Jack & Barbra 2021

Inside the cuddy cabin of our C-Dory 22 Angler on our first trip up the Al-Can in the summer of 2009.

We were living in Sacramento, California when in the summer of 2009 we decided to hitch Gillie, our C-Dory 22′ Angler fishing boat, to our Tacoma pickup truck and make the 3,200 mile drive up the Alaska-Canada highway.

Toyota Tacoma towing C-Dory Angler

One mighty truck and one yar boat parked alongside Kluane Lake in Canada’s Yukon Territory. In subsequent trips, we upsized the truck to a Chevy Silverado and added a cozy Lance camper. Gillie, the C-Dory Angler in the above photograph, is still with us as we explore the waters of the Alaska Gulf near The Chigniks. She makes for a fine camper both on land and on water. (Summer, 2009)

We spent about a month of that 42-day road trip in Alaska. Energized by seemingly endless days under the midnight sun, we only grudgingly gave in to sleep as day after day presented new sights, fresh experiences and long dreamed of adventures. We piloted Gillie 90 miles across vast Prince William Sound to run a half-marathon in the remote village of Cordova, dug enormous razor clams at Whiskey Gulch beach, caught our first halibut, drove through steep valleys where glaciers clung to craggy mountains above slopes caped in lush shades of green, listened in awe as wolves howled in the distance at a roadside campsite, soaked up culture in museums, art galleries and small towns and engaged in countless conversations with people who called the Great State home. As we approached the Alaska-Yukon border on our drive back to California, one of us turned to the other and said, “We need to move up here.” To which the other replied, “Yes!”

Huge Brown Bears catching salmon, delicious Razor Clams and our first-ever halibut were among summer of 2009 highlights. The glaciers we saw stunned us. No coffee table picture book, no documentary film, no recorded image prepared us for the overwhelming feeling of awe inspired by seeing these massive rivers of ice in person. Above is Blackstone Glacier, a few miles outside the port town of Whittier as viewed from the deck of Gillie.

Fourteen months later, we found ourselves living and teaching in the Eskimo village of Shishmaref, located on Sarichef, a small barrier island in the Chukchi Sea just south of the Arctic Circle. It was there that Barbra decided to begin this blog as a way to record unique experiences in our lives, to share photographs, stories and thoughts and to keep track of recipes.

Shishmaref Alaska students

A common theme this past decade has been new friends of all ages. These girls invited us to go berry picking with them in Shishmaref, Alaska. (September 18, 2010)

In those early days, we saw Cutterlight as a journal – a place to record the things that interest us, that we wished to document and remember. And so, yes, there are lots of recipes on Cutterlight. With an abundance of gourmet seafood and fish, a surfeit of wild berries and forageable plants and superb wild game meat, Alaska is truly one of the world’s great food destinations. Living in bush villages we’ve enjoyed the time and resources necessary to experiment with new foods. It’s been a deeply satisfying part of our journey.

Alaska salmon scallop ikura sashimiFly-rod caught Silver Salmon topped with Alaska Scallops and the salmon roe we cure make for a sashimi feast hundreds of miles from the nearest restaurant. Moose pie, Beluga chowder, Bowhead Whale pizza, Black Bear burgers, Caribou stroganoff and Dungeness Crab ravioli have all featured in our Alaska kitchen.

So too have been the unique experiences that have been central to this past decade. We’ve hiked miles across frozen Arctic seas, participated in whaling, fly-fished for salmon in rivers rarely fished, picked wild berries by the gallon and wild mushrooms but the bushel, fished the Alaska Gulf among breaching whales, Sea Otters, Salmon Sharks and Dall’s Porpoises for halibut, salmon, lingcod and species we’d never before heard of, learned to make our own beer and got first-hand looks at wild animals we’d only seen in photos and films. We even spent our early summers in Alaska living on a sailboat in Seward, a lifestyle we’d long wanted to try. And when an opportunity presented itself to live abroad, we took a two-year hiatus from Alaska and headed for Mongolia. We find ourselves drawn to roads less traveled.

Our two years in Mongolia included a trek to the Gobi Desert’s famed Red Cliffs where we found a fairly intact fossilized skeleton of something large and prehistoric, fulfilling a hope Jack had had since he was eight years old and read a book which featured dinosaur bones and eggs from this very same landscape.

