Category Archives: View from Out West

Fermenting a social scene — Secret brewing society heavy on the society

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Homebrewing can be as much about social interaction as chemical interactions, especially in small towns.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Homebrewing can be as much about social interaction as chemical interactions, especially in small towns.

Author’s note: Except for the swimming part, the following is true, but some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent, plus several other people who are nearly innocent.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

About 70 years ago — when today’s cities of the central Kenai Peninsula were no more than villages or scattered clusters of buildings along a new and sometimes barely drivable Sterling Highway — goods and services could be scarce. Winter mail had only recently been arriving by dog team. Fresh fruits were rare, and expensive. And a nice, cold beer might be found only many bumpy, uncomfortable miles away.

So it’s no wonder that those who enjoyed a sudsy adult beverage now and then began making their own and sharing their product with friends.

In Bush Alaska today, where a liquor store may charge more than $40 for a case of Budweiser and nearly $20 for a six-pack of IPA, it’s also no wonder that residents have taken to producing their own.

In retrospect, then, it should have been no great surprise to discover a thriving beer-making culture in place when I moved to Southwest Alaska.

The bigger surprise came in learning of the quasi-covert nature of this solo, yet highly social endeavor.

I first heard about the Dillingham International Swim Club a few days after I’d moved to town.

“Swim club?” I asked. “Dillingham has a pool?”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Jim, one of my pre-Dillingham contacts and a former college classmate of my brother. He smiled and leaned forward. “That’s the whole point. It’s code. It’s the official name of our homebrewing group.”

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View from Out West: Breaking the dress code — Alaska values function over any form of fussy

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Clark Fair, his little sister and mother all dressed up for a trip to town in 1968.

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Clark Fair, his little sister and mother all dressed up for a trip to town in 1968.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

In more than 50 years of Kenai Peninsula residency, I never considered myself a townie, even though I lived twice (1960-62 and 1989-93) inside Soldotna city limits. Most of my life on the Kenai was spent on the Fair family homestead, about midway between Soldotna and Sterling, and “going into town” almost always meant (a) putting on nicer clothes and (b) driving.

The dressing-up part was a hangover from my parents’ childhoods in rural Indiana. Although Dad lived on a farm during only part of each year, Mom lived on a farm full time. Going into town was a special occasion, whether the destination was the grocery or Sunday church services. Consequently, one’s everyday appearance wasn’t good enough. A trip into town meant first washing off the farm dirt, combing or brushing one’s hair and exchanging grubby farm clothes for something clean, and preferably pressed. It meant dresses for women and slacks, starched shirts and hats for men.

Mom swears that it felt good dressing up, even for a trip to the market. Looking good was a pleasant change from the norm. So when Mom and Dad became Alaskans and produced Alaskan children, they attempted to dress those children accordingly when it came time to venture into town.

I can remember fighting against pulling off patched blue jeans and pulling on woolen trousers, against replacing a comfortable T-shirt with a dress shirt, buttoned at the collar and cuffs, with the tails tucked neatly into my pants. I can also remember numerous passes with a comb through my unruly hair, plastered with water to keep a rooster tail at bay.

I wasn’t exactly tortured, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable, either. I saw myself as a play-in-the-dirt, tear-the-knees-out-of-pants, go-outside-in-good-socks kind of kid, not some namby-pamby, go-to-the-store, listen-to-parents’-jabber, snazzy-dressing kind of kid.

I was a homestead boy.

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View from Out West: Bored to run — Training off the road system is exercise in monotony

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

Photo courtesy of. Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a marathon in Antarctica in 2010.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

I yearn for the diversity of a Tsalteshi-type trail system in Bristol Bay.

Here in Dillingham, active runners — and I will tentatively include myself in that category — surrender variety for redundancy. They run, ad nauseam and mostly alone, on a limited selection of paths, city streets and road shoulders. And cross-country skiers here have it even worse, with little history of the sport and no established trails, only open tundra and mountain passes bounded by private property along roads with few plowed turnouts.

