The Alternative

Good friends shape our lives

I mentioned Chuck Saxton, the hook tender, in the last column. He was stocky with red curly hair sticking out all over, made to be a logger with a low center of gravity.

Chuck's superior was Kiddo. I can't remember his given name, but Kiddo called everybody else “kiddo.” He was an old man with a snoose-stained chin and was responsible for the operation of all seven sides (or sites). How a crude character like Kiddo could earn our respect must have had something to do with fear. In common language you couldn't call him respectable but you knew he would never tell someone to do something he wouldn't do himself. We feared disappointing Kiddo.

It seems like a lot of the people in Alaska are there because they shouldn't be somewhere else, and yet I didn't meet anyone that was not an honorable person in logging camp. Warren (Chuck's predecessor) was an extreme case and excluded from the sample.

Chuck was in Alaska running from the law. He had entered a bar in Roseburg, Oregon and found a rookie cop beating up a seventeen year old kid for being under age. Being an honorable man, Chuck grabbed the cop in a rage and held him off the floor and against the wall with one hand until the cop passed out. Chuck valued freedom so he left Roseberg and flew to Sitka.

Chuck and I became pretty good friends. We quit together in September and caught a Beaver to Sitka. The Beaver we were on had a radial engine. It was quite a hot rod compared to the plane I flew to camp on five months earlier. As we crossed Chatham Strait the windshield became covered with oil. The pilot radioed for another plane to meet us in a little cove on the east side of Baranof.

A nice older couple lived there in a little log house. At the head of the cove was a thirty foot waterfall full of salmon. The old man said we should walk over there to see the brown bears catching fish. I still resent turning back when we heard our ride coming over the mountain. We never saw the bears but we did make it to Sitka safely.

I saved $5,000 that summer and spent half of it pretty fast; partly on a trip to Hawaii with Chuck. The highlight of that trip was a hike over the top of Haleakala Volcano on Maui. We bought a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese for the hike, which wasn't enough to take us from sea level to 10,000 feet and back. Those mangoes all over the ground on the east side of Maui were fantastic but our teeth were full of hair.

The stars at 6500 feet in the middle of the Pacific make a dark sky white. Flip-flops work okay on lava rock if your pack is light. The Hawaiian sun does not have any mercy on a white logger's skin. It takes more than two and a half days to starve to death. Locals hate haoles (pronounced howlies: non-native white people) who don't throw their money around. These are things I learned in Hawaii and the last one is the reason I will never go back. Racism is a real thing and after all my time in multiracial neighborhoods, I never experienced it so intensely as in that tropical paradise. Good riddance, Hawaii. You only love us for our money.

Chuck and I parted ways after that and I returned to Northwest Montana for a year before moving to Dumont to care for my grandpa in my grandma's final days.

Not surprisingly, I lost touch with Chuck for a few years. Then I found his folks' phone number on Google and called to find he was dying of cancer. He was hailed as a hero when he resurfaced in Roseberg. That young cop was run out of town while Chuck was gone.

He spent his days fishing in the Umpqua River until he couldn't get those big salmon in the boat anymore, but that was not until he had built a 1936 Indian motorcycle that set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The people we meet over the years somehow make the ones we still have more precious.

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