A Travellerspoint blog

Slow and Steady

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Again I find myself in the Starbucks at Fred Meyer, seeking usable internet and a portal to information and the outside world. This time, rather than smartly dressed men, I observe elegant Russian women in ankle length dresses and head scarves chat in the setting sun. One wears blocky Keen hiking shoes with her maroon dress. The shoes remind me of Seattle, the contrast the the aesthetic and the practical is uniquely Alaskan though. It is somewhat surprising how cosmopolitan the Kenai Peninsula feels. There is a large population of Old Believers, orthodox Russians that have lived here for a long time. The men have bushy beards and the women only wear dresses, even when fishing. I can't imagine a dress is comfortable underneath slicker pants. One of the women I watch has a knee length skirt. She must the rebellious one in the family.

Besides the Old Believers, I met dozens of Kazakstani and Chinese immigrant workers at the Ocean Beauty Seafoods processing plant in Kenai. It seems like each year attracts a different group. I remember a few years the Kasilof dock had a handful of Turkish workers. One of them helped me pitch fish into braylers, probing me on why I had not accepted God into my life. Also, compared to many areas in the States, Alaska has a large Native population. One of my Native friends passed on to me horror stories from his grandfather, who had his testicles dipped in bleach by his school teachers to try to keep him from having children.

Over the last week, I went with my aunt and uncle to two towns on Prince William Sound, Whittier and Seward. The eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula is mountainous and lush, like Washington State. Both towns are small ports, sitting at the base of forested mountains as the land to water exchange between the Kenai, Anchorage, and Southeast Alaska. We took a boat trip out of Whittier to shrimp and watch the glaciers. Prince William Sound is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. If you have never seen a glacier, it is truly something to behold. They have a color quality that is unlike anything else, a blue within blue within white. They look as old and powerful as they are. Thousands of gallons of water melts from them in 100 foot tall water falls. Flocks of birds and sea mammals gather much like we did to harvest the bounty of the sea that these areas create. The shrimp we caught were massive and delicious.

These next few weeks mark my last of the summer in Alaska, and the beginning of the next leg of my journey. I do not know where I will end up or how I will get there, but I am excited at the unlimited potential in this step. Luckily for me, there are Starbucks' to sit in all over the world.





Posted by cazvan 19:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

History of Chinitna Bay

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Different cultural groups have hunted, fished, and gathered in Chinitna Bay for at least 3000 years. Interior groups from Iliamna and Lake Clark have come to the bay from the west, as well as groups from the Kenai Peninsula across Cook Inlet to the east (where I live) and maritime societies from the Kodiak islands to the south. The area acted as sort of cultural buffer zone, and there is no evidence that any group built more than seasonal camps in the area. The latest native presence was about 300 years ago.

During his time fishing in the bay, my grandfather discovered cave paintings on the north side of the bay. People have since used camp fires in the cave so much that the paintings are barely visible under black soot. I took the photograph below a few years ago when the images were in better condition. You can make out a boat with four people sitting above four paddles, and floating spirit with outstretched arms above the stern.


A few days ago my father and uncle returned to Chinitna Bay to fish the run of chum salmon. I got a call from the sat phone later in they day. My dad told me that one the two outboards died. The weather in the inlet was good, but the length of the return trip would be doubled and he did not want to travel at night.

He came home safely the next evening after a long day of traveling. My family uses the bay to hunt and fish, maybe like the creators of the paintings. We both must be aware of the tides, weather patterns, the weight of fish and game carried. I can imagine the painter in the cave drawing a protector spirit over the stern of his boat to ward against bad weather and ensure a safe trip home. My family is very lucky to have sat phones and 90 horsepower Honda outboards to help us out.

Below are pictures of the camp on the south side of the bay, my great uncle clam digging, and my dad fishing in Clearwater Creek.




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Sleepless Night Part 2

Also, we saw six bears on the beach.





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A Sleepless Night

Two days ago I woke up to my dad yelling from the front yard, "Caz, want to go to the Bay?"

I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and called back, "When do we leave?"

I did not know at the time that this would not be my first abrupt awakening that day.

