October: we and the bears are chubbier. As fall moves along and our tummies start rumbling. The scent of winter is in the air, and there is still work to be done. We survey our cupboards, and a bear cub wanders into Tatsudas market and takes stock of the produce case. Subsistence hunting and gathering is an important part of Southeast Alaskan life. Halibut is frozen, salmon smoked, dried, and canned. Seaweed collected in late spring is brined and dried. Bears and people have finished the grand competition for salmonberries and blueberries, and pies and jams are in good supply.
Ketchikan hangs tightly to the rocks on the south-western edge of the Revillagigedo Island. We are connected to the food lines by barge and the suitcases of friends who’ve made recent visits down south (note: down south refers to the lower 48 as compared to out south which refers to the road south—actually east—of Saxman). The general wisdom has it that you always pack one set of clothing in a very large suitcase so that there is plenty of room on the return trip. I myself have carried Fat Tire Ale and Humboldt Fog cheese back home in my suitcase. I was in empathy with the man at the luggage carousel carefully checking over the box of his mother’s boysenberry pies. They were intact, thank god.
The barge comes in on Tuesdays, so the selection in the grocery store is best on Wednesdays. We can’t feel right about things until the pantry shelves are bursting with collections of canned foods. Out in the garage, we locate the spare tanks of propane gas and attend to the wood pile now stacked nice and high, heating oil topped off. . .we’re ready. Bring on winter.
For reasons I’d love to open for speculation and discussion, food variety is limited here despite modern transportation. We live on a rock island in a rainforest. No arable land. Daylight is short, energy is expensive. So we don’t grow too much. I love to watch the barge crawl up the Narrows. It snails along with an impossible load of containers. It brings everything. . .except tourists. I get a secret pleasure singing “oh oh the Wells Fargo wagon is a comin’ down the street, I wish I wish I wish. . .” You get the idea. I want my raisins from Fresno.
Yes, we do have restaurants. We have Burger Queen, affectionately called the Burger Bitch. I think they even have tee-shirts that say that. We have a McDonalds with free Wi-Fi. Way out north—which is actually west—you can get sweet potato fries and all things fried at Knudson Cove. The best food in Ketchikan is always always found in people’s homes or at potlucks. Gastronomically speaking, what makes here here are the goodies people have collected. Fresh halibut—I love the cheeks! Go down to the dock and buy a crab from a boat. Or set your own pots. Coffman Cove oysters are the best anywhere. Barter for some moose or deer from a hunter friend. Winter salmon is divine. There is no shortage of shrimp at any gathering. Ah, sweet winter.