Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
John McDermott

John McDermott was interviewed on October 9, 2018 by Karen Brewster in Skagway, Alaska. In this interview, John talks about his observations of environmental change in the Skagway and Dyea area. He discusses changes in weather, temperature, precipitation, snow fall, wind, storms, river flooding, and glaciers. In particular, he mentions the West Creek Flood and erosion along the Taiya River. He also talks about his experience as a gardener and changes in the growing season, as well as changes in local bird and wildlife populations.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2018-14-08

Project: Observing Change in Alaska's National Parks
Date of Interview: Oct 9, 2018
Narrator(s): John McDermott
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Coming to Skagway

The Patterson Cabin and life in Dyea

Observations of change in the weather, winds, glaciers, and storms

Different weather patterns in Dyea and Skagway

West Creek Flood

Observations of change in glaciers

Observations of change in mountain goats and grouse

Observations of change in bird populations

Documentation of local observations on Skagway, Naturally! Facebook page

Observations of change in the hooligan and salmon fisheries

Observations of change in the seal population

Freezing of the bay at Dyea

Observations of change in plants, gardening, and seasonal timing

Affect of insects on gardening

Gardening and affect of weather variability

Growing fruit trees

Observations of bears

Trapping, and observations of change in the marten population

Observations of change in other wildlife populations

Observations of change in vegetation and trees

Observations of change in snowfall, icing conditions, and winter temperatures

Snow removal when worked for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad

Observations of change in recreational and hunting activities

Observations of change in shrimp

Observations of change in planting and harvesting season

Observations of change in bird migrations

Pollution and oil spills along the railroad tracks

Benefits of warming temperatures

Observations of changes in rivers and flooding

Observations of change in beaver population

Human adaptation and affect of environmental change on infrastructure

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Transcript

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok, this is Karen Brewster, and today is October 9, 2018. And I’m here with John McDermott in Skagway, Alaska, talking to him about how -- the changing environment for the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park Bering Land Bridge Climate Change Oral History Project.

John, thank you. JOHN MCDERMOTT: You’re welcome.

KAREN BREWSTER: Just to get us started, as I say, we know you were interviewed in 2009 about you and Dyea and all that, but maybe you could just tell us a little bit --

I know you live in -- out in Dyea, but when did you first come to Skagway? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I came here in 1970, and met my wife here, and then we moved from town here out to Dyea in, I think it was 1977.

KAREN BREWSTER: And why did you come to Skagway in the first place? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, I came up and taught school for a couple of years, and then I went to work on the railroad as a conductor. And did that until the railroad closed in ’82.

And then I moved Outside, and, um, came back in ’93. Been here ever since.

KAREN BREWSTER: And where did you come from originally? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, Seattle area.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, it was, Skagway was for a teaching job? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

And, but you liked it, apparently. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Love it here. Yeah. Beautiful environment, great little town, nice people. Yeah, it’s a nice way of life. It’s relaxing, so, yeah, I enjoy it.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so, tell me a little bit about your homestead out in Dyea or your cabin out in Dyea. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, the cabin is no longer there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it’s not? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, not on our property.

The river was taking it out, and so we donated it to the national park, and they moved it from our property, um, to the Park Service housing unit next door.

And it’ll be there, I think, it’s 'til about 2021, when it’s slated to be moved down near the Taiya River bridge and restored to be, um, an interpretive center of sorts for Dyea.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. And was that the Patterson cabin originally? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm, yeah. It was Patterson’s. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s been moved, but it hasn’t been restored. It's still -- restored -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. No. It’s just sitting on the lot at the Park Service Kalvick House.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you guys ever actually live in it? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, we -- we fixed it up when we were -- when we bought our property in Dyea, and we lived in it for, jeez, I think about twelve years, off and on.

When the railroad closed, my wife would come back and work in Skagway and live in the cabin, and we loved it. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. And so your current home is still out there? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, it is. It’s nice to have central heat, running water, indoor plumbing, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Electricity. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I couldn’t go back to cabin life.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when did all that -- those facilities come to Dyea? I would think later than to Skagway. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, much later.

Yeah, we -- we ran on a generator while we were building our new home, which was finished up in 2001. But we still ran on a generator for several years after that before power came out there. I don’t remember the year.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And so, you know, I think of homestead life -- is it -- are you raising a garden, you have animals, what are you -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. We got a huge garden and a greenhouse, and now I’m building another greenhouse, a much bigger one.

And, uh, we’ve had all sorts of animals over the years, but the only four-legged critters we got now are dogs. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And so no more horses, cows, goats, pigs, that’s all history. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Now I’ve just got geese and chickens.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, so did you have horses before it was a park? No, ‘cause you were here in ’77. But people used to have horses out on the flats out there? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, we did. KAREN BREWSTER: You did? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

Ours weren’t supposed to be on the flats there -- We had a fence, but they’d get run out by a stallion. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And so they would break down the fence and -- but anyway, that’s -- that’s history.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. What did you use the horses for? JOHN MCDERMOTT: To ride. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. I didn’t know if you did pack trips. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. No, no, no. No, just for pleasure.

KAREN BREWSTER: You seem like somebody who would have been a guide. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know why. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not me. KAREN BREWSTER: Not you? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well so, you’ve obviously lived out in Dyea a long time. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: So are there some things that immediately come to mind that you’ve noticed environmentally that have changed? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure. It’s warmer. And it’s wetter.

When we were first out there, I’d see it twenty, twenty-two below, something like that, and howling winds. And that would last for a stretch of time.

But now, it might get to four below instead, and, uh, still have the strong winds.

And we don’t have the amount of snowfall that we did before. We have more rain.

And the floods are, I think, a little more frequent because there’s more glacial melting that’s contributing to the river levels.

And we get some pretty good storms. We’ve had strong storms before, but I don’t know, to me it just seems like they are a little stronger when they come in.

KAREN BREWSTER: Although, what time of year are those storms? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Fall. KAREN BREWSTER: Fall time storms? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what kind of -- what happens with those storms? What are they like? I mean, like high wind, lots of rain, they bring the tide up? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Lots of rain, and you never know about the wind.

Sometimes, uh, sometimes it’s a very strong south wind that’ll accompany that, and other times it’s just a low will park over here and sit for awhile, and it just dumps on you for three to four days without much wind.

Which we hope for the wind to come through to move the low out of the area, which eventually happens, but, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so, when you were -- in the ‘70’s, those storms didn’t come and just sit? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah, they did, but I -- not quite as often, I think.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is the wind direction -- has that changed through time? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. No. From the south in the summer and fall, and from the north in the winter.

KAREN BREWSTER: Has the speed of the wind -- or is that the right word that -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, it's -- always feels as strong as it used to.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or as many -- as many windy days per season? Like, are you getting breaks in the wind, I guess? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah, we always get breaks in the wind. But I don’t know. That’s hard for me to remember.

I do remember back when it was -- it would blow and blow and blow for days on end, it seemed, 'til -- even when we lived in town in the ‘70’s, it would be very cold, very strong wind, and we’d have the thermostat cranked as high as it would go in the house, and it never would catch up.

And then, one night, you’d wake up, 2 o'clock in the morning. Something’s wrong, and you realize the house is hotter than the dickens, and there’s no sound from the howling wind. It finally caught up.