My family has fished in Chinitna Bay, across Cook Inlet from Homer and Kasilof, for three generations. We have a rustic camp on the south side of the Bay that my family uses as a base for herring fishing and hunting for moose and bear, but it has been years since we used setnets for salmon on that side of the Inlet. This was the purpose of our trip. We were to bring over a load of lumber and fuel, and three fifty fathom (300 feet) setnets to see if we could find some fish. Chinitna Bay is famous for its runs of large chum salmon, called "gators" for their massive alligator like jaws and hooked teeth.

The two and a half hour trip over was beautiful. The sun was shining and the fog minimal. We took a 28 foot open topped aluminum skiff, which we call "the dory," an old term for coastal fishing boats that is no longer used.. The crew consisted of my father, his younger brother, holder of the setnet permit, a family friend from Vermont, Steve, and myself.

We unloaded the boat on the beach, using a four-wheeler to haul the gear to the cabin and a John Deer 450 backhoe to transport two 60 gallon drums of fuel. Dinner was brats on the campfire. The guys picked bunks in the cabin and trailer, and I took the single person red cabin to sleep in.

Upon lifting the sleeping bags on the bed, I found a family of seven sleeping baby mice, the each like a little fuzzy digit.

I put them into a high walled cooking pan under some socks, placed the pan near the fireplace, and decided to go to sleep and do something with them in the morning, resigning myself to the knowledge that I would be sharing my bed with their parents. The parents were not good bed mates.

The scratching started immediately. I could hear the parents running across the floor and through the walls as their tiny claws scraped sheet metal and wood. I drifted in and out of a dreamlike state, constantly interrupted by the the noise. Eventually, I heard and felt the mice running across the bed near me. They were fearless. When a mouse crossed over the back of my neck, I grabbed it and tossed it towards the floor. When the mouse came back and crossed my pillow, I did the same thing.

It was a surreal experience. Helpful was that I resigned my emotions to be accepting of the mice. The unfortunate aspect was not the lack of sleep. The next day we woke up early and setnet on the north side of the Bay. We heard a bad weather warning for the evening on the radio, and pulled the nets and set out for home. Eight foot seas and a SW 20 knot wind made for a slow and bumpy ride home. With years of practice under my belt, I was still able to curl up on the cold aluminum, mostly out of the wind and spray, and make up for sleep lost the night before.







Posted by cazvan 15:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Season Slowdown



As I sit in a Fred Meyer Starbucks, two men walk by, a father and son I would guess, wearing matching faded blue jeans, black long sleeve under armor, and bright red shirts that say, "Just Kill It."

Fishing was slow today so we came in early. The sockeye run is slowing down and I am starting to catch more off species than reds. We have been on the water everyday for 13 days, just shy of a 15 day streak last year. Tomorrow is a closure for drift fishermen, which means a day off the boat. It also means a day to take the boat out of the water on a trailer and fix the propeller that was damaged by hitting a massive log a few days ago.

I wrote this at the peak of fishing delirium, about a week ago:

"It's 5:30am. I have not slept for more longer than 2 hours for maybe a week. Fish, every day. Deliver fish early in the morning, just in time to leave again for the next opening. It all blurs together. I forget what day it is every 12 hours. Sleep and work are punctuated by hour after hour at the wheel of the Swift Arrow, listening to Dan Savage or Ira Glass and fighting to stay awake. It doesn't help to think about the end of each day, because the days do not end and I do not know when they will close fishing again. Last year it was 15 days straight.

I indulge myself in memory and thought to leave the boat when I can. Philosophy, happy times, broken friendships, I have time for it all. Day dreaming and night dreaming both always are interrupted by calls to set the net or pick fish.

I am forced to overcome the mind and body fatigue and fall into a mode of semi-consciousness. I operate on autopilot, moving around the boat and working in a flow. Notions previously important, such as the cleanliness of the spoon I need or the fish slime and salt crusted in my beard, seem insignificant."

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Peak Season

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The salmon run is at its peak. They are swimming into the Kasilof and Kenai Rivers by the hundreds of thousands. I have been on the boat, fishing, driving, or sleeping for the majority of the last week. Each night we deliver our catch to the processor dock in the Kasilof and anchor the boat for a few hours before going out again. Sometimes we sleep on the boat. Our openings, or scheduled times when we are allowed to fish, are usually from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, but our boat is slow and depending on the tide it takes as long as six hours to to where fish are or back home.

