Life in Alaska

HomeStead Beef

Story and Media by
Dan Walker
Media by
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Written by
Dan Walker

On New Year’s Day, 1959, Chet Walker awoke early and crossed the cold floor to build a fire in the kitchen range and add wood to the coals left in the box stove. For the third day in a row the temperature had dropped below zero, so he slipped on some wool socks and slippers then stepped out the back door to pee. A sound drew his attention to the willows along the skid road he’d opened when cutting trees for the cabin. In the dim light of early dawn, he could see a moose feeding. He didn’t dawdle on the back step but left the moose to its browsing and went back to the stove where he found the firebox crackling and heat permeating the room. He set the percolator on the cooktop, grabbed a wool shirt, and stepped back to the rear door to look for the moose.

The back of the cabin looked out on virgin forest of spruce trees that pushed their Christmas tree tops into the horizon of a growing dawn. He’d cut more than a hundred of these to build the cabin. The structure was finished now, and the Walkers had turned over the New Year in a cabin they built themselves in the Alaska woods. This was the home Chet and Briar had dreamed of and planned for during seventeen years of marriage. True, no one was bringing in a paycheck and six kids had to be fed and clothed, but that could be solved.

When the coffee started perking, Chet moved it to the back of the stove and lit a cigarette before retrieving the can of Carnation evaporated milk from the cold windowsill and setting it beside the sugar bowl and spoon as he waited for the coffee. Even from inside the cabin, he could hear the moose tearing at the willows. It was all he could hear that winter morning, that and the crackling fires and perking coffee. Soon it would be light enough to shoot, but not yet. He lit another cigarette and looked out the window at the shadowed forest where the moose waited.

He checked the window again for the moose and found that the light had grown so he could see its silhouette even through the double layers of plastic. Windows in the cabin were without glass, but glass would come along, as would electricity, cupboards, and kitchen linoleum. In the spring, he would build another bedroom and a bath. For now though, this was enough: his family sleeping around him and a fire to warm them all.

The clock had swept well past eight o’clock when he finished his second cup of coffee, and the first true light of day streamed through the windows. He stepped out the back door again, but this time he took down the aught-six. The moose had turned sideways, and when it started moving, Chet quickly squeezed the trigger. The moose kept moving, and he fired again, bringing it down. Now he could go into 

the warm cabin and get his coat and boots. By then, Briar was up and big-eyed, “What in the world, Peabody?”

He just laughed, “Put some breakfast on, woman. We got a moose to butcher. And get them kids up to help!”

Briar smiled. “You aren’t wasting your morning, are you?” Then, as if they weren’t already roused by the shooting, “Come on kids! You’re wasting the day! Your dad’s got a moose down!”

Tom and Mike burst out of the bedroom, and Amy pushed into the middle of whatever was going on. Bill and I scampered down the ladder and rushed out in our pajamas to ogle the wonder our father had wrought at dawn’s breaking. Only Peggy had to be pulled out of bed, angry at giving up the warmth of the morning blankets.

Mom made more coffee and started a batch of biscuits while Tom and Mike dressed to go outside. In the morning twilight they each grabbed a long hairy leg and helped our father gut and skin his first moose. Dad was a homestead hunter without license or season, so he and the boys hauled the skin, guts, and head of the animal to the site of their last bonfire, heaped slash on it, and started a fire to cover the evidence. The carcass was cut into quarters and stashed in the snowbanks, and clean snow was shoveled over the bloodstains—all before breakfast. Then they sat down to biscuits and moose steaks sliced thin, fried, and covered in gravy, the first meal of the new year in their new home. Tomorrow Chet would go to Homer and look for work.

This was my father’s first illegal moose, but he had helped butcher others. I learned this from letters my father and mother wrote to his parents in Ohio. Starting from the first day of their move to Alaska, these letters documented the living story of our separation from Ohio to start fresh in a place new and starkly different. Nearly every night by light of a Coleman lantern in a roadside camp, then later in an unfinished cabin, my mom and dad penned letters home. Now these letters are my connection with a father I lost too soon. 

Six years after that New Year’s Day, he was struck down with a heart attack. I was only eleven years old, so, except for stories the rest of the family told, I never got to know my father. They used to say he was a God-fearing honest man, and known for doing the right thing. He must have thought taking moose out of season was the right thing to do. On one hand, we have Chet Walker, honest as the day is long. On the other we find the homesteader scofflaw, bragging of being a poacher not two months after entering Alaska.