So, yeah. But that’s the way it used to be back in town. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: When we lived there, that I can recall.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is there a difference between town and Dyea with temperature, wind, I mean -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, there is. KAREN BREWSTER: -- weather? JOHN MCDERMOTT: There is. The weather is different.

Where our property is, we’re north of town, um, probably five, seven miles, something like that. KAREN BREWSTER: Your property in Dyea? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Further north. Yeah, further north than Skagway is. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And it’s at about, what, about eighty feet elevation where we are. And the storms from the south will track up the west side of the canal and hit Dyea harder, so we’ll get more rainfall than they get in Skagway. More snowfall in Dyea than in Skagway.

And there -- there’s often a five-to-ten-degree temperature difference between the two areas.

KAREN BREWSTER: So Dyea being colder? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Colder in winter time. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And in the summer? JOHN MCDERMOTT: The town’s usually warmer in the summer than we are. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: I noticed that difference in the -- in growing of our vegetables in Dyea versus town. Town being warmer, they do better than we do out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Well, also now, town might be a bit of a heat sink. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: With more development and pavement and -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure, could well be. KAREN BREWSTER: All those things that -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’m sure when you came here in 1970, it was a little bit smaller of a town. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Looked a little different. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. Quite a bit.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Um, you mentioned the glacier and the melting. I’ve heard about this West Creek flood? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. That was a dandy.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m thinking since you live out there, maybe you could talk about it. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I got up in the morning to -- that morning to go to work, and it was a nice day, very pleasant out. And it was about 6 o'clock when I had to leave.

And I got up, and I -- my window from the walkway between the bedroom and the bathroom -- there's a walkway with windows that look out onto the river. And I thought, "Jeez, the river’s awfully high and muddy." But it was all clear out.

I thought, "Well, it sure must have rained in the mountains last night 'cause nothing’s wet here on the ground." I didn’t think anything about it other than that, and then got in the car and went to work.

And it was just a couple of hours later, I got a notice from my supervisor saying my wife had been evacuated due to a flood. KAREN BREWSTER: Um.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And then we found out about the West Creek Flood, that -- when that moraine collapsed. And, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

Do you remember what year that was? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Like, five years ago, ten years ago? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: I mean, you were still -- are you still working? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh no, I retired six years ago.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it must have been more than six years ago if you were still working. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Definitely. It might’ve been 2003, someplace in there. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. I mean, I’m sure it’s in the records, but -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: It is, but I can’t recall, off my mind.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so, you’re saying the river, are you on the Taiya River? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

And it -- even though it was West Creek, it affected the Taiya? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, you bet. Yeah, it filled it right up and over the banks, and, yeah, it was pretty scary when that came up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And have -- has anybody talked about, has it ever happened before? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, not that I know of. I’d never heard of that occurring.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s, you know, something to do with the changing temperatures or changing glaciers or if it’s just one of the -- I mean, those things do happen with glaciers, where they let go their moraine. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Mm-hm. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: I just wonder if that was triggered by something climate-related? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, there were some old pictures taken from the Schwatka Expedition when they, um, came through here looking along for the border and whatever.

And I recall seeing one from up above where -- I’m not sure where it was taken, but it was looking down into the valley where it looked like it had been a recent -- a recent flooding event.

But I can’t tell you any more than recalling seeing a photo. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But it’s a place you might take a look. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

Now what glacier is that again, that it broke -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Up West Creek? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I’m not sure which one that is. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I don’t know either. You live there -- you know -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: I do. It’s the glacier.

KAREN BREWSTER: So with that glacier, have you visibly seen changes in the glacier itself? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s definitely receding up the -- up the face of the mountains up in there. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And other ones? What’s going on? Other ones in the area, too? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. There was a fellow, oh probably eight or ten years ago.

Uh, he was a bus driver and in college, and he would hop on my train and we would drop him off up at Glacier Station at fourteen-mile, and he would hike back in on a quick hike to Laughton Glacier and measure the toe of the glacier every week. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And then we’d pick him up on the way back. But he said a couple of days, ah, a couple of times it would be several feet back. Chu, chu, chu (sound effect). KAREN BREWSTER: Whoa. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Just marching its way back as it melted out. It was --

I know he was quite surprised sometimes how rapidly it was retreating.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I -- you know, you hear about retreating glaciers, but I didn’t know it was, you know, feet per week almost, it sounds like. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, when did they put in the Glacier Highway? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I think that was ’78. The Klondike Highway? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, the Klondike Highway. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I think that was in ’78.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. So you were here before there was a highway. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ever hike out to those glaciers? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, hm-mm.

KAREN BREWSTER: You’re not a hiker? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not unless there’s a mountain goat there that I was after. KAREN BREWSTER: So you’re a hunter? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, I used to. I don’t anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, but that’s a good -- as hunters, you guys are out there and observing and -- the animals. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, always looking for ‘em. Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Has there been a change in mountain goats? Even though you don’t do it anymore, but in the time you did hunt? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, there are fewer goats around, but I don’t know why.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is there a change in their habitat, have you noticed? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: What else did you hunt? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Grouse. KAREN BREWSTER: Grouse. JOHN MCDERMOTT: That’s it.

KAREN BREWSTER: I didn’t even know you had grouse around here, you see, I -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. You come in the springtime, you’ll hear the sooty grouse hooting away. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Lots of ‘em, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is there a change in their population, since the ‘70’s? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, hm-um. No, not that you can tell. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: They’re doing well.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about other birds? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, I am a birder, but I can’t really tell you a whole lot of difference between back then and now, 'cause I didn’t do that much birding back earlier days. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: So it’s fairly recent for me that I’ve really gotten into it. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, recent, what, five-ten years? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That still counts. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Ok, I guess it might. KAREN BREWSTER: You know, it’s a change.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: You should talk to the bird club. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I have. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Ok, good.

KAREN BREWSTER: So -- But, you know, you’re also out in Dyea, which is a different -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: It’s different from town. KAREN BREWSTER: Perspective. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

But every few years you find something different comes through, but it’s not necessarily a new breeding population, but just a -- maybe it came in with a storm, or who knows why it suddenly shows up.

And rarely, various species will pop up, but um -- Only new ones I can think of that are breeding now is the Eurasian collared doves that are here in town. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But they’re all over the place. But other than that, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what kind of birds do you see out in Dyea? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, there’s lots of, uh, of shorebirds, apparently, that I see from their counts. And, um, I don’t go out looking for those.

Normally, you see a variety of ducks and gulls in the spring, particularly when the hooligan are gonna come on up.

And the most common ones that you would see is probably the robins and the varied thrushes and the juncos. Yeah, there are quite a variety of warblers.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And are there, like certain warblers you saw ten years ago that you don’t see now or vice versa? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I wasn’t looking for them ten years ago. KAREN BREWSTER: Or five years ago, then. Whenever you started. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No.

No, every year’s a little bit different, and usually when the warblers are here, um, they’re hard to spot ‘cause they move around so quickly in the trees. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And some people do very well trying to identify them by their song, and I can’t hear well. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And after I may hear something, wonder what that is? And then go in and listen to what I think it might be on the internet and um -- after hearing about five or six songs, they all start to sound the same, and I can’t remember the first one. So, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’m not good with bird song either. And, uh, I like birds as well, and I have a really hard time with those little flitty ones. I can’t get my binocs on ‘em.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, one of the -- one of the fellows from the park was out birding, near the -- well, right at the start of the Taiya -- of the Chilkoot Trail by the Taiya Bridge, and I’d spotted a couple of birds. He’d been looking upriver doing an eagle count, but there were a few birds that were in the trees over here.

