Spotlight: Ava Eads (akfishergal)

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By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on November 22, 2010

Sometimes we meet a new friend who changes our lives forever. Ava is that kind of friend. I had to travel all the way from Kentucky to Alaska to find her. Her story is so special, I just had to share it with you. Join us as we spend some time in a very beautiful state with a very interesting lady.

Two and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to go to Alaska. The circumstances were quite unusual. I truly knew no one in Alaska; I’d never even given a thought to going there.  But on another website I’d met a friend (Carol) who lived there and when she passed away, her sister (Ava) asked me to come to Alaska to help create a memory garden.

2010-11-20/Sharran/af807aSurprised and astonished, yes, I was, but I never hesitated. I packed my bags and for once in my life thoroughly enjoyed an eleven hour flight that not only dropped me off in the most beautiful land I’d ever seen, but plunked me right down in the middle of a most wonderful family. 

I’d like you to meet Ava Eads, the amazing lady who met my plane and introduced me to her Alaska. She’s funny, she’s caring, and she’s probably the most capable woman I’ve ever met. I don’t think there’s a thing she can’t do. She very patiently answered the thousands of questions I asked during the 10 days I was with her. But she hates to write, and she is usually pretty reluctant to talk about herself. This interview is composed of her words and of necessity, a few of mine.  I learned a lot when I visited her. I became a part of her family very quickly. Hers is truly a whole different way of life, one I admire greatly.

I asked Ava if I could spotlight her…2010-11-20/Sharran/30a093

I've been trying to compose an answer to your request, but all that comes to mind why, but I guess so....I'm no writer, so why don't you do all the writing and I'll just answer your questions...

And so I did. Ava jumps from one subject to another when she talks. I guess I jump from one subject to another when I ask questions, too. But here’s Ava’s fascinating story, I think if we jump with her, we can all keep up with her.

I was born in Seward, Alaska in February,1949.  I’m a retired commercial fisherman, jeweler, bartender, taxi driver, welder...well, hmm...just say jack of all trades I guess.

I don't know if it was my Aleut heritage or my upbringing that brought me so close to nature, probably both, but most Native Americans are known to be hunters, gatherers.

Mom was from King Cove, where early on many Russian explorers/fur hunters married into the population, then later Scandinavians married into that mix, hence the light skinned, green eyed family traits.


I’ve met several of Ava’s family members. She’s the fair-haired one of the bunch.

I hate writing, that's why I rarely post anything but pictures. I quit high school because of English Lit. I tend to turn a paragraph into a book and an essay into a sentence. I did like English grammar though. I liked diagramming a sentence, it's kinda like filleting a fish.

Mom came to Seward in '41. All there was for work in her area was fishing or cannery work, so she saved enough to make it out to Seward where she worked waiting tables and long-shoring during the war. She met and married Dad in '44 after he was discharged here following his service in the Army during the Aleutian campaign.

I quit school at age 15.  I worked odd jobs, cannery work, KP at restaurants and such till I heard about an apprentice opening at Reed's Jewelry in Moose Pass in '68. Merle Reed was the founder of the gold nugget industry in Alaska, so I jumped at the chance to learn from and work for him. I worked there for about a year before I got itchy feet and moved on. I started making jewelry on my own in '75. I'm the only person on earth trained by Merle Reed still making jewelry using his methods. I'm kinda proud of that.

I am the recipient of one of Ava's lovely pieces of jewelry, something I'll always treasure. Thank you, Ava!  I wear my bracelet with pride.

Jumping around a bit again, when I was visiting Ava, I st2010-11-20/Sharran/5c9864arted each morning sitting on the steps of Ava’s front porch drinking coffee. Birds, birds, birds were everywhere and most of them were unknown to me. One even perched upon my shoulder and I thought he wanted to share my coffee. I was trying to not be startled by all the unknowns I was encountering, so I sat very still pretending I was used to a bird sitting on my shoulder.  Tell us about your birds, Ava. I happen to know you are the closest thing to a bird whisperer I’ve ever known.

