ABOUT ME: THE PEDDLER’S PITCH

PeddlerThe day’s greetings, ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome to my blog.

Fran

I am Fran, known by some as the “itinerant peddler from Alaska.”  I’ve lived in Alaska for 47 years, over half my life, and I have an on-going love affair with this place.  Therefore, I’ll be doing a little “show and tell” on my site.  I’ll show you some of what I sell and tell you a few Alaskan stories.

I lived for 20 years in the small village of Ouzinkie, on Spruce Island, close to Kodiak Island.  While there, I built myself a house and got a job teaching adults in the village.  Besides teaching GED and some business classes, I started a group that we called “Plants Class.”  We studied, ate, and used wild, edible, and medicinal plants from our island.  We eventually published a book called “Plant Lore of an Alaskan Island.” I will be including articles on wild plants from time to time under the category called “Backwoods Botany.”

In 2011 I moved to the community of Gustavus, close to Juneau.  I might as well still be on an island, as the only way to get here is by boat or plane.  It is a fine place and full of interesting people.  I will be interviewing many of these folks for my blog, so stay tuned.

If you have a comment or question about a blog post, please submit it as I’d love to hear from you.  If you would like to buy something shown on this site you can order in one of two ways.  Go to my eBay store, The Peddler’s Pack, to order most items.  If you do not see the item or if you would prefer to order directly from me,  you may contact me at peddlerspackgifts at yahoo dot com, or you can call me at (907) 539-6114.  Please do not send payment information in an email.  Send me your phone number and a good time to call, and I will call you.

I hope you enjoy my blog and come back to visit often.  I’ll be adding new posts each week.

To visit my store, click on the eBay link at the top of this page.

P.S. Many of the pictures in my articles will enlarge if you click on them.

AIMEE YOUMANS: INNOVATIVE, COURAGEOUS, ENTREPRENEUR, WORLD TRAVELER

The more of these Gustavus interviews I do, the more I am amazed at the people who live here.  So many of them love to travel, and have been to far-flung parts of the world.  Aimee Youmans is no exception, but has done more than her share of seeing and experiencing distant places.  It seems to me that there are three kinds of people in this community.  One group is content spending their life here.  Another group has done their exploring of the planet, and find in Gustavus a quiet place to spend their later years.  Many others consider Gustavus a home base, from which they can travel and explore where they will, and when their journeys are completed, they return to the calm, comfort, and familiarity of home.  I believe people here are oddly unique, and Aimee fits that description.

Aimee Youmans was born in Seattle on September 6, 1948.  The family immediately moved to Sitka, where Aimee lived until she was ten.  Her mom, Anne, got a job as a nurse at the Sitka Pioneer’s Home, where she worked for 25 years.  For Aimee’s first ten years she lived in Sitka.  She says a bit of her heart is still there.

When she was ten, her father already had a job at Glacier Bay Park.  He was discovered by the Park Service.  He had been prospecting.  Though he had done nothing illegal, her dad said they hired him so they could keep track of him.  He worked on the Nunatak, the supply boat for the park service, as a deckhand.  At the time, there was only a foot path to the park.  It was decided to start building a station at Bartlett Cove, and her dad became the foreman.  They got the roads in and docks built.  When Aimee was five or six she visited her dad, who lived in a wall tent in the summer and a small cabin in the winter.

Then began the annual family exploration of Glacier Bay, for two weeks every summer.  Aimee recalls, “My mother would pack the big ham, spam and foodstuffs in the Spindrift, our ‘marine station wagon’ that my dad built from a ‘Kriskraft’ kit.  We would set up camp in the Ibach’s old cabin in Reid Inlet, the kitchen and bunks for my brother and me, and a wall tent master bedroom just outside.  At this time, Muz Ibach’s trees, rhubarb, and the vestiges of her garden were all the green in the rocky new landscape of the West Arm of Glacier Bay.  We rarely saw another boat or plane, and never any animals at all.