I said, "Say, when you’re done there, can -- take a look at these birds and see if you can tell me what these are." And I don’t remember now what they were, but -- but he identified the birds, and he listens to their call, "Oh! They’ve got a different dialect than the other bird" -- other species that are someplace else here in Alaska.

I couldn’t even tell the first sound. I couldn’t tell the difference between those and any other bird of the same species, so --

KAREN BREWSTER: And I think it’s the people who are musical. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It has to be. KAREN BREWSTER: They have the ear for it. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yep, they do. Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

Um, so someone was telling me that you have a Facebook page, or Skagway -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Naturally. KAREN BREWSTER: And can you tell me about that? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. It’s basically for people who spot game, anything from four-legged animals to birds to fish, um, changes in the environment, plants or things that they see.

Recently it’s -- they talk about the woolly bear caterpillars, and, you know -- Whatever people happen to see and spot.

So, folks in town have a chance to go out and look for -- look at those things and be more aware of what’s around us. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

Yeah, I was thinking, can you think of other things peop -- what are people posting about? You said the woolly bears, what else? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, if they see a black bear, brown bear, fish in the stream, um.

They'll have pictures of mushrooms, various fungi that are around. Yeah, it just runs the gamut.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering if there's anything significant. I don’t know what that is. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Right now I can’t think. KAREN BREWSTER: You can’t think of anything? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, well, you mentioned the hooligan run. That’s on the Taiya River? Or is there one on the Skagway? JOHN MCDERMOTT: And they’ll come here in the Skagway River, too. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do they come every year? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not necessarily. Yes, there’s some that come every year, but some runs will be huge, and, um, many years it’s quite small. You just never know.

It’s big down in Haines. They’ll get big runs down there, and ours are quite varied as to the size of the run.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it’s -- it's been that way since 1970? There’s -- or has that changed? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I think it’s changed.

Back then, they were so thick, you’d see a huge black line of them coming along the -- along the banks of the Taiya, and you’d just walk down there and pick ‘em up with your bare hands. And how many do you want for breakfast, or whatever? And just grab a bunch of them.

And there was one year back in the early ‘70’s when we were living in the cabin that we were kept awake all night long by gulls flying overhead, going up as far as Canyon City to get hooligan. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was unbelievable, that run size was so big.

But in recent years, the runs have been definitely smaller.

KAREN BREWSTER: And are -- what time of year? JOHN MCDERMOTT: It’s usually about the first week of May.

KAREN BREWSTER: So they’re going up the rivers to spawn? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: And they go as high up as Canyon City? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not normally. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Usually they’re -- oh, they’ll be up above West Creek a little ways. But, how far, how much further, I’m not sure now, but, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: 'Cause, yeah, Canyon City seems like a long way. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

But somebody who’d been up the trail told me they’d seen them as -- that far out, so -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

And they’re a subsistence harvest, or people just -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- do it for their own food? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Are they good? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I like ‘em. Yeah. Once a year. KAREN BREWSTER: I’ve never had them. I know they’re sort of oily, aren’t they? Are they kind of like big sardines? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, kind of.

And they are very oily, so -- I don’t know, we’ve got a way to cook ‘em that I like that renders a lot of the oil out. But they’re very rich fish. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And they’re very tasty if you prepare ‘em right.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. Um, what about other fish? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, out in the Taiya we have coho and chum and pink salmon.

And it’s never been a huge run of -- of coho. Some of the chum runs can be pretty good size. And the pinks, every other year, is pretty good size, generally.

KAREN BREWSTER: And those have been fairly consistent, or have those runs changed also? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, they change, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with environmental change or not.

A lot of it has to do with fisheries regulations, I’m sure, and how much pressure is being put on the resource.

But as you know now, there’s quite a shortage of fish due to that warm water in the Gulf. Is what they figured has changed the plankton that feeds everything down the food chain, so. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: So, yeah, I’ve been looking for coho this fall in the Taiya, and I had one day when I caught -- or I didn’t catch, I hooked and lost one coho. And I’d seen another one. And then a day or so later, I saw two fish, and that’s it. There’s been nothing.

But then again, that could all be weather-related because it’s been our driest September on record, and it’s still dry.

And the river’s very low, and so either in that last flood we had, maybe there were some fish that all scooted up river to spawn, or maybe they’re still waiting for some fresh rain to raise the river level to come up. I really don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. But through your living here -- well you mentioned that warm water blob out in the gulf, have you seen a -- do you think there’s a connection? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, I’m sure there must be, from everything I’ve read. KAREN BREWSTER: But have you seen any diff -- I mean, the years they say there’s that blob, is that a year that coincides? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t remember other years with that gigantic blob like this. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: So, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. I was just wondering, yeah is the -- Oh yeah, there are fewer fish now, and --

But there’s never been a commercial fishery out of Skagway, has there? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, there’s some boats that’ll be here, but they just have a good place to moor here in the harbor and take off. And they -- they fish lower down. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Below Haines. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: This is closed to commercial salmon fishing up here anyway. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s what I figured.

And halibut, do you get halibut out in this bay? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah. We catch ‘em out off of Dyea. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Pretty good-sized ones or -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, they’re sixty-seventy pounds or so.

One of my friends caught one that was about a hundred off the mouth of the Skagway River some years ago.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was out on the footbridge the other day to -- walking out to Yakutania Point, and there were like five or six seals in the -- at the mouth of the river. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: It was high -- the tide was coming in because I was out there the next day, and it was totally low tide and I’m like, "Oh, look! There’s this big gravel bar, sand bar here. I didn’t know that."

But, um, I was wondering what they’re feeding on? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, there are Dolly Varden that are here, as well, and --

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m assuming that’s why they were at the mouth of the river. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh yeah, they’d be feeding -- there’s coho that go up the Skagway River, as well, and some chum. Not huge amounts, but they’ll be feeding on whatever they can get. Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I don’t know when you’re out on your boat or whatever, are the -- has the seal population changed? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, not that I can tell because they'd -- they would be here in big numbers if there’s a hooligan run, for example, they’re all over the place.

You see maybe 125 or so just laying on a -- on a gravel bar in the mouth of the Taiya. And then, now, coming into town, I saw one.

So it depends on the food source. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And what’s going on.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And what kind of seals are they? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Harbor seals. KAREN BREWSTER: Harbor seals. Yeah, I just saw the little top of their heads. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: When I was out there at low tide, I was hoping I’d see one out on the beach or the rocks, but nope. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: They were someplace else. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, and I know people used to hunt them. I don’t know if people still do, the Native community still hunts them or not. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, they -- they can, but nobody up here does. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does -- this is a silly question, but -- the bay up towards Dyea and the tidal flats out there, does that freeze? Is that shallow enough to freeze in the winter? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yes, it will freeze over for quite a ways out, and a real cold spell with, uh -- when it’s cold and calm for quite a while, it’ll freeze quite a ways across. KAREN BREWSTER: Did it do it more --

JOHN MCDERMOTT: I mean, all the way across, but quite a ways south. KAREN BREWSTER: Quite a ways out? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And I was thinking whether that’s changed. Does it do it now, in recent years? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, I’ve seen it for awhile. KAREN BREWSTER: Or when was the last time you saw it, I guess? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t remember. I’m sorry, I just don’t recall.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But it still does sometimes? JOHN MCDERMOTT: It still does sometimes, yeah. If you get a good, a good long cold snap. KAREN BREWSTER: And you -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: There’s enough fresh water on top of that salt water layer, then it’ll freeze if it’s calm and not windy.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah, I forget you have all that river water coming out. Still even -- coming out on -- ‘cause the rivers freeze, must freeze, right? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, but there’s still water -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Running underneath that ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um. You had mentioned that people post on the Facebook page about plants. They -- I don’t know, the people -- you’re a gardener. What’s happening in your garden? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, every year I try something new in the garden, and see if it’s going to make it.

