New Year's Letter 2006

Dear Friends,

Happy Solstice, New Year, and so on.  Not surprisingly, after the last two fantastic years (you’ll recall that 2004 was the best year of my adult life, closely followed by 2005), 2006 left something to be desired.  I did manage to tick off about 50 items on the “things I’ve never done” list, which my friends are no doubt tired of hearing about, but most of those aren’t worth mentioning here.  The year at work started with a mind-boggling grant program for fishermen which kept me hopping for the first few months and which just started again this fall.  Thankfully, with a Christmas gift membership, I started working out at the gym again and doing yoga for the first time at home, both of which kept me sane through the winter. 

So did the little hawk. My buddy Mo came to the Juneau Raptor Center (where I volunteer as bird caretaker/handler) two years ago when his elbow was shattered by a collision with a car. I started training him last December, slowly coaxing him to tolerate me and eat on the fist (my gloved hand).  There were the usual training frustrations, but overall Mo is an absolute delight, more tolerant of handling than other birds I’ve work with. I took him out for his first public programs in the spring and brought him on a few tour boat rides over the summer.  Now he’s a regular “education bird” and makes appearances in a variety of public venues. Mo is the fellow pictured on the card.

The next big excitement came in March when Larry and I returned to the Socorro Islands (Islas de Revillagigedo) for a week of boat diving.  250 miles off the coast of Baja, the Socorros are a bit like the Galapagos, inhabited by massive schools of fish, sharks, dolphins, friendly mantas and, at times, humpback whales.  For a full trip report and lots of pictures (be sure to look for the photo of Debbie’s booby) check out my web page:  The short story is that the scarcity of sharks was made up for by delightfully playful mantas, lots of fish, and a pod of curious dolphins.  Lots of humpbacks on the surface, but none underwater.

After the trip, I flew directly from Cabo to Boston to attend the Boston Seafood Show (the mecca of seafood trade shows in the U.S.).  I spent a few days wandering the massive hall visiting all the grantees we helped to send there and looking at the myriad fish products and equipment.  I was heartened by the emphasis on sustainable fisheries and dismayed by the piles of neatly packaged shark fins.  Following the show I spent another week in Boston with a high school friend, exploring the town, the aquarium, and taking my first motorcycle ride.  (Oh, and visiting a few brew pubs too.)  Shortly thereafter, Larry and I spent a weekend in Laughlin, Nevada at a big McBride/O’Brien family reunion where I tried my hand at gambling (and came away with a small profit).

I returned to Juneau to hear that the month of March had been abysmally cold with no end in sight.  Thus started the most discouraging spring in memory (the first time I have ever been disheartened by the weather in Juneau).  It slushed well into May and I was beginning to lose hope that the trees were ever going to turn green.  In the middle of this, Larry and I dissolved our marriage.  He moved back to California in June and the divorce was finalized in July.

So that would be the big news.  I kept the house, which I share with a good friend from high school and her son.  Nigel and Oscar (dog and cat) stayed with me, as did the skiff and the sailboat. 

In April I got a little sister (of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters sort).  Nina and I have our own little adventures around town, ice skating, swimming, making dog biscuits, rock climbing, mushroom hunting, movie-going and horseback riding.  She turned eleven in June; we’re both having fun and see each other almost every week.

In the middle of June I took off to Kodiak Island for my only work travel of the summer.  I was lucky to spend three days in a remote fishing bay an hour’s flight by float plane from Kodiak city.  I saw more than a dozen brown bears and got to witness first hand set net fishing operations by skiff.  My hosts live in cozy cottages on the shore that date back many decades, complete with traditional banyas, (saunas).  Back in town, I spent a few more days wandering the harbors chatting with grantees and crawling around the insides of fishing boats.

After a week in Kodiak, I drove from Anchorage to Denali to visit a friend and take a look at the park.  We spent half a day inside the park and saw caribou, fox, wolf, Dall sheep, moose and other critters.  It was fabulous.  Back in Juneau, I’d missed the best weather of the summer, but the rains and low temperatures didn’t stop me from getting out of town three times as often as I ever did before.  I made eight trips to my homestead at Snettisham, two trips to the cabin on the Taku River, and visited friends’ cabins on Shelter Island and St. James Bay.  My garden was woefully neglected, but town time was mostly spent recovering, hiking, and running errands.

Most of you receive my detailed trip reports about summer adventures, so I won’t say too much here.  If you haven’t, they will hopefully show up on my web page soon, along with a general summary of the whole Snettisham project—or you can email me (  The project didn’t progress much this year, partly due to short trips and also because I was focused on enjoying the place rather than frantically working the whole time.  Plus, finances are bit tight these days.  I had fun, but productivity definitely suffered.  The exterior of the lodge building was completed and a wood stove installed, so there are now five structures up on the property as well as a plank boardwalk over one stretch of muddy ground.

My friends and I returned to Sweetheart Creek this year to catch sockeyes.  With huge rainfalls all summer the river was very swollen and the fishing tricky.  I slipped into the current at one point, followed by three others, and nearly went over a waterfall before being swept back into the shallows.  Two brown bears kept us company the whole time.  We came away with only 111 salmon divided among 11 people.

The day after we returned from Sweetheart, I ran a half marathon in the driving wind and rain and was grateful to finish.  My fingers were too numb to open the bottle of Gatorade I was handed as I crossed the finish line.  Then in September, a friend of mine was desperate and gracious enough to invite me onto his Klondike team for the 100 mile relay race between Skagway (in Southeast Alaska) and Whitehorse (Yukon Territories, Canada).  The race starts in the evening and runs into mid-morning.  I started my 8.8 mile leg at 5:30 am in the dark after nearly 24 hours without sleep.  When the sun came up and glowed in the golden aspens along the road I wondered if I was hallucinating it was so beautiful.  I celebrated the end of my leg with a beer, some vodka, and a twinkie.  Mmm.

In November I spent a week in Oregon visiting a few friends from high school and traveling around the state.  My traveling companion took me to an old family condominium on the coast at the edge of a 100 foot bluff over a sandy beach and the ocean.  We watched a big storm come in, crashing the waves up onto the beach and shaking the house—very cool.  We also toured the Tillamook cheese factory, the Columbia River Gorge, Timberline Lodge, and Bend and visited a bunch of his family in Portland.

Back in Juneau, the music community finally managed to finagle me into playing music outside my dad’s big band.  I filled in at the last minute for the fall concert with the Juneau Symphony, and again with a Bach Society concert in November.  I also took up rock climbing at the local gym last spring and climb about twice a week these days (which is impossibly fun).  I only climbed real rock once this summer, but hopefully I’ll get out (with a lot more skill under my belt) next year.  And that about does it! 

Hope you all had a good year,



Debbie's Biography