One night a berg came into the pothole harbor on the high tide and picked our boat off the hook.  What a surprise in the morning!  My dad had to row the little punt halfway to Russell Island to retrieve it.  Who knows where and when it would have been found had he not spied it far out in the channel!”

Another favorite family jaunt was to take their boat behind Lester Island in the Beardslees to a small island called “Strawberry Island.”  Aimee and her family used to go there every year to collect raspberries from prolific bushes at the old fox farm.  They also gathered their strawberries from both sides of the road out to the park before there were trees, giving them a plentiful bonanza of berries.

In her tenth year, Aimee and her brother, Ken, came out to live with their dad.  Their older brother and sister were just finishing high school in Sitka, so they stayed with their mother until they graduated.  The Gustavus School needed eight children to start.  Ken and Aimee were number seven and eight, so there were enough to open.  The school at the time was held in the former preschool.  Over time this building served as a grade school, preschool, and the post office.

Aimee’s mom saved up her days off and flew out from Sitka when she could.  She flew the milk run — Angoon; Tenakee; Pelican; finally, to Gustavus.  Her Continue reading

MEET GREG STREVELER: BIOLOGIST, TEACHER, GARDENER, OLD-TIMER

Greg Streveler is a modest and unassuming man who does not agree that he is a Gustavus icon; however, I believe the description fits.  He has worked for many years, either for pay or simply as a concerned citizen, to move forward projects designed to enhance life here.  His contributions to our  community, no matter what he says, have been enormous.

Greg was born in Racine, Wisconsin.  He lived with his folks across the state line on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.  His dad worked in the steel mills as an electrician.  When Greg was six, they all moved to Marathon County in Wisconsin, where his parents were born.  The family lived in the country about 30 miles south of Wausau.  His dad was the “Mark Berry” of their community.  (Mark Berry is the local man in Gustavus who wears many hats and fixes what we break.)  Greg says his dad could fix anything.  Greg was often his “gofer.”

They lived in farm country.  Though they didn’t run a farm themselves, they were surrounded by them.  Consequently, Greg grew up working for farmers.  He says, “To this day I have to get my hands in dirt or I don’t feel right.”

Greg worked for a German farmer, Joseph Baur, who paid him what he earned and taught him to be useful.  He adds, “There was a difference between then and now.  During my youth, people were poor enough that the work I did for them really mattered.  That’s always stuck with me.  I wanted to be useful.”

Greg says he had a lovely childhood.  He had a very tight family; his parents were good to each other and to the children.  The neighbors and his parents Continue reading

MEET DAVID THOMAS: ENTREPENEUR, KAYAKER, NATURE LOVER

Since his arrival last May, David Thomas has jumped into Gustavus community life with both feet, introducing his own roasted coffee brand, Sentinel Coffee, and initiating a number of new activities here.  He has taken over the editorship of the Strawberry Point Pioneer, our local newspaper, started a “slow food” recurring event, and begun a monthly foreign film showing.  What a great addition to the town!  His energy and ideas add new enjoyment to our lives.  Read on to learn of the niche he is building for himself here.

David moved here because his wife, Louise (known as Lou,) a marine biologist, got a job at Glacier Bay Park.  A Juneau woman, she was hired as a whale ecologist, arriving here in November of 2015.  As David was working for the legislative session, he waited until it was over to move.  The couple found a cabin to rent from Karen and Larry Platt near the Good River, through the recommendation of a friend.

Actually, David had been here before.  Gustavus was the first place in Alaska he visited.  After completing a job in 2001, he returned to his birthplace, Massachusetts, and got a job as a bar manager.  However, he decided he wanted to travel again.  He looked for work on CoolWorks.com, and found a job working as a server at the Bear Track Inn for the summer of 2001.

After leaving Gustavus behind, David started a small coffee shop in Woodstock, Vermont, traveled the country in an RV and finally wound up on the Oregon coast, where he set up another coffee shop.  The Oregon coast taught David surf kayaking, hitchhiking, and pastry-making. It is also where he met his future wife, Lou.  David’s Ye Olde Green Salmon Coffee  is still open to this day, owned and operated by David’s original business partner.  A well-known eccentric hippy joint, David always insisted of the Green Salmon, “We are not hippies!”

