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July 31, 2007

Kind of Like Robo Cop

I have this nagging injury in my left ankle, a sharp kind of pain that flares up from time to time and eventually goes away. In the course of our fishing this summer the pain returned, and likely due to the hours upon hours I spent uncomfortably kneeling in the small rubber raft while sitting on my feet, the pain became pronounced and has yet to recede. According to my mother's husband Dean, who is an ER doc, this particular brand of tendonitis can be difficult to shake on account of its being used in every step we take. More drastic measures might be needed, he suggested. What kind of drastic measures, I asked?

Behold the medial boot.

Please, please resist the urge to envy me. I know how incredibly cool and fun the medical boot looks, but in fact, it makes getting around a bit difficult. Especially up and down the stairs. The medical boot encases one's foot in a comfortable bed of foam rubber with lots of velcro helping to keep things snug. Around the foam is a hard plastic shell that prevents the ankle from moving and protects it from people who, in sheer envy, kick peevishly at your foot. But perhaps the most ingenious feature of the medical boot is not evident with a casual glance.

The medical boot, like those expensive sneakers I was never cool enough to wear, has air pockets that fill, with the help of a small pump, and hold one's ankle snugly, as if the medical boot was giving your sore ankle a hug and saying, "Get better, man. Get better soon."

It's a compassionate little thing, the medical boot.

Perhaps the most envious was Iggy, who can scarcely leave the medical boot alone, so compelling does she find it.

And so today, as we printed many copies of Volume 9, I was encumbered by the medical boot. It is my cross to bear.

How long will I need to wear the medical boot? None can say. I'm supposed to be icing the ankle as well, but one of the things we lack in the barn is ice cubes on account of there being no ice cube trays. Something we could remedy, to be sure.

I will keep the medical boot at least through this weekend when we board the plane to England. Is having a medical boot the kind of thing that qualifies one to get on the plane early with the first class people and the children flying alone? We shall see. No pain, no unfair advantage.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:08 AM

July 29, 2007

Connecticut is Burning

I have returned from my whirlwind trip to Massachusetts. Intact.

Robbi did not join me on the trip, mostly due to the fact that she had a lot of painting to do for Volume 9. She looked like this when I left her at noon on Thursday.

And the house looked like this.

The state of the household could not be described as "thriving" at present.

The drive up was an ordeal, though it started out with such promise. I had no problem with the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the New Jersey Turnpike or the Cross Bronx Expressway through New York City.

The problem, my friends, was Connecticut, perhaps, after Texas and Florida, the most loathsome state in the union. I drove the first 15 miles of i-95 into Connecticut in exactly 93 minutes. I was completely demoralized, shuttling back and forth between despair and rage.

Iggy did her best to look cheerful, trying anything to pull me from my brooding funk.

To no avail. There is nothing that enervates me quite like traffic. All seemed to be lost. I was almost certain to be very late in picking up my sister at the Hartford airport. I had just resigned myself to long misery when...lo!...Connecticut redeemed itself by catching on fire.

"Serves you right, Connecticut," I said, driving past the impressive plume. Moments later the roadway cleared as Connecticut, defeated, allowed us to drive freely once more.

As I may have mentioned, I was driving north to visit my sisters and mother. Alas, I only saw one sister, Lindsay, who surprised me greatly by being married, and recently so.

Lindsay, who lives in Portland, was back in Massachusetts to be a bridesmaid in one of her friends' weddings. Hence the little coral number she is wearing in the pics.

The dress was a bit long. Fortunately, my mother is like a samurai with a sewing machine and removed three inches in no time.

Which created an opportunity for Iggy.

As people do when weddings have just happened, we took many combinations of photos.

Mom, Lindsay, and Me

Dean and Mom

On the way back home on Saturday, I had no problem with Connecticut, still reeling from its recent defeat.

I did pause to feel sorry for this church. I don't go to church much, but I feel bad for this one having to be situated right next to I-95. And to have to be in Connecticut, to boot.

