical emergency, but again, it takes time for them to deploy and get to us, so we make sure we have the knowledge, training, and equipment to deal with most medical emergencies. You can’t depend on others when you choose to live so far away from civilization.

It is often frustrating to me that the rest of the world doesn’t understand where or how I live. Try ordering something without a street address! We receive a mail plane once a week, and the post office has issued us a postal code that even they do not recognize. I am constantly trying to convince online stores that I will receive their merchandise if they mail it to the address I have provided. Some tell me I’m wrong, my address does not exist, and they will not ship to it. We even run into problems with businesses and doctors in Kodiak. I once spent $1000 on a trip to town for a blood test that could have easily been ordered during my doctor’s visit the previous week. It is also frustrating to make an appointment months in advance only to have to cancel it at the last minute, because the weather is too bad to fly to town.

There are pros and cons to living in the wilderness, just as there are pros and cons to living anywhere. Our lifestyle is different, but for the most part, I enjoy it. I love welcoming people during our summer trips and showing them around our world. Many are anxious when they first arrive, unsure of what to expect, and it’s fun to watch them relax as they leave the problems of the outside world behind them and become in tune with the rhythms of our world. I know living in the remote wilderness of Kodiak Island is not a lifestyle most people would embrace, but that’s one of the reasons it’s so special to me.