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A New Book; Dachshund Prey; Fish and Crab Feasts; Muskeg Meadows; Petroglyphs; Boneyard; Chief Shakes; Skunk Cabbage; Gonif; Woof, Woof!

Great news, blog followers: Suzanne’s newest book, Wolf’s Message, is out! You can find the Kindle version on Amazon, with the hard copy coming out in a few weeks. Suzanne has also posted a really cool YouTube video on the new book’s page on her web site,

One of the most scenic spots we visited on Wrangell Island was the Nemo campsite area, perched on a high ridge in the Tongass National Forest overlooking the Zimovia Strait. Here are Jim and Betty Abbott (on their 49th anniversary, by the way) at an overlook, with the peaks of Etolin Island in the background. With an area of 339 sq. miles, Etolin is the 24th largest island in the US, and had a population of 15. There are more elk on the island than people. Urban sprawl is not considered a serious problem here.

Rudy and Gretchen have been enjoying our Alaskan adventure. Next door is a grassy area where this cute little cottontail (and others… you rarely find just one – why is that?) is often munching grass and sunning. Of course, our puppies haven’t caught one, but the chases have been entertaining for all concerned… well, okay, maybe the rabbits haven’t gotten a vote, but R&G certainly had fun.

One of the other advantages of visiting my cousin Jim in Alaska has been the fabulous seafood his wife Betty has prepared for us. We have enjoyed halibut, home-smoked salmon, Dungeness crabs and shrimp over the past few days, some hand-delivered by their lovely neighbor Denise, whose husband had just come back from crabbing. You can’t get any more fresh than that! Here we have the Abbotts and My Lovely Bride steaming and picking crabs. The meat is actually sweeter than most blue crabs I’m used to from the Chesapeake and Louisiana, and one big crab makes a meal. (Suzanne is trying to consume half a crab without picking it… hmm, a bit crunchy…)

Golf isn’t the first thing you think of when you plan your trip to Alaska. When Jim arrived in Wrangell back in the 70s, there was no golf course for a couple of hundred miles. Being an avid golfer, it took him awhile to get the US Forest Service, the state, town and other entities to approve the project, but Wrangell’s Muskeg Meadows golf course is one of his big accomplishments. Thousands of hours of volunteer work and fundraising resulted in a beautiful course that is both challenging and unusual, with snow-capped peaks in the background. It is USGA rated and sloped (Blue 70.2/119, White 67.8/110, and Red 68.4/112). And oh by the way, Jim won their major tournament back a few years ago.

Wolves and bears are occasionally seen on the course (fortunately, no golfers have disappeared – so far), and there is a special “Raven Rule” that allows you to replace your ball without penalty if it is stolen by one of those pesky birds (provided there is a witness). The course was carved out of second-growth rain forest on a hillside near town, and several creeks and huge boulders replace traditional sand traps. The rock in the center of the fairway here is about 20 feet high. Jim states that golf balls bounce really well off granite… unfortunately, most ricochet into the woods. If your ball goes off the fairway, it’s virtually impossible to find, because the undergrowth (mostly alders) is so dense.

There is even a beautifully-groomed 250 yard driving range with eight stations. A tournament was scheduled for the day after we left, so I was unable to show Jim and Betty my renowned skill and prowess at the game. (Suzanne, why are you laughing?)

One of our stops on the Wrangell Tour was Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, where you can see the largest collection of Native American rock carvings in Southeast Alaska. The word is derived from the Greek words petra (rock) and glyphe (carving). The specific reasons for the carvings is unknown, but experts suspect that they were intended to commemorate important events or to ensure success in hunting and fishing. The petroglyphs here in Wrangell are carved in dark gray metamorphic rock just above the high tide line. This petroglyph represents an orca, or killer whale (Orcinus orca). In the local Tlingit native culture, the orca (called Blackfish) is one of the most powerful creatures in nature. It has a definite supernatural quality, representing an extremely powerful and deadly force of nature to every creature except man, whom Blackfish is said to look after. The Tlingits also believe that nature’s creatures are equal to man (if not more worthy than most humans)… after reading the latest news, I think I agree completely with the Tlingits.

Near Petroglyph Beach we found a boneyard with three abandoned fishing boats. Built of wood, they are slowly returning to their natural state. Wood deteriorates quickly in this wet climate, but for now they make for a scenic photo. (Note: a boneyard in this context refers to a place for storing retired aircraft or boats.)

In Wrangell Harbor is Shakes Island Historic Site, location of a replica of a 19th Century Tlingit tribal house, reconstructed in 2012-2013. Chief Sheiyksh (pronounced Shakes) is the traditional Tlingit leader’s name. There is no relation to the English idiom, “no great shakes”, which after exhaustive research, appears to have originated in the 17th Century as meaning “nothing to brag about” and is apparently related to a gambler’s poor throw of the dice with low points (no 7 or 11). (Who knew?)

I have learned a little about horticulture and Alaskan plants from my cousin Jim, who is a Master Gardener. My Lovely Bride and I noticed this huge plant on the Rainbow Falls Trail the other day, and shot a photo of it. Jim identified it as western skunk cabbage (Lysiciton americanus), named that because of the “skunky” odor produced when in bloom. The odor actually attracts its pollinators, scavenging flies and beetles. The leaves are the largest of any plant in the Pacific Northwest, 20-53 inches long. It grows very well in marshy conditions, and was introduced to the United Kingdom (which is mostly marsh, anyway) in 1901 as an ornamental. Here in Alaska and British Columbia, its roots are eaten by bears after hibernation as a laxative (I am not making this up), but it is not known if that is a secondary reason for its importation by the Brits… For those vegans thinking of cultivating skunk cabbage as a main course, the following warning from Wikipedia may be of interest: “Caution should be used in attempts to prepare western skunk cabbage for consumption, as it contains calcium oxylate crystals, which result in a gruesome prickling sensation on the tongue and throat and can result in intestinal irritation and even death if consumed in large quantities”.

Next, our Word for the Day: gonif, noun, alternative form of ganef; Hebrew or Yiddish for a rascal or thief. (Thank you, Ken Ring, for this entry.)

Finally, this snippet will probably get me into trouble (again) with My Lovely Bride. Back on August 27, 2013, I posted the “dog salmon” story of when MLB got a great deal at the grocery on keta salmon, “a real bargain at $2.00/lb”. As we were eating, I looked up keta salmon, and found that it was actually called “Chum, or dog salmon, used by the Eskimos to feed their sled dogs because of its poor economic value”. My big mistake was barking like a dog during dinner… MLB threatened to pour red wine over my head if I didn’t cease and desist. I told this story to Jim and Betty, and when we visited the Wrangell City Museum, there was a board with carved salmon, including dog salmon. Here she is getting a close-up of the offending fish… I don’t understand why, but Suzanne was less amused than were Jim, Betty and I at her encounter with Oncorhynchus keta.

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