REVIEW - NO HALF TRUTHS

Nicholson, John W. No Half Truths : Reminiscences of Life in Bristol Bay, Alaska, 1906-1995. Publication Consultants, Anchorage. 155 pages + index. Line drawings and photo illustrations. Hardbound. $15.95.

This book is not great literature, nor is it full of exciting adventures. It does exactly what it promises - provides the story of a life lived at Bristol Bay. There commercial salmon fishing is synonymous with existence and has been for over a hundred years.

Living in the small places of Alaska brings an acceptance of the realities of life, from the lovingly remembered few years when the salmon run was not only huge, but the price was good, to the pragmatic paragraph about the school teacher:

"His two boys were my close friends. One day, to everyone’s complete surprise, he killed his wife. After that, Tom Padden became my teacher. He taught me reading, writing, and arithmetic, for which I am still thankful."

John began fishing when he was eleven years old. His father was pleased and the next year made him a little wooden skiff. The boy also used the usual setnet, picking the net and using his dog team to deliver the fish to the cannery. Children grew up early then; John got his first ptarmigan at nine, and joined the adults drift fishing when he was 15. Trapping was the usual winter time occupation; he was 20 when he had his first trapline.

Self-reliance was and is prized in the Bush. When someone took the oars and oarlocks from his skiff out at camp, Nicholson improvised a rudder from an old kayak paddle and a sail from a long stick and a blanket and sailed home. Travel on land was by dog team later augmented by airplanes, and now snow machines. His father adapted an automobile for a roadless area by putting caterpiller tracks with extra wheels and skis in front. It worked very well in soft snow..

Events large and small filled the years. John’s father wanted to open a second trading post, but a storm came up and capsized his supply boat, ending that dream. The flu epidemic of 1918-1919 left so many orphans that an orphanage was built for them.

During the 1930s an upriver Native, Klutak, was rumored to be a murderer on the loose. John comments: "whenever someone wound up missing up the Nushagak or Mulchatna Rivers, Klutak received the blame." He was captured once at a camp, but killed his guard and disappeared.

Like most longtime Alaskans, Nicholson is casual about his two marriages and large families, although he’s fond of them all. We leave him at the end of the book in 1995, still ice-skating at the age of 84.

D. L.

 

 

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