Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lessons Learned on POW

Childhood memories come and go.  Some moments are neither here nor there, others leave life lessons that stay with you.

A strong childhood memory that I visit time to time, took place in the very early 90s.  I was 11 or 12 years old.  It’s a moment I will never forget, not just for the good lesson my father taught, but it gave me insight into my father.  I may not have picked up on the ways of my father at the moment, but as an adult this memory still teaches me how my father walks though life. 

My father worked for a company that handled many different maritime shipping operations, everything from cargo ships to cruise ships and then some.  During his 30-year career, one of his jobs was managing the loading of cargo ships.  This job required him to travel to remote ports throughout Alaska, to be on sight to oversee the loading operation.  The cargo on to the ships was trees.  Logs, cut down by loggers, were then transported to the closest ports, where large cargo ships, mostly from China and Korea, would come to load up with large bundles of logs.  Board feet after board feet, of fresh Spruce, Hemlock, and Cedar was cut down in the Tongass National Forest only to be exported to Asia to be made into who knows what.  Cheep Chinese furniture, newspaper, maybe toilet paper.  It didn’t matter.  It was a booming industry and had been for a few generations.  An industry that should have continued but thanks to Washington DC, the Southeast Alaska logging industry came to a screeching halt in the early to mid 90s.  But that’s another conversation.
The majority of my father’s time loading cargo ships took place on an island not far from my hometown called Prince of Whales Island.   The people in my hometown refer to Prince of Whales Island as “POW”.

POW is the 4th largest island in the United States, and it is the 97th largest island in the world.  The only way to get to POW is by boat or small floatplane.   

The island has a handful of small towns or villages.  Some of these towns are connected by a two-lane roads system that was originally old logging roads.  I’m sure now most of these roads have been paved with asphalt.  But, back when I was a kid, the roads were dirt/gravel roads that bumped and shook you apart as you drove twisting through the contours of the mountains and valleys of the Tongass National Forest.  It was a rough ride. 

The company my father worked for had an old mobile home that was used for housing the company employees during the loading operation.  The mobile home was just outside the town of Klawolk, and it was not much more then a place to rest and make a hot meal.  Just a living room/kitchen, with 3 bedrooms and a bathroom. 

Usually the company sent one guy to manage the loading operation for about 10 days then they would send a second guy to relive the first guy or to help out if there were multiple ships.  At that time, POW had two ship ports that exported logs.  One was in the town of Hydaburg, population right at 800.  The other was right in between the towns of Craig and Klawolk.  Craig is the largest town on the island with a population of about 1600 people.

During the summer months I would occasionally accompany my father on his trips to POW.  It was great father-son bonding time.

During the day, we would go to the ship that was being loaded.  I’d watch my dad go over paperwork with the ship’s chief officer who was usually Chinese and didn’t speak a lick of English, and my father didn’t speak Chinese. 

It was fun watching the exaggerated hand gestures throughout conversation to try to make a connection/understanding of what the other was saying.  If hand gestures weren’t working, then out came poorly attempted illustration on scrap paper in order for them to try and get some kind of understanding of where they were in the loading operation. 

I laughed at these conversations as a kid but found myself doing the same thing as an adult when I followed in my father’s footsteps and worked for my father’s company loading cargo ships in the Arctic.  But that part of my career is for another time.

When the day’s work on the ship was done, my father and I would drive into Craig and hit the grocery store to pick up food to make for dinner.  This time was great for us because dinner usually consisted of steak for the both of us a six-pack of Rainer Beer for my father and ether a candy bar or a pint of ice cream for me.  All paid for by the company.

This would go on for days or until the ship was loaded and sailing back to Asia.  Then the next ship would be docking and the routine would start again.
Across the street from the mobile home was the Klawolk Creek.  This creek was heaven for me as a kid.  Whenever I could, I would go to the creek to fish.  The creek was full of trout and trout fishing is my favorite fish to catch.  This creek was the main reason that I went with my Dad to POW.  I wanted to trout fish. 

The section of creek directly across the street from the mobile home was a large deep pool of slow moving water.  The shoreline of the creek was littered with fallen trees that hung over the water where I could walk out over the creek and casted my line into the slow moving section of the creek.  I would spend hours fishing.  Keeping only the larger Cutthroat trout, I would cross my fingers that I would hook a rainbow trout.

I’d always ask my Father to come with me to fish.  Sometimes he would and sometimes he would say,  “I’m busy cooking up the steaks, maybe after dinner.”

One afternoon, we went back to the mobile home earlier then normal and naturally my first desire was to go fishing.

I told my Father I’m heading to the creek.  He said, “Hold on, I’ll join you.”

Off we went.  We got down to the creek and started casting. 

It was a warmer day than normal, and the fish were not taking anything on either of our lines.  My father asked, “Have you tried fishing downstream?”

I said, “No.  The water is too fast.  I don’t want to get my hook caught on bottom.” 

He said,  “You just have to be careful.  You just have to be aware.  The fish will be in the fast water on a day like today.  Come on, let’s go.” 

So, off we went.  We hiked down the creek maybe 6 or 7 hundred yards to the faster water and started fishing. 

He showed me what to look for in the rapids.  He told me, “Trout are lazy.  They hide behind the large rocks that break up the current.  Cast your line on the back side of a large rock.”

Soon, we were hooking cutthroats but they were small and not legal to keep.  But it got me excited and I was locked into the creek.  I was focused, looking for areas in the water where a large trout might be hiding waiting.  I loved the moment.  My father was with me, we were fishing for trout, and he taught me something new about fishing and we were hooking them…small ones but the result from his lesson was proving itself.
I was on the hunt for a big one, and I was totally focused on my line and where it was in the current waiting for a big one.

Not more then 15 minutes after we started fishing the faster waters, my father comes up to me and says, “I’m done fishing for the day, I’m heading back to the mobile home.”

I was shocked and kind of upset.  I asked him “Why?  We just got here.”

He said, “It getting too warm out and the fishing is not that good.”

I quickly responded, “It’s better here in the faster moving water then it was upstream.”

He agreed and said, I’m tired anyways and it won’t be long before I have to start cooking dinner.  But Nick, you can stay fishing if you want to.  You look like you’re having fun.”
I said, “Yeah, I want to stay fishing.”

Quickly my father turned, and headed back to the mobile home.

I returned to casting into the rapid for a bit.  After 5 minutes or so, I hooked another small Cutthroat that had to be returned.  Another 10 minutes went by, and I was getting nothing.  No hits at all. 

So, I decided to pack it up and head back to the mobile home. 

Walking up the steps to the home, I put my fishing rod and tackle box down just inside the front door, kicked off my boots, and walked in.

My father was sitting on the couch, watching T.V. with a Rainer in hand. He asked, “Did you get anything?”

I said, “No, just small stuff.”

He then said, “Did you see the bear on the other side of the creek?”

I looked at him dumbly and said “What?…wait did you say you saw a bear?”

My Father looked directly in my eyes and said, “Why do you think I left so quickly?  Yes, there was a bear on the other side of the creek.  You were too focused on your fishing to notice him.  You know you have to always be aware of what’s around you when you’re out in the woods, especialy when you’re fishing.  I’m not always going to be around to look after you.”

Regardless if there really was a bear on the other side of the creek or not is beside the point.  That moment, that lesson will be burned into my memory bank for life.  A lesson that cut through to me to help make me who I am today.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot even imagine the experiences that you had growing up in Alaska. I hope you continue to share them! So many lives lived...and so many lessons learned.