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Glass Floats

My preciiiioussssss.

So, since I moved out to Alaska, all I’ve wanted is to find a Japanese fishing float like the one pictured above. They stopped making them in the 1980s, and because they are so rare, they turn beachcombing into an Easter egg hunt. It seems that every year, only a couple are found in Unalaska.

Despite having received a couple as gifts, I’ve never found one myself. I’ve tried to be the first to hit the fertile beaches as soon as the snow melts. I’ve gone on overnight trips to remote bays with the sole purpose of looking for glass balls. And … nada.

So, you can imagine how hard I laughed when I tripped upon this, at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

I mean, really. Come on.


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“Rainbow Whale Volcano” Should Probably Be a Chillwave Band

tryabanxxx explosion sideproject

So, my birthday was a couple of weeks back (where my Virgos at?), and it was as relaxed as could be: brunching, hiking, napping, and hanging out with a few choice people. Without question, the highlight was spending my daylight hours fishing salmon out at Broad Bay with my friend Jeff.

It was gray and spitting rain when we skiffed over there, but the water was flat-calm. We set his gillnet, made hot toddies, and ate surimi and crackers as we waited for the silvers to get tangled up. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but a handful of times. Fortunately, the weather cleared and the slow fishing allowed us to sneak away across the bay and out near the Eider Point volcano, where a pod of whales was feeding.

The whole thing was straight off the cover of a Lisa Frank three-ring notebook. Every time a whale would blow, there would be this cotton-candy puff of rainbow that would shine and fade for all of a second. I’m not sure what it was about the light that day that caused that, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

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Wild Horses


Well, technically, they’re feral. About a dozen horses live on the populated side of Unalaska Island, and they can occasionally be spotted near Summer Bay or Morris Cove. Some say they’re leftover cavalry horses from World War II; others claim that they’re descendants of horses brought over by the Russians. It seems, though, that they were formerly ranch horses that were left to roam about a decade ago.

The horses are remarkably friendly. They’ll walk over to you expecting an apple or some oats, as they’re used to being fed by the community. Even if you don’t have any food on you, some of the horses will still let you pet them and they may even nuzzle you back.

In 2008, all the stallions in the herd were gelded. As they’re a non-native species, the horses were deemed to be harmful to Unalaska’s ecosystem. Specifically, there were concerns that all their tromping around could affect the salmon population. Not too long from now, the eagles will go back to being the biggest creatures on the island.

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(Almost) Recursive Dinner


Smoked gruyere, smoked salmon, salmonberries. I suppose I’d need some sort of berry-laced cheese to complete the loop.

Salmonberries, by the way, are delicious. When they’re ripe, they’re tart and sweet — about halfway between a raspberry and blackberry. And contrary to their name, they’re not fishy in the least. While there’s debate as to why they’re called salmonberries, the best explanation I’ve heard is that the fruit looks like a bundle of salmon roe.

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Termination Dust

"I want to go snow-touching"

It snowed last week. By the end of September, the mountains had white tops and green bottoms, and you could see the seasons changing somewhere in the middle.

The snow first fell on the other side of the island and picked up while I was working. Outside my window, there was only a combination of rain and hail, the latter of which appeared to be settling nicely on my car windshield. Just before noon, the station’s general manager showed up in my office hollering something about “termination dust.” Honestly, I had no clue what she was talking about. I experienced the same feeling when someone first started going on about “opies,” or “seiners,” or “salmonberries,” or any of the other terms that I had never heard or said before — which are all now part of my daily vocabulary. It wasn’t until I took my lunch break and saw Pyramid Peak looking like a lumpy beignet, half-drowned in confectioner’s sugar, that I understood what she meant. It was time to gear up for winter.

At any rate, I probably won’t use the term “termination dust” much after this month.* It’s just meant to describe the first snowfall in Alaska, that singular moment when summer has officially migrated south to Chile and Botswana. Every other snowfall is just simply snow from here on out.

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Perks of the job: whale-watching.

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They're not quite bluebonnets.

It’s been three months since I moved to Unalaska, and I think I finally have all those things that make a person a functional adult: a working cell phone (obtained Wednesday), a permanent home (got keys this week), a car (paid for about a month and a half ago), and Internet (wired two months ago, and yes these are my priorities in ascending order). I can’t quite figure out whether this all took me so long because this is a hard — and expensive — place to get established in or because I’m just not terribly on top of my game right now. Likely, a combination of both these things.

At any rate, all this has meant that more than anything else I’ve been feeling like an alien at summer camp. The island lends itself to that. The mountains are bald; there are almost no trees here. The few that exist are small and spindly, and they often protrude from the ground at 50° angles, as if just shoved down by a hurricane. The climate, the soil, and the winter darkness make it hard for big or sensitive things to grow around here. Plus, we do get our fair share of storms, and the winds can blow up to 200 miles per hour.

The island does get green, though. When the sun is out in the summertime, the place is pure fantasy novel. You hear people actually drop the words “fecund” and “verdant” in conversation to describe the change. The beach grass gets to be four feet tall. At first, lupins and chocolate lilies plaster the island, only to be replaced by rhododendrons and fireweed. There are also something like 18 different types of orchids here. My boyfriend visited me in July, and we would constantly argue over whether Unalaska looked more like Mordor or the Shire. He was often in the former camp, I was usually in the latter. Really, our assessment mostly depended on the presence of fog.

The waterfalls look like they’ve been ripped straight from an Irish Spring soap commercial. There are plenty of lakes, and streams choked with salmon. Even though the Bering Sea can look like a world-record-breaking vat of India ink, bits of Dutch Harbor are as turquoise as the Caribbean. It’s weird.

So needless to say, with all this strange beauty, I’ve been hiking and camping a lot. Plus, there isn’t exactly a ton of nightlife here, so starting a bonfire and a pitching a tent usually win out over going to the sports bar for the twelfth time that week. I’ve eaten more toasted marshmallows in the past three months than I have in the past decade. And while I haven’t been out on the water as much as I would like, I’ve still been on plenty of boats, which was not a usual occurrence in DC.

Now that it’s starting to get dark, this place will probably start to feel foreign to me in a whole different way. The tundra’s getting a reddish tint already. But, at least I’m established now. You can get away with being a little flighty and disconnected when the sun’s out until one in the morning, I think. When it’s cold and wet, being connected to the outside world and having a place to comfortably hole up is a little more important.

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