Ahhhh-laska

I am back from the wilds of Alaska. Well, maybe not the wildest part of Alaska, but, yes, the part with no Internet, no cellular service, and, at times, no electricity. Right, I didn’t make it to Barnes & Noble. So I have much to say, a week in Alaska, who wouldn’t have a lot to say?

It is no surprise that I love Alaska. I mean, I love California, all of the Californias; the endless coastline, some sandy, some too rugged to traverse, the big cities, the small, historic towns, the big trees, the agriculture, the history and the heritage, the big mountains, the rolling foothills, the winding rivers. Mostly, I love the Sierras. But I love Alaska, what I’ve seen of it, thus far, a great deal, and, yes, in some ways, more than Cali. And, yes, in some ways, I love Cali a bit more, but, increasingly, that tends to be related only to quality shopping venues and wine.

They call Alaska “the last frontier”, and while it is certainly my latest frontier, I don’t intend for it to be my last. It will be a lasting frontier, for me, though. I really can’t see, at this point in time, no matter what happens in my life, on any level, not having Alaska in my life on a regular, if not quasi-permanent basis. I am in awe.

But, it is no surprise that I love Alaska. I’m sure you must have some memory from childhood, some very formative memory, that, though random and seemingly insignificant, has, in some way influenced your life and even, maybe, directed the course of it. Certainly you must have. We all must have. For me? It was a Hamm’s beer sign. Circa late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I don’t know for certain, that’s when I saw the sign, it could’ve been an “old” sign at that point in time. But, it was a sign, a sign that guided me into certain pathways and journeys, not directly, but through the subtle and lasting impression, and the sheer, somewhat cheesy, backlit beauty of the scrolling river scene, depicting waterfalls, a serene river, wildlife, a campsite. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.”

There was an old school scrolling Hamm’s Beer sign in “Food City” in Napa, at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road, for any old time “Napkins” out there. My mom would push the clackity-wheeled grocery cart through the store, filling it with boxes, packaged cake mixes and Jell-O, and cans upon cans of faded, waxy vegetables and condensed soup, I was a particular fan of “Campbell’s Manhandler’s Beef and Barley”. I was pretty sure that’s what was in the kettle, over the fire in the campsite in the Hamm’s Beer sign. Mom would pick up a couple of items from the produce and meat aisles, iceberg lettuce and ground beef, most likely. While she shopped for the week’s “loss leaders”, I stood at the front of the store, mesmerized by the sign. I am one hundred percent certain that is where my love of the outdoors, of the wilderness, camping, rivers and adventures was first ignited. I know, Hamm’s Beer wasn’t from Alaska, but the scene in that sign could’ve been Wisconsin, or California, New York, or Alaska. It didn’t matter, I wanted to go to there.

My parents certainly were not “outdoorsy”. Until I was four years old, we lived in Oakland and I only remember gray fog, gray streets, gray highways, gray factories and the gray water of the San Francisco Bay circa mid-1960’s. They never camped in tents or hiked, canoed or skied.  Seeing nature was done from the comfort of a large sedan on a Sunday afternoon, with, maybe, a picnic, if the weather permitted. A trip to “the wilderness” was staying at a friends’ cabin in Tahoe. The adults sat around inside the dark cabin, day and night, having cocktails, smoking and playing cards. The kids took to the woods, followed a stream, out to the lake. Fish were caught by the boys, and some fish never made it back to the cabin, on a dare, they were eaten raw and whole, by the boys, before we even knew what sushi was. The fish that did make it back to the cabin were never seen again. I’m really not sure what ever happened to those beautiful rainbow trout, we certainly never ate them, cooked, or raw. We had the contents of boxes, packages, and cans, accompanied by Jell-O molds, on a bed of iceberg lettuce, as a garnish. I’m sure there was ground beef in the meal, somewhere, too, but certainly no freshly caught rainbow trout out of the pristine, blue waters of Lake Tahoe.

I’m certain it was because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa that I begged my mom to let me join Girl Scouts. I wanted to camp and fish and live in a tent by that river, maybe see that bear. Beer really wasn’t on my mind, yet, I was a few years too young. And, ironically, my first beer was with those very girls, from Girl Scouts, sleeping outside, in sleeping bags, under the stars. On my parents’ deck. Sssshhh. But, perhaps that sign has had another influence in my life; my love for beer, especially if it were to be enjoyed alongside a woodland river. Not Hamm’s, of course, for like my love of the outdoors, my taste for beer has developed into a lust for more.

I had the best Girl Scout leaders in the world, and, again, I’m sure that is another formative turn in my life; that I had Girl Scout leaders that hiked and camped, in addition to all the crafty stuff. By the time I was big enough and old enough to be a Girl Scout leader, myself, most of the other Girl Scout leaders wouldn’t fathom setting foot outdoors for an activity. My troop did. Because of the influence of my adventurous Girl Scout leaders as a girl, and, because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa, I became the Girl Scout leader that took the troop hiking, backpacking, snow boarding, rock climbing and rappelling.

So off to Alaska I’ve been. Again. And there will be another again. And another. There is much to see, there is much to do, there is much to experience. And though I still have many corners of California I intend to explore, I want to see all of Alaska. Too. And other frontiers, as well.

This trip started with the idea of a couple of new adventures.

Our plans for a July trip to “fish camp” on the Yukon River to fish for “silvers” were dashed due to the fact that there weren’t enough salmon in the river. So, in July, instead of gill netting for silvers on the Yukon River, we dip netted for reds on the Copper. I didn’t mind the change in plans! I was thrilled! The annual fall run of “chum” salmon on the Yukon gave us another opportunity for “fish camp” and more salmon. Like the Hamm’s bear, I could eat salmon pretty much every day, maybe not every meal, but I have been known to. No easy task keeping this girl supplied with salmon, and, I will resort to, dare I say, frozen fish from Whole Foods and maybe even, shudder, Target, if I must. Desperate times, desperate times.

I’ve seen a few parts of Alaska in our travels; Anchorage, Fairbanks and surrounds, certainly, Coldfoot, Prudhoe Bay, Denali, a little bit, and Chitinia. We were hoping for a “pilot car” trip from Valdez to Fairbanks, taking an extra day to see the town of Valdez before reporting for duty. With only a week of vacation left for the year, this was it, and a trip to the Yukon for a couple of days and another to Valdez for a couple of days, would pretty much round out the plans for the week.

