Friday, Sept. 17, 2010 | 3 a.m.
It had been a long and hot summer, simmering with bitter political divisions and desperation over the economy. But as summers so often do, it was passing too quickly.
There was still time to celebrate the season, which for me is best accomplished on a fishing trip to Alaska with old friends George and John. In Wasilla, we hurriedly piled everything into John’s float plane, got airborne in front of Sarah Palin’s house and headed to the outback in pursuit of salmon.
When we landed, the fish were waiting and our fly rods soon were busy. It wasn’t until we built a campfire that we really had much of a chance to catch up with each other.
Camped in a remote wilderness with friends I see but once a year, talk soon turned to politics. That’s the way things are everywhere these days. Politically charged.
We took our customary positions on the right and left, them holding to a conservative post, and me cast in the stereotyped role of liberal media type. Thanks to the Web and cable television, the boys manage to stay very well-informed in Alaska, and soon we were debating the issues of the day.
Like so many people here, George and John are bothered by the current state of affairs in a number of areas: health care, the economy, the federal bureaucracy, environmental legislation, the proposed ground zero mosque. And, of course, the leadership of President Barack Obama. And that was just the first night’s agenda.
The next day, we again were busy with fish, joined by new visitors in the way of mosquitoes and black flies. They swarmed by the millions, although that is merely a crowd estimate.
That night around the fire, we picked up where we had left off. Somehow, Yucca Mountain came up.
Don’t want a nuclear dump in our state, I said. Naturally, the boys had done a bit of reading on the topic, and our conversation soon became louder.
George said my position seemed unfair, and that Nevada should accept Yucca for the good of the nation. He pointed out that many of Alaska’s land uses are being unnecessarily restricted — against the will of its residents — because environmentalists essentially want to turn the state into a giant national park for tourists.
Alaskans don’t want this, he said. So why should Nevada get off easy? Shouldn’t Nevada take one for the American team?
No, I said. Yucca is just too close to Las Vegas.
Impasse having been reached early in our trip, there was no place to go after this, and after some silence, we turned in for the night.
The next day brought plenty of rain, which meant some relief from the bugs. The fishing was wetter but still good. Around the soggy fire that night, we worked just to keep a flame going and to stay dry, leaving little atmosphere for political engagement.
When the sun returned the next afternoon, fresh legions of mosquitoes greeted its arrival. So did plenty of salmon, passing in schools through the clear waters, all hoping to reproduce in the cold waters upstream.
A large sockeye salmon swam past me, its dark green head attached to a body that had turned bright red in preparation for spawning.
We caught and released pink salmon, the males having morphed into the exaggerated humped backs and hooked jaws you see on Discovery Channel specials. There were large chum salmon, whose spawning cycle was well under way and whose bodies revealed the attendant signs of decay as they lived out their final days.
Finally, on the last couple of days, we encountered the spirited coho salmon, the muscular silver swimmer prized by fly fishermen, which begins its own spawning journey in the early autumn.
The sunshine had finally dried out our personal effects, and the fish had been plentiful. The wilderness had delivered as hoped in the summertime.
A week after alighting, we were taking down the tent. An hour later, we were once again airborne, and on our journey home.
We left an area noted for being untouched and famed for the diversity of its wildlife. In the small plane, we passed over miles of tumbling waterfalls, virgin rivers and traversed a lake even larger than Tahoe. We flew past peaks, through narrow mountain passes and over glaciers.
George was right. Outsiders like me think of Alaska as a playground, something to protect. But I’m not willing to take a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in trade.