Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving




Ihope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We were blessed with two this year. The one at the farm was especially enjoyable though because I had a chance to visit a place that was so much a part of my life.

We drove out on the logging road that eventually led to within about a mile of the farm. Years ago the only way to access the farm was by boat, or perhaps walking, which I did once. It was quite an ordeal that included wading streams, crossing muskegs and slogging my way over dangerously sticky mudflats. I was fortunate that I didn't get stuck on the flats or cross paths with a brown bear. Anyway, this trip only entailed having what few teeth I have left jarred almost loose by the potholes in the road. There were a couple of scary moments going across a couple of the bridges that spanned Game Creek too, but on a scale of one to ten, they wouldn't have warranted more than a five. After parking the car we walked down a well marked trail through a patch of old growth spruce and hemlock. This small stretch of woods serves as a buffer between the farm property and the surrounding area and I was happy to see that it was spared. In the years before the area was logged I had followed the trail up through the forest past several benches and into an area we called the third muskeg. Chris Austin, one of the young men from the farm accompanied me on the hunt and up on that muskeg I shot the largest buck I've ever seen up until then. It was quite the chore getting that deer back to the farm. A road back then would have been a welcome sight. As it was we took turns packing it on our backs all the way down the path for several miles until we reached the edge of the fields where we could pick it up with the farm's tractor. I sure couldn't perform such a feat of strength now. I'm not even sure I could walk empty handed all the way up to that third muskeg. Ah, to be young again.

Once we passed through the woods we broke out into the fields. Off in the distance I could see the house we'd built. It was somewhat difficult to make out. Down through the years the alders and blueberry brush had grown up around it. I'm afraid that one day they will reclaim the entire area and only the steel roofing and stove pipe will be left to testify that once a fine, proud house stood in that place. Though it's hard to tell now, it once was the nicest place on the farm. With a split level entry way that led to four bedrooms downstairs or to the living room, den, kitchen and greenhouse/balcony upstairs, it was quite large. The foundation was made up of the trees that we cut to make room for the house and all the framework came from our sawmill- rough cut green lumber that shrank as it aged and dried, leaving gaps in walls and floors. I bought all the other building materials in order to expedite the building process and avoid some of the problems that the other cabins experienced- those that used only the farm lumber for siding and flooring.

I crossed the slough out front and remembered the many trips I had to take to get our laundry water from it, ten gallons at a time up that hill. I dreaded laundry day, at least until we finally ran a water line from the Carey cabin to ours. That was a major feat in itself. Nothing came easily out there.

Just inside the woods at the base of the hill I saw the remnants of an old tire swing that the girls used to play on. The most simple things could be turned into fun. There was a small alder tree at the base of the hill that had been bent over that the kids used to straddle and use like a one sided teeter-totter. When you don't have much, you make do with what you have. In so many ways that simple life was good.

The upper picture shows the road that led between the fields/ barn/ dry house and the tabernacle. The buildings on the right weren't there when I lived at Game Creek. I think they use the one building to hang the animals they slaughter. They acquired quite a few more farm animals after we left. The small building on the left is the ladies outhouse. It's a two stall affair, much like the one I used to frequent, only this one is for the ladies only. I guess the men's is on the other side of camp. I don't doubt that it's more comfortable for all the parties involved to have separate accommodations, but I bet they don't have near the number of good stories any more.

The cabin on the left nestled in the hemlock trees, you can barely make out the roof line, is the one that our dear Sister Lydia used to live in. She was responsible for all mail in and out of the farm at the time and monitored the CB radio- the only link between the farm and the town house. She was pretty hefty and I think after she got stuck in the mud flats the second time refused to ever go to town again unless we were blessed with a high enough tide to bring a boat up to the edge of the farm. Her husband was one of the three men killed in the boating accident that occurred years ago in front of Gallagher's Flats. She passed on a few years back. She was an interesting gal, and though we weren't close friends, I would love to be able to sit down and reminisce with her about old times.