And some years, you’re lucky, and other years, you’re not, but whether that’s climate change, I don’t know.

USDA has their climate zones. We used to be zone five, and they have raised it to call it a zone six. They evaluate every ten years.

But there’s no way I would ever try growing something that’s a plant that they say is zone six because it’s still too variable.

And our soil temperatures are cold, and we’ve got a short growing season without a whole lot of heat.

So I tried -- I grew runner beans two years ago. Last year was a cold summer. They didn’t make. This year I get some.

So tomatoes, I did have back in the ‘70’s, I did have tomatoes grown outside -- KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: -- that ripened, but they were a special variety, and we grew ‘em through black plastic and kind of babied along.

But if you have a good summer, you can do that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, yeah. I was thinking, yeah, do tomatoes do better now? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Mine are all in the greenhouse, so that’s cheating, I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, there’s enough sun here, though, to make a greenhouse viable? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah, there is.

KAREN BREWSTER: Which, I don’t really think of as southeastern Alaska that there’s enough sun for that. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh yeah. We got enough sun for it. I find, though, that what works well for me is having it heated at night.

Then what I’ve got right now is just a, um, plastic-coated -- film-coated greenhouse. So when that sun sets over the mountain, even in the summer time, that heat is pretty well gone after just a few hours. And so it’s pretty close to ambient. So I use a pellet stove in there at night time.

KAREN BREWSTER: That makes sense. Well, you said you experiment, you know, with different things in your garden. So is there something that you tried in the past that didn’t work, that you’ve tried again that now works? Or vice versa? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Usually I give up if it didn’t work the first time. I’ll try different varieties of different things.

But, in recent years, I’ve cut back on the varieties of things that I was growing.

The cabbage root maggots just wiped out the -- all the brassicas for me, and I’m not gonna go through all the tedious process of trying to protect them with all the insect netting and everything.

So I just gave up on those, and instead I’m growing asparagus in those beds and growing strawberries and raspberries and carrots and peas and things that don’t have that type of insect damage.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is that a new -- new insect, that cabbage root maggot? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, it’s been around for a long time. KAREN BREWSTER: Just took awhile to find your garden? JOHN MCDERMOTT: It doesn’t take ‘em long at all. They’re terrible. KAREN BREWSTER: Are they? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah.

There’s a little fly, and it’ll land on the soil by your brassicas and then it lays eggs in the soil. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And your healthy-looking broccoli will be fine one day, and the next day you go out and it’s keeled over. And then you go pull it out and the roots are all eaten, and these little white maggots are in there. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And then there’s later crops of the -- or later, um, egg-laying, and as the latest eggs come, I believe it’s around August, they’ll stay in the soil all winter. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And so, then the next year, you go to plant your crop again, and there they are. KAREN BREWSTER: So, yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: They mature and lay eggs again, and --

KAREN BREWSTER: How do you get rid of ‘em? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, we used to have a product that’s now banned, and it worked great. KAREN BREWSTER: Called dia -- dia -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Diazinon. Yep. Yep. I sure miss that one.

KAREN BREWSTER: And there’s nothing new that works? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, not really.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was gonna say, you know, sometimes it's the -- yeah, it freezes the pest and then you’re clear the next time, but it sounds like they survive. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not these guys.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what do you have to do, dig up all the soil and start over again? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, but some people when they plant their -- their crops, they’ll take a look and brush the dirt away from the stem of each one of them and take out the little maggots that are there and crush them.

And cover the plant back up and continue to do that every few days and take a look 'til finally that egg laying is over. And you wouldn’t do that for a field of plants. KAREN BREWSTER: No. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But you can do it for a row of something that you value.

And if you use insect netting or tall cloth, something like that, and make sure it’s anchored well or covered with sod around or dirt around the perimeter, um, that’ll keep the adult flies from coming in and laying the eggs. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Then you can lift it up and weed and stuff that you need to do, and cover it back up. And that works, probably better than anything else.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but once you have the infestation? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, that first year. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Then you gotta -- just go after hand -- digging them out, and --

KAREN BREWSTER: So how big of a garden do you have? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I’ve got, pssh, what is it? It’s about 50 x 100. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And then I’ve got a -- up above I’ve got another -- a raspberry patch that’s about -- that’s about the same size.

And then I’ve got some raised beds that are along my driveway. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: So, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you grow a lot of your own food? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, no. KAREN BREWSTER: No? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I grow food to hand out to everybody in the family, and -- Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s a lot to maintain. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, but that keeps me out of mischief. KAREN BREWSTER: True, true.

So what else? So the -- yeah, so you’re not growing broccoli. So asparagus, huh? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And strawberries? You see, yeah, again, I think of those as warm weather crops. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, they do fine here.

You can grow your artichokes, once you get ‘em established -- artichokes, asparagus -- you get ‘em established, and -- And my production hasn’t been great, but I like ‘em, so --

I had some -- some strawberry beds that didn’t do very well, and I thought, "Oh, to heck with it. I’m gonna just convert them all to asparagus so we’ll get enough to enjoy." And they are very hardy, and they overwinter quite well. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really. Hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

And then the strawberries -- last year, I failed to cover my strawberries for the winter time, and they froze out. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: So I just replanted everything and then I’ll protect them over the winter this year, for sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Have you had a frost out there yet? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve had several.

KAREN BREWSTER: When was your first frost? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t recall. KAREN BREWSTER: In September? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, it was in September.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is that usually when it frosts or is -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it sure can.

And other years it won’t 'til the middle of October. You just never know.

KAREN BREWSTER: I have heard people here -- some people have said this last summer was dry and warmer for Skagway. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the one before. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really? JOHN MCDERMOTT: For growing. Yeah.

When you get those cloudy, wet days, and then the wind’s blowing, it’s cool. It -- the plants don’t like that. Neither do I.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was thinking, though, when it’s hot and dry, other plants don’t like that. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or did you have to water a lot more this summer? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Uh, no. Because I got everything set up on drip watering, and it’s automatic with a timer. So I set it and forget it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so things did all right this summer? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, they did ok. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have fruit trees out there? Apple trees and stuff? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, I did 'til the bears got ‘em. KAREN BREWSTER: Really? JOHH MCDERMOTT: Yeah, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mean, they ate the fruit, or they destroyed the trees, or both? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Both. They’d just go --

It could be a little tree, and that fruit might be five feet off the ground, they can reach up and get it, but they’ll break the branch off. And so I gave up on growing apples just because of the bears.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you had been successful at it? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So has there been a change in the bear population? JOHN MCDERMOTT: They’re healthy. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And more of them? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. There’s always a few around, um, both brown bears and black bears. Yeah.

