I'm working as a Fish Culturist at Hidden Falls Salmon Hatchery in a remote spot near Sitka, Alaska! AM I CRAZY!? I'm starting to think so...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spawning time fun

Week 1 of Spawning is over already! Today is my "Saturday"...

I don't really have anymore tales of spawning... it's really the same thing everyday. Spawn like crazy... though we've been running out of fish early the past few days. The other day I was carrying buckets of eggs into incubation and trying to be all beasty like... carrying 3 or 4 buckets at a time. Bad idea cause now my right wrist hurts pretty bad... makes it hard to do alot of other stuff sooooo... I'm hoping this "weekend" rest will help out. I just washed my smelly clothes and guess what!? Still smelly... that'll be nice. HA

Anyhow, I have some pictures... *NOTE* Clicking the pictures to enlarge them would be a good idea... I had to make all of them alot smaller, so you won't see stuff as good!

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I'll start off with a funny one. Adam said when he had a friend come one year, the friend said this waterfall looked like Mr. Peanut. After he said that, I kinda agreed. What do you think!?

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A bald eagle eating a piece of fish. They have been ALL over the place lately... I think I counted 10 or 11 at once one day!

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The chum are pushing at the weir pretty hard... THEY WANT IN! There are alot right there...

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I stood here at the outflow of the weir for quite a while trying to get a picture of these darn chum jumping! They are always jumping but it was really hard to catch them on camera!

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The fish ladder... I've showed you guys this before but now it's running. It just creates a series of rapids for the fish... Each rapid is created as the water hits each metal wall... there is a small opening so I'm not sure if most of the fish push thru the opening or if some of them jump over the wall. Seems like alot of work to me... (this is just 1/2 the ladder... there's another part along side the raceway.)

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Into the spawning shed! "WHACK!" as Scott is about to hit a female chum... See all the stuff on the table... that milky coloring... some eggs... all those flapping fish splash that stuff up in your face!

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The whole operation at work...

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Andy is cutting opened females on the left, the eggs slide down into the pan, then Jess (the bucker of the day) fertilizes them with the males. This picture actually shows her squirting into the bucket but she will do it into the pan next.

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Fresh eggs...

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(This wasn't from today... but I figured you'd rather see ME in a picture!) So after there are 4 pans of eggs all poured into a bucket, we take them to incubation where they get poured into the egg washer and they are drained down into an R48 incubator. This was me from the other day...

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Pretty, right!?

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So far we have filled about 14 of these things... they are quite large! About 5 feet tall... probably 3 feet in diameter. There are a few MILLION eggs in each.

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Come on! I had to give you atleast ONE picture with some blood and gore! HA HA Ok so we don't have a ton of these bloody fish just laying around. This one just didn't make it down the shoot. All the fish get ground up and piped to the middle of the ocean or something. I know, that's kinda gross too. This is a cut up female, by the way. Chum get that striped coloring... and you should see their teeth!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Up close and personal

Spawning... Day 2

Tired again... more pain but less SMELL! Scott posted some information about yesterday on the bulletin board. We took something like 7.6 million eggs yesterday... if we keep up at that pace, there would be 17 more days of spawning. That's not TOO bad. Today, it didn't seem like we were really going AS fast but we had only a few hundred thousand less eggs.

This morning, Tim and I worked the table again. I made sure to wear my bandana today... :-) Keep the hair out of my face is the new goal! Scott and Adam were taking eggs so again we were flying! I've realized... actually I realized this yesterday but forgot to write it... this is proof that it takes a SPECIAL kind of person to do this job. If you are the least bit squeemish (sp?) about stuff, you wouldn't last! I mean, first of all, those fish are BIG... they are slimy... you have to whack em! I wasn't sure if I'd really be all that decent at that part... whack a fish!? Come on... nope, I highly enjoy it actually! HA HA So you get past the "whack the big slimy fish" part and then you have to deal with the fact that there are like 40 fish on the table... you whack a female and eggs pop out! You don't even have to whack a male for... yeah. So you have 40 fish partially flopping around... slapping their tales on the wet table splattering stuff up at your face and in your EYES that you KNOW is not just water! That's pretty gross if you really think about it. Then if you are squeemish about blood... ughh forget it! You're done! The hands of the egg takers are COVERED in blood. Yeah... it's a dirty job... someone call up Mike Rowe!