There were also hopeful plans for a wine-tasting party, which is a more “winter-time” tradition in the “neighborhood”, when it’s too dark to do much else. But, no one would object to a wine-tasting party earlier in the year, certainly. I, as you know, have been buying up wine, week in and week out, winery after winery, tasting room after tasting room, and then, I very carefully selected the six (of twenty seven) bottles I’d take, to share with friends and neighbors. It is, I assure you, no easy task to lug two suitcases and a half a case of wine, single handedly, from the trunk of my car in the economy parking lot to the bus, from the bus to the terminal, and finally, to the agent to be checked, at whatever unholy hour of the morning it was. Feeling like a mother parting with her infant at day care, that first day back to work, I handed over the specialty box I bought to cradle my wine from Cali to AK, even in the hands of the Samsonite gorillas.

But, as with life, even a week in a life, plans change. And, as with life, when plans change, there should never be sorrow or anger, disappointment or despair. Plans change. That’s life. Plans change. That’s vacation. Plans change. Though we never made it to “fish camp”, or to Valdez, and, well, we drank all the wine ourselves, it was a splendid, fabulous, wonderful and never to be forgotten week. Not because of the wine, and, yes, even with the all that wine, nothing will ever be forgotten. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy every single moment is what vacation needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy time together is what a relationship needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still evolve in life is what success in life is all about. Practice, every day, adapting for alterations to your plan, because, being a master at that is what will carry you through life, much like the canoe, on the cheesy, backlit scrolling river on the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa.

 

Aaaahhh-laska!
Aaaahhh-laska!
Enjoying V. Sattui wine from the Napa Valley, in Aaaahhh-laska!
Enjoying V. Sattui wine from the Napa Valley, in Aaaahhh-laska!

 

Aaaahhh-laska!
Aaaahhh-laska!

Scarlett’s Letter July 10, 2013

When I woke up I was in bed, not the truck , and it was late morning. The salmon saga was to continue. There were two large coolers full of fresh caught, wild red salmon. Have you priced this in the stores lately? Precious, fresh caught, wild, red salmon. A valuable commodity that took an incredible amount of time and effort to obtain. We needed to be sure it was all taken care of as quickly as possible to maintain its freshness.

As we pulled the first fish out of the cooler it was still in rigor mortis. A good sign. Once this stage has passed, the freshness has already deteriorated. Did you know that? So, how fresh are the chunks of cellophane wrapped fish you buy at the market? Or the super expensive ones, on ice, in the fish case? Or the “flash frozen” filets you buy by the bag out of the freezer case at Target? The ones that you pay extra for because the label says “fresh caught wild salmon?” They’re stiff only because they’re nearly frozen. Or are frozen. Or they aren’t stiff at all. I promise you, they aren’t still in rigor mortis and aren’t as fresh as the fish we unloaded from the cooler onto the kitchen island today. What a rare treat for a suburban, Cali-Girl, Whole Foods shopper! And I live near the coast. I still can’t buy fish this fresh.

We enlisted the help of the neighbor which made the work much more fun and much more efficient. Of course wine and music were involved! The work, itself, consisting of fileting some of the salmon and putting them in freezer bags for freezing. Fileting salmon is a skill and one I didn’t personally take on. Just yet. I did observe and even took a video so I could do it, if I had to, on my own, some day. Just in case the opportunity to fish for salmon presents itself when I return to California, or return, again, to Alaska. Which it will. And which I will. In fileting a salmon, everything is preserved and used. The fins are often given to friends with sled dogs to be incorporated into their feed. The “backs”, so, the spine and ribs, are placed in another bag for later enjoyment. A real treat, and considered almost a delicacy by those who have had them before. I, personally, could eat salmon, in any form, just about everyday, and I actually come pretty close. I eat small portions, so one of these fish would probably last me about twelve meals. I think. We froze some larger portions and some smaller portions. I am, in fact, enjoying, at this very moment, some salmon strips I brought home with me. I like them more than Oreos, I swear, and have been known to just stand with the Ziploc bag and eat one after the other until they’re all gone. They are a treat that don’t last long and should be savored and rationed, but I just can’t seem to help myself. Nom, nom, nom!

We also “jarred” some fish, this actually being the preferred salmon of many. When “jarring” salmon, the common practice is to leave the skin and bones intact, providing calcium and other nutrients with the fish. The fish is cut and placed into canning jars, a little salt added, sometimes some jalapeños, too, for a little kick. The jars of fish are then prepared for canning and pressure cooked for an hour and half. You can eat the salmon, as is, out of the jar, or use it for salmon recipes or sandwich filling. Good stuff! Really, it may not seem like “canned” fish with the bones and the skin would be very appetizing, but it is fantastic! And it makes for the very best salmon sandwiches you’ve ever eaten, not at all like buying canned salmon at the grocery store, this actually has taste and texture and nutritive value with minimal processing.

As focused as I am on the food I eat, the number of processes any food I consume goes through, the nutritive value, the quality, the source, the handling, the purity, etc., being able to see the fish caught, cleaned and “processed” was a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. One of the things I so appreciate about Alaska and the people, is their reverence for food and the amount of time, effort and dedication that goes into catching, hunting, growing and gathering much of the food they will depend on for the long, dark winter. Brief is the summer and the long days of daylight. Every waking moment, and there are more waking moments in those long hours of daylight, is devoted to preparing for the long winter cold. And yet, there is joy and fun and fellowship in all that is accomplished. There are ample opportunities for recreation and adventure because that is as much a part of life and preparing for the winter months as the sun is to the summer. I am in awe and have so much admiration and respect for this way of life.

For lunch, as we waited for the first batch of jars to pressure cook, fish backs were fried up, with much anticipation by everyone, and a little trepidation by me. They smelled delicious, of course, and when done are eaten much like corn on the cob. You pull the salmon meet gingerly off the rib bones and spine with your teeth, and, truly, there is nothing like it. Nom, nom, nom! I could eat these all day. For the sake of modesty, I think I quit at four.

We continued jarring the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Dinnertime rolled around and, again, salmon backs were fried up! I couldn’t be happier! Salmon, wine, friends, music, and a task to keep the hands busy. To some, a day of cutting up fish, bagging and jarring it, then eating the scraps, may sound like penance for some misdeed. Until you’ve actually been involved in the process, from start to finish, I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate the joy that comes from “farm to table”, as we like to call it in Cali, from source to supply. Bon apetit!