Anyway, that's what I've got for now. I wanted to share a few pictures of the farm with you as it is now and relive a few memories. Hope your Thanksgiving was memorable in a good way and if not, there's always next year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game Creek Visit


Back in October, signs went up around the town announcing what has become an annual event out at Game Creek. The entire town is invited to come out and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner at the farm. This year the celebration was on November 8. It actually works out better to have it early. The most recent snows would have made it impossible to travel by car or truck if it had been delayed.
This was only the second time that I've been able to attend, but both times have been memorable. The tabernacle was decorated as ornately as it could be and the food was delightful. I noticed that all the residents of the farm stayed in the kitchen and waited on all of their guests to get their plates before finally serving themselves. The warmth and hospitality was refreshing and once again I was very pleased to be able to attend. After dinner there was a beautiful slide show with scenes from around the area and several musicians performed as well.
Before dinner I had an opportunity to walk around the camp a little bit and get a few pictures. I wish I could accurately describe the range of feelings that coursed through me as I walked. I once thought I might die there before I got away I so desperately wanted to leave. I was angry and depressed and felt trapped, but on this day I was here because I was invited and I wanted to be there and I was happy to visit, but also sad to see how the place had changed. The tabernacle has endured years of freezing and thawing and shifting so that the outer walls are sagging and the beams inside are bowed. I can't help but wonder how much longer it can stand and if it did collapse or have to be razed, would there be any thought of replacing it with a smaller version? The fact is, the folks living there are by and large on the back half of their lives and just staying on top of the every day needs must be a full time job. I'm afraid that one day there won't be anyone left to carry on the chores that such a place demands. There is firewood to split and animals to attend to and fences to mend. I'm not sure if most of the meals are eaten together still or not, if so, that requires a lot of work both before and after the meal. I see that a new boardwalk has been built past one of the original buildings and other boardwalks need to be replaced.
At one time pets weren't allowed, with a few notable exceptions, but I noticed a half dozen dogs this time, and I was glad to see them. Though it has been a few years since paint has been applied to any of the buildings, when I was living there, none of the buildings were painted. I know that now everyone has a cellphone and I'm not sure how many computers there are on the farm. At one time it required a trip to town and a darn good excuse to make a phone
call, and even having a radio was looked down upon. My how the times have changed. As Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing.
The green cabin in the top picture used to be called the Mosher cabin or the MacKenzie cabin, after the families that occupied them. I can't recall exactly how many people lived in that small home when we first arrived back in '76, but I believe it housed four families. All of the cabins were cramped then. I guess it was a step up from the large army tents that the original group stayed in that first year though. At the time, the boardwalk out front was comprised of just two slippery boards nailed side by side and it was almost impossible to keep from sliding on them... good for balance I guess. The red building beyond was the Banaszack cabin. It was built after the place they were living in caught fire. At the time three familes and some single women were housed there as I recall. It later served as the school when the family moved to another farm up in Haines. As I looked around the memories just came flooding in. For ten years this was my home, for better or for worse. When I look around and see the need, part of me just wants to come out and help- maybe put in a new boardwalk or pack some firewood or set up a new fence. For all the animosity I once felt for this place, I'm afraid now that it may not be around much longer, and that would really be a shame.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mac's