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HomeStead Beef

Life in Alaska

Author

Dan Walker

Dan Walker is a homesteader’s son who grew up to become a teacher and a writer. His work in education has taken him throughout Alaska to the remote places that few people get to know. Dan has more than thirty years in education and was named Teacher of the Year for Alaska in 1999. His debut novel, Secondhand Summer, is autobiographical fiction set in 1965 and published by Alaska Northwest Books. Letters from Happy Valley, A memoir about his family’s Alaska homestead will be out in the spring of 2019.

On New Year’s Day, 1959, Chet Walker awoke early and crossed the cold floor to build a fire in the kitchen range and add wood to the coals left in the box stove. For the third day in a row the temperature had dropped below zero, so he slipped on some wool socks and slippers then stepped out the back door to pee. A sound drew his attention to the willows along the skid road he’d opened when cutting trees for the cabin. In the dim light of early dawn, he could see a moose feeding. He didn’t dawdle on the back step but left the moose to its browsing and went back to the stove where he found the firebox crackling and heat permeating the room. He set the percolator on the cooktop, grabbed a wool shirt, and stepped back to the rear door to look for the moose.

The back of the cabin looked out on virgin forest of spruce trees that pushed their Christmas tree tops into the horizon of a growing dawn. He’d cut more than a hundred of these to build the cabin. The structure was finished now, and the Walkers had turned over the New Year in a cabin they built themselves in the Alaska woods. This was the home Chet and Briar had dreamed of and planned for during seventeen years of marriage. True, no one was bringing in a paycheck and six kids had to be fed and clothed, but that could be solved.

When the coffee started perking, Chet moved it to the back of the stove and lit a cigarette before retrieving the can of Carnation evaporated milk from the cold windowsill and setting it beside the sugar bowl and spoon as he waited for the coffee. Even from inside the cabin, he could hear the moose tearing at the willows. It was all he could hear that winter morning, that and the crackling fires and perking coffee. Soon it would be light enough to shoot, but not yet. He lit another cigarette and looked out the window at the shadowed forest where the moose waited.

He checked the window again for the moose and found that the light had grown so he could see its silhouette even through the double layers of plastic. Windows in the cabin were without glass, but glass would come along, as would electricity, cupboards, and kitchen linoleum. In the spring, he would build another bedroom and a bath. For now though, this was enough: his family sleeping around him and a fire to warm them all.

The clock had swept well past eight o’clock when he finished his second cup of coffee, and the first true light of day streamed through the windows. He stepped out the back door again, but this time he took down the aught-six. The moose had turned sideways, and when it started moving, Chet quickly squeezed the trigger. The moose kept moving, and he fired again, bringing it down. Now he could go into 

the warm cabin and get his coat and boots. By then, Briar was up and big-eyed, “What in the world, Peabody?”

He just laughed, “Put some breakfast on, woman. We got a moose to butcher. And get them kids up to help!”

Briar smiled. “You aren’t wasting your morning, are you?” Then, as if they weren’t already roused by the shooting, “Come on kids! You’re wasting the day! Your dad’s got a moose down!”

Tom and Mike burst out of the bedroom, and Amy pushed into the middle of whatever was going on. Bill and I scampered down the ladder and rushed out in our pajamas to ogle the wonder our father had wrought at dawn’s breaking. Only Peggy had to be pulled out of bed, angry at giving up the warmth of the morning blankets.

Mom made more coffee and started a batch of biscuits while Tom and Mike dressed to go outside. In the morning twilight they each grabbed a long hairy leg and helped our father gut and skin his first moose. Dad was a homestead hunter without license or season, so he and the boys hauled the skin, guts, and head of the animal to the site of their last bonfire, heaped slash on it, and started a fire to cover the evidence. The carcass was cut into quarters and stashed in the snowbanks, and clean snow was shoveled over the bloodstains—all before breakfast. Then they sat down to biscuits and moose steaks sliced thin, fried, and covered in gravy, the first meal of the new year in their new home. Tomorrow Chet would go to Homer and look for work.

This was my father’s first illegal moose, but he had helped butcher others. I learned this from letters my father and mother wrote to his parents in Ohio. Starting from the first day of their move to Alaska, these letters documented the living story of our separation from Ohio to start fresh in a place new and starkly different. Nearly every night by light of a Coleman lantern in a roadside camp, then later in an unfinished cabin, my mom and dad penned letters home. Now these letters are my connection with a father I lost too soon. 

Six years after that New Year’s Day, he was struck down with a heart attack. I was only eleven years old, so, except for stories the rest of the family told, I never got to know my father. They used to say he was a God-fearing honest man, and known for doing the right thing. He must have thought taking moose out of season was the right thing to do. On one hand, we have Chet Walker, honest as the day is long. On the other we find the homesteader scofflaw, bragging of being a poacher not two months after entering Alaska.

No items found.

Author

Dan Walker

Author & Media

Dan Walker

No items found.

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