In the summer of 2010, he went with Lou to the Pribilof Islands, where she had a job as a biological technician.  That summer he worked as a volunteer.  David and

Which one is the observer?

Lou were married on October 3, 2010, and went to New Zealand for the winter.  In the summer of 2011 they started doing the fur seal count together as part of a “mark and recapture” study with NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) in the Pribilofs.

David has an established coffee business in Juneau.  This business is not his first experience with roasting coffee. His operation is small.  He services six cafes in Juneau, and caters to individual customers on a subscription service.  At present, he returns to Juneau every Monday on the ferry and comes home again on Wednesday.  On his ferry-rides, he does bookkeeping and paperwork.  In Juneau, he does his deliveries with a helper, as there are lots of stops.  They deliver to homes, offices, the six cafes, and Bartlett Regional Hospital.  Besides coffee, David carries 20 different types of tea and a chocolate sauce to die for.

To Stephanie Shor’s satisfaction, David took over the newspaper, the Strawberry Point Pioneer, in November of 2016.  His goal is to make the Continue reading

VIVACIOUS & INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: TEACHER, HIKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

Annie “Cricket” Mackovjak tells an amazing story.  She has lived through some great adventures, and has come out of them carrying only the benevolent scars of memory.  Read about this first part of her life journey and see if you don’t agree with me that she must be protected by a very competent guardian angel.

Annie’s story will appear in this blog in two parts.  This first part describes her adventures up to her marriage to Jim Mackovjak in December of 1978.  The second section lists the highlights of her life after moving to Gustavus.

Annie Osgood Mackovjak was born on December 5, 1948, in Lincoln, Maine.  The family home was in Prentiss, a town so small that some people in Maine didn’t know where to find it.  Annie grew up on Maple Grove Farm, a dairy and potato farm.  Annie’s brother tapped maple trees from their farm for Christmas gifts.  A neighboring family tapped the trees for syrup to make their living, using horses to provide labor, doing things the old-fashioned way.

In the 20s and 30s the family sold lots of apples, sending them by train to Boston.  They no longer harvested the orchard by the time Annie came along.  However, her mother still made lots of applesauce.  These days, her brother still lives on the farm, and the deer eat more of the apples than the humans do.

Annie has always loved being outside, and when she was young she was given the nickname of “Cricket,” as they chirped every night in the summer.  (This nickname actually came back to her twice later in her life.)  She earned the nickname from her mom, though she spent many hours outside with her dad, helping with feeding and milking the cattle, getting in the hay, and digging potatoes.  When she was six or seven she had a pony that she rode a great deal.  She didn’t have a bicycle until she reached eighth grade.  Very often after school her dad would have her pony saddled and waiting in the stable so she could ride.

When she was ten, her dad got a sleigh on skis.  They lived on a side road with little traffic, so she could take her brother on rides in the winter.

Annie drove the family tractor starting at about age nine.  She drove the fields to pick up rocks and she also helped with haying.  The family had approximately 600 acres, some in forest, but enough for cattle to graze and to raise oats for them to eat.  They also planted fields of potatoes.  Annie would ride her pony, accompanied by a border collie, to round up the cows and bring them in.  She loved to ride, and one time actually tried riding a pig.  However, she says horses are better.  The farm also had chickens.  One Sunday afternoon when she was outside, she heard a great deal of squawking coming from the chicken coop.  When she went to investigate, she discovered that a scrawny, hungry fox had broken into the pen.  Annie killed the fox.  She says she doesn’t remember what she hit him with, but it was something hard enough to do the job.  She also remembers seeing black bear sitting in the field of oats, raking in the grain.

Annie attended a one-room school from first through fourth grades.  Then a new school district was formed, and she was bused to school in Springfield, Maine.  Annie liked the new school as she could play sports, such as basketball, volleyball, and softball.

She attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Portland, Maine.  This academy was an all-girl Catholic boarding school.  (Now that school has been combined with another and a new school has been built called the Maine Girls’ Academy, but it is no longer a boarding school.)  At that school there were no sports offered, and physical education classes consisted of lessons in such athletic activities as swimming, tennis, or ballet.

When she was a high school freshman, her “big sister” was called Cricket, which reminded Annie that she had shared that name for a long time.  Every Sunday morning she would write home and sign her letter “Cricket.”

One time Annie’s grandfather came to visit and brought a big box of chocolates.  She was in “Seventh Heaven Dorm,” and after lights out, she and two of her friends gathered in the large bathroom and ate all the chocolates.  Of course, their transgression was discovered.  The next morning a nun met them to arrange punishments.  Annie’s was to attend a 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. class in Latin, and another from 9:00 to 10:00 at night, for one month.  Annie continued taking Latin as a class after she completed her month of punishment.  The extra classes paid off later, as Annie took the national Latin exam and got a 96%.

Annie’s aunt and uncle in California gave her a trip to California as a graduation present.  This trip took her further from home than she had ever been before.  She was there for six weeks, and then couldn’t get home because there was an airline strike.  She had to take the bus, which followed the old Route 66, from Los Angeles to Maine.  She made an interesting observation on this trip:  She says that after she crossed the Mississippi, people didn’t have much patience; jostled other passengers and were rude in general.  On the western side of the river, people seemed to be more helpful and accepting.

From 1966 to 1970, Annie went to college at St. Joseph’s in Maine.  She had a full tuition scholarship.  Her degree was in English with a minor in history. Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: CLIMBING QUESTIONS FOR ANNIE MACKOVJAK

After I finished the article on Annie, I realized I had more questions about the climbs she made.  Perhaps some of you do, too.  So, for this column, I will do something a bit different.  I’ve asked Annie four  questions about the climb.  Read on to learn her answers.  After you have read them, if you have further questions, please send them in the comments section at the end of this column, and I will get answers from Annie and print them here, as well.

Here’s what I asked her:

  1.  Were you ever scared during your climbs?  “There were times I got worried, but very rarely scared.  I was scared when I was awakened and thought a crevasse was going to open and swallow me when the ice groaned and cracked deep below my tent on Denali.  Also, fear gripped me when the first climber on my rope team fell into a crevasse and I hoped we’d be able to hold him from not going too far.  Luckily, we did, though we had to do a real crevasse rescue to get him out.  Otherwise, I was most scared rock climbing.  I never did it very much but it was always free climbing, and I was always afraid I was going to fall and break bones, whether I was 10 feet up or 25 inches.  I always thought of a friend who was a Swiss mountain guide.  He fell in the Alps and broke 15 bones in his feet.  He had to walk 5 miles out after that happened.  I don’t know how he did it
  2. Was it hard to learn how to walk in snowshoes?  I don’t remember anyone having any trouble using snowshoes.  Although some of the people could ski well, we used the snowshoes to have a level playing field with all the expedition members.  Snowshoes were also a help for crevasses as, at that time, the snowshoes were longer and would more easily help wedge a climber into the sides of the crevasse, preventing a deep fall.  I remember reading about a McKinley climb in the early 80s with Jim Wickwire.  His climbing partner fell into a crevasse.  The fellow was lodged head down and Jim could not get him out.
  3. Did you use ropes, pitons, or other climbing gear at all while climbing the mountain?  We were always roped up on the mountain — lower down for the possibility of crevasses and higher up, where it was steeper, for falls.  There was a fixed line on Denali’s Headwall from about 15,500 feet to the ridge at 16,200 feet.  We would use our jumars (mechanical ascenders attaching us to the fixed line) to go up that one 45 to 50 degree section, the steepest part of the climb.  Then, hiking from 16,200 feet to the bowl at 17,200 feet was the most dramatic part of the climb because the ridge occasionally narrows to perhaps 2 to 3 feet across, and drops off dramatically on both sides.  You are totally exposed and many climbers have lost gear here, which has tumbled down to the Peters Glacier far below.  I’ve read that there are now fixed lines around Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.  We always had our ice axe, as well.  We practiced doing belays, self-arrests, and crevasse rescues before every climb.

