Tag Archives: Kodiak Alaska

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan first appeared in my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, when he traveled to Kodiak, Alaska to investigate an explosion on a floatplane that killed, among others, a U.S. Senator. Nick, and my protagonist, Jane Marcus, spent time together solving the mystery, and just when it looked as if sparks might ignite, Nick made the decision to try to reunite with his estranged wife. Now, a year and a half later, Agent Morgan returns to Kodiak to aid the local police in their investigation of a string of murders. This next excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, describes Nick’s arrival in Kodiak on a typical, stormy, winter day.

Morgan barely could see the runway as the Dash 8 descended through the thick clouds and heavy snow toward Kodiak. Wind buffeted the plane from side to side, and he wondered how the pilot would manage to control the plane and hit the runway with this poor visibility and turbulence. It seemed like only seconds between the time they popped out under the clouds and the plane touched down on the runway, bounced once, and then screeched to a stop in front of the small terminal.
Morgan grabbed his bag and briefcase and headed down the stairs of the plane. With all the traveling he did, he had learned to pack light. Snow and wind pummeled him as soon as he stepped out of the plane; he pulled the hood of his parka over his head and rushed toward the door of the airport. When he stepped inside the terminal, an Alaska State Trooper walked toward him and held out his hand.
“Agent Morgan, I’m Dan Patterson. It’s nice to meet you.”
Morgan shook Patterson’s hand. “Please, call me Nick.”
Patterson nodded. Do you have luggage?”
“No, this is it,” Morgan said. “I probably should get a rental car, though.”
“Why don’t you wait on that. You won’t want to drive a rental car on these roads. We can chauffeur you around until the weather improves.”
The men left the airport and hurried to the trooper SUV. As they pulled out onto the highway, Morgan said, “I’m sure this weather isn’t making your investigation any easier.”
“Forget forensic evidence,” Patterson said. If you want to murder someone, winter in Kodiak is the time and place to do it. “We’ve got zip for footprints or tire tracks.”
“What about for the Ayers girl. It wasn’t snowing then, was it?”
“For that one, we had heavy rain to wash away any evidence.”
“The M.E. thinks the last victim was sexually assaulted, but he has no semen?” Morgan asked.
“Right. He found residue from a condom in the last victim, but no residue in the Ayers girl. He suspects the first victim was also sexually assaulted, but he couldn’t be certain, and of course, there is no way to know what happened to Deanna Kerr.”
“Her family still doesn’t know she was murdered?” Morgan asked.
“No, we thought you would want to be there when we break the news.”
“Do you think anyone in her family is capable of committing these crimes?” Morgan asked.
“Not really, but you said we should concentrate on individuals who spent the summer in Uyak Bay, or at least were on a boat in Uyak Bay around the Fourth of July and spent the remainder of the year in or around town. No one fits that picture any better than the Kerr family.”
Morgan liked the way Patterson thought. He was already forming an opinion of the trooper as a sharp investigator. He was impressed Patterson had called the FBI so early in the investigation. Too many cops hated to ask for help, especially from the FBI; they wanted the glory of solving the case by themselves. Patterson, though, seemed more interested in catching the perpetrator before more women were killed. He wasn’t thinking about his career or his pride; he wanted only to utilize the best resources he could find to catch the killer.
“I already have you registered at the Baranof Inn. Do you want to drop off anything there or go straight to our headquarters? I have a task force meeting planned to begin in half an hour. I wasn’t sure your plane would be able to land in this weather, so I should call the other task force members and let them know you’re here and the meeting is a go.”
“I don’t need to stop at the hotel,” Morgan said. “Let’s go to your headquarters, and I’ll get organized.”
Agent Morgan joins Patterson and the Alaska State Troopers and the Kodiak Police Department in investigating the murders of four women. Will more women die before they find the killer, or will the murderer leave the island before they apprehend him? I’ll release more excerpts from my novel when my publication date nears; I promise!

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley

Park Ranger Liz Kelley discovers the body of a young woman while making her rounds in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park on a snowy, November night. This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is told from Liz’s viewpoint.

