The Old Fish Camp Trail

by Brad Cole

It was an old nearly forgotten trail slowly turning back into the forest. I worked on it with an axe and machete to cut the branches, stomped down the grass and using fallen limbs to mark the cleared trail. It is a beautiful pathway I felt, that follows the Tuluksak River through various old and mostly abandoned fish camps and cabins out a couple of miles to the Kuskokwim River.

The beauty of autumn can be found in the soft glow of light buried within forest leaves. The morning sky reflected off the river to illuminate the grassy banks. I felt like bathing in it and absorbing the healing powers of its flowing windy waters. The weathered grays of the old and often fallen remains of cabins stood out against the tall grass and thick forest. While walking further I remembered seeing a bear trail going straight into a fish camp.

The people of these camps made their lives from a few simple tools, I thought while stepping past an old cabin with broken windows and door. I began to realize that for them working and thinking with their hands was an important part of survival; they had a profound understanding of the nature of their materials and local resources. I stopped to look inside an old smokehouse and see salmon still hanging off blackened fish racks. If their traditional knowledge, insightfulness, technical and creative skills could be developed and directed into building local, family-owned businesses then rural Alaska would grow beautifully.

Stepping back out of the smokehouse and onto the bank of the river, I could feel the rich natural environment surrounding me, land that should be able to support prosperous and independent communities, I thought.

Hiking the thin trail through the tall grass and thorny plants I watched a gray jay fly overhead checking on me. The trail is so easy to follow with limbs marking it, I pleasantly pondered, hoping other people will be using it.

I saw grouse walking on the trail a little ways in front of me. It turns its head to watch closely as it steps nervously forward keeping a safe distance. Having drawn a grouse picture before, I watch its body’s various jerking movements carefully, enjoying the company. Suddenly it flies away through the trees.

Our contacts with nature should inspire us to do quality work and to build strong local businesses. It was this I remembered like a dream from an old and forgotten life. Someday, as the winters go by, I too shall become like an old cabin in a deep forest that has fallen down toward the end of a long and forgotten trail. And even then, I will simply walk on.