Sleeping for a few hours at a time for days straight puts me into a sort of disconnected daze. My body operates on habit and I have little emotion or thought. My hands and back are sore and sometimes it is hard to keep my eyes open. I try to think of it as a sort of endurance race and keep pushing myself on through the exhaustion.

The experience changes with the weather. I was seasick last Thursday, which rarely happens. It was an overcast day with a strong north wind and rough seas. We caught a boatload of fish but I dry heaved with all the force my stomach could muster for 12 hours. The next day it hurt to laugh or cough. Today, thought, was almost flat calm and I sun burned my face after falling asleep on the deck, but we caught almost nothing.

I leave again in two hours. Being on the boat so often forces me to cherish my time on shore. What takes priority? Writing for the blog? Editing photos? Reading news? Running? Sleep?

Overall, it is manageable. It is mostly easy to remember that it will be over soon and to appreciate events as they take place.

Below. One: Sunrise on July 14. Two: My father and LeeAnne, his girlfriend. She joined us for a day. Three: A boat under striped clouds. Four: Boats under Mt. Iliamna, swathed in clouds. Five: The stack, radar, and running lights on the Swifty. Six: Fish on the deck beneath the power roller (black cylinder). We mostly catch red salmon, or sockeye, which give the best price. The dog (chum) and silver (coho) will run later in the season. Each of the five salmon species has two names, the colloquial and the proper. Fishermen generally use the colloquial.






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Here Fishy

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Day one of fishing was a mighty let down. We were allowed to fish in a fairly large area of the Inlet, but the fish are not here yet. We caught eight fish. To put this number in context, on a good day we will net a few hundred, and a great day over one thousand. Salmon leave the rivers they were born in, spend four years out in the Pacific Ocean, then return back to the exact stream where they hatched. We catch them on the return trip. They come into Cook Inlet in large and small groups, sporadically sometimes, sometimes all at once. They primarily go into two main rivers on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, or the east side of Cook Inlet. These rivers are the Kenai, where we launched the boat, and the Kasilof, where I live and where we keep the boat anchored.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game maintains sonar stations in the major rivers to accurately count the number of fish that return. This number is called the escapement. Fish and Game wants to get the escapement number at an ideal point. Over escapement means that too many fish will spawn and there will not be enough food for the fish hatching next year. Under escapement means that not enough fish will lay eggs.

There are two parties primarily interested in the salmon runs. The commercial group is made up of drift fishermen, like my father, and setnet fishermen, who fish with anchored nets near the beaches. The recreational group is made up of professional guides serving Alaskan and tourists that sport fish using rod and reel in the rivers. These two groups have conflicting interests and forcefully negotiate for legislation that improves their own conditions. Fish and Game manages these interests and seeks to maintain an ideal escapement number. I do not pretend to fully understand the complexity of salmon spawning habits or the politics of management.

Photo one. Midnight at the Kenai dock for fuel and ice. Photo two. L. Dyer VanDevere at the helm of the Swift Arrow on the first day of the season.

Our next scheduled opening is Thursday, July 12, 2012



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Get Your Feet Wet

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I am lying in my bunk on the boat as it sits on the Kenai River. The deck is fixed, the reel is in place, the net is on, and we are good to go. There are still many small things to fix though. Tomorrow is the first 12 hour 7am-7pm opening I will be fishing. We leave the river soon and will drift in Cook Inlet for three hours before we wake up at 4am. All the half-hitch-bowline-scrub-the-sump routines have come right back to me, with their associated positive, and negative, memories.

I went to my Gramma's house yesterday evening. She told me she was charged by a moose the day before and managed to hide behind a shed. Her garden is doing well. She sent me home with two bags of lettuce.

My dad's girlfriend let me borrow her fiddle. My house will now be filled with the beautiful melody of fiddle practice. This is a joke, fiddle practice is not beautiful. I only know two songs, but I have a fiddle book and can read music.

First picture. Father examining fuel tank. Second. Gramma under fluorescent lights. Third. Gramma's dog Burby. Named after how my dad pronounced "berry" when he was young.

Hopefully we catch some fish tomorrow.




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Daylight All Day

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Kasilof. Home. It feels a little bit different coming back this time. Maybe like I am exercising more choice versus obligation in choosing to return? The place is very much similar to how I left it. The buoys and skulls in the yard have a bit more moss and the stones and trinkets in my room more dust.