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley was alone on patrol at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, but since she was the only ranger who worked at the 182-acre park, this was business as usual for her. Fort Abercrombie is a beautiful park, rich in history and nestled in a Sitka spruce forest. The park is bordered on its front edge by steep cliffs that plunge into the heavy surf of the ocean. The park has a small lake containing trout, and in the summer, meadows teem with wildflowers of every hue. There are numerous campsites designed primarily for tent campers, and in the summer, the park is full of tourists.

It was not summer, though. It was a snowy, blustery November evening. Liz sometimes patrolled the main area of the park on foot when the weather was nice, but when it wasn’t, she made her rounds in the beat-up pickup with the state park insignia on the door. In the summer, she spent most of the day out on the park grounds, answering visitor’s questions and making sure they obeyed the park’s rules. This time of the year, she spent most of her time huddled in the ranger’s station with her computer, a small t. v., and most importantly, a coffee maker. Liz had last driven the main roads of the park at 5:00 pm, and she hadn’t seen a living soul.   She had seen several deer huddled under the protection of the spruce trees, but she saw no trucks, cars, nor tents. When she got back to the ranger’s station, however, she noticed headlights pulling into the park. It was too dark to determine the make or model of the vehicle, let alone see who the driver was, but it had to be teenagers. Who else would be out in the park on a snowy, November night? She hadn’t seen the vehicle leave the park, but she assumed it had driven past while she was deep in concentration, working on her computer.

At 7:00 pm, Liz locked the ranger’s station and climbed into the truck to make her final rounds for the evening. She was anxious to get home to her husband and dog, so this would be a quick trip down the main road. She wanted to make sure that the vehicle she’d seen entering the park earlier hadn’t slid off the slick roads. She hoped the driver had enough sense not to drive down one of the side roads in this weather, and she wasn’t willing to drive down every small road looking for a phantom vehicle.

Liz drove slowly in the blizzard conditions. Four inches of snow covered the ground, and the large, heavy, wet flakes were quickly adding to the amount. She estimated the wind was blowing 35 knots or more, causing the snow to whiz horizontally past her windshield. For a moment, she considered abandoning her last rounds and heading home, but she continued at a snail’s pace, stopping every few feet to look left and right into the forest. Only an idiot or an overzealous park ranger would be out here on a night like this, she thought.

She reached the end and the concrete barrier where people could stand and look out over Spruce Cape and was happy to see there were no vehicles parked there. She did a U-turn and was starting back toward the park entrance when her headlights illuminated something bright pink a few feet off the road. At first, she thought it was a plastic bag, but it was too big. Should she stop and check it or pretend she didn’t see it and keep driving? She exhaled a deep sigh, shifted into park, grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment, and crawled out of the truck. She cinched her hood tight and slogged through the snow toward the pink object. After only a few steps, she realized she was looking at a pink, down coat. After several more steps, she saw there was someone in the coat. She hurried toward the fallen form, all thoughts of her husband and dog and their cozy family room vanished from her mind, and she began running through first aid protocols in her head. Would she have to perform CPR? Did she have her rescue-breathing mask in her pocket? Should she put on her rubber gloves before she even touched the victim?

“Ma’am,” she called, “can you hear me?”

Liz slowed her pace as she neared the victim. “Ma’am?” The woman was on her side facing away from Liz. Liz touched her arm and called to her again, and when the woman didn’t reply, Liz rolled her onto her back. She took one look at her and stepped away from the body. She switched the flashlight to her left hand, and her right hand instinctually unsnapped her holster. She put her right hand on the butt of her gun while she swung the flashlight in a wide arc. She had seen a vehicle enter the park around 5:00, but she had not seen it leave. Was the murderer still in the park? Was he watching her? She felt the sweat run down her back, and she fought to control her emotions. It was no time to panic. She had to think clearly and act professionally.

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Next week, I will re-introduce you to FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan when he is asked to fly to Kodiak to help investigate the string of murders.

My May Mystery Newsletter is a shocking, true story of murder from Craig, Alaska. If you would like to read it, you can sign up below.