Birds...I think my interest in them began when I moved across the creek into my new house which was closer to the forest. Carol and I noticed a flock of pretty red birds flitting through the Alders. Wow! I had to look them up...ahh, Grosbeaks. Gotta get some seeds and entice them in for a closer look. Then the Pine Siskins came... get more seed...then the Redpolls and so it went. One day a beautiful red breasted bird appeared, I’d never seen one of them before. I called in the local experts. They were excited!  "Can we bring some birder friends? They have to see this! It's a Red Breasted Sapsucker. They don't belong this far north."

“Sure, bring all the friends you want". The rest is his2010-11-20/Sharran/15e9dctory. They come to my house to birdwatch.


While there, I learned of another way of life that I’d only read about. Bartering. Ava, I find this fascinating, please tell us about bartering.


Bartering.  I love it!  Our relatives and friends send us caribou, moose, and mountain goat.  We send them parts for cars, boats, planes and fix their vehicles when they're in town. Just last week I made my cousin a new wedding band.  It would have cost him a fortune, retail.  Now he'll plow my driveway for the rest of my (or his) life. We loan City Express our forklift.  They let us use their big lowboy to move a small building, and so it goes.

I miss my Mom. We worked together on several different family owned boats over the years. She was fun.  She was my fishing partner, bingo partner, beachcombing partner, till cancer took her down in '97. I took a year off work to care for her and take her back and forth to Anchorage for her treatments.  She died quietly in my arms here at home in January of '98.

Back to beachcombing. There's a story behind just about every piece you'll see in the following picture, but I'll try to stick to a couple of short ones.

See the rolling pin shaped floats? They are very rare. Mom 2010-11-20/Sharran/e9cd2eand I found 4 in one day while beachcombing on Siver Beach near Cape Douglas (lower end of Cook Inlet). On our way back to the skiff, we noticed bear tracks over the top of ours. The bear had been following us as we wandered down the beach, but had turned off into the brush before we turned and headed back.  Whew! We got lucky that time. After that, we had one person (in the skiff) follow us along the beach, while Dad watched for bears with binoculars from the boat. If he spotted one near us, he would blow the horn 3 times or fire a gun 3 times, and the skiffman would run in and pick us up.

Mom could see shapes in driftwood that I would never have noticed. She saw a porpoise in this one.

She was also very crafty. There are many, many hours in pieces like this. This piece is 40 to 50 years old.

More about bartering. A friend, John Wood came in from up n2010-11-20/Sharran/721d45orth with his boat, the Arch 1 last week.  He gave us all his freezer goods.  Musta been at least 200 pounds of meat, whole chickens, family packs of drumsticks, thighs, pork chops and steaks, beefs roasts, you name it.  In turn, we will watch his boat over the winter, keep the bilges pumped and such.

Then a couple of days ago, with my friend Lynn's help, we thawed everything, broke down those huge packages into usable portions, vacuum sealed all of it, froze it, distributed it to other family members and Lynn went home with a goodly share of the bounty. That's how it works.

You asked what lead me to the sea. I think all Alaskans are wanderlusts or born of a wanderlust, otherwise we wouldn't be here. Traveling is in our blood and traveling the high seas is in mine. I made my first trip with Dad on the Barwell in ' last with my brother on the Erin Lynn in '07, with a lot of different boats and different jobs in between.2010-11-20/Sharran/520f14

Dad and Uncle Bob salvaged this old power scow (the Barwell) off the beach in Thumb Cove (inside of Resurrection Bay)  in '52. They spent several months a year doing salvage work and hauling freight up and down  the Aleutian Chain. In the late 50's we used it for tendering salmon during the summer and King Crab fishing in the fall and early winter. These power scows were built for service in the Aleutians during the war (Dad served on one). They were tough, well built boats that are still working Alaskan waters after all these years. In fact the Barwell still works out of Seward and is owned by a good friend of ours now.