Dillingham’s three main paved roads total 28 miles, plus three short segments of multiuse paths that parallel the pavement. There are also a few gravel roads, the longest being eight-mile Snake Lake Road, the only connection to four primitive hiking trails. A lack of regular maintenance makes these trails problematic for running, and throughout the winter they are difficult to reach because only the first half mile of Snake Lake Road is open to traffic. The rest is buried deep in snow.

Consequently, in order to log their requisite miles, local runners must repeatedly travel the same main roads, the same backroads, the same pothole-filled city streets and fractured sidewalks.

Still, some athletes here do more than just survive on what they’ve got. They thrive.

Andrew Berkoski, 46, traveled in 2010 to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. A few months later he ran in an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China. To prepare for these two wildly different events, he trained exclusively in Dillingham, a community with no running culture and no indoor exercise infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Berkoski. Andrew Berkoski competes in a an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert in China in 2010, following a marathon in Antarctica a few months earlier. He trained for both by logging miles on the few running routes in Dillingham.

Berkoski, who lives about 13 miles outside the city, ran to work at the Dillingham City School District several days a week, throughout the year, in order to maintain his training. To prepare for the desert, he sometimes trained inside his family’s tiny sauna, jogging in place and performing situps and pushups in 140-degree heat.

Every other day during the winter, regardless of the weather, Berkoski ran to the school, leaving his house at 4 a.m., headlamp alight and work clothes in a knapsack, in order to beat the traffic on the shoulderless and mostly unlighted Aleknagik Lake Road. On nonrunning days, he rode his bicycle to work and back, then went for a short run (five to six miles) to keep his mileage up. On Saturdays, he logged roughly the equivalent of a marathon on foot.

He trained this way for at least two years in preparation for Antarctica.

Dillingham’s Cindy Tuckwood, who was preparing for a triathlon in Wisconsin in July and the Lost Lake Trail Run (near Seward) in August, trained by running and biking along a road construction zone at 5 a.m. every day, hiking and climbing mountains with her three young daughters, and, once the winter ice had melted, donning a wetsuit and swimming three times a week in a lake 20 miles from her home.

Even now, Tuckwood’s alarm wakes her at 4:30 every morning. A few minutes later, she clips a leash onto her dog’s collar and is out the door, in the dark except in summer. A veritable exercise machine, the 46-year-old substitute teacher logs each week about 50 miles on foot, several hours on her bicycle and six days of P90X workouts, in addition to the summer swims.

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View from Out West: Presidential credentials — Photographer, community look to make the most of historic visit

Photo by Clark Fair President Barack. Obama discusses the importance of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest and subsistence lifestyles of remote Alaska during an appearance at Kanakanak Beach in Dillingham on Sept. 2.

Photo by Clark Fair
President Barack. Obama discusses the importance of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest and subsistence lifestyles of remote Alaska during an appearance at Kanakanak Beach in Dillingham on Sept. 2.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Jay Hammond was the fourth governor of Alaska, serving from 1974 until 1982. Many Alaskans consider him the father of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Even after he left office, his was easily one of the most popular, influential and important voices in Alaska history.

When I was about 12 years old, I vomited in the back seat of Hammond’s Bush plane.

Until recently, that embarrassment was my greatest brush with celebrity, with an individual famous enough to require no further explanation.

There have been a few other brushes over the years. About the same time as the puking incident, Denali winter climber Art Davidson, author of “Minus 148,” spent the night at my parents’ home. When I attended the University of Montana and was training as a journalist, I photographed Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker on the popular television sitcom “All in the Family”) and consumer advocate and presidential candidate Ralph Nader. As a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion, I photographed musher George Attla and Steve McAlpine, Alaska’s two-time lieutenant governor.

