This is my favorite time of year. Take this morning, Sept. 21.
I arise at 6:30 a.m. and eat a leisurely breakfast. Two hours later, I meet a friend at his house in Sterling. We walk down to the river, get into his boat, and within 10 minutes, we're anchored up and fishing for silver salmon.
The sky is slightly overcast. The temperature is in the high 40s, comfortably cool. Golden birches and aspens glow among the dark-green spruces lining the turquoise river. We hear a honking sound, and watch six swans fly over, close enough that we can see their eyes.
Except for two bank fishermen downstream, we have a long stretch of river to ourselves. There are no whining engines or waves from boat wakes. The only sounds are gulls, ducks, jumping fish and water burbling past the boat.
This late in the season, silvers can be huge, so catching one on light tackle is a challenge. In late July, a silver might weigh eight or nine pounds. In late September, they can weigh 14 pounds or more.
We bait up with salmon roe. We're not fishing for five minutes when my line suddenly moves to the left. Nothing would do that but a large fish, so I set the hook. It's a big silver. It runs out into the current, taking line. We talk about leaving the anchor on the buoy and going after the fish. But then it slowly comes our way. It takes me 15 minutes to bring it to the net. It's a big male, as big as two sockeyes. Not only fun to catch, but delicious food for the winter.
We end our morning with three silvers and a small trout, and we're back at my friend's house by lunchtime. I leave for home with carrots, turnips and potatoes from his garden.
There's nothing like being in Alaska during the time of harvest. Some people are fishing. Others are hunting sheep, moose or caribou. Still others are picking berries and harvesting their gardens. It's the best time of year to be in Alaska. I can't imagine being anywhere else. I feel blessed to be able to enjoy the outdoors.
Not everyone can get out. I see them limping, hobbling and rolling as they shop for groceries and go to the post office, and I wonder what happened that caused them to lose their mobility. I think, "That could be me," and I walk a little taller, a little faster.
I've lived in Alaska for 46 years, and would like to spend the rest of my life here. But to be able to enjoy the outdoors, I need my mobility.
One year ago, I was on the verge of losing my mobility. I was 71, and I weighed almost 270. I was starting to waddle when I walked. I needed a bannister to pull myself up stairs. My knees felt wobbly. Bad eating habits and a lack of exercise had made me a prime candidate for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I didn't like the fat guy I saw in the mirror. I realized that, if I wanted to continue living, let alone living in Alaska, I had to change.
Over the past year, I've changed a lot. I now weigh 207. My cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are good, and my body mass index is down to 26.7 from well over 30. I'm still 10 or 15 pounds overweight, but I feel better than I have in years, and I like myself again. I can do things now that I couldn't do last year. I can climb steps and hills without even breathing hard. I can work or play all day and still have energy.
My column next week will be the story of how I did it. If it helps just one person, it will be worth the telling.
Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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