March in Alaska is known for bluebird skies, increasing daylight and frigid temperatures. 2017 was no exception; here on the Kenai Peninsula we had cold and crisp sunny days in the 20s followed by a bright waxing moon lighting up our bedroom at night.
That March, I’d been spending a majority of my days plugged in, trying to log some extra hours of work in anticipation of a hiatus during the warm, sunny, summer months to come. This particular day I had been pulling my hair out after a few hours juggling roadblocks in technology, a crying five-month-old, and an over-helpful two-year-old. To top it off, I was increasingly frustrated that I’d been missing out on the bluebird days.
I tidied up my ‘office’ (i.e., my folks’ dining room), powered down my devices, packed up the kids and headed home. We left the ‘densely populated’ 300-person town of Seldovia, equipped with all modern conveniences, and headed East, climbing the hills along the South side of Kachemak Bay. Houses became more and more sparse until we began our decent into Barabara Valley; the break point between populated and unpopulated Seldovia.
We twisted along the old logging road, fifteen minutes from town and turned North down our lane. The ocean came into view just beyond our home and the craziness of the day seemed to melt away. Leaving town meant leaving behind the nagging emails, phone calls, and social media posts that come along with the modern world. We barely had cell reception at our little cabin and we were just beyond the end of the internet. Literally.
The kids and I got home to find that Chris had filled the shed with firewood, made a pot of moose stew, and planned an evening Octopus Hunt for the family! With a full belly, the security of a stocked woodshed and an exciting plan, I was reinvigorated.
The four of us geared up for the clear, 20-degree evening and headed out the door. With Chris in the driver’s seat, Chena, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, in the jump seat and 2 kids on my lap, we were overflowing our little truck.
As we pulled out of the driveway the 3/4 moon flooded us with light. On this night, two-year-old ‘A’ learned the main reasons why big bright moons mean great octopus hunting. Most importantly, full moons correspond with big tides. In Kachemak Bay that means 25 vertical-feet of water disappears, leaving the beach bare. The bottom half of the expansive beaches are home to intertidal dwellers. And, in the absence of clouds, full moons light the way for after-hour excursions.
Less than 10 minutes from home we pulled up to ‘our spot.’ A quick trip compared to the 25-minute run most folks have to make from town. Chris parked the truck, I loaded 5-month-old ‘D’ on my back, and excited ‘A’ started along ahead of us. I had to run to catch up with her halfway down the hill. I called out “Careful, it might be…” and before I could say “icy” she slipped and fell. Luckily, excitement prevailed and off we went sans tears.
With Chena in the lead, we hit the beach and headed toward our favorite octopus den; a brisk breeze stinging our cheeks and cutting through our many layers. The setting sun glowed pink on ridges ahead and orange behind us, silhouetting Mount Augustine. While pausing to adjust, something round and white caught ‘A’’s eye. She had found a perfect sand dollar which fit well in her pint-sized pocket.
We walked a bit further, admiring the ice flows above the beach and the ever-changing intertidal topography. Tired from walking on the rocky beach, ‘A’ excitedly climbed into the big pack on Chris’s back (without the usual protest of a two-year-old striving for independence).
As we continued on, we couldn’t help but wonder if we had passed ‘our spot,’ or if we would even recognize it in the low light and aftermath of winter storms. Then we saw it… just like we had left it. The perfect octopus den. It was delicately covered by a layer of stones and deposited seaweed, marked by a tell-tale pile of discarded shells.
Not wasting any time, we started digging by hand into the high side of the cave, carefully moving one stone at a time. In no time, we saw the tip of a tentacle searching for safety from under the low side of the rock. We dug, we prodded, we dug some more and prodded some more. We stopped, traded places, dug and prodded some more.
‘A’ patiently watched as the sun slipped away and the breeze vanished. Then, in the cold, still night, the dark red creature of the sea inched out from its den to escape our harassment. Chris grabbed it. ‘A’ and I cheered. ‘D’ gave a grunt from his deep slumber on my back.
An Octopus! In our bucket! In March! We were elated.
I began a mental list of the ingredients for octopus salad; onion, bell pepper, cucumber, lemon juice. I hoped the local grocery store had received their shipment of fresh produce that week.
Next, came silence. Internal and external. The air was still. The mental chatter of the afternoon had long vanished. We took a moment as a family to give thanks. Thanks to the land and to the creature for feeding us. Even in the deep depths of winter in Alaska, when a produce shipment may or may not have arrived in our village, the land feeds us. It always has, and with proper care, it always will.
Pictures were taken to accompany future recounts of the night, Chris skillfully cleaned the animal, offering the entrails to the next scavenger to come along, and we carefully rebuilt the cave for its successor. As we had countless times in the past.
All the while, two-year-old ‘A’ watched, learned, and offered a miniature helping hand. These are the moments we strive to offer to our children. We love watching their little sponge-like brains soak it all in.
Exhausted from the excitement, and wary of the tentacled creature, ‘A’ was again eager to climb into her pack. Geared up, we headed back along the beach with only the moon lighting our way. No need for headlamps. We passed boarded up cabins and crossed empty running lines. These quiet reminders of the busy summer months ahead gave yet another reason to enjoy the peacefulness of the moment.
At the truck I loaded a muddy dog into the back seat and ‘D’ woke up for the quick drive home. The little cab overflowed with excitement and was heavy with the scent of low tide clinging to a wet Chesapeake.
On the drive home, we retold the story of the night, repeating the significance of an Octopus moon to ‘A,’ to further cement the events of the evening in her mind.
Once home, on the trail between the truck and our cabin, I heard the low, deep voice of a dog toward the ocean, to which Chena promptly replied. I heard it again. “Huh,” I thought, “No dogs live in that direction…” I heard it again and recognized the cadence. “Wo-ho-hoo-hoo, wo-ho-hoo-hoo.” An owl!
After a crazy day trying to balance modern technology with our homestead lifestyle, two-year-old ‘A’ finished the night hearing her first owl with a perfect sand dollar in her pocket and an octopus in her bucket.
We have since added a third child to my lap, gotten a bigger vehicle, and gone on countless octopus hunts to the same den; many successful and some disappointing. The most disappointing are when we arrive to a destroyed cave, obvious that it was a human’s doing.
The land has fed many generations before us and will continue to feed countless into the future as long as we are respectful and take care of it. Today, at ages 6, 4, and 2, our children know the importance of this concept and the significance of an Octopus Moon.
Written By, Amelia Pollack
Amelia Pollack, a lifetime Alaskan, is an avid fisherman, hiker, hunter, gatherer, chef of wild-caught foods, & mother of 3.
Amelia and her husband, Chris, created Alaska Freediver as a way to share their love for Alaska’s bounty with all of you.
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