Almost forty years ago I moved to Alaska soon after my enlistment in the navy expired. Like so many other young men returning from the war in Vietnam, I had myself a rousing good case of PTSD, and a head full of dreams I couldn’t wait to get started on. I originally come from a clan of people who are at home in the forest, and spent much of my youth exploring the lakes and woodlands of Northern Wisconsin.
I cannot say just when or where it began, but I had always wanted to go to Alaska for most of my life, you could say it was the alpha male in the pack of those restless dreams of mine. It just made perfect sense that the next chapter of my life should begin in the place that had been calling to me for so long, a no-brainer as they say nowadays.
Being born both a type-A personality and under the sign of Aries, city life was just never interesting enough to hold my attention. I always wanted something more, and I found it when I moved to Alaska. It isn’t just a whole other place, it is a universe unto itself; and the day I arrived to make my home there my soul felt truly free for the first time in my life.
I went to Alaska with the central goal of eventually having my own version of Walden Pond, deep in the wilderness. A navy shipmate had spent several summers salmon fishing out of the southeastern town of Ketchikan, and had several times regaled us with stories from his time there.
Being that it had the double distinction of being both the only town I knew anything about and the first town the state ferry stops at; Ketchikan was my destination. I arrived with sufficient funds to see me through for a good while, or if I got lucky right off the bat, to buy the place to build my dream. In those days Ketchikan was a warm and engaging community of about five thousand or so souls, year round population.
There was opportunity, wilderness and bald eagles, simply everywhere I looked…I don’t think I quit grinning for a solid month as I began assimilating myself into this picturesque maritime town clinging to life on a long, narrow strip of real estate between the ocean, and the mountains.
The fishing fleet arrived shortly after I did that summer, so I headed down to the city dock area in hopes of talking myself into a job on a purse seiner. It seemed at least fifty other guys had the same idea, all chasing the legendary big bucks associated with commercial salmon fishing. This wasn’t going to be easy. I persisted even though a lot of the competition had actual experience fishing where I could only tempt prospective skippers with my navy record.
As it turned out that was enough, and my first job commercial fishing was aboard the vessel Mark Christopher captained by Dave Demmert Sr. We put up good numbers that year, and crew share was something like six grand apiece. It was aboard this boat that I first heard many enthralling stories & legends of southeast Alaska, but none more intriguing and interesting than the Tlingit legend of the Kooshdaakaa (anglicized as Kushtaka) or “Land Otter Man” which is similar to but different from Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Being full blood Tlingit, captain Dave knew the stories by heart.
We could always tell when he was pulling our leg because he’d get a slight gleam in his eye, and the corner of his mouth would almost, but not quite smirk. Those ‘tells’ were totally absent whenever he spoke of the Kooshdaakaa. He didn’t like talking about them, he told us doing so was bad luck. He was emphatic however whenever one of us suggested it was just another bigfoot, He said “They are not the same creature, although both do exist in Alaska.”
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