I Have It Made In Alaska

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

In the fall of 1964 I started college at the University of California at Berkeley, but I hated it. I lasted one year, and as soon as school let out in June of 1965 I went to Alaska to seek my fortune. My cousin and I had heard that fishermen in a place called Kodiak Island were making big money up north. I had a few dollars I’d made working as a cowboy. So I grabbed my guitar and pack and bedroll and I went north to be an Alaska fisherman and strike it rich.

I’d never been on a jet before. Heck, I’d never been on a plane before, just bought the ticket and got on. We flew to Juneau, flying hour after hour over untouched northern forests. Mountains, valleys, no sign of man. Juneau sits on a skinny foreshore, with an entire panoply of waterfalls laughing down the cliff behind. I’ve never seen it other than overcast. I’ve never seen it in the winter. I love Alaska in the summer.

juneau AKJuneau and waterfalls. SOURCE

In the winter, not so much, but at that point I hadn’t ever seen an Alaskan winter.

Juneau has a smell about it that is common to North Pacific port towns, a ravishing smell made of equal measures of exposed tidal flats, creosote from the pilings, fish parts of various sizes and antiquity, and the resinous scent of the trees inland. To me it smelled like adventure.

In Juneau, we got into the seaplane for Sitka, which is on an island a ways offshore from Juneau. We were going to see my erstwhile stepdad, Bill, the ex-Marine … not really an “ex” Marine, no such thing as far as I know, let me say he’d been a Marine. We knew he was the skipper of a tugboat. We figured he could point us to work.

The plane was a Grumman Goose, an amphibious seaplane. It was parked on the beach. We got in. The engines sounded dubious. The plane slowly waddled off the beach into the water, and started to taxi out.

grumman gooseGrumman Goose

Spray streamed over the body. It leaked through the window and was dripping on my leg. I moved my leg, and watched a steady driblet of icy seawater fall to the floor. Alaska, gotta love it. We lifted off under a middle overcast, and the dripping stopped. The plane threaded through endless vistas of ocean passages curving between green forested islands. We landed in Sitka and went to find Bill.

Sitka had a pulp mill back then, closed twenty years now. The logs were harvested on the island and on surrounding islands. They were dumped into the ocean, and steel cables were connected around thousands of them, forming a huge log raft. These rafts were towed by tugboats to the pulp mill in Sitka. It was tricky, demanding, dangerous work that my stepdad was doing, but he was a timber feller and an erstwhile Marine Drill Instructor, he liked that kind of life.

We found my stepdad, but sadly the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) had found him first. He was still a nice guy, but they took all the starch out of him. He was like a tire that was only partially inflated. We stayed with them for a couple days. It was uncomfortable. We found a place to camp out. Too much tension in the house. Here’s why.

Bill’s new wife Sharon, as things always happen, was an alcoholic just like my Mom. Life’s like that, we re-create earlier relationships, we get to re-fight our battles until we win them, and so Bill had married another alkie. She was a nice lady, sweet and kind to wandering shirttail relatives such as we were.

Now, the SDA is no worse than your average religion in most regards. But they have one perfectly stone-age habit. If one of their members can’t straighten out some problem like alcohol, they “shun” them.

Shunning doesn’t mean you don’t talk to the person. It means if you are a church member walking down the street and you see someone who has been shunned, you cross the street right then. Presumably, so you won’t be contaminated by their hateful evil proximity, I don’t know. The population of Sitka then was maybe 3,500 people on a good day, it was tiny. Many of their friends were SDA members.

Anyhow, I was out walking with them one day, and someone crossed the street to shun poor Sharon. The look on her face when she saw that biddy cross the street near to broke my heart. It was a mixture of shame and anger and anguish and guilt that no woman should ever have to bear, regardless of whether she drinks too much. I decided then and there that “shunning” should have been abandoned with the “dunking stool” and other appurtenances of witchcraft. Perhaps the SDA have abandoned it by now, I hope so. It broke sweet Sharon’s heart, plus it made her more likely to turn to the bottle … what good is either?

sitka mountainsSitka 

But even though Bill had been domesticated, and there was no work on the tug boats with him, the good news was that in Sitka I got my first job playing in a honky-tonk band.  I’d played music for money and for dinner lots of times by then. But before Sitka I’d always been a solo act, or very occasionally played with another acoustic guitarist.

In Sitka I got a gig as the rhythm guitarist and lead singer, complete with electric guitar, in a bar band which was usually composed entirely of what used to be called “Indians”. Columbus wanted to believe he’d gotten to India, so he called the locals “Indians”. This led to centuries of confusion, where people had to continually be asking “You mean Indians with a dot, or Indians with a feather?” So they decided to change their name. Fair enough.

It’s not politically correct to call them Indians now, I know. These days, I’m a reformed cowboy, so I use a more modern name which reflects their actual heritage. I call them “Early Asian Immigrants”, to distinguish them from the “Later Melanin-Deficient Immigrants”. I don’t generally use the term “Native Americans”, though, unless a man insists on it. According to science, they’re no more native to the Americas than any human is, and that’s not native at all.

To maintain the historical accuracy, however, I’ll use the terms of the era. The guys called themselves Indians the first time I met them. It was early one evening, they were playing in a roadside dance hall bar in Sitka. The conversation opened with something like me saying “Where’re you guys from”, and them saying “We’re Indians. Sitka tribe.” Good enough for me.  They had a lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums. They were on a break. I bought them a drink. I told them I liked their music. I said I was a musician. They had a spare electric guitar, we played a few tunes, we had fun.