And while we're railing against the way of things, does it seem appropriate that we drivers of cars should have to occupy the same road as trucks? At one point I was so literally surrounded that it was like I was trapped in a small room. A room that happened to be moving at 70 mph.

Home again, and we're putting the finishing touches on volume 9, which will be sent out later this week. Volume 9 has a lot of pages, and so we had to spread them all out and have a look this afternoon, trying to figure out what should go where.

Eventually, I think, we got it right.

It's the kind of book in which the order of pages is not a given. You will see. Unless you aren't a subscriber, and then you won't.

In which case, perhaps Connecticut is the best place for you.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:35 PM

July 26, 2007

Who are These People?

It has been a while since I've posted on the strange search strings which have brought readers to our gates. Checking the logs this morning, two distinguish themselves as worthy of reproduction.

amherst ma figure drawing nude models


holding pee contest desperation

I also like...

barnstorming maryland emily

...because what could the person who typed these three words possibly have been looking for? Were they in search of our friend Emily or some other Emily whose identity might be fixed by the triangulation of these words?

In thirty minutes I am leaving for Massachusetts, where I will visit with my two sisters and one mother. I have gotten so used to shuttling from state to state in recent days that I cannot be content to remain in Maryland for more than 48 hours. This is probably a good time to note that we will be heading to England at the end of next week for two weeks in a long boat with 9 people. The boat is six feet wide and 70 feet long. It moves 4 miles per hour. We will be traveling through canals that look like this.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:30 AM

July 25, 2007

Back from Ohio

Over days and weeks ahead there will be more stories and photos of our time in Alaska. For now, I will say that we are back from Ohio and trying to get things back in order again. It is hot here in Maryland, and hotter still in this hayloft home of ours. I baked my jade plant into a kind of crispy sadness while we are gone. Restoring it to health is one of the many projects at hand.

On our way out of town last Thursday night we stopped to visit friends Christian and Emily and took the occasion to bestow gifts from Alaska. I put one gift in each hand and let Emily choose a hand. At first, she chose poorly.

Given another opportunity she chose better.

Though I do think Christian would make a mean "Bad Girl".

We spent a restful night in their swank new abode and after eating a healthy breakfast of gummi bears, hit the road the next morning.

We went to Ohio to spend some time with distant branches of the family tree, most of whom I had not seen since I was very small. Which means they missed the angst-ridden teen years when I got fat, had really bad hair, and joined a bowling league. My great-aunt Susie kept lamenting that I had transformed so dramatically from the "little tow-headed boy" I used to be. I had shocking blond/white hair as a child.

Here is where we spent the weekend: Crockett's run, near Athens, Ohio, about one hour south of Columbus. Crockett's run is a collection of cabins of various sizes, each named after a different enterprising frontiersman.

On the way to Southern Ohio, we drove through northern West Virginia, which involves a lot of hills. There was an enormous wooden map of the state on the wall of the rest stop. It caught my eye.

There was a pond with a paddleboat, a hot tub, and lush green lawns. We ate far too much, played a lot of cards, and caught up on two decades of life. There were a lot of people and not many beds. Consequently, our accommodations were not grand.

For those of you who are Idiots'Books subscribers, you had the opportunity to read an essay by my grandmother, Mary Swanson, reflecting on Understanding Traffic. Here is that good woman in her "Bear Naked Chef" apron, her birthday gift, purchased in the King Salmon airport.

Not only is my grandmother the type of old lady who will gladly wear a "Bear Naked Chef" apron, but she would likely have appreciated a "Bad Girls of the North" t-shirt as well. She is a self-proclaimed eccentric who revels in the opportunity to be old and free. Her mantra is the poem, "When I Am an Old Woman, I Will Wear Purple." You can read it by clicking here.

There are a number of interesting rock formations in Southern Ohio, which provide occasion for gatherings of people, tourists and locals alike. Being tourists, we were compelled to visit one such local wonder, Old Man's Cave, of which Robbi had previously heard from her Ohio-native friend Whitney. Upon arriving at the Old Man's Cave parking lot, we were compelled to test the safety release lever that the woman at the rental car counter had pointed out to my dad. I volunteered to be the guinea pig. I got in the trunk.

