PAXSON -- A few years ago I hired an out-of-work architect to work with me in Bristol Bay. He was a pretty good hand, even though it turned out he didn't like commercial fishing. He was from Seattle, and he gave me some interesting insights into city life. One of the things he told me that really stuck was that one could keep chickens in the city -- so long as there was no rooster. A rooster might wake the neighbors and make them unhappy.
A flock of chickens without a rooster is like an outhouse without a hole; not quite right. I understand that when living in the midst of a bunch of folks there needs to be a few rules, but maybe we need to pay attention to who makes them?
I have lived in remote areas all my life and have not had to worry much about what my neighbors thought. They lived too far away to care or notice. One evening soon after I bought my property on the Maclaren River, I was sitting at a table in Red Cooney's lodge admiring the little cabin I had just built on the other side of the river. It wasn't much -- weathered plywood with no insulation, no stove and no paint -- but it was mine.
A couple pulled up in a rental car and came into the lodge for coffee. They were from some place in California. Both were doctors, and they lived in an affluent neighborhood. They were enjoying themselves touring Alaska and had a lot of good things to say about our state.
Sipping their coffee, they looked across the river and spotted my new home. "Who owns that shack?" one asked. My reply was measured, "Oh, some trapper guy."
"Well, where we come from, we sure wouldn't allow that," they said in unison. It turned out one of the homeowners on their street had painted his house purple. Everyone else got up in arms and took him to court to make him change it. The purple house didn't fit the other neighbors' ideas of a dream home. It ruined the view.
Whose view? I think one needs to be very careful whom we step on, because next time it could be us. On the other hand, unless we stay involved in the rules that affect our everyday lives, before you know it, all of the fish will be in someone else's net.
The federal Bureau of Land Management, the state of Alaska and the Native corporations are big landowners in our state. Various oil companies, mining interests and the timber industry are the major players when it comes to habitat. All of these entities can change the way that we, as individuals, recreate and use our lands.
Most changes concerning our lands are made by regulation, not laws that come out of a legislative session. If the average citizen wants to have some input, he or she will need to stand up and pound the table. In school we were taught to stay seated, raise a hand and wait to be called on. That doesn't work in the real world.
Last spring I listened to a talk-show host speak about mining in Alaska. He said as long as mining created jobs, they could put the barrels of toxic waste in his backyard. The most important thing was to pay the mortgage. Maybe. Every instance is going to be a little different, be it a gold mine, a gas pipeline or a timber harvest. However, if one is complacent and doesn't pay attention, you may lose your rooster.
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.