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Tragic Bear Tale

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My tragic bear tale occurred in the mid-1980s during our summer bear-viewing trips. My husband, Mike, and I were walking down the beach with five guests. We were finished bear viewing for the day, and since there were no bears in sight, we were talking quietly. Mike looked up on the hill above the beach and saw a sow watching us. Mike knew immediately that she was agitated. She popped her teeth, and foam frothed from her mouth. Mike yelled at us to get back, and although I had never before been frightened around bears, the sound of his voice made my legs tremble. I repeated his orders to our guests, who were trying to understand the situation. Mike yelled at the sow again and then pumped a shell into the chamber of the .375 H&H rifle he always carries on our bear-viewing trips. Normally, the loud, metallic sound of a shell being injected into the chamber of the rifle is enough to deter curious bears, but it had no effect on this bear. She stomped her front feet on the bank and lunged from side to side, while she continued to foam at the mouth. Mike fired once into the dirt in front of her, a maneuver sure to make her flee. She stood still for only a moment and then flew down the cliff straight toward Mike. He shot again, and she dropped six feet from him.

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At the time, I didn’t realize what an impact those few seconds would have on the rest of my life. All I felt then was grief and sympathy for her two yearling cubs. Mike was so distraught over the experience that he considered never taking another bear viewer into the woods, but he knew brown bears rarely charge humans, and this probably never would happen to us again. The following day, Mike skinned the bear and turned the hide over to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). A biologist determined that the sow had been 23 years old, and both the biologist and Mike believed that at her advanced age, her senses may have been impaired. She’d probably been asleep, and when she awoke and heard us walking down the beach, she considered us an immediate threat to her cubs and didn’t hesitate to charge. The biologist believed the cubs had approximately a 50% chance of survival through the winter. Not only would they have to avoid being killed by larger bears, but they’d need to build up their fat reserves, find or dig a den, and survive hibernation without the aid of their mother.

For many years after the sow charged us, I was terrified every time we took a group of guests bear viewing, and I was especially wary of sows and cubs. Looking back, I now believe I suffered from a form of post-traumatic-stress disorder, and it took a long time to overcome the trauma of that sunny, July afternoon. The experience heightened my respect for the speed and power of Kodiak bears, and it was also a crash course in understanding the differences between a bluff charge, often seen with sub-adult bears, and the real thing.

Kodiak Bear Sow and Cub

I no longer dread getting close to brown bears. On the contrary, I love sitting on a riverbank watching bears chase salmon, and seeing a sow interact with her cubs is a special treat, but after that July encounter so many years ago, I will never be complacent around brown bears.

 

 

Autumn on Kodiak Island

Autumn in Amook Pass
Autumn in Amook Pass

Autumn on Kodiak Island is a beautiful time of year, but I’ll be honest, it is not my favorite season.

Once the fuchsia petals have fallen from the fireweed, the leaves turn crimson, and the mountainsides are cloaked in a Christmas quilt of dark green and brilliant red. The cottonwood, alder, and birch leaves fade to yellow, and the abundant sedges along the shoreline gleam golden against the orange rock weed. High-bush cranberry leaves turn scarlet, and the fragrant scent of the sweet berries wafts on the breeze, mixed with the pungent odor of decaying salmon.

On a sunny day, autumn on Kodiak is breathtaking, especially if you view it while skimming the mountains in a plane. Unfortunately, there are not many sunny, calm days during a Kodiak autumn. Low-pressure systems pile one upon the next and roll across the Bering Sea and the Alaska Peninsula, slamming into Kodiak Island. One such storm in late August surprised us with 60 mph winds, and when the mooring for our 43-ft. cabin cruiser broke, we were forced to jump in our skiff and chase after and retrieve it in rough seas.DSC_0762

Our summer trips last into late September, because the bear viewing is very good then. Some years we are lucky, but other years, we are hit with gale-force winds and torrential rains. I enjoy guiding wildlife viewers and fishermen during our summer trips, but by the time the season ends, I usually am exhausted from battling the weather and dealing with boats on windy days. If September is bad, October is worse. October is one of the rainiest months on Kodiak Island, and between rain and wind, the leaves often fall before they have a chance to turn yellow, and soon, the mountainsides are brown, the ground slick with wet, rotting vegetation.

