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The great salmon of nostalgia

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The Kenai, Alaska dock after a long day of driftnetting. It takes so long for the sun to set around here that its hard to stay awake long enough to photograph it. Fortunately the fish slime in my hair was pungent enough that I was able to prop my eyes open.   Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney
The Kenai, Alaska dock after a long day of driftnetting. It takes so long for the sun to set around here that its hard to stay awake long enough to photograph it. Fortunately the fish slime in my hair was pungent enough that I was able to prop my eyes open.

I spent a lot of time this week fishing without a license.  Or, at least, spending time with other people who were fishing so I didn’t need a license.  I hear fish and wildlife will hunt me down via helicopter if I ever decided to catch any fish without proper license, stamp and tattooed barcode.

I learned a few things I thought I’d let you in on, in case you happen to be one of the few Alaskans who doesn’t participate in this industry.

 First, if you haven’t been on a boat in five years, three-foot seas in a Fish and Game boat in the Cook Inlet are going to knock you sideways, even if you’ve taken some Dramamine.  A special thanks goes out to Bob, who pretended that he hadn’t heard me snoring in the tiny cabin of the boat we were inhabiting together on Sunday.

For those of you who may be laboring under the misconception that my tiny lady snores were inaudible, I assure you that I woke myself up snoring several times and could probably have scared some of those rare Cook Inlet Belugas into making for the open ocean.

Fortunately, by the time I was done clutching my stomach and curling in the fetal position in the corner of the boat, I still had a few hours left over to chat with the biologists about their research on king salmon.  There’ll be more of that in the paper in the next few weeks. 

I also managed to regain my sea legs just in time for a jaunt on a commercial driftnetting boat which brings me to my second fishing adventure for the week.  On Monday I had the privilege of spending pre-sunrise to sundown (about 18 hours this time of year) watching a couple of local fishermen put a fairly sizeable dent in the sockeye salmon return.  I learned that fish are slippery, difficult to pop out of a gillnet (again for you wildlife police I was WATCHING not participating) and can be stacked into giant piles of fish popsicle in the hold of a boat.  This culminates in a rather awesome slimy mess at the end of the day and lesson three.

Never ever never stand directly under a basket of fish being hauled out of the hold of a ship no matter how badly you want a photo.  You will get slimed. Despite all of this and a particularly gruesome video I saw of someone bashing a massive halibut repetitively over the head, I still want a fish burger.  Real talk:  the salmon here is out of this world good, but I’m sure everyone here already knows that since they go to such great lengths to get it out of water and onto our plates.

I’m still minus a set of XtraTuffs but those have fallen lower on my list of priorities since my champion truck (rig?) Piotr decided to pull a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and drop the leaf springs directly off of his chassis and into some kind of flying trapeze location underneath the bed.  This was not entirely a surprise as I compressed them way beyond what I imagine the average tensile strength of anything is on a rusty ’97 Ranger while hauling my schwag through the Rocky Mountains.  Still, the springs look to be in fairly average condition (read, not broken) so I’m hoping a mounting kit and some new bolts will fix it right up.  At least until something else catastrophic happens, in which case I’ll be on the market for a new truck.. probably a Ranger, always a manual and preferably something without power steering.  Those three things combined make it difficult to interact with my phone while driving (a newly ticket-able offense around here) and are probably the only reason I can pay attention while driving in any shape or form. 

I had a conversation recently that revolved around trucks and how some of us develop weird personal attachments to inanimate objects, especially when it comes to the vehicles that carried many of us to Alaska.

I didn’t realize I had one of those until I spent the day thinking my truck wasn’t fixable because the mechanic couldn’t find parts.  Between the day I bought him  three years ago and now Piotr and I have put close to 50,000 miles on his beastly visage.

He’s made the 2,000 mile trek from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa to Alvin, Texas where my folks live, far more often than he should have had to.  He moved me, and several hundred pounds of vinyl and books, to Davenport, Iowa for my first job right out of college adding three hours and several hundred more miles onto that drive to Texas.

He’s got two-wheel drive meaning he doesn’t have the best winter shoes, so he’s dealt with several hundred pounds of sand and snow piled into his bed so that I could keep from running off the road.  I’ve slept in him at countless truck stops, picked up many a smelly hitchhiker and moved lots of furniture for free-loading friends. 

He’s seen everything from drunken Russians sleeping it off in his bed, to three different free pianos I’ve gotten through the kindness of strangers and then gifted in a similar fashion.  Once, I filled the bed with snow, wrapped it in a tarp and drove down to Texas so my brothers, sisters and I could have a snowball fight in the front yard of our house in the blazing May heat.

He’s got ice cream spots discoloring the factory grey interior from that time my sister and I got into a food fight while driving in a family caravan to San Antonio to see my grandparents.

Best of all, he’s dealt with my automotive learning curve and helped me graduate from being able to change a tire and fill up the fluids fairly competently for most of my college career to changing out the starter in the parking lot of Auto Zone and puzzling through a drum brake job in the parking lot of my old apartment.

He’s carried groceries, babies, roller derby players and, on one memorable night, two Pulitzer prize winners in his cab all the while developing a series of endearing squeaks, rattles and moans. Sure he leaks onto the steering column once in awhile and needs a new coat of paint, but he got me all the way to Soldotna with more than 200,000 miles on his engine.  It’s hard to give up on that kind of loyalty.  Even if it is just a beat-up old purple truck.

 If you’ve got a story about a vehicle you loved or want to accompany me to a local junk yard on a quest for parts, feel free to drop me a line in the comments.

 

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ToryB
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ToryB 07/19/12 - 05:36 am
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Great writing, Rashah

We miss you in Iowa, but Alaska has done wonderful things for your prose skills. Keep up the good work! So jealous of the fresh salmon you are eating. Channel catfish from the muddy Mississippi, which is currently broiling under 100 degree skies every day, is just not as tasty.

Tory

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