The Bounty of Newhalen, Alaska

Start with greens from a friend’s garden. Layer on chopped summer squash, zucchini and roasted beets from the Farm Lodge. Add slices of tomato and avocado from same-day-Costco-delivery. Sprinkle with feta cheese and squirts of lemon from Fred Meyer mail order. Top off the salad with local hand-picked blueberries and cedar-plank grilled wild sockeye salmon from the Newhalen River. Serve with homemade onion focaccia and a glass of lightly chilled, deliciously buttery chardonnay. Now that’s a meal!

Jack and I have moved a few times. Well, many times compared to the average American. According to a quick search, several articles agree that the average American moves just over 11 times in their lifetime after the age of one. Defining moving as leaving one residence and occupying another for over three months, our most recent move puts Jack’s count at 21 and my count at 18. It’s a good thing that, generally speaking, we both enjoy moving.

As for our moves together – eight in all, we’ve always looked forward to figuring out where to relocate, learning about unfamiliar places and embracing the opportunities that come with new. This last move was different though. This time moving wasn’t a choice. That put a huge damper on our normal excitement. In fact, it was the most difficult move we have experienced together. We didn’t want to leave Chignik Lake. I didn’t want to leave my students or my school. They are a terrific group of kids supported by a wonderful group of parents and a great community. We didn’t want to leave the little wilderness village surrounded by stunning mountains. We didn’t want to leave the lake and the adjoining river that serves as the main highway – by skiff – in a mostly roadless landscape. We didn’t want to leave the salmon, the birds we were documenting, and the charismatic megafauna like wolverine, wolves, foxes, moose, otters and brown bears that were regular parts of our lives there.

Last spring, when the school enrollment was hanging steady at two fewer than the state-required ten, the school board voted to close the school and move me to another site. The site with said opening was in Newhalen, Alaska. (See Where in the world is Newhalen, Alaska?) Last April, I had a chance to come visit Newhalen and scope it out. It was during that trip that this lovely village began courting me. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful flight from Chignik Lake to Newhalen. The sky was clear and blue. The portion of the flight over Lake Iliamna was stunning – imagine a huge multi-hued blue lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains. “Wow!” I mouthed to myself as we landed in nearby Iliamna. It wasn’t Chignik Lake, but it sure was beautiful. During my visit, I learned several appealing things about the Newhalen area that made the location very attractive. It would be easy to bring our truck and fishing boat over. I found out that there were many nearby places to hike and boat. All the people I met were very welcoming and seemed happy we would be joining the community.

Back home in Chignik Lake, as the process of packing and shipping continued and the cloud of leaving our home hovered, the memory of the blue-hued lake faded along with all the appealing details.

Then, in June, we moved. As we began settling into our new home, Newhalen took up courting where she had left off back in April. As promised, Sockeye salmon began their run in earnest up the Newhalen River in July. In a matter of a few easy outings, armed with flies we had tied, Jack and I filled our freezer with our goal of 100 pounds of filets. Those days were mostly sunny, clear and warm. The scenery at the new fishing hole at the Newhalen Rapids was astoundingly beautiful.

As the salmon finished their run, it became time for berry picking. We’ve lived in the bush long enough to know not to ask where to pick berries. People always have their secret spots and obviously are not keen to share that specific knowledge. Turns out the best spot to pick blueberries in Newhalen is Anywhere! I had heard that there were lots of berries, but brother, lots of berries is an understatement. Oh, Newhalen, you are really working your magic.

The bounty of Newhalen is not just about what naturally occurs in this locale. Many people garden around here. We have already been lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of fresh strawberries and salad greens straight from the garden onto our plates! We were happy to learn that the Farm Lodge will regularly deliver its greenhouse fare to us in Newhalen, as it did to Chignik Lake. The icing on the cake turned out to be same-day delivery of produce (and anything else we need) from Costco in Anchorage. Did you read that? Same. Day.

As bonafide foodies, we are now officially in hog heaven. Newhalen continues to do her magic. We will always have an abiding love for Chignik Lake. But if you can’t be with the one you love, love the place you’re in. 😉

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