Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: North Coast
Salmon on My Mind Chapter Fourteen
The month of August isn’t usually associated with bad storms. After about four
decades of Augusts in Alaska, I have came to expect at least one storm during that month.
Twice we’ve been in the Interior during August, and both times experienced heavy snow and
wind storms. Once, driving the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, we
experienced snow and white-out conditions on Wright Pass, the divide between the Ogilvie
and Richardson Mountains, locally known as the “Arctic Divide.”
It’s almost as if nature is sending a warning that winter is approaching, because after
the storm the weather can turn nice, and last that way until mid-October, or even into
During the last few years there have been some terrible August storms in the northern
British Columbia, the Queen Charlotte Islands and Southeast Alaska.
Of course, in 1954, when I was fishing at Tyee, I knew nothing about this history of
storms in August, and expected good weather. Bad storms can come at any time during the
year in the northern latitudes.
The weather had been calm and hot, with afternoon westerlies. I’d became complacent,
expecting it would remain so throughout the month. A piece of canvas I usually kept
in the boat, was left covering my wood pile back in camp. The temperature had been in
the seventies throughout the day, and that’s hot while at sea in Southeast Alaska. I’d shed
the long underwear and heavy woolen clothing I usually wore while out fishing.
One warm, bright morning I left camp at four o’clock. I’d packed a peanut butter
sandwich, thermos of coffee, candy bar and some left-over bacon for lunch. Buddy expected
me to share anything I ate, so put left over hot cakes I’d been given at the cook house for
him. I wore only cotton shorts and tee shirt, Frisco jeans, a hickory shirt and sweatshirt. I
never went anywhere without oilskins in the boat. I was green, but not stupid. Stu was
fishing at his usual kelp bed just outside the harbor. He gave me the no fish sign as I passed.
I continued on around Point Gardner Light.
Surprisingly, I saw two king salmon leaping out of the water as I cruised slowly looking
for bait. Already the temperature was stifling hot. I stripped down to only pants and tee
shirt, and the inevitable rubber boots. There was no movement of air. The ocean glimmered
like tarnished silver, with only the trace of an oily, flaccid southerly swell coming up
Chatham Strait. The sky was deep blue. I breathed deeply of the salty air. Two eagles circled,
looking for a herring breakfast. This was my kind of weather.
Miles away in the distance, however, down where Chatham Strait merged into nothingness
with the open sea, the sky had a queer, curious, brassy appearance. Sun on fog, I
thought, ignoring it. Then Yasha Island became perfectly inverted, the trees pointing down
into the sea. That was really odd, but mirages were nothing new.
There were other signs that something unusual might happen, but I was too busy and
inexperienced to notice. Usually sea gulls flitted around the surface, diving on herring
schools. There were no birds anywhere on the surface of the water. Gulls were circling lazily high in the sky.
I tried a couple of spots without success, and finally rounded Point Gardner and ran
up the shore about three miles towards Wilson Cove. The previous day I’d found herring
scattered along the kelp there and caught several large salmon.
The monthly tides were at full moon and the ebb current was moving along at a lively
clip as I tossed over my baits. Within minutes I had a double strike. I landed them both
and re-baited, and soon had another strike. For the next two hours the fish bit steadily. As
soon as I’d land one, and toss out a fresh bait, another salmon grabbed it. I was over a
school. But the fish acted crazy and were so wild I lost half of what I hooked.
Buddy was excited, barking excitedly, especially when my .22 cracked and another fish
was brought aboard. If I lost one, he looked at me reproachfully. I’d never seen a bite as
hot as this at Tyee. By ten o’clock, 12 kings were in the boat.
I didn’t have a barometer and weather forecasts were not available, at least for someone
without a radio. Today, after long experience, the unusually hot weather, the stillness, big
tides, the inversion of tiny Yasha Island, crazy-acting salmon and the brassy distant sky
would have sent alarm bells jingling in my subconsciousness. Depending upon what kind
of a boat I was on, I’d probably head for the nearest good harbor and either put out all the
anchor gear I had, or tie to something solid. But I was a rank greenhorn, and the fish were
The first indication that something was amiss occurred when my boat began rising and
falling in a long, smooth swell. Sometimes a change of tide caused swells to appear suddenly.
Busy catching fish, I greedily ignored all warnings. After all, Murder Cove, if running
full speed, was only half an hour away.
By the time I landed number 13 and 14, the swell had grown considerable. I looked
down Chatham Strait. The peculiar haze that I’d noticed in the distance earlier had moved
closer. Nothing unusual, since fog banks frequently crept stealthily in from that direction.
I plunked two more baits overboard, and ate my lunch. Buddy looked at me expectantly,
so I fed him the hot cakes. He gulped them down as if he was starving. That dog loved to
I was headed towards Wilson Cove, with my back to the southeast. I happened to turn
around and felt a twinge of alarm. Not only had the fog bank moved closer, but a curious
wall of white hung over the water beneath it. Yasha Island had disappeared, which meant
the fog bank would soon be upon me. I wasted precious minutes trying to decide what the
white was. I didn’t have long to wait. A gust of cold wind struck, frosting the surface of the
swells white. I yanked my baits aboard and headed for Point Gardener, hoping to round the
point before the fog arrived.
No one, weather expert or layman, has ever explained to me how a sudden wind can
happen so rapidly. One moment it was dead calm, the next it was blowing so hard I had
trouble getting my shirt and sweatshirt out of the locker and putting on my oilskins. It
was cold, so I drew my oilskin coat collar around my neck as tightly as I could stand it and
snapped it closed. Rain parkas, so popular today, were unavailable then. Fishermen wore
sou’wester on their head, fastened with a chin strap.
The wind blew frothing spray off the tops of the seas. I was barely able to make it around Point Gardner. Once I changed course for Murder Cover I was running in the swell
and spray shot over the starboard rail in sheets. I wasn’t worried. The Reinell was an excellent
sea boat, and I had 15 salmon for ballast. I reduced speed to a crawl.
When an especially large sea roared hissing and frothing towards me, I had to change
course and put the bow into the wind. That meant my boat lost momentum. Blinding fog
surrounded me. Finding my way around the reef to reach the entrance to Murder Cove was
going to be interesting. Breaking seas and submerged rocks looked the same in the fog.
I’d experienced these quick blows before. Ordinarily they only lasted a few hours. I
decided to turn left, put the wind and sea behind me, and run to the head of Surprise
Harbor and drop anchor until the wind calmed down.
Surprise Harbor, on the east side of Point Gardner, is one mile wide and two miles
long, and wide open to the south. I’d investigated the head of the harbor before and knew
it provided shelter during westerlies, and thought a small boat could find protection from
southerlies behind the largest of several islands. With the gale on my stern, my boat was zipping along at a dead idle as I ran before the seas. A large kelp bed blocked the harbor near
the head. I dreaded breaking a sheer pin in this kelp. Replacing it in such weather would be
nearly impossible, but I got through.