They told me the rhythm guitarist was in the local slammer for a few months. He’d gotten arrested after a drunken fight. Did I want to join the band?

Well, I thought, let’s total up the pluses and minuses. First, the pay was lousy, although it included dinner as well. They got forty bucks a night plus tips. Then, that had to be split six ways. One share each for the four musicians. One for the drummer’s girlfriend who ran the soundboard. One share to the guy who actually owned the guitars and equipment. And the free dinner was rubber chicken cafeteria food. Plus acoustically, the bar sucked, the flat walls made the room ring like playing music inside a cheap cowbell. Not to mention the air was chokingly thick with cigarette smoke and sweat from the dancers.

So what’s not to like, I thought? Sign me up!

And so later that very night I found myself playing in a real, live, roadside band for money and food, albeit small money and below-average food, and best of all, people were dancing to my music. I loved to see folks happy like that. I was eighteen, living on my own. Playing dance music, standing on the stage watching folks dance their hearts out to some blazing sound that we were laying down, that was a true joy for me. I was an idiot, but I was a very contented idiot.

Unfortunately, I discovered for the first time that I was also at times a drunken idiot. As were my Indian brothers-in-arms.

The problem was, people always wanted to buy beers and drinks for the band. It was in Sitka that I started drinking what they called “Coke-High”, whiskey and coke.

Evenings with the band were a slow slide backwards, by both musicians and dancers, from civilization to some much more primitive, elemental, and, well, atavistic level, to put it plainly. I began to understand why the rhythm guitarist was in jail.

After playing with the band for a few weeks, I finally figured out that he wasn’t in the Sitka jail for violence. That had just been my naive misunderstanding of the situation. The most likely reason he was in jail was that he was taking a holiday from the violence.

The evenings always started with such great promise, too. Everyone showed up early, we ate dinner on the house. No drinking alcohol with dinner, we wouldn’t do a thing like that. We were young men on a musical mission, noble and pure of heart.

Such nobility in young men, however, has a severely limited shelf-life. In our case, we usually, perhaps even often, made it through the entire first set of the evening with the temples of our bodily purity unsullied by the demon rum. We played hard, driving music, pick you up and yank you onto the dance floor music, can’t ignore it music. The dancers loved us. People did the twist and every other kind of step, we had them shaking and baking.

During the first intermission, as a reward for being so noble and pure, we might have one drink. One Coke-High. Just one, you understand.

During the second set, people were glad we were back, they’d start buying us drinks. And we’d start drinking them. Slowly. Just sipping, you understand. My throat was dry from all the singing I was doing. Plus, I wasn’t really drinking. Just wetting my whistle. And the second intermission was not entirely alcohol-free either.

Alcohol and enjoying music works fairly well. Alcohol and playing music, not so much. Fortunately, through some strange symmetry the two tend to offset each other. As our music deteriorated, it was matched by the deteriorating musical judgement of the dancers and other drinkers. I figured we just had to stay ahead … where “ahead” meant the situation where a majority of the dancers believed that they had lost the beat, not the band.

And of course, as in many places I’ve played, the amount of violence was proportional to the average alcohol consumption. Fights were so common that the bandstand had a waist-high solid wood railing around it. The first night I played with the guys I thought oh, how nice, we have our own little kind of stage to perform in … I hadn’t realized the wall was there to protect the guitar amplifiers from the random flying chair, and to protect the lead guitarist from the drunk guy staggering backwards after being punched in the mouth. I’m sure you’re surprised to learn that many of these fights were about women. Others involved long-standing feuds.

Occasionally one of my Indian brothers-in-music couldn’t stand it, his cousin or someone was getting pummeled, he’d jump the bandstand fence and join in the fray. When that happened, of course, the whole band was honor-bound to down instruments and join in trying to rearrange some stranger’s facial molecules. Mostly I just tackled guys to stop them fighting … I could see how after while, jail might seem like a peaceful alternative to playing in this particular rock band.

Of course, getting dinner plus ten or twenty bucks a night, three nights a week, is not much of a survival plan. Everyone in the band had day jobs. The band guys took me down to the Hall, and I got on at the local Longshoreman’s Union. At that time there were two industries in Sitka — fishing, and pulp. In a giant, reeking mill on the edge of town, the forests of the surrounding islands were converted into 350 pound (160 kg) bales of pulp and shipped to Japan to be made into paper. Huge freighters came into Sitka Harbor. A crane would sling four bales down into the hold at a time. We had big two-man stevedore type two-wheeled hand trucks and cargo hooks. Layer by layer, we laid out sheets of plywood and rolled the huge bales one by one into place. There’s an art to tipping one off the handcart. If done right, the bale rolls over once and slams tightly into both sides of the corner made by the other bales. If done wrong, it lands a ways from where you want it, and you sweat and swear with your cargo hooks to hump it in tight, and the old guys laugh at you. I got laughed at. I could see why, and I got good at moving bales very quickly.

Now, to be fair, I wasn’t fishing. But I had accomplished at least part of my Alaskan dream. I was playing music in a combination bar and fight club, and making really good money and I only worked part-time. When a ship came in we worked around the clock. We got regular time for the first eight hours work, time and a half after that, and double time for any night work, that was six PM to six AM. Triple time for overtime nights. Sometimes the ships would start work at around dusk. So we’d go to work making double time, work through dawn. A couple hours at regular time, from then on we were at time and a half until six pm, when it went to triple time for night overtime, we’d work a full 24 hours at times. I was making stacks of money, working part-time, playing in a killer-good band … at least killer-good for the first set of the evening … and living in my own apartment.

