My turn: The itch: Missing Southeast Alaska

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

I tell my friends that at some point during the winter, I get an itch, maybe a twitch, maybe both. Literal and metaphorical. It has nothing to do with hygiene or allergies, but everything to do with environment.

I spent kindergarten through graduation on Prince of Wales Island and sleeping on the floor of the Big Blue Canoe, on the mossy bed of Tongass National Forest, on air mattresses in gyms and classrooms, and in the homes of welcoming housing parents from Ketchikan to Skagway. You can't just leave and not feel anything. For as much as I might have complained at the time, it was pretty sweet. Now every privately owned Cessna that flies overhead reminds me of Pacific, or Temsco or L.A.B. Air. I can see the fuselage, the floats and the docking ropes.

Once it flies overhead, the steady hum of the freeway is again audible from the human-ified barn I am renting a couple miles from where I teach.

I'd like to say the itch just started because the weather is getting nicer and my parents are reporting better weather conditions themselves.

The truth is, I've been thinking of home for a couple months now. Anytime new graffiti stains new wooden fences or brick walls here, I think of home. Whenever a new subdivision uproots generational orchards, I remember the urban sprawl along ocean shores, two blocks deep. When kids told me they work at Long John Silvers and encouraged me to stop by, I tell them I own a shirt that reads, "Friends don't let friends eat farmed salmon." I tell them it's nothing against them, but I have more respect for myself than that. LJS went out of business a couple years ago, and I swear I had nothing to do with it.

When I see friends of mine have frozen pollock in their freezer, I wince, and tell them they need a visit north for some real fishing.

I try to avoid complaining too much, because the central valley of California does have a lot to offer other than horrible air, too much traffic, gangs and a salmon population that's so decimated by pollution and pumping of water down to Los Angeles that fishing will be banned for at least next year.

I try to make the best of it, and now that basketball season is over, I go fishing at a river every Tuesday. I try to forget about the dam a half mile up river, and that the trout I am trying to hook are stocked fish. It's not easy, but it's the best I can do until this summer, when traffic is seeing more than 10 cars between Klawock and Thorne Bay, on Prince of Wales Island and the fish are something I might actually keep.

I know it's cold, rainy and at times miserable, but there's a reason you're still there, and even the mediocre days have got to be better than spending five months with the itch.

• Jeff Lund is a high school English teacher in Manteca, Calif., who lived in Klawock from kindergarten to his graduation in 1999.

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