One of the highlights of my trip back to my home town of Marion was driving down the street where I grew up. Of course after thirty or so years everything on Belmont Street was different. If I didn't know where my house was located I wouldn't have known it. The hill that we sledded on so many winters ago, the one that seemed to take forever to get back to the top of, it was just a small incline, almost unnoticable to me now. Everything seemed so much smaller- our house, our street, the hill. So many changes have taken place, which only makes sense; nothing can stay the same. It just seems like so many of the changes aren't necessarily for the better. The high school where Jan and I met has been expanded and is now the middle school. They built a new high school out on the edge of town- way out where everyone has to drive to now- no more walking to school. They changed the name of the street the school is on from Seminole Avenue to something like President's Way or some such thing. Why? What was wrong with the old name? The little grocery store that my family shopped at, Vine Street market, is all boarded up. Another victim to the modernization of America I guess. When I was growing up there were little neighborhood markets just like Vine Street scattered all over the town. The clerks all knew your name and we even had charge accounts for groceries.
One of my more pleasant memories was going down the street to Mac's Trading Post. I spent many an hour there looking at the glass case that was filled with plastic trays that rotated when Mac would push a toggle switch. Each tray had an assortment of brightly colored plugs or spoons or spinners- some for bass or walleyes and a few really huge ones for muskies. I lusted after that gear as sure as some men lust after a woman. I never saw anyone buy anything from that case- it seems like the same lures were there year after year- just as well, I always enjoyed looking at them.
E.P. MacAffee- Mac, was quite the salesman. Whether it was selling a nickle candy bar to a kid or an outboard motor to an adult, he could get the sale. If I walked in with a buddy he was always quick to say, "What can Iget for ya girls?" If you came in by yourself it was, "What can I do today to make you feel bad?" It always made me laugh. Mac had the only sporting goods store in town and just about any sport you wanted to engage in, he could provide the gear. He had baseball gloves, and golf clubs; shotguns, rifles, and fly rods. He sold boats and motors;ice skates and basketball shoes. There wasn't a season that he wasn't ready for. If you lettered in a sport he had the appropriate letter- and the jacket or sweater to put it on. The store was located right across the street from the (then) high school and every afternoon about three or so there was an influx of hungry teens parting with their money as fast as he could shove it in the till. He carried an assortment of snacks that could appeal to just about any taste. He even had a infra-red oven to cook the frozen sandwiches and pizzas that he kept in the freezer.
Every year around the end of October he would take off with his truck and head north. It was time to pick out the Christmas trees he would be selling. Scotch Pines from Michigan and Balsam from New Brunswick. Shortly before Thanksgiving Mac would return, usually with some kind of animal he'd shot; a deer or a black bear or a bob cat. He had a number of his trophies placed throughout the store. The first time I ever saw a Whitetail was at Mac's. He had it hanging upside down in his carport and was skinning it. I just about got sick- I couldn't stand the sight of blood back then. Shortly after his return, long stretches of hurricane fence were set up in anticipation of the coming trees, and then, one day, they would arrive. Tree after tree after tree were loaded into the carport until it was full to the ceiling, then they were piled in stacks all around the house and store. In the early years the branches were all tied with heavy brown hemp or jute strings to keep them from breaking and also from taking up too much space until it was time to shake them out and set up against the fencing. The smell of balsam was so clean and refreshing, like walking in a Northern forest. Mac would keep a barrel going as the season ramped up where all the branches and needles could be burned and the white smoke drifted across the lot. He thought it helped to enhance the season.
Both my older brother Mark and I worked for Mac and there were quite a few years where we didn't have to pay for our family's Christmas trees. For all the years I worked there I don't remember the price ever changing- "About a dollar a foot." he'd say to the customer, kind of hunkering down and speaking real low like he was giving you a bargain that no one else was getting. Ol' Mac. I saw him in the nursing home on a visit back to Marion so many years ago when I was in the navy. He was in a wheelchair and I don't think he knew who I was, but he was in good spirits and glad to have the company. I think he would turn over in his grave if he could see the store that he built up all those years. I wish they would tear it down. He deserves better than that. He deserves to have it remembered as it once was- a great place to get a snack and tell a joke and maybe buy a pair of ice skates or a box of shells.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friendships

This is a picture of me with a bass that I caught on my trip south to Ohio. My friend, Bill Snyder, insists that the fish weighed in at an impressive four pounds, where as I was thinking it was hard pressed to make a pound, but what do I know? I don't want to sound vain, but I'm not used to catching such small fish. Don't get me wrong, it was a blast to be fishing in a still body of water and not have to look over your shoulder for
Brown bears. We were guests at his sister and brother-in-law's farm pond and aside from the frigid wind and unseasonably cold temps, I was delighted to be there. Bill and I started the day at the Whetstone River near Mt. Gilead at a pool that I had some fond memories of. It had been over thirty years since I'd wet a line there and over the course of time the pool had shrunk and the gravel bank had grown up with brush and trees. Of course all that brush and overhang wasn't conducive to
fly fishing, and Bill promptly got his fly caught in a tree. While it was humorous, I had bought a three day license and kind of wanted to catch a fish or two. When Bill suggested that we try a different place, I thought he may have had the Scioto River in mind. It's a dirty, muddy slow moving river that passes close to his home in Green Camp. We sometimes joke about him netting carp, which he lovingly calls "sewer bass" there in the Scioto. However, his sister's place was about forty minutes away so we went there and had a great time.
Bill's brother, Don, was my best friend when I was a teen and we spent countless hours trying to catch fish- any kind of fish. We once rode our bikes for miles to get to a farm pond near his grandmothers house only to find the thing clogged with weeds so thick we couldn't cast far enough to reach the water. It wasn't a complete loss though. We discovered that the bull frogs would chase the lures we had so we caught a potato chip can full of them. I didn't eat any of the legs, but Don said they were good- tastes like chicken. How often have you heard that? Another time we couldn't get a ride to our favorite fishing haunt so we took the lid off his cistern in the back yard and chummed a couple of gold fish we had dropped in there some weeks before. One November day, right after Thanksgiving, we got all excited about fishing after watching an episode of Gaddabout Gaddis, The Flying Fisherman. The fact that it was snowing outside and colder than hell didn't deter us. We walked several miles towards the creek we were going to fish. Our path took us right through the rough side of town and while we stood waiting for a train to pass, a couple of hillbillies took the opportunity to hop out of their broken down car and punch each of us in the ear. I can't really blame them- we looked like we needed to be punched- a couple of fools standing at a rail crossing in a snow storm holding fishing rods and tackle boxes.
Don used to go home and tell his mom, "You wouldn't believe what happened to us today." She'd just shake her head and say, "Oh yes I would." She knew anything could happen when we got together.
I'd been in Alaska a few years when my mom called with the news that Don had been killed in a motorcycle accident. It was a shock and I still miss him to this day.
If there is anything good that can come from such a tragic event, it's that Bill and I have developed a close friendship and I cherish it. I've come to realize that if a person has a close friend, regardless of their financial status, they are very rich indeed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Home State

