December 2, 2017, looking downriver from The Bend on Chignik River: Younger versions of ourselves would have described paradise differently. Now, this place, Chignik Lake, is paradise to us.
This has been a fall of rain. Rain falling steadily like music on our metal roof, rain driven by gale-force winds lashing our home from every side, icy-cold drizzles saturating the earth, downpours filling the feeder creeks to overflowing. Early in December, we took advantage of a break in the sky to get out into our paradise. Launching our 2-person pack raft from Chignik Lake’s shores in front of our home, we floated a ways down the Chignik River. The wind was still and although the skies were mostly overcast, the water was calm.
Although it’s not unusual to encounter foxes, brown bears, river otters and even moose and wolves, it was a relatively quiet day. Here and there char and salmon parr dimpled the surface, and a few chickadees called back and forth from the mix of alder, willow and winter-brown salmon berry stalks along the banks. Bald eagles soared overhead or stood sentinel on bare branches along the bluffs. Kingfishers rattled by as they flew from one favorite perch to another. A Yellow-billed Loon ignored us while more wary Pacific Loons, Golden-eyes and mergansers eyed us from respectable distances or zoomed overhead on their way up the valley. The usual magpies chattered with each other in the brush and off in the distance a pair of ravens carried on a conversation in their ancient language of deep-throated croaks.
Abandoned until spring, these buildings are associated with a weir the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife places across the river in order to count salmon. The weir has been taken down for the winter.
As we neared our take-out point, a harbor seal popped its head up inquisitively and swam closer for a better look. After hauling the raft out at the landing, we looked downriver and noticed expansive, dark patches of what appeared to be ducks covering the shallows two hundred hards below our take-out point. Through our binoculars we could see hundreds of them: a few Golden-eyes, buffleheads and mergansers were mixed in with hundreds of scaup! As we packed up our gear for the hike home, something suddenly caused the birds to take wing. The sound was startling – like a roaring waterfall.
The hike back to the village: We followed the only road in the area – three miles of dirt and gravel connecting the boat landing on the river to the airstrip at the village. The water in the foreground is the Chignik River – the real highway out here. The water behind that is Chignik Lake. Our village, which covers only a few acres, can just barely be seen on the left shore of the lake, tiny against the Chignik Mountains. Beyond the village there lies mile upon mile of wilderness.
This is paradise.
Below is a short video of part of our float.