Behind the island, in three fathoms of water, I dropped anchor. Obviously I misjudged
how well protected from the wind this location was. The anchor refused to hold. When I
hauled it, the flukes were full of seaweed and kelp. Behind the island was a large bed of bull
kelp. I ran into the kelp as far as I could, until I was as close to the steep rocky cliffs of the
island as I dared. Gathering several strands of kelp as large as my wrists, I wrapped the bow
painter around them and tied it off. This position was more sheltered from the wind than
where I’d anchored.
During the summer of 1953 Wayne Short had caught Sadie Fenton, owner of Baranof
Hot Springs and Store, in a mood to sell. She owned a store, bath house, liquor store and
several cabins to rent. Her partner, Fred O’Neal, had drown, she was in her mid-sixties and
didn’t relish another winter alone at Baranof.
Wayne and the rest of the family had long recognized that Surprise Harbor had been
a bad choice of a place to settle because it was a poor harbor. They didn’t dare keep their
boat anchored during bad weather and had to keep it at the cannery. Wayne knew his mother
would be much happier someplace else where she could be around people once in a while.
Wayne had only $5 on him but Mrs. Fenton accepted that as earnest money, provided that
he raised a $10,000 down payment before the month was out to close the deal. The price
As soon as the money was raised and the deal complete, the Short family abandoned
their cabin in Surprise Harbor and moved to Baranof. The house was later turned into a
portable sawmill where they began sawing yellow cedar, intending to build each of the boys
a large boat. Unfortunately, those plans ended when a lost Coast Guardsman on a hunting
trip stayed overnight in the mill, built a fire and accidentally burned the building and a
large supply of lumber that was seasoning inside.
I’d no sooner tied up to the kelp until the rain and wind come with a roar like a thousand
airplanes. It wasn’t the typical Southeast Alaska rain. This was more like the tropical downpours I’d seen in the South Pacific while in the Navy. I tied rope through the salmon’s
gills and slid them overboard one at a time, knowing they would keep better in seawater
than lying in the fish box under a downpour of rain.
What food I had was gone. I finished the coffee and waited for the wind to go down.
Buddy curled up under the bow where it was dry. He watched my face intently, as if questioning my decision to tie here. I suspected he would have been happier back at camp
where he could mooch dinner scraps from Mary and Linda. Me too. I was already hungry.
But this would be only one of those quick summer storms and would be over in a few
hours. Before dark we would be well fed, snug and cozy in my tent
Instead of going down, the wind increased into a full-blown storm. The wind
screamed and wailed around both side of the high, rocky island and met where I was tied
up. The wind picked up seawater and hurled it in little cyclones. One minute I was buffeted
by gusts from one side, then, a moment later, from the other. A large surge caused the
boat to rise and fall. Since there was little possibility of getting back to camp that evening,
I resigned myself to spending the night in the open boat.
To occupy my time, I systematically began checking off the mistakes I’d already made.
They were numerous. I should have took off for harbor before the wind came. I should have
tried harder to reach Murder Cove before I turned into Surprise Harbor. I should have
brought along the canvas to use as a shelter. I should have had emergency food in a waterproof
container left permanently underneath the bow deck. I could easily have brought
along warmer clothing. Sitting there on the hard seat, with rain streaming off my hat, it
was easy to think of all the things I should have done.
With the storm came a sudden drop in temperature. I became thoroughly chilled and
my hands grew numb. Why couldn’t I have had a pair of dry gloves on board? The only
gloves I had were cotton, that I used to dress fish. They were filthy. I hung them over the
side on a string to soak.
A layer of spruce needles, blown off trees on the island, floated in the boat’s bilge. Now
and then a spruce twig joined the needles. As the gusts increased in velocity, small limbs flew
past and landed on the kelp bed.
Over on Admiralty Island a tree crashed down with a loud thump. I peered through
the sheets of rain towards the top of the island. A dozen Sitka spruce grew there, twisted
and gnarled by the wind. Which tree would topple first? Would it land on top of me?
After pumping the bilge, I spent the last hour of daylight keeping an eye on the trees.
There would have been little time to dodge if one had broken off. As darkness settled in, I
consoled myself with thoughts that those spruce were firmly anchored and had withstood
many a gale.
But what was to stop the wind from blowing harder than it had ever blown before?
I laid down across the top of the seats and boxes and tried to get some rest. Rain blew
under my hat, so I sat up. With nothing to lean against, I was uncomfortable. Eventually
I dozed, jerked awake as a particularly violent squall struck, dozed again, then awoke freezing
cold. The surf boomed against shore. The night was pitch black. I couldn’t see my
watch or light a match.
Why didn’t I have a flash light on board? I reached down and discovered that rainwater already covered the floorboards and was two inches high on my boots. I found the pump
and went to work.
The night seemed to last forever. Pump the boat, doze, pump again, doze. My body
ached to lie down. I tried lying on my stomach so the rain wouldn’t strike my face and slept
a few minutes. When I woke, my body was numb with cold. I stood up and beat my arms
against my chest.
Ed Bugden, a Ketchikan halibut fisherman ( Bill Goodale’s uncle) told me that exercise,
beating his arms against his chest, was what kept him alive when his dory became lost
from the schooner on the Grand Banks and he and his partner had to row all the way to
Nova Scotia during the winter. I beat my arms against my legs and sides and chest until I
I consoled myself with plans for morning. At dawn, the wind would stop. Tidal currents
quickly knocked down swells in this area. I’d pull my salmon on board and run to
Tyee. After selling, I’d take a long, hot shower, then have breakfast in the dining room.
Daylight seeped through the gloom of storm as slowly as molasses through cheese
cloth. I tossed out the twigs and pumped the boat dry.
When I arrived the day before a small creek across the harbor had trickling from the
nearby forest. By morning it had became a raging stream, washing uprooted skunk cabbage,
huckleberry bushes and forest litter into the bay surrounding the kelp bed. How much rain
fell during the night I have no idea, but many, many inches. The bow line had almost worn
through the kelp. I gathered new stocks, then retied.
Buddy came out of hiding into the driving rain. I knew he wanted to relieve himself.
“Go ahead. pee or **** in the bilge, I don’t care.” He drank water from the deck bucket,
looked at me in disgust, then retreated into the shelter. “You lucky mutt. I wish I could get
in there.” The front seat was too close to the bow deck for me to crawl underneath and
stretch out. One of my covered plywood boxes was behind the seat, so there wasn’t enough
room for my legs under the seat.
The cannery crew would be at breakfast about now. Gorging on hot cakes, or golden
brown French toast smothered in butter and syrup, bacon, ham, eggs and scalding hot coffee.
I was only a mile, as the raven flies, from that dining room. I swear I could smell food
cooking, although the wind was wrong.