 

A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Jars.
Jars.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Patience.
Patience.
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!

An Effort to Evolve

All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!
All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!

Scarlett’s Letter July 9, 2013

When first planning this trip to Alaska, our hope was to be able to go gillnetting for king salmon on the Yukon River. We planned dates around the likely opportunity for this adventure. As an Alaska resident, my man is entitled a specific number of different species of fish as “subsistence”. I’m not a resident, and am not so entitled, and fishing for salmon for me may either not be allowed, may be catch and release only, or prohibited altogether, depending on numbers. Last year, for example, the kind salmon numbers were lower than usual, and as they come up the Yukon from the sea, Canada is “guaranteed” a certain number of fish, so Alaska has to make sure there are adequate numbers of fish to meet that obligation and provide for healthy spawning for future generations of fish. Last year, the king salmon fishing on the Yukon was brief and severely limited. This year ended up being the same. Hopefully, next year, the numbers will rebound.

For many years, my man has gone to “fish camp”, a place along the Yukon where there are “cabins” and other somewhat primitive resources for subsistence fisher people. I planned to go to “fish camp” on the airboat with my man and a former neighbor of his, a dear elderly man of ailing health. The elderly man has only been “allowed” to go to “fish camp” in recent years because his wife trusted he would be in good hands with my man. This year, sadly, the elderly man’s health has deteriorated to the point where he would not have been able to go to “fish camp” at all.

On top of all of this, the regulations had changed as to the size of gill net that could be used. Again. Apparently, seven-inch nets (I presume that means the openings in the net) were the standard for all of time. In recent years, the fish and game folks changed that regulation to six and a half inch nets and provided a monetary allowance for retrofitting existing nets, which my man took advantage of. Now, the regulation has been changed to six-inch nets and there isn’t an allowance available for retrofitting existing nets. I have never seen a gill net, but they are quite expensive and there really isn’t an option for buying a new, compliant net this year.

With the freezer fast being depleted of salmon, and “fish camp” not being likely, we had to come up with another solution to stock up for another year. There were red salmon, but fishing for them, too, was being carefully monitored and controlled. With a seven hour drive, each way, 80 gallons of gas and likely more than twenty four hours of driving, fishing and driving involved, there was much to consider. The limit was fifteen for subsistence, and this early in the season there would be only “wild” fish, being somewhat smaller in size than the hatchery fish. Economically, this really wasn’t a practical means for restocking the freezer. Eighty gallons of gas at four dollars a gallon, so, three hundred twenty dollars just in gas, for fifteen smaller fish, that’s twenty-one bucks a fish. I can do better at Whole Foods three thousand miles away.

This morning, though, with a quick call in to the fish and game hotline, the limit had been increased for the next twenty-four hours to twenty-five. Now we’re talking twelve dollars and eighty cents per fish. Now we’re talking! Now the math works out a bit better. We mobilized quickly. A fast shower, gathered gear, packed extra clothes, I slapped some sandwiches together, we grabbed some beer and some fruit, put the “sleeper” on the old blue Ford truck, gassed up, grabbed a couple more sandwiches at the gas station and headed south to the Copper River at Chitina.

The road trip southward was punctuated with rain, which, according to the weather resources, was not supposed to be happening. We would be arriving at Chitinia late in the evening and would likely “dip net” all night, rain or not, until the limit was caught, and then, depending on time and the level of fatigue, we’d head home or sleep over, or head home and sleep along the way. Rain was not going to be pleasant while dip netting. And, truthfully, I had not included in my suitcase what I would consider appropriate attire for a rainy adventure. I have piles of “technical clothing” for virtually every outdoor situation, but, I just didn’t have room in my two suitcases for such practicalities. I had shoes. And tank tops. And glittery ass jeans.  So I packed layers. Layers and layers of really cute, not very warm, jewel, glitter and sequins bedazzled clothes. There must be some sort of redeeming benefit to jewels, glitter and sequins in outdoor survival situations, I just can’t find any sources on Google. Yet. As a non-resident, again, I would not be able to actually dip net for fish, but I would be assisting in many ways, and true to my nature, though I may act and appear as a girly girl, high maintenance city girl, I am not. So not.

After many hours, we approached Chitina, and though somewhat cloudy and threatening and very windy, it was not raining. We planned to, as my man usually had in the past, hike up O’Brien Creek a ways and find a back eddy to dip from. As we arrived at the confluence of O’Brien Creek and the Copper River we saw, or I saw a magnificent sight, something so memorable and awe inspiring I can barely describe it befitting it’s glory; a purple and lime green espresso stand lashed to a skid, there to capitalize on the fisher people, or their girly girl, high maintenance city girl girlfriends. I was delighted, as I’d made no provision for morning caffeine other than the one Excedrin left in the bottle I carry in my purse at all times for just such emergencies. How I was down to just one, likely expired Excedrin, I don’t know. Measures that must be taken, just in case I am forced to survive a coffee-less morning. Second, we were met by folks who said “everyone” was catching their limit within a few short hours right there at the confluence. We looked at the shore of the Copper River, just beyond the parking lot and the espresso stand, and sure enough, there were multiple people dip-netting there. And they were hauling fish in.

While adventure is wonderful, and I probably had a compromised experience by not going up the creek, our mission was fishin’, and in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort possible. Hopefully before it rained again. So, we walked the short walk to the shore at the edge of the parking lot, claimed our spot along the bank, and my man started dipping the net into the river. The wind was strong and the muddy current was treacherous, the river was swift and wide. One misstep and you’d be swept away and likely drown, or die of hypothermia before you washed ashore again miles downstream. The net goes in, is swept along the shore, and drawn out, fighting the force of the river with every dip. If a salmon is swimming upstream and enters the net, the net has to be hauled in, against the current and now laden with a good-sized fish. This was not easy work. Neither is finding a parking spot at Whole Foods, but this is a whole new level of effort for good salmon.