Bears are perhaps the best part about fall. As the temperature drops in late August, bears get serious about eating salmon. They concentrate on the many, small salmon streams around the island, and for a short period of time, they tolerate each other, as they work to build their fat layer to prepare for hibernation. It seems as if overnight, they lose their ratty, light-brown summer coats and their even, chestnut fur shines in the sunlight. We see cubs that were tiny and dependent on their mother only three months earlier, catching their first salmon at their mother’s prompting. Older cubs have improved their fishing techniques and have learned to assert themselves with other bears (with mom to back them up, of course).

DSC_0168Another autumn perk for me is watching the young birds learn to fly, especially in our stiff, fall winds. From baby eagles to sea gulls to terns, watching young birds learn to maneuver in the wind always makes me smile. Then there’s the young foxes who’ve left their dens and sit on the beach, curiously watching us as we pass in our boat. By September, they are nearly the same size as an adult, but their coats are shiny, even, and perfect, betraying their youth.

Kodiak Island is wild and untamed and is beautiful any time of the year, and I guess autumn isn’t that bad, if you can get past the weather.

New Cook Arrives in a Fog

Marcia and Robin on vacation in Hawaii
Robin and Marcia on vacation in Hawaii

The New Cook Arrives in a Fog is a story by my dear friend Marcia Messier. I first met Marcia in July 2004, when she came to work as a cook at our lodge. Marcia is from Massachusetts and worked for the Massachusetts court system. After she retired, she moved to Arizona and decided on a whim to apply for a cooking job at a remote lodge in Alaska, and that is how she wound up with us.

Due to the maritime climate of Kodiak, fog can be a problem, especially in June and July, and when it’s foggy, all air transportation to and around the island comes to a halt. While this can be frustrating, it is a fact of life for us, and we’re used to it, but when Marcia arrived in Anchorage in route to our lodge and learned her flight to Kodiak had been cancelled due to fog, she found this unacceptable and was concerned she would be late arriving for her new job. She decided to take matters into her own hands, and I was impressed and amused when I heard Marcia had found a way to by-pass the Kodiak fog. I knew immediately I would like her, and I also knew Marcia was about to learn her first lesson about life on Kodiak Island.

The New Cook Arrives in a Fog

By

Marcia Messier

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A little fog never stopped planes from flying back East, so why was I stuck in Anchorage, Alaska with every flight to Kodiak canceled? Fog..? This wasn’t going to work, after all, I had a new job lined up as cook at Munsey’s Bear Camp and was to report to work today!

I observed many people wandering about the airport with piles of luggage and groceries, grumbling about the weather situation. After a time, I struck up a conversation with two couples bound for a fishing lodge somewhere near where I was headed, at least I thought it was near where I was headed. After commiserating for a bit, one of the women said she knew a pilot who owned a small jet, and if we were all willing, she would call him and see if he would fly us to Larsen Bay. We agreed, she made the call, and he said he thought he could find a way through the fog and into Larsen Bay “the back way”. His fee was divided by 5 and after claiming my luggage, we were off to another runway and a private jet! I wasn’t able to see much of Kodiak during the flight, a few flashes of emerald green, and suddenly we were down on the runway at Larsen Bay. An impressive bright red Hummer was there to greet us, and I assumed to take us to the airport, but all I could see was what appeared to be a small village held up on pilings sunk into the muddy beach. This was the cannery at Larsen Bay.   I had arrived!

Next, to find a phone and call Robin and Mike. I had no idea of the distance involved out here, only that I was closer to my destination than I had been in Anchorage. A nice young man in the cannery office seemed to know of Munsey’s Bear Camp and made a radio-telephone call to ask them if they were expecting a cook. After a brief conversation he told me Mike would pick me up in the Boston Whaler in about an hour. Finally, I could relax a little, sit down and observe life at the cannery. It seemed to be a happy place with college age kids running in and out of odd-looking buildings, and others all jammed up waiting to use the phone booths. No cell phones? No, but as I was about to learn, radio transmission news travels faster than cell phones!