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. When Clark Fair was studying journalism at the University of Montana (1977-1982), he practiced his photography skills at an appearance of UM alum Carroll O'Connor, who portrayed Archie Bunker in the television sitcom “All in the Family.”

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. When Clark Fair was studying journalism at the University of Montana (1977-1982), he practiced his photography skills at an appearance of UM alum Carroll O’Connor, who portrayed Archie Bunker in the television sitcom “All in the Family.”

No knock against any of those folks, but they pale in comparison to my experience in Dillingham on Sept. 2, 2015, the day the president of the United States flew into town.

Back when my stomach was churning in Jay Hammond’s plane, I could never have envisioned the opportunity to photograph the president. Back then, my main concerns were comic books, playing outdoors and eating as much as possible.

Maybe the “as much as possible” tendency was part of the problem.

It was circa 1970. Hammond was a member of the Alaska Legislature and an active Bush pilot. My father arranged for me and my namesake, Clark Snell, to fly with Hammond to a remote lake across Cook Inlet for a day of fishing.

We were perhaps halfway to our destination when my breakfast began to alert me to the fact that it was dissatisfied with its current location and wished to be aired out in the back seat of the floatplane. I notified the pilot of my nausea, and he informed me that a saucepan under my seat could serve as an emergency receptacle.

I searched for and found said receptacle, and very promptly used it. When I asked Hammond what to do with the saucepan now that I had finished using it, he suggested sliding it, still upright, back under the seat until we landed. I followed his directions and began to feel better.

Lots of kids get motion sickness, and if that had been the end of my embarrassment, perhaps the long passage of years since might have erased, or at least significantly blurred, that memory. However, I also slipped on the rocks at the lake’s edge and soaked myself from the waist down. I can’t even remember now whether I caught any fish.

I’d like to say that I was so worldly at my young age that I recognized Hammond, sensed something special in him and hoped that one day his beliefs and ideas would have a profound impact on Alaska. But the truth is I didn’t even know his name until a few years later when he was elected governor.

Not so with the president.

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View from Out West: Bad conditions ripe for good stories — Lack of control leads to lack of limitations

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler fishes for lake trout on the western end of Nishlik Lake in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler fishes for lake trout on the western end of Nishlik Lake in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

If I had the power to command all aspects of an outdoor adventure — ensure my safety and good weather and avoid biting insects and unwanted surprises — I doubt I’d use it. It’d be tempting, sure, but adventures wouldn’t be very adventurous if I wielded full control. Spontaneity would vanish, as would conflicts, which would be too bad. After all, uncertainty is part of the allure.

Besides, conflict gives survivors a story to tell.

Some of my best outdoor stories involve lousy weather, poor judgments and bad luck — from hiking 60 miles on a sprained ankle in western Canada to trying to outrun a lightning storm in the Mystery Hills east of Sterling.

In fact, the time I joined the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club for a February slog in a

This blizzard march, during an unfortunate Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club trip to Portage Lake in February 2012, spawned the Portage Scale.

This blizzard march, during an unfortunate Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club trip to Portage Lake in February 2012, spawned the Portage Scale.

blizzard across the overflow on Portage Lake, in a vain attempt to locate the glacier, became the measuring stick by which I now calculate the level of all outdoor misery. We called that hypothermic death march a 10 on the Portage Scale, and we’ve been out in nothing worse than an eight since.

Fortunately, I am not a masochist — I do not require misery to have fun. Not all conflicts require tragedies, and good stories sometimes emanate from good fortune. Also, I am pleased to say that I have rarely allowed irrational fear to dissuade me from opportunities, even some that I originally believed had major Portage Scale potential. Usually, the actual experiences turned out far more pleasant than they had appeared in my imagination.

And it was my imagination, mainly, that nearly caused me to back out of an eight-day outing with Yvonne Leutwyler into the northernmost reaches of the massive Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

The plan called for us to be flown on July 27 to the western end of Nishlik Lake, to camp, fish, hike and paddle our way eastward down six miles of shoreline to the headwaters of the Tikchik River, and then to float that 60-mile stream to its terminus at Tikchik Lake, where we’d be picked up Aug. 3 and flown home.

