Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Useful Salmon Facts for Fisherpeople, Cooks, and Restaurant-goers

(Laura welcomes your comments, signed or anonymous, in the comment field below any entry)

If you find yourself confused by the variety of names associated with salmon, you are not alone.  Some terms are used interchangeably to describe the same fish.  For example, Chinook, King, and Blackmouth all refer to the same species.  Others are identified by their location, like Copper River Salmon, without reference to the species at all!  Still others are referred to as salmon but actually aren’t.  Atlantic “salmon” sold as Steelhead, is actually a trout, and Danube salmon is something else entirely.  

Because salmon formed the basis of subsistence and commercial livelihoods for centuries of people with different languages in disconnected locations, and because it is important to the mythology and agriculture of those regions as well, it is not surprising that a traveler (or restaurant-goer) may encounter such a variety of terms.  Certainly, almost every region of Alaska is well associated with this wonderful fish. I think it is smart of Alaska Airlines to paint its newest planes with a salmon, instead of the scary looking Eskimo guy.

In Alaska, some salmon is reserved for dog food (but frankly, for most of us non-connoisseurs, unused to five types of salmon, it tastes fine), while other species are considered best suited to the grill or to freezing or smoking.  Next time you see an undesignated salmon in the seafood section of your supermarket, or consider your fishing limit for harvesting vs. “catch and release,” ask about the species!  It may help you make decisions.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Loon, Crane, Weasel, Bear and Moose Neighbors, with Pictures

(This entry combines animal related passages that are scattered amongst prior blog entries (like Kayaking Happy Hour), with additional information and pictures of some of my favorite birds, weasels, voles, bear and moose in my yard)

Laura welcomes your comments and questions, signed or anonymous, in the comment section below any entry.)

Although I think of the pike in the lake as food, other fish, birds, and animals I tend to regard as neighbors.  And because the rapidly changing seasons rotate in and out several sets of migrating birds, I think of them as seasonal tourists.  Some I am delighted to see again, like long lost friends.  Others are more like loud, obnoxious travelers, arriving en masse and making sure that no one in the vicinity doesn't notice their arrival!   I am still unsure of many bird identifications, but let me tell you about "the regulars."  


The seagulls are obnoxious tourists.  They always nest in the stunted black spruce trees that grow in one particular location where the bog meets the far corner of the lake. They are noisy and territorial.  When the eggs are in the nest or the chicks are just learning to swim, the parents will dive bomb us like something in a Tippi Hedren movie, in which case, we maneuver the kayak out of their defended range. They aren't afraid of anything! I have even seen them work in formation to successfully, and noisily, push predatory eagles away from "their" lake. 

I am far fonder of loons, and always delighted when, in most years, a pair returns to the lake to breed and raise their babies. I love everything about those birds- their elegant black and white coloration, their haunting cry, and the way they dive and fly. They seem to play "Marco Polo" with us. They always win, since they tease us to follow them in our kayak and then dive with their strong feet, appearing a surprising distance away. I understand that their feet are so far back on their bodies that their evolutionary trade off is a gain in diving propulsion at the expense of flight take off. They are extremely noisy as their wings flap and flap against the water in a long, shallow departure. Watching the parents teach their chicks how to fly before the end of summer is nature's version of a Keystone Cops comedy.  We count the chicks as the summer progresses and mourn the losses of the slower and smaller ones.  When very small, they are vulnerable from below, to the large, predatory pike in the lake.  Beyond a certain size, they are more vulnerable from above, to eagles and other raptors that survey the lake from tall, strong white spruce trees on our property.   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparation and Adaptability: "To go" bags and ID notebooks

(I welcome your thoughts, signed or anonymous, in the comment section below any blog entry)

Life is full of surprises, which is why adaptability and preparation go hand in hand to successfully navigate some of those twists and turns.  Most events do not surprise us BECAUSE they occur but rather because of when, where, how they inconveniently transpire. Below are three recommendations pertinent to anyone, anywhere: an identification notebook and “to go” bags at home and in the car. I’ve also described our emergency supplies for our snow machine, since that is our mode of transportation to the nearest town (42 miles) to buy food and supplies during the winter.    

The potential for natural disasters varies across the country, but virtually every region offers something catastrophic: Rapid departures or an inability to get home for unknown lengths of time can be caused by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, or rain or snow storms that cause extensive damage and loss of power.  

When we lived in TX, the following preparations came in handy not only during hurricanes, but also during less obvious intrusions, like street flooding and a fire in our high-rise.  My son, who never would have made such plans, has benefited from the car supplies several times when he had car trouble. Friends and relatives around the country, on the other hand, have been stranded without supplies by various catastrophes or inconveniences.  A bit of forethought can ensure greater comfort and self-sufficiency when the immediate surroundings are in turmoil.  

ID notebook

During Hurricane Katrina, about 250,000 people evacuated the flooded areas of Louisiana and Mississippi and moved to Houston, TX.  As one of the many volunteers helping to feed and shelter them, the biggest preparedness lesson I learned was the importance of keeping identification papers in an easily retrievable location.  Many people fled without clothing, food, or medicine of course, but without identification, they could not even prove who they were, to get healthcare or bank wires or start the insurance process once they reached a safe destination.  What ID might you need that you can grab in a panic situation?