New Year's Letter 2008

Dear Friends,
Happy New Year!  2008 was pretty interesting.  I learned a few things the hard way, got a grip on myself (eventually), and feel somewhat more hopeful going into the new year.  I started my job at Fish & Game last December and with a year under my belt I have something of a handle on my program (the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund).  I like the work and the Department suits me (there are stuffed critters on the walls and it’s very down to earth); the job’s demands are constantly changing and I’m constantly behind in an acceptable sort of way.  The most interesting part by far is the supervision of four people, three of whom came to the program after me.  Quite the challenge on top of a very busy job!  I’ve had the chance to travel again, mostly to meetings in
Anchorage (and one in Seattle), plus a week of site visits on the Kenai in August.

If I recall correctly we had normal winter weather going into 2008.  I cross-country skied a bit and finally managed to meet Romeo, the lone black wolf that haunts the Mendendhall Glacier area every winter.  My dad bought me a Toyota truck in February which allows me to drive up and down the driveway in the snow and hauls my boat around over summer.  I never realized I could love a truck so much!  I’d booked a Forest Service cabin every month of the winter and finished with Dan Moller in January and Blue Mussel in February. 

I missed the cabin trip in March after planning a vacation for my mother and I to Baja California.  We flew to Loreto (on the east coast of the peninsula), then drove to Bahia Magdalena and spent five days exploring the area (trip report at  We kayaked and snorkeled in mangroves, camped among pristine white sand dunes, hiked, and watched whales.  Although the encounter was brief, we did find one charming friendly gray and both had a chance to rub her snout.  Over a month later (in late April) I flew north to visit a friend and spent the weekend in Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to look for migrating gray whales.  We got there just after a big storm and didn’t see any whales, but the fjord was dramatic in late winter and we had sea otters, mountain goats and sea lions to distract us.

Back in Juneau I finished out the winter in a flurry of social activity.  I’d continued ballroom dance classes over the winter and attended several of the monthly dance club dances as well as the dances that I’m obliged to attend as a member of my dad’s big band.  Although I’m on the bandstand for most of the tunes, my dad is gracious enough to let me slip away for the occasional waltz and foxtrot.  The rest of my social life was pretty out of control as I attended a multitude of events put on by members of the ever-burgeoning “group” that grew up last fall around a small core of girlfriends.  I also rock climbed through April, then canceled my membership for the summer, picking it up again recently.

Summer curtailed the social life a bit as I was out of town most weekends and running errands or recovering on weekdays.  I headed down to Snettisham the first time on May 3rd and in the end spent 16 out of 22 weekends out of town May through September, including 13 down at Snettisham.  I didn’t make stunning progress this summer but did accomplish a few major tasks including completion of the drinking water system which now brings potable running water into the lodge and drains it into a legal gray water system.  This involved construction of a “bear-proof” box to house the gray water filter system to protect it from bears.

Inside the lodge I made other dramatic improvements, painting the floor, insulating the walls and covering the studs with gorgeous local hemlock siding.  It feels more and more cozy and comfortable down there and it becomes easier and easier to relax on the couch and drink hot toddies rather than work.  If anything, though, it was the frequent guests that steered me from labor and, in a way, I’m rather proud of the number of people I was able to bring down (12 in all)—quite a feat given transportation and scheduling difficulties.  Once I brought down three girls at once for a “girls weekend.”  Few of my guests were eager for construction and I was ready enough for fun and relaxation.  A friend and I made a quick trip to Sweetheart Creek in August, sneaking into our favorite fishing point at 4:30 am and coming home later that morning with 18 sockeye salmon.

I did stay in town for a few weekends here and there, some to stave off utter exhaustion and others to coincide with social events.  Several of the more notable parties the group put on included “Stigmatarama” (an irreverent hotel party), “There Will be Whiskey” (including a “There Will Be Blood” viewing and whiskey sours), a going-away BBQ at Sandy Beach, and a fun, raucous Halloween party that soaked my carpet in beer and punch.  I went as Michelle Obama as depicted on the cover of the New Yorker.  I also contracted whooping cough over summer, which left me gasping and coughing miserably for several weeks.

So fall came on with the inevitable exhaustion and I began to get my town life back together.  My garden had been woefully neglected since spring and other than filling in a few empty spots and planting seeds it was unfortunately ignored all summer.  It did the best it could given the neglect and the dreadful weather and I was pretty surprised at the big bowl of sweet carrots and potatoes that grew in my tiny little vegetable plot.  In September I heard that we’d had the fourth rainiest and second coldest summer on record and set several rainfall records (in volume, consecutive days, and total days).  There were some sunny cool days in the spring, but not much sun after June; between June and the middle of September I believe we had a total of 12 rainless days.  People began to say witty things like “this was the warmest winter I’ve ever been through!”  Seriously, it was wet and cold with little break.  Thankfully, it didn’t slow me down even a little and I cheerfully wound up doing everything outside I would have done otherwise.  I took over 30 trips in my faithful little skiff, now complete with a bilge pump (a lifesaver given the steady rains) and housed for the summer at Douglas Harbor.  It needed a little welding in the spring after several cracks appeared in the hull (it started filling up with water on the way back from my first Snettisham run) but I had no other mishaps.  I did my own spring maintenance again and “fogged” the engine this fall for the first time.

Unfortunately, 2008 yielded little satisfying whale activity and no orcas whatsoever (my first year without orcas or the Stephen’s Passage whale group-up in eight years).  To make up for that, though, I had some pretty stellar land encounters including  considerable time with a lovely familiar brown bear down at Snettisham and a wolverine up the Taku (Nigel treed it in a spruce tree).  I also saw a black wolf along the road near Eagle River and trumpeter swans on the lake.  The joy in all of these encounters was compounded by the company of a new (human) adventure buddy, who is rivaled in that respect only by Nigel.

In October I flew to New York to visit Becky, stopping in the City for a night each way to visit another friend.  Making my way from the Newark, NJ airport to Penn Station and thence to Wall St. during rush hour was one of the most harrowing and unpleasant adventures of my life.  The five days I spent in Ithaca were much more relaxing!  Fall colors were at their peak and the weather was sunny and warm.  We hiked several spectacular gorges, picked apples, went fossil hunting, sailed on Cayuga Lake, ate at the Moosewood Restaurant (twice) and generally had a fabulous time.

Back in Juneau I scrubbed the carpets (post-Halloween) and did some rearranging and deep cleaning in the house to make up for the summer’s neglect and added some insulating features to help reduce fuel costs this winter.  I spent a long weekend at Eagle Glacier Cabin with some friends in October, listening all day to a trio of trumpeter swans calling on the lake.  On the hike back, we followed the tracks of a wolf in the snow, a few hours old at most.  Now the boats are covered, the garden tucked in, the house in order, and I can finally settle in to enjoy the winter.

Here’s to 2009! 

Debbie's Biography