Work on the boat is off to a slow start. We have patch and place an old fuel tank, which means removing half of the back deck with a skill saw, fixing the tank, and replacing the deck. My aunt recently pointed out to me much a fishing boat is built around the engine and everything else is disposable or replaceable.

Salmon fishing generally works by giving the drift fleet two 12 hour days per week to put nets in the water and catch fish. Those days are usually Monday and Thursday. We missed Monday and will miss Thursday, but we will be ready by Monday next week. The weather was supposed to have nasty NE 25 knot winds in Cook Inlet Thursday anyways. Also, we are called the drift fleet because when we put our net in the water, we drift with the current instead of anchoring the boat or the net to anything.

I said some sad goodbyes to people in Saratoga Springs. One goodbye to a new friend was especially difficult. Before I left, I was almost sure I would not be back for a while. Now, I am almost sure otherwise.

I made a brief layover in San Fransisco on my way to Alaska. I met an old friend and had a lovely time in the Mission district. There was a sort of street parade happening when I was there. I had been thinking about SF as a possible destination to live in. The visit was great but I am now doubtful of the fit for me there.

Attached are pictures of my boat sitting in the dockyard for repairs, the 16 and Mission BART exit, my Era Aviation Dash 8 plane from Anchorage to Kenai, and the view from the Swifty looking over the Kenai River at the Kenai Range.




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A Transition

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Exactly eight years and two weeks ago, the ground fell away beneath me. My mom died, suddenly, after a long struggle with melanoma. I was a confused and lazy 16 year old, fishing with my dad in Alaska, when my mom's youngest sister called me and said I needed to come home. Naive to the gravity of the call, I flew back to Snohomish, Washington, dulled and dreamlike.

I came home to a sad place. When I left Washington, my mom was limping from lymph surgery but lively. When I came back, she was barely able to speak, move, or feed herself. A smell of death permeated the air around her. She slowly lost her mind to the cancer and medication, hallucinating sometimes, screaming and struggling others. I don't remember how long I was in Snohomish before she died, but it seemed like an eternity. I cried for hours everyday. One morning, the same sister woke me up and told me she had died in the night.

I had time alone with her in her room. She was dressed in black, frail and still on her bed. I looked at her hand. I could not bring myself to touch her. I do not remember much else of that summer. I had no tools no process the event, and was unable to articulate my feelings to others. I fell into myself. I was lost.

Two years later I barely graduated high school. Two years after that I left college. I made poor decisions and I hurt people, for which I will always carry a burden of regret.

Working as a barista in Seattle, I rebuilt myself, a piece at a time, learning from my mistakes, and slowly put my feet back under me. I went to school again at community college, where I relearned how to focus and seek knowledge. I found meaning and passion again. I transfered to Skidmore College as a second semester sophomore after a little over a year of living in Seattle. The rebuilding continued. I chose to study anthropology to because I wanted to better understand humans and myself. I reforged my athleticism that I worked so hard at in high school. I studied in a monastery for a semester, where I explored India, Buddhist philosophy and culture, and my mind. I view this as the culmination of my college experience.

Now, six years after high school, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Skidmore College. This was made possible by my friends and family who believed in me when I truly did not believe in myself. I have moved from the deepest sadness to feeling more peace and seeing more beauty than I thought was possible. I am filled with humility, excitement, and gratitude. Thank you all. Let the adventure begin.

(Photo-Nina Linn)

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Back in Tokyo

I survived the rampaging deer and made it back to Tokyo. Kaorina took a bunch of us out to the best gyoza dumplings I have ever eaten on the night of my return.

Today I went to the Asakusa temple area just outside the central part of Tokyo. This is a temple very much in popular use and was hugely crowded. After this I ventured to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and viewed an exhibit on Europe in the 1800s by seven photographers. Seen the picture of the German man carrying a load of bricks stacked on his shoulders? August Sander, portraiture documentation of every class of German citizen in his home city. Inspiring photos.

Yesterday I watched a sumo match. We bought the cheap nose bleed tickets, but because no one checks, we sat on the front row of the upper balcony. Sumo is epic. They are big, agile, quick men. Surprisingly, many foreigners, recognizable by their (sometimes dense) back hair and pale skin. The photo below is the gathering of the men in the highest bracket.

