Excerpts from Gone Wild
Little do I know that the paddlewheel tour boat that goes by here every day has been taking note of me. The loudspeaker goes on and the tourists are told "Here on your right, is a trapper outfitting himself for the winter. You can see his supplies all around, and it looks like he is ready for winter!" There are Ooo’s and Ahh’s and pictures taken, unknown to me, as I poach fish, and scratch my armpits, without a care in the world.
The paddlewheel boat toots its horn. I wake up slowly; tilt my bearskin hat back so I can see. I squint in the sun, lazily wave hello, and go back to sleep. "Now that we are awake, should we put another stick of wood in the stove?" My buddy in my head is trying to be helpful, but I reply (maybe just to show whose boss): "I think not, I like the sun too much, let’s just lay here." I go back to sleep. I have picked berries in the woods, am eating fish and greens I pick along the shore. When I’m in the mood, I work on my art. There is a place in the house on the boat to do my artwork. There is little I ‘must’ do, so long as I keep my life simple. I review what I have done, or -need to do yet.
I recall that I should be in deep water once I leave Fairbanks for the next thousand miles, so I am not so concerned about the 2 feet the boat is drawing now. Coming down from the village of Delta, it had only needed 4 inches! But the boat had no supplies on board, was new-dry and now ‘wet’. I have 300 gallons of gas on board in 55 gallon drums I scrounged at the dump. I have enough food to last all winter. Everything is with me. I don’t really have to work again for another year, unless I wish. I hope to trap of course, but I’m not under any stress to do well, catch a lot, or make any money at it. I have enough art materials to work all winter creating, and only need simple hand tools to do my work. The tools still fit in a shoe box. I can fit a thousand dollars worth of art in my cigar box. Alaska House will do a show for me next spring, and all the art I make all winter will probably sell. So? What worries have I got?
Two days go by and I know for sure I have gone over 35 miles! I am curious how I could have missed Minto. I see fish camps every few miles. Some are just an old tent frame beside a small tin shed. Others have a small cabin and several sheds. I’m still not seeing any boats, and none of these camps have anyone in them. I thought I would see Indians out checking fish wheels, and nets. This looks like a neglected, poor area to me. Minto may have been a collection of these smokehouses that I went by. I’ve read so much about Indians, how proud they are, and what a wonderful life they live. Surely they must be rich, and prosperous! Where are the dog teams? Where are the well tended gardens, moose hanging from poles, next to fish put up for winter? Where is the hustle and bustle of an active people wearing eagle feather bonnets? Where are the giggling, pretty native women in smoke tan hide dresses tending cook fires? I am not totally ignorant on such matters, for I have read books, seen documentaries, admired paintings of this lifestyle, the one of the subsistence Indian. "Everything human looks 100 years old and deserted. Oh well!" I do not dwell on it. The beauty is good to see, and if I see no proud Indians, what’s it to me?
Dear Miles--- There’s no other way to put it. You said a letter is just words on paper. But- I can tell you have been sincere and truthful. .... I want the man to be the boss for I don’t quite know where to begin or what to say! Three letters and so many beautiful pictures! I’m just stunned. ..…. I figured there were a lot of girls writing to you. You’re a rare breed (and a good one!). I never believed I had a chance! Well as you’ve probably read from the other letter, I am working to get it together to come to Alaska. I just can’t explain how you make me feel when I read your letters. I guess deep down inside I’m an emotional person. One minute I’m smiling as I read one of your adventures. Then I feel real important when you tell me about your boat and plans, and then I’m actually crying (I never cry!) when you write about your feelings! I have never read anything with so much emotion as your letters! I love it. You make me feel really good! Right now I’m sitting in my room looking at you in the picture of you on the houseboat. This may sound terribly forward- but I’m going to say it anyway..… you are so cuddly looking I’d just like to hold you forever! Please don’t think I’m being silly..… and I’m exactly as you said! Everything in your letter was me to a T- incredible. I don’t mean to brag but I’m exactly what you want. I guess that’s pretty blunt, but sure.... I don’t want money or clothes or fine home. I want a good relationship. Please don’t give up on me. I’m trying to get it together to come to Alaska! Isn’t it exciting to want to see someone you have never seen-but feel you know so well? It’s driving me crazy!