So my stepdad Bill was shocked when I told him that the endless world was calling, that I was moving on. He asked why. From his point of view, I had everything that a man could want— a good job, my music, my own apartment, in his mind I was set for life. Bill thought I should settle down, that I was crazy to leave such a good situation, that I had it made.

For me, that was the problem—I did have it made. I had seen the future, and it sucked. I could look forward to an unending string of incoming pulp ships, mindlessly moving giant cubes of pulp into place, gaining seniority, maybe someday sitting in an office, making increasing money, then married, couple kids, a life moving blocks of pulp and then working in the union office or at the pulp mill itself until I was 65, gold watch and chain, having done nothing interesting at all … Yikes! Terrifying! I had to escape quickly before that vortex sucked me down. I said goodbye to my Indian friends in the band. You grow close quickly when you’re playing music and dodging flying chairs together, I thanked them for the opportunity, and they said they understood the call of the road. We shook hands and parted friends. I said goodbye to Bill and Sharon, took the money I’d saved, and left town.

My cousin and I bought plane tickets to Skagway, and from there we took the ferry to Haines. After that, the road goes through Canada to Alaska. You can’t drive from Southeastern Alaska to Anchorage, the main Alaskan city, without going through Canada. Heck, you couldn’t drive to the capital, Juneau, at all. No road went there from the outside. Boat or plane, that was your choices to get to Juneau … well, dogsled, I suppose. Alaska, I loved the place that first trip, and I would return many times.

From Skagway, we took the ferry to Haines, and boarded the bus for the ride through Canada. That was the first time I ever saw Indians drying salmon on long racks over low fires, whole fish split in half and being dried and smoked to get them through the winter. They stopped the bus, the drying salmon fascinated me. They were filleted from the head along the spine, but still joined at the tail. We got off the bus at Tok Junction to hitchhike south, and went right straight inside the store, because it was chilly. The locals in the store warned us about the mosquitoes. They said that at that time of year the moose would sometimes be driven mad by the mosquitoes. They would run in circles shaking their heads, or jump into muddy waterholes to escape them. At the time I didn’t believe them, I thought they were making stuff up to see if we newcomers believed it. We walked outside.

The mosquitoes also sized us up as newcomers. They descended, not singly, not in groups, not in clouds, but in storms, in serried ranks, in battalions. They were unbearable. I stuck out a bare arm, it turned black with mosquitoes. I slapped it. That left a bright red handprint on my arm in my own blood. I knew when I was beaten, they drove us back inside. The owner of the store said to stay inside, someone would stop in. Someone did, and gave us a ride to Anchorage. This was just a year after the huge 1964 earthquake and tsunami, and large parts of Anchorage were still in ruins. I wasn’t there to see the cities, though, I mostly gave it a miss.

We hitchhiked down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer. One of the most amazing things was how far the land had dropped during the earthquake. In places the land had fallen so far that for mile after mile, only the top half of the telephone poles were sticking out of the water, with the wires still strung between them. It made me understand the origin of the giant tsunami that had accompanied the quake, that’s what happens when the ocean floor just drops ten or fifteen feet or so (3-4m) or so.

Finally, we arrived in Homer, the last step before arriving at our destination. We slept on the beach, and the next day we took the long walk out to the end of the Homer Spit and got on the ferry to Kodiak Island. We’d heard that the fishermen there were making good money, and by gum, I hadn’t come to Alaska to get a Union job moving bales of pulp and to make money singing—I was there to make my fortune fishing in Kodiak.

The trip across to Kodiak was rough as hell. We left before dusk and the wind just kept rising. As I was to experience more than once, the Gulf of Alaska is no friend to boats or seamen. I puked my guts out. I blamed it on the food, I said I’d be fine just as soon as I got fishing … I was sure that if I could only refrain from throwing up my upper intestines and assorted sweetbreads before we reached Kodiak Island, that pretty soon, once again I’d have it made in Alaska.

I was an idiot.



…  [© 2013] collected for Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …

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March 5, 2013 2:12 am

Another chapter. How wonderful!!

steve H
March 5, 2013 2:27 am

Brings back some great memories of my 6 months in Alaska living in a tent and a 4WD with my dog. Driving the Dalton, keeping the dog away from grizzlies, Independence Day in Manley Hot Springs, the Mighty Yukon, Salmon fishing the Kenai, camping on Pagasatch beach Kodiak. Wonderful place.

March 5, 2013 2:59 am

Willis; the gift that keeps on giving! Priceless prose.

March 5, 2013 3:46 am

Hi Willis, another good story, the experience is priceless.
Many of my Montenegro compatriots made it in Alaska, One of them Hajdukovic even has a mountain named after him, and the other Stijepovic was a governor in late 1950s.
“At the beginning of the last century in the stream of people who headed to Alaska during the gold rush in search of dreams of prosperity and riches there was a large number of Montenegrins. They came from all parts of Montenegro. They were mainly people who had already been living for some while in other parts of USA and who, enticed by stories of the chances to make big earnings in the wilds of Alaska, set off northwards. Many of the pioneers from Montenegro left their bones in the wilderness of what was once “Russian America” or disappeared for ever without trace. Some of them managed to find what they had come in search of, became rich and returned more often than not to warmer parts of USA, while others became renowned successful citizens of Alaska and remained there where their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons now live…
From the large number of families we must single out the Hajdukovic, Stijepovic, Dapcevic families and of course all the other families whose members have distinguished themselves amongst the most prominent and worthy people in this part of the world. The famous pioneer John Hajdukovic, governor Mike Stijepovic etc.”