It wasn’t long before one fish was netted, and with that, a lesson, for me, in how to behead, detail and gut the fish, wash it, bag it and put it on ice. I knew I’d be involved in the process, I guess I was only a little startled, at first, with just how “in depth” my involvement would be. About elbow deep in fish blood and guts, to be exact. But no worries, if you eat ‘em, you’d better be ready to clean ‘em. My man is a great teacher, and quite patient, especially with me, as I always seem to have a bit of a “learning curve”. I am always eager to help and eager to learn, in all things I am involved in. I think it is my eagerness that is the root of my “learning curve”. I listen, I watch and I’ll ask for clarification, and I just want to succeed. Immediately. But I will almost always botch up a time or two before I get it. This was no different. I cut the head off a bit awkwardly on the first couple of fish. My man cut it like butter, I felt like I was sawing a hardwood log with a dull saw. The fish looked like he got his head caught in machinery, not cleanly severed with a sharp filet knife. I managed to cut and twist the tail off and it reminded me of trying to cut through really stale Red Vines with those dull, rounded tip, safety scissors they made us use in kindergarten. Slitting the fish up the gut was where I really went wrong. I held the knife like a dagger, clutched in a white-knuckle clench, and I stabbed away at the fish like Jack the Ripper with the prostitutes of London. Which was wrong. How did he do this with so much ease, finesse and grace? I’m thinking, “man, I gotta do more push ups!” I massacred the first two fish I was left in charge of. And so, I asked to watch on the next, one more demonstration, a little closer observation, a bit more clarification and I learned that the slit up the gut was done shallow and sort of gingerly, like Julia Child cutting phyllo dough or something. I got it, and the rest of the fish were cut perfectly, head, tail and gut. I became a fishing beheading, detailing, gutting machine. He would catch and club, I’d retrieve, slice, slice twist, cut, cut, twist and then slit, hold tight, wash in the river, bag, and then run bags with three to four fish back up to the truck where we had big ice chests waiting. The sooner the fish was “bled out” and put on ice the better the finished product would be. So, as soon as the fish hit the shore and got whacked in the head with a stick, I retrieved it to do my duty. Now, let’s talk about the actual murder weapon; the stick. There isn’t much quality wood on the ground around here, most of it having been scavenged and used already. So, when asked to find a “stick”, what was in order was something with a certain amount of heft, density and weight, what I found was really not much more than a piece of driftwood. After a good whack or two to the head, I’m pretty sure the salmon was only slightly phased on not actually dead. At that point, I’m to cut its head off with a filet knife. I found myself talking to the fish. Really. Kind of apologetically explaining what I had to do. “I know you’re not dead, but I’m going to lay you down on this terribly bloody, slimy piece of plywood, which in itself, if you think about it, is disgusting. Don’t think about it. Then, I’m going to take this filet knife that is about five fish past being sharp enough and I’m going to quickly cut your head off, one side at a time. I have to measure the angle, from just under your fin, along the gill, to the top of your head, which, oddly enough, reminds me of how I use a brow pencil to find the arch for my eyebrows, carefully lining it up with the corner of my nostril to the center of where my pupil is when looking straight ahead. Then I’ll flip you over and do it again. And somehow, you’re still trying to escape my grasp, so I’m going to try to cut your tail off. I have to turn you precisely like this and cut like this, the flip you over again and repeat. Then twist. I’m going to throw your head, attached guts and tail into the river for your family to watch float by, which, I’m pretty sure is why the rate at which we’re catching fish is beginning to decline. I mean, really, if you saw your cousin’s disembodied head, guts and tail go sailing past would you really venture in the general direction from whence they came? Yah, me either. “ Yes, I’m still talking to the fish.

On my first trip back to the truck, bag of fish in hand, I was met by a nice man a few vehicles down. I must have looked like a fru-fru coffee sort of girl, maybe like a girly girl, high maintenance city girl who would want a skinny no whip half-caf dirty latte at some point in the morning. He was the espresso stand vendor and wanted me to know that he’d be open at 4:30 AM. I was elated and had visions of a hot cup of black coffee before hitting the road home, hopefully after a few hours of sleep. That was at about 7:30 PM.

During a brief lull my man pointed out the “gulls” just up stream from us. I’d seen the seagulls, but not the ea-gulls. There were two bald eagles helping the one thousand seagulls take care of the fish scraps that had been left behind by the many fisherfolk before us. I have never seen bald eagles in the wild, until this trip, now I’m up to five. Wow. Every time I see one that’s all I can say. Wow. I grabbed my camera, and as soon as I set one foot in the direction of the “gulls”, they eagles took to the wind and gracefully floated, against the wind, up the canyon. No picture, no proof, but I swear it to be true.

Five hours later, we’d caught our limit of twenty-five, with no rain. It was about 1:00 AM and we were exhausted. My man, more than me, having driven and then dipping for five straight hours, with blisters on his hands and fatigued muscles from such hard, steady labor. He is my hero.

I had visions of bundling up and getting some rest, me in the sleeper, which only fits one, my man on the bench seat of the truck, or vice versa. I was willing to give up the comfort of the sleeper to my hero. But, no, the plan was to hit the road and get back home, or as close as possible, before getting sleep. No espresso stand hot black coffee at 4:30 AM. Damn.

We headed out in near darkness, which was interesting, being further south and experiencing darkness to the point of having to turn the headlights on. Experiencing darkness for the first time in, like, two weeks, like it is totally foreign to me. But it seemed so. We stopped at “The Hub” and I bought three large cups of gas station coffee, two for my man, one for me, so I could stay awake and keep him awake. Fail. I didn’t realize I slept quite that much, but, come to think of it, the drive home did seem much quicker. I felt like I was awake for all the really important stuff, like seeing moose. Twenty-six of them in a ten-mile stretch. I think I’m Andy Rouse with my little digital Sony camera I bought at Times Square one trip to New York, on impulse, when my iPhone battery died at 10:00 in the morning. I’m actually trying to photograph moose on the side of the road with my point and shoot camera from a pickup truck doing sixty. “No, that brown blur is a tree, that one is a late model Subaru, that brown blur is a bald eagle. THAT one is the moose.” So, brilliance, I have my helmet camera with me. But no helmet. But, really, what would you say if you saw some chick, wearing a helmet, with a camera attached to it, slumped over and snoring in the passenger seat of a speeding pickup, clutching the biggest cup of cold gas station coffee a dollar and a half can buy? Right? Best I don’t have a helmet. So, for those brief, lucid moments, I hold the helmet camera up, roll down the window, stick the camera out the window while the truck slows to forty and hope for a better result. “No, really, the rack on that moose was over fifty! The moose is that thing you can almost see move between those two trees, behind that one rock, down that embankment. Close your left eye, you’ll be able to see it better.”

