Johnson River memories

by Peter Twitchell

Time sure is quickly passing and winter will be spring again. It was a cold one, and I’m not certain too many people were on the ice making ice holes and hooking.

The times I spent with dad and mom growing up in the 1950s down on the Johnson River were some of my best memories. Those days are long gone but my memory is fresh as though these things happened just yesterday.

Dad would hitch up his 8 or 9 dogs to start the journey downriver, and it was cold. He would make a stop at Napakiak and visit with his very close friend Tuyumak, or Oscar Larson, as they used to trap mink together down around Baird Inlet at a place they called Kaaviirliralek. Dad took us there once when we were berry picking at Ilkialiq.

It was a long boat ride up the river below Tuntutuliak and crossing a few lakes to get there. They had the main dwelling place and a small shed covered in corrugated sheets of steel. It was good to finally see where dad went all those winters he was trapping for mink two and sometimes three months out of the winter when I was a boy.

He seemed very happy and satisfied that he’d reached that camp by boat, it was beautiful country with willows all around lakes and rolling tundra.

Once we had visited with Oscar or our relatives on grandma Hannah’s side of the family, the Willie Alexie family at Napakiak, and coffee, tang and snacks we’d make our way down to the mouth of the Johnson River and hook Pike fish.

Once I caught a pike and pulled it up out of the ice hole and the dogs grabbed it. Dad had to yell and scramble to get the dogs to quit fighting over the fish and grab it before they swallowed the fish with hook, sinker and line. That was my first lesson in being more careful how I retrieved pike fish.

By the time we returned home it was dark, mom was waiting with homemade soup and fresh bread.

John Active and I used to talk about those old days when we were working together at KYUK from its early days through the 1980s. We’d laugh as we talked about all the ice holes, and hookers at the Johnson River. Yup’ik’s like to look at the humorous side of life and we have to in order to make the best of cold and frigid weather. We weren’t serious about life’s circumstances 24/7. Last year about this time we were all fishing on the ice with our favorite valentine next to us. By the way, you have a great Valentines Day with your Valentine sweetheart.