Did you have to rappel from anything during the climb?  No, we didn’t do any rappels on Denali or Aconcagua.  The only rappels I’ve done have been totally for fun and practice, both off cliffs and into crevasses.

Okay, readers, now it’s your turn.  If you have further climbing questions for Annie, please post them at the bottom of this article.  Hoping to hear from some of you.

VIVACIOUS AND INTREPID ANNIE MACKOVJAK: PART II

Annie and Jim — a playful moment

After Annie and Jim got married in Maine, they returned to Talkeetna to run dogs.  Later in January they drove the 800 miles from Talkeetna to Haines to catch the ferry to Juneau.  They had a little yellow VW bug which Annie had bought brand new in Anchorage in 1972.  Annie had driven about every road possible in the area at that time.  Jim had hit a moose with it near Talkeetna so he had to put in a Plexiglas windshield with a plywood frame.

They drove toward Tok during a big snowstorm.  Jim was wearing his Arctic parka and Annie was wrapped in a down sleeping bag to stay warm.  On their feet they wore “Bunny” boots (vapor barrier boots made for the military to stay warm in extreme cold) so their feet were toasty.  The snow blew and drifted.  They would have to gain speed on the bare stretches of road in order to bust through the drifts.  On one straight stretch where it was hard to tell where the road ran, they actually went off the road, throwing up snow all around them so they couldn’t see anything.  Amazingly, there were no trees; only a few low bushes, so they ended up almost back on the road.  Luckily, another car came along within an hour and helped push them back on the highway.

In Canada, several miles beyond Dezadeash, they traveled in a line of three cars following the plow truck.  As they gained elevation, the visibility became almost zero and the snow got so deep that the plow had to turn around.  Fortunately, they had enough money to get a room at the Dezadeash Lodge for the night.

The original cabin

Finally they arrived in Gustavus.  They left their little bug in Juneau and flew home.  Fred Rose picked them up at the airport and gave them a ride to Four Corners.  No one lived on Wilson Road or at Rink Creek in the winter then, so they had not plowed the road.  Annie and Jim had to walk carrying packs all the way home through the snow.  Leaving Four Corners at 4:00 p.m., they finally made it to their cabin at 7:00 p.m.  It was a clear moonlit night, so they were able to navigate easily, though slowly,  through the 16 inches of snow.  Jim had to do a return trip that night to get more of their gear and food supplies.

Gustavus had less than 100 residents during the winter then, and the mail plane only came twice a week, making for a big social gathering at the post office while awaiting the mail.  They started clearing more land and building a big shop.  Annie spent a lot of time taking out stumps with shovel, axe, and mattock.  The wood for the building came from DeRosier’s sawmill at Excursion Inlet.  Sometimes he brought the wood over on a barge, and Jim and Annie walked the planks out to the barge to unload it at the boat harbor.  Once Jim went to Excursion Inlet in his skiff and pulled a raft of lumber home, going about 3 knots..

Annie and Jim interrupted their building with trips into Glacier Bay, hikes around the Point and up Excursion Ridge, visits from Maine friends, and Continue reading

WELCOME LOU CACIOPPO: ARTIST, CARPENTER, ATHLETE, SONGWRITER

I received an introduction to Lou Cacioppo’s art before I ever met the artist.  I first saw one of his masks, and as the saying goes, I was “blown away.”  Delighted that he lived in Gustavus, I looked forward to seeing more of his work.  Then I met Lou, and, once he opened the Outpost, enjoyed several music nights in his place, surrounded by his marvelous inspirations.  Now I have the pleasure of telling a little of his story and showing you a bit of his art.  I’m sure you will agree that he has a great deal of talent.  As his story shows, he has worked at perfecting his skills his entire life, and the results are reflected in all he has created.