My cotton briefs felt damp and clammy. What I would have given for a pair of woolen
long johns like I always wore while working in the woods, or, during colder weather, while
fishing. A warm woolen coat under my oilskin jacket would have helped also. At least there
was no shortage of drinking water. My thermos cup contained an inch after a short time
on the floorboards.
I developed a routine. Stand and beat my arms against my chest, or legs, until weary,
then sit on the stern seat, back to the wind, bow my head and try to sleep. If my head
dropped too far onto my chest, rain ran down my neck. If I covered both ears with the
palms of my hands to smother the sound of the wind, water ran down my sleeves. I’d wake
up with goose pimples crawling over my skin, shivering. The only solution was exercise until
I felt warm again. Dressed completely in cotton, I was an accident waiting to happen.
Mid-day arrived with no let up in the storm. The gale had raged for 24 hours. Even if the wind died at dusk, the seas wouldn’t lay down enough for me to head for camp. Like
it or not, I was faced with another miserable night.
What would Goodman think when I didn’t show up in Tyee? No one would come
looking for me in this storm. If they did, they wouldn’t dare search the head of Surprise
Harbor. The swells were so high the shallows half way in were breaking. I tried to remember
if any boats had been tied to the dock the previous morning. No empty seine boat could
go out in such a storm.
The second night seemed much longer that the first. The temperature was bitterly
cold. How could it be so cold in August? The top fasteners of my coat were unsnapped. My
hands were so swollen and numb I couldn’t fasten them. Cold air invaded my upper body.
When I stood up to beat my arms against by chest I felt faint and dizzy and almost toppled
I laid down and pulled the hat over my face. My hands were too numb to button the
safety strap. I dreamed crazy things. When I awoke cold rain beat against my naked head.
I reached for my hat. It had disappeared. I searched with my hands in the darkness.
Evidently the wind had blown it off while I was sleeping!
I was totally unaware that I was becoming a victim of one of Alaska’s notorious silent
killers. I knew nothing about hypothermia in those days. It was simply known as exposure.
Several people had died of exposure around Ketchikan during the four years I’d lived there.
With a wind blowing 40 mph, and temperature of 40 degrees, the wind chill factor
is ten degrees above zero. The normal body temperature is 98.6 F. Goose pimples, shivering,
undue fatigue, stumbling, forgetfulness, and mental fatigue are early signs of hypothermia. 11
After daylight there was no sign that the wind and rain had let up. I noticed my hat
tangled in the kelp ten feet away. I rigged up a hook and cast out to catch it, but the hook
hung up and broke off in the kelp. I tried again. Another break off. Retrieving that hat
was absolutely necessary, a matter of life and death. Kelp surrounded my boat. I took the
knife and gaff and slowly began cutting away kelp stocks and pulling the boat towards the
hat. Finally I moved close enough I thought I could reach out with the gaff and grab it. I
leaned as far out as I could. A gust of wind struck my back, my boots slipped on the wet
deck and I toppled overboard!
Surprisingly, the water did not feel cold at all. It felt warm. Entangled in kelp I panicked,
but struggled to the surface and forced my head through the kelp like a harbor seal.
Buddy stood with his forelegs on the rail, looking at me and barking excitedly. I clung to
kelp stocks until I got my breath back. The gaff was floating nearby. I lunged for it, but one
cannot swim through kelp. The gaff slipped away out of reach. I looked for my hat. It was
gone. The wind had whipped it away!
I worked my way to the side of the boat but with my boots full of water didn’t have
enough strength to haul myself aboard. Buddy licked my face while I hung there wondering
what to do. Then I remembered the outboards and worked my way around to the stern.
By using the planing fins on the outboard as steps, I pulled myself over the top of the
engine and tumbled into the bilge.
How long I laid there I have no idea. Buddy’s warm tongue brought me out of my stupor
and onto the seat. For a long time I sat and let sea water drain out of my clothing, then stripped down and stood naked in the wind and rain. I didn’t feel cold while I wrung the
water out of my clothes and put them back on. After I donned the wet clothes I took a terrible
chill and began beating my arms against my sides until too exhausted to continue.
Hypothermia fells 720 Americans each year. Some in 50F temperatures. “Hypothermia can
creep up insidiously,” says researcher Alan Steinman, M.D. “Even the early stages can compromise
judgement, so people often fail to recognize the seriousness of their situation until it’s too
A drop in body temperature of just a few degrees, he says, can prompt the type of violent,
heat-generating shivering that impedes coordination. Indeed, at every step on the way to a frozen
death the body mounts a defense, but one that sacrifices movement and judgement. Response to
cold is the same in water as on land, though water is 25 times more efficient at sucking away
heat (even if the water is warmer that the air, you’ll be in significantly more danger if you submerge yourself). As soon as you experience a sudden drop in temperature, your peripheral blood vessels constrict, shunting blood to your vital organs at the expense of digits and limbs. The core heat tricks your kidneys into cranking out excess urine, leading to hydration and sludge-like blood. Eventually, your skeletal muscles begin shivering, a fuel-burning process akin to gunning a car in neutral to generate heat. Your brain slows down, and you may experience hallucinations.
By the time your temperature falls to 90 F. effective shivering ceases, and your cooling rate
accelerates. The end comes between 88 and 78, when your heart suffers chaotic contractions—or simply stops beating. (Journal Global Health, Feb., 2003)
I crawled forward, laid on my back, draped my legs over the front seat and shoved my
head and shoulders under the deck to escape the rain on my head. Buddy’s hair was wet,
but he was warm. I cuddled my head in between his legs and slept.
I didn’t sleep long until violent shivering awoke me. Rather than spend another night,
I considered running the boat ashore and walking to Short’s old homestead and see if I
could get a fire going. If not, it was less than a half mile over Short’s old trail through the
woods and along the shore of Murder Cove to Wilson’s tent. Maybe he would let me dry
out and feed me something. Even loan me a warmer coat.
Although my decision making was impeded, I still had enough reason to hesitate. I
looked at the beach. A heavy storm surge swished up and down on shore. What would
happen to my boat during the time I was gone? I put off the decision until later in the day.
Meanwhile, Buddy and I needed food. With difficulty, I hauled in one of the smaller king
salmon. It took a long time.
Body temperature 95 to 93 F. Increased muscle in-coordination; slow, labored movements;
stumbled pace; violent shivering; and mild confusion. 12
The exertion of lifting that salmon tired me. I looked for my cleaning knife, intending
to slice off a strip from the belly and try eating it. It had disappeared. I’d had the knife in
my hand when I fell overboard.
I always carry a pocketknife but opening the blade required I use my fingernails, and I
failed. Finally I used a screwdriver to open it, sliced off a piece of belly, munched on it, then
spit it out. The cold fat was repulsive.
Buddy watched intently from his shelter. I offered the strip to him. He sniffed, but
refused to eat. Next I cut a chunk out of the back and ate a little, then vomited it up. I gave it to
Buddy. He licked the raw meat, then refused to eat.