Pete Olson
March 5, 2013 3:49 am

In 1967, the night I graduated from Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon at the age of 17, I told my rather astonished parents I was leaving the next morning for Kodiak. I had arranged a ride with a classmate, Gary Painter, who, was driving his dad Ted’s new Ford pickup up the Alcan. Ted – a fisherman out of Depoe Bay – was fishing his 45 foot boat, the Uyak, out of Kodiak. I spent the summer working on the Skookum Chief – a retired Puget Sound ferryboat that had been converted into a crab processing plant – which was moored near the new downtown, rebuilt after the 64 quake and tsunami. Probably there were a lot more new buildings than when you were there in 65, but it was still pretty bare. I postponed playing in honky-tonk bands until I was in my 50s, when I founded my own group. I have 2 big dance floors and a stage on my rented acre on the outskirts of Sonoma, where my wife and I host Cajun/Country dance/potlucks when it’s not raining. Sometime later this year we will move into our motorhome and begin full-timing in it, but until then we will have a few more fais do do’s. You should come on down sometime!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9PtJDMy90E

March 5, 2013 4:32 am

“like playing music inside a cheap cowbell”. I’m 58 and started playing in a band again. Your description of the room cracked me up. It hit me like a wet freight train.
PS; More cowbell.

March 5, 2013 4:38 am

I spent a Year in Juneau one week in 2007/8. The Bubble Room!

March 5, 2013 4:47 am

… [© 2013] collected for Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …

Good start. Proper form is: Copyright © [name of owner] 2013. Also helpful to add some language like, “All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without written permission of the author.”
It would be fun to hear more about the band: What did you call yourselves? What were the other members like? I assume you played rock ‘n’ roll covers. Did you play any country tunes? The Indians I have known loved what was then known as ‘country and western’; when you called it a “honky-tonk” band, that was my first thought.
/Mr Lynn

March 5, 2013 5:22 am

Great tale

March 5, 2013 5:48 am

“I was an idiot.” – Aren’t we all at that age?
Thanks again for a very entertaining tale.

March 5, 2013 7:06 am
G P Hanner
March 5, 2013 7:22 am

Your Sitka bar story reminds me of a bar at some lonely crossroads in Montana. The tables and chairs were made of cottonwood butts. They couldn’t be thrown very far or broken when the fights broke out.
Sounds like you missed the real winter in Alaska. The one in the Yukon Basin. Were everything is frozen solid for six long, dark, months.

Bob L.
March 5, 2013 7:33 am

Love this as always: thank you again for sharing. One tiny minor point for clarity: in the first paragraph you might want to mention what month in 1965 you headed north. Without this info., the sentence: “at that point I hadn’t ever seen an Alaskan winter” threw me and I had to backtrack to understand this piece is about Alaska I the summer.

March 5, 2013 7:45 am

I don’t think the Seventh Day Adventists practice shunning. Maybe it was some other sect?

Jenn Oates
March 5, 2013 7:54 am

I love Alaska, but I also love Cal. 🙂

michael hart
March 5, 2013 8:45 am

My encounter with Alaskan strangeness was a 1990’s taxi driver in Anchorage.
That he didn’t know any directions isn’t particularly unusual, but he had no issue with driving down an airport runway at night in his attempt to get there.

March 5, 2013 9:07 am

You should save your life history for the weekends. Reading an autobiography about a person we’ve never heard of is not as interesting as the autobiographer might think.
Or perhaps these stories might start with “NOT SCIENCE RELATED” in caps at the top of the page so those of us who only come to WUWT for science can quickly click off the novella articles.
Regardless, something must be done. These stories about some guy’s jaunts in the Pacific region are weakening the WUWT brand. Maybe just give this Willis character another website for people who are interested?

March 5, 2013 9:23 am

I guess you’re right about Sitka, at least back in the ’80’s. A good friend that owned a bar in Colorado (we played “Country AND Western” there every Sunday afternoon/night) decided to sell out and move up to Alaska. It was only a few months later that we heard he had been killed in a bar fight in Sitka.

Power Grab
March 5, 2013 9:50 am

Oh, Blogagog…
You’re not from around here, are you?
Most of us consider it a treat to happen to drop into WUWT for an unexpected, refreshing draught of Willis’ stories.

Paul Marko
March 5, 2013 10:36 am

The funniest part was actually having a sound board in a crap hole bar in Sitka, and paying someone to man it, no less. A board was big time back in ’65.

Tom J
March 5, 2013 10:50 am

Great story as per usual. Reminds me of a statement I once read, written by a young, exceptional woman: “The tapestry of our lives.”

Eric in SoCal
March 5, 2013 11:40 am

Have you read William McCloskey’s book, “Highliners”, about a young man going to seek his fortune as an Alaska fisherman? You might enjoy it.