And so it was with the remainder of the trip home. A blur. Like the moose in my pictures. A blur. And then I woke up to two coolers full of salmon (the salmon saga continues tomorrow, which is already today, but in another letter).

The Painted Mountains
The Painted Mountains
The espresso stand!! <3
The espresso stand!! <3
All geared up
All geared up
The first catch
The first catch
My job
My job
Still baggin' fish
Still baggin’ fish
Like the moose in this picture, the drive home was a bit of a blur!
Like the moose in this picture, the drive home was a bit of a blur!

Scarlett’s Letter July 7, 2013

Another day fishing in Alaska, another lesson learned.

While at the pig roast, also known as Olaf’s Debut, we chatted with a young man who was an avid fisherman and hunter (I just described most people I’ve met in Alaska). His young, pregnant wife is equally the outdoorsperson, too. We chatted with them about our pike fishing escapade, the one without any pike. The young man told us of a “great” place to pike fish, a lake, suspiciously called “Brown Lake” just off the road to Manly, Alaska (got to love that name). He said he’d caught lots of pike there and we could easily launch the airboat for greater access to shoreline. He gave us very precise directions, which we verified to a map.

This was our plan for today. To go to Brown Lake, launch the airboat and catch our limit of fighting, big pike to fill the freezer with. We drove the nearly seventy miles, dragging the airboat obediently behind us. We counted the mile markers carefully and looked for the short dirt road to the lake, but found none, only roads to gravel pits. We flagged down one passing truck and asked for information. Yes, you heard me correctly, I have a man who will happily ask directions. A man who will always ask directions even if just to confirm information he already has. So refreshing. We turned around and looked, turned around again and looked. We flagged down an even less helpful truckload of folks and continued looking. We did finally find the right dirt road, a little closer to the turnoff than we thought based on the very “precise” directions we’d received.

We made our way down the road to find the lake, exactly as described, except for the “boat launch” part. There were pallets laid across soggy ground, a large pit in which a truck would sink, and very spongy, soggy, marshy ground everywhere else. Not easily deterred, we set to figuring out how we were going to get the boat on the water so we could catch all these fish.

We decided (actually, I wasn’t so involved because I’m really not all that helpful in situations like this) to just pull the boat off the trailer, onto the dirt, and drive it over the ground to the lake. Airboats are special like that.

The next problem arose when we discovered the boat was wedged onto the trailer and it took some ingenuity and brute strength to dislodge it. Again, not easily deterred. The next problem, the exhaust pipe was broken and needed to be re-welded AND we didn’t have baling wire with us. No problem, a tie down, applied creatively, held things together. Again, not easily deterred. We unloaded the truck, parked it and I stood aside while the boat was driven over the soggy, uneven ground, to the lake. I clambered aboard and off we went.

The lake looked like excellent pike habitat, from what I’ve been told, anyway. There was tall grass all around the shore where they’d likely be hiding. The lake was very, very, very shallow. Shallow looking, anyway, with weeds and slime growing less than a foot below the surface. The trick, though, is that the weeds and slime were probably, themselves, four feet deep. And not good pike habitat. Or so I’ve been told. We cruised around, looking for deeper water and found just a little. All the while, noticing that we were the only people on the lake, one, and that there were a lot of bugs on the water, two, and no fish, of any type, jumping, three. As we skirted the lake, we failed to “spook” any fish. Were the fish in this lake extraordinarily brave? Or just absent? We looked for the “inlet” where the water would be feeding into the lake, and found none. To me, at first, this was just “whatever”, but what it actually means, in Alaska, is this; shallow lakes freeze solid (this being a shallow lake). Fish don’t survive being frozen solid. When break up happens and the snow melts the lake becomes liquid again, but, unless water is flowing in from somewhere where fish are, the lake will be “fishless”. And this is what we broke our necks and devoted our day to boating on, a “fishless” lake. No pike. No fish.

We headed back to shore, drove the boat back up on land, and winched it onto the trailer. We headed home, which, I’ve discovered, if there are fishing poles in the car and daylight to be had, which in July is obviously the case, the drive home is going to be punctuated with fishing. We fished every stream, every trickle, every puddle of water we crossed between there and here. Almost. I, determined as I am, not easily deterred, practiced fly-fishing, and yes, even caught one. My form may suck, and I may not have the rigid wrist action I should, yet, but, dammit, I caught a grayling, all by myself, and of legal size.

So, the lesson for the day; do not be easily deterred. Obstacles and difficulties happen. It is okay to ask for directions, for clarification when needed, and, sometimes you just have to find a way to “launch the boat”. Whatever undertaking we are facing, we will have to meet it with a certain amount of knowledge, common sense, information, tenacity, determination and brute strength to see if it is going to prove successful. And if it doesn’t prove successful, we will have learned something, and, hopefully, will be able to find an alternate solution. One way or another, we were coming home with some kind of fish for dinner. It was delicious.

Plan B fish for dinner after a day of fishing in a fishless lake.
Plan B fish for dinner after a day of fishing in a fishless lake.

Scarlett’s Letter July 6, 2013

We started the day with waffles at the neighbors; wonderful, delicious, fantastic waffles with homemade whipped cream and raspberries and honey. I am sure there is no better way to begin a long weekend day than with “from scratch” waffles baked in a cast iron waffle iron. Well, there are better ways to start the day, but waffles rank pretty close.

After our late breakfast we made our way to the next social event of the day, a BBQ at the “homestead”, another neighbor, to enjoy Olaf. When I was visiting here just last month, I met Olaf and friends, three young, fat, pink pigs. Today, Olaf was the guest of honor at a neighborhood BBQ, and Olaf was delicious. Everyone brought food and beverage to share and I had the opportunity to meet many more folks that live in the area or who are connected with the family who owns the homestead. My impression of people from these parts, they are very open and accepting, very sincere and hospitable. This is true in many destinations I visit, but more so here.

The “homestead” is a very special place, a ranch, homesteaded by a man and his wife. There they raised their large family, who have now grown and are raising families of their own. Being an only child from a very suburban, “cookie cutter” lifestyle, and having always loved country life and the idea of self-sufficiency, I find large “farming families” terribly romantic.

After enjoying Olaf and company, we headed out, according plan, to fish at some ponds along the Steese Highway that were recently stocked with Grayling and Rainbow Trout by the Alaska Department Fish and Game. Free for the asking, is a list of all the waterways that have been stocked, with how many of which species and on what dates. This, I contend, is not an unfair advantage, especially considering our recent “kill” rate and the “closing” of the king salmon fishing, and the limits on other fish by species, location and time of year. I’m beginning to think there are no fish in Alaska.