Lou Cacioppo was born on November 28, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York.  Both his mother and father were Sicilians.  Lou reassures us there were no mafia connections. Lou’s mother came from this country, while his dad was born in Palermo, Italy.  Lou’s grandparents on both sides immigrated from Italy.  They spoke Italian and English.  The family lived in Brooklyn  in a section of town called “little Italy.”

After Lou’s kindergarten in a parochial school, the family moved from Brooklyn.  They first moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, where 50 to 60% of the people were Italian or Jewish.  His parents enrolled him in a Catholic school.

Lou was the “wise guy” in class, so he got in trouble with the teachers a lot.  When he was a 4th grader, he became involved in a fight with a 6th grader, and ended up in Mother Superior’s office.  She smacked him with a large paddle with holes in it.  Lou swears she hit him so hard that her feet came off the ground.  After the incident, at Lou’s insistence, his parents took him out of Catholic school and enrolled him in the regular school.

Lou’s parents had totally different views on his fighting.  Lou’s mother would smack him for losing a fight.  Lou’s father would hit him for fighting.  Lou decided winning a fight was better — he didn’t have to suffer so many smacks from the other guy, or from his mother.

Around 1954, the family moved from Valley Stream to South Farmingdale, a suburban area with ranch houses and a nearby creek.  The area still had trees.  Lou played in the woods, either Tarzan or army, with sticks and fingers, nothing that looked real.

Lou drew constantly.  He had paper bags filled with sketches.  Comic books were his first texts for art.  Teachers always volunteered Lou for school art projects, such as murals.  Lou loved doing these projects.

South Farmingdale had a junior high — seventh and eighth grades — in a separate school.  His years there were uneventful.  Though not in sports, he was an avid weight lifter.  Of course, he always did a lot of art.  He says that he had art teachers all through junior high and high school.  Lou says the art teachers were fantastic.  His three greatest teachers were Mr. Denali, who was a big influence and took Lou under his wing; Mr. Cole, a great watercolor artist; and Mr. Schaffer.  Lou made his first sale of a piece of his artwork to Mr. Schaffer.  It was a wood sculpture, and he sold it for $15.00.  He bought a pair of pants with that $15.00 — his first purchase of his own clothes.

Lou went to high school in South Farmingdale.  He says it was a great school.  From junior high through high school, his favorite academic subjects were biology and geology.  In biological science lab, dissecting mice and frogs sparked a never-ending quest of how things are put together.  He liked Continue reading

THE PEDDLER’S PITCH: Family is where you find them

peddlerSeveral people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog.  It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content.  However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.

It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely.  Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell.  Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.”  So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so.  Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.

Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place.  First of all, I love small towns.  Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness.  In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words:  More personal freedom. Continue reading

ELLIE SHARMAN: Musician, Educator, Adventurer, Quilter Extraordinaire

ellie-fiddleWhen Ellie Sharman looked at the list of descriptors included in the title to her story — Musician, educator, quilter extraordinaire — she said, “Add adventurer!  I’m an adventurer!  I thought to myself, “that is the perfect descriptive word for this woman.”  Now you can read the article yourself and discover why Ellie defines herself in such a way.  She is a woman who has followed dreams.

Ellie was born in 1960 in Pasadena, CA.  In 1972, the family moved to Palo Alto, CA.  Ellie graduated from high school in 1978, then went to college at the University of California in Davis.

The roots of Ellie’s life passions and her adventurous spirit began with her childhood experiences.  She started playing violin in 1967 at age seven.  She learned using the Suzuki Violin Method, a teaching method developed by Dr. Suzuki in Japan.  This teaching method was new in the United States at the time.  The first-violinstudents learned totokyo-concert play by  ear.  They listened, then played what they heard.

When she was 11 years old, Ellie went to Japan and took a lesson from Dr. Suzuki.  She toured Japan with other American students playing violin.  They all participated in a big concert in Tokyo.  As Dr. Suzuki’s students all learned from the same books, they knew the same songs and could play together.