Prior to moving to Alaska, we had read about “terrifying winds” sweeping across trackless  Arctic landscapes. The word “terrifying” leapt off the page. What would those winds feel like? Sound like? For three long days, hurricane force winds in the depths of winter brought the village of Point Hope to a standstill. In Shishmaref, a sudden windstorm carried a blizzard of snow from across the frozen sea and piled it in powdery drifts that all but buried the village. And right here in the Chigniks (an Alutiiq word that means “big winds”) we found ourselves cut off from the world one January when hurricane-force winds came up out of nowhere, flash-froze Black Lake where we were camping in a tiny, remote cabin, and forced us to melt chunks of lake ice for our cooking and drinking water.

thawing lake ice on stove

The forecast had been for mild, variable weather. The night the winds came up, the tiny, wilderness cabin rocked, shook and shuddered like no structure we’ve ever been in. Temperatures plummeted. We woke the following morning to a lake locked in ice.

In communities where the only practical way in and out is by bush plane, we’ve gone for weeks without mail or freight (including groceries), watched the sun set in early December not to rise above the horizon again for a month, stood in the tracks of polar bears, wolves and some of the world’s largest brown bears, and tucked ourselves in for days on end while gale force wintertime “pineapple winds” shook and rattled our snug home and raked it with seemingly endless torrents of rain. Here in Chignik Lake, when such weather sets in we turn to fly-tying, Scrabble, writing, reading and planning out our next adventure. When the weather clears, we hike out into a landscape that fewer than 100 living people have seen.

Living in off the track places such as Point Hope, an Eskimo Village above the Arctic Circle, made getting into photography a logical step on our path.

Over the years, our interests have expanded to include photography, birding, wildflowers and, recently, the guitar and so these topics, too, have become part of the Cutterlight menu. In the summer of 2018, at the ages of 52 and 59 respectively, we fulfilled lifelong dreams of taking on a bicycle camping trek. Experience? None. Trepidation? Some. Motivation to fulfill a long-held dream? Huge. And so we flew to Hokkaido, Japan and embarked on a clockwise coastal lap covering most of the island. Sixty-five days, 1,300 miles, five national parks, one World Heritage Site, nine Brown Bears, two rare birds, a whiskey distillery, several vineyards and I don’t know how many fantastic meals later Barbra’s bike broke down, bringing the trip to a halt. But what a trip! We’ve been talking about a return to explore the west coast of Honshu, Japan ever since. (Hoping that 2022 will be the year!)

tempura chef hokkaido

Bike trekking made us feel like we had turned back the clock to the warm sunshine and cool breezes of youth, life pared down to essentials, free to dive into a summer of fly-fishing mountain streams, exotic birds, quiet campgrounds and new friends, taking on steep inclines with zen-like frames of mind, rewarded with long, easy, sun-on-our-faces-wind-in-our-hair coasts down the other side. The food in Hokkaido was, of course, amazing. Among our favorite restaurants was Bonten Tempura on Rishiri Island (above). Ever had tempura uni? The best word to describe it is “Wow!”

Fly-fishing has become a passion. Since coming to Alaska, we’ve taken all five species of Pacific Salmon, Rainbow Trout to 29 inches, trophy-sized Grayling and beautifully marked sea-run Dolly Varden. 

“Living Well Off the Beaten Path” remains Cutterlight’s central theme, but in recent years a modest hope has come into this publication: that readers will find on these pages a source of inspiration that might lead to new adventures of their own. Whether one wishes to begin figuring out digital photography, pick up a paintbrush, sign up for cooking classes, dust off the exercise equipment, write the first lines of that novel that has been percolating, really get to know wine, take up fly-fishing, learn a foreign language, move to a place long dreamed of or take on anything new, large or small, our hope is that these pages serve as a testimony to possibility.

Denali National Park hiking

While we don’t adhere to lists, we do have ongoing conversations about things we’d like to try. Both of us had long wanted to backpack and camp in truly remote country. That itch was scratched in Denali National Park a few years ago. Our tent was the merest of specks in a breathtaking landscape where we encountered no other person. We watched Caribou and Dall’s Sheep grazing in mountain meadows, woke each morning to strange music of nesting ptarmigan calling “Potato! Potato!”, encountered wolf and wolverine tracks and abruptly altered our course when a muscle-shouldered male Grizzly emerged from a willow thicket. But the thing we remember best about this excursion – and others like it – is the sense of discovery, of a journey in which the outcome isn’t know, of being in the moment of Now.