The overflow on the ice had newly frozen and is hard to judge with the snow mixed in with it. Here and there we break through the crust, dropping into the few inches of water on top of the old ice. Even though this is only a few inches deep, I sometimes have to run behind the dogs, help push the sled, and in general get splashed with water, which instantly freezes on my clothes and on the sled. This is not an immediate problem in terms of getting me wet, just the weight and being hard on the sled runners. Ice on the sled adds another 50 pounds I bet, and ice on the bottom stops the runners from sliding well.
"Looks like a nice spot to camp, out of any wind that could come up- and dead wood for firewood is handy.
I walk back to the sled and he lays back down and glowers at me. All the other dogs look at him-look at me and decide they will lie down too if that is what Scorpion is going to do. Kenai is the only one trying to get the dogs motivated. I turn to thump Scorpion again and he gets up and growls saying "Yea? Well you aren’t shit without that stick!" All the other dogs are watching and that never occurred to them till Scorpion mentions it.
"Yeah come to think of it…." I’m the leader of the pack and my authority is being questioned and my ability to keep and maintain order.
"It’s one thing to play around and put out some half ass effort for a day in return for food and a doghouse. As long as it is fun and not hard. Humor me. But this is work and a bit much!" Scorpion says.
"Yea! What if we just don’t feel like it huh? Who are you anyhow? Pulling you around all day long. I say it’s time to call it a day and play time is over! What are you going to do about it!!" Well of course if we simply stop here and stay we will eventually all die.
Diary: We were off, and got to the lake soon enough. The mouth of the lake was still open water. No one had tried to get here from the lake yet. Once again I am the first one out. I have to hand lead the dogs from ice patch to ice patch, crossing and re-crossing the river at the mouth. This part of the muddy seems shallow and slow- not like the Kantishna River. We have eight miles to go across the lake to the community. The dogs do not know where to go out in the open. I am forever telling the dogs "Right!" Then "left!" "No too much-- !" They tend to go at almost right angles when I give a command.
I finally give up and let the dogs go someplace- anyplace. We travel twenty miles to get eight miles across the lake-very frustrating and time consuming. I stop at Old Man Kenny’s, who seems impressed with my mushing abilities.
The pilot who rescued me flying the jet looked me up- wanted to meet me-- shake my hand. He thought it was a miracle and I was blessed. I should have died. Far from thinking I was careless, and had a low Jesus factor. He thought God watched over me. The people who took my supplies assumed I would die. I should have. No one would have thought some city slicker tourist outsider could find his way out of this one alive. They thought I would give up and cry. Scream, and run till I froze to death. Curl up in my cabin till I ran out of food and was found frozen in the spring, another idiot bites the snow. But I showed them all what I was made of.
It is decided though that this is an ok time to make the move and settle in with the houseboat on the pond off the river and get ready for winter, expecting to live on the boat. It is too early to harvest any berries and there has been no garden this year. There are fish getting caught to feed sled dogs, but only a weeks worth dried.
A trip is made for mail in Manley Hot springs with the 24 ft riverboat and 50 horse. I have not been to town in two months. The trip only takes four hours. I have dinner at the roadhouse as I read my mail. The roadhouse has not changed probably in 20 years. There is the usual woodstove, couch, books to read and locals hanging out. It is a common scene for people like myself to come in out of the woods and do my laundry, hang out at the Roadhouse with mail piled around me, and new bought items being organized and packed as I eat and relax. One of my letters is from Palace. Joe has come in and sits by me visiting, asking how my life is going. We had been closer friends at one time when I lived on my houseboat here on the Manley slough, but that seemed a long time ago to me. I really wanted to be alone to read my mail. I need to return soon, since I left the sled dogs at the homestead alone. The sled dogs eat once a day. Feeding them one day, then returning the next day to feed them, is not hard on the dogs. But still, this does not leave me a lot of time. Art and Dee have already invited me to spend the night at their place just a block for the roadhouse.