Ellie’s love of travel also got a start in her youth.  Before and after the trip to Japan, she went to Mexico as an exchange student.  One trip was for a couple of weeks, and when she returned from Japan, her second trip to Mexico was for a month.  After her return, a Mexican student would arrive to stay with her family in California.

Ellie’s parents met through folk dancing, so Ellie and her brother and sister went to all the dances while growing up.  When she was older, she discovered contra dancing.  Nowadays, if Ellie is at a contra dance, when she is not playing in the band she is dancing.

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16-art-quiltEllie has been quilting for about 20 years.  She has made bed quilts, but prefers small art quilts.  These can be colorful and creative representations of the artist’s talent.  The charming art quilt pictured here was inspired by a photo of big-leaf maples that Ellie took when hiking in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

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At the University of California, Davis, Ellie earned a degree in design.  It was a broad major, covering interior design, fabric design, ethnic clothing and furniture design.  Students made furniture and wearable art items.  In fabric design they learned about the qualities of fabric, why a particular fabric could be used for the job, and world clothing design.  Ellie wove these strands into her own designs.  (An example:  including swatches of Guatemalan fabric in contemporary fashions.)  Students designed solar houses.  A large community of solar houses in Davis gave them design ideas and inspiration.  They made chairs, beds, and interior designs for houses.  (Much later, after her son, Rowan, was born, Ellie drew house plans for their own home while staying home to care for the baby.)  As Ellie had been sewing since she was quite young, she already had valuable sewing skills that were helpful in her chosen major.

While attending U of CA, Davis, Ellie took three winters off and went to school in the summer.  During the winter, she worked at a ski area in Tahoe. Continue reading

MEET VAN BAKER, CAREER FISHERMAN

vanbaker1Van Baker was born in Gig Harbor, WA, on March 7, 1938.  He and his family lived eight miles away in Olalla.  The town had become mostly residential, as most of it was burned during the depression in the 20s.  If a man needed to get out of a failing business, he set a fire to destroy the buildings.  Van lived in Olalla through high school, then went into the Coast Guard.  He went to boot camp in California and then back to Groton, CT, for diesel engine school.

The diesel engine training supplied the reason to join the Coast Guard.  Everyone on Van’s mother’s side of the family was a fisherman, and the occupation interested him from his youth.  He fished with his uncle in 1954 for the first time, purse seining in Alaska, right here in Icy Strait, between Gustavus and Ketchikan.  He fished here with his uncle each summer until he got out of high school.

When Van first started fishing with his uncle in 1954, there were huge icebergs in Icy Strait, hence the name.  By the time Van started fishing on his own boat, in ’64 and ’65, there was still ice but not a large amount, and not as huge in size.  You could pull up to a small berg (about the size of a 16-foot skiff) and knock off chunks to put in the cooler.  Once he got his own boat, Van found an old refrigerator and laid it on its side to be used for a cooler.  A few chunks of iceberg in there kept things cold.

Van went into the Coast Guard in January, 1957.  After 3 months of boot camp, he completed the diesel engine course in another 4 months.  Then he was sent to Grand Isle, Louisiana, at that time the only place in Louisiana where the road went to the beach. There was no other town or habitation close by.  The shore line was all marshy, with no beach access.   Grand Isle had been a main port for the oil industry, but this function was over by the time he arrived.  At that time, the island was the site of a Coast Guard lifeboat station.

In 1959, Van left Grand Isle and went to Kodiak on the vessel Storis.  This  duty occurred before the Kodiak tidal wave.  From Kodiak he was sent to Seattle for a year, where he served on the Seattle buoy tender, the Fir.  When he got out of the service in 1961, he went back to fishing with his uncle.

Two years later, he bought his first fishing boat from a cannery.  He had married Karla Keene in 1 963 and got the boat in Ketchikan right after the earthquake.  At the time he was still purse seining.  He brought the boat to Blaine, fixed it up, got his own crew and fished the boat until 1966, when he Continue reading