Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Long Ago and Far Away

When I was young and still seeking adventure, I went to Alaska to work.  My memory is dull on exactly how many times I made the trip.  I worked various places---at a fish processing plant, at a restaurant, beer joint called the Mini-mall, whose owner advertised for workers in the OSU student newspaper, which is how I found that job.  She advertised room and board with the job.  Room consisted of bunks in the basement of her house.  The number of occupants varied, but sometimes reached as many as 12 people, of both sexes, sleeping on bunks she'd set up down there, to house workers.  Board consisted of anything served at her food joint.  We served everything from fried chicken to sandwiches to pizza.  But lots of beer, on tap.

Beer is big in Alaska.  All types of booze are popular in Alaska.  Especially during the long dark depressing winters.  If you're not an alcoholic when you get up there, you may be by the time you leave.  If you leave.

I also worked at a psychiatric nursing home, a day care center and for a few months, outside Denali National Park, for one of the vendors.

The fish cannery job was very wet, cold and dirty.  We wore yellow rain gear and rubber boots all day long.  I worked the silver salmon canning season on the slime line, where you scrape the fish of any guts and scales.  They'd come off a belt and you'd open a bin and drop them into one side of big sink at your station full of freezing water, then scrape them one at a time with a knife and send them on.  Someone else would be spraying your rubber booted feet and everyone else with a hose at the same time, to keep the fish guts and slime headed towards a drain.  There was a cold storage side to the cannery also for the better fish to be filleted and sold that way.  The ones that came through on our side all went into cans.

I wasn't much good at the work.  I didn't mind the sliming as much as when I got put in overtime to the can inspection line.  That would hypnotize me into a waking standing zombie, pretty much brain dead on my feet.

We lived for breaks, and always wished our line would be dismissed first so we could be first in line for coffee and pastries, which is what we all lived on.  Donuts, maple bars and lots of coffee, to keep awake.  This cannery didn't pay as well as some.  You made the big bucks on overtime and holidays, but that year, the fourth of July, there were no fish, so we were off.  The fourth is a big deal in Seward because of the annual Mt. Marathon run.

The Mt. Marathon race started out when a couple of old timers bet on whether or not they could climb that little mountain behind the town up and back in an hour.  Now hundreds of people from all over come to run it on the fourth.  I never ran it as a racer but I climbed it lots of times.  And Big Marathon behind it.  There's a beautiful alpine bowl between the two.  Beyond them, to the north, stretching out as far as you can see, is the Harding Ice field.

Mt. Marathon was known for its shale and race runners coming back bloody from shale cuts as they made giant leaps in the sliding shale to get down the mountain fast. One time when I was up climbing Little Marathon, all of a sudden the shale started moving and coming down around me, so I slid behind a large boulder and waited til it stopped.  I thought it was just a slide or something but when I got back to the boss's apartment (that was when I worked at the Mini Mall), stuff had fallen off counters and out of cabinets.  There had been a small earthquake.  Guess they happen fairly routinely there.  Nobody thought much of it.  We just cleaned up the mess.

For a time, I just made do, working for a couple from Minnesota, trying to live off the land.  I met them when I lived in a shack about half mile up a trail on a bluff from a proper house out on Nash Road.  The couple who owned the proper house had an apartment attached to their house.  Mike and Sue lived in that apartment.  

But soon they bought a house across the road and had livestock, and at one point, I lived in a quonset hut on their property, with chickens who often laid eggs in my clothing or even my hat.  Eventually I moved into a room in their house and became the milker.  They only had one milk cow, Annabelle, but she'd give five gallons twice a day after calving.  It wasn't easy milking her by hand, but I learned tricks to make it easier and usually had a bucket of hot water beside me to dip my hand in, if it froze up, when it was cold.

We strained the milk through cheese clothe and let the cream rise, then dipped that off and sold milk and cream out of an old refrigerator on the porch.  Honor system.  I think we sold a gallon for $4.  Or was it $3.

Sometimes it wasn't that easy to find Annabelle to milk her.  Sometimes I'd spill buckets of milk coming back down rocky or slippery trails from where I'd milked her.

When she would need bred to calve again, Mike and Sue would load her into their old rickety van.  It had two bucket seats up front but the back was empty of anything, and they used it like a truck.  It was funny to see Mike driving with Annabelles head watching out the front windshield right beside him.  Somewhere I have a slide of that.  I took slides back then, and never transferred most into photos you could look at without a slide projector.  Slide film was much cheaper than print film, even than black and white print film, and cheaper to have developed.

So most of my Alaska pictures are lost to me.  I have some still, pasted into old photo albums.  I took photos of them, fearing I'll lose them to age.  They're pretty ragged.  Guess I'm lost in the past today.