As my adventure comes to an end, I am thinking more and more about my experiences, how I have changed, and how I have stayed the same. Seeing people living in specific foreign ways has made me look more critically at how I live my own and what it is that I am seeking from life. Maybe expect more introspection to come.

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Posted by cazvan 07:11 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Last Day in Kyoto, First Day in Nara

On my last day in this beautiful, I rushed to fit in the two main sites I had missed. Below is a picture looking at the Kiyomizudera Temple and the city of Kyoto, including the Kyoto Tower. This structure was built with no nails.

I then hurried off to another temple across town, then to the oldest capital of Japan, Nara. I just missed the operating hours of the main temple in town, the Todaiji Temple, bottom picture, the largest wooden building in the world. The picture does not nearly capture how epic the building is. You can see the tiny birds on the roof. I discovered herds of tame deer wandering around the park where the temple is located! And I mean tame; one even sort of let me ride it for a little while after I gave it chocolate. They also chased around skittish Japanese women looking for food. I'll go inside Todaiji tomorrow, which has the largest bronze Buddha in Japan, and then back to Tokyo.

I'm sitting in a restaurant, eating a traditional rice pot meal with condiments on the side listening to "Let It Be" by the Beatles played on a xylophone over the speaker system. I roomed with a friendly Australian school teacher named Alex who was a meditation practitioner.

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Kyoto: Day Three

Today is my third day in Kyoto, second day of exploring the city. I am exhausted. There is more to see here than possible in a week, let alone three days.

First picture: Kiyomizu-dera Temple gate. UNESCO World Heritage site. Behind is it's three story pagoda, behind that the temple itself. It's orange, I like it.

Second: Self portrait, and dragon, in Tenryu-ji Temple. This place also had beautiful gardens and pools.

Third: View of Kyoto from Monkey Park in the north part of the city. Full moon.

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Posted by cazvan 02:46 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

More Kyoto

First photo: the Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple. It is gilded in real gold. On the top is a Chinese Phoenix.

Second: Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple, probably the most famous in the world. There are 15 stones. Zen art focuses on expression through simplicity and spontaneity and seeks to create beauty through non-conceptual and non-dual mind spaces.

Third: Five story pagoda at Ninnaji Temple. Pagodas are structures that symbolize stupas, which are symbolic mounds that house the remains of the Buddha and other important Buddhist practitioners.

The Zen gardens in Kyoto are immensely inspiring in their simplicity and beauty. The temples here are very different from temples in the Himalayas and SE Asia which are decorated and chaotic. Here there is still mythology and symbolism, but spaces are clean and simple.

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Posted by cazvan 01:51 Archived in Japan Comments (0)


Trains in Japan are a little different from trains in India. They are cleaned frequently, they don't go slow, and stops are clearly announced.

The middle picture is from Ninnaji Temple complex. Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan and seat of the royalty, even though for the last 700 years it was effectively ruled by a warrior class from Tokyo. It also was not bombed in WW2 and stills has all its ancient structures. There are temples everywhere in the city. And they are beautiful. Japanese buddhism is highly fragmented and has a long past, which creates a diverse mix of different styles of architecture. We all know of Zen Buddhism, imported from Chinese Chan Buddhism. There are many schools within Zen, with 14 schools in Rinzai, warrior Zen, which was practiced by the samurai class. There is also the Shingon group of Tantric Buddhist schools, which is in the same family as Tibetan Buddhism.

The bottom picture is from a small temple I stumbled across whose name I do now know. I would like to point out the Buddha wearing a hat. I have never seen anything like this before.

I am going to try two new things for this blog. First, using a dictation app for writing so that maybe I can produce more content and make it more personal sounding and feeling, like expressing my experiences and emotions. Second, as I adjust to life out of India, I have faced the same questions from different people who are curious about Buddhism, what role it plays in my life, and whether or not I consider myself a Buddhist. This might fall into the philosophical, personal, and emotional realms of myself and it might make some uncomfortable, but I think being forward and honest in valuable. Please leave me feedback on what you want more of, whether photos, thoughts, stories, general feelings and insights of where I go, history, Buddhist stuff, non-Buddhist stuff, philosophy, anthropology, etc etc etc.


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Posted by cazvan 01:41 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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