We met up with the neighbors and worked our way down a seven-mile stretch of road, dotted with stocked ponds about every two miles. We had better luck in some than others. A couple of the ponds were overpopulated with people, mostly families with children and dogs that were in need of naps. A couple of the ponds were under populated with fish. It was reminiscent of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we did eventually find a pond that was just right. Except for the mosquitos. But that was to be expected.

Once we found a pond that had fish and didn’t have barking dogs and screaming babies, we just had to figure out what the fish found alluring (no pun intended, okay, yes, it was).  We came armed with jigs, spinners, flies, bobbers and various bait including cheese (Colby), shrimp, marshmallows and corn kernels. Everyone piled out of the car and started fishing at the closest point. There was a significant amount of algae or similar growth that I just call “snot” on the surface of the water over much of the pond. Every time you cast out and reeled in you brought a glob of snot that had to then be removed from the hook. I found a reasonably snot-free zone up the bank a ways and made my way there, beer in one hand, DEET in my pocket, fishing pole in the other. I applied DEET, liberally, and decided I’d try fishing with a jig (I’m new to all of this and hell bent on learning everything as quickly as possible, true to my nature). As soon as I set my beer down and made my first cast, I was in a black cloud of mosquitos, enough to chase the average Californian back to the car. I held my ground and found after a few moments about half of them disappeared, leaving only about a million to contend with. More DEET was in order, but by the time I made the second application, I later discovered, I had fifteen bites on my left shoulder, through two layers of clothing, nine in my cleavage and another twelve on my right shoulder. Note to self, Victoria’s Secret push up bra and scoop neck blouse equals good for party, bad for fishing at mosquito infested fishing ponds. I managed to get a few bites on my hands, fingers and even one on my palm. I fished on. On my second cast, I caught a fish, with the jig, all by myself. At the other end of the pond, at precisely the same moment, my man caught a fish, so my elation and proud exclamation went unnoticed. This was fortunate, because as I plied the hook from the mouth of the rainbow trout, it jumped out of my hands and back into the water, much like the chukar escape of the day before, leaving me with nothing but a fish story.

We learn from our mistakes. What did I learn here? After careful observation, much later in the day, I learned that you don’t try to unhook the fish, holding it, while standing next to the body of water from which it came. Place it on the ground, then go about your business. I was convinced that I’d be reeling in fish every three minutes, consistently, the rest of the day. Nope. And with every three-minute interval that passed catching only snot, I became more and more determined. Everyone else was having far better luck with bait and bobbers or fly-fishing. I’m new to fishing, I’m even newer to fly fishing and was not about to attempt in front of the neighbors, who had waist high waders, a proper fishing vest and a great deal of flair fly-fishing. I decided to wait for my private moments to hone my fly-fishing skills. The bobber and bait routine reminded me of what I have always considered fishing to be, until recently, boring. Sitting in a chair, drinking beer, waiting for the bobber to move is not my idea of a stimulating sport. So I continued flailing the jig into the water and reeling in snot. I caught no more fish at that pond.

Our friends left, grumpy and disgusted because of the show of force by the mosquitos, and we moved to another lake where I decided to go ahead and try to bait and bobber thing. And I caught a fish. Okay, I get it now, and for the record, I did it standing up, beer perched on a rock nearby. We came home with seven fish in all and, at the very least, I came home having caught one of those and having learned an important lesson, or two, about fishing. One, unhook on the ground. Two, it isn’t up to me to decide how to catch the damned fish, the fish will only be caught when he (or she) finds something appealing. It’s up to me to figure that out and go with it, sitting in a chair, drinking beer watching a bobber and catching fish is more stimulating than knocking yourself out trying to convince a fish to bite something it isn’t interested in.

I think this lesson probably translates to other areas of my life, and perhaps yours, in our effort to evolve. Determination is great, but approaching your goal utilizing a means you discover, after some trial and error, to be most efficient will get you a lot further and a lot better result than stubbornly going at it in the manner you prefer.

So, fish on.

 

WAFFLES!
WAFFLES!
Olaf - Before
Olaf – Before
Olaf - After
Olaf – After
Olaf and accompaniments.
Olaf and accompaniments.

Scarlett’s Letter July 3, 2013

Mission Fishin’ – also known as a “grocery run”. Our hopes? To fill the freezer with our limit of pike. Tales of numerous, big, ferocious fish charging the lure and fighting like a monster had me just a little worried. I’m still new at this whole fishing thing, I still have a hard time “hitting” the fish when it first nibbles on my line when they are itty-bitty fish. But I was sure I’d get the hang of it. Eventually. And eventually it will have to be.

We loaded the truck with the cooler full of sandwiches, one each, from Hilltop Truck Stop, a couple of gas cans, and the aired up spare tire for the boat trailer. We loaded the boat with a few different rods and reels and a couple of small containers of various lures. We stopped in town and picked up a couple more lures that looked large enough and heavy enough to snag a small whale. Then our journey began.

We made our way out around “Murphy Dome”, a mountain always seen from a distance on the Elliott Highway, near “home”. The pavement turned to a well-maintained dirt road, which eventually gave way to a potted, rutted, fifteen mile hell march. I’ve lived on dirt roads this potted and rutted, but only a few miles, not fifteen. Fifteen miles of potholes and ruts towing an air boat is not the most fun you can have in an afternoon, but being on the Chatanika River reeling in mountains of frisky pike would make it all worthwhile. To be certain.

We made it to the river and backed the airboat in. There were a few other trucks parked in the area with empty trailers, so, presumably, others were out fishing, somewhere along the river. One family was pulling their airboat out as we launched. The wife, I assume, was in shorts and flip-flops, as were the two little girls. I was in head to toe fabric after performing a “sheep dip” in DEET and still, the mosquitos were snacking on me. I guess I am just that sweet.