I think the only subject I haven't written about is the most influential people in my life.  My folks, of course, Dad taught me a lot about boats, navigation and such.  Mom taught me a lot about living off the land and sea. My ex-husband was a great influence in my life.  I think I was more in love with the way of life than the man (poor guy).  We are still friends, although we've been div2010-11-20/Sharran/638b8aorced for 35 years. He was a fisherman from Westport, Washington. We met in the spring of '71 while processing herring roe on kelp in P.W.S.*  After herring season in the Sound, I worked with him gill netting salmon in Cook Inlet. That fall I moved to Westport with him and began a life of one new (to me) fishery after another. It was hard work, but such fun. We pot fished dungeoness crab, trolled and gill netted salmon in places like Grays Harbor, Willipaw Harbor, the Columbia River and Newport Oregon. He introduced me to Albacore tuna fishing. We fished offshore, sometimes up to 200 miles with a 52 footer! Yikes! But what an interesting new fishery for me.  We fished tuna offshore from Vancouver Island clear down to San Francisco, California and we delivered fish into one new port after the other. We made 3 deliveries into San Francisco Bay. Haha!  I've been over the Golden Gate bridge once and under it six times! The war was raging in Viet Nam at the time. We once met the USS Enterprise while heading into the Bay.  Another trip we met two nuclear subs, all of them steaming for Nam. Wes (my ex) was one of the best dead reckoning navigators I've ever sailed with. All we had back then was a compass and an old WW2 loran A, no radar, but he would put us within yards of any harbor entrance in the dark, or in pea-soup fog, every time.

Wow...that was quite a trip down memory lane.


There was a pause in our Cmails here, and I wondered where she had gone. I soon found out there’d been an earthquake just north of her.


This shaker we just had took me back to the big one in '64. We were very lucky to have survived that one. I knew a few people who did not. My Dad and two uncles, Bob and Carl, were ones of few who actually rode out a 60 foot tidal wave and survived it. The power of that much water moving at over 100 mph is mindboggling and the devastation beyond anything you could imagine.

They would not have survived had they hit a tree like this old army deuce and a half did.


Ava, I sure am glad the quake didn’t rattle you too much. Another question: You've been to a lot of places, would you like to travel more?


Travel, no, I’m not much of a tourist. I mean I like going places (especially in my Alaska), and I definitely look at EVERYTHING between here and there, but when I get there, there better be a lake to fish, or a few berries to pick2010-11-20/Sharran/12cf81.

Besides, these days, you can see every Wonder of the World, listen to every concert, see every sporting event, etc. from the comfort of your living room and have a front row seat to boot. I'm not exactly a social butterfly either. I had my fill of mingling with 'the public' working both sides of several different bars on and off for over 35 years. No fishing season or charter lasts more than 2 - 3 months, so most of us in the industry work other jobs between seasons or trips. Not only that, but we're likely to walk off a shore job at a moment's notice. Say I'm working in a local bar or jewelry shop and I get a call like "Hey Ava, I'm out at Dutch. I need a cook. How soon can you catch a flight out here?"  Then it's "Hey Fred, can you cover the rest of my shift? Gotta catch a plane. See you in the fall if I see you at all."  My shore bosses got used to it, they always hired me back.


Ava, I know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Could you build a house? 


Could I build a house? I did. You've been in it. How'd I do? Well, not just me, there were my friends, my family and a couple of hired hands over the three years it took me to build it out of pocket.


Ava’s house is wonderful. It looks just like a home in the wild woods of Alaska should look. It’s warm and snug and surrounded in back by an overgrowth of trees. From her front porch, she looks across the creek and sees the face of a most beautiful mountain. It is truly a picture postcard scene.2010-11-20/Sharran/a6ca4b

What about building a boat?


A boat? Did that too. Not always from start to finish, but a few months here and a few there. In '79 I helped a friend who was building a 120 ft. Bering Sea crabber down in San Pedro. Did some cutting and welding for him for a few months before I got called back home to work on a new (to us) boat with Dad and Bob.


Could you captain a boat?


Captain a boat?  No, too much responsibility. But I can drive a boat along with the best of them. When Wes and I were pot fishing Dungeoness crab, I was on the bridge and he and an excellent hand were on deck. We were a helluva team, we could run more gear in less time than any other boat in the fleet.

