There was once a smolt born in a redd,
Who frolicked to the sea, they said
And home, swarmed up Kenai
For to mate and then die,
She came and I clubb'd her, dead!
by Travis Naught
Slippery slick fish
Stinking up on the rocks
Were you selfish
When you got your rocks off?
We should not judge
Your reasons unclear
From oceans so deep
All the way back here ...
Generations have changed
Nearly calling it quits
But man intervened
To give you a lift
The species alive
Since lore of old folk
Each run came with pride
Some stopped for a smoke!
by Travis Naught
Hatched in a cold water lazy pool
Resting above miles of rapids and watery switchbacks
Preparing for an arduous journey
An attached yoke providing nutrients until learning to hunt
Growing to an appropriate size before striking out
Shortsighted driven by instinct
The young salmon makes its way downstream
Years of hard living are found in the salty water
Dodging the larger fish and mammalian predators
While always playing the role of herring hunter
Watching as other school members are yanked out by invisible lines
Constantly searching the water column for idyllic comfort
Cruising the oceanic currents around the North Pacific
Until one day a timer goes off triggering the return
Hook, line and sinker are regulated even among indiscriminate nets
Passing by all of those is a trick for one and all
Being fully finned and natural is a blessing
An internal countdown clock ticking time down to zero
Where fulfilment of life's journey is dependent on another
As two fish are brought together by instinct
To spawn, create life and die.
FINALIST: Love Story
by Travis Naught
Hook, line and sinker, he's a quick thinker to finagle his way out of that close call! Now the line trails in the freshwater stream providing floss for the brown bear that chomps a near miss mouthful of water behind the tail up the rapids. It's a good thing the net season is a week out because the filament would surely tangle in the knots tied by practiced hands. But his fate lies another spell upstream where the shiny swivel acts like a tail fin tattoo that helps to attract a most buxom mate. They dance a duet under the fallen tree log shading a perfectly formed nesting area for the first of their trysts. Wore out from hours of assuring that the species will live on each mate goes fluttering into oblivion in their own time.
FINALIST: The Horror: A Tale of Dismemberment
by Paula Bryner
Its eye stared up at me from the plywood slab that had become its sepulcher. An eye like the one that Poe described. An unblinking memento of death.
“Here,” my companion snorted handing me a knife that resembled the scimitar of an Ottoman. “Try not to cut yourself.”
My hand went to the shiny scales of the sacrifice. They glistened as gray as water and sky.
“Cut it up,” he continued. “We’ll be here all day.”
I glanced over to note that he had already gutted and filleted two of our four serial killings.
The eye kept staring. Staring.
That unholy scimitar cut through the gut of my victim as if it were clotted cream. And then the gore spilled forth. Red and round and unending, or so it seemed. Future life now tiny corpses at my behest.
“Save the roe,” he said all too eagerly while tossing me a plastic bag.
I reached out, my hand trembling. Did all killers feel like this their first time?
The thought left me when I felt the squish of roe between my fingers. It had the ooze of a brain degraded by spongiform encephalopathy. It made me sorry to know what that felt like.
Somehow, the bright red eggs found their way into the plastic bag.
“Jeez, just get it over with.”
The eye, unlike my companion, had less encouraging things to say.
“It’s just a salmon,” he said after a moment.
“You do it,” I replied at last.
And he did. Guts were cast aside for eager scavengers to fly away with. Tail chopped off and then finally the head with its tell-tale eye, all gone to feed other wild things.
“There,” he said after extracting the surprisingly translucent spine. “That wasn’t so bad.”
The salmon, like her roe, was crammed into a plastic bag.
As he stomped up to the truck to put our casualties in the cooler, I waded into the river, stooped and washed the mucilaginous blood from my hands.
While watching the vermillion ribbons disappear into the glacial water, I felt my trepidation lift. The river carried away the horror and now all that was left was a single thought.
FINALIST: Overheard at Chitina
by Christine Byl
This year I'm taking
my goddamn dip-net to the
fish counter at Freds.
by Suzanne Miles
--for spirits of the salmon
Bone-lace edges shores,
Rivers are alive with sound.
Silver coins – music.
by Suzanne Miles
Glorious perfume on our summer breeze,
With cottonwood snow and pollen’s violent sneeze,
Mouthwatering scent of salmon alder-smoked
In hungry bellies rapturous growls evoked.
“Oh, Sourdoughs, stop thy constant angling!
First let me fertilize my fingerling
Children. In the years to come, they will
Return; then may your empty tummies fill!”
“Well, foo on that!” sing all the fishermen.
“We’ll pick yer bones, and you’ll be back again.”
The salmon churn the water, helplessly;
For their return, we can but wait and see…
by Dennis Lattery
The frozen winter of 98
had stalled the Klondike rush.
A thousand or more had crossed the mountains
to be trapped in the snow and slush.
Along Lake Bennett’s southern end
a tent city grew and grew.
The frozen lake had blocked advance
till spring all the rushers knew.
They whipsawed boats and hung about
to await the warm spring day
that would open up the ice-shut lake
and allow the stampede on its way.
Monotony was soon replete,
especially regarding food.
More bacon, beans, and sourdough
did little to improve the mood.
In earlier days a moose or two
had improved the bill of fare;
but pressure on that small resource
had hunted the country bare.
The only critter in great supply,
for some biologic reason,
was a bumper crop of lemmings
which occurred that winter season.
The lemming is a furry rodent
which inhabits northern climes.
Most often they are few in number
but a pandemic hoard at times.
In other news, a crate of eggs,
half the size of a miners tent,
had been eased up over the Chilkoot Pass
with profit as intent.
The owners hope of financial gain
had prompted the risky cross’en.
He’d sell the eggs five bucks apiece
upon the streets of Dawson.
But the best laid plans of men can fail
despite how carefully chosen,
for arriving on Lake Bennett’s shore
he discovered his eggs were frozen!
As winter continued its icy grip,
doing little to improve the mood,
an enterprising chef arose
with a mission of improving the food.
All he had was what was then in hand.
Other than bacon, beans and pancake,
he must devise some different chuck
for the stranded camp to partake.
On searching around he soon found
the abandoned egg enclosure,
the contents packed in protective straw
against the harsh exposure.
The owner had found, some weeks before,
the outside eggs were hard and icy
but he had failed to note that, deep in the straw,
the rest were faring nicely!
Now, what could he do with all these eggs
to feed the food bored crew?
When he chanced to glance at the cook tents floor
as a number of lemmings passed through.
An idea struck him on the spot,
and set a plan in motion,
which aroused the camp that very night
causing a huge commotion.
Lemmings were caught by the thousands
and placed in a communal pot
to be cooked by the chef the following day
with a recipe he had wrought.
He gathered in all the local pie tins
then lined each one with dough
and set up a fleet of camp stoves
with ovens all aglow.
The savory meat went in the pie pans,
which he topped with egg whites high,
and that, my friends, marked the humble beginnings
of the Lemming Meringue’ pie.
The Odiferous Miner
by Dennis Lattery
Flapjack Pete had made the brag
that he was the very best
at shoveling muck to recover gold
And that he was game for a sure enough test.
“Send me the man who out-digs me
and he can keep all the gold that we sluice.
You know that my claim is a rich one
and this challenge is not fast and loose.”
“He’ll get all the gold if he beats me
but if he fails to for any darn reason,
then he’ll work for me, entirely free,
until the end of the season.
Word of the brag sped out through the claims.
There was talk but nary a taker.
Everyone knew that old Flapjack Pete
was a better than average muck raker.
But then up the creek from the Klondike,
came a stooped over, crusty, old miner
who looked as he had enough foot in the grave
to pass for a bold 49er.
He was dressed in near rags, smelled to high heaven,
and in desperate need of a bath.
His head held a sweat-stained fedora
and his bedroll had suffered much wrath.
Newly arrived, he was down on his luck,
and in desperate need of some pay.
But claim after claim had its crew for the season,
he inquired but was sent on his way.
Finally he chanced on the word of Pete’s challenge
and smiled at the offer of wealth.
Here, at the least, was board for the season
And, at the most, a grubstake for himself.
Now Pete was not thrilled with the challenger.
Local miners caste a humorous eye.
But the offer was made to all comers,
he had no choice but to let the man try.
“What is your gold miners handle?” Pete asked.
“Every soul in the business has one.”
Flapjack Pete had been hung with his colorful name
Long before this gold rush had begun.
“I’ve followed the color for near forty years“
The odiferous man did proclaim.
“I’ve prospected-and mined-for gold without end;
But Dennis is my only name.”
“Well, once this adventure is over,” Pete said,
“We will give you a name that suits you.
Something that speaks of you character
not a handle picked out of the blue.”
The rules of the game were quite simple.
when twelve hours of digging were done
the man who had moved the most gravel
is declared as the man who has won.
The judges were adjoining claim workers
Who did this hard work every day.
Whomever they said was the winner
then that was the end of the say!
The sluice was positioned between two huge piles
of gravel hauled up from below,
dug out of a seam over bedrock
where the heavier gold likes to go.
Muddy water raced fast down the sluice box
into which they would shovel the muck.
the box was lined with wood riffles
where the heavier gold would get stuck.
The midnight sun was full up in the morning.
There was each in the spot he had chose.
Flapjack was stripped to his waist for the contest
and Dennis wore all his old clothes.
A gunshot at six marked the start of contest
and they shoveled at a far different pace.
It was obvious Pete was working much faster
at a speed that would sure win the race.
Dennis was spading methodic
at a rhythm which he never varied.
Shovel by shovel was dumped in the sluice
from each heaping scoop that he carried.
At the end of four hours Pete was ahead
and his shovel was still going strong.
The hole that he dug was much larger
as he hurried the fast pace along.
Dennis kept to methodical plodding.
He never moved faster or slowed.
If he was the least bit tired at that point
no one could tell that it showed.
At the end of eight hours of digging
came the obvious sign of a crack.
Pete said that he wanted some coffee
and sat down to rest his sore back.
The crusty old miner just paused for a second
and scooping water from out of the sluice bed
he poured a full measure from his battered fedora
over the top of his head.
That was the extent of Dennis’ break.
He continued to dig at his pace.
It now became clear to a near tuckered Pete
there was a chance of him losing this race!
The contest continued on past hour ten
and Pete’s shoveling continued decline.
He had burned up his strength in working too fast
while Dennis’ condition was fine.
When a gun shot at the end of twelve hours
went off in the afternoon sun
it was obvious to everyone watching
the odiferous miner had won.
In the defeated claim owners favor
He was game in accepting defeat.
He shook the hand of the grimy old miner
stating that in more than one way he was beat.
“Let me coin you a miners handle,” Pete said,
“With some words from old Rud Kilpings pen,
With nary a doubt in my mind I admit
you’re a better man than I am Grungy Den.”