It's kind of a bad neighborhood out here. Although, upon first moving out into the Bush, we didn't know it for quite a few years. The first four years we had a bit of airplane "traffic" flying over from time to time, mostly during hunting season and that is still true today. Occasionally a snow-machiner would pass by. But not much more.
As far as we knew, our closest neighbors were to the west, toward the little village of Talkeetna, with a few scattered cabins in between. At first we knew a few people, mostly airplane folks in Talkeetna, a mechanic or two, a few pilots, the folks at the Post Office for sure, but no one else to speak of. To our knowledge, in all directions, we had few, if any neighbors for miles. But that was to change ... it changed a lot of things really.
One winter day, on a quick flight out to town in our little airplane to pick up mail and a few supplies, I had to stop by and talk with Paul, one of the fellows at flight services. When I walked through the heavy plank door of the old log building, I saw Paul talking with a rather husky man, bearded and somewhat weathered, but strong and healthy. I stood back and waited my turn. After a short while their conversation slacked. Paul turned to me and we chatted a bit, got my business completed and then Paul casually asked, "Do you guys know each other?" The fellow and I looked at each other, kind of shook our heads in the negative, and Paul continued as he introduced us, "Well, you should, you're neighbors." We looked at each other again, and as we shook hands my new neighbor, Ed, said, "I didn't know I had any neighbors." Which was pretty much my thoughts exactly.
In a short while I found that Ed lived about 20 miles northeast of us, lower down on the river. When I first met him he had been living out there for over 35 years, raised a family, hunted, trapped, wandered and explored all over the mountains, and lived from the land for long stretches. All the things I had dreamed of doing myself and a big part of why I was in Alaska. In Montana, where we had moved from, there were a few young men, myself included, who dreamed of living off the land, hunting and trapping, just like the Old Mountain men did many years before. Some dabbled at it, a handful even tried it, but most of us just figured it was impossible today, not enough free country anymore. I really didn't think such a man existed in this day and age, but while talking with Ed in a very casual way, I slowly began to think ... maybe they do?
Now, over a decade and a half since we first met, I have come to know Ed well. He is everything I had guessed, and more. For many years he did not have a phone of any kind. Shortly after we first met he acquired some type of a cell phone, which did not work from his cabin. But, after a "short little hike," about ten miles down the river, a mile or so straight up the side of the mountain and presto, he could hit a phone repeater on a far off mountain and make his phone call. Need to make a phone call? Just a short twenty plus mile round trip hike. He thought nothing of it.
His wife moved out to town, "hell" (as we fondly like to refer to the more densely populated regions), quite a few years ago. Ed's make-up does not allow him to live in civilization, so he occasionally has to go out and visit his wife. In past years, when Ed would call, the first question I would ask is, "Where are you at?" The answer I always knew would be one of two things, "I'm sittin over here on the side of the mountain..." always followed by ... "my battery's almost dead..." He would walk the eleven miles or so and then remember, he forgot to charge the phone battery. Hey, electronics is not high on a Mountain Man's list of priorities. Anyway, I always asked the first question of where he was because if the phone went dead ... I would know where he was. He would probably be headed for Rainbow Lake a few miles farther on, where he could be picked up, or get a supply drop. If he wasn't "sittin over here on the side of the mountain..." he would say, "I'm down here in 'hell' again..." which meant he was in town, visiting his wife, we had a hard-line, and we could talk. Some years back he got a "cutting edge" phone of sorts right at his cabin. We just had to climb a tree and do some scientific adjustments ... "point it that way ... no, try it the other way!" I can tell when Ed calls now, always a bit of static, pause, and he keys the mike, pause ... "You seein any bears over there?" or some such. You never know in conversations with Ed where you're going to end up. All are enjoyed, and we have talked a lot over the years.
I recall one conversation years back, it was a typical call really, for a while anyway ... "Any moose around? ... Seen any bears lately? ... Did you get any traps out?" and so forth. It was a very "normal" call until after about twenty minutes of talking Ed finally said, "Well, I'll let ya go, you're probably busy over there, I'll call ya in a day or two ... pause ... Oh, did I tell ya bout shootin the bear in the bedroom?" I thought ... what? Is he talking about yesterday, or last week? What? A bear in the bedroom? I was not shocked. Ed is a bit of a bear magnet. If a bear is within 40 miles of him, over a two day period they WILL wander into each other, and something usually happens. So I asked ED, "When did this happen?" and he replied, "Oh, I don't know ... week or so ago I think..." I said, "Nope. You didn't tell me about that ..." Ed came back and said, "Yea, well, don't shoot em in the bedroom. It's a hell of a mess ... anyway, I'll talk to you later." It was up to me to ask, "Wait ... now wait a minute. You really shot one in the bedroom?" Ed answered, "Yea, I didn't tell ya?" Nope, I think I would have remembered that. And so then I briefly got the details and Ed quickly closed with, "Yea, so don't shoot em in the bedroom, it's a big mess ... I'll talk to ya later." Click. And he was gone. The thing is, conversations like that are not unusual with Ed. He is full of experiences, which to him are just life, nothing unusual, hardly worth the mention.
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I remember one time picking him up and flying him out to Talkeetna. We had not seen each other for awhile and were catching up a bit. I noticed his old dog, "Gator," a woods wise 150 plus pound mastiff was gaining in years, a bit stove-up. I mentioned it and Ed said he was going to try to get him some medicine while he was out ... then continued with ... "Oh, did I tell you bout Gator and the bear?" And off we went. Seems Ed and Gator were out for a fall stroll, looking for a little winter meat. It was a beautiful fall day and by afternoon the warm sun brought on the need for a little snooze, so Ed and Gator curled up against a fair size blown down tree for a little nap and dozed off. Ed said later he faintly felt Gator slowly rise up ... then heard a bellow out of him as he leaped over the log and right into a grizzly that had innocently wandered up behind them. Gator had been around bears all his life and knew what he was doing. Ed said they were both just about in his lap going at it and he was scooting back on his butt trying to get a little room between himself and the chaos. He said, "It was like being in the middle of a big dog fight." Yea, I would say so. The bear finally got a bit of room, turned and tore away into the trees. Ed said, "Gator just stood there tall and straight, gave the old bear one last 'WOOF!' and then pranced around like a puppy for two weeks after that." Along with the story itself, the most interesting thing to me was, the story was not about Ed, it was about Gator. Ed was just there. No biggie that his dog and a grizzly had a fight in his lap.
These are just a couple of "Ed Stories," mild ones too. I told him once, "You need to write a book." Ed, a bit embarrassed, replied ... "Why'd anybody wanna read about something like that?" I said, "Ed, normal people don't shoot bears in their bedroom." And thank God for that too.