We finally made it back home to Alaska after almost three weeks of visiting family and friends. Dorothy had it right when she said, "There's no place like home."
Even so, we still had a good time. I had the chance to visit some of the places I hadn't seen for over thirty years and it was comforting to know that some things don't change. A case in point is the Mohican State Forest in eastern Ohio. It's a land of rolling hills and clean water and the trees were in all of their Autumn glory. I took my wife and mom with me and even bought a three day out of state license to try a little fishing in the Mohican River- or maybe it's the Clear Fork- I'm not sure. In any event it's clean and supports a population of trout and smallmouth bass as well as rock bass. There may be other fish there as well, I can't remember. On this particular October day the weather was uncommonly cold and it almost felt like it could snow. We had brought along some food for a picnic and I was hoping that down in the valley by the river it might be a few degrees warmer. No such luck. My mom was bundled in her winter coat with her collar pulled up against the chill wind and Jan and her were bustling around laying out the checkered table cloth and setting out the sandwiches while I made a few casts in the river. The picnic, which we ended up labling a quicknic, lasted all of five minutes. Even for long time Alaska residents, it was COLD.
On our way over to the park we passed by some beautiful foliage and some of the farms had hundreds of pumpkins littering the fields. I had never realized that Ohio grew so many pumpkins. It's amazing what you miss when you are a kid. One of the things that struck me as I drove was all of the dead racoons along side the road. I can't remember ever seeing so many before. There were a few opposums and maybe a squirrel or two, but the racoons really stood out. I could have made coonskin hats for half the town of Hoonah if I were of the mind to do it- and I could find anyone who wanted one. Fortunately in God's economy nothing goes to waste, and where the road kill was, the buzzards weren't far behind. I had forgotten about them.
As you can see, my mind has taken a turn for the worse. Back to the forest. When we got into the park we had to take a winding road down, down, down to the river. There was a beautiful covered bridge that you have to cross to get to the picnic area. When I was a kid my family used to come over here at least once a year. All I ever wanted to do was fish- usually with little or no luck. I didn't know about hellgramites back then. They are the larva of the Dobson fly that cling to the under side of flat rocks in the river and the fish love them. It wasn't until I was old enough to drive and had my own car that I found out about them.
My dad used to like to come here with us. Once we went horseback riding and another time we rented canoes in Loudenville and paddled quite aways to the haulout place. If we came in the fall we would have to search for the little stand that sold apples and cider and honey. We almost always got lost and ended up driving around trying to find the covered bridge or the apple stand or the canoe livery. I must have inherited that gene because Jan and Mom and I took off down the wrong road as soon as we entered the woods. Ah well, it was all good- except for the fact that I had to pee like a Russian race horse and they don't have rest stops located where they need to be. That's one great thing about here. A few minutes after I leave town, whether by boat or car, I can let fly without fear of being arrested. Just another added benefit of living in the wilderness. One that shouldn't be taken too lightly.

I'll probably be blogging some more about my time in Ohio. I have a few more pictures I would like to share. It was a pleasant time for me. I never thought I would have enjoyed it so much, but I did and I'm glad.