Running with the Big Dogs
Pablo and the fish and I are headed in the general direction of home, which lies to the southwest. In order to get there from here, we first have to travel more than a hundred miles northwest. That’s just the way things are in Alaska, what with its paucity of highways. Of course, an hour and a half ago I was in better shape as far as distance and direction from home. Now I find myself thirty-three miles farther away in the little town of Chitina. We’ve been away from home for nine days, eventually making our way to the seaport town of Valdez in Prince William Sound. That’s where we acquired the fish.
Pablo is an orange-eyed parrot. To be exact, he’s a Mexican Double Yellow-Headed Green Amazon, and he likes to travel with me in my truck and camping trailer. The fish are not pets. They’re dinner. Fresh troll- caught silver salmon from the waters of Valdez Arm, courtesy of Bill and Betty and an afternoon spent on their boat. Betty counted the fish as “two and a half” as one is particularly small, and contained neither eggs nor milt. The other two salmon, both mature, were returning to the waters where they were spawned, themselves to spawn and then die.
Trolling for salmon in Valdez Arm Bill, Betty and Pablo on the boat
Somewhere along the way that little salmon began swimming with the wrong crowd, maybe took an unplanned turn in the ocean when bigger fish swam past. Now instead of another year in the ocean to grow and produce roe or milt, it’s in my refrigerator. I was thinking about that fish this afternoon, after we left Valdez, serpentined our way through narrow Keystone Canyon with its Horsetail and Bridal Veil Falls, climbed over twenty-six hundred feet to the summit of Thompson Pass, and hiked around Worthington Glacier. How did that little salmon come to be swimming with a school of much older, much larger fish?Worthington Glacier in Thompson Pass
Anyway about one o’clock this afternoon, as we were approaching what I felt was nap time, my foot eased the brake on and my hands turned the steering wheel to the right and suddenly, without forethought, we were headed for Chitina on the Edgerton Highway, the opposite direction from home.
Chitina is an historic little town in its own right, but then, most of Alaska is historic in one way or another. Chitina was established in 1908 as the northern terminus of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad (CR&NW), cynically, and perhaps affectionately, referred to as the Can’t Run and Never Will Railroad. This town also served as a mining supply town for the Kennecott Copper mine, more than sixty miles away at Kennicott. I didn’t make a typo there—those are the correct spellings, all the result of a lack of proof-reading many, many years ago.
Today, Chitina is known for three things: Copper River salmon dip-netting, the start of the road to McCarthy, and a well-known bumper sticker that reads: “Where the he-- is Chitina?”
So here we are, Pablo and me, and the fish, camped beside the great Copper River, just downstream of about a dozen fish wheels that are churning in the turbid waters, the big baskets occasionally scooping up a salmon. Like that little fish now in my refrigerator, I made an unintended turn, but that turn has brought back a flood of memories about old friends, far away destinations, and the worst and best dog team I ever had.