Here's one of my shack.  I call it a cabin because back then, I was proud of it and it was home.

I think I've posted some of these before.  That's little Denali, my pup, when she was a pup, out front.  I got her down the road from someone.

The shack got built as a kid fort I think, or by some teen who wanted a hideaway.  I looked at a lot of shacks I might live in before deciding on this one.  There was one out Lowell Point, but it was mostly underground, for better insulation, and one guy who'd occupied it in the past had died in there, when his stovepipe got covered in snow while he slept.

One time when I was living up there, I got invited to dinner at Sue and Mikes.  I think I was living up at the shack then.   Mike was all mysterious.  They lit their place with lanterns and so it always somewhat dim and shadowy inside.  He tells me to go check the pot on the stove.  I said, thinking nothing of it, "Ok."

So he kind of follows me into the kitchen.  I pick up the lid on the pot, with something in there bubbling away, in the dim half light, and just jump back out of my skin.  The head of pig, snout up, is leering up at me.

Mike just goes into contortions of laughter.  "The bear head is in the other pot," he says. I look and sure enough, there's a bear head in there simmering.  They were making head cheese of both.

Seems earlier in the day, when I was off working somewhere else, the son of the people who live in the house proper, across the road from Mike and Sue, and down the trail from my shack on the bluff, had heard a ruckus out in the barn where they had two pigs.  He went out and there was a bear attacking one pig.  Guess he ended up on the barn roof real quick.

When he could, he climbed down and went and got his rifle and shot the bear.  The pig was badly injured and couldn't be saved and had to be shot also.  It was a really old bear, having a hard time surviving, they said, which is why he probably decided on the pig.

I got the bear skull boiled down and even tagged for travel so I could bring it home.  I wanted it, for some reason.  But later Denali found it, when I wasn't paying attention, and chewed it to pieces.

I got this wood stove so I could keep warm and cook.  It was junk when I got it, not new.  I put that piece of aluminum siding under and behind it to try to keep from burning my shack down.

I named my dog Denali after the mountain. Used to be called McKinley but its name was later changed back to its rightful one given long long ago, by the natives.

It means "the great one".

  That's me and I was a lot younger back then, don't you know.  Denali is an adult in this photo with Tank, a black lab, a friend's dog, behind me.  We were probably out on our cross country skiis.  We'd take the dogs.

That's Denali, in photo above, when she was just a pup.

She was growing by the time of the photo above, taking a nap on the cot in my shack.
My mother took this photo of me.  She'd met me at the ferry docks in Seattle.  I'd been up in Alaska all summer working in a fish cannery.  I came back to Oregon that fall by hitching it from Seward, down the Alcan to Whitehorse, then took the train to where hikers just finishing the Chilkoot trail board.  A friend from work and I were going to hike it backwards, down to Skagway.  The trip down the Chilkoot trail was done a bit late in the year and we got caught in snowstorms and whiteouts.  But it was fun.  After a three day wait in Skagway at a bunkhouse, we boarded a ferry south to Seattle, sleeping on the hiker deck.

I was supposed to fly from Seattle to Portland but the ferry hit a fishing boat in the Wrangle Narrows, so we were delayed and I would have missed my flight.  So my mother drove up.  I was so happy to see her there on the docks.

I still have that ice ax in the photo on my pack.  Have not been able to get rid of it, just something about the memories it invokes.  It's worth nothing anyhow, for the selling, as they make them much better now.

This is Denali playing in the surf at an Oregon beach.

I lost track of Mike and Sue.  Their barn burned one night, along with their motorcycles and many animals from an electrical short.  They left Alaska then.  When I heard, I was sad for them.

We had some good times.  They had a Zodiak and we took it on Resurrection Bay one time, in the evening, to an island, after buying shrimp off a boat in the harbor, and made a huge bonfire and cooked the shrimp and ate it under the stars.

I hope to take photos of some of my other pictures in old photo albums.  I stumbled on these albums and realized they are falling apart.   Soon I won't be able to save these reminders of the past.

I took the jobs in Alaska because it was far away.  I would like to have gone much farther away than Alaska.  I had my hopes on New Zealand in fact.  Or an antarctic research station.  No kidding!  I thought that might do it.

Nobody knew me up there.  I didn't have to worry about getting interrogated over if I got my "sabbaths" off for a job.  Also I wanted far away from my father.  Wasn't far enough and I had troubles every time I would go back to Oregon.  By the end of my journeys to Alaska, my troubles followed me up there and finally I was back in Oregon for good and my life and adventures were done and over, once I got kidnapped into that "helpful" degrading disabling poverty inducing drug forcing mental system once and for all.  

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