So anyhow, this morning I was up at the table. Part way through the morning, my finger started to hurt for who knows what reason... When I came in at lunch, I realized it was kinda swollen... my left pointer finger. I can understand my left thumb being bruised (cause it is)... that's from gripping the tails of the fish. But my pointer finger? I don't know... the only thing I can come up with is that maybe I whacked my finger with a bat... but you'd remember something like that right?? Cause I don't. It's swollen and bruised... I don't know...

We've been getting some random people coming to the back and watching us for a little bit... seiners... fisherman... tourists. Well today we got a big group of tourists... with a bunch of little kids! I was back whacking fish thinking "Oh yeah I'm sure this is gonna be GREAT for a bunch of little kids to see! Here I am beating fish with a bat... Scott and Adam are up in front cutting open the stomachs of fish... I can hear it now! "Mommy... what is the fish squirting out?"" I guess they looked interested but who knows... I was in the back laughing to myself.

After lunch, I got up close and personal with the fertilized eggs. :-) I was in charge of running the buckets of eggs to incubation. Man, I felt the pressure! You are in a hurry... you can't let them sit too long. But you have to pour them into the egg washer slow otherwise you will loose some. Then you hurry back so you can wash up your buckets and take some more. It is kind of neat to see the incubators though. We are filling up those R48s full with eggs... those are the big blue vats basically. So we fit like... 65-ish buckets of eggs into each. Each bucket contains eggs from 20 fish. That's something like 40,000 eggs in each bucket I think... I thought that's what Scott said but who knows. That's a few million eggs (2.5 mil-ish?) in each incubator. Crazy... that's not that fun of a job but it's cool to see the R48s FULL with salmon colored eggs.

Anyhow... so to me, this feels like "all-days" from drum corps, but a bit easier I guess! You work super hard... you hurt at the end of the day... and you know you still have a few more WEEKS of it... but it's all for a good reason. I should do a "bruise count" because I can think of atleast 8 right off the top of my head! I did that in drum corps too sometimes! ha

Well... yep that's about it I guess... Wow two postings in a ROW! WOW... ha ha Hey feel free to email me or comment more... geez! Gotta go eat dinner... I'm STARVING! Oh, shower first! ha ha Atleast I don't smell as bad as I did yesterday! Man, I had to scrub my arms TWICE in the shower... then I got out and STILL smelled like fish. I had to mask the smell with some lotion. My bracelet still smells... I'm sure it's never going to go away either!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Is that hair spray in your hair?

So you know how I said that come spawning season, I might be too tired to post? Well it might be "my hands won't LET me post because I can't type!"

Day 1... Spawning

Let's just say... my hair feels like I've hair sprayed it... but... umm... I don't own any hair spray!? My fleece smells like I rolled around in a vat of fish... and I have a weird crusty substance all the way up my arms?

HA yeah... it was an interesting day. I spent the morning working the sorting table with Tim. He worked the shock box and sorted fish for his side... and I tried to keep up with Scott, who was getting eggs, on my side! Like I said yesterday, males in the middle, females go in the slots on each side. Oh... but you have to WHACK em first! A few times... on the top of the head. Sometimes eye balls fly... or just bug out... sometimes you miss and whack the table real hard. It was actually kinda fun but my back was aching afterward. But like I said, I was working realllllly fast to try to keep up with Scott! The whole operation is in super fast speed! It's amazing really.

So after lunch, Tim and I switched with Jess and Andy. They worked the table. Tim starting taking eggs but Scott took over so he was running eggs to the incubation room. I was "bucking." Squeezing male fish... At first I had a hard time getting used to it but then I got into a good rhythm. Man, talk about fast! I thought we were going fast on the table but whew... this was faster! There are two egg takers and me so I have to work both of them. They put eggs from 5 fish into a pan, and I squeeze 3 males. Yeah I'm not going into all the... ya know... details and stuff. ;-D Anyhow, I was going FAST trying to keep up with two very experienced egg takers... Scott and Adam. Of course the males are BIG so my left thumb hurts from gripping tales. We wear gloves that keep our hands from slipping... easier to grab the fish.

