FAIRBANKS — I have great memories of growing up in Allakaket, especially every fall when families would go out camping to hunt for moose.
It was always the best time with the splendor of the fall leaves and plentiful game in the area.
My sister, Barbara Lee Simon, and I flew up to Allakaket to visit our dad, Andy Simon, to go hunting the weekend of Sept. 14-16. My dad is getting older and I don’t know how much longer he’ll be able to take us to our childhood camping areas. My son and I live in Ester, and my sister just moved back from a two-year job in Washington, D.C. We don’t go home to Allakaket often because of the cost of the flight, plus groceries, and gas for the boat ride.
This year, I had to go.
I really missed being out on the river and visiting my family there. When I was a child, camping was always an adventure for my parents and my three siblings. We used to have a wooden boat, canvas tent, small stove and grub boxes made of wood. We all chipped in to prepare for the trip, set up camp, and haul the moose back to the boat if we were lucky enough to get one. Rain or shine, we went out hunting.
After arriving at Allakaket, my dad took me and my sister up to Henshaw on the Koyukuk River with his all-weld boat. On the way upriver, we saw a pack of three small wolf pups running along the grass on top of the bank. We followed them for about two miles before they disappeared into the woods. My dad said the wolf pups were skinny and looking for food along the river.
As we continued our journey, we stopped at a few lakes to check for moose. My dad and my sister carried the guns. I was glad, because I hadn’t shot a gun in a long time.
My dad has lived in the Koyukuk River area all his life and pointed out many places as we traveled. Places where our relatives had lived, camped, hunted and cut wood. We made it to Henshaw, and I remember mom said we couldn’t land there because it was an old town site, so we landed our boat across from it. We fished for grayling and had a picnic of half-dried sheefish, homemade bread and campfire tea. Delicious! My sister caught one grayling. Dad said we didn’t catch more because of the high murky water. It had rained all summer, so the water has been high.
We started back to the village about 6 p.m. when the sun was getting lower. We kept an eye out for moose, but all I could see was the beautiful scenery.
I remembered making up games and telling stories as I traveled with my sisters and brother when we were kids. I was daydreaming when my sister shouted something as my dad slowed the boat, and I glimpsed a lynx swimming across the river. I grabbed my camera and took some quick photos. The lynx jumped out of the river, shook off the water, looked at us and jumped up the river bank with complete ease. An awesome site!
I couldn’t wait for our camping trip the next day to South Fork, where my grandparents lived, camped, fished and hunted.
The next day, we set a fish net up the Alatna River for white fish and sheefish before we left upriver to South Fork to go camping. My dad, sister, dad’s friend Hilda, my youngest brother, youngest sister and her friend were preparing to go camping. Everyone packed their waterproof bags, camping supplies and hunting gear. The boat ride took a few hours, but it was fun. I remembered the landmarks that signified how far from town we were or someone’s fish net area or wood cutting area. Everything looked different because it was overgrown with trees or the river channel had changed.
Some places, I couldn’t remember the significance.
When we arrived at Grandpa William William’s cabin, we unloaded our gear and started getting wood to cook dinner. Grandpa’s cabin was rebuilt after the big flood of 1994 that destroyed so many cabins and homes in the villages of Allakaket, Alatna and Hughes. The old cabin was where my mom and her siblings were raised in the 1940s and 1950s — a tiny little cabin that, at times, housed as many as 10 people year around. All that remains of the old cabin is the mud that banked the house to insulate it. I felt good being in the place that my grandparents lived and where my mom had lived and played.
We roasted moose ribs over the fire, made tea and sat by the fire watching the sun set. We shared our meal with my cousin, PJ Simon and his hunting party, and listened to them tell their tales of hunting and fishing up the Henshaw River. I don’t know if they were having more fun hunting or maneuvering the boat way up there. The are adventurous men for sure.
As night fell, we all set about getting our beds ready in the cabin. A good’s night rest after a full day of fresh air.
The next morning, we cooked breakfast over the fire and started cutting the overgrown willows at the cabin. Everyone worked together to get the job done. PJ and company stopped by again to have breakfast with us before they went off on their new adventure. We packed up and drove up the South Fork River. I almost cried as I saw the place we used to have a fish camp when I was a child. It looked so small, but back then, it was miles and miles to explore.
On the way back the river, we spotted a moose, but in the excitement of the moment, we missed it. I couldn’t take my eyes away from watching the moose run through the willows, so I didn’t get a photo of it. Everyone was excited that we got that close to one and all our eyes were glued to the land around us as we kept going back up the river. It rained all day, but we just kept going. We stopped at my dad’s land and had lunch. Hilda cooked half-dried sheefish and I cooked short ribs over the fire. We drank tea and fished for awhile then started back home. I wished that my son could’ve made the trip, so he could witness all that we saw and heard.
Every time I go home, I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be. This is the land that my family and ancestors lived. Every place has a name, every place has a story.
Joy Simon, who teaches at Barnette Magnet School, was born in Tanana, grew up in Allakaket and now lives in Ester.