It was roomy, comfortable even. But glaring like a beacon in the darkness was the safety release lever. I pulled it and the trunk sprung open, the glaring light of day spoiling the dark tranquility of the trunk.

My uncle, jealous of the fun that I had had, decided to try the drill himself. He was successful in escaping the trunk, but somehow cut his hand. Sobered by the potential for further injury, we decided to proceed to the cave.

The caves of southern Ohio are not true caves but hollows in rocks with enormous overhangs above them. They are like the openings in which the pueblos of Mesa Verde are built, only in Southern Ohio and without pueblos. There are many smaller formations, but here is the biggie, the Old Man himself.

We wandered around in the woods for a bit. There were many paths. At one point Robbi stopped to pose for this picture, which will be March, I believe, in the 2008 Robbi Behr Poses in the Woodlands calendar.

Among the weekend's many highlights were the blueberry pancakes made by Robbi and Caitlin, to whom I am not related, but to whom I could be some day, on account of her mom Bonnie's being "involved" with my great uncle Wayne.

Undoubtedly the most important discovery of the weekend was learning a new game: lasso golf. Perhaps you have heard of this fine pastime. I had not. The basic framework is similar to that of horseshoes. Two teams of two people each, projectiles thrown toward a target across the way. The projectile is an odd contraption consisting of two balls connected by a length of string. The balls are thrown or slung toward a series of three horizontal bars, each with a different point value.

In this photo of my father, the balls are sailing through the air.

The trick is to get the balls to hang over one of the bars, thus winning the number of points written on the bar.

There are, of course, many rules and twists and possibilities for excitement or delight that would bore you to hear but delight you to encounter head-on. So please, get a set for yourself and go play with the most entertaining people you know.

One of the best things about lasso golf is coming up with better names than lasso golf. Those of us playing came up with many possibilities, but none was more delightful or appropriate than "testicle toss."

Of course the real highlight was connecting with family after years and years. Who knows why we haven't all gotten together in so long. Families are bizarre entities, but wonderfully so.

In parting, tonight, I leave you with an image of the shoreline of the land across the water from Anchorage, which sits on a river much like the one along which we fish. Robbi took this picture as we landed. I've never seen mud look so pretty.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:47 AM

July 20, 2007

Home and Gone Again

Friends, we have returned from Alaska. The journey took approximately 30 hours and was highlighted by an 8-hour stint on a sticky bench in the baggage claim area of the Seattle airport. We arrived in Chestertown late Wednesday night with 200 lbs of still mostly frozen sockeye in tow. The barn was so hot we were tempted to despair. But 30 minutes of the trusty window unit (gift of good friend Christian) cooled the bedroom to a blissful 60 degrees, creating a 35 degree disparity between the sleeping quarters and the "big room". Moving between the two required an act of courage. Courage which we lacked.

Yesterday we cast about a bit, collecting our month of missed mail, trying to get our lives in some sort of rough order. Around dinnertime we packed the car and headed for Baltimore, where we spent a comfortable night in the swank Calvert St. accommodations of friends Christian and Emily. Friday morning now, and we are preparing to depart for Logan, Ohio, where a reunion of my Grandma Swanson's family is about to commence. There will be lasagna and burritos, bratwurst and corn on the cob. And walks in the wood, apparently. We are stumbling forward like the dead, uncertain which time zone we are supposed to be inhabiting. We will go where we are told and will do what we are told to do.