But yeah... when you are covered in a little bit of blood and umm... male fish... uhh... contents... and your hair gets in your face... not really a great idea to push it back with your fingers. Just a tip... in case any of you are in that situation! HA HA Note to self... wear a bandana tomorrow or something!
Not gonna lie though, if I didn't think about the pain, it was oddly sort of fun! And of course, when you get a bunch of young people together, vulgar comments fly! :-D

All and all, a good day, though my head hurts, my back aches and I'm a bit tired! I just sorta volunteered to help do some fish samples later too... apparently it'll only take an hour. Then back to the grind tomorrow! Scott said today was the "Best 1st day ever!" :-D Not like "yeah great job" but like literally, we took the most eggs that have ever been taken on a 1st day. I know it was something like 3 million this morning... I think maybe 7 million total? :-D

BTW, who's Zeke!?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's about that time...

What time, you ask??


Today I had the day off (because of spawning, our schedules have been changed around) but I had to come in at 4 so we could all talk about spawning. The time has come folks... tomorrow we will start spawning! I'm a little freaked out... ok not FREAKED out but just nervous sorta... I'm so self concious about doing things I have never done before in front of people... like "I wanna do this but don't watch me... I don't want to look stupid if I screw up!" That's the reason...

Anyhow, I guess it all does look easy enough... I'll walk you through it. (BTW, on my days off, I'm going to try to get pictures of people spawning so you can SEE it...)

So apparently there are about 96,000 chum inside the barrier net, and they are pushing HARD to try to get into the inner lagoon! There are always SOOO many right in front of the weir (that's that concrete walkway looking thing that the fish have to jump up). They have some gates that they open and close so ALL the fish don't come in at once but they have been letting alot into the inner lagoon and they are chompin at the bit! And I say "chompin" in literal terms because the male chum have got some MAJOR teeth on them! They ain't nicknamed "dogs" by coincidence! So anyhow, they turned on the water in the two raceways, which causes water to flow down the fish ladder. The fish ladder just simulates a series of rapids for the fish to jump basically... like in a real river. I'll have to also get some pictures there too because there are alot of fish there too... ok there are just alot of fish EVERYWHERE!

Basically we spawn until all the fish are out of the two raceways (for the day)... then we drop the crowders in the back and when we come back in the morning, both will be full of fish again! I asked Adam about how many fish would fit into the raceways and I think he said like 4000 (not sure if that was BOTH or just one... ALOT) So we fill up the "shock box" with fish... shock them so they are dead and dump them on the table. If they aren't dead still, we have to hit them on the head with a "fish bat." (I don't want to hear any "owws" and "oh that's terrible"s PLEASE... they are going to die anyhow.) Then they get sorted, males go down the middle of the table, females get placed in the slots on either side. Males you literally just squeeze... Females you have to cut open and basically the eggs just pour out onto this little table thing that slides them into the tray. Think a slip and slide... ha ha

That's basically it... getting the eggs is a bloody job but the male part is fairly clean... not including all the fish slime, which apparently doesn't really wash off very well in the shower even! I'll tell ya how it goes tomorrow... it looks like once I get the hang of it, it should be kinda fun. Though we will be doing it for a month (or more) straight so it'll get tedious but it might be fun for a little bit atleast. And I like the people I'm working with so it should be ok.

Well... that's all I've got for you today. I was out trying to get some pictures of the salmon trying to jump up the flow of water at the weir but... that's not as easy as it sounds. You'd think you'd get atleast ONE jumping because there are alot of fish just constantly jumping but it's hard to catch. Anyhow, pictures will come... be patient. I should hold my pictures ransom until I get some mail though! GRRRR... Thanks for the mail though Melissa! I got that today... yay! Remember, no food please. But MAIL!

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - Lee, Happy Birthday yesterday! ;-D

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Collecting Chum and... Baby Chinook!? Oh my...

Yep leave it to all of you guys to comment on the picture with the BOY in it. No "Oww nice fireworks" or "Oww a beach in Alaska! Fun!" Every single comment is about the boy. GEEZ folks! ha ha It's alright... I knew it was coming.

