Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
By Liz Taylor
March 26, 1980
Mouse River Farmers Press
Someone said they were surprised that I had taken off for an Alaskan visit in March. I replied that I was surprised at myself, but one of the reasons I decided to visit my sister and her husband on the happy occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary was because my mother had never been able to go to California to visit her two sisters there, except on one occasion. In the 1940’s she did go and spend some time with her sister, Anna, during the final stages of a terminal illness, and returned home after Anna’s funeral. What a sad occasion for a visit. How much better to go for a party and take flowers to the living.
The day after I arrived in Petersburg was Sigrid’s birthday, March 8th. About two dozen women and a couple of men, showed up at her home at various times during the day bringing gifts and staying to drink coffee. Someone asked if we did this in Towner, and I said I could not speak for everyone, but if that many people showed up for my birthday, I would be sure it was my last, and that they knew it.
On the night of March 8, Sigrid and Harold and I went to the home of Marlene and Dave Cushing for supper. They had been invited about 10 days before for a birthday dinner. When we arrived at the Cushing’s new home there were no strange cars in the driveway and we walked in. The first thing Sigrid and Harold within the house was a beautifully decorated anniversary cake made by their daughter, Karen, and in the darkened living room were their children, Karen, Harold, Michael, and Kirsten, and a number of friends. More friends arrived later to share in the food and hospitality.
It was a lovely party and a surprise to Sigrid and Harold. Their children had worked hard and planned well. Besides doing a lot of cooking and baking with the help of friends to surprise and honor their parents on this day! Actually, their anniversary date was March 15, but they planned to be out of town on that date, so the party was held a week early.
Petersburg is a very hospitable town, as are all the Alaska towns I have visited since my first trip north in 1957. Indeed, the hospitality of Alaskans reminds me of that of North Dakotans, open, friendly, and sincere. Of course, we have all met folks from other states who could easily pass as Alaskans or Dakotans because of their warm and friendly ways.
Most of my week or so in Petersburg was spent visiting with family and new and old acquaintances. The highlight of my stay though, was a “cook fishing” trip with Harold, Sr., Kirsten, Mike, and a neighbor, Caspar Westre.
We left Petersburg boat docks around 8 a.m. on a quiet morning on Harold’s 45 foot diesel powered halibut boat, “Provider II.” A light wet snow was falling but no wind. Indeed, wind is quite uncommon in this area. The upper slopes of the mountains on shore disappeared in clouds and mist as we moved out into Frederick Sound. We saw an occasional robin’s egg blue ice berg and a boat or two as we proceeded to where the cod fishing would take place.
Preparations had been made in advance—netting herring for bait, preparing the lines and hooks. Mike and Caspar were busy playing out about 1,500 fathoms of baited ground line, perhaps 400 hooks on lines about 30 feet apart made up these lines and it took some time. A line anchor and colorful floats followed and then we moved on to anchor near Sukoi Islets off Kupreanoff Island. We sat in the galley and drank coffee and ate sandwiches; the boat motor was shut off and the oil fueled stove warmed us enough to remove our slickers, or oil skins as they call them.
Actually, I was never cold on deck either. We dressed warmly in the morning and as the clouds lifted by afternoon, we were basking in sunshine and admiring the snowy reaches of Beacon Point and other mountains in this area. Usually, a fishing trip for halibut, etc., is much further out than the five miles we went out for cod, but we wanted to make a trip that would get us there and back the same day.
Kirsten and I spent some time on deck watching several sea lions playing in the water and on the rocks nearby. We then decided to take the skiff and row ashore and cross the point for a better look on the other side. Sure enough, after rowing ashore and taking a fairly short walk through the alders, devils club, and huge spruce trees, we reached the other side and took in a private sea lion show! We walked into the water as far as we dared with our hip boots and clapped our hands, splashed the water, to get a better reaction from the sea lions for picture taking.
From my observation and limited knowledge, I gathered that these were Steller’s, or northern, sea lions where the adults weight close to 2,000 pounds. Because of their size, and because Kirsten said they might follow us and overturn our skiff (all in fun, I assumed!) as we returned to the “Provider,” we left them playing near the rocks and walked through the trees back to our skiff. By the way, the water was very clear and a myriad species of shells covered the bottom, along with starfish, sea anemones and many beautiful rocks and plants.
When returned to the boat we again moved on to pick up the lines and hopefully, fish. As we headed back, Harold pointed out Beacon Point and asked if I remembered climbing it one day 22 years ago to go deer hunting with him and take pictures. I remembered it well. The beautiful spring fed stream we climbed along, the dead falls, ferns, moss, and that common place breathtaking scenery, and how glad I was when we reached the top so I could literally collapse and rest while he went off some distance and shot a deer!
He later carried the deer back down to the boat, while I carried the rifle, camera, and with some effort, my own feet. As a matter of fact, I had left Sigrid’s jacket where I had rested, and it was never found, in spite of small searches for it during ensuing hunts.
I was a tourist on this fishing trip, so did little to help bring in the catch…except to lean over the side and watch the fish come up through the clear water, saying such profound things as “there comes another one!” or, later, as Mike identified them for me, “here’s a stick fish…a spiny dog-fish, Pollock, turbot, gray cod…” And the heartbreak of watching him immediately free the halibut because they were not legal at this time.
We kept all of the cod, except those that had been partly eaten by other fish, and as they were dumped aboard Harold and Kirsten cleaned them with enviable speed. Cod is a versatile fish, delicious cooked, baked, smoked, and, as every good Scandinavian knows, made into “lutefisk.”
When we returned to Petersburg late that afternoon we had two or three washtubs full of dressed fish, and two more containers with the roe and liver. That night we had a friend and family feast of cod, cod roe and liver, and various other delicacies.
By the way, cod roe (fish eggs) are equally delicious cold. They are contained in a sac about the size and shape of a large cucumber, and when cold you just slice off a few pieces and eat. I had some for breakfast the next morning. As I had eaten some kind of seafood everyday while there, it seemed no more than right to have “fish eggs” for breakfast!
Being a survivor and probably greedy by nature, I brought back somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of seafood when I returned home. All of this was a gift from Harold and Sigrid, plus some gifts from friends and included a large salmon, tanner crab, king crab, salted herring, cod, homemade “lutefisk”, smoked dog fish, black cod, and salmon, and enough halibut frozen from last fall for a meal or two. Indeed, as I write this on March 23, my children announced they were tired of fish, so tomorrow I will serve venison, one of several packages also brought from Alaska so (as Harold and Sigrid said, I could taste their deer!) it will be still another treat.
Thought for the day, “If you see someone without a smile, give him yours.”
Next week…Sex, religion and politics…why not?