Soon, a man’s head popped up beside me from the beach and introduced himself as Mike Munsey, was I Marcia?

I had made my job deadline: July 2, 2004!

The trip from Larsen Bay to Munsey’s Bear Camp was spectacular! The fog lifted, and I could see emerald green mountain peaks rising straight up out of Uyak Bay. I understood canceled flights due to fog, now. The water was calm, and at full throttle, the Whaler flew over the bay. Mike pointed out Fin whales spouting in the distance and seals on nearby (yikes!) rocks.

Munsey's Bear Camp
Munsey’s Bear Camp

Robin greeted us back at camp and sat me down to a delicious dinner, a glass of wine, then guided me upstairs to my room for a much-needed sleep.

Next day I had a lot to learn. First, I was introduced to the generator. I learned to respect this growling monster in the shed. He ran a tight ship. His schedule was as follows:

7AM-ON     All electrical work is done: computer, baking in oven, mixers,  washing machine, dish washer, vacuum cleaner.

9AM-OFF   No electrical work done. Prepare bread dough, cookie dough,                             soup, tidy up cabins & main house, burn trash… take a break.

5PM-ON      Everything is on and the race is on to make dinner & clean up.

10PM-OFF  Ah, quiet…time to have a glass of wine and celebrate the day!

I can hear the float plane approaching, the first guests are arriving! We rush to put on our boots and run down to the dock to greet them. Quickly, I had to run back to the kitchen and retrieve a baggie of cookies for the pilot. Cookies are a MUST, the pilot is always hungry! As the guests stepped out of the float plane, I immediately noticed their beautiful Italian leather shoes and smiled to myself. Rubber shoes and boots are standard footwear on Kodiak Island….I was learning.

 

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.

Reproduction for Deer, Foxes, and Goats

 

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Spring is an active time for Sitka black-tailed deer, red fox, and mountain goats on Kodiak, especially once the weather warms, the snow on the mountains begins to melt, and the vegetation starts to grow again.  All three species give birth in the spring, and while we rarely see nannies with their kids, we will soon start seeing does and fawns, and in a couple of months we’ll see young fox kits as they begin to play outside their dens.

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Sitka black-tailed deer bucks begin growing a new set of antlers in the spring, and I’ve seen several with little nubs beginning to grow.  During the spring and summer, the antlers receive a rich supply of blood and are covered by a fine membrane called “velvet”.  At this time, the antlers are very fragile and are vulnerable to cuts and bruises.  By August, antler growth slows, and they begin to harden, and a few weeks later, antler growth stops, blood flow to the antlers ceases, and the velvet dries up and falls off.

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Mating season on Kodiak for Sitka black-tailed deer occurs from mid-October to late November.  The gestation period is six to seven months, so fawns are born from late May through June.  Does begin breeding when they are two and continue to produce fawns until they are ten to twelve years old.  Does between the ages of five and ten are in their prime and usually produce two fawns a year.

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Newborn fawns weigh between 6.0 and 8.8 lbs. (2.7 to 4.0 kg), and for the first two weeks, a fawn produces no scent, allowing the doe to leave the fawn hidden and safe from predators, while she browses for food to rebuild her energy reserves after giving birth.

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Red foxes breed in February and March on Kodiak.  Right after mating, the female makes one or more dens, and the extra dens are used if the original is disturbed.  The den is a hole in the ground that measures approximately 15 by 20 ft. (4.57m x6.1m) and may have several entrances.  Inside the den, the female constructs a grass-lined nest where the babies are born.  The litter is born after a gestation period of 51 to 54 days, and an average litter consists of four kits; although, litters as large as ten are not uncommon.  Kits weigh 4 ounces (113 grams) at birth.  They have fur but are blind, deaf, and toothless.  A kit cannot regulate its body temperature when it is born, and the mother must remain with it all times for the first two to three weeks.  During this time, the father or adult females bring food to the mother.  If the mother dies before the kits are old enough to care for themselves, the father will take over as the primary provider.  The kits’ eyes open eight to ten days after birth, and they leave the den for the first time about a month later.  Kits begin hunting on their own when they are three months old.