Josh C
March 5, 2013 12:32 pm

Loving the Alaska stories Willis – really need to get back up there. My stomping grounds in the summer was up about 150 north of Kodiak, on the west side of Cook Inlet. Loved your guiding on the Kenai river bit, I grew up guiding the 3 rivers on our area, Silver Salmon Creek, Johnson River and Shelter Creek or going out in the inlet for Halibut. Loved having the world come to me as a young guy, realizing the no matter who they were, the VP’s of Arco, Malaysian Dignitaries, a couple brothers from Florida, a nice couple from CA or North European millionaires, show them some bears, some eagles, let them catch some fish and take in a good meal, and hear about every corner of the world and get into every sort of argument – that is good living. It was great to see as a kid.
The Bars were like that for years, cleaned up quite a bit when I was finally old enough to go, short of when I was a kid going in to pick up my father. He had quite the reputation. I did some Karaoke and Barbacking at the Duck Inn outside of Soldotna, plus a slew of other little jobs when I was younger. Great place to grow up. Winters weren’t to bad, unless you were poor. And we were. Makes for good stories though.
Looking forward to some more. Especially Kodiak. That place kills people. Especially fishermen.

March 5, 2013 12:36 pm

thanks willis! always love a good story about alaska, I try to get up there as often as possible to juneau. glacier hiking on the mendenhall ftw!!!

Martin A
March 5, 2013 2:15 pm

“blogagog says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:07 am
You should save your life history for the weekends. …”
Blogagog, I tend to agree. Recently, I posted similar sentiments to yours about autobiographical writings on “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change.”
The Autobiography Writer then treated me to remarks such as:
– “one more bitchy prima donna who knows everything”
– ” you’re looking like an upset six-year-old.”
Whatever it was that they did to him, many years ago presumably, to result in such thin-skinned hypersensitivity to criticism, he is not letting on. Maybe that will be the subject of a future autobiographical piece.

March 5, 2013 2:39 pm

I read your story about fishing in Alaska, then I read this story. Reminds me of the various ways I got from the Copperbelt in Zambia down to the Zambezi to fish for the tiger. The tiger fish. The fightingest fish ever made. On 6 pound line and barbless hooks.
I LOVE fishing!
I hitch-hiked, I walked, but I was always determined to fish that river for the Tigers! For the scientifically minded the fish is referred to as Hydrocynus vittatus and it has razor-sharp teeth. I’ve seen a boat boy lose a toe and a fisherman lose a finger to these buggers.

March 5, 2013 2:56 pm

About his autobiography and my disinterest in it, Willis says :
“Then SKIP OVER IT … duh.”
Perhaps you don’t understand how the bulk of us read WUWT. We use RSS. The one I use (“RSS ticker” for Firefox) does not give me the option to ‘skip over’ a link. I can’t tell if the page will contain some useful information or just be some garbage about the life of a dude named Willis Eschenbach. I can’t skip over this tripe without reading it first. My only option is to read it, or delete WUWT from my RSS.
No offense, but I don’t know you, and I don’t care about the things that have happened to you in your life. Save that info for your loved ones. They probably care about it. Or write a book. In any event, don’t write them on a site dedicated to science. Please don’t make me remove WUWT from my RSS feed. I do not want to.

March 5, 2013 2:59 pm

PoweGrab says”
“Oh, Blogagog…
You’re not from around here, are you?
Most of us consider it a treat to happen to drop into WUWT for an unexpected, refreshing draught of Willis’ stories.”
No. Most of us don’t. Welcome to the comments section though!

March 5, 2013 3:05 pm

What’s with these sourpusses like ‘blogagog’ and ‘Martin A’? Do we have to remind them yet again of the description on the masthead?

Commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, weather, climate change, technology, and recent news by Anthony Watts.

I would venture to say that Willis’s recollections partake about equally of all of those topics, with Willis himself representing one of nature’s ‘puzzling things’, for me, at least: how the heck does he find the time?
/Mr Lynn

M.C. Kinville
March 5, 2013 3:07 pm

Was it the Kiksadi Club or the 3 ½ Club?
I’ve been carefully following Anthony’s site for about two years now, reading with a very critical eye and an open mind. Your story about the processions of dolphins nearly prompted my first post, but your post about your time in Sitka finally compels me to offer my thanks for your unique view and distinctive voice.
In the “It’s a small world” vein, I was born in Sitka. My dad worked on the log pond at the pulp mill you worked at and ended up as a tug boat skipper, my first job was at the mill’s commissary. For what it’s worth, I’m the descendant of Early Asian Immigrants.
I hear hints of my beliefs and understanding of our existence in your writing. I thanked each of the 85 sockeye I dipnetted from the Kasilof River this summer. Thanks for giving their life to me to feed my family…Gunalchéesh! Gunalchéesh! It’s the same for each tree I cut to heat my house…at 6 to 8 cords a year, that’s a lot of thanking to do.
In the spirit of gratitude, Anthony, thank you for all that you have done, and will continue to do to honor the integrity of science, and thank you for introducing me to Willis.

March 5, 2013 3:25 pm

Willis: great stuff, thanks. I lived in Whitehorse YT 1961-7 and sometimes we would drive the Highway up to Haines Junction and then down to Haines. Totally different climate and feeling to things –it was “the United States!” Your story brings that back, along with memories of the mosquitoes. They ran the outdoors from mid-June until late July, then the blackfly took over until the frosts came in mid-September. PS: The 1964 quake in Anchorage was huge; we felt it in Whitehorse as an eerie windless swaying of the lodgepole pines. PPS: I can’t wait to hear you describe the Alaskan winter

March 5, 2013 4:17 pm

Ah, the ever vigilant whiners and tellers of others what they should be able to read. Today they are quite petulant that the world is not arranged exactly to suit them. And persistent in sticking out their bottom lips and stamping their feet. Well, blogagog, I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to have to read your puerile remarks while perusing the comments for interesting things. Can I get my way, too?