"Ya Joe this is a gal I have been writing for a while as a friend, and suddenly it looks like this might get serious. We met through that Mother Earth Magazine
"Do you think we should turn back?" I wonder whatever for. Forward is home and all we wrote about. Back to what? She is nervous about something. I do not understand what. I’ve seen it before however. A fear of the aloneness, loss of strength in numbers, the bond of civilization. She needed human sign around her. She felt safe among people. She is afraid of bears, drowning, and the cold. The more relaxed and at home I got, the more nervous she got. As if I am insane. She says,
"What if something happens?" It would not help to tell the story of how I pulled my own tooth on the trapline. If I feel sick, the first place I want to be is home in the wilderness. If I am in civilization and feel like I might be getting sick I want to head back to the woods.
One day, a week or so after arriving, we are cutting salmon and a bear comes along the path towards us. I explain,
"Now you know why I insist we carry the rifle everywhere we go." She thought I was just making it up, exaggerating, trying to make her afraid and dependant or whatever. She had refused to carry a gun or learn about them. She believed in peace. Explain that to the bear.
The bear wanted the fish, and acted like we were in the way and was irritated and wanted us to leave. Explain that to the sled dogs. Tell them they do not get to eat because I let a bear eat all the food.
"I’m going to defend the fish Palace. The safest place for you right now is in the boat. Find the skinning knife and a plastic bag. We’ll need it for the liver and heart." Palace is frozen in horror. She is certain I am crazy. She thinks the bear is boss. If he wants the fish, let him have it! I only said "Uh huh" as I stepped forward with the rifle off safety, talking to the bear in a pleasant voice. I do think the bear can understand moods and intent, so my mood will come across as I talk.
"This is my fish. I plan on keeping it. If you leave, I will not kill you, and we can share the river in peace. There are other fish, other things to eat. It’s your choice. If you try to take it from me I’ll be eating you as well."
I ease into the pond behind the island where the houseboat is parked. My heart is heavy. The houseboat has sunk. Part of the nose is all that is showing above water. All my supplies in the boat are under water or have floated away. I can see what happened.
"Hi Miles, good to see you." He is always formal and polite, speaking in a quiet strong voice. The first impression one gets when meeting him is a sense of extreme intelligence. He has time to sit and take a break so we have coffee, chat and discuss the problems of the world. Today we discuss the pros and cons of various forms of government. Something in the headlines of the newspaper Charlie holds in his hand that he has been reading prompts our discussion. Since he is a state senator he knows a thing or two.
This Knife was designed to be a woman’s decorative protection knife- to be displayed on a nightstand or someplace in the home. The knife is made of 440 stainless steel with brass inlayed heart. The handle is Alaskan mammoth ivory found by the artist on the Yukon River. The sheath is from the same tusk and has brass-silver-copper, hand cut soldered and pinned unicorn. The stand base is the same ivory with local caribou antler. The stand has silver-copper-brass and Mexican opal flower centers.
Story- On one side is the tranquil unicorn in a beautiful setting, symbol of love, peace, magic and non-violence. Yet we know the unicorn is a mythical animal! Is the scene also mythical?? Is there ever love, peace perfect and forever beauty? Turn the sheath over. The back shows the unicorn rearing in anger. You never really know- or can predict the future of every situation. Perhaps it is wise to have the ability to defend yourself close at hand- just in case. Thus- the functional dagger as part of a beautiful art piece- something that does not have to be hidden away where you can’t get at it if you ever need it. The heart in the blade? A symbol of love. This is not for attack or for crazy people. This is for someone who loves life, peace, honesty, and simply understands this needs to be defended sometimes. If you have anything, be it beauty or material goods—there is always someone out there who wants to take it from you. Life should not be lived in fear.
I’m given cash for items I sell. I leave the gallery with 'a lot of money.'.