Outdoors with John Perkovich

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2005

After reading in the Alaska number one guidebook about Alaska legend Andrew Berg I became fascinated with all the every day chores that this man had to do just to survive. Living in the wilderness of Alaska was very difficult and living off the land was not a weekend camping experience, it was a way of life. There were no stores to run into to grab all your supplies you needed and hurry back home to start supper.

It seemed that Andrew was constantly making bread along with the constant job of rounding up wood for his stove. The fireplace was not part of his cabin or even part of his world at that time. The wood stove not only was real it was also the difference in surviving or freezing to death. Living alone in the wilderness means that it is all up to you to survive, there is no one else to depend on! Even if you’re sick there are still things you need to do each day just to survive. I don’t think very many of us Alaskans would do very well if we had to live like Andrew Berg did here in Alaska some 70 years ago.

Living alone in the wilderness was a daily struggle just to survive and many of the comforts of home that we all enjoy today were not present in Andrew’s time. There were no sewing shops on the street corner to mend your clothes or convenience stores to run into and grab a couple frozen pizzas for dinner. Things back then were done a whole lot differently then they are today. If you were gone from your cabin very long the wood fire went out and you came home to a cold cabin and had to start a new fire. There was no such thing as natural gas or fuel oil to keep your home nice and warm even when you were not there.

Often times Andrew Berg canned his meat to preserve it and a lot of times it was Dall sheep that he canned. A sheep was easier for Andrew Berg to carry out then it would be for one person to carry a moose out by himself. He also mentioned that a moose was simply too big for one person to eat where a sheep generally yielded about 30 jars of meat.

Andrew also mentioned mending his own clothes as well as making his own moccasins. How many of us mountain men today can mend our own clothes or sew up a pair of moccasins?

On one of my more recent trips away from home I tore my favorite pair of bib pants. I was working again in the Beluga area and out stomping the brush or fishing whenever I could. I thought about how I wish I could drop them off at Summit Cleaners to have the seamstress there sew them up for me so I could have them back right away. Well there are no such places like Summit in Beluga so I did the next best thing I sewed them myself just like Andrew Berg would have done.

I did not have a needle or even some thread with me but I did find a broken fish hook and some 50- LB spider wire fishing line! The hook was too blunt on the broken end and too dull to be able to push it through the blue jean material so I found a leather punch or ice pick on my pliers and used that to poke the holes through the pants. I tried to shove the line through the holes but that never worked either.

After several attempts I found a broken fishhook with the nice eye on it to use as a sewing needle. I now had the line threaded through the holes punched through the pants, which created another problem. How do I tie the knot after each stitch? Remember that neat little twirl you all saw Doc Carlson or veterinarian Taby do with their pliers while putting stitches in one of their patients? Well trust me, that simply is not possible! They must have three hands to do something like that with a needle and a pair of pliers.

I did finally get one pliers knot but it was tied about an inch from where it really needed to be and the tear was not pulled together right at all. I ended up cutting it out and redoing it. I then tried several other knots after each stitch that I made and finally I had the tear pulled back together by the bright yellow fishing line and feeling quite proud of myself. Each knot was different from the previous one and I’m not even sure what method or methods of making knots I even used. Later that day I found out why I really did not have a clue what I was doing.

You see spider wire does not stretch like sewing thread, which means it is not real good to sew with like I did. My sewing exposed another weakness in my favorite pants, they were getting worn thin and the material would not support the non stretching fishing line without a seam or patch to help hold things together. As soon as I put the repaired pants on they started tearing through the thin material. Within a half an hour my 45-minute sewing job was ruined! I guess the next best thing to do is take them to Summit.

I suppose the fact that I have put on a few extra pounds this fall and winter didn’t help much either. In my defense, bears also lard up (it might be wise not to use this term around females of any species) every fall and winter and their skin does not bust open. Also in my defense Scott Eggemeyer is our camp cook in Beluga and his fantastic cooking has caused several of us to lard up since his arrival. The disease of being too weak to push ourselves away from the table appears to have set in too. In any event life here in Beluga, Alaska has been good so if you spot any longhaired pot bellied furry creatures look twice as it might be me! See you next week!

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