March 5, 2013 4:18 pm

Another great installment, Willis. If only I had known what a colorful character you were when I met you in Chicago (or NYC?), I woulda brung a geetar along. Good luck with the book!

March 5, 2013 4:19 pm

blogagog says: March 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm
“…We use RSS. …… does not give me the option to ‘skip over’ a link. I can’t skip over this …….without reading it first. My only option is to read it, or delete WUWT from my RSS….”
Remarkable and disturbing, blogagog.
I had not realized technology had advanced to this extent.
What happens if you just page down or ignore the feed until you get to the end? I assume somehow your computer can detect that you are not reading, but simply skipping across it? How does it do that, remarkable technology (…perhaps eye movement plus brain waves I suspect?)
I imagine by the way you have to avoid the risk, there is a pretty severe punishment if it catches you?
Is your computer a more recent model of the Hal 9001?

March 5, 2013 4:36 pm

OK, Martin A and Blogalog, we got it. Nuff said. The vast majority of WUWTers love Willis’ excellent adventures. He ain’t goin noWHERE. So your choice seems rather clear.

March 5, 2013 5:31 pm

As someone who grew up in the SDA system, I never thought I would find myself defending them. I was always the rebel and the black sheep and the sinner. I’ve heard all manner of insults against SDA and I would laugh and say, yeah I’ve said the same myself. But I was stunned to read that they encourage or practice or condone “shunning”. In a lifetime ( almost your age) of being around SDA, both inside and out (mostly out) I’ve never experienced, observed, or even heard of anything like what you described. If they would have shunned anyone it would have been me. I would have preferred that, actually, instead of being pestered with kindness. That is one of the most absurd , ridiculous, things I,ve ever read. And I think it’s quite lame now to excuse yourself by saying perhaps they have changed. As I said, I’m about your age, and they have never encouraged “shunning”. Maybe you didn’t bother to read your own link but what is described there is not in any way remotely related to what you described. I’ve enjoyed your stories, you’re a good storyteller, but at times I’ve thought there might be a good degree of embellishment. That story reminds me of the many contrived stories we hear about “racism” that people tell to be up on a self-righteous high horse. If ther was a way to know I’d lay 8 to 5 (yes I’m an ex-Las vegas gambler) that the shunning part is mostly imaginary. In the future I’ll avoid the “continue reading” click. gh

Gilbert K. Arnold
March 5, 2013 7:35 pm

blogagog; I may be in the minority here, but I don’t use RSS simply because I don’t like being bombarded with updates to sites that I may not want to visit that day. I do my blog browsing the old fashioned way. It may be slow and and cumbersome, on the other hand, by going to the site directly I quite often find myself looking at previous posts and finding something that catches my eye that I didn’t see the first time around. I notice that WUWT gives you the option of using RSS or accessing the site the old way. YOU have that choice. No one is forcing you to use RSS, That was your choice. And as Willis says, if you see an entry as “a guest posst by Willis Eschenbach” you do have the option of not reading that RSS feed. So if want to skip over Willis’ posts, then access the site the old fashioned way…ie http://www.wattsupwiththat.com

March 5, 2013 7:45 pm

Hey! You few whiners, listen hard to this. We are reading a blog here. Not some boring textbook, but a blog, which stands for web log, a listing of entries, all relating the writer’s perception of our world. There are many places where one can go to read whatever you want. This here is maybe the most widely read weblog relating to (mostly) revealing the truth of the world climate fraud, but there is much other content. Some content here supports the fraud, some posters (and many more readers) do not feel that it is a fraud at all. And then there is this other stuff…
Personally, I love the other stuff. For the same reason I read Luboš Motl’s “The Reference Frame.” Much intelligent discussion of CAGW, but also plenty of other stuff. FWIW, if you don’t want to veer too far off from your own prejudices, IMHO you can always go and read “Skeptical Science.”
In any case, I know for a fact that Mr. Watts, the proprietor of this establishment, will refund to you every cent you have paid him for the privilege of reading what you find here upon request.

March 5, 2013 8:15 pm

@Willis; Your reports on the facts of living and working outside the great cities of civilization are of great value. Please continue. Too often those that live a 9 to 5 life are ignorant of life in fly over country. I read nearly every post and comment here as sometimes the comments are more informative. So far I find no reason to doubt your varisity as to facts or events. And your word pictures bring back memories of my own past adventures. thank you again. pg

March 5, 2013 8:30 pm

To Martin A and Blogalog, STFU. To Willis, another interesting and amusing story, keep them coming.

March 5, 2013 8:32 pm

Great story – I spent two weeks in Fairbanks (Oct) and and a totally different two weeks in Anchorage (Summer) must have been in the early 90s. I loved it – there really is a “call of the wild” up there. I was touring as a musician and your story about the Indian band and the bar brawls really cracked me up! Thanks a bunch I feel good reading you.
Oh and Pete Olson I am semi-retired from music but have gotten hooked big-time on Cajun music. Great version of Diggy Liggy Low!
Willis, you certainly have done some hard-work jobs in your life and now you do science. I would be interested to know when and how you gained your education as you are an intellectual force to be reckoned with besides being an adventurer and man-of-the-world.
Greg Olsen
Tempe, Arizona

March 5, 2013 8:39 pm

Indeed Willis, the challenges are as great as the beauty.
Here in the upper water shed of the Copper River Basin, we are the last unorganized borough in the U.S.
The majority of our small population enjoy having no local governing body, no taxes, no building codes and lots of freedom. As hardened interior Alaskans we’ve learned how to take care of ourselves and wouldn’t have it any other way.

john robertson
March 5, 2013 8:43 pm

Thanks Willis, keep typing.
My only reason for commenting is to raise a single digit to the whiner duo.