Destinations and achievements are mirages. The point isn’t attainment; it’s the effort and the journey and the freedom of slipping out from under the oppressive weight of ego, status-seeking and striving. Embarkation is its own success. Forget about expectations and the doubts that go with them – yours as well as those of others. Take the first step. See where it leads you. Nothing has been discovered until you discover it for yourself.

We wish for everyone happiness and contentment along their own path in life. And drop us a line. We love stories!

Jack & Barbra Donachy
Chignik Lake, Alaska – January 2021

187 thoughts on “Jack & Barbra 2021

  1. Hi Barbra and Jack, thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a cool message. Great blog you have here; you’re such a good writer Barbra and take great photos. Best wishes for a beautiful summer on the boat. I’ll check your blog for updates. ChrissyG

  2. You two look like the happiest couple on earth. I am so glad you get to live life as you do. Thank you for writing a wonderful blog!

    • Thanks for checking out our blog, Sandra. We have long wanted (really, really wanted) to explore the Dillingham area. A friend of ours spends his summers commercial fishing over there and has been telling us we’d love it. Thanks for providing a contact!

      • I bet my friends know your friend 🙂 Last time I headed out there, I spent a day interviewing people at Ekuk (population 1 outside of the salmon run). What a delightful place! LUckily I took my brother, Dan, who had more time to photograph. I was too busy. You really are blessed. My husband and I are a photographing team, but I’m too slow to get my photographs up. He has started a page at http://dalebenhamphotography.com. Enjoy! And I will continue to enjoy your page . . .

  3. Nice blog! You guys are very lucky to live in such an amazing place! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind comments. I hope to visit Alaska again soon. Cheers, Owen

  4. Wow….From Shanghai China to Alaska in seconds…don’t you just love the internet :)..Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by my blog http://reflectionsofchina.wordpress.com/ and for the likes, they are appreciated :)..Now I can take my time to read through your blog and enjoy a part of your life too. You have a great site here full of beautiful images and detail. Thanks again for stopping by..Regards Mark

  5. You both are Awesome. It makes me smile just reading your adventures and boy, the photographs are Beautifully Refreshing. 🙂 Would love to travel on a boat someday! And seeing you guys make it, is an inspiration to me. Have a blessed journey! And lots of smiles and sunshine days to the both of you!

  6. Thank you so much for dropping by my blog and saying hi. What a lovely spot you have here; Alaska is a place I long to visit. You make it look as stunning as I’m sure it is. Blessings ~ Debbie

  7. I’m really enjoying your blog and have nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award – just follow this link – lucysfriendlyfoods.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=925&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2. I know it’s a bit of a chain letter but hopefully it’ll bring in more readers!

  8. During further research for our motorhome journey through Alaska this Summer, I came across your blog. First of all – Great for you two living your dreams! Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. The pictures are just beautiful & I’m secretly saving most of your recipes! LOL I look forward to following along.

  9. You two look so familiar to me, especially Jack. I can’t quite place you though. My name is AnnMarie Rudstrom and I’ve taught for the Bering Strait School District in Brevig Mission for the past 10 years. Can you two solve this mystery for me or am I just going crazy from all the sunlight?

      • Right on! I was referred to your blog by Meredith of Snow and Mist. We are actually taking our leave from this little town and will be living and teaching in Sterling, just 12 out of Soldotna, next year.

  10. Jack and Barbara,
    Thanks for reading our blog (coffeeandpassports.com) I will continue to read yours as well! What you guys are doing, living on a sailboat, is one of my dreams as well. We were going to take sailing lessons in Croatia, but can not during this trip this time. We will when we return home to Florida. Someday we plan to do what you are doing as well. I look forward to reading your future posts. I think you would enjoy the trip over to Florida.

  11. Congratulations on your success. I’m especially impressed with the comments thread, too, and I’ll be following you to keep track of your travels and endeavors in the future. Cass …

  12. Just wanted to let you know that some classmates were asking about you! I sent them a link to this website, looks like Lennie found you! We are all getting excited about our class reunion, too bad you won’t be there! Paul Cherico was asking about you and Kenny B., the jokers in the class! Take care and if you ever join facebook again, we are up to 40 members now and would love to chat with you!