No pictures today. Perhaps there will be an internet connection at Crockett's Run and time for a proper update.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:35 AM

July 16, 2007

From Hong Kong to Egegik

It's seldom safe to claim a first. Almost everything that could happen already has. It is, however, possible that there has never been a FedEx sent from the port of Hong Kong to the tiny bush town of Egegik, Alaska. Until now, that is. Robbi and I have been waiting for months, it seems ,for the completion of our first professionally printed book, St. Michaels: the Town that Somehow Fooled the British. The printer informed us that advance copies would be available late June, so we provided them with the only address we have up here, a neighbor's PO box across the water in Egegik. FedEx got very cranky about the idea of sending to a PO box, but I explained that there really was no better option, and so they acquiesced. A few weeks ago, I received an email from the printer saying that the FedEx had been sent. We waited daily for news of our package's arrival. Nothing. A week passed. Still nothing. We began to lose hope. But then, the other day, Maiko returned from our neighbor's house with a package in tow.

Before opening the FedEx, we inspected it closely, looking for explanations for its truancy. There were odd markings, indicating some monkey business in Anchorage and more in King Salmon. Apparently, packages sent via FedEx to the Alaskan bush travel no further than King Salmon, the small town which was the next to last stop on our own journey here to Coffee Point. Once a package arrives in King Salmon, the FedEx person there takes it to the post office and lets the USPS take care of the rest of the delivery. So, affixed to the outside of our package was postage (paid by FedEx, apparently) for the US Mail. Also was a handwritten note indicating that the package was to be delivered by 10:30am, the optimistic scribblings of the person on the sending end, who was, I reckon, ignorant of the fact that the package would be traveling to the end of the earth.

Inside the package were two advance copies of our book. We could not have been more pleased to see one of our books that WE DID NOT HAVE TO MAKE BY HAND.

We were very happy with how the book looked, especially the cover. It is, like, a real-looking book with a hard cover and real spine and beautifully printed pages inside. Legit. Bona fide. We each checked out a copy.

"We could get used to this professional printing thing," we said to one another over and over again.

Later that night, we tried the book out on some actual children. They seemed to have a good time reading it.

The remaining 2,500 copies will arrive in mid-August, at which time, we will be sending a lovely promotional postcard to all of you on our mailing list offering you the opportunity to purchase a copy for your very own home.

Which brings to mind the fact that, likely, not all of you who read this blog are on our mailing list. If you would like to be added (which basically means that you would receive lovely promotional postcards from us from time to time), please write me an email and I'll be happy to add you to the pile.

The fishing has slowed to a trickle. We have pulled two of our three nets from the river for good and are fishing the final one for one more tide tomorrow afternoon, hoping to gather enough fish to fillet, freeze, and pack for the trip home. The Department of Fish and Game has opened up the fishing at this point, which means anyone may fish when he pleases, 24 hours a day. It also means that, because everyone is fishing at will, there are very few fish left for us to catch. So after tomorrow afternoon, we'll pull the final net from the water and turn our attention to packing up.

Tomorrow I embark on my final adventure of the season, a day as a drift fisherman with Captain David Hadden, our neighbor who fishes in the open water. I have served as his first mate/assistant in past years, and it seems appropriate to keep up the tradition. So I have fished my last tide as a setnet fisherman for this year.

We leave Coffee Point the day after tomorrow and arrive home late Wednesday night. I am really looking forward to having a proper shower.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:26 AM

July 13, 2007

Nearing the End

We have reached the part of the fishing season where things get a little tedious. The Department of Fish and Game, now confident that our "escapement" of 1,200,000 sockeye has been reached (thus ensuring the ongoing health of the fishery), is now interested in us catching as many fish as possible. So even though we fished this morning's tide, we'll fish again tonight at 9:00pm. Instead of the 8- or 10-hour openings we have been allowed so far this season, tonight's opening is 20 hours long, not ending until tomorrow evening at 5:00pm. Which means, of course, that the sleeping that is supposed to happen tonight probably won't. The meals that are supposed to happen will have to be squeezed in as the fishing allows, likely in full rain gear outside the house.

The weather today is the worst of the summer. It was pouring rain at 5:30 when we woke and the wind was blowing furiously. The wind makes waves, which make setting out the nets difficult and picking the fish out of the net even moreso. The fish caught near the shore are completely mangled by the raging surf and look not much like fish you'd want to eat by the time they are finally extricated from the net. But there's not much to be done about it on days like these.

