Inside the cuddy cabin of our C-Dory 22 Angler on our first trip up the Al-Can.
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. We spent about a month of that 42-day road trip in Alaska. Energized by seemingly endless days under the midnight sun, we participated in a half-marathon in a remote village only reachable by boat or plane, dug huge razor clams, caught our first halibut and salmon, picked wild berries, 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.”
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. 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. Ten years later, that remains the main criterion determining what we publish. And so, yes, there are lots of recipes on Cutterlight. We love to cook and bake and eat good food and with an abundance of some of the world’s most remarkable seafood and fish, a surfeit of wild berries and other 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 and to constantly improve our skills as chefs and bakers. This has been a deeply satisfying part of our journey.
Our two years in Mongolia included a trek to the Gobi Desert’s famed Red Cliffs where we found a large, fairly intact fossilized skeleton of something prehistoric, fulfilling a hope Jack had had since he was eight years old and read a book which featured dinosaur bones and eggs from these very same Red Cliffs. New fossil material continues to be revealed in this area after any heavy rain.
So too have been the unique experiences that have been central to this past decade. We’ve hiked for miles across frozen seas, participated in whaling, fly-fished for salmon in a river we called our own, picked wild berries by the gallon and wild mushrooms but the bushel, took a break from Alaska to live in Mongolia for a couple of years, traveled throughout Alaska with our truck camper, fished the Alaska Gulf for halibut, salmon, lingcod and species we’d never heard of before, learned to make our own beer and got first-hand looks at wild animals we’d only read about or 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.
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.
But it was more than all this that drew us to Alaska in general and to remote bush villages in particular. We had read about “terrifying winds” sweeping across trackless, treeless Arctic landscapes. We wanted to know what those winds were like. Now we know. 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 left it in drifts that all but buried the village. In communities where the only practical way in and out is by bush plane, we’ve gone for weeks without mail or freight (including fresh 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 torrential rains. In the Chigniks, when the weather cleared, we could hike out into a landscape that fewer than 100 living people had ever seen.
In recent years fly fishing for salmon has become a passion.
Over the years, our interests have expanded to include photography, birding, flowers 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 going to a foreign country (Hokkaido, Japan) and – with no prior experience – taking on a bicycle camping trek that lasted 65 days and covered over 1,000 miles. And while “Living Well Off the Beaten Path” remains Cutterlight’s central theme, the writing and photography are no long strictly for us. A very modest hope has come into this publication: that our readers will find on these pages a source of inspiration that might lead to trying something that they’ve wanted to try. Whether one decides to begin to figure 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.
Our summer in Hokkaido was fantastic – and whetted our appetite for future adventures.
Every day is a new beginning. Every day is precious. There is no destination, only the journey. We wish for everyone happiness and contentment along their own path in life.
Jack & Barbra Donachy
Newhalen, Alaska – September 2019