  13. Pingback: Molten Lava Cake for Two | mississippilady

  14. I just want to say that your blog is probably my favorite blog ever. Seriously. I have long had a love affair with Alaska, cold, snow, and the North. Your blog combines all those with food (which I also love!), photography, and a sense that you two are a very special couple. You’re an inspiration to this 23 year old young wife who wishes to travel. 🙂

  15. So how are you liking Point Hope? I lived there for a couple of years as a teenager and miss it living off the beaten path. I made contact with a couple of friends from there and it just makes the longing worse…LOL I look forward to reading your blog more.

    • We really like living in Point Hope. The environment is always interesting, and different every season. We enjoy the quiet of the village. You can tell the quiet of the village allows us to live well in our little arctic home. Thanks for reading our blog.

  16. Hi Barbara and Jack! You guys have a beautiful, amazing site! Your words truly resonate – especially “the language of fishing”. I don’t fish. Neither does my husband. (well, in full disclosure, we’ve GONE fishing, but it’s not a part of our lives…) What we DO relate to is living with our children (2 sons) as expats in Costa Rica, France, Croatia, Chile and finally our current home, India. Neither of them lives with us now. They’re exploring their own lives, in college and a gap year. But we experience that same wonderful feeling that you describe when we are all together, and that same pinch in the chest when it’s time to part. (at least we as parents do!) I was born in Alaska and have it on my bucket list to go back. Perhaps we will meet there some time. Or you could add India to yours.
    Cheers, and happy new year! (Amie)

  17. So glad I came across your blog! I am british and live here in UK but I lived in AK for 3 years as a teenager…. oh how I miss it! It is such a different way of life, I have always believed that AK has a culture all of it’s own, so unique! I will enjoy reading (and experiencing things vicariously through you!) Rachel x

  18. I just got lost in your blog for over an hour and I think it may be the best hour I’ve spent in a long time! I’m going to bed now and I’m pretty sure I’ll be dreaming about Alaska! Breathtaking photos! What a beautiful, beautiful life you are living!

  19. Pingback: When Two Blogs Collide: A Visit to Point Hope | Alaskagraphy

  20. I just stopped by after you commented on my blog and I’m blown away! What gorgeous photography of delicious food and beautiful scenery. I have serious seafood envy. Our chinook is good, but sockeye is the real king in my opinion. Can’t wait to try those mushrooms!

    • Hi Mimi, Our daughter recently graduated from college and is now living in San Francisco. We have nice, longish visits twice a year. These days, we are working, studying, learning and dreaming – feeling like every day brings us closer to our dreams!

  21. I am so glad to have found your blog! My husband and I have been obsessed with watching Alaska shows on TV. I am so glad I can connect with someone who actually lives there!!!! Our favorite shows are “Life Below Zero”, “Alaska – The Last Frontier”, and “Ultimate Survival Alaska”. I look forward to reading your posts!!!!!!

    Marina

  22. It’s wonderful what you can find when you go looking for a recipe for ice cream , and then find these two amazing people . Wow… What a bonus..So glad I found Cutter Light…Hope things are looking much better weather wise for you ,and things are warming up by now…..Best Wishes from Australia…

  23. Ok, this is the first time I’ve followed someone’s blog! This is an amazing collection of photos, stories, recipes! As I write this I am getting canning jars ready for the reds caught today. Your website has me drawn in hook, line and sinker. Can’t wait to get back to your site to read some more!

    • We’re in San Francisco visiting with our daughter for the next week. From here, we’ll fly to the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, July 28 to begin two-year contracts at the International School of Ulaanbaatar. Look for a shift from fish to meat and vegetable recipes.

        • Your journey sounds incredible. I’m (Jack) currently reading Tim Cope’s “On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Lands of the Nomads” where he travels by horse from just west of Ulaanbaatar to Budapest. Fascinating.

        • Poor John has just finished ‘Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world’ by Jack Weatherford. Highly recommended. Leave a message for me on my blog if you’d like to meet for a meal or a drink in Ulaanbaatar today or tomorrow.

        • It would be fun to meet… Unfortunately our school-related schedule is full all the way through evening meals. Oh well… Perhaps our paths we’ll cross again. We’re following your blog now.

  24. Hi, thanks for your inspiring blog!
    I stumbled upon it when looking for some information about the Mongolian culture. I wrote to some natives via google+ but got no reply. If you would be so kind as to answer a question of mine, please, contact me via Facebook or e-mail, or in the comments (however the system works).
    Have a nice day!