We loaded the cooler and the gas into the boat and made our way out onto the river. We’d been worried about the looming dark clouds, checking the weather those brief moments we had reception for an update. Funny, when I’m home, I’m super particular about what I wear and what I pack before I head outdoors. Years and years of training as a scout leader and many, many treks into the backcountry, plus certification in cold weather survival and wilderness first aid told me that, today, in jeans, a tank top and a cotton flannel shirt, no socks and Vans, I was a prescription for disaster if we ran into any kind of weather or if we were to break down on the river far from the truck. To my credit, I did have a hoodie (though cotton) in my daypack. This is Alaska. What was I thinking? All I could think about was the purple, packable, parka I saw at Sportsman’s Warehouse where we’d just bought those bodacious lures. Shoulda bought it. I always regret retail restraint when I do actually exercise it. But, I was better outfitted than anyone else I saw on the river, and purple packable parka would’ve made me look like a wimp. Or like I was from California, or something. As I like to say, “whatever.” Living dangerously, I guess.

I don’t fear hypothermia. Well, I do, but I have an understanding of it. If I had to choose the way to die, it is pretty high on the list. I guess. Other than simply going to sleep and not waking up. As a matter of fact, my children and I have a loose pact, if I become a burden in my old age, demented, tumor filled, prescription dependent, it’s time to go “snow camping”, and I will just conveniently leave all my super expensive cold weather gear behind (I’m senile, remember?). I will have my own tent, and in the cold of night, I will slip into hypothermia and pass. Once the initial (few hours of) discomfort pass, you slip into a delirious state where you actually feel warm. Then you die.

It was pretty cold on the river as we skimmed along atop the water. The cool thing about an airboat, especially a smaller one, it can navigate through passages only three inches deep. So we did, and we head upstream for turn after turn after turn. After about fifty turns, though, with as many closely proximate turns, I was pretty sure we could still see the truck through the trees if we looked closely enough. So, when it did start to sprinkle I wasn’t too, too worried. We hadn’t gone all that far. Luckily the sprinkles subsided and the skies lightened and we had no more rain for the day. Things were looking up.

We stopped and tried a good-looking fishing hole. We cast and cast and cast. Nothing. Curious. There should’ve been something. Where were all those voracious fish we’d heard about? We got back in the boat and headed on.

As we headed on, something began to pelt my face, at first I thought it was rain, but the sky, though overcast, was light and whatever was hitting my face wasn’t particularly wet. Gnats. Billions of gnats. At thirty-five miles an hour, a billion gnats hitting your face is an interesting sensation. Not painful, really, but not comfortable. Like micro-dermabrasion. I had gnat corpses stuck to my sunglasses, and thank goodness I had those damn sunglasses on, because I can’t imagine peeling gnat carcasses off my eyeballs. I also had a layer of gnats, dead and alive, plastered into my hair.

We tried fishing some more here and there, and nothing. No fish. Anywhere. We moseyed on. We ventured up Goldstream, according to plan, the locale of legendary pike. On and on we pressed up the more brackish water. It was almost thick, it seemed, in places. Pike, I guess, like this. But then again, maybe not, because they weren’t here. We came upon a cabin with three guys out front. They’d paid to be dropped by a plane for a few days of fishing. In twenty-four hours, almost continuous, between the three of them, twelve fish. And not very impressive ones, at that, “hammer handles”. We headed back out of Goldstream and decided to try upstream from where we launched. Still. Nothing.

But, for the discouraging fishing, it was still an awesome day. On our drive in, we saw a great horned owl glide over the road and into the canopy. On our way downstream we startled a moose. We saw a couple of beaver along the way, one here, one there. We saw lots of ducks and other birds, a few big birds of prey. A second moose. We saw a bald eagle. Twice. If you’ve never seen a bald eagle floating along overhead, in the wild, you haven’t lived. I think the most amazing thing I saw, except for the bald eagle, was the glass-like water, especially in the overcast and broken clouds. We’d come around the corner and the reflection in the sky was so bright and so vivid my brain would go, “whoa, wait”. It was like finding yourself upside down. The water was so clear and so reflective it looked almost like you could walk on it.

Empty handed, cooler full of empty beer bottles and empty lunch sacks, but no fish, we made our way back to the boat launch, and back up the bumpy road towards home. For me though, it was still a magical day. A bad day fishing here is better than a great day in a lot of other places. Treasure every day for what you find special.

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 2, 2013

So much for slowing down, I went to work today. Well, “we” went to work today, technically, I didn’t, I’m just along for the ride, and, in the process, meeting some new folks and maybe even having some new experiences. Like slowing down on a “work day”.

Today’s workday consisted of welding a new something (slick plate) or other on a big gold mining piece of equipage (trammel) in the middle of nowhere after unwelding the old something or other off of the big gold mining piece of equipage in the middle of nowhere. So, yes, I am more in the middle of nowhere than I usually am, except this middle of the nowhere actually has Internet. Not fast, but almost capable. I don’t think I’m anywhere that has a name, other than “Georgie’s gold mine” somewhere off the Steese highway some miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, but not yet to Central, in a direction I really didn’t pay attention to. I’ve heard a lot about Georgie’s gold mine over the past few years and am happy to have an opportunity to visit.

Now, as far as this workday goes, obviously, there was a commute involved. We had to drive a couple of hours to get here and I think we saw, maybe, four other cars the entire time. Now, out here, “commuting”, like at home, often involves certain “errands” along the way, to “buy groceries”, I suppose. Okay, we stopped to fish twice on the way to work.

Apparently, whatever I did yesterday, fishing-wise, worked, and today did not. I did not wear Vera Wang’s “Princess”, I just wore DEET, lots and lots of DEET. I’m not in any designer clothing, I’m actually in Levi’s 501’s and a (really cute, form fitting Target) plaid flannel shirt. Yes, I do have sequins on, it is requisite, but my sequins bedazzled, scooped neck t-shirt has not seen the light of day for the mosquitos. But, for whatever reason, the fish disapproved. Actually, I think there just weren’t any fish. At all.

The fishing holes we found were “roadside”, like yesterday’s, though yesterday’s had a well worn path between the road and the water. Today, no well worn path. That there was even a river down there was hard to determine. But, my man knows Alaska fishing holes like most men know sports statistics. We would park the car, and make our way down nearly vertical embankments for some undeterminable distance through vegetation so thick I lost sight of my man less than ten feet in front of me a couple of times. We basically just moved down the hillside, George of the Jungle style, from tree to tree to tree, using the small birch and black spruce trees as both a handhold and a foothold so as not to tumble down the hill (though I think if you were to tumble, you’d only roll downhill about six inches before being lodged against another tree, but you’d be buried in about four feet of brush, which, yes, we waded through. All of this to reach a lovely, meandering river, home to zero fish. “The fish are late this year,” I’ve been told. How rude. I hope they are able to get on standby for another flight and arrive soon, like while I’m here and hold a valid 14-day out-of-state fishing license.