“We need some hot food, huh, Buddy,” I said. He stared at me, his eyes cold and calculating,
as if blaming me for getting into this mess.
Storms, especially summer storms, seldom last more than 24 hours. I tried to remember
how long some of the storms had lasted around home. A few kept blowing for five or
six days, but that had been during the winter. I kept looking at my pocket watch, but it
always showed the same time. It didn’t occur to me that it was full of water.
The next time I reached down for the watch it was gone. I looked around on the floor
boards and in the bilge, but it wasn’t there.
The storm drove hundreds of sea birds to take shelter in Surprise Harbor. Murre,
puffins, auklets and seagulls covered the surface. Their incessant cries added to the noise
of the storm. I stood by with the dip net, flailing every time one flew overhead, trying to
catch one to eat. Buddy ignored the birds, unusual for him, but he didn’t want to leave his
nest any more than he had to.
During high tide the storm drove drift logs into the head of the bay. Some were wound
up in bull kelp that had torn loose by the storm from their undersea rock moorings. The
churning logs didn’t penetrate into my kelp bed. I wished they would. I planned to gather
enough logs side by side, then secure them with long stalks of bull kelp and make a raft.
Then I could leave my boat secured in the kelp, and go ashore.
I tried to remember how long I’d been there. (It had been 56 hours, mostly without
sleep, and 50 hours without food) I was no longer hungry.
The torrential rain continued. Now that my head was bare, I became colder than ever
as rain water continually ran down inside my clothing. I emptied fishing gear, extra line
and emergency flares out of the forward box , then moved the box back and set it on top
the other box. Now there was enough room in back of the front seat for my feet. I shoved
my head under the deck and folded my legs under the seat and stretched out, my boots in
the bilge. Buddy reluctantly moved a few inches from his warm spot on the anchor line to
give me more room. I pressed my wet head against his warm body. He stank like dog, and
licked my wet hair and face. His warm tongue felt wonderful.
I have no idea of how long I slept.
When I awoke it was getting dark, and still pouring rain. My legs were numb, freezing
and cramped. Rainwater had risen above the floor boards. My boots and legs up to my
knees were under water. An open boat can catch a lot of rain. I had grown so stiff it was difficult
to extract myself from the position. I emptied the water from my boots, wrung out
the socks and pulled them back on again.
Pumping the boat dry sapped my strength. I had to stop and rest several times. Buddy
crawled out of his place under the bow, stretched and urinated, then hurried back. When
I crawled back and laid my head on his side, his hair was cold and wet. Losing my rain hat
was the worst thing that had happened to me during this ordeal, even worse than falling
Sometimes during the night I awoke. The rain had stopped. I crawled out. I was so
stiff I could hardly stand. The sky was blue black, without a trace of moon or stars. The wind was still blowing, but not as hard. Surf boomed on the nearby cliffs. I beat my arms
against my legs but they were so numb I couldn’t tell when they struck. Back under the
deck, I put my cold head against Buddy’s warm stomach, and immediately went to sleep.
The next time I awoke it was barely light. I didn’t know if it was morning or evening.
I listened for the familiar sounds of the storm. A light wind still blew but the storm had
finally blown itself out and the spruce trees had stopped whipping. Clouds were moving
rapidly from the southwest. Normally, southeast or easterly gales switch to southwest, then
continue in a clockwise spiral, on around to the west. It can blow a gale from the two latter
directions. Southwest wind drove straight into the harbor.
I decided to run out past the island and take a look. I cranked the outboard. It started,
then died. I cranked until I couldn’t crank any more. This new threat didn’t sink in.
Finally I remembered I always disconnected the fuel line when I tipped up the motor.
After connecting the line the engine still refused to start. By then I was too tired to crank
any more and crawled in with Buddy and rested. I told him all the good things we were
going to eat when we got back to camp. He licked my face. His warm tongue was like a
tonic. Cranking the motor had warmed me up enough that I had finally stopped shivering.
Body temperature, 90 to 86F. Shivering stops, severe muscle in coordination, inability to
walk, confusion, irrational behavior, thinking unclear, sleepiness. 13
The table was laden with ham, smashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, string beans.
All favorites of mine. I picked up a plate and started to fill it, but the food suddenly vanished,
right before my eyes. I walked full length of the table. A woman was standing there
with a dish rag, wiping the table. She smiled, and said, “Sorry. You’re too late. We’ve already
put everything away.”
“That’s okay. There are places to eat everywhere,” I replied continuing on along the
street. Open air restaurants were everywhere, but at each I was told the same, they were out
The sky was murky when I awoke. What day was this? Was it morning, or evening? I
dug for my watch, but remembered I’d lost it. I went to the side of the boat to relieve myself.
When fumbling to open my fly, I felt the watch string. I pulled the watch our of my oilskins.
It had stopped at three o’clock. Three in the morning or afternoon.? Yesterday or
today? When I fell overboard? I tried to rewind it, but couldn’t grasp the little wheel. I put
it back in my pocket.
Hypothermia is one of the leading causes of death in the wilderness where cold, damp conditions
suddenly develop. Inexperienced or ill-prepared people have difficulty sustaining themselves
under these adverse weather conditions. A wet, cold, windy environment brings a rapid loss
of body heat which can cause a hypothermic state.
Another attempt to start the outboard failed, until I remembered that the fuel pressure
had lost its prime after being disconnected. Squeezing the rubber bulb was difficult because
my cold, numb hands were stiff. A few yanks on the cord started the engine. What a wonderful
I untied and picked my way slowly through the kelp and drift wood that filled the head
of the bay. The beach was piled high with kelp, seaweed and logs. The boat acted queer and didn’t want to steer properly. I looked back and noticed the salmon dragging. I didn’t have
enough strength to haul them in, so I cut the line with my pocketknife.
Once outside the protection offered by the island there was a heavy swell but no whitecaps
running on top. Even running slow spray shot over the bow. Off the reef at the west
entrance to Murder Cove the seas were confused, but I didn’t turn back. Was the light on
the left or right of the entrance? Finally I decided to just point between where breakers were
smashing on shore. The wind and seas were now behind me. I passed Wilson’s camp, but
his boat wasn’t moored on its running line. The tent had disappeared. I motored on down
along the left hand shore, looking for my tent. It wasn’t there either.
When I looked at the cannery the row of cabins were west of the cannery buildings,
instead of to the east. Had someone move them during the storm?
Thinking my tent had also blown away, I turned and steered across the cove, intending
on going to the dining room to see I could get Buddy something to eat I wasn’t hungry.
No one was present at the docks.
Then I remembered I’d moved my tent across the cove. It was still so dark I could barely
see. No one was outside around the cannery. No wood smoke came from the stove pipes
protruding from each cabin. The entire cannery site seemed abandoned. How long had I
been stranded? Was the cannery closed for the season? If so, George and Frances Pierce
would still be there. Everything was confusing.
