An Outdoor View: Friends

It’s sad when your children die before you do, but it’s also sad when you outlive your friends.

On Mar. 25, 2017, Howard Van Ness, 75, passed away. He may be gone, but I’ll never forget him.

Known to his many friends as “Howie” and “Doc Fly,” he was a master with a fly rod, and he lived to fly fish. He had the only fly shop in Fairbanks, and he taught a great many residents of that area how to tie flies and fly fish. I feel sorry for any fish without 1,000 miles of Fairbanks.

Whenever sandhill cranes are flying south, bugling to one another in their rattling way, I think of a fall day on Vagt Lake, near Seward. Howie and I hiked in to fly fish for rainbow trout from float tubes. I remember us lying back in our float tubes, watching thousands of cranes flying south in the pale-blue sky, high above. We were fishing, the sun was shining, we had a pristine lake all to ourselves, and all was right with the world.

In 2005, Douglas Green, 54, passed away. He may be gone, but I’ll never forget him.

In 1995, when I’d known Doug for about a decade, he bought a 34-foot Tollycraft cruiser. He named it “Suq’a,” which he mistakenly thought was the Kenaitze word for king salmon. The “Suq’a” and its captain starred in more than 30 stories I’ve written, most of which took place on Prince William Sound.

Like me, Doug was a meat fisherman. When we were aboard the Suq’a, his happiest moments came when the aft deck was slimy and the scuppers were running red with the blood of freshly caught rockfish, lingcod and halibut.

Doug was my loyal friend for more than 20 years. He was helpful, patient, generous, courteous, dependable, optimistic, hardworking, fun-loving and irreverent.

In my mind, and in a photo on the wall of my man-cave, Doug is at the wheel on the fly bridge of the “Suq’a,” leaning back in his captain’s chair, grinning. It’s a sunny day, we’ll soon be fishing and the scuppers will be running red.

In early May of 1991, Loren Stewart, 74, passed away. He may be gone, but I’ll never forget him.

Loren was a treasure trove of knowledge about local goings-on and characters. He homesteaded 160 acres in the Ridgeway area in the late 1940s, and published Soldotna’s first newspaper, the Cheechako News.

Loren generously shared his knowledge and wisdom with anyone who would listen. Many of my early newspaper columns were gleaned from his rich store of stories, usually told at his kitchen counter over a glass of scotch.

When I look at the photos on the wall of my man-cave, I see Loren, sitting in boat, holding an old, fiberglass spinning rod that’s bent into a “C.” The bend is due to the large silver on his line.

While looking at that photo recently, I got to thinking about the boat we were in that day.

I’d been going through some hard times. New to the real-estate business, I was barely keeping a roof over my family’s head, and I’d had to sell my boat to make ends meet. I figured that my chances of having another boat soon were next to none. But I hadn’t figured on help from others.

Gary Jones, a friend who was a welder, had a boat he wasn’t using. He fabricated a motor lift for his boat, and loaned the boat to me on condition that I’d test the lift. I didn’t have a motor so I asked Loren if I could borrow a 20-hp Mercury I’d seen stored in his barn. Loren said, “OK, if you’ll take me fishing.” On a roll, I borrowed a pickup with a trailer hitch from another friend. Finally, a friendly neighbor in Sterling loaned me his boat trailer. I had myself a boat. I didn’t keep it very long, but it got me through that fall.

That fishing trip with Loren, as well as many others, never would’ve happened without a little help from my friends. I’ll never forget them.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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