Alaska life

Summer in Twin Lakes

Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw. Courtesy photo
Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw. Courtesy photo

Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw, sent me a story from the Ahtna region and gave me permission to share on the Athabascan Woman blog. This is his story in his own words, and occurred last year.

I got back to Twin Lakes on June 9. I had clear plan and a vision of what was to be. A long glorious summer out on the trails and in the wind, just like the good old days. It was about 3:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon that I drove in to the yard. A dog was laying on his side in the dirt next to the house. He gave a bark without moving his eyes or lips. It sounded like a magpie gargling sand.

My brother was sitting in his easy chair. It was the same chair I hauled up from Anchorage in 1995 along with a conference table. One does not live in Sasquatch country without a large conference table, even if it’s sure to annoy all your visitors who have to pack themselves against the wall like sardines, but there is some prestige to having a large conference room in a remote rural outpost without running water, electrical hook ups or even a good porch!

At any rate my brother was sitting in his easy chair, the same one I bought up from Anchorage in 1995. The same table was lodged against his belly and the same coffee pot once a shiny steel pot purchased from the university mall before it closed down in the late 90’s, was on the burner. There was some pleasantries then I began to offload the truck. Several boxes of books, several cases of files, all kinds of inane objects like coffee mugs, toothpicks, extra socks and fishing lures came next.

In rural Alaska even a bent key or twisted door handle eventually will find some use or need. I perused my little cabin. Built in 1979 at a cost of $1,700, the 15’ by 15’ cabin had long ago paid for itself several times over. Extensive rains had taken its toll but the place was useful yet. Since 1988, the only use for the cabin was storage, mainly large guns and massive amounts of ammunition. Then there was the occasional box of meeting minutes and work papers.

The last time I spent a night in the cabin was in 1998. Since then I would come up from Chistochina and go on to Lost Lake where my hunting camp was, often times without even checking the cabin. Or if I was hauling trash I would come up and go back the same day. After all it was only 53 miles one way, and 106 miles total. In a road community where a family of two might run up to 93,000 miles per year, 53 miles is like a dust mote on a mountain side.

At any rate, my cabin had not warmed to a human occupant for decades. The rust on the stove and weather beaten face of the window notwithstanding I resolve to activate plan A from planet 9 and settle into my vision for the summer.

Nabesna Road. Photo by Wilson Justin
Nabesna Road. Photo by Wilson Justin

The next day was June 10. I put four hours of work in. It was blazing hot and by 2:00 pm, I was a burnt, exhausted, dust covered wreck, severely dehydrated and almost hallucinating. I stumbled into my little cabin and tried to calm myself. This, I said to myself, will pass. Tomorrow you’ll feel better. It was then that I realized that 30 years of office work was not a good way to prepare to return to the rural lifestyle.

I won’t recount the horror of the first week, other than mentioning that I have never seen 90 degree weather in June at Twin Lakes and never even dreamed that such a thing could be possible. After all, when I was growing up, we didn’t even see the leaves turn green until about the 10th of June. Even sleeping was difficult, and walking was like dragging an iron railroad tie along with you. And to make it even worse, I began to hear strange sounds late at night around the cabin.

Have you ever heard the alone ringing in the back of your mind? It comes with unease and some trepidation. It’s like listening to the sound of an aircraft falling into the distance and the feeling you get that no one may come back for you. You wake up sometimes with this almost alien feeling that somewhere there’s a place that you’re supposed to be at, but no one told you where it was. Well nothing like that affects me. I just go to sleep and wake up anytime a noise out of place happens, and in that first week there was lots of out of place noises.

When I was still a village kid, we would hear stories from the old folks; stories of abductions and fearful encounters in the back woods with spirits and giant hairy men who would steal kids from camps and hide their trails from trackers by some strange mixture of mud, grass and leaves. The trackers would be persistent but not once where they ever able to recover stolen children. The mournful sounds that sounded like a loon or a coyote would end with thump on the side of a tree and there would be an answer from a different direction. The medicine man would sing or chant and sprinkle the protective powder around the campsite to keep the intruders at bay or confuse them as they search the woods for the camp. These strange late night sounds were artfully sent. Even the thumps and clumping sounded like they were on mute and the old folks would say that the sound were meant to make the kids cry so the giant hairy men could locate the kids.

A bear in the fall time. Photo by Wilson Justin
A bear in the fall time. Photo by Wilson Justin

Well that first week, there were plenty of strange noises and sounds. Footstep like or ever close to a knocking on the side of the house. My windows are plastic and after 30 years no amount of eyestrain is going to reveal what’s on the other side, so if I was to know I would have to step outside and see. I hear plenty of irrational stuff along with lots of unlikeable noise in my other life so this wasn’t going to ruffle me, but trying to make sense out of it all was a little wearing.

Being Indian, I needed to up the ante, so several times a day I would check out the surroundings. Judging by the bear prints the usual suspects were in the locality. But nothing of note to explain the sounds. Then one day late in the evening under a faint new moon, I got my first inkling of what was to be. I had just gotten to sleep when the thump came. I was awake in an instant. Slowly I stepped outside and eased around the corner of the house.

For a long minute, I listened. The hum of insects? Yes. The flapping of the swan wings on the lakeshore? Yes. The thrum of the wood duck living in a dead tree a hundred yards away? Yes. My brother snoring like a runway train? Yes, everything checked out. Then at long last, there was very clearly a thump and a clump from almost beneath my feet, but under the house!

Sunset at Chistochina. Photo by Wilson Justin
Sunset at Chistochina. Photo by Wilson Justin

It took only seconds for me to toss a rock under the house and out came a rabbit. It turned out a rabbit was living under the house and would only settle in very late at night when I was already asleep. I was at once annoyed and at the same time relieved that I would not have to go chasing off into the woods to solve the mystery.

Shortly afterwards, my heartbeat had come back to normal when a dragging sound came in from behind the house. That I said to my self is not a rabbit! I debated whether I should load up my largest gun or just go out and face up to whatever strange critter might be floating about. I stepped out, moved to the back of the house and there stood a large cow moose!

We were maybe 30 feet apart. She made no move; I made no move. Then she swung her neck away and begin walking. Immediately, I heard the dragging sound. Looking closer, I could see that she had a bit of wire wrapped around one of her hind foot. The wire was just long enough to have caught up a dry tree branch which was now almost completely gone.

The nest morning I went out and looked around. The moose had been bedding down between my cabin and that of a neighbor. In distress it had been recuperating for some time. The dogs had simply accepted her as part of the landscape and that was all there was.

I went back to being burnt, dehydrated, exhausted and dust covered. Plan A evaporated, plan b was abandoned. My vision was gone and all that was left were half eaten cans of beans and mosquitoes by the millions. As I write this, I am thinking I should have gone to Argentina or to Kuwait when I had the chance in 1972. Then, I remember I wasn’t able to get my passport until 2006. More beans, I’m guessing now, is my fate.

– Catfish MaCaw

Thank you Catfish for sharing your story and photos!


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