My turn: Returning to Alaska and loving it

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A couple months ago I wrote about a figurative itch to return to Alaska for the summer. That itch is now a literal lump on my right hand.

It's proof that I was standing in one place too long while fishing. Stupid no-see-em. It, along with all the other little itchy lumps on my hands and legs, are what remain, along with digitized moments on my computer, of another summer home.

It's an inevitability, an irritation, but now as I sit in my chair back in California, I almost don't want them to leave. As long as the little red lumps require my attention, I know I haven't been out of Alaska that long.

Along with the irritants come other reminders; the shallow scrapes on my left palm, where the teeth of a coho raked my skin, my right middle finger scabbed over from when it was smashed while retrieving a four-by-four buck from a mountain, two blisters on the same hand from chopping firewood, the freezer over-packed with fish that needs to be taped shut.

In days my hands will be the smooth hands of a California English teacher, just as they were in May, before they were "Alaskanized."

Sunday I woke up at 5:15 a.m. and went fly fishing at a river 40 minutes east. I caught nothing, but enjoyed the solitude that at times can be difficult to come by. I went to the local gun club and fired off a couple rounds in anticipation of this year's deer season which, according to the California Department of Fish and Game, I have a 7-point-something percent chance of bagging a Colombian black tail. The season starts on the fourth Saturday in September and lasts 40-some days.

Three weeks ago I was with my old Alaska history teacher and basketball coach as he happily carved up a four-by-five on the tallest peak on Prince of Wales Island as I looked on in envy. The out-of-state hunting license was more than I could bear to pay, so I was forced to watch as he and my buddy Jay both looked to fill their freezers.

With these moments nothing more than memories, I do what I can. I held an unofficial English Department meeting Friday night, and fed my friends, who have been deprived of real seafood since I last returned from Alaska, king and cohos.

I demonstrate patience as my class size of 38 gets settled down to 34, and let Alaska stories infiltrate my lesson plans. What better way to teach imagery than describing the initial run of a silver expecting breakfast and getting a barb?

There is a benefit for living this way. I get to see Alaska exclusively in full bloom, and miss out on the long, cold rainy days of winter. I pay for it of course, literally. The plane ticket, the fuel surcharges, the extra bag fees, and the out-of-state hunting and fishing licenses deplete my teacher savings, but it's worth it.

As I said before, you with the fortitude to endure the gray are every bit deserving of the blue and gold that come with summer. Maybe one day I'll take care of the itch for good, and join you.

• 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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