      • What is the local name for balbals, or Kurgan Stelae? As far as I understood, they are called Hun Chuluu in Mongolia, but there are not many web sites in English or Russian (greetings from Belarus) that would deal with it. I am doing a bit of research regarding anthropomorphic standing stones in various cultures, may be you also know whether the Mongolians believe they were gravestones. Thank you once again!

  25. Really enjoyed reading about eating smelt. Takes me back to younger days when we’d hit the beach with a dip net and salt and pepper shaker. We’d build a bonfire on the beach and net the smelt around sunset. Simply grab a willow branch, skewer the smelt, season with salt and pepper, and roast like weinies over the open fire. Wash them down with a cold beer and you’re in heaven.
    Nice to see what you both are doing. You have a fan in northern Minnesota.

    • Hey Russ, thanks for the note. Hard to beat fresh fish skewered and roasted on an open fire. One of our absolute favorite meals in the world, and yeah, the beer really makes it. Here’s to good fishing and great eating! Jack

  26. Hello hello!

    I’m currently helping with a Kickstarter that’ll be kicking off in a month to fund getting subtitles made for a documentary film that was shot in Mongolia. The film is called “The Roar of a Lion Cub” and it is a documentary which was directed by Martina Radwan (of “Through a Lens Darkly” and “Hot Coffee” fame) and is about her relationship with three Mongolian street children she met six years ago and their happenstance family.

    I didn’t know ANYTHING about Mongolia before coming on to this project and have spent the last month trying to learn as much as I can. You’re blog has been extremely helpful in helping me learn more about the country and it’s history and wildlife from your unique perspectives, informative photography, and detailed descriptions

    Thank you!
    – Rebecca

    • We miss you, too, Michael. Hope you had a good school year. It’s already getting hot outside here in Mongolia. Were you on a whaling crew this year? Say hi to your mom and dad for me. Your friend, Jack

  27. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Repaying the courtesy and finding myself fascinated and intrigued to follow you both, photography and writing alike. Your story of a childhood reading “Call of the Wild” woke a distant memory for me, I have all my life longed to experience the vast open spaces of North America and Alaska but never had the opportunity to do so. I look forward to get to know Alaska through you.

  28. Barbra & Jack Donachy, your life seems like a dream come true. The funny things about dreams are that it is we ourselves who try to keep them only as dreams. It is so good to see that you both have made it a reality. A refreshing way to look at life. When we seriously pursue to do all that we wished to do someday, Every day would be an adventure. The insight to your life gives me new hope to do so much more and look deep inside and strive to continue to experience true happiness .

    • Everything’s good, Michael. We will be moving to Chignik Lake in August. You can Google it. Barbra will be teaching. I won’t teach anymore. Instead, I’ll be working full time on my photography and writing. How are things going with you?

  29. Can we have recipe for the brownies Miss Barbra made in Ulaanbaatar. My Mum loved them because they were so moist. We are going the make the flan. I love reading the blog. Everything is so interesting. Is it as cold in Winter as Mongolia?
    Ana
    ex ISU student

    • Kind of cold today. About 10° F. Our lake is frozen solid. Barbra and I have been going for hikes on it – yesterday we hiked up the lake about 3.5 miles. Lots of foxes around here, a few otters. Lots and lots of salmon. Fishing is really good in summer and fall. Lots of brown bears too. Hope all is well up in Point Hope. Always nice to year from you, Michael. Jack

  30. Hello! I was so delighted to find your blog. I was looking up information about Chignik Lake. I spent a year there when I was about 10 or 11 (about 40 years ago). My mother was one of the teachers in the 2 room schoolhouse (at that time). I think, perhaps, that one of those houses that was flooded was one that we lived in! I remember it being down close to the lake. I’m delighted that you love the place – I remember it very fondly. I remember how friendly everyone was to us. I remember going to sweat lodges and I remember going to Easter at the Russian Orthodox Church. I remember how all of us kids got all the various dogs of the village together (from a Chihuahua to a St. Bernard) and tried to get them to pull a sled, lol. I have many happy memories there. I don’t know if anyone there remembers my mother, Betty Chaussee or her twin daughters, Sian and Regan, but I send them all my love and wish you all the best!

    • Really nice to hear from you, Sian. I’m sure many things have changed at The Lake since you were here, and yet I’m sure very little has changed. We will ask around about the Chaussee’s Thanks for reading and leaving this note. Jack

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