About five years ago, I was working with my brother, Charlie, on the Erin Lynn. We were on our way back to Seward from Adak where we had just finished up a science charter. It was late in the season, October, I think, and the weather was foul. We were towing a barge with heavy equipment aboard. The Erin Lynn was a 110 foot., twin screw, shallow draft (14 ft.) multi purpose workboat (Bering Sea crabber, salmon tender, had lots of deck space to haul freight, etc.) and the port engine was down. We needed to beach the barge and get to Sand Point to get parts for the engine, so we headed into Squaw Harbor. It was blowing offshore 45 w/gusts to 60. Charlie maneuvered the barge onto the beach, he and the 2 deckhands jumped aboard the barge to secure it to the beach, leaving me aboard alone. Charlie drops the lines and hollers back at me to back off the beach and jog till he signals me to run back in and pick them up. Well handling a twin screw boat in high winds with one engine is like a duck trying to take off with an injured wing. By the time they secured the barge and signaled me to pick them up, the tide had dropped and I went aground 50 ft. shy of the barge. The skiff is on deck and I have to get it into the water by myself. That was a treat. I leave the wheelhouse with the engine running 1/4 speed ahead to keep it aground against the wind, go down on deck in the driving rain, fire up the starboard deck crane, hook up the 4 way bridle to the skiff, swing it over the side, work it up (around a lot of rigging) to the bow, they throw me a line to hook up to the skiff, I let 'er go, run up to the wheelhouse to back off before we get stuck aground with the tide still dropping.  Just another day at the office.



Scary, Ava. I would have panicked and probably cried like 2010-11-20/Sharran/faed6ca baby. You amaze me.  I was there in June for Summer Solstice and I hardly saw any darkness even in the wee hours of the night. I know your winters are long and dark. Do the long hours of winter nights bother you? 


The cold and darkness of winter. I don't notice it all that much.  It's a pleasant 70* and well lit here in my living room and I have lot of greenery around me, over 150 house plants with more indoor projects to get done than I'll probably have time for before spring.  Re-potting house plants, making herbal salves, learning to make jelly (Carol was our jelly maker), working on jewelry repairs and orders, also making some new stuff for the up-coming craft fair, more homemade suet cakes for my birds, tending to Dad and Bob's needs, driving them to and from VA appointments and such. And the dreaded paperwork. There's no end to it. Did I tell you I hate paperwork? Almost as much as I hate writing.


Ava, do you miss being on the water, you were there so very long?


I might sound like I miss being out on the water, and I do when I think about stuff like this.

...I think to myself, gosh I'm glad I don't do that anymore...and how did I survive nearly 50 years of doing 2010-11-20/Sharran/508fe2that...whew!!

I've got one last fishing story for you...

In the mid 70's Dad, Bob and I were working down in Nuka Bay (about 80 miles west of here) on a boat called the Charlotte B. when I developed blood poisoning. We had been pulling crab gear, and I had worn a pair of old gloves from the previous season. I had a small wound on the palm of my left hand and apparently that's how I got the fish poisoning. Well now I've got this red streak going up my arm, and I know if it reaches my heart, I'm dead. Now it's save myself or die, because it's blowing 70kts and there's no way we're getting back to Seward any time soon. In that weather, a chopper out of Kodiak is out of the question too. So I start looking through cupboards looking for anything that might help me and I come across Pine-Sol. Yes! Pine pitch is a drawing agent. I fill a large bowl with hot water and a good splash of Pine-Sol, scrape the wound open and soak my hand in it. Well you could see the red streak disappear like a dropping thermometer. Wow! worked. I've never left port without Pine-Sol since.


Ava, I sure am glad you had Pine-Sol handy. Without you I would never have met Alaska and all it's beautiful, magical people. Thank you so much for allowing us to Spotlight you. Your life is filled with interesting things and wonderful memories. I will always treasure my time with you and our friendship. 2010-11-20/Sharran/905be3

Folks, if you'd like to talk with Ava, please do so on the threads that follow this article. If you'd like to see more of her pictures and learn more of the Kenai Peninsula and Seward Alaska then visit her on this Carpe Diem Cubit forum, or check in with her on this forum in Blue Gardens. 

Browse the photos for comments and click on them to enlarge. 

Thank you so much for joining us for this special Spotlight.

(*Prince William Sound)

Related articles:
Alaska, barter, birds, fishing, gardening, interview, jewelry

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Thank-you Ava Katg Dec 3, 2010 12:52 AM 2
Ava, what a trip!!! weeds Dec 2, 2010 3:02 PM 11
Great Biography! KathyJo Nov 29, 2010 6:18 PM 0
Very Interesting Life, Ava! nap Nov 22, 2010 5:03 PM 7
Hello Ava! Zanymuse Nov 21, 2010 10:35 PM 2

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