We're all back in the house now. Maiko is making chili, Bob is napping, Seiko is vacuum-packing fillets for us all to take back home at the end of the fishing, I'm writing this entry, Roji's present occupation is unknown, and Robbi is catching up on her reading.

One's literary standards are significantly lowered up here.

As a foil to today's foul skies, I offer you a glimpse of sunset a few nights ago.

And yesterday's blue skies as we stood on the bluff overlooking the water while the drifters fished.

And Iggy's bath at the spring the other day. A dog in Alaska has a tendency to develop a fishy smell.

And that's it for now. More to come, if I can, but the fishing may open indefinitely from here on out. We leave for home on Tuesday.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:17 AM

July 10, 2007

Slowing Down

After our two days of extreme fishing, we have settled into a more reasonable pace. In fact, the day after the 20,000 pound opening, we dropped down to a mere 500. The Department of Fish and Game switched us to the opposite tide. Meaning, instead of starting to fish at 4:00 in the afternoon, we were forced to begin at 4:00 in the morning. Which means rising at 2:30, grabbing a quick snack, putting on the rubber suit in the dark, and driving down to the beach in the predawn hours to fish in the early drizzle. Those hours are stunning up here; the fleet of boats on the water looks like a floating city at night. The sky, never really dark up here in summer, gradually turns from purple to red between the hours of 3 and 5 am. So there is a silver lining to early tides. But mostly it's cold and miserable and exhausting. And especially demoralizing when you catch only 500 pounds of fish. The nice thing about the tides is that they get a bit later each day. So today we woke up at 5:00am for a 6:30 opening. Still not exactly a civil time to rise, but better far than a few days ago. Also, each day our catch has been slowly rising. Although we have yet to play our nightly guessing game in which we each name an estimated catch with hopes of winning a scratch-off ticket, I'm guessing that we caught just more than 3,000 pounds. Which is a respectable poundage for this point in the season.

When not fishing, Robbi and I have been working on Volume 9. It's difficult to motivate ourselves, because our first instinct when not fishing is to fall into a deep, profound slumber. But we have found time here and there to discuss and sketch. Provided the internet signal is strong enough when I drive down to the beach, here is a picture of Robbi painting at the table. If there is no picture of Robbi painting at the table, use your imaginations. In the picture you imagine, Robbi should be sitting at the table, somewhat disheveled from fatigue, holding a paint brush in her left hand. With the brush, she is painting on a piece of paper. Fascinating.

It's hard to believe, but we leave for home a week from tomorrow. Maiko leaves this Friday and Roji the day after Robbi and I, so all of us will start preparing the place for the winter soon. We put the trucks up on blocks, put anything a bear might find appealing into the reinforced steel containers, and board up all the windows on the various buildings. The winters up here are pretty bleak. So I've been told.

Speaking of bears, they have been prowling our roads at night of late. Every morning we find fresh prints at the end of the road that leads from our compound down to the beach (and several healthy piles of bear droppings, which are almost black in color). When we get up to pee in the middle of the night, we have to whoop and holler to alert any nearby bears that it would be advisable to move off deeper into the alder bushes. That he might not get peed on, and that we not be mauled.

Oh, and here are some fish.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:19 PM

July 07, 2007

Famine or Feast

The 4th of July came and went with only modest results on the fishing front. Would this be the year the entire endeavor went bottoms-up, we wondered? Our catch still at a modest 15,000 pounds, we woke the morning of July 5 with no great hope of success.

We set out our nets at noon. The result? Eight hours later, the six of us had caught, picked, hauled and sold 28,000 pounds of sockeye, a family one-day record. We were exhausted and famished but mightily pleased with the result.

The next day we caught another 20,000 pounds. We could have caught much more, but the fisheries were "plugged" from the glut of the previous day's catch, and put everyone on a "limit", meaning that we were only permitted to sell 21,000 pounds, no matter how many we could have caught. So instead of the 150 fathmos of nets we are allowed, by permit, to put in the water, we only fished 75. As good as it is to catch fish, it's equally bad to catch too many and have to leave them dead and unsold on the beach when the market dries up. It is, in fact, a crime to "waste the product", punishable by a $10,000 fine and six
months in prison.