And they come through looking -- in the fall, looking for food. Particularly this year, I think, when there’s not much of a salmon run, they’re going to be pretty hungry.

But they haven’t come through the yard yet. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Well, that’s good, I guess. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do they come into your buildings? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s good. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you ever do any trapping? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I have. KAREN BREWSTER: What did you trap for? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Marten. Yeah, there’s a healthy marten population here.

KAREN BREWSTER: So were you able to make any money off of it? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. But I enjoyed getting out.

It was, ah, something that would motivate me to get out in the winter time and get some exercise. I'd hike around.

And it was always interesting to see the animal tracks in the snow. That was -- that was fun.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you did it just walking? You didn’t go -- have a snow machine that you did a big trapline. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, I just had a few traps and didn’t go very far.

KAREN BREWSTER: Where are the marten? Are they out on the flats, or they’re up in the hills? JOHN MCDERMOTT: They’re in the hills. KAREN BREWSTER: They are? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause they’re -- do they eat fish? I don’t really know much about marten. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, mostly they’ll eat squirrels and voles. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: But you can lure ‘em in with strawberry jam. And they love -- oh, a piece of fish is very attractive to ‘em as well. KAREN BREWSTER: I’m sure.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: That's another good thing for catching hooligan. You can put that hooligan in there as bait. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Cool.

And so they’re -- that population has kind of been the same, or has there been a change in the marten population? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I think it’s been pretty healthy population for many years. Even though there’s been some trapping pressure, they seem to be doing -- doing well.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Um, what about wolves or coyotes or lynx, other four-legged furry critters? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Wolves will come through. They don’t seem to stick around very long, but they do come through.

I’ve seen anywhere from one to seven at a time, but never for very long. They’ll be here for a week or three or something, and then they seem to move on.

Coyotes don’t seem to be around right now. There was a fairly good population 'til some fellas got after ‘em and pretty well wiped ‘em out.

Lynx, um, every so often somebody’ll see a lynx here or there, but there are not very many.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it’s always been that way? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And -- and moose. Do you guys get moose down here? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: They come over the Chilkoot that other direction? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Or the White Pass. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yep.

If you get up in the -- on the hillside up here in Skagway, you can see moose droppings up along in here. Along the railroad track, they’re up at Glacier Station, and up in that valley, up around Laughton (Glacier), so --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so when you were working with the railroad, were moose on the tracks an issue? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, every so often.

I remember stopping a train one time for a moose. It wouldn’t leave the track, and so we decided just to sit there for awhile after we chased it for a little bit, just slowly letting it trot along. 'Well, let’s just stop and wait."

And the moose just stopped and looked back and, "Well, why aren’t you -- you guys gonna come along?" And so then we moved it up a little bit further.

And then it went around a bend, and we thought, "Well, that’s ok. It’s going to go disappear. But let’s not go because there’s a bridge ahead of us, and we don’t want to push it across the bridge."

And so we -- my engineer and I got off, and we walked up around our train, and the moose was still up ahead of us.

So we called up ahead, and there was a fellow in the motorcar, and he came down towards the bridge, and we moved the thing up towards the bridge.

And the motorcar came close enough that the moose couldn’t go over the bridge, so he went over the side. And then we could go on our merry way.

But -- but yeah. Every so often, there’ll be a moose on the track.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But it’s not like the moose have moved down into these valleys that they didn’t used to be here? There’s not like some big increase in moose population? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t think so.

You know, we’ve thought that maybe it’s to escape wolf predation up north. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: On the other side of the pass.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That’s what I was wondering. Or I was wondering if just the -- there’s the willows and things they’re eating, there’s more of that on this side now, so they’re coming this way? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know. KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Still lots of willows. There always seems to have been a lot of willows, so I don’t know if it’s that. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

Or um, yeah, I don’t know why else they -- I guess, you know, populations move. Animals move. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yep, they do. Always looking for some place new and better. KAREN BREWSTER: Yep. Just like people sometimes. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, something else I was going to ask you. Um, well, I guess up the -- up the Dyea/Taiya rivers up there and the Chilkoot Trail, you must have spent a lot of time -- or have spent a lot of time around that area. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I’ve never hiked the Chilkoot. KAREN BREWSTER: You’ve never hiked the Chilkoot? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Nope.

KAREN BREWSTER: Why not? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Just busy working in the summer time. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you can’t tell me how that corridor may have changed with plants or things. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. I really don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Um, the other thing, I’ve been, you know, looking around the hillsides here and seeing all the pretty orange leaves of the, I guess, the cottonwoods and things up the hillsides. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: And it got me thinking, you know, how high up those are climbing the hill. Is that changing? Have you noticed anything? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I couldn’t tell you. No. I really don’t know if it’s -- if it's different now than it was twenty years ago or not.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Um, what other things? JOHN MCDERMOTT: You got me.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I say, like what things you’ve noticed? Oh, well, I was -- there's snow depth in the winters here. Like, is there a change in how much snow there is? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yes.

We are getting a fair amount less snow than we have before. We get more breaks and warmer spells to melt that snow, or it turns to rain eventually, but, yeah.

Years ago, we’d have huge drifts of snow when we lived in town, and we don’t get that anymore.

And one year, for sure, out in Dyea the snow was as deep as my fence posts. KAREN BREWSTER: Which is five feet?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And I would spend -- this was back in the early ‘70’s. And I had a tractor that I would go -- I didn’t have a snow blower or grader to it, but I’ve to spend all day digging it all out by bucket and go dumping it until I could get out to the road.

And the next day, it would be just as full of snow as it was the previous day. And I’d spend another whole day doing it.

But now, it -- there -- winters can come by and I’ve got a snow thrower on the front, um, and a grader blade on the back, and I might only need to do it two times a year, maybe three.

And there will always still be some snow on the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But -- but no, we have not had the amount of snowfall that we had in the past.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you were using that tractor, your fence posts were how tall? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know, four and a half, five feet.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so that was from drifting, or that was actual snowfall? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, that was actual snowfall. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

And then it would fall that much again the next day? JOHN MCDERMOTT: That was one, one winter, that it happened.

But, normally, we’d have two to three feet. A two-foot snowfall would not be too unusual for out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: And now it’s not happening? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. They don’t -- wouldn’t have that much snow in town for sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But -- KAREN BREWSTER: Because you said, yeah, you’d get more out there. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So does that make it icy, then, in the winters here? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, it can sure be icy, yeah. Yeah, it can be.

KAREN BREWSTER: I wonder what that does to the plants all winter. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, it’s not so good for ‘em. Unless you mulch them well, to keep ‘em frozen. And they’ll come back.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I was thinking also the plants out in the woods. If all that, you know, getting cold and staying cold versus that freeze-thaw and getting a layer of ice on them, and --

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, if they’re out in the woods, you’ll have all those cottonwood leaves that drop on them and can produce a mulch for them naturally. So I think they still winter quite well.

They’re adapted for it, unlike many of our garden plants. They’ve come from other zones that we bring in. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: One of the things I hadn’t thought of was in town back in the ‘70’s, as you would drive down, particularly State Street, the water mains would have frozen and burst, and there would be a little geyser of water coming up and running down the street and icing over.

