July 16 - 24, 2009
We'd last visited western Alaska in the spring of 2005. The plane was on wheels then and we weren't able to explore Tikchik Lakes to the north of Dillingham. I dreamed of returning someday with a float plane.
Finally, in 2009, we ignored the price of gasoline and went for it. We arrived at the lakes late on a sunny Thursday and set up camp in a peaceful cove. The next day, after weeks of ideal weather, a storm moved in, big time. We spent most of Friday and Saturday trapped in the tent, finally taking off Saturday afternoon when the wind settled to try to fill up on gas. We beached the plane at Aleknagik and our hearts fell as we read the sign, "Closed on Saturday." We knew the place was called Aleknagik Mission, but we didn't realize it was a Seventh-Day Adventist mission!
We were too low on gas to go anywhere else, so we meandered up the hill and knocked on the door. We were invited to join the owners in their home for an after-church potluck. They graciously offered to let us sleep in an outbuilding that night rather than pitch the tent, and we gratefully accepted the offer. Rain poured down all night long, but we were cozy, and finally able to dry our clothes and gear.
There was another request. Would we be willing to "help" the 91-year-old owner bring his boat up the Wood River from Dillingham? It sounded like a great adventure. Yes, we were willing.
That's how we met Roland "Rolly" Moody, who was 12 years old in 1931 when his family moved to the Alaskan wilderness. At least, his family thought, there would be enough food in the Alaska wilderness for them to survive the Great Depression. The first summer, Rolly's father and older brother (19) found work on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay. The mother and younger siblings cut and prepared logs for the house they intended to build in the fall.
The men purchased supplies for the winter and prepared to barge them upriver in October. They never arrived. An unseasonable storm capsized the boat and both men drowned, leaving a bereaved and isolated family.
With help from friends and relatives, the family survived. In 1941, their inspiring story was recounted in the Saturday Evening Post. With little money and no government assistance, the Moodys built a new life for themselves in one of the most beautiful yet hostile places on earth. They founded a town, "Aleknagik", an Eskimo word for "wrong way home." Eskimos would travel long distances on the ocean in kayaks, and when visibility was bad would sometimes head up the Wood River rather than the Nushagak River by mistake. They'd realize they'd taken the wrong way home when they reached Lake Aleknagik.
We accompanied Rolly up the river in his newly repaired boat. He didn't exactly need our "help". He was amazingly spry and capable. Along the way, he pointed out to us where his father's boat had been found.
Living history! We felt like part of the family by the time we refueled and flew off to spend another two days trapped in the tent in a torrential rainstorm that raised the lake level more than a foot. We didn't see as much of Tikchik Lakes as we would have liked due to bad weather, but we did have a marvelous and memorable adventure.
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony