| Tales from Barry's Cabin:|
"THE MEN ONLY AFFAIR"
June 16, 1996
Hosted a dinner party here last week. It was a "men only" affair. Apparently a first for Tanana.
Usually the guys don't all get together except when in the company of their families at village-wide events -- such as potlatches (the native festivities to honor the dearly departed), Spring Clean-up barbeques, dogsled race awards banquets, birthday parties -- and, of course, the occasional poker game.
I really wasn't trying to break with any tradition. It just seemed like a good way to gather a whole bunch of local storytellers in one place for a lengthy, undistracted B.S. session. One I knew would provide the grist for several chapters on Yukon Bush life for my new book.
I was told that all I needed to do was lay out a big feed -- and they would come. And, thanks to Mary Ellen's girlhood training for big feeds at her folks cattle brandings, it worked. Just about everyone showed. All 13 of them.
Among those I invited were some of the homesteaders who arrived in this area in the early 1970s, just before the federal government ended its Alaska Land giveaways. As a result, much of the evening's bullshit centered around the trials and tribulations of starting a Yukon life from scratch, with a few tools, a few bucks and a whole lot of optimism.
Homesteader Charlie Boulding sledding on the Yukon. Photo by another Tanana homesteader, Bill Fliris.
Anyhow, as the evening progressed I heard stories about staking the right place and filing on it; about building the first cabin too near a river, then having to move it after the Spring's high water; about eating red squirrels when the groceries ran out (and how fat and juicy a dog's tail can seem); about harvesting salmon where they weren't supposed to be; and finding a note on a cache that read, "We're in Fairbanks. Help yourself to our food if you need it --but let us know what you take so we can pick up more in town."
I heard about the first couple into the homesteading area -- strict vegetarians directed by their guru in California to go where go man had gone before -- and how they all but starved that winter when the bushpilot who delivered them couldn't remember where. And how they killed a moose to feed their backsliding vegetarian dog (swearing to reform him come Spring) and fed themselves on the sprouts they grew in mason jars, which they clutched between their legs while curling up in their sleeping bags all day and night.
I also heard bear-raising hair tales (oops! -- you know what I mean), and tales hairer yet of rescues after bear maulings. As well as stories about the Yukon River and the wild characters who've drifted down it -- like the naked guy someone spotted standing in mid-river on a semi-submerged housedoor. "Sun- burned Jesus," the village locals still call him.
I even heard of an old marathon winner up here who ran everywhere he went, served his guests wolfmeat as a regular entree and "poled" his boat 40 miles up river to his fishcamp, while his sled dogs towed on it from the beach.
On and on the evening went, with yours truly taping every fascinating word of it. Shades of the Persian Gulf, I mused -- Once again enveloped by colorful material simply too bizarre not to be true...
Hope you enjoy my new toons.