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Monday, September 12, 2005


From way beyond left field: Part 2

The second story in series. For reference see the introduction from last Tuesday, September 6. Remember, these stories were written with no intent of ever being widely read nor published, much less put on the internet.

Two notes:

Steamboats plied the rivers in Alaska until the mid-twentieth century. Despite the lore of bush-pilots, bush-pilots could only deliver small loads such as mail. The residents in interior Alaska were dependant upon steamboats to deliver most of their supplies such as fuel, food, and hardware. The steamboats were the lifeline in an area where there were no roads and still are no roads. Barges still make deliveries to villages up and down the Yukon and its tributaries in the summer months.

Some people may think of Alaska as a vast tundra. The interior of the state is a vast expanse of rivers, marshes and forest. The forest is mainly birch and black spruce, a scrawny spruce that rarely reaches 12 inches in diameter at the base. There are also significant stands of cottonwoods, aspen and white spruce.


I think about the old times when I was just a little kid, watching mom doing her beadwork by kerosene lamp. That was how she bought our log house and land we were raised up on. I would sit there at the table listening to her and grandma talking, telling stories, once in a while they would sing old Indian songs. I enjoyed hearing the crackling of the wood fire and the popping of the wood pitch and the warmth and safety of home.

My brother and I would cut wood after breakfast with those old big-tooth, cross-cut saws that got a handle on both ends. I loved to hear the sound it would make, whick, whoke, whick, whoke, whick, whoke until the block would fall off. Then we would move down another stove length an continue cutting. When we finished that log we would stack them up nice and neatly and grab another log and set it up on the sawhorse and continue until we had a nice big stack of firewood. We had a little swede saw but only to use on little skinny wood or lumber. Then we got out the big sledge axe, double blade axe and wedge we’d look at the block of wood carefully on both ends to find the biggest crack where we could split it easiest.

My older brother would do all the heavier work and I used the double blade to chop it smaller and smaller. Then we would use the little hatchet to make kindling. After that my brother would make me hold out my arms and start piling wood for me to carry to the house. After I thought I had enough he would say, “NO, no’” and keep piling it up to where I couldn’t see where I was walking. I’d have to turn sideways to see where I was walking.

When our cross-cut would get dull we loaded it in our dogsled and took it up to this old white man. He lived all alone at the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana rivers. He clamped down the saw on this big workbench, and told us stories of the old times when our people would cut firewood for the steamboats. I have pictures of my mom and uncles standing in front of their big woodpile. They’d get $5.00 a cord, at that time that was a lot of money. Mom would tell me she cut, limbed and stacked 5-7 cords of wood by herself. $25 to $35 was a lot of money. She’d buy food staples, rice, noodles, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, pepper, flour, maybe a slab of bacon, eggs, bread, cracker and butter. Whatever she had left she’d look at bead catalogs and get together with aunts and other women and make the order out.

She had cookie or candy tin cans of loose beads she had saved and I would be at the table when she did her work. I would put hand fulls of beads on the lids and separated and string all the beads for her in the evening time.

The stories that old man would tell, while he sharpened our saws would be about all the activities, loading the barges with wood and supplies, and how strong our people were. That was the good life then, hardly no drinking, hard work, and all the people visiting each other once in a while they would have a big fire and everybody would bring a little bit of food and get together and have a good time.

After all the teeth were sharpened to his satisfaction, he had a smaller clamp to set the teeth the full length of the saw. He’d look down and see a few that he would have to set. Then he would get us to look down that big curved blade and saw how straight the “V” was and the tips were all lined up straight. We would thank him and see the twinkle in his eyes and the big smile. He enjoyed our companionship and visits. I knew really in my heart this was so.

When our wood got lower I had 1 dog to pull the sled, he was half large-german-shepard and half black lab. The sled we had was made in the old style, no screws, just babish. When it got loose we would bring it in the house, thaw it out, and tighten up all the babish. That’s the best kind of sled to use I believe, because it’s got a lot of give in all terrain. Not stiff at all. We’d go out and get a load of wood. My dog was so strong he’d pull that sled with me sitting on top of all the wood. My brother would be in the back, sometimes pushing along to help get back home. Then we would go back out and get another sled load. We’d continue until all the wood we cut was piled up beside our house.

It was hard work, but we were happy. Grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles felt proud of us to see all the work we did. After dinner we were so tired we would fall asleep soundly but sore in our muscles.

Nowadays people have it so easy. Electric heat, gas or oil stoves, chainsaws and snow machines. Back in my days we took our time and enjoyed being outdoors.

Everybody wants to get to where they want to go so fast. They miss all the beauty of what the Great Spirit gives us to enjoy what he created and provides for us.

To have a good night’s rest and dream. Alcohol takes all this away. Passing out is not sleeping. It’s sleep depravation. This sleep depravation is a sort of brainwashing technique that is used to control you. I like my freedom to try the best I can and to help however I can.

Walter Tommy

these are priceless. wonderful. keep them coming, and, if you need help in the transcription, let me know. Wow.
all i have to add is, thanks, to you and to walter.
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