We got up at 3:00 this morning to fish an early tide and caught only 500 fish, so perhaps the flood is over. Or perhaps not. The fish are quirky beasts, as I have said before.

We are currently waiting for the 3:00 announcement that will let us know whether or not we are fishing tonight's tide.

I would not be unhappy if we are told we may not fish. My forearms are like rubber and I can't make fists with either hand, the product of much fish grabbing and throwing.

I'm keeping this brief, because the signal is currently strong but might die at any moment. I'm sitting with Maiko in a pickup truck on a sand dune near the cannery with the internet signal. We are both plugged into a DC converer which is plugged into a car battery. The whole affair is so precarious, I feel it will come crashing down at any momen. And so I leave you for now.

Since I seem to be able to post pictures, I'll take advantage of the fact and share a few favorites:

Iggy trying out her new box bed just outside the "Detached Palace" the day we arrived.

Me in my work clothes, sans rubber suit. It is a winning look I'm thinking of incorporating into life in the lower 48.

Seiko surfing (this is before the fish came and we got busy):

Maiko butchering a king. It was delicious.

Iggy in the bush plane between King Salmon and Coffee Point. In spite of the panic apparent in this shot, she was remarkably relaxed about it.

And Iggy learning how to drive.

That's it. Time to go eat dinner and listen for the announcement.

All of the spelling errors above were intentional, of course.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:46 PM

July 04, 2007

Where are the Fish?

Perhaps easiest way to judge a fishing season is by the pounds of sockeye we net and sell. Our worst year on record, the summer of 2003, we caught 40,000 pounds. The next summer represented our best total catch, at 215,000 pounds. The fish are fickle beasts and no amount of study or speculation has ever created a reliable system for predicting their numbers. When we have a bad year, the theories are particularly thick: El Nino is often to blame, as are open sea Chinese fishermen with their illegal mile-long nets. My favorite explanation is that clever beluga whales wait open-mouthed where our river meets the bay, eating our fish before we have a chance to catch them.

This year, so far, has the makings of a new historical low. To date we have caught just more than 5,000 pounds. The majority of our openings have yielded between 9 and 20 fish—which is both economically disappointing and fairly demoralizing. But we persevere. Just now I was driving up the beach on the 4-wheeler, up to the fishery where I can connect to the internet, and ran into some friends who fish on a boat. They claimed to have seen "jumpers" in the water this morning, that is, salmon literally leaping out of the water, hurling their bodies through space, and landing again with a splash. Jumpers are a surefire indication of good fishing ahead. Again, theories abound as to what makes the salmon jump. Some say it is that the water is so full that the fish jump thinking that there is less resistance in the air than in the crowded water, others say that only females jump and that they jump to shake their egg sacs loose in preparation for spawning, and others (Robbi, most notably) claim that the fish are just "excited to be going home and starting their families" or maybe because it's the 4th of July (for whatever reason, July 4th is typically the highest volume day in terms of catch from summer to summer). Robbi's theory does not take into account the fact that the fresh water in which the fish spawn is toxic to their saltwater systems and that they rot to death shortly after laying their eggs. The circle of life is completed when the hatching fry (young salmon) consume the decaying bodies of their elders for sustenance as they grow.

We are heading down to the beach this afternoon for a 1:00pm opening and will be permitted to fish for the next ten hours. Considering the jumpers and the fact that it is July 3, we could find ourselves "picking" fish for the entire opening. ("Picking" is the term for removing the fish from the net; our nets are "gill nets", made up of vertically oriented diamonds of net that snare fish of the proper size by the gills. The fish swim into the net, their gills are snagged, and they are not able to escape by swimming backward. The gauge of our net is sized to catch sockeye and not king salmon, which are much larger. Nevertheless, master fisherman that I am, I managed to catch a king a few days ago.

Here it is,

You know what they say about a guy who catches a big king.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:51 PM