And the fire department would go out before it got really cold, and they would have to put plywood boxes over all of the fire hydrants in order to keep them -- help keep them from freezing. And they haven’t done that in many years, so --

KAREN BREWSTER: And have they buried the lines deeper? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know. It’s worth asking ‘em.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. But now all the streets are paved. When you first came, were the streets still dirt, or were they paved? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, they were dirt. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Gravel streets, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s interesting. That’s a good example of that it’s warmer now. You don’t have to worry about your freezing fire hydrants. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

Quite a people -- few people froze up this winter, though. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they did? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Their houses? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: How come? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No snow.

Didn’t have a -- it was very cold and windy, and we didn’t have the snow cover to insulate the ground, so -- KAREN BREWSTER: That’ll do it. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Quite a few of them, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Interesting. And is there less snow up in the mountains also? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I think so, yeah. You’d have to ask somebody at White Pass. They know how much is up there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you -- when you worked for the railroad, did you work all year, or only in the summers? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Both. I used to work year-round back when we had freight, and then after it had reopened after the closure, it was just summer time.

KAREN BREWSTER: 'Cause I was thinking, your years of going back and forth in the winter and how much snow you guys had to deal with up there. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, it was a lot.

Yeah, back in the ‘70’s there was a heck of a lot of snow. And they kept bulldozers operating out of several locations to go out and clear the snow before all the trains.

And sometimes they’d be out for many many many hours, day after day, just trying to keep ahead of that snow that was drifting.

KAREN BREWSTER: And they don’t do that anymore? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, because we don’t operate in the winter. KAREN BREWSTER: Well. Oh, that’s true. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Now it’s just a spring time thing. They’ll come in and open up the line.

KAREN BREWSTER: I guess I was thinking with the Klondike Highway, if you drive that and could compare that to what the snow was on the tracks back then. Do you drive up there in the winter? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Once in a while, yeah. But you have to ask someone from the highway department. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it’s just what you notice.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. I think it’s less. I think it’s been less for quite a while.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Because, yeah, I think being on those trains, you would have had a good sense of how much snow there was out there. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was it you that used to run the plow, the rotary plow on the engine? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, I -- I worked as a pilot.

Alvin Gordon was teaching me to be a rotary pilot, and so in the recent years when they got it going again, I had that pleasure of working at it. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I didn’t realize they’d gotten it going again. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: They’re cool things. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, it’s amazing. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Course in the recent years when it ran, it was totally different from what it used to be back in the old days.

Because when we would go out with it in the spring time to clear, all the winter snow had accumulated and then been rained on and compacted, and people had been driving over it with snow machines, and it was just like ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: So it wasn’t like the new fallen snow, unless it was just a lucky spot where you happened to hit it, where it was good to plow.

But there’d be times we’d be going along with that rotary, and you couldn’t tell if you were moving or not because it was all white all around you, and there’s blowing snow everywhere. And you’re bouncing up and down and it’s noisy.

And we’d have to throw something out the door to land in the snowbank and see if you moved past it or not. And sometimes you didn’t move past it.

So we’d stop and back up and hit it again. But, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was very compacted.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s amazing that that rotary could get through all that compacted stuff.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, the trick on that was they’d send the bulldozers out ahead of us and take it down to a manageable level -- KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: So we could get through it.

KAREN BREWSTER: You weren’t going through six feet tall or sixteen feet tall drifts? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not the sixteen feet, no. But maybe ten feet. KAREN BREWSTER: Really? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Pretty amazing force those things have. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Very cool. Very cool.

Um, well you mentioned your trapping in the winter. Any other, um, I want to call it recreational things that, now that the seasons are changed, that it affects you somehow? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know what you’re looking for.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, just, you know, you can’t ski -- we used to ski from home, and now we can’t, or you know, we used to go out in our boats at this time of year, I don’t know. That kind of stuff. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or, we used to hike and now we can’t, but -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: You mean, because this, now it’s fall? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, or "Oh, now we have longer falls, so we can hike out longer, you know." JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh. I see what you’re looking for. Ok.

KAREN BREWSTER: If the changing seasons or climate, how that affec -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: As far as the recreation would go. KAREN BREWSTER: Is it -- does it affect your recreation at all?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, we used to be able to go on up to the Taiya River in a couple of spots and go ice skating, and, uh, the ice just hasn’t been as calm, as clear and unbumpy as it -- even a surface, I guess you should say, could say -- as it was back then.

Course I’m a lot older, so I haven’t even put on ice skates in years. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, no, but. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But those spots aren’t there anymore. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And I do remember at least one -- one winter we -- a whole bunch of us -- were out ice skating all over the tidal flats when it had all frozen over, and we could go for a long ways. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, that was amazing. And I haven’t seen it like that since. KAREN BREWSTER: And -- wh -- decade that was? ‘70’s? ‘80’s? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Ah, that was late ‘70’s or maybe around 1980. Right around in that era. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: That woulda been fun. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was. Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Cool. And then you said your goat hunting, that’s in the fall? JOHN MCDERMOTT: That’s a fall hunt.

And there used to be a lot of goats around, and so we’d get on out in the opening part of the season and go on up in the mountains, and you’d see quite a few goats all around.

But now, it’s kind of hard to spot ‘em. There’re not that many.

KAREN BREWSTER: Where in the mountains would you go? You probably can’t tell me exactly. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, I can tell you. Oh, up above Clifton. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Was generally where we would go, but though I’ve hunted up the Denver Valley and hunted in Dyea on the other side of the river. And up West Creek.

KAREN BREWSTER: And was all of that just hiking up? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Not ‘just’. I know it’s hard work. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Those mountains got a lot steeper. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t goat hunt anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: No. Mountain goat hunting is, I think, a young man’s sport. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It is. KAREN BREWSTER: Or a young woman’s sport. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

And no mountain sheep here, just goats? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, just goats. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And uh, hm, do you think there’s more hunters? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, there was always a fair number of hunters around, so.

I don’t know what’s affected them. I know there’s -- Fish and Game is doing a number of studies on the goats to try to figure out what’s going on. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s good. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I haven’t heard anything definitive as what is happening.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. Um. Oh, someone was talking about octopus. Are there octopus out here? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you ever see ‘em? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Caught one in a shrimp trap one time. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, they’re, they’re around.

KAREN BREWSTER: Any differences? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about shrimping? I forget -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah, there’s still plenty of shrimp out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: That’s a fun thing to do in the winter time, go on out and set a shrimp trap and be able to haul it on up and have a nice meal. KAREN BREWSTER: Sounds cold. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It is! KAREN BREWSTER: Is it? JOHN MCDERMOTT: It’s darned cold. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Fishing in the winter sounds pretty cold to me.

Well, your planting season, you talk you have a short season. Has that season changed? Like, when do you plant in the spring? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Uh, I try to start in April, about mid-April. But it just depends on that particular spring or what the crop is.

Some things I’ll start indoors as early as January, like my leeks, 'cause they take a very long time. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really. JOHN MCDERMOTT: To get up to transplant size. So that’s all in the house, in the garage under grow lights. But it just depends.

You’re better off planting about the end of the first week of May. You don’t gain anything, really, by planting much earlier than that because the soils are still so cold, and, uh, they aren’t going to put on much growth.

And sometimes the seeds you plant later, when it’s warmer, will out-produce the ones that you started indoors and then transplanted out when it’s still so cold.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And then what about the end of the season? When you -- it’s time to harvest and pull everything up? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh. Again, that’s weather dependent, and, uh, I don’t know.