My skiff’s bow ground to a halt on the gravel in front of my tent site. It was only a
sprawled heap of canvas. Buddy sprang over the bow, ran up the beach and disappeared
into the forest. Why are there no people? I wondered. With the painter in one hand, I slid
over the side, lost my balance and fell into a foot of water. By hanging onto the side of the
boat I made it ashore on my knees, unable to walk upright. I crawled until I reached dry
land at the bow of the boat. Despite being soaking wet I felt warm and happy to be ashore.
I decided to lie down on the warm sand and rest a few minutes before I went up and started
work on my tent. I stretched out flat on my back, the bow line still in my hand. How
wonderful to lie on the warm sand.
Body temperature 86 to 82F: Muscles become rigid, semiconscious condition, stupor, loss of
contact with reality, pulse and respiration slowed.
Body temperature 82 to 78F: Unconsciousness, heart beat and respiration erratic.
My first consciousness brought confusion and fear. Had I died? It was dark. I listened
intently for the wind. I lowered my hand over the edge of the seat to see how deep the bilge
water was. Instead of water I felt something warm. Buddy! Why had he left his shelter under
the deck and curled up at my feet? His warm tongue began licking my hand. “Good dog.
We’re going to get out of this storm soon,” I said. He raised up, placed his paws on me and
At the sound of my voice a figure appeared outlined by an oil lamp. An angel. So they
really did exist. Or was I only having a dream?
“Are you awake, Frank?”
Mary’s voice frightened me. “Sure, Mary. But why are you out here in my boat in the
storm? This is no place for you to be.”
“You’re in Tyee.” She placed her hand on my forehead. “In my cabin.”
“Tyee? Your cabin? What am I doing here?” I tried to sit up, but fell back. “Why do
I feel so hot? I ran my hands down beneath the blankets and rubbed my chest and arms.
Strange. I pushed the covers off my chest. I was stark naked. “I don’t understand? What happened?
How did I get here?”
Mary slipped a thermometer into my mouth. “You’re not hot. Your body is as cold as
ice. You just feel hot. People dying of hypothermia sometimes shed their clothing. Your
temperature is dangerously low. You need to rest. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.”
This was too much for my confused brain. The last thing I remembered before I passed
out again was the unmistakable odor of Linda’s perfume. Was this what heaven was like?
I awoke to the gurgling, guttural croak of a raven. Ravens are fascinated by dead bodies,
but seldom bother them until they are sure someone hasn’t set a trap, or used poison
around them. The first thing the raven would go for was my eyes. I flung up my hand to
protect myself from the birds.
Daylight flooded in through a window. The raven croaked, “Helllluupppp.” A man’s
voice droned somewhere. I recognized the purple wallpaper in Mary and Linda’s bedroom.
I sat up, and tried to swing my legs over the side of the bed. They refused to obey. My head
ached and my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. I closed my eyes. I could vaguely
hear voices in the distance.
“If we ever get the damn transmitter working, I’ll call for a plane and send him to the
hospital in Juneau,” the voice said. “Walt Sperl would take him on the Yakobi, but he isn’t
due. Besides he might die on Walt’s boat.”
Mike and Mary entered and stood staring down at me as if I was Exhibit A. Buddy followed,
and placed his front feet on the bed. He licked my face and whined.
“How you doing, Caldwell?”
“Okay. I heard what you said, Mike. About sending me to Juneau. That’s not necessary.
What am I doing here? I have to get back to my camp.”
“Mary and Linda found you sprawled unconscious on the beach by your boat, with the
tide lapping around your neck.”
“Why are you telling me an outrageous story like that? I wouldn’t lay on the beach
beside my boat?”
Mike’s voice was louder than necessary when he replied. I think he’d had a few drinks.
“Probably because you were unconscious. We thought you were dead.” I tried to digest this.
“Caldwell, you’re a lucky man. Everyone was asleep. It was only four o’clock in the
“ I awoke and heard a dog barking in the distance,” Mary said quietly. “I looked out
but saw nothing, so laid down and dropped off to sleep again. Then I heard Buddy raising
hell below the bedroom window. Boy, were we glad to hear him, because we’ve been worried
Linda sat on the edge of the bed. “We opened the door, but instead of coming in,
Buddy ran towards the beach, then ran back,” Linda said. That’s when we noticed your
boat, but you were nowhere in sight. Mary ran down to your boat and found you lying
unconscious beside it. The tide was up to your arm pits. She thought your were dead.
Another few minutes and water would have covered your nose and mouth.”
This story sounded too preposterous to believe. I didn’t know if I was dreaming or not.
“You owe your life to Buddy,” Mary said softly, stroking the dog’s head.
I thought this over. “Really! How long ago? When did this happen?”
Cliff said, “Yesterday morning. We carried you here, stripped off your wet clothes and
got you into bed and began placing anything warm we could find beside your body. You
scared the hell out of us. We wondered if you were going to come out of it. Where the hell
have you been for the last few days? We’ve been worried sick.”
“Over in Surprise Harbor. Behind that island.”
“Yeah gads. If we’d have known, and if it hadn’t have been blowing so hard, we could
have ran the skiff across the cove and walked Short’s trail and found you.”
“It got pretty wild in behind the island. Some blow, huh?”
“Some blow is right. We lost a trap up past Wilson Cove. Watchman drowned. The
roof blew off the diesel generator house. Radio antenna broke off halfway up. Couple big
spruce behind here, trees that have stood for hundreds of years, blew down. Crash! Crash!
Several seine boats sank, men drown, other boats blown ashore. No one can remember a
storm like this during the summer before. We haven’t had a delivery for four days.”
“Wilson’s tent across the cove is gone.”
“Wind blew it down in the middle of the night. They managed to get into the boat and
came over here. Damn near sank their boat just coming across the cove. It was blowing
about 80 miles an hour. Waves four feet high running in front of the cannery. It was awful.”
“What happened to my boat?”
“Oh, don’t worry. Mary and Linda have been taking good care of you and your boat.
It’s tied up at the fuel dock. George keeps it bailed out.”
“I’ve been a lot of trouble.”
“Can’t disagree with that,” Mike said, taking a dip of snoose. “We wanted to look for
you, but no one could get outside the cove. Neely thought you probably headed up the
straits towards Wilson’s Cove.”
Mary kept staring at me.
“Thank you Mary. I guess I’ll be getting up and setting my tent back up. If you’’ll give
me my clothes.”
Mary and Mike looked at each other. Mary said, “You’ll do no such thing. You’re supposed
to stay warm, eat something and remain in bed until you recover. That’s doctor’s
“My orders,” Mary said.
“That’s impossible. I can’t stay here! Where are my clothes?”