Sooo a few interesting things the past few days... 1) We started collecting "broodstock" for spawning. That means just the fish we are going to use for spawning... though there are SOME fish in the lagoon, we have a barrier net way out front to keep any fish from coming in. So to collect broodstock, a seiner boat catches a set of fish and they put them in a pen that we have along side the barrier net. Then we end up letting the net down on the pen so the fish swim into the lagoon. I know, it sounds kind of weird... I'm not sure if they said they got 30,000 chum yesterday or if there are that many IN the lagoon... all I know is that Adam said we are only about a quarter of the way there. We need like 125,000 chum or something. I went out and helped Adam and Steve on that a few times yesterday and woke up sore today. When there are 10,000 chum in a seine net, there's alot of weight pulling in all directions! (BTW, Steve is the main guy in charge of NSRAA... he's out here for a month or so.)

Well I guess the most interesting thing of the week... or biggest "OH SHIT!" moment happened on Monday. Branden and Sarah were transferring the chinook that were in the back round ponds into the round ponds out front. WELLLLLL... from what I heard, there are two valves of some kind... one going into the round pond and one going into the lagoon... apparently both of those were opened causing some of the fish to go into the round pond (where they should be!) and some of the fish to go into the lagoon (aka "FREEDOM!!" for the fish... "OH SHIT!!" for Branden and Sarah!) So we spent a few extra hours after work on Monday trying to recover 2 inch long chinook out of the lagoon and the WHOLE day yesterday doing the same thing. We did end up recovering alot of fish but they are still trying to figure out how many they lost. Plus, we were just taking all the fish we could find meaning there are baby Coho in there... baby chinook... baby anything that happened to be in the lagoon.

YEAH... nothing ALL that new here. We've been doing alot of odd jobs around the place and getting the spawning shed ready. It's going to kick into gear pretty soon sooo I'll probably be quite tired! Not sure if I'll feel very motivated to post too often but I'll try. Just a warning... Hey, mail would be appreciated. I'm not saying food... geh don't really want any food actually! But mail is fun... anything really. Basically I'm set on stuff so yeah I don't want 100 bottles of shampoo and 1300 boxes of snacks... PLEASE not that!

Oh yeah, I made some FABULOUS brownies from scratch the other day that got RAVING REVIEWS! I was pretty happy. :-) They were so easy too... lemme know if you want the recipe. My first attempt to make lasagna the other day wasn't a super great one either... tasted good... turned out sort of weird though. Hey if you have any good recipes that are pretty easy and are good, SEND EM! I need ideas! Speaking of dinner though... I've gotta go and make something... I have no clue what though!

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - Hey Mike, I wore your Stamp Farms shirt today with some pride! Got it all dirty today... looks like a farmer wore it! :-D Though I did get a "Stamp Farms... How do you farm Stamps?" HA I'm not sure if she was joking or not but I laughed!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pictures of the Week

Alright so I promised some pictures so here they are... though I STILL haven't gotten the picture with me and my Prize-Winning (for being the smallest!!) Halibut. It's funny... We went out fishing again yesterday and caught a TON of rockfish but not halibut.

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Fireworks at the Hatchery... they were pretty impressive!

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We finally made it to the back of the lake at the Hot Springs...

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The stream coming out of the woods... it was really pretty back there.

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No, he never caught anything... Nice scenery though, eh!?

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Back at the Hot Springs... you've sorta seen a picture like this before. I was standing right on the edge of the rocks to take this.

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After work on Thursday, we all decided to head to Sandy Beach for a fire and BBQ. YEAH, there's really a beach! The tide was really low right now... the water ended up coming all the way up to the rocks on the right of this picture.

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Good times at Sandy Beach... (Left to Right) Angie, Deena, Andy, Tim, Jessica

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Every now and then you see a BIG cruise liner in Chatham Strait...

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Bald eagles... The closest one is an adult. The one behind it on the upper rock which doesn't really look like a bald eagle is a juvenile bald eagle. They are covered in alot of fluffy feathers and stuff so they, often times, look LARGER than the adults.

