Alaska!!!

Having taken a couple of days to “recover”, I finally find a little time to recount my experiences of a weekend spent in the wilderness of Alaska.  Yes, Alaska.

You may recall that back in June I was in Mexico shooting a pilot for a show about fishing.  Since then I’ve cut the piece together but have been missing the crucial voiceover needed to finish it.  As luck would have it, the show’s host, Ken, spends his summers as a fishing guide in a remote region of southwestern Alaska.  I had semi-jokingly mentioned to the producer of the project that what he should really do is fly me up to record the voice over.  You can imagine my surprise when he decided to do just that.

I flew to Anchorage, and from there via “Buddy Holly” plane across the Chigmit Mountains (part of the Aleutian Range), which stretch along the western edge of Cook Inlet.  My hour-long flight passed jagged peaks, active volcanoes, and ancient glaciers before terminating at a dusty airstrip in Pedro Bay on the shores of Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in the state.  The only way I can describe the mountains I flew past is to liken them to the topping of a lemon meringue pie, with peaks whipped up as a topping to the continent then coated with snow and volcanic ash.

Ken works a guide for the Rainbow Bay Resort, a luxury destination for primarily good-old-boys from Texas who flock to Alaska to fish some of the choicest fishing holes in the world.  This is high season for fishing, specifically linked to the sockeye salmon run, which is in full swing. These fish are currently back from the Pacific Ocean and making their way upriver to spawn.  It is a thing of beauty to behold, the rivers infested with thousands upon thousands of salmon, stained a deep crimson red by their transition from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater of the lake.   Deep rivulets of deepest red schools of fish streak the river and make it easy to see why the salmon are considered the lifeblood of the river.  They are the heart of the eco-system, their lifecycle contributing to those of every other creature around them.  From the bears to the birds, to the insects and other fish, everything is linked to the sockeye salmon.  Granted, most feed on the fish (or their eggs), but such is life.  I should mention that all the fish that are caught on the river are immediately thrown back.  This is fishing for the joy of it, not the meat.

In general, I am somewhat at a loss to describe all I saw.  The sheer magnificence of the landscape, its grandeur and scale, defies any attempt to reduce it to mere words on a page, or even capture on camera.  I feel simply privileged to have spent the day upriver, soaking up the Alaskan sun, and being nourished by the simple beauty of nature at its best.  Well, not quite.  I also had an HD camera with me, and shot a little additional footage for the pilot.  Oh, to geek out with a camera in nature, up to your waist in water, surrounded by fish, wearing a set of heavy-duty fishing waders and all.  Not your typical production still.

And then there were the guest, those charming of all Southern gentlemen, full of good humor, Kentucky Bourbon, and a vocabulary that makes my understanding of the English language plug its ears and run for cover.  Never in all my life have I experienced such generous use of derogatory terms, the “N” word sitting atop the pile of racial slurs like a crown jewel, and making me very grateful for living in progressive, bleeding heart liberal, Los Angeles.

It’s too bad, though.  Over dinner I had a truly great conversation with one of the old gents from Texas.  We talked of life, its trials and tribulations, turning points and surprises, and for the most part acknowledged that we had much in common, despite our uniquely different backgrounds.  It was one of those refreshing moments where you realize that people really are all the same after all.  But of course I couldn’t just leave it at that.  No.  I had to manipulate the conversation over just slightly to a more challenging topic: Politics.  And here everything I had previously felt about this kindred spirit from the Lone Star State quickly evaporated.

He wouldn’t mention President Obama by name, referring to him instead as “that man,” or simply, “him” (and certainly no capital “H”).  Did I know, for instance that “that man” was a dictator?  Did I know that “he” was hell bent of pouring our hard earned money into an oversized government full of his cronies?  And what were we to do when “he” sent American troops into our American towns to take away our guns?  My Texan friend was baffled by this latter one in particular, as there was no way he would ever shoot at an American soldier.  “That man”, however, had provided a solution.  “He” was already in the process of flying in foreign armies into the Good Ole’ US of A to train them here in preparation for such a mission.  And so on and so forth, my occasional and, admittedly, half-assed attempts to argue another point of view falling on the deafest of ears.  And what began as a refreshing meeting of minds culminated in my good-old-buddy threatening to stab me and anyone else who might threaten his “freedoms”.

Sigh.

So what’s the lesson?  Alaska is incredible, some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen.  The rest?  Also incredible, although not quite in the same way.

I can’t wait to go back.