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View from Out West: All ears to save Alaska media — Funding cut would cut connection in rural areas

Photo courtesy of Aurora (Heames) Galloway. Aurora (Heames) Galloway and Jeff Heames, fishing in Bristol Bay. Galloway, originally from the Kenai Peninsula, says that public radio is vital for fishing families to stay in touch in Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Aurora (Heames) Galloway. Aurora (Heames) Galloway and Jeff Heames, fishing in Bristol Bay. Galloway, originally from the Kenai Peninsula, says that public radio is vital for fishing families to stay in touch in Alaska.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Aurora (Heames) Galloway, one of my former Skyview students, recalls a summer long ago when Dillingham’s public radio station, KDLG, assisted with an emergency involving a “family matter.”

Because they had been so busy commercial fishing, Aurora, her father and their crew had missed the announcement on the radio, but they were alerted to the problem when a neighboring fisherman motored over in his skiff to give them the news: Back on the Kenai Peninsula, Aurora’s mom needed to speak to Aurora’s dad as soon as possible. Since fishing families and crews over all Bristol Bay had been listening to the same broadcast, she said, “We were instantly surrounded by supportive community.”

On the trip ashore, Aurora and her father received several more waves and shouts from fishermen wanting to make sure they’d heard the message. At the cannery with the nearest telephone, more concerned folks stopped by to offer assistance and encouragement.

“When he returned with the news (that Aurora’s uncle had died), there were people there waiting,” she said. “Waiting to split off their crews if needed to help us out, or waiting just out of curiosity and friendship.”

“I think just (my mom) being able to do something to contact us was a huge relief,” Aurora said. “She was able to leave a message at the radio station, and my dad was on the phone with her in about an hour — far from the days we normally went between calls home. (But) I think for me the value was really that we all were hearing the same thing at the same time — and the value of that is immeasurable.”

Because KDLG’s signal was strong enough to be heard in King Salmon and Naknek, the whole fishing community there responded.

“We all need to hear the escapements,” Aurora said. “We all need to hear the weather. We all are curious if someone has called in to wish us happy birthday or to tell us that Grandma sent a package. It’s a way of feeling included in a community that often feels like just us — our crew and the tender we are selling fish to. Hearing voices that we know are live and close makes us feel like we aren’t the only ones on that boat at 3 a.m.”

Photo courtesy of Susie Jenkins-Brito. Susie Jenkins-Brito (left) with her daughter, Bea, on the F/V Sea Breeze in 2014. The Brito family says that with cell service limited out on the water, radio stations like KDLG tailoring content to their listenership, like fishery updates and message programs, are greatly appreciated.

Photo courtesy of Susie Jenkins-Brito. Susie Jenkins-Brito (left) with her daughter, Bea, on the F/V Sea Breeze in 2014. The Brito family says that with cell service limited out on the water, radio stations like KDLG tailoring content to their listenership, like fishery updates and message programs, are greatly appreciated.

Susie Jenkins-Brito also understands the important role public radio plays in supporting commercial fishermen and Bristol Bay communities. Susie and her husband, Bronson Brito, fish out of Dillingham and, like the rest of the fleet, use broadcasts from KDLG extensively for fishery updates and openings.

“Despite cell services coming to Bristol Bay, out on the commercial fishing grounds communication is unpredictable, and the source for up-to-date news is public radio,” Susie said. “Fishermen rely on hearing these reports in order to make decisions on which districts they will choose to fish in and make predictions on where their livelihood will be made.”

Beyond the fishing industry, KDLG’s many public services also provide crucial links between the region’s remote and essentially roadless towns and villages.

“While cell reception and Internet social media networks offer alternative means of communication in our region, there is singlehandedly no other resource that reaches as broad a group of people as KDLG,” Susie said.