I think you gotta just take a look at what’s going on with the weather forecast and when it’s going to be frosting. Some stuff you want to have a bit of a frost before you harvest it so it’ll sweeten up. Like your parsnips and beets will get even sweeter. The starches turn to sugars.

So, but I better get out and finish harvesting my carrots and get ‘em under mulch ‘cause they’re gonna turn to mush if I don’t do that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

But, yeah, so have you noticed -- when did you start gardening? As soon as ’77 when you went out to Dyea? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. I’d had a garden in town before we moved out. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But, yeah, did more gardening then.

KAREN BREWSTER: But have you noticed, is it -- has the timing of when you plant and when you harvest changed through the years? Like are you having to wait later for -- ? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I’m trying to think.

Um, I think it’s still just about the same, maybe within a -- excuse me, within a week or so on either end. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I believe.

Because even though I’ve probably been able to start to work the ground a little bit earlier, it’s still so cold - the soil - that it isn’t worth planting. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Though you can work it earlier, to get it to start to warm up, but I don’t think it’s that safe to try to plant very much before about the first week of May.

They get away from those late frosts -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: -- that are going to come in. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

We talked about birds earlier and I forgot to ask about -- I don’t know if you even notice or pay attention when the migrations are happening, if there’s been a change in the timing. Are they coming earlier or later or leaving earlier or later? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I haven’t noticed.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s a real birder observation. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Um, anyway, I forgot to ask about it.

Um, I’m trying to think what else. Well, we could talk about pollution. Do you want to talk about pollution in Skagway? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, I’ll let that go to somebody else.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Um, well, when you worked on the railroads, speaking of pollution, were there ever spills and things up on the tracks? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure. Yeah. ‘Cause we had the pipeline. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: That ran alongside the track, and every so often there’d be a problem with a ruptured pipeline.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the pipeline went from -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Here to Whitehorse. KAREN BREWSTER: For oil? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that still there? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, no. It was all removed in ’96, I think. Someplace around there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. I don’t know if I knew that. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh.

KAREN BREWSTER: I think I thought it was all brought in by ship. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, it was. And it came -- came to Skagway. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, you were giving -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: And then -- and then put in the tank farms that we had here, and then it was pumped. KAREN BREWSTER: Up to Whitehorse? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Up to Whitehorse, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So now, it’s trucked up to Whitehorse? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Correct. Yeah.

See, that would be your heavier fuels. And, um, we would haul -- in tank cars on railroad haul gasoline and jet fuel. But your heating fuels and diesel would go through the pipeline.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. How did they pump it up and over the Pass? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, they had a pump station out there at the tank farm, which is now by where, um, Jewell Gardens -- KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: North of Jewell Gardens a little bit, right -- right in that area. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And north a little bit, there’s a tank farm in there. And they had a pump station.

And at one point, they put an auxiliary pump station just below the summit, and that ran for a while, but it didn’t really work out all that well, so --

KAREN BREWSTER: And so what years, about, was that pipeline put in? Do you know? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t recall.

KAREN BREWSTER: But when you were here in ’70, it was already there? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh gosh, yeah. It had been running since around the war time. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Maybe before that. KAREN BREWSTER: Actually, it would make sense it would have been put in then. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Hm.

So if there was a spill, what happened? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, they’d clean it up. KAREN BREWSTER: People did -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: What they could, I guess.

But eventually, after the pipeline was removed, um, I know on the Canadian side, the government figured out or had gone through records and knew where there had been pipeline breaks and spills.

And often there’d be a -- like a valve would be someplace and there would be a leak or someplace there’d be a spill area around there.

Other than that it would be if a -- maybe a train car derailed or something and hit it, maybe, and then they’d have that location.

So they went back through and tested and found where they were, and then they had to remediate the soil and all that. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, when you were working for the railroad, you were hauling ore and fuel? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And if a train derailed, that sounds kind of significant. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did things spill out when a train derailed? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Not very often. No. Because your freight was containerized.

And unless you had vehicles, um, that were sitting on a flat car, then they could go over, go over the side or something.

And your tank cars, uh, I don’t remember any of them ever rupturing.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the ore cars were covered? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Well, they’re supposed to be. They were.

But I do remember one time going through a tunnel and the wind was howling. It was winter time, and it was just howling like crazy.

And we got going into the long tunnel, and this one lid managed to blow off of the -- of an ore car. And then it started rolling on its side, coming down through the tunnel towards us. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And it didn’t get us, but that was scary. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: But every so often, that -- one would come loose, but they were all covered to start off with. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

So anything else that when I said I wanted to talk about the changing environment here that came to your mind that we haven’t talked about? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, I think you hit just about everything. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

Well, I guess, you know, it has changed since you came in the ‘70’s. You said it changed for the better or not? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Oh, I think it’s for the better, for us. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: How?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t have to suffer through quite as long cold spells in the winter when it was very difficult to keep a house heated. It’s a lot easier now to do so.

When my wife was here, she came in ’56, and just a few years after she was here, she told me it was thirty-six below zero. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And that lasted for a couple of weeks.

And the house that they lived in, they had to close off everything and all live in one little tiny room and have the little fire -- have the fireplace going, and trying to stay warm, and so --

In our cabin, when we lived in there in the winter time -- of course, it wasn’t the fault of the winter, it was the fault of the cabin. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: But boy, that was cold. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And there were times when we would have to close off the sleeping loft upstairs and sleep down next to the stove. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and I can see with your wife’s experience, if it was an old gold rush-era building. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Same. They weren’t built -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: They weren’t built like today’s buildings are. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. So.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, you like that there’s a warming trend? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I do. Yeah, for us, I do.

I don’t like the fact that the rivers tend to flood more because we’re right on one. But other than that, it’s, uh, it’s kind of good for the gardeners. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the rivers are flooding more because of the glaciers or because there’s more rain? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Both. Combination of both. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the Dyea and Taiya Rivers don’t have the, um, what do they call them? On the Skagway River they have, uh -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Dikes? KAREN BREWSTER: Dikes, thank you. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. No, we don’t. So. It’s very dynamic.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yes, well, you know, and that’s the thing, is one thing you can talk about is how have the rivers changed with climate change. Well, you know, rivers always -- are always moving. JOHN MCDERMOTT: They always are changing. KAREN BREWSTER: They’re always moving. That's -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: They always are.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s difficult to say, you know, "Oh, it’s changed its course or stream bed." JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm.

But this last flood that we had in, what was that, late August or early September? Anyway. KAREN BREWSTER: Of this year? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was a dandy.

And, uh, the river came right on up.

No, it was before that. Way before that, I’m sorry. That particular one, when was that? We were gone at the time, ‘cause my house sitter was there.

And the river came way up, and that was due to rain. Where the heck were we? I can’t recall now when that was.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, it was not this year, but -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was this year. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: But a river flooding level, a minor flood stage, is at about sixteen and a half feet, and I heard from my neighbor that it was up to 18.6. And that’s a real dandy of a -- of a flood.

And I don’t know if you’ve been out in the town site? KAREN BREWSTER: No. JOHN MCDERMOTT: The old Dyea town site? No?

There was a sign at the end of one of the hardened walkways that go along where the old streets were. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And it was out by the edge of the river. And it was where you could look upriver.

