Blackfish Trapping
By: Brad Cole

  It was just before the rising of the winter sun that I walked away from the house in Tuluksak to check on my blackfish trap. Following a crunchy snowmachine trail through the bushy forest and weedy meadows it took me nearly an hour to reach the stream where I had set the trap. If the temperature has been cold there is always thicker ice to pick. I figured it takes me an hour to pick by hand through a foot of ice and if the ice is two feet thick it can make for some tough work. But I enjoy the labor and believe it is important for people to be working directly with nature. Only from the earth can a person gain a true sense of the wholeness of life.

  I prefer walking to using a snowmachine, so fortunately I live close to blackfish streams. They are narrow but deep channels of water wandering through long grassy meadows. Moose, fox, and mice tracks litter the snowy, icy floors of these large meadows. Gray jays will perch in the tall barren bushes just to watch as I pass by and once a gentle but curious fox followed me about a quarter a mile.

  For convenience I hide my ice-pick: a four-foot long pointed metal bar under the snow. Then I find and re-use it to make my hole in the ice. A single circular line is all I chop. Once I haul the foot-plus thick ice out it becomes the opening for me to use. The four-foot long by one-foot wide chicken wire cylinder with a funnel at one end is easily dropped in and pulled back out with a strong line.

  Peeling back the wire from part of the bottom of the trap I drop out the fish. I do not like taking any form of life and it does affect me seeing the small fish squirm on the snowy ice and then die. But it is the give and take of nature, I think, and it is the only way the wilderness seems to operate. So I take the five larger fish and release back to the water the smallest, still living one. Love is the only thing I can truly give back to nature, I felt.

  I look up from the frozen land and see the morning star that often precedes the rising of the sun. Venus can shine like a small diamond close the dawning horizon. It charm is so different from the howling desolation of the moon.

  I will be bringing food back today. Black fish soup (with chicken broth) is one of my favorite foods. I believe that the virtue of the earth is found in its goodness, quality and strength. As a people we too are of the earth and so should be our food. We need this goodness, this wholeness of being to grow strong in mind, body and spirit. This I feel is our only real freedom.

  I load the half-dozen fish into a plastic bag with a hand-full of snow and stuff it into my backpack. After returning the ice-pick to its original snowy hiding spot I start my two-mile walk back the same way I came, following my snowy tracks.

  I like the land around Tuluksak, I thought while walking on the snowmachine trail. It is evenly divided between grasslands and forest. I cannot imagine getting lost following a long, narrow meadow. Looking up into the western sky a half moon was falling slowly toward the horizon. Nature can either give or take, I felt and today I have received some of its offerings. Perhaps tomorrow I will be making a sacrifice and will need the strength of my own nature to do it well. Good people do not just take but they give back.

  I stopped to turn around and look behind me for any animals that maybe wandering through the meadow. Once on a moonlight night I saw a dark, four-legged creature following me. It was spooky until I realized that it was only a village dog returning home. Soon I will be returning home from this frozen wilderness with the blessings of blackfish and the snowy spirit of the wild.