“At the laundry,” Mike said, looking at Mary. “Listen, Caldwell, you’ve caused enough
trouble. First the bear could have mauled or killed you. Then this. I was trying to think of
what to write your widow and kids when you finally showed up.” He pointed a finger at
me. “You stay put. Until Mary says you can get up. You hear?”
Mike stalked out with Mary following. I overheard Mike giving Mary instructions outside.
“He’s a stubborn, ornery cuss. We don’t need any relapses. I have enough problems
now. If you have any trouble with him, let me know.”
“He’ll be hard to keep in bed,” Mary said.
“Damn fool,” Mike growled. “Doesn’t realize he’s lucky to be alive.”
Mary came into the room and sat on the other bed. Buddy left me and sat at her feet.
“Listen, Mary. I have to get out of here. Bring my clothes, please. I’ve already been
enough trouble. I’m okay now.”
“First, I’m going to heat some chicken soup and see if I can get you to eat. You have
to be starved. Your tent’s a mess. You can’t set it back up yet.”
“Okay, Mary. Where’s Linda?”
“We’ve been taking turns staying with you. She’s playing cards with some women in
the dining room. We’ve been out of work ever since the storm.”
I ate several spoons full of soup, then laid back against the pillow. “I think I lost my
appetite, Mary. I”m not hungry and too tired to eat.”
“You have to drink water. You’re dehydrated.”
“I’m not thirsty.”
Mary placed a glass of water to my lips. I gagged down a few swallows.
“Rest a while then.”
The “while” turned into all afternoon and into the night.
When I finally awoke, the oil lamp in the kitchen cast soft beams of light into the
room. The aroma of Linda’s perfume filled the air. The other bunk was empty.
“Hello,” I called. Linda came into the room. “It’s Mary’s night to spend at a neighbors.
So, sleeping beauty has finally awakened.” She sat on the edge of the bed and felt for
my hand, then ran her hand up my arm. “At least your body is beginning to feel warm.
You’ve been like an ice berg.”
I felt like telling her that her touch was enough to warm any man to the boiling point.
Instead, I said gently. “Linda, I appreciate what you and Mary have done for me, but now
that I’m okay I need my clothes. Please?”
“We took them to the laundry. It’s closed.”
“What time is it?”
“How long have I been here?”
“Well, you came in two days ago.”
I heard the door open. Buddy charged into the room and jumped onto the bed. Linda
pushed him down. “Hello,” Mary called. She came in holding the lamp. “How’s our
“I’m feeling better, thanks to you two. Now, if I could just get my clothes, please?”
I was acutely aware that I was stark naked beneath the covers. “I have to go to the toilet.”
“Use our bucket. No way would we go outside at night.”
“No thanks. I’ll just wrap a blanket around me and go out to the toilet.”
“Take this flashlight.”
“Please. Go into the other room while I get up.”
“We’ve already saw you naked when we pulled off your wet clothing. Why so modest
now?” Mary said.
“Yeah,” Linda teased.
I felt embarrassed.
They went into the kitchen. I pulled a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around me.
My rubber boots were sitting by the stove. Walking hurt my feet terribly. A cold wind blew
under the blanket. I sat on the toilet for a long time without having a bowel movement.
Halfway back to the cabin I took a terrible chill, then a dizzy spell forced me down into the
The girls found me huddled there and helped me back into the cabin. My teeth were
chattering and I thought I was going to pass out. They got me back into bed and piled blankets
over me. I lay there shaking violently.
“I tried to tell you,”Mary scolded. “You should never have gone outside. It takes time
to recuperate from hypothermia. I guess we’re going to have to send you to the hospital in
Juneau after all.”
“No, I’ll be okay What’s hypothermia?”
“It’s exposure. If your body temperature drops far enough your heart eventually stops.
You were nearly to that point when we found you.”
“I really appreciate what you’ve done, but I have to get out of here?”
“Why? We don’t mind.” Linda said.
“But I’m taking up your bed. I feel terrible about the trouble I’ve caused.”
“It’s not a problem. We take turns sleeping on a cot at Alice White’s cabin.”
“Tomorrow I’ll get dressed and set up my tent.”
I didn’t sleep well. Linda tossed and turned in the other bed. The strong odor of her
perfume stifled me. Buddy slept beside the bed. Once in a while I reached down and
rubbed his ears. Curiously, I couldn’t sleep. What was happening to me, I wondered.
Exposure had never bothered me before and I’d been wet many a time when working in the
woods. But, then, I’d always worn woolen underwear.
Two scow loads of fish arrived the following day and the cannery was busy again. The
weather stayed windy and rainy. The girls went to work at six o’clock. They said one of them
would come and check up on me during coffee break.
Neither of the Neelys came to visit.
About ten o’clock Buddy barked. Mike came with a plate of ham, eggs, toast, jam and
a thermos of coffee.
“Thanks, but I’m not hungry. I feel nauseated.” To please him, I nibbled on the toast.
Buddy pressed as close to me, and the plate, as he could.
“Did you have any food during your time behind the island?”
“A peanut butter sandwich and candy bar on the first day.”
“Honestly, Caldwell, You haven’t eaten hardly anything in a nearly a week. How do you
expect to regain your strength?”
“Mary told me you had a dizzy spell and chills last night.”
“Yeah, but I’m okay now. Those women are keeping my clothes hidden. Over in my
tent there’s a seabag with clothes in it. Would you bring the seabag over here, please?”
Mike thought for a moment. “No. I won’t. You **** me off. You’re a lucky guy,
Caldwell, and I don’t think you appreciate what those two have done for you. I called the
doctor in Juneau and told him what happened. Mary insisted we warm your extremities
evenly, so the blood would warm slowly and not rush to your heart. We put hot water bottles
around your arms, feet and legs, but you’re temperature was so low it frightened Mary.
You were like ice. Both girls got into bed on either side of you. Now that’s the ultimate, getting
in bed with someone who hadn’t showered for a week.”
I could feel blood rush to my cheeks. “Mike, you’re such a pathetic dammed liar.”
“Ask them. I was here. The doctor said another few hours out in that storm and you
would have probably died. Mary’s had some medical training. Her husband died of exposure
I was so shocked I could think of no reply.
“It seems under the circumstances, you would be thankful that someone who knows
about exposure is taking care of you. She tells me you’re not following orders. That’s being
“Well, I don’t mean to be. I’m embarrassed, lying here naked in Mary’s bed.”
“You could be lying dead in your boat in Surprise Harbor. The weather is still cold and
rainy. If you choose to move back into that tent until you recuperate, I refuse any responsibility.”
“Okay, Mike. I’ll think about what you said.”
“Just cool it, Caldwell, and thank your lucky stars.” Mike stomped out
I had plenty of time to think. I gave Buddy the food. He wolfed it down. I wrapped
up in a blanket and sat in the kitchen, my feet in the open oven and drank several cups of
hot tea while stoking the stove with dry spruce. Rain poured down outside. My tent was
only a crumpled brown mess in the distance. Buddy was pacing the floor, so I let him out.