And the sign, interpretive marker, it was talking about the dynamic river and how it had changed. Well, that sign’s no longer there. That dynamic river took it right out.

And the old, um, the area near there, um, was an old Native cemetery. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: And it’s eroded way back in there.

And huge trees have been taken out, and they’re all downstream, right by the ranger station.

The river came right past the ranger station and then hit hard against the road, the Dyea road, and then turned right and went out onto the flats.

When that flood took out those trees from up above, big spruce trees, they came down and jammed and created -- KAREN BREWSTER: At that bend? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Just above that bend.

And where the water was going through there hard, and now sand bars have built behind those trees. And so that’s actually protecting the road, the Dyea road. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Even more.

But it’s -- it’s moved that river over, and there are a lot more trees yet to come down, so we don’t know what’s going to go on.

The municipal campground down below on the flats, there’s a road that goes through it south, and it’s near the -- near the river. Way nearer the river now.

A friend of mine started off measuring it. I think it was a summer ago. And he had a stick that he put, and he measured it, it was forty feet from the river. And now it’s about fifteen feet. KAREN BREWSTER: Whoa!

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. It’s very rapidly taken it right out the road. Probably in the next good flood, it’s going to be gone.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and again, that’s hard to know. Is it just the river doing its thing, or is -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Or is there higher water, or what?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: See, that’s -- that's one of those things. You cannot tell right there because part of that, on a high tide such as we’ve had the last few days, that’s eroding just by the fact that it’s high tide, and it’s raised the water level enough that that bank, it’s just a few feet above the water level in the -- in that estuary.

And then if you get a good south wind with it, even if the river is flowing, those waves come up far enough that they start lapping away at it. And then if you get a flood, then that’s all coming downstream even at low tide, and so that takes it out. I don’t know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: You can’t tell. Is that really something due to environmental change? I don’t know.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it is something that’s changin? It’s a dynamic system, as you say. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: You know, and I assume that the tides -- I didn’t even ask about the tides because I’m assuming -- How high or low tide, that’s got nothing to do with climate, does it? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. That’s the moon. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s the moon. JOHN MCDERMOTT: The moon’s doing that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. So I don’t -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: That has nothing --

KAREN BREWSTER: So I didn’t even ask whether that’s any different. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Nope, that’s the same. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, so, yeah, you don’t remember, was that flood, was it because of rain, or was it -- it wasn’t high snow runoff in the spring? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, it was rain. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: That was rain.

KAREN BREWSTER: It was sometime this summer, you think? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I’m trying to remember when the heck we went. No, that was last fall. That was in November. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, I’m sorry. Early December. KAREN BREWSTER: 2017.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Had to be early December because, um, we took off for two months. Had to be then.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Um, but when you were talking about the water coming up, it triggered in my brain, those beavers out there. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Want to talk about those guys? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure. What do you want to do know?

KAREN BREWSTER: Tell me about ‘em. Were they there in the ‘70’s? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. No, they weren’t, and uh.

They were there in late ‘70’s, though. Previous to that, they had not been there.

A couple must have come over the pass, just checking things out, and decided to make it a home.

And, uh, I remember seeing, there were some beavers that were up the, uh, I don’t know what you even call that little crick -- but if you go across West Creek and then you make a right turn to go over to where the rafts put in for the float trips down the river -- KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. JOHN MCDERMOTT: You’ll cross over a big culvert. And there’s a stream that comes off from right below the mountain there, and meanders this way down.

And beavers at one time had -- way back then had -- had put a little dam in there, had put in a little -- KAREN BREWSTER: Lodge? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Lodge in the bank.

And then they’d also gone up above where they are now, and creating havoc with the trail.

And every so often now, I see beaver in the Taiya River. And they’ve got a bank den that is just upstream and across the river from the Park Service campground. So they’re here.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that, you say they came in and stayed. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah, they liked it. KAREN BREWSTER: I guess. Well, it must be good out there. JOHN MCDERMOTT: I guess. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And yeah, they haven’t gone away? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, there’s no reason for them to.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you think -- have you noticed the population of beaver increasing, or are there more of them around? JOHN MCDERMOTT: I don’t know. I haven’t been up there to find out.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because they definitely created a lot of high water on the trail. JOHN MCDERMOTT: They did. Yeah. Yeah, they did.

I trapped three of them one year, but I didn’t make a dent in the population. KAREN BREWSTER: No.

And there’s not an active trapping culture here, that people are catching the beaver? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No. No.

And you gotta go a ways to get up there. And, uh, you gotta get up across -- through the snow and cross the river and in the ice and work your way back and get in there.

And, uh, I didn’t have any reason to go back and get any more, and I didn’t really want to wipe out the population anyway. I thought, ok, I got a couple of samples, and that’s my experience, and that’s it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it’s not like you can take a snowmachine up in there, can you? JOHN MCDERMOTT: No, huh-uh. KAREN BREWSTER: You gotta walk up?

JOHN MCDERMOTT: You’d still have to walk. Even if the river was frozen, you’d have to walk in. KAREN BREWSTSER: Yep. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, good, I’m glad I remembered to ask. Well, that flood does sound pretty amazing. JOHN MCDERMOTT: It was. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And I was going to say, that's the course, you know -- Those trees come and sand builds up behind them and pushes the river, and that’s what happens. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. Yep.

So it’ll be interesting in the next few years to see what the heck happens to that lower stretch of the river. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: What it does.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and the other thing I was thinking, like how as humans, we adapt. If it’s eating away at, you know, the roadway or the parking lot or whatever, then we have to start moving our buildings. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: And infrastructure. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: And would you have to move your house at some point, or are you safe? JOHN MCDERMOTT: We’re ok. Yeah, we’re doing ok.

KAREN BREWSTER: You know, as you said, the Patterson cabin had to be moved because -- JOHN MCDERMOTT: It did. KAREN BREWSTER: It was getting eaten away at.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, we did a project with NRCS, Natural Resources Conservation Service, that’s through the USDA that they operate. And, um, did a engineered logjam up above us. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: And put in rock weirs and so on, and so that has really made a big difference for us. KAREN BREWSTER: To protect your house? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what do the weirs do? They slow the flow? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, they divert the flow from the bank. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: It’ll -- if you see a log is in the stream, and your current is coming to that log at an angle, when it hits the log it turns and goes ninety degrees to it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: So they angle a rock weir, angle it slightly upstream, so then when the water hits it, that diverts it away from the bank. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, ok. It’s a bank protection measure? JOHN MCDERMOTT: A bank protection measure. Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, then I know what you’re talking about, yeah. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, hopefully that will work. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Well, so far. Knock on wood.

KAREN BREWSTER: How long have those -- how long ago was that? JOHN MCDERMOTT: We did that in 2003, I believe. Yeah.

We had to do a few little projects subsequent to that, but, yeah, it’s -- it's done well for us. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s good. Well, as they say, that’s always the risk of living on a river. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm, it is.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m surprised that the Skagway River hasn’t moved more or caused more problems for town. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Since you know, it’s glacial fed, too.

JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Well, they did all that diking, and it made a big difference. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

And it’s -- it’s sort of in this big bed that it has room to move around, I guess. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, John, thank you so much. JOHN MCDERMOTT: Sure. KAREN BREWSTER: Unless there’s anything else? JOHN MCDERMOTT: Can’t think of a thing, Karen. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok, thank you.