We Alaskans

Sorry, no spears: My brush with reality TV

LAKE CLARK — My daily ritual of building a fire in the woodstove and making the morning coffee falls short of heart-pounding drama. It's certainly not going to perk up interest from a producer in New York or Hollywood, but it is part of my life in Bush Alaska. Sure, over the years I've had plenty of hair-raising, comic, and poignant adventures in airplanes, boats and with wild critters, but the life I live isn't scripted. When excitement comes, it streams in unannounced, normally in small doses. While a rich and full life, it's not exactly riveting action 24 hours a day.

To be a star

It's been a few years since Anne and I first heard from a TV producer. An acquaintance suggested that we were prime examples of someone living in the backwoods of Alaska, and soon thereafter, a California comedian's representative contacted us. The comic wanted Bush folks to lead him through some activities that he could stumble, bumble and jest his way through — to the delight of his vast throng of fans. I'd never heard of him, but Google had, so we replied. The comedian's rep wanted to know what he would be doing if he visited us.

Being chronically pragmatic, I thought I'd try to get some work out of the guy. I suggested I teach him how to mill spruce logs with a chain saw. Better to be a budding television star with freshly cut dimensional lumber, I figured, than one with nothing but standing timber. I assumed he wouldn't take the two-bys back to Beverly Hills with him.

I'm not sure if the idea of sawdust sifting into his long johns turned him off, but we didn't make the final cut. Perhaps I should have pointed out that chain saw chains are sharp; he could lose digits, rip a big gash in his leg. That might have satisfied his need for drama and given him something to joke about. Personally, I have a hard time seeing the mirthful side of a medevac — but he was the professional funny man.

Catapults or stones?

Then there was the New York producer — a woman this time — who showed interest in our subsistence lifestyle. A series of questions followed. What kind of animals do you hunt? How do you catch them? I explained that the meat from a moose might last us three years and the caribou have thinned out in these parts, so we aren't in the market for large game every year. But I'd never been successful at getting a spruce grouse to show up on cue, let alone when a camera is running and a celebrity host is feeling photogenic.

Then she asked, "Do you use spears?"

That was my first glimpse into what they were really hunting for. Anne and I shook our heads and laughed. I wrote the producer back with the truth — marking the end of the conversation. This felt a little like being dumped by someone I didn't really want to date in the first place. I should have answered that we only use spears when we can't drive the animals over cliffs or roll boulders down on them from mountaintops.

Without amenities

The next query was also from New York and had the focus of living off the grid. We qualify in spades, but I still don't know why Anne and I took the time to answer. We corresponded for a while, put together a short video and made it to the next round (whatever that might be).

Finally we heard that we didn't make that season's roster, but we would be considered for the following year. That was several years ago and I'm guessing the pilot never made it off the ground. At least that part of the business is framed in words Alaskans can understand.

I have a confession to make: Although I've heard of "Ice Road Truckers" and a show about crab fishing on the Bering Sea that I can't remember the name of (Anne thinks it's something like "The Most Dangerous Catch" or "The Deadliest Job") I've never seen an Alaska reality TV show. But I'm getting an idea of what they're about. Anne and I honestly thought a show covering people living off the grid might just be the real thing about life in the Bush. Maybe it was, but I have my suspicions.

I do know that even if we had a television we wouldn't watch any reality TV, and we sure as heck aren't going to enter into a conversation with a TV producer ever again — not from Los Angeles or New York, not even from "Truth or Consequences." We have more important stuff to do. We've got logs to mill, firewood to cut, gas to haul.

But if I have enough time I might just grab a sharp rock and a length of birch and sinew to fashion a spear. You never know when you might misplace your cudgel.

Steve Kahn lives on the north shore of Lake Clark. He is the author of "The Hard Way Home: Alaska Stories of Adventure, Friendship and the Hunt."

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