When we arrived at Georgie’s gold mine, I was introduced and given a tour, including an overview of how the mining operation works. Introductions in Alaska are always pleasant and sincere, most folks are genuinely nice and very welcoming hosts and hostesses. Learning a little about their placer mining operation was very interesting, especially having lived in California’s gold country for several years, at one point a few miles from where gold was first discovered in 1849 and, also, having once owned a forty-acre parcel of remote forest property with its own hard rock gold mine. This type of large-scale placer mining is far different than what I’ve seen in the Sierra foothills of Northern California, but I haven’t visited any working, placer mine operations, only the single claim holder with a personal and portable operation.

While the actual work was being done, I was entertained by being taken to a nearby creek to pan for gold. I have the patience of a gnat, and adolescent gnat, when it comes to certain things; golf, fishing and gold panning. I have learned to embrace fishing, only because I have finally been taught the finer, more intellectual points and have discovered it requires quite a bit of knowledge and skill –my competitive spirit awakens. Gold panning, today, entertained me for about two swirls, until someone actually took the time to explain the nuances. I was then entertained for about twelve minutes, until Georgie himself, took a break from driving some big, yellow Tonka tractor thing back and forth and showed me five flecks of gold in his pan after only about fourteen seconds and three swirls. In kicked my competitive spirit and I am not the proud owner of an empty prescription bottle FULL of …. water. And at the bottom, several very small flecks of gold, small enough you have to squint to see them, but not so small you need a microscope. Almost, though. I will continue with my current plan for an early retirement, which, truthfully, is about “Plan H”, with Plans A through G having failed. Plan L may still pan out, no pun intended (Plan L being Lottery).

After the old slick plate was removed and the new one welded in its place in the trammel, the crew all returned to the cabin for a fantastic dinner. Another couple was visiting and we filled the table in the small cabin. Which wasn’t really all that small considering the story about it being trucked in from another town about eighty miles away.

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After dinner we retired to the sitting area and visited at length. I love meeting new folks, I love learning about new folks, I love their stories and I love finding something in common to share, a location and hobby or some experience. George, Georgie’s dad, and his wife grew up on the east coast, Ingrid in New Jersey and in Midtown Manhattan, one of my favorite stomping grounds. This we chatted about while panning. After dinner, during our conversation, Ingrid revealed, that much to her family’s shame and embarrassment, she was a geocacher. So, too, am I, so this fueled more lively conversation. It is after opportunities for experiences and meetings such as these that we come to appreciate the value, the richness of an ordinary day, ordinary events and ordinary people. Failing to realize and appreciate this value, this richness, prohibits us from taking our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. Today was extraordinary! Meetings that began cordial and with a handshake and a smile ended with big hugs around the room and the hope to return for another visit soon.

Fishing hole with no fish
Fishing hole with no fish
Trommel
Trommel
Gold panning
Gold panning
Creek we panned in
Creek we panned in
The cabin that came in by truck some eighty miles
The cabin that came in by truck some eighty miles

Scarlett’s Letter July 1, 2013

I wrote an article on Slowing Down earlier today. I did a fair job, I mean, there was no agenda, no “to do” list. Well, actually, there was, but it was very general, things that needed to get done, at some point, sooner rather than later. I helped out with this list, a little (I mean a very little) manual labor. And it felt good.

We ran into town to get my fishing license and I had to sign an scan an HR document to send in to work so all the I’s were dotted and the t’s crossed for the rest of my vacation. We stopped at a fishing hole on the way home and since we happened to have a couple of poles in the car, we thought we’d try my new license out. There I was in my brand new purple floral print jeans I bought at UNIQLO on Fifth Avenue last week in New York and my adorable high-low blouse with the diamond shaped copper studs on the collar. The mosquitoes were thick as flies, so I did the unthinkable, I mixed DEET with Vera Wang’s Princess. An interesting fragrance combination. In fifteen minutes I learned the basics of fly-fishing and even managed to catch a grayling, which we released. Meanwhile, my man was after a pike he spotted on the edge of the river in the tall grass. We’ve been after that pike, or a similar pike, in the same location, for a few visits now. This time, after switching out lures, he got him and I guess we’re having pike for appetizers before our moose steak tonight. I’m excited! I guess my license worked. Or the outfit. Or my new fragrance combination. Whichever.

This brings up an excellent point; I am considering launching a whole new product line including shampoos, conditioners, body wash, lotions, fragrances, deodorant, makeup, even laundry detergent and dryer sheets, laced with DEET. I’m also going to develop the same line with organic, toxic free citronella, for the Whole Foods crowd. They’ll invest heavily in my organic line, and eventually, reinvest in my DEET line because, we all know, it will actually work. I’m pretty confident this will be my million dollar idea. Stay tuned!

Slowing down is valuable in our life, as I wrote about, on an occasional basis, to let the mind quiet, to absorb our surroundings and to acknowledge the essence, the quiet voice from within, once we can calm the superficial voice.

We can also learn to slow down on a daily basis, as part of our routine. We need to build some “slow” into our hectic and chaotic days. Amidst the agendas and to do lists, the work, the chores, the obligations, the meetings, the phone calls, we need to find a way to slow certain aspects down.

We can practice deliberate periods of slowness with mediation, rhythmic breathing or yoga. Some people are even capable of clearing their minds of the superficial noise by walking or running. The practice of slowing down, though never completely mastered, adds a deeper dimension to our thought processes. We become more capable of problem solving, of managing stress and of quieting ourselves in an otherwise hectic world.

Slowing down while eating is another fantastic practice. In our rushed and hurried lives we tend to just wolf down our meals, snacks and munchies mindlessly. And we end up eating far more than we require for good health and nutrition. To slow down and acknowledge each bite, appreciate the flavor, the texture, chew slowly, set our utensils down between bites we’ll find we enjoy our meals more and consume less. This is a little known weight loss and maintenance secret.

We should also slow down enough, a little bit every day, to refuel our knowledge; read, write, sing, speak, learn. Finding a way to incorporate this into our routine will benefit us whether just trying to keep our minds nimble, further our studies, or enhance our knowledge for career advancement.

So, when considering what to do to make life a little more relaxed, a little more fulfilling, just remember the lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song “Feeling Groovy”, “slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last. Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.”