Off To Work We Go

I am pretty sure we had all 32 species of mosquitoes that resided in Alaska there.

Off To Work We Go

                Every morning the rain misted the ground with tiny dots of dew as we made our way to the boat. By the time we reached the survey site, the fog and clouds would begin to lift and the sun would come out making our rain gear virtual saunas. We quickly learned the art of layered clothing, not that I had brought that many layers of clothes in the first place.

We started off the day bundled up like crab fisherman since the air itself just hung with water that quickly accumulated, along with ocean spray, as we sped along in the boat. We huddled for the ride and just wanted to stay warm.

By the time we unpacked the boat, we were sweating, and the newly exposed sun only made matters worse. The air was so humid around the grasses that the heat wasn’t sated by the breeze that often blew.

So you stripped out of your rain gear to your next layer, for me that was a jean jacket, for everyone else, it was some form of coat. The coats were mainly to keep you dry in a way since the air still hung with water in the form of humidity that clung to the four to six foot tall grasses that we had to make our way through to get anywhere.

Once we reached wherever we were going, the next step was to beat down the grass in a large area around you for three reasons. First, it gave us a spot to stay a little drier. Second, it gave us a little more opportunity to see anything approaching through the grass like a Kodiak Brown bear. And lastly, it allowed for more of a breeze which helped keep the bugs at bay.

The bugs. First off you had the mosquitoes. I am pretty sure we had all 32 species of mosquitoes that resided in Alaska there. Then there were the black gnats, no-see-ums, white sox, and various forms of flies and other bugs I was not familiar with.

These bugs replaced the receding clouds with dark buzzing swarms that waited for their opportunity in the buffet line.

That led to our next layer, a healthy dose of Deet; military grade.

Even with our odoriferous cloud of repellent perfume, you had to stay covered to keep them off. I can not tell you how many times daily that someone snorted a bug up the nose or started hopping around and clawing at their ear.

Despite our diligence, the three areas of our bodies that got attacked on a daily bases were our wrists between our gloves and shirts, our collar line, and our waist where our shirts came untucked. These areas became bumpy red rashes from all the scratching we tried not to do.

Sam tried to be smart one day and put on Deet before he got fully dressed; only the repellent trickled down to sensitive areas and began to burn, which lead to stripping and running nearly naked into the freezing stream. Just those few moments of exposed flesh lead to dozens of welts from bites in places you wish they did not occur.

Our final layer consisted of a long sleeve shirt that we never took off. You didn’t dare or else your skin was instantly feasted upon. This layer also kept the Deet in place since sweat would wash it away or dilute it.

John commented that the bugs were so thick that if he shot birdshot out off his 12 gauge, the shot would not clear the circle.

This was our every day that first week. We went to work, we survived the bugs, and then we returned thankfully to the shore where the wind picked up and blew the bugs back inland.

Each day when we returned to camp, John would check the radio. The relay was still not in place and he could not reach anyone.

No matter how tired we were, Sam went fishing every day. So every day, we supplemented our meals with salmon or trout from the stream.

John had us working ten hour days so we could be done in four days and had three days of fun and recovery. That first week we walked out most of the three survey sites as best as we could and John laid out the plan for us to tackle the first site the next week. We had found the old survey marker on our last day after searching for nearly three hours in the marsh along the edge of the lagoon. It was only because of a metal detector did we find it buried nearly a foot under the marsh.

The first survey plot was a fairly straight forward rectangle with one edge along the marsh and up into the low rising hills that were covered in alders and grass.

We were surprised that with the number of bear signs we had seen, that we had not run across any bears. This was also something to be thankful for. Only John and Carl carried guns and Carl did not handle his gun well. More than once I had to pick it up out of the muck where he had laid it down while he worked.

The bears mostly stuck to the trails in the marsh, but on the hillside, in the brush, you couldn’t see them coming, or where they bedded down.

John took stock of our food. Despite having spare fish, we had gone through most of our base supplies as we had expected we would. It was decided that we would take MREs with us for lunches as they did not give off much of a scent while sealed and would be overall safer to carry in bear country.

John also figured this would stretch our primary supplies by nearly a week which we would probably need since we would not get supplies for a week if we gave our order to the mail plane. Our letter would take a few days to reach Anchorage and then those supplies would have to be relayed to Larsen Bay where a helicopter would then bring them to us.

Even though we had three days off, we still worked. We gathered supplies for our camp, we practiced surveying and using the equipment, and Sam and I also had our workbooks to work on.

We did have plenty of time to do nothing or explore. I took glorious naps, read my books, and fished. We also found an old metal water trough that we used to warm water up by the fire to wash ourselves and our clothes.

Sam and I dug a hole in the gravel near the stream. It was nearly eight feet in diameter and four feet deep in the middle. The stream water slowly filtered through it and the sun warmed it. It was in no way really warm, but it was much warmer than the creek or ocean water and made for a descent place for us to bathe.

On our last day off, Sam and I explored up the creek to a glacier fed lake. The glacier now hung high in the crook of the mountain and appeared little more than a large snow patch. We fished for a while before heading back to camp to wait on the mail plane.

We sat on the pier and looked out over the bay and soaked in the sun. The plane normally came in the early afternoon, so as the sun made its dip towards the horizon, we all knew that the mail plane was not coming.

John cursed. “The caretaker is gone and they probably think the place is abandoned.”

Carl looked a little pale. “How are we getting out of here?”

John did not answer and stomped loudly down the boardwalk.

We ate dinner quietly that night. I suddenly realized that John was not so worried about leaving, he was worried about survival. We had a little more than a week’s worth of supplies if we included the MREs.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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