A lone fox wanders along the Chilkat Summit.
This post has three sections, first I talk about our recent trip to Sitka at the start of my book tour. Second, I share a link to an article in Canada’s National Observer about the Constantine mine. I was recently interviewed and they published several of my photographs. Finally, I continue with my story of my first trip to Alaska in 1983.
Our family book signing tour has begun and we started by boarding the ferry in Haines. Travel by ferry in Southeast Alaska can be quite pleasant. My life has changed since I first boarded that ferry to Alaska in 1983. Now, we are a family of 4; Edie, my wife and our two daughters, Stella, age 12, and Sapphire, age 4. Rather than sleep on the deck in the tent, we got a stateroom and headed off into the night towards Juneau. The ferry docked in Juneau at midnight, and we were in that state where we were half-asleep, half-awake. We could hear the announcements for the departing and boarding passengers, but it all seemed a bit like a dream. We woke up to a rainy morning and docked in Sitka.
Sitka, while only a one-night ferry journey from Haines, feels like a different world. Haines has the wide Chilkat river cutting through its heart, Sitka points out towards the ocean. Waves break on rocky islands offshore, and the harbor is packed full of ocean-going fishing boats. Another big difference between the two towns is that Sitka relishes in its Russian heritage. Sitka was formerly the capital of Russian America. It’s hard to find any trace of Russian history in Haines, as the Russians were after sea otters, and Haines is too far from the deep ocean water and doesn’t support the kelp beds where sea otters live and frolic.
To us, Sitka felt like a big city, even though there are only about 8,000 inhabitants. But that’s more than three times the size of Haines. We were struck by the surprising combination of friendliness and sophistication. I started the day with an interview with Raven radio, Sitka’s public radio station. Here is the link:
The Sitka Conservation Society sponsored my presentation about the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. An enthusiastic group showed up at the brand-new Sitka Public Library for my show. Even though there are some major differences between the two towns, we share the salmon that know no borders. Salmon are the great connectors. They connect salt water to fresh water. They connect people and places vast distances apart. They connect the ocean, the forest and the rivers. They connect the humans, Native and non-native alike, and the animals that depend on them for sustenance. Some of the salmon that spawn in Haines travel right in front of Sitka. So a threat to the salmon in Haines is a threat to Sitka.
It is rewarding to give the same presentation over and over, as I hone my message about why the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is unique and the waters upstream must be protected. I never use notes and that gives my presentations a fresh, spontaneous feel. I respond to the group and the group responds to me.
I look for analogies and contrasts that the audience can relate to. For contrast with the Sitkans, I talked about our winter in Haines, how cold it gets and the ice that forms in the river. Because it’s so close to the open ocean, Sitka rarely gets snow. While our Mosquito Lake property in Haines was still covered in snow when we left just a few short days ago, daffodils were blooming all over Sitka.
For similarities I talked about the salmon and the eagles, and how both know no boundaries and join us together.
This time, I finished with a call for action. This included a chance to sign a letter to the Alaska Legislature. The letter asks the legislature to make it easy, rather than hard, for Alaskan rivers to attain Outstanding National Resource Waters Designation, also known as Tier 3 Designation. If the Chilkat River achieves Tier 3 status, it will be very unlikely that a mine will be able to pollute the waters that the Chilkat salmon and eagles depend on. Over 20 people signed the letter and we sent them on to Juneau. Here is the link for more information.
The National Observer:
One of my goals in writing Where Eagles Gather is to raise the issue of protection of the waters of the Chilkat River watershed beyon a local, “Haines jobs vs. Haines environment” issue to a national and international level. I want citizens all over the world to see how special the Eagle Preserve is and join together to protect one of the greatest natural wildlife gathering locations on the planet.
So I was very happy when I got a phone call from Charles Mandell of Canada’s National Observer for an interview about the threat of the Constantine mine. The title says it all “Canadian mine threatens heart and soul of Alaskan Community.” Here is the link:
My first trip to Alaska, 1983… Continued:
I got off the plane in Anchorage and picked up my huge, green Kelty backpack. Right away, a guy in his early thirties with a red nose picked me up. “ My name is Carl and I’m the manager with ATA here in Anchorage. Boy am I glad you’re here. I feel terrible and I’m supposed to row the raft trip this afternoon. I’d like you to do it for me.”
He took me straight to the Eagle River and we stood in front of the rapids. They were class III rapids, nothing life-threatening; except that the water was ice-cold, I’d never run the river before, and I was unfamiliar with their equipment.
“Can you do it?” he asked.
I looked at the broiling rapids. I looked at him. If I said yes, and really messed up, I could hurt someone badly. If I said no, he may wonder why they sent me here and I could lose my job. I hesitated, and then I said, “Sure I can do it. But don’t you think it would be prudent for me to do a practice run before the guests show up?”
“That makes sense, except for the fact that I feel like crap”, he said. But let’s jump in the raft and take a run. We’ve got time before the guests show up.”
I jumped in the raft and grabbed the oars and Carl pushed the boat off into the river. Even though I had quite a bit of rafting experience in college, it was all with paddleboats. With a paddle raft, the guide yells out the commands and the passengers power the boat through the water. Pulling on oars was a completely different animal. I hadn’t rowed an oar boat in a river before in my life!
The current grabbed the boat and we started down the river. Right away, I had problems with the oars; they stuck out so much farther than the paddles I was used to. They kept hitting the rocks and getting pulled out of my hands. But I was determined to show Carl what I could do, and every time I dropped an oar I picked it up and pulled for my life.
I hit practically every rock in the river, careened through the rapids, filled the boat with water, and then hit some slack water. Carl was soaked. He bailed out the boat, and I pulled the boat to shore.
We had to hurry back upstream to pick up the clients. Carl sneezed, looked up and said, “I’ll row them down this time, and you can ride in the raft.”
The trip went without a hitch and Carl guided the boat through the rapids with ease. We got in the car to go back to the guide house and Carl was quiet. I didn’t know what to say, so we rode back with a bit of unease in the air. We pulled up to the house and there was a white van parked in the driveway.
A man with dark eyes and a dark beard got out of the van. Carl said, “Joe, this is the owner of Alaska Travel Adventures, Bob Dindinger.”
I couldn’t believe it. Here it was my first day on the job and I was face-to-face with the owner of the company. With my performance on the river, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Carl and Bob went into a back room and began talking quietly. I wasn’t sure what the plan was for the next day and waited for someone to tell me what was going on. I couldn’t make out what they were saying and they talked for hours. It got later and later and still nothing happened so I looked for a place to fall asleep.
Around 8pm Bob and Carl came out of their meeting. “We have a problem with our operation in Denali. We have a “semi-permanent camp” set up with wall tents, and the Park Service just told us that this type of camp is not allowed and we must dismantle everything and switch to backpacking tents and stoves. We have to do this before our next trip and we have clients coming in the day after tomorrow.”
“So all the backpacking style tents and cook gear have to be delivered to Denali ASAP. All the gear is in the white van parked out front. We need someone to drive it to Denali and we think you are the man for the job. We’re on a tight budget. We are going to give you a daily wage of $50. We want you to leave at midnight so tomorrow will be your first day on the job. You will deliver the gear and then you will work in Denali as a backpacking guide. Do you want the job?”
I gave it some thought. After my performance on the river today, I realize that I need some more practice before I can guide clients down the river. I’m not sure if Carl is in the mood to train a new guide. He needs someone who can row right away. Besides, I’m in Alaska for the adventure. Backpacking guide in Denali?
“I’ll take the job.”
(To Be Continued)