March 5, 2013 9:04 pm

Will- As you suggested, I reread your link to “principles of shunning”. It’s all about debating and reasoning with non-believers, which I agree is a questionable doctrine, but certainly doesn’t encourage the type of shunning that you describe. And it specifically says “conclusion: a christian must never be rude”. Are you sure this is the “sleezy” basis for conspicuosly hurting someone by crossing away from them? could ther not have been other personal reasons for this? In the story you made it sound like shunning was some sort of edict by the church which must be followed by members. this seems extremely bizarre to me, and there is certainly nothing in “principles of shunning ” that could be construed as justification for that.
By the way about my “claimed christianity”, did I claim christianity? I did not. More literary license, I guess. and my supposed CO-RELIGIONISTS would be very surprised to see me called that. I’m still laughing about that one. but I don’t have the intense hatred for religion that you apparently do. Why is that? I guess I’m double damned now. First the Adventist told me I was damned, and now you. Although yours is only partial damnation, because I apologize partially. I only said it seemed 8 to 5 that some was embellishment, I wasn’t absolutely saying you made it up, because obviosly I can’t know for sure, so if it is true, I apologize. It’s just that after 60 years of being around all levels of SDA culture, mostly the faultfinding apostate ones, I.m pretty sure I would have heard at least something of this shunning if it were a church policy. If you love attacking religion so much, why don’t you save it for the environmental worshipers? I think we might agree on that. gh

Jeff Alberts
March 5, 2013 9:42 pm

blogagog says:
March 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm
About his autobiography and my disinterest in it, Willis says :
“Then SKIP OVER IT … duh.”
Perhaps you don’t understand how the bulk of us read WUWT. We use RSS. The one I use (“RSS ticker” for Firefox) does not give me the option to ‘skip over’ a link. I can’t tell if the page will contain some useful information or just be some garbage about the life of a dude named Willis Eschenbach. I can’t skip over this tripe without reading it first. My only option is to read it, or delete WUWT from my RSS.

I use RSS too. Maybe you need a better RSS reader (I use Google’s), which doesn’t put the entire post in the reader, only a teaser. Or maybe just, I don’t know, scroll down to the next one. Wow, that was difficult, wasn’t it.

Bill Thomson
March 5, 2013 9:43 pm

With regard to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the principle of shunning, the web site that Willis referred to is for The Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are a breakoff from the mainstream Seventh Day Adventist Church according to Wikipedia. It seems that the CSDA don’t have much love for the SDA . They refer to the “satanic efforts” of the SDA on their web site. Just out of curiosity I searched and found that the SDA have a manual online at http://www.adventist.org/ChurchManual_2010.pdf which has a section on church discipline. Their official policy on discipline for wayward members seems to be based on the principles of love that Jesus taught. This does not surprise me because some of the finest people I have met belong to the SDA church. (For the record, I have no association with it.)
So Willis, you may not see much need for organized religion, and that’s fine, but you have tarred two groups with the same brush, and I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s a little like someone accusing you of being a member of the hockey team just because you write about climate.

March 5, 2013 10:40 pm

will- Wow. Is it really that difficult to distinguish between being raised ins the sda system 50 years ago vs. what I am now. Especially since I said I was among the apostate. My membership was revoked in the 60’s because I hadn’t been in church for years. I went to sda schools, but was pretty much at war with them the whole time. But still I recognize that the vast majority of sda are very very good people. The kind anyone would want for neighbors and coworkers, so it upsets me to see them wrongly smeared. I kind of like the line about the sda system stripping me of my honor. Maybe they did. I’ll run it by some friends who are still loosely connected with the church and see if maybe that’s our problem. that sounds as relevant as most psychobabble. gh

Dan Evans
March 5, 2013 10:53 pm

I don’t understand your objections to shunning. Shunning is the only defense of the pacifist. It would seem preferable to the brutal methods that have been practiced by some religions in dealing with sin. Evil can be contagious and sometimes the best way to deal with it is to avoid it.

March 5, 2013 11:32 pm

My gosh, it seems I’m being shunned, by someone who is clearly full of love, tolerance, and openmindedness. gh

Dan Evans
March 5, 2013 11:37 pm

I just don’t understand the objection to shunning in general, whether or not it is unjust or misapplied is a different issue, as it is with all forms of punishment. But shunning is surely preferable to hanging, burning at the stake or a drone strike. We do shunning ourselves on the Internet when we ban someone who gets out of line. A lot of these religions who practice shunning are so non-violent they will not even sue people those who harm them. Shunning is their only option and I wouldn’t think of discouraging that option.
It seems to me there would be a lot less strife in the world if more people would agree to disagree and go their separate ways rather than be at each other’s throat all the time.

Chuck Nolan
March 6, 2013 4:19 am

blogagog says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:07 am
You should save your life history for the weekends. Reading an autobiography about a person we’ve never heard of is not as interesting as the autobiographer might think.
blog, you’re a boar.
In the words of Paul Simon
“The man ain’t got no culture.”

