My neighbor, knowing I have a lot of hungry dogs, called me up yesterday.
"Hey, I'm cleaning out my freezer and I have a couple of tubs of frozen stuff. You want it for your dogs?"
"Its all frozen?" I ask, skeptically.
[side note re: the skepticism. Just a few days ago a different neighbor made a similar phone call. He assured me everything was "good" and, in response to my continued questions, said "nothing was spoiled". I required this assurrance because in the past he also called me to come get some "dog food"; a soggy cardboard box filled with plastic bags which looked bad and smelled bad. When I lifted the first bag, looking for the source of the foul odor, a syrupy goo dribbled out of the bag. Suddenly it all became clear. The "dog food" was what was left from the previous fall's whitefish. After spending the winter frozen, followed by a month of spring thaws, the stinky goo was the result. That dog food might have made good fertilizer, but my hounds weren't getting near it. That was a year ago. Last week he called again, made similar empty promises and the result was the same; a bunch of rotten fish. Ok? Got it? So, armed with these memories, we fast-forward back to the start of this post. Take it from the top]
"Is it all frozen?" I ask, skeptically.
"Yeah, I just took it out of the freezer."
"OK, sounds great. I'll pick it up in a while."
The following list will give you a bit of an idea what you may find in a rural Alaskan freezer.
-a ham hock (nothing weird there) -a few bags of grated cheese (no big deal) -a few bags of old berries; picked locally -a piece of halibut (store bought, but we're starting to get Alaskan) -one jar of silver salmon -a couple of jars of king salmon -one jar of left over stew; moose, probably -2 moose kidneys -a bag of moose fat; probably came from those kidneys -a shoulder blade -2 pieces of muktuk; gray (if they were beluga I would have investigated further) -1 whole trout -several whole grayling -3 jars of...jam...I think -a whole pike -one entire pintail duck, male, fully feathered -some moose "belly fat"; the netting/sack that holds the entrails -4 moose hooves -2 jars of seal oil (don't spill it on your clothes) -an assortment of zip-lock bags containing beaver meat (the dogs will really love it) -numerous zip-locks containing moose meat -a cool-whip container filled with something, bearing an Athabaskan name; looks weird, smells good. Appears to be coarse-ground meat, fat and...I don't know. -a couple dozen plastic grocery bags containing meat from moose, beaver, maybe some bear -about a dozen unmarked chunks of fish; some white (pike, sheefish, whitefish) and some orange (king, fall chum or silver salmon) -and, finally, 4 or 5 things completely unidentifiable.
Bad news on the king salmon fishing; so far, at least. As feared, the run is way down. Not sure why, but very few fish are returning this year.
The feds are doing the job of enforcing the closures and they appear busy. Allowing only one 24 hour period per week open to fishing leaves six days closed per week, or in this case, six days of fining violators. Stories abound: $2,000 fines, nets confiscated, a boat reportedly impounded, etc. The feds are busy up and down the river trying to keep a handle on it.
It some ways it's a bit of a culture clash. People living along this remote river wilderness are not real accustomed to law and enforcement. When you grow up in a small community with no resident law enforecemant, you basically get used to doing whatever you want. This obviously is not a good thing.
I personally grew up in a heavily populated area in the lower 48, so law enforcement to me is a given; like death and taxes. In my mind, if you break the law you get caught (to say nothing of the moral and spiritual ramifications; God, judgement, etc.)
People who have been raised in the remote north see it differently. Not only is the law not around, often times you can't depend upon them any way.
Many years ago I received my first lesson in "No Law; 101". A broken window and illegal entry into my home caused me to call the troopers. After a frustrating couple of days attempting to talk with an officer regarding "my case", it became apparent I had no case. No officer was interested. No one was coming to look into it. Nothing. I cleaned up the mess and moved on.
That day I learned one of the principles about rural law enforcement...most of the time there is none. Unless it's a serious crime (like murder; where is Poirot when you need him?) nothing may come of it.
