Yukon River Fishcamp

I do enjoy spending long amounts of time out of doors, whether it is ninety degrees or forty below, rain, ice fog, or shine. In the winter simple walks from Point A to Point B and back again really can refresh my mind fatigued from cabin fever. During the summer I darkly tan while playing tennis and soccer, and cool down hiking at high altitudes on the Chugach Mountains. But my most particular favorite spot to spend time communing with nature is at a fish camp on the Yukon River, located about a forty-minute boat ride upriver from Tanana, Alaska. The first time I hopped ashore as a child from our family friend’s flat-bottom river boat, I saw only a small paradise and quickly set about playing long into the evening with my two younger brothers and our cousins and our family friend’s children. The last time I have visited that wonderful place in the whole of the world was in 1996. That was so long ago, and if I could only go back…
What I first found most entertaining was a pump-action Crossman BB/pellet gun. As a “city-boy” chances for firing any sort of gun were certainly few and far between. My family friend and I, he being a few years younger, spent hours shooting at soda cans and thick tree trunks. My excitement showed when I stored the BB gun on its barrel end in puffy moist soil. My friend was surprised and his father was bothered about pieces of the soil ruining the integrity of the long barrel. He cleaned the inside of the barrel and us kids quickly forgot about our troubles and went off on small adventures.
Next on the bucket list of limitless entertainment was the riverbank itself, in all its muddy and silty splendor. The gritty silt clouding the fast flowing river and caked along the riverbanks brushes clean the myriad driftwood lollygagging along with the currents. Minute branches and twigs light as a feather to freshly felled giant black spruce litter the currents and banks during late May and early June, just around the time my family and I arrived after elementary school ended for the summer. My favorites were searching out weatherly chunks of white spruce bark and paring and carving the edges down, visualizing only fantastically designed river racing boats and pulling them along the bank with strings attached or letting them float free in the gentle currents and ebbs lapping against the silty shore. On the banks were also many insects and spiders going to and fro in grassy brush and pebbly stretches. Watching ants or larger bugs inch along or smashing quick little spiders on the rocks proved satisfying to a child’s curiosity.
Meals were also very different in a home with no running water. What water was used for preparing food, cooking, and drinking had to be packed with five gallon plastic water buckets latched onto a carved wooden shoulder yoke. Packing around ten gallons of water on a wooden yoke with no padding was not easy for a “city-boy”, but I remember acting “tough” and would happily trudge up and down the little hillock from the freshwater stream to the two-story cabin. In the mornings I remember eating hotcake after hotcake, which I had not eaten before. I don’t think we ate anything much distinct for lunch, just sandwiches and crackers and Kraft cheese. Dinners I remember featured salmon freshly caught that afternoon or the late-night before in the nets stretched across parts of the river. Dinner was usually eaten during twilight after many little chores the adults had to carry out, eaten under kerosene lamps in the cabin without electricity. Dinners preceded chats and visiting and card-playing and the occasional cassette tape tune running on D batteries.
The last visit I made there was after seventh grade, so I was somewhat a little more mature than a child, but not yet completely. I’ve always had artistic talent, so when I noticed during my pre-adolescent play that an evening was turning out to be particularly beautiful, I reminded myself to sit on top of the bank later, and take the views in, and memorize them, and sketch the scenes out sometime later on a large blank piece of paper. After dinner and after a short session of play I stepped out from under the tall stands of trees on the high bank directly in front of the cabin and sat on tall, dry grass and scrunched my gangly knees under my elbows and watched a full moon rise and stars blink on and watched the tops of black spruce on the south bank cut jet-black jagged edges torn away from the glare of moon and twinkle of stars. The flowing river made for iridescent gossamer strands, reflecting shimmers of the moon; individual currents and ebbs making themselves known. Cool, dry, soft breezes played along the bank in the westward direction of the river. I knew in my heart of hearts that this one single evening would be incredibly special.

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5 Comments

Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous

5 responses to “Yukon River Fishcamp

  1. Great blog – just posted the link on the BuffaloPost blogroll. Wonderful writing. Next best thing to being there.

  2. VMN

    Yukon River Fishcamp is clearly written with concise language and strong imagery, which are two of my favorite attributes. I am particularly drawn into this piece because it brings me right back to my 8 year old self (braids, glasses and all) swimming in the Yukon after a hard day of working and playing.

    I am so proud of you! Thank you for sharing your work with me. Keep writing.

  3. teri

    Beautiful. You give us in the lower 48 a vivid idea of what life in Alaska is really like.

    Thank you for that gift.

  4. Nina

    I LOVE being at camp and your essay brings to mind so many good memories. I am trying to figure out which camp you were at because mine is 40 minutes upriver from Tanana (on the Yukon)!??!!?

  5. Dazhraii

    Mahsi’cho for posting this! You just brought back memories for me, too! There’s nothing more wonderful than playing along the banks of the Yukon. I am so grateful that we call the Yukon home. Have you been out to my mom’s camp yet? You should check it out! Neenahal’yaa!

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