The pain in my feet was miserable. I looked around for Aspirin, but didn’t find any.
The girls came in at lunchtime dripping wet from the long walk. Buddy danced
around, as if he hadn’t seen them for a week. I was still wrapped in the blanket, with my
feet in a wash pan of hot water.
“Hey,” Linda said. It’s nice to come home to a warm cabin. Maybe we should keep
“I think you already are,” I retorted.
“That’s good,” Mary said, pointing at the washbasin. “The feet and hands are the first
to suffer in any hypothermic situation.”
“Where are my clothes, doctor?”
“Oh, darn. We forgot,” Linda said.
“I’m going to the tent after you leave and get some clothes. You two are keeping me
here by not bringing my clothes from the laundry.”
“For shame. We wouldn’t do a thing like that, would we Mary?”
“Darn our bad luck. We finally get a man to stay with us, and he wants to leave.”
“You two characters are scandalous. I’ll bet the whole cannery crew are snickering
behind your backs.”
“So that’s what all the tittering has been about,” Linda said, laughing.
They kept up a lively chatter all through lunch about the possibility of a juicy scandal in Tyee. Linda heated soup while Mary toasted cheese sandwiches. They offered me some.
I wasn’t hungry.
After they left, I pulled on my boots and went to my tent. Buddy followed obediently
at my heels. When he saw the inside of the tent he took off into the forest chasing ravens.
The storm had made a mess of the camp. The tent had fallen down with the front flap on
top and rain had poured in, soaking everything. The stove pipe had collapsed, knocking the
stove over. Wet wood ashes created a gooey mess. Soot was everywhere. My sleeping bag and
journal were soaked.
I began to chill and rummaged around in my seabag until I found some wet spare
clothing. I hurried back and hung them on a line over the stove. By then I was shivering
violently so went back to bed.
At six o’clock, Buddy rushed to the door. His uncanny hearing always amazed me.
After a few moments, the door opened, and Linda came in carrying two plates of hot food.
Her raven’s hair glistened like a million diamonds from the rain.
“Mary has to work late. She ate in the dining room. Looks like a Chinese laundry in
here,” she teased. “Are things so bad you’re taking in washing?”
“Have to make a buck any way I can.” To please her, I ate a little, but my appetite was
still on strike.
“How you feeling?”
“Okay. Tomorrow I start on the tent.”
“Great,” she said, looking thoughtfully across the table at me. In the soft glow of the
lamp her eyes were limpid, un-fathomable violent pools.
“This is Mary’s night to stay with you.” She gave me a long look, the corners of her
mouth twitching. “That is, unless her snoring keeps you awake and you’d rather I stayed
instead?” Her throaty voice had taken on an unusually soft tone.
“Mary’s snoring doesn’t bother me, I lied.”
Linda gathered up the plates, tossed them into the bucket they used as a dish pan, took
a sidelong look at me, grabbed her rain coat and left abruptly. What had I said to make her
act like that, I wondered.
Later that night Mary brought my clean clothes. She removed my clothing that was
drying on the line.
“I’m feeling much better, Mary. I’ll bet you’re tired?”
“Feet hurt. Think I’ll rest a moment. She kicked off her boots, laid down fully dressed
on Linda’s bed, pulled a woolen blanket over her and immediately went to sleep.
I moved into the kitchen, put on my clean shorts and tee shirt and went back to bed.
I laid awake, making plans for tomorrow. After sleeping a couple of hours, Mary got up,
made two cups of hot cocoa, then came back into the bedroom wearing her night gown.
She sat on the edge of her bed and pulled the blanket around her while we sipped cocoa.
“I’m puzzled why you don’t have an appetite,” she said. “There’s little information
about appetite after severe hypothermia in my medical guide. It takes a while for anyone’s
body to return to normal after being hypothermic.”
“When I went to my tent today I took another chill. Of course I was only wearing the
blanket. Tomorrow I’ll be fully clothed, and we’ll see.”
We finished the cocoa. Mary blew out the lamp and went to bed. She wasn’t sleepy,
and began talking about the good old days while her husband was alive
“How did you learn about doctoring?” Lying there in the dark, she told me the following
Mary, her husband and 14-year-old nephew were on a seal hunting trip in Glacier Bay.
Her husband was an avid hunter, and an expert shot. He owned an expensive collection of
rifles. His favorite was a .223 with a heavy, target-grade barrel, equipped with a ten-power
scope that he used to hunt harbor seals. They were camped half a mile from an offshore
rock, a haul-out, where seals came to rest. They lived in a wall tent with a wood stove. Mary
cooked and skinned seals, a full time job. The nephew helped Mary and retrieved seals,
after they were shot, in their fast outboard-motor-equipped open boat.
After the seals were skinned, the carcasses had to be taken out into the channel, some
distance from camp, and thrown overboard. Grizzly bears were coming out of hibernation
and they didn’t want the carcasses washing ashore near camp. The odor of the hides were
enough enticement for any bear that happened by, so Mary was never far from her rifle.
The technique used to hunt the wary seals was simple. They kept a pup tent, for shelter
from the rain and as a shooting blind to conceal her husband’s movements, on a sandy
point overlooking the seal’s haul-out. Seals frequently came through a stretch of open water.
in front of the pup tent. The nephew took Mary’s husband to the hunting site in the skiff,
then returned to camp, which was out of sight so the seals wouldn’t be suspicious. A tiny
dugout canoe, light enough to be pulled into the brush out of sight, was kept at the hunting
When a seal was sighted, he sprawled on a mattress inside the tent in a prone position.
Provided the wind wasn’t blowing too hard, he could usually hit a seal in the head at distances
to 400 yards. Swimming seal’s heads provided a target less than six inches high. The
dead seal usually floated a few minutes, so recovery had to be quick, or the seal sank.
After Mary and the nephew heard a shot, her husband signaled by blowing a shrill,
loud portable air horn, the type used as a fog signal on small boats. The nephew then sped
out in the skiff, recovered the seal, then retreated to camp, where the skiff was hidden from
the passing seal’s view.
The system worked perfectly. Sometimes six or eight seals were harvested in one day.
During a good season, they sometimes killed several hundred seals. The Territory of Alaska
paid a five dollar bounty for each seal, because they were voracious consumers of salmon as
they entered the spawning rivers. The pelts were sold to fur buyers and other Native
women, who used them for making parkas, boots, gloves and other articles.
In the spring, when the females carried pups, they hunted extra hard. If a pregnant seal
was shot, the pup’s ears, provided a second bounty. Pup skins were small and coveted by
Indian women. It took more than one to make a hat. Mary kept pup skins for her own use,
and had a flourishing business selling hand-made items. For a beautiful, waist-length seal
parka, trimmed with ermine, black bear, wolf or wolverine, she received as much as $500,
an enormous amount of money in those days.
