Waiting for Salmon

by Susan Kraus (2010)

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I’m waiting on a call from the Eagle River Nature Center as to whether the salmon have arrived. Ranger Rick is hiking out now to take a look.  If they have, I’ll hop in the car and drive out there (about 50 miles, but some back roads so takes a while) and hike in a mile or so to a river where the salmon are returning to spawn. If they haven’t shown up yet, I’ll wait a a few days and call again.

That’s how it is here in Alaska. There are a lot of areas where it’s hard to predict a set time schedule, and when there is one something often happens to interrupt it. The tides come in… well, like clockwork… but that is about it.  The rest is subject to variables: rain, storms, weird winds or when the salmon decide to show up.  And accidents. With only one  two--lane road heading south from Anchorage (called Highway #1) everything comes to a halt when there is an accident (which occurs with discomforting regularity.) Not just for an hour, but maybe a half-day to a day. People take out their fishing poles and see if there is a stream nearby or if they can get the bay without sinking thigh-deep in the mud flats. They may take a nap in their camper because everyone has a camper, most with a kayak on top. Folks keep a cooler in the trunk because you never know when you may need a cooler. Plus, road construction and repair (which has to be done in the summer months) means 45-60 minutes sitting and waiting for your turn to go. What looks like a 90-minute drive is more like 3 hours on a good day. I look at what I think it should take and then double or triple the time.  Then I make sure I have some drinks and a good book in the back seat. I’m thinking of buying a cooler.

But I’m not complaining, I’m adapting.
It reminds me of island time, in Hawaii or the Caribbean.
Alaska isn’t an island by traditional definitions, but it is in practical terms. With ocean on one side and sheer impenetrable mountains on the other, only a few roads and millions of square miles of impassable forest, much of Alaska is functionally “island.” Accessible only by plane or boat, subject to the push-and-pulls of nature, Alaskans operate by “island time.” Not quite “Don’t worry, be happy” but close.
“It will get here when it gets here,” a local woman told me, “No sense fretting.” That was in Wal-Mart when I was looking for dandruff shampoo. It was, like, gone. Empty spaces on the shelves.

And “it” can be anything. Shampoo to salmon.
They get here when they get here.

I’ll give Ranger Rick another 30 minutes and then call. Or maybe I’ll just drive up to Eagle River and see. Because, really, even if the salmon haven’t arrived, it’s a beautiful hike through the forest down to the river, and the sun is just breaking through the clouds. And since there is no telling, they could, serendipitously, show up just for me.
That happens in Alaska.

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"I think we often know things in our gut way before the synapses connect in the head."