March 6, 2013 4:30 am

Aboard a 38′ purse seiner porting out of Hoonah, Alaska, we had many “interesting” experiences. Hoonah is a town of about 1000 and a liquor store that brings in $100K/year, which no doubt played a major role in one of my favorite experiences. Late evening and playing cards, we hear a ruckus out on the dock. Stepping onto the deck, we see two local “gentlemen” in the water. The first to come out of the water is wearing the sum total of one t-shirt. The second was a little under-dressed for the occasion – wearing only one sock. Without a word, both just staggered away down the dock. Perhaps being just a little smarter (yeah, right) than Willis, we did not ask any questions…

Ken Harvey
March 6, 2013 5:22 am

gregole says:
March 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm
…………..”Willis, you certainly have done some hard-work jobs in your life and now you do science. I would be interested to know when and how you gained your education as you are an intellectual force to be reckoned with besides being an adventurer and man-of-the-world”
As Charlotte M. Mason said. “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.” I would say that Willis is just about as highly educated as a man can get.

mark fraser
March 6, 2013 7:32 am

Willis, they’re pullin’ yer chain. And it’s workin’. There are trolls, and then there are ass….s. Keep coming with the stories! /mark fraser

Peter C.
March 6, 2013 9:17 am

Blows my mind that alcohol is so widely accepted when you see what it does to people.

Dan Evans
March 6, 2013 9:27 am

But Willis, you also said this:
“But they have one perfectly stone-age habit…”

” I decided then and there that “shunning” should have been abandoned with the “dunking stool” and other appurtenances of witchcraft. Perhaps the SDA have abandoned it by now, I hope so.”
That’s what I don’t agree with. A “stone age habit” is violence towards the sinner. But Western Civilization has adopted all forms shunning as alternatives to warfare. Even nations shun each other by trade embargos or immigration and travel restrictions.
Primitive religions still exist that stone women to death for adultery or hang homosexuals but, at least until recently, we were free to shun people who we disagreed with. It bothers me that that basic right seems to be eroding in recent years. Lately, people are being prosecuted for refusing to do business with homosexuals or to hire alcoholics . People are being forced to associate with people who are a threat to their way of life.

bob alou
March 6, 2013 12:17 pm

“M.C. Kinville says:
March 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm
Was it the Kiksadi Club or the 3 ½ Club?
Good question, M.C. Memory is funny. I remember people, places, smells, vistas, conversations, I could sing you five hundred songs and quote reams of poetry … names, on the other hand, have always been a struggle. Sorry, couldn’t say.”

I would guess the Kiksadi because the year and a half that I spent on the Coast Guard Cutter Clover (actually a 180 bouy tender) based in Sitka the 3 1/2 club was a topless bar, a favorite of us Coasties. That was ’71-’73, before the bridge was completed.
Not much for a 19 year old to do but party. The year of ’72 there was around 144 inches of precip, 3 clear days, and 31 partly cloudy. The rest was nothing but wetness. I too like you puked my guts out and never got over it. First trip out I lost 10 pounds in three days and they almost put me in sick bay in Ketchikan. There was never any mercy from the others who did not get sick.
I did find my first wife there though. A fantastic beauty who was a Venezuelan living w/her cousins so she could attend high school. We met at the Lincoln’s Day HS dance which also happened to be her 18th birthday.
There were a couple other girls I hung out with too and I often wonder how they have done in life. They were French Canadian/Inuit girls. Very nice sisters they were. The would ride around w/me in the junker $200, ’60 Corvair with plywood floors (the metal had rusted out).
I got to go to just about every little fishing village in the southeast part of Alaska and all the way across the gulf to Kodiak. The trip back from Kodiak was the worst the most of the crew had ever been on. Finally got to see the “salty bastards” who teased me toss their lunches.
Alas, the Clover is no more, taken out for target practice.
Thanks for the stories and the memories some bring back.

March 6, 2013 7:40 pm

Willis, thanks for another fine story. I share your enthusiasm for Alaska and sailing. In fact, the summer after my sophomore year in prep school, I worked in a cannery in Gibson Cove on Kodiak Island. Yes, I fibbed a bit regarding my age, made great money and lived in a tent on a ridge with views of the harbor and Coast Guard Base. I did it again while in college. I’ll not tell stories on myself 🙂 Cheers.

S. Meyer
March 6, 2013 9:37 pm

What a joy to read your stories! I keep coming back to this blog, hoping to find more of the same. I can only say: thank you!

March 7, 2013 3:06 pm

Will- After thinking it over and cooling off for a couple of days, I’ve decided I do owe you an apology. I was acting out of anger because your story struck me as unfair and overly broad. (all religions just as bad?) Whatever doubts ar disagreements I may have with the story, certainly does’nt make it right for me to publicly challenge your integrity. and my snarky remark about being similar to people fabricating “racist” stories was totally uncalled for and out of bounds. I’m not sure why your story made me so angry because I’m not real enamored with organized religion myself. But I should know that anything done from anger always does more harm than good. As you may have guessed, I’m not an experienced internet commenter and overreacted and overstated, and many other mistakes. Hopefully I will learn from this. I don’t blame you for being furious. Maybe that rhetorical “slap” woke me up. I regret the whole thing, I should have kept my thoughts to myself. I hope this isn’t too late to undo some of the discord that I’ve sown. Sorry.

March 7, 2013 9:06 pm

Will- thank you for being magnanimous, and not dragging me through the details. I’m trying to forget. I really wasn’t sure if it was a proper apology. gh

March 9, 2013 8:38 am

I don’t know what Blogagog is talking about. There is heaps of science stuff on here and I can’t keep up with it. Willis tales are wonderful and add to the enjoyment of life in general and science as well. What’s the point of science if it doesn’t contribute to the wonder and magic of the natural world and our place in it?

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