One stormy, cold morning in March they decided it was too windy to hunt. Mary’s husband slept in, but she had several seals to skin. Hunting had been good. Seals were
migrating to the glacial fiords, where females gave birth to their pups on ice pans, safe from
sea lions and killer whales.
About noon the sky cleared and the wind dropped enough her husband decided to
hunt, not wishing to miss any time during the migration.He hadn’t been away long until
the wind switched to southwest and a squall came. Wind-driven snow flurries raced past.
Mary told her nephew that they would soon hear the whistle, not because he had shot a
seal, but wanted to be picked up in the boat because it was blowing too hard to shoot. They
heard a shot. Then a second and third. Thinking he had missed because of the wind, they
expected no signal. But the whistle blew.
Mary’s nephew hurried to the skiff. The motor refused to start. They had been having
trouble with the outboard. Mary tried to help her nephew, who hadn’t much experience
with engines. They checked the fuel, removed the filter, cleaned it, and tried again. Still the
motor refused to start. The whistle sounded again. Mary fired her rifle to let her husband
know they heard the signal. They took turns cranking until their arms ached.
After an hour, Mary decided to run down the beach to a place where she could shout
across the channel to her husband on the reef, informing him the outboard refused to start.
It was a half mile run over slippery, mossy rocks and patches of snow. When she arrived,
there was no sign of her husband at the tent.
She shouted and fired her rifle but there was no response. Then she noticed the overturned
canoe floating some distance off the reef. Her husband was clinging to the bottom
of the canoe. Her shouts brought no response.
Frightened and helpless, she ran back to camp and told her nephew what had happened.
The skiff was not easy to row, but the wind was behind them. They reached the
overturned canoe. A dead seal floated nearby. Evidently, when no one came to retrieve the
seal, her husband had paddled out in the tiny canoe to pick it up, and overturned.
He was a big man and they couldn’t pull him into the boat. He was barely conscious.
Mary hung onto his coat collar while the nephew rowed ashore. They got him into the boat.
Rowing back to camp into the wind, their progress was slow. Her husband mumbled incoherently
and shivered violently. Mary removed his wet coat, covered him with her fur parka
and held his head close against her chest. She massaged his arms and legs, trying to restore
He was so heavy they had to skid him from the boat to the tent on a seal skin. They
stoked the stove with dry cedar. Working together, they removed his wet clothing and got
a down sleeping bag around him. Mary removed her wet outer clothing and cuddled her
husband to warm him. The nephew heated soup and they tried feeding him with a spoon,
but he was unresponsive.
During the night she realized he was dead. She got up, dressed, and stoked the fire.
Snow was falling heavily and she had to whack the ceiling of the tent repeatedly to keep
the tent from capsizing. She drank hot coffee until dawn. Two feet of snow fell during the
Mary and her nephew were not only in mourning, but they were marooned in camp
with no way to return home. After the snow stopped they dragged the heavy motor into the
tent and propped it by the stove. Neither were familiar with outboards.
They knew no one would come looking for them, at least for several weeks, and they
were the only seal hunters in the remote bay. They removed the spark plugs, wires and other
parts, and dried them in the oven. When they put the motor back on the boat it started.
They packed up camp, wrapped her husband’s body in a canvas, and returned home.
I was crying.”That’s the saddest story I ever heard, Mary.” She was crying too. .
“Your nearly dying reminded me. I still miss him terribly. We’d been married six years
and were still hoping for children.”
Then she told me that several years after her husband’s tragic death, the government
sent health specialists to Native villages that didn’t have doctors or trained nurses. Curious
to learn whether or not she might have saved her husband if she’d known more about treating
exposure, Mary enrolled in the course. First aid, childbirth assistance, resuscitation techniques
and treatment of hypothermia were included. The word hypothermia (abnormal low
body temperature) was seldom used by anyone, except professionals, in those days. Native
people and other Alaskans frequently suffered from exposure. Submersion in icy water was
a leading cause of death amongst villages.
Suddenly it occurred to me how fortunate I’d been to have Mary taking care of me.
The next day was warm and sunny. I managed to set the tent up and start the stove to
dry out the inside. By then I was weary. I took my wet sleeping bag to the laundry and asked
the lady if she would wash and dry it. She said she could, but it would take a long time to
I took a shower. As the hot water streamed down my back I remembered how cold I
had been, and resolved to never go out in a boat again unless I had plenty of emergency
equipment and extra food along. I ‘d been a fool.
By mid-afternoon I was back in bed again. I slept until the girls came in after work.
They had been paid that day and were in a gay mood. Mary fixed spaghetti for dinner, and
I was able to eat for the first time. We sat around the rickety table and drank hot tea and
told stories. I wasn’t sleepy, so when Mary left to sleep at her friend’s place, Linda and I
She pumped me about my wife and family. She said she’d first married when at 16.
They lived in Juneau, where her husband was a mechanic. The marriage lasted only one
year, then her husband moved south with another woman. She had married a fisherman
when she was 20, and had no children. Eventually they had bought their own boat, but
Linda could never overcome seasickness. She didn’t mention what kind of marriage they
had, or if she missed her husband when he was away fishing. I sensed she was frightened of
I finally went to sleep. Suddenly something moved the bed. I though it was Buddy and
reached for him. Instead I touched Linda’s naked body. She sat on the edge of the bed. Her
perfume assailed my senses.
“Did you sleep warm enough? How do you feel?” Her hand reached under the covers.
Her hand found what it was searching for, and she moaned. “You sure are,” she cooed.
“Frank, Frank.” She threw back the covers. Paralyzed by her closeness and perfume, before
I knew what was happening she had one leg over me.
“God, I’ve been aching all night for this,” she sighed. Her hair tumbled around my face
as she pressed her lips to mine.Suddenly Buddy barked and rushed to the door. “How’s my
dog?” Mary called, opening the door.
“Oh God, no!” Linda hissed in my ear.”No!” She jumped off me and into her own
“Hey, Linda, time to get up. It’s five o’clock. We go to work at six,” Mary said, wrestling
with Buddy in the kitchen. Mary lighted a lamp, then carried it into the bedroom. She
looked first at me, then at Linda. Linda’s nightgown was still lying on top of the covers of
her bed where she’d flung it.
For a long moment Mary stared at the nightgown. She sensed that something had happened.
She whirled and went back into the kitchen. “Should I wait for you, Linda, or go on
to work alone?” she said questioningly.
“I’m coming, Mary. Damn, damn. Give me a minute to get dressed.”
Linda stood up naked and began dressing. “God, I’ll be glad when this season is over,”
she said angrily, stalking into the kitchen.
“You feeling okay this morning, Frank?” Mary called from the kitchen.
“I’m feeling okay,” I lied.
‚ÄúLife should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Whoo hooo! What a Ride!‚ÄĚ