Andrew picked me up to go snagging at the release site pond out our road about 7 miles. Unbelievably, Sam came along. Perhaps by force…. Lots of people around the pond snagging. An older man with a cart full of salmon said the fish were at the far end – where I caught them a couple days ago. Andrew walked around one side of the pond, and I the other. Another immigrant, from Sudan, said hello to me and waved to Andrew across the pond. He already had 3 fish on the beach. I waded across to my spot, and not long after, he caught his fourth. I casted and casted and not a fish. Then Andrew got one on. As he landed it, Sam came down from his spot in the woods where he was on his phone, and helped land it with the gaff. Then Andrew got a second. Then a third. And me. Still not a bump.
I decided to join Andrew. I stood next to him and cast. Nothing for me. Number 4 for Andrew. Sam came down again. By now, the no seeums were relentless. Even with bug dope on, they were getting into the creases of my eyelids. I knew now that what I thought was some sort of skill my first night was nothing but luck. And glad for it. I am happier to clean fish than to catch them, and I started in on the pile, and Andrew cleaned his last fish.
Sam was less than enthused to carry the bucket with 3 of the fish, but just like scouts, when it’s time to go, he’s first in line and off he went. Andrew carried his last fish on a stringer, and I carried my rod and our gear.
Sam declared he was not going fishing tomorrow when his dad indicated he was. Andrew then reminisced how different his life was growing up in a village in Sierra Leone, and how lazy his son was living here in the US. Andrew said his dad would take him hunting when he was 8, and place him in a spot in the forest and tell him not to move. At night. He and his dad each had a head light, and his dad said when he signaled with his light to Andrew, Andrew was to signal back that he was okay. Then his dad would walk through the bush with his head lamp and shot gun, hunting for deer or monkey or whatever else moved in the bush. Andrew said of course he was scared at first, but over time he got used to it and so is not afraid in the forest.
When Andrew was 14, the rebels came to his village during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Because his dad had his ancient hunting shotgun, the rebels shot him in front of Andrew. Sam is not far from 14, but in a completely different dimension growing up in Alaska with it’s running water, electricity, and free education, and not a care in the world. Part of Andrew (and me) is glad for that. But part of Andrew wishes his son had more skills than working a cell phone. By the time Andrew was his son’s age, he had worked on his family farm for 10 years, as well as gone hunting with his father. Part of him misses that life.
As he’s said many times, he’ll never leave Alaska. Where can you live and fill a freezer snagging salmon from the beach, he asks? And he hasn’t even started hunting with me because he’s not had the time, but he soon will with his new job. While supporting his family here, and his family back in SIerra Leone, he managed to earn a master’s degree in addiction counseling, and he starts a new job doing that on Monday.
I’m not sure about his kids. His daughter is putting herself through college and having grow up until high school in Sierra Leone, she is a go getter and all she sees here, like her dad, is opportunity. For Sam, Alaska is all he knows, and is just the place he lives, not a special place to be, and he may want to go to some other exotic places like Chicago or Miami and make his own way.