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Breeding season for mountain goats occurs between late October and early December on Kodiak.  Mountain goats seem to avoid mating with relatives, and billies may travel long distances to find suitable mates.  Males breed with several females, but nannies breed with only one male.  Nannies do not give birth until they are at least four years old, and billies between the ages of five and ten do most of the breeding.  Nannies give birth in late May after a gestation period of 180 days, and they normally have only one kid, but sometimes produce twins.  Twinning is more common when goat populations spread into a new habitat with an abundant food supply, and as the goat population on Kodiak has increased and expanded its range, biologists have noticed more twinning than is normal.  Nannies seek out an isolated area to give birth but then form nursery groups with other nannies and kids.  The kid remains with its mother at least until the next breeding season and may stay with her for several years.

It is always a thrill to see the young of any species of wildlife.  Babies are shy but curious as they learn about their surroundings, and often they are unaware of potential dangers.  It is important to remember not to approach any wildlife, but especially mothers and their young, too closely.  If the mother runs one way and the baby the other, they may never reunite, and the baby is not yet equipped with the knowledge and skills to survive on his own.

Check out these pages for more information on Sitka black-tailed deer, Red foxes, and mountain goats.

Trip To Kodiak

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This past week I took a rare trip to the town of Kodiak. I’ve been posting about springtime behaviors of various Kodiak animals, so now I’ll tell you about one of my springtime behaviors. Mike and I usually fly to the town of Kodiak in late May to run errands, go to the doctor, pick up supplies, and most importantly for me, visit the local greenhouse to buy flower and vegetable starts for my planters and garden.

This may not seem like an earth-shattering topic to write about, but a trip to town is a big deal for me. First of all, it’s expensive. We must charter a plane each way, rent a car, and stay in a hotel. Secondly, it can be an ordeal, because late-May weather is often foggy, especially around town, so our trip easily can be delayed for a day or two due to bad (not flyable) weather, and worse still, we could get stuck in town for a few days waiting for the weather to clear.

On this trip, the weather was marginal for flying. The first part of our flight to town was windy and bumpy, and as we neared town, the pilot expertly dodged pea-soup fog. It was also foggy when we departed Kodiak for our return flight, but as we neared Uyak Bay, the ceiling lifted, and the pilot was able to climb and fly through the mountain passes.

In late May, the town of Kodiak bustles with activity, as commercial fishermen begin preparing for the summer salmon season. This past weekend especially was busy in Kodiak, because it was King Crab Festival weekend.

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The King Crab Festival is Kodiak’s version of the county fair but with some uniquely “Kodiak” twists. Since it is difficult and expensive to bring carnival rides to the island, most of the “rides” are of the inflatable variety, but the kids are no-less enthusiastic about them. Many of the food booths are operated by local vendors, and you can dine on salmon, halibut, cod, and of course King Crab, among other things. There is no tractor pull at the King Crab Festival, but the Coast Guard demonstrates simulated rescues, a Russian Orthodox priest blesses the fishing fleet, and most popular of all, festival-goers line the boat ramp near the harbor and cheer on the participants in the survival-suit race. For this activity, teams of four race down a ramp, pull on and zip up bulky survival suits, then jump into the water and swim to a life raft. Once all four team members are in the raft, the clock stops and their time is recorded. The team with the fastest time wins. Participants include everyone from families to fishing vessel crew members to Coast Guard rescue swimmers. The rescue swimmers usually win, but no one complains about that. We want those guys to be fast!

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Between running errands, visiting the King Crab Festival, and eating at as many restaurants as I could in four days, I was exhausted and full by the time we flew home. I smiled at my new plants as I carried them up to the house, happy to be home and eager to start planting. I don’t plan another trip to town until late January, and for the time being anyway, that’s fine with me!