When Sarah Palin burst upon our consciousness, she brought her family along, including the baby, Trig.

The grandfather says Trig is named after his great uncle, a Bristol Bay fisherman.

I vaguely remember reading this explanation of the name at the time.  I gave no thought to where the name might have come from beyond that.

On page 405 of Coming Into the Country, McPhee is discussing the cabins of Dick and Donna.

The shanty that Dick and Donna use on stopovers in Eagle is only a little up from squalid…Their fish camp down the Yukon can be discouraging, too–a dirty, fetid, lightless cabin astink in aging salmon.  These more manifest habitations long ago earned Cook a reputation as a  sloven–among people who have never been here.  This secluded cabin (his home of homes) is neat and tidy–in fact, trig.

Upon reading this, I immediately thought about the Palin baby.  Visiting I find the following definitions:

neat, trim, smart, or spruce.

in good physical condition; sound; well.

to support or prop, as with a wedge.

to act as a check on (the moving of wheels, vehicles, etc.)

That is a complicated four letter name.  With luck the ironies will shift and multiply as he grows.

A Chuckle

I got a chuckle* from this on page 376 in Coming Into the Country.   The speaker is a woman named Elva.  Elva has a master’s degree in education and for many years ran the school-districts health program in Anchorage.  This experience leaves her the most qualified medical provider in the town of Eagle.

People come in off the river with blood infections, red streaks up their arm.  They get cystitis from not enough water.  They come down from Dawson with v.d.  We don’t have laboratory tests.  We treat on symptoms.  An outboard motor chewed on a guy’s legs awhile.  We sewed him up.  I tell everyone, ‘I don’t mind helping you out.  Just don’t use me.’  We don’t want to be awakened for nothing, for someone who is merely drunk.  For gunshot wounds and stabbings I of course get up.  Oh, we have enough of that sort of thing.  Yeah.  You betcha.  We’re getting ready to have dinner with company and they come in and bleed all over the sink.  Who needs TV in Eagle?  We’ve got action enough in the streets.

You betcha.

I’m guessing health care costs in Eagle were (are?) on the low end.

*I wonder if I’ve ever used that word before…..


McPhee’s Coming Into The Country has begun to get more interesting in the second half…

On page 261* is this:

In a good fish year, two moose, two hundred ducks, and seventy-five quarts of king salmon will be plenty for one river couple.  The upper Yukon now is considered “full,” saturated with settlers, all space reserved–roughly one person for every five miles.

One person for every five miles is considered saturation.  I guess because if things get more crowded a need for a wee bit of government arises.

Just prior to the above is an account of a nearly week long gathering of “river people” for the 1976 vernal equinox.

It was a council of war and a party, too–a time of talk and music, no booze–a way to keep contacts, to exchange opinions and information.

Then just a bit further on:

They planned a network of cabins for winter travel.  They tried, with no success, to agree on a a communal bulk food order, and on a way to administer common ownership of a truck for use in Eagle.  Their desire to be “tribal” does not approach in strength their need to be self-reliant.

There always have been and always will be people who feel crowded when the density goes beyond a couple of square miles per person.  People who want to survive or fail to survive on their own.  People who are unable to come to an agreement on a communal bulk food order.   There has always been a wilderness for such people to go to.   Surely those days are coming to an end.  The available wilderness is now all set aside for parks, for mining, for drilling, for natives.

Such a life will soon be available, if not already, only to those wealthy enough to buy all the needed land.

*Yes, I am a slow reader.

A Plan for Man

More from Coming Into The Country by John McPhee…

This is from Book II, What They Were Hunting For in which the search for a location for a new Alaskan capital is described.  On page 133 a Robert Atwood is quoted:

Idealists here in town see a need for  a park in every housing development.  They want to bury utility lines, reserve green belts, build bicycle paths.  With these things, the bowl could only contain three hundred and fifty thousand people.  They favor animals, trees, water, flowers.  Who ever makes  a plan for man? Who ever will make a plan for man?  That is what I wonder.  I am known amound conservasionists as a bad guy.

Foolish me.  I thought favoring animals, trees, water (water!!!)  and flowers was a plan for man!

Invitation to a Question

I’ve been reading Coming Into the Country by John McPhee.  Yes, I’m thirty three years behind the times.

On page 37 and going around the corner to 38, McPhee and companions are in the Alaskan wilderness:

Breakfast in the frying pan–freeze-dried eggs…Nobody’s skin is going to turn brown on these eggs–or on cinnamon-apple-flavored Instant Quaker Oatmeal, or Tang, or Swiss Miss, or on cold pink-icinged Pop-Tarts with raspberry filling.  For those who do not believe what they have just read, allow me to confirm it: in Pourchot’s breakfast bag are pink-icinged Pop-Tarts with raspberry filling.  Lacking a toaster, and not caring much anyway, we eat them cold.  They invite a question.

Oh good!  McPhee sees it too.  A question is indeed invited!  He continues:

To a palate without bias–the palate of an open-minded Berber, the palate of a travelling Martian–which would be the more acceptable, a pink-icinged Pop-Tart with raspberry filling (cold) or the fat gob from behind a caribou’s eye?

Wait.  That’s the invited question?  Yeah, sure, it is an interesting question, but it sure as heck is not the question that I was thinking about as he confirmed the presence and eating of the pink-icinged Pop-Tarts with raspberry filling.

You are preparing to go into the Alaskan wilderness for an extended period of time and you pack Pop-Tarts?!

And I’ve got to believe that the unbiased palate would prefer food (the fat gob) over manufactured crap (Pop-Tarts), though I suspect I would seek a third option.

But that’s just me.