Tuesday, August 24, 2010


My daughter Bryn, as some of you will recall, has fallen in love with Alaska living. And in the last two years I have watched her morph from a regular California girl into someone whose activities make me think that she really may be an adopted child, even though I was there at her birth.

Her e-mails to us now use the words "moose" and "fish" in about the same quantity as they used to contain "dog" and "boys." Neither her father nor I were outdoorsy people - at least at the time we were living together as man and wife, father and mother. Our idea of a vacation was a motel with a swimming pool and that is the way my kids were brought up. For the most part they have not strayed too far from the mold -- except for Bryn.

She has been very good about sending me newspaper articles that explain what is available for her to experience. The whole time I am reading them I am shaking my head in wonder: is this really my daughter?

Her latest adventure is dipnetting, illustrated above by the wonderful picture from her local newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. It seems when the sockeye salmon start their run up the Kenai River, for a few weeks in midsummer all the locals can get a permit to dipnet fish. These nets are humongous -- five feet in diameter - and if you believe what is written, all a person does is dip that net in the river and pull it up filled with salmon. The newspaper article says that a fish count last year, accomplished by sonar, came up with a figure of almost 750,000 fish passing by in July. So if your big net serves you well, the permit entitles you to 25 salmon each day if you are the head of the household, with all other household members allowed 10 fish each per day. Needless to say, one needs a very large freezer in their home.

Bryn told me that she doesn't do the "net" part of it. I can see why. She's my shortest child (also a reason for thinking perhaps she's adopted because we tended to grow tall kids) so at 5 feet 4 inches she probably is not all that handy with a five foot wide net. But here's the kicker: Her job is to hit the fish on the head and put it out of its misery before it is cleaned and gutted.

Now the older I get, the more compassionate I find myself. I can barely bring myself to deliberately step on an ant. (Flies and spiders are exceptions.) When we lived in Istanbul and went out for a fish dinner, it was necessary to go to a large tank filled with swimming fish and show the waiter which one you want cooked for your meal. I was not able to do that. I could not have lived with myself if I had to choose which fish was to live and which to die. No, let that fish be on our driver Ahmet's conscience, I said to myself. So Ahmet always took care of that little chore. So for me to understand that Bryn is capable of clonking a living salmon over the head with a hammer (or whatever tool is used) and killing it is simply beyond my grasp. (I think behind my back the kids call me a wuss!)

I don't know yet if she's eaten moose-nose stew, a delicacy I read about many years ago in, of all places, a Wall Street Journal article, but if she has or intends to, I hope she keeps that little bit of information a secret. I have one daughter who can and does eat menudo; having another one eating moose nose stew would simply be too much for an old mother to handle!

At any rate, Bryn loves Alaska and has indicated that she and her husband will live there forever. So I guess I've got to "get over it" -- and start visualizing her in waders instead of go-go boots. I raised all the kids to be independent, so all my distaste notwithstanding, I got what I aimed for!

I must confess that I have, in my long lifetime, gone after fish. Those fish were grunion and they are caught with one's own hands. No equipment is allowed. They come upon the shore in the night to spawn at certain times of the year. In Long Beach our Girl Scout troop often went "grunion hunting" but only one time were we in the right place at the right time. There truly were thousands of grunion doing their thing. We grabbed a few, tossed them into our buckets and scurried home in our Scout leader's car. I remember my mother and father looking aghast at what I brought in the door, and as nearly as I can recall, the cats had a wonderful dinner the next day. However, that was long ago so I do not have the demise of those grunion on my conscience. But I'm older and wiser and more sentimental now, and even if my fastly-becoming-decrepit body would allow it, I wouldn't be comfortable catching a grunion. I might watch, but not touch.

Some people don't believe there are such fish as grunion because they never have been in that right place at the right time. However, they do exist, as the picture below indicates. But probably not in such quantity as the sockeye salmon in the Kenai river.

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