In Dillingham, the only alternatives for communitywide information are the weekly Bristol Bay Times newspaper, a Facebook page called the Dillingham Trading Post and commercial radio station KRUP, which has a range of less than 20 miles, is produced in Anchorage by Strait Media and, as far as I can tell, offers next to zero local programming. Consequently, Dillingham residents keep up with their neighbors via KDLG’s “Open Line” call-in show each weekday, and with local news and ideas via “The Yup’ik Word of the Day,” “Bristol Bay Field Notes,” “Bristol Bay and Beyond,” “Bristol Bay Fisheries Report” and “Bristol Bay Sports Roundup.”

KDLG also lists local job opportunities, provides weather and marine forecasts, announces a broad array of fishing-related information, broadcasts local basketball games, supplies live feeds from public meetings and furnishes on-air notes to distant friends and family via the daily “Messenger.”

With employees who live in the city and with its offices in the same building as Dillingham High School, KDLG understands its constituency personally and supplies what it wants and needs. And the same personal connection holds true for the staff of KDLL in Kenai, and for the staffs of other public media throughout Alaska.

Even Don Young, Alaska’s prickly, arrogant U.S. rep-resentative, understands and lauds the value of public broadcasting in this state. In September 2012, on the second day of a Washington, D.C., meeting of the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Young announced, “I am a Republican and I support public broadcasting.”

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View from Out West — Name that plume — Song identification can be for the birds

Photos by Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler and Nathan Coutsoubos watch seabirds on a University of Alaska “Birds of Alaska” trip to Cape Constantine near Dillingham recently.

Photos by Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler and Nathan Coutsoubos watch seabirds on a University of Alaska “Birds of Alaska” trip to Cape Constantine near Dillingham recently.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

It may be unfair of me to say, but, as of now, I find trying to learn the identities of birds by their songs disturbingly akin to trying to learn French in college by closing my textbook and just listening to my instructor.

I’m trying, damn it, but it’s hard. And I don’t want to give up, as I did with French.

In the 1980s at the University of Montana, after two and a half years of German and one year of Spanish — two languages that sound the way they look — I decided to tackle French. In the first class, our instructor told us to put away our “livre de langue française” and simply listen. At that point, she ceased speaking English and spoke only French. She pointed to herself and said, “Professeur.” We dutifully echoed her word. Then: “Bonjour, classe!” That was an easy one. We responded with a chorus of, “Bonjour, professeur!” But each subsequent sentence or expression grew increasingly complex, and the more visual learners among us became increasingly perplexed learners.

I dropped the class after only one term.

Flash forward more than 30 years. I’m in Dillingham in mid-May, I’m with friends on a chilly early morning “bird walk” — my very first — and I’m doing my darnedest to follow the chorus of whistles and cheeps and tweets and chirrups that some of my companions are identifying faster than I can process the French words for “totally confused.” (That’s totalement confus, by the way.)

I realize, of course, the near necessity of learning the musicality of birds, particularly the LBBs (“little brown birds”) that frequent the forests and tundra and waterways of Alaska. To begin with, with the exception of robins and thrushes, most of the LBBs have a body the size of a golf ball, so they’re tough to see well unless the light is perfect or they happen to land on a branch next to one’s face. They also don’t stand still long — they dart, they flit and they zip. The moment I’d raise my binoculars for a closer view, they’d be gone. They also prefer deep cover — the branches of spruce trees, for instance, or tall grass or thick brush — so their sounds can appear directionless, almost coming out of nowhere.

So learning birdsongs is the best alternative. If one can learn their individual tunes, one can nail down the species — even if, like the French words in my textbook I wasn’t allowed to use, one never sees the actual bird at all.

HOWEVER, confounding the whole process is the fact that nobody seems to have informed these LBBs that it’s not polite for all of them to talk at the same time.

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