Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Castaway Val in North Pacific

By really, really popular demand, (the request of FIVE people), I present: Castaway Val, in North Pacific.

Many years ago, my family took a two-week vacation to Ketchikan, Alaska. My mother's brother worked for the U.S. Forest Service. He and his family lived in Ketchikan, and graciously hosted my parents, my sister, my grandmother, and me in his house on the side of a mountain. It seemed to me that everything I saw in Alaska was on the side of a mountain, but that's how things look when you're from Missouri.

Uncle Joe (not his real name) made sure we saw the sights. We went to a salmon cannery, a paper mill, a totem pole park, the beach, Ketchikan's downtown shopping district by a bunch of piers, and the piece de resistance, a multi-day fishing trip to an island with a cabin reserved just for us.

Little did I know that the trip to the island would be made in Uncle Joe's boat. A boat just like my grandpa's, with an outboard motor, used back in Missouri to fish in the St. Francis river. I had never associated such a boat with a jaunt across the ocean. A strip of ocean so vast that one could barely discern terra firma along the horizon fore and aft. Wearing an orange life jacket, with a grip that surely left imprints in the metal hull, I was whisked to my destiny in the company of my sister, father, and Joe. That's all his boat could hold, you see. He would drop us off with the fishing poles, and make a return voyage to bring Mom and Grandma and our supplies.

I was ecstatic to step foot onto the island. Because it meant that I was not going to become a denizen of Davy Jones' Locker. Dad, Sis, and I took the poles and set off to explore. It was a sunny, early-August day, temperature in the 50s, fluffy clouds overhead. My dad was lovin' it. He led us to a creek and cast his line.

Several hours later, the buzz of a small red plane drew our attention skyward. We were impressed. In Missouri, we didn't see planes flying so low. "Look at that," Dad said. "It's one of those planes that lands on the water." Indeed, it was. The Red Baron started to circle. We were mesmerized. "I bet he's looking for somebody," Dad told us. The plane went round and round. Lower and lower. We could see the pilot. We waved. He dipped a wing. "He's looking for US!" said Dad.

We lost the Red Baron in the trees. Dad made us hike back past the cabin, to a little lake or lagoon kind of area. There was the pilot with his plane at the dock. Waiting for us. We introduced ourselves. The Red Baron said, "Joe had trouble with his motor. He's not going to be able to make it back out here today, so he sent me to pick you up."

Wasn't that a fine how-do-you-do? Not only had I sailed the high seas for naught, but now I was being bamboozled into a flight in a tiny ski-plane. Val has never been comfortable in the wild blue yonder nor the deep blue sea. This fishing trip was turning out to be the worst of both worlds.

Dad climbed into the shotgun seat. I went in behind him, then our fishing poles, then Sis behind the pilot. We were crammed in like sardines. Without the mustard sauce. The poles poked between Sis and me, intruding into the narrow space that separated Dad from the Red Baron. By this time, the sky had clouded over, and a light rain began to fall. The windshield of the plane was fogged over like it needed a good defroster.

The Red Baron noodled his plane away from the dock. He faced it into the wind or away from the wind or whatever pilots do when they want to sail their plane across the water and lift off. We began to pick up speed. The engine whined. The Red Baron wiped off his side window and peered out. He looked at Dad. "Can you see anything?" The silence was a negative in my book. "Well, I can't. Do you think we're going to clear those trees?" I could see the shadow of what must have been trees along the edge of the water, fast approaching through the foggy windshield. Dad still had no answer to what I was hoping was a rhetorical question. Because I was smart like that. Did I ever tell you that I was valedictorian?

We cleared the trees and made our way back to Ketchikan. Nobody was happier to reunite with the family than I was. I was pleasantly unaware that I would be headed right back out to the island on Joe's boat the next day. The second attempt was a success. All people and things were transported without incident. I even saw my first real live bear not in a cage on that trip. Along with some salmon snaggers. Who were inherently more dangerous than the bear, according to Uncle Joe.

And that's the story of Val's three-hour tour that left her stranded (briefly) on an Alaskan island.


Sioux said...

You didn't mention Mr. and Mrs. Howell...I guess they passed on this boat trip?

Have you ever read "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen? If not, you might check it out. It would give you an alternative "ending" to your story.

Thanks for sharing. It's always fascinating to hear of the adventures of others. (What are salmon snaggers? Are they people who snag salmon from other people's property/nets? Inquiring minds want to know!)

Val Thevictorian said...

Lovey and Thurston Howell III were booked for the South Pacific cruise.

I have read Hatchet, though only once. I have seen the movie many times, A Cry in the Wild.

Salmon snaggers are poachers who fling bundles of large treble or quadruple hooks into the water to snag salmon. The practice is highly illegal, and these dudes do NOT want to be caught. In fact, Uncle Joe advised us that if we ever saw anybody do that again, to quietly blend into the rain forest and act like it never happened.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Small boat, small plane. I would have to have been sedated for that trip! I don't really like big planes and have been known to chatter incessantly to my seat mate ......... no, wait, I do that anyway.

Val Thevictorian said...

If only I had known about sedation way back then!