Troopers come to our village fairly regularly; maybe once a week. In addition to homicides, they look into assaults, some thefts (vehicular), occasionally minor comsuming and maybe a few other things, but most offenses aren't going anywhere.
The list of offenses I have seen go unprosecuted is a long one. Sexual assault (here, as everywhere) can be difficult to prosecute, so most aren't. Probation violations are commonplace. Driving under the influence happens daily. Minor consuming and contributing are common. Bootlegging, drug dealing and selling to minors are daily occurrences. Etc., etc.
All this is to say, people here are not accustomed to a lot of law enforcement; in fact very little is the norm. So when "the Gov" tries to tell people they can not fish for kings, an essential ingredient in the local diet and an important part of the cultural heritage, many are hesitant to comply.
I comply. The video was taken yesterday while it was open to fishing. I was after "dog salmon" anyway.
It's early morning; a time when "normal people" are sleeping. I, being awake, am not a member of that group. This is not a new discovery for me, but right now I'm eager to join them.
There are noises in the night determined to keep me separated from a slumbering normality. Actually, it is "night" in name only; June is a month without darkness. The Alaskan summer is known for midnight sun; 5am is no different.
The warm weather has forced me to open the window for ventilation. Through this portal a variety of sounds assail my tired ears.
A dog is barking...incessantly. This always means one thing; it's owner has neglected to feed or water the poor animal. Perhaps the owner is away from home. Perhaps the owner is in a state of extreme intoxication. One thing is certain, the owner is not trying to sleep as I am.
A raven, probably hatched this spring, is making an annoying racket. "Haaaawwwk! Haaaawwwk! Haaaawwwwk!", calling for parents or trying to locate siblings. I really don't like those birds. In the wilds they are fine but in human settlements they scatter garbage, disturb what should be "the peace" and even commit vandalism. A friend of mine once suffered serious damage to his airplane as they poked holes in the fabric. (Yes, there are still planes covered with fabric. No, they are not WWI biplanes).
I hear robins and other songbirds; sounds I don't mind right now.
There is a light rain pattering on the roof and dripping on the ground. This sound, too, is a pleasant one.
Every so often I hear a four-wheeler off in the distance. If I were new to this village I would wonder "Who can that be and where are they going at this hour?" but I have lived here long enough to realize those questions are pointless.
My refrigerator kicks on about four times an hour. The loud buzzing-humm is enough to keep me awake by itself. A few years ago we had a guest who slept in the front room. (Our house is essentially a one room log cabin with a small addition on the back which serves as our bedroom. The "frontroom" is basically the entire house; living room, kitchen, dining room) The guest slept on a cot about eight feet from the fridge. In the morning, wearing a very tired expression, he said, "Your refrigerator is pretty loud, isn't it". I smiled and nodded my head; mentally estimating how many hours he must have laid awake.
In the backroom (our bedroom) the airconditioner is running. It, too, is loud; a reason I am now attempting to sleep on the couch.
A fan is also to humming in the bedroom. "Why both?" you ask. We are currently under a major attack from mosquitoes. The a/c keeps the room cool and the fan helps blow the bugs away; making it hard for them to land on my sleeping wife. (I wonder, does she know how blessed she is to be snoozing right now?)
The bloodthirsty bugs are blamed for other sounds keeping me awake. We have a "Time-mist" aerosol dispenser. Every ten minutes it makes a mechanical grinding sound as it pushes the sprayer, along with the desired "psssst" when the mist is released. This device makes life possible, so the noise is a welcome one.
The mosquitoes are also known for the sound they make themselves; that high pitched whine of their wings in motion. That sound alone can prevent sleep. When you hear it you know it's just a matter of time before you become a midnight snack. I already have a fresh bite on my knee and one on my toe, both itching badly, so I wait to feel it land, hoping to slap it and get on with the work of sleeping.
The clock on the wall ticks relentlessly. At times like this, it sounds like a blacksmith hammering on an anvil. If I could have a Joshua-type moment and make time stand still, I believe I would use it now. Sleep would be so much more peaceful than war.