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There are two young (probably 2 yrs. old) bears in this picture... look closely. One is in the water... you can only see it's head. The other is on the rocks... the one in the water was hanging around all day trying to catch some fish but he's not very good at it. We watched the poor guy for a long time but never saw him get anything. Then that other bear (on the rocks) came out. It was alot lighter in color but about the same size and age. They are both pretty skinny and gangly... long arms and legs! But pretty cute!

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This is the lighter colored bear (the blonde one, as I will refer to him). He was looking for fish right at the weir and it looks like he's resting his head on the rocks. It's hard to tell but it really is kinda cute!

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Yep... uh huh... say what you must. I'm just showing this to say... "LOOK... NO BEARD!" ha ha ha This was at Sandy Beach...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fireworks, Fish, and Fun

Not gonna lie folks! I have been very UN-motivated in writing in this thing lately.

BUT... I said I would. And I did have a good weekend to write about so here goes... Sorry, I don't have enough motivation though to go to my computer and get pictures so that will have to be saved for tomorrow or something.

Well I last left you on 4th of July when I was about to join the festivities here on site. We had a cook out and it managed to stop raining and get a little nice for enough time, but as everyone's stomachs were nearing to a close, the rain returned. We took everything inside and hung out for a bit. As darkness came, Scott was intent on shooting off the fireworks he got, rain or not! And that he did! For a one-man show, he did a DAMN GOOD JOB! We were all really impressed! We stood in the heat of the fire pit, with some rain falling on us, and watched him shoot off some really good fireworks off the weir.

Anyhow, it was nice to be back with everyone having a good time! The next two days I worked... We started setting up the incubators for when spawning season begins and the eggs go in. It's all starting to come back full circle now... well not a FULL circle but it's gettin there. Back when we ponded, I remember taking these incubators all apart... now they are going all back together. Tim, Adam and I were flying thru that, but on Friday afternoon, Scott decided to give Jessica and Andy a break from the crappy work they were doing, so they took Tim and my place. Then we got put to work on some odd jobs... first one being "clean out the incinerator!" Yeah, sounds fun right!?!? Seriously! Clean out the incinerator!? What's there to clean!? A whole lot of ash is the answer. Actually, it ended up being kind of a fun job, probably cause Tim and I were cracking up and being crazy the whole time! Shoveling out ash... getting out any metal and glass. Just another dirty job... :-)

Well, my first weekend back and it was a really good one for a change! Adam and I decided to go halibut fishing on Saturday. First we had to catch bait of course... he hooked a King Salmon after alot of searching and I brought it in. Then we went out. Unfortunately, the water had gotten rough in the time we were trying to catch bait so it was a little rocky as we were sitting there. After sitting there for a while and not getting anything, he said we were going to move so we had to reel up all 150-200 feet of line (with a big weight on the bottom). That's always BLAH but I ended up having a fish at the end of mine! It was only a Silver Grey Rockfish... not a halibut. I asked him if I should have known I had that on my line, and he said "well probably not..." just cause it was rocky and it wasn't very big. That made me feel better! But hey, Becky 1 - Adam NOTHIN!

Then we moved and after sitting for a little bit, sure enough, I had something! AND OH MUH GOD, it felt big! Or it was just the 200 feet of line causing resistance!? *Deer in the headlight stare at Adam* "Start reelin..." he says. Pulling up a fish that is 200 feet down plus a big fat weight is a little tough on your arm! He was laughing at me the WHOLE TIME! Cause he knew it wasn't anything big... probably a tiny halibut actually. It sure felt heavy but he was probably right. Sure enough, it was the tiniest halibut I have ever seen! Like 5 pounds... Not gonna lie, I was a little embarrassed that I had to struggle to pull it up so hard! It was so little! I do have a picture but I have to get it from Adam. Yeah, he laughed at me alot! But again... Becky 2 - Adam NOTHIN! I threw it back though... along with the other one. We moved and fished in another spot but got nothing.

