My mother spent her last years here with us near the old Iditarod Trail. But she grew up in a sod house and half dugout on a land claim in New Mexico Territory. She was born at a time when Pancho Villa’s raiding was keeping things lively thereabouts, before the territory became our forty-seventh state.
Back in 1974, just days before the second Iditarod Race, I picked up a well-conditioned swing dog. Several hundred miles into the race, I’d rue that acquisition. Today, I can’t recall the dog’s name when I got him, but by the time we were slipping, sliding, and falling on the wind-polished, incredibly slick going on the broad South Fork of the Kuskokwim, I had renamed the creature, “Insect.” He was little, bug-eyed, and irritating; it fit.
It’s never too early for me to be planning hunting trips. Permit results came out the other day. My hunting partner, second-eldest son Ethan, called from the North Slope where he’s plying his profession as a civil engineer, to inform me we both have been drawn for caribou permits. Our buddy Chad Chilstrom—Google www.chadstoolbox.com –drew as well. To get into the area I wish to reach will require a big “river sled.” And that got me into the boat-building mode.
Now I love wooden boats and boat building. I built my first at age 15 and wish I had a nickel for every mile I rowed it hunting, fishing, and generally plying the waterways of Western Oregon. As teens, we used to take it through the breakers in front of my home beside the surf at Oceanside, Oregon to fish several miles into the open Pacific. Loaded up with bottom fish, back we’d row.
Usually the surf would have built up due to the prevailing northwest wind, so sometimes we’d make it in without capsizing, but often curling over us, a big green comber as high as the 9’2” dinghy would send us swirling under the thundering foam. It looked treacherous to the tourists. But not to worry, my dad’s standard rules (always wear life preservers—my favorite was a WWII navy model buoyed with Italian cork—and go out and come in on the same incoming tide) always kept us safe. With our fishing tackle and fish tied fast, the whole works would in fairly short order come washing in. We’d sell black rockfish, red snapper, ling cod, and other to-die-for eating fare to tourists and villagers for two bits a fish.
At the time back in the mid-1970s when I finished filming my motion picture Sourdough, (see About the Author) some considered me Alaska’s foremost outdoor cinematographer. At that peak, I put down my camera. I’ve never felt inspired to pick it back up—that is, until recently. A couple of years ago a light flashed and an idea began to take shape for a television reality show I would like to create, codirect, coproduce, and be featured in. It’s not at a point where I feel free to divulge format information. Suffice it to say that I’m very excited about prospects for it to start right out of the chute with an instant following of millions.
By now, if you’ve been following the first three installments, I don’t have to waste lines paralleling steering, rudder dynamics, and getting moving for you to pick up that this wrap-up is on the same topic, which is gaining direction and moving out to act on it. Many have been inspired, as I have, by my late friend Col. Norman Vaughan’s signature admonishment to Dream Big and Dare to Fail.
When the idea hit me to make a dramatic career change and begin writing, speaking, and making public appearances supporting the Iditarod, I had confidence God was source of the inspiration. Since then, so many evidences of his help have rained down I’ve grown all the more sure he’s directing me. Revelations. Pieces fitting together. Occurances seemingly from out of nowhere—most would call them “coincidence”—that further my work and keep me pumped about it. Altogether it just stacks up as one big, growing mound of proof and assurance that I’m working in the area of my God-given talent under his favor and aid. Now as I work on my writing, public appearances, and lately, ideas for a television reality series, I just move out and do the next item of work or follow the next line of inspiration it looks like he’s set before me and excited me about. As I do, I rest—rest assured that he’ll show me a further step, if necessary making the needed corrections if, with a pure heart and motive, I’ve taken a wrong heading.
Whether it’s strangling red salmon for a living on Alaska’s Bristol Bay or navigating a course through life, you need to know where you’re boat’s going, and to steer your way there you need the force of moving water shoving against the rudder.
When younger, I’d plunge into unknowns the most hairy-chested angel might well hesitate to stick even the tip of his toe into. With abandon, I’d fly into whatever wild adventure or enterprise came to mind or appeared in my path and seemed appealing. Never a consultation with those who could have mentored me. Never a seeking of or dependence on God for his leading or help. I had a lot of water flowing over my rudder, but it was undisciplined.
As the same time, I often dismissed with a wave of my hand tremendous opportunities, opportunities that if taken up, would have probably given me a life of wonderful economic success. As if they grew on trees, I turned my back on offerings, openings and chances at veritable gold mines that, as I watched them develop for others over the years, proved to be sure-fire. I’d list a half dozen, but I don’t want to make you or myself sick.
The many years with my old business partner Keith Lauwers, sharing the wild adventures and unique experiences attendant to the strangling of salmon on Alaska’s Bristol Bay, provided an unparalleled classroom. Other notable schooling during decades spent in other realms have provided valuable lessons as well. My ever-growing 20-20 look-back at time, energy, and resource-wasting mistakes and blown opportunity have made me eager—even desperate—to do better.
The clock ticked down, nearing the hour. Our gillnetter, the FV New Life rose and fell with the swells, drifting with the tide, the 3208 turbo Cat engine idling. In the pilot house I discussed alternatives with Keith, my partner in our commercial salmon fishing business. Out on the famed Bristol Bay grounds, site of the world’s greatest red salmon fishery, with time approaching a big opener, we tried to guess where the fish might be concentrated.
Full partners, Keith and I alternated year by year skippering the boat and running the operation. Though we discussed such major decisions as where to set on this opener, this was my year and the final call would be mine. I prayed for guidance as fervently as I knew how. “God, where, in all this vast expanse of water, should I point our bow to position us in front of the densest schools?” There were fish moving out there somewhere in net-sinking masses, but where?