Now the water heater kicks on, complete with the vibration the fuel line makes as fuel is pumped to the heater. Be patient; it will stop in a moment.
Now my little dog is getting fidgety. Maybe he'll go back to sleep. As long as he lays back down I'll be OK. Nope. he's headed for the door. I pretend to be asleep and don't move. After a few minutes, I peek at him. He's sitting at the door staring at me. I don't move. Neither does he. This stand-off continues until I give in. Patience won't help here; he's the one in control and he knows it.
I might as well feed him now or he'll be wanting that too. This night is over.
I spend a little too much time on the internet, especially lately. My favorite NBA team, the Lakers, have been doing quite well the past two seasons, so I have enjoyed reading about them on a number of basketball related sites. And that is how I learned about some recent population shifts in rural Alaska.
For example, one such site has a flashing pop-up telling me that I am the "100,000th visitor from White Mountain", and it assures me this is "no joke" and I should click to claim my prize. Wow, imagine that.
White Mountain is a coastal village with a population of...maybe...200 people. I'm not quite sure how I can be considered part of their community, but the amazing thing is that I'm the "100,00th visitor" from there.
Either there has been a huge migration into White Mountain recently or some one there is spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME on their computer; much more time than I am. According to my rudimentary calculations, if every person in their community was on-line, they each have to visit the spurious site...what?...five hundred times? Hmmm. I think perhaps some one is pulling my leg.
A couple of days ago (on a similar site) I was assured by another pop-up that people in my village were making sixty dollars an hour working part time on-line. They even showed me a photo of a nice young lady in front of her computer, no doubt working hard making the wages they were offering.
The funny thing was, I know everybody living here; I even know every house in our village. I didn't recognize her or the setting. Hmmm. Some one has some 'splainin' to do.
It's out there. It's just layin' in the willows or bobbin' along the shore. And it's waiting.
Others may beat you to it; many already have. They'd say, "By now, all the good stuff is gone", but they don't know where to look. I do. I was looking today.
Properly equipped and attired, I grabbed the tiller handle and pointed my little boat out into the waves; heading upriver. The somber gray skies, blustering wind, waves and spray were no deterrent. Bounce as it may, my little tub is a faithful workhorse. I bet my boat has done more work (and on FAR LESS GAS) than any boat here in town. She's a worker (why are boats always "She"?) and she was free! That, my friend, is what you call a blessing.
A mere mile to the backside of the island and I found it. No, not the ducks. Not the geese. Definitely NOT the swans. Those I left unmolested as I passed by. Well; I wanted to leave them unmolested but my boat scared them into flight. Most of the ducks jumped right up like helicopters, but the swans needed a generous runway to get airborne. Good thing they had the entire river at their disposal. Swans are the B-52 bombers of the waterfowl world.
After the the airlift was underway I found that which I sought...driftwood.
Driftwood is free fuel. Well, wait a sec; it's kinda free. Free if you don't count your time (OK, that's easy). Free if you don't figure in the cost of a boat and motor (I recently was pricing them and a new set-up, simple and small, was over fifteen G's, or as my Dad would say "15 K", and that is on the cheap!). Free if you don't figure in fuel, oil, the chainsaw, an axe, rope, a lifejacket, boots, a raincoat, gloves, bandaids, cold remedies, a heating pad, and whatever else goes into it.
And, oh yes, free if you don't consider the required in-kind contribution of nsaids (over-the-counter or otherwise); for me they are definitely required. As any experienced firewood getter will attest, even "free" wood comes at a cost to the body. But it's still a good deal.
I spent a couple of hours selecting and cutting up logs; expending untold calories (don't worry, I have plenty to spare) and sweating myself into a mild state of dehydration (par for the course).
Then I came home, took a hot shower, recharged my batteries with a cup of tea and a piece of last night's chocolate chip pie, and suddenly I can face another day. Well, I can face the rest of this one, which is all that is required. Tomorrow will bring enough troubles of its own.
p.s. I'll change the icy photo on the title page as soon as I find something of interest.