Sunday, we decided, since it was nice, Adam and I head to Baranof Hot Springs in his boat. We decided to hike up to this lake just a little past the pools where we "commandeered" a vessel (a little red canoe) and took off. Adam brought his fishing pole too so he threw it out there and dragged it behind us. The lake ends up snaking pretty far back and we actually paddled our little boat all the way back there! It took a while... but it was really pretty back there. There was a little cabin (Forest Service or something) and a few water sources came in. The water right there was SO clear, it was really cool. So we walked around a little bit... canoed a little ways over to some rocky area that looked like a beach. He fished for a few... I walked around. He didn't catch anything... then we looked at some rocks and found this gold flakes in the water. It wasn't real gold we are assuming! HA Anyhow, it was funny because just the other day he said something about panning for gold somewhere... and then we found this stuff that really did look like gold. So as we were walking around a little, he looks over and goes "STOP... come back this way." He had spotted a bear probably a 100 feet away... he checked us out but must have gone away.

Well we had enough of that so we begun the trek back... of course, by then, the wind was now blowing a little... in the opposite direction we were heading so we got no help. It was about a 45 minute paddle to shore. Then we walked back to the hot springs. Remember the nice "changing area" sign? There actually is a changing area but it is just a little wood platform with a bench... no privacy but there IS an area. Well the water sure was warmer than last time! It was probably the temperature of a pretty warm hot tub... pretty HOT hot tub I guess. Adam though it was warmer than a hot tub but I didn't. It felt good for about 10 minutes then you started to sweat. The lower pools felt nicer because they were cooler of course. And there was this little tiny pool... almost like a little seat for one that felt really nice. (Picture to come...) We probably only stayed about 20 minutes maybe... (we were at the lake for a few hours.)

On the way back to the hatchery, I tried to call Grandma, because it was her birthday and we were in reach of the cell phone tower, but my phone didn't want to work. BOO... We kept going and watched one of the seiner boats pull up their catch, which wasn't much. Driving the boat through Chatham Strait these days is a little tough because you have to keep your eye out for seine nets. We almost ran right straight into one of them but spotted it at the last minute.

What these big ol boats do is they have a net with floats on top that they drop in the water. It's reallllly long and probably goes 20 feet down. Well the big boat holds one end... and this littler boat has the other end and pulls it out straight until the net is stretched. Then the little boat pulls it back around toward the big boat trapping the fish. When it gets back to the big boat, the net ends up getting a "purse" effect and pulls all the fish up and into the big boat. It was pretty interesting... I didn't know how they did it until Sunday. There are ALOT of boats out in the bay and Strait all doing the same thing... it was pretty cool to see so many big boats around when I first flew back to the hatchery. A bunch of them come into our bay too to hang out for the night and stuff. We have some shower and laundry facilities too that the seiners can use too, so there are usually atleast a few random people walking around.

Well, that's really about all. The past few days have still been spent in incubation, getting things set up good. There are a few bears starting to walk around, though I haven't seen them quite yet. I've heard that they are walking around alot pretty close... Finally the other day I saw the Mama bear and cub! SOOO CUTE! Those are the ones I need to be careful of as I walk over to the duplex alot (Adam's house...) Yesterday, we were both walking over there and there was a bear on the rocks down by the weir (which is down the hill from the duplex). We stopped and looked... he spotted us and sort of freaked out. He turned and went to run away but ended up jumping into water over his head... he swam over to shore and we just kind of laughed at it! It was kinda cute though. Well... THAT is about it now. Check back in for some pictures tomorrow or something... I'll try to get the motivation I guess to post them. :-\ I guess I'm just having too much fun! *WINK*

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - To my Grandma, I always remember your birthday, you know that! I didn't forget... :-)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Greetings from the 49th state!

Happy 4th Everyone!!

As you can see, I made it back alive! My flights back went good. I spent a day and a 1/2 in Sitka and now I'm back at the hatchery, preparing for our 4th of July festivities. We did get to see some fireworks last night in Sitka. We being 3 other NSRAA people who live in town at the apartment (Chris, who worked in Takatz with me, Anna, who will be coming out to HF soon and was here some last year, and Glen, who works in Salmon Lake but worked at HF a few years ago)

I was a little worried that the flight wouldn't make it to HF today because it was pretty cloudy but we made it. Now I'm back with all these crazy folks that I did miss and we are kickin up the BBQ. The weather has cleared up some so hopefully we get our BBQ in and light off some fireworks later to end off the night.

Well, better go join the crew. I miss you all but it's good to be back. :-) Thanks for a great vacation home!

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - To Valerie, guess what... I came home! HA HA Now I can say it...