Unhinged Alaska: Rusty skills and a petulant pup

The cabin was steeped in an early morn nippiness spawned by a canopy of dank clouds weeping tiresome showers when our dog Howard decided to ram his glacial nose between my toes and ninja crawl up through the cocoon of the comforter until his eyes locked with mine.

The ill-mannered move is usually the result of one of two circumstances.

One, Howard had ingested something so repulsive, during his pre-bedtime yard patrol, that his landfill digestive system was experiencing an 8.5 Richter Scale reaction. If so, I had approximately ten seconds to open the door or I would be forced to burn the cabin down and start over again.

Two, he had spotted me organizing fishing apparel before I retired and had decided that it was simply time for me to drag my butt out of the rack so he could deviously take over my side of the bed.

Unfortunately, Howard has the memory span of his food bowl.

I made the mistake, just once, of leaving his pampered keister in the boudoir when I left on an o-dark-thirty fishing safari last fall.

When my wife’s alarm went off, she awoke and sensed a large hulk cuddled in repose beside her. Being a loving spouse, she rolled over and inadvertently planted a tender “good morning” smooch on Howard’s hairy jowls. He responded with a “one lick cleans the kitchen floor” doggy slurp and, from what I understand, her feet finally hit the ground near Anchor Point.

Needless to say, he now leaves when I do or, because of his pre-dawn predilection to share empty Posturepedic space along with his rhino-eradicating halitosis, he faces the high probability of ending up as a rumpled throw rug with fuzzy paw accents.

The beast was a bit miffed when it realized that its latest gambit had failed and skulked off to curl into a petulant sulk adjacent the wood stove.

His attitude transformed when Willie dropped by to pick me up.

Howard and Willie are boon buds mainly because W spoils the mutt with biscuit treats the size of T-Rex femurs and won’t go anywhere near a boat unless it’s in storage.

Willie turns pistachio green walking on a floating dock so, even though the cur has the intellect of kelp, it realizes that it’ll be snagging quality naptime on a beach or riverbank instead of being cooped up in some bobbing man-kennel on the bay.

The focus of our outing was to conduct some intense refreshing training involving my prowess with fly fishing gear.

When I had less gray proboscis hair and joints that didn’t sound like milk-activated Rice Krispies, my chief piscatorian weapon along the streams and lakes of the high Cascade Mountains was my grandfather’s ageless bamboo fly rod that sported fifty percent of its original eye guides with cleverly bent and secured metal paper clips filling the gaps.

The pole came with an equally antique reel featuring the functional reliability of a heavily medicated sloth.

The outfit was baboon-butt-ugly but we became a fish-killer team until I entered college and willed it to cousin who promptly lost it in a river.

I haven’t seen him since but that might have something to do with a tenuous threat to employ him as a grappling hook the next time we crossed paths.

I switched to spin casting soon after we came to Alaska because of its versatility of techniques, the exhilaration of hard slams, and sizzling drags, but it was time for a change.


My spouse had just surprised me with a beautiful new fly rod along with a superb reel as an early birthday present.

Willie volunteered to come along because he surmised that the impending reorientation exercise would be primo fodder an epic YouTube debacle.

That’s not quite the way I saw it. I figured that if my, back-in-the-day, lightning reflexes and velvety presentations didn’t kick in and were as lost as that elderly bamboo pole, it really wouldn’t matter. I’d still be fishing while Willie dip netted for his iPhone.


Things went well but W wasn’t impressed because he claimed there wasn’t a tree or respectable foliage within fifty yards of my casting radius.

I’m starting to think the old boy still holds a grudge from the last time he challenged me to a fishing duel on local lake.

It must be humbling to go down in flames when you adversary whips your heinie employing twine, a sturdy alder branch, refashioned safety pin, and single salmon eggs.

Maybe I should spring for an iPhone.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he isn’t tangled in fly line somewhere.

More in Life

Minister’s Message: What unites? Being one in Christ

It seems everywhere you look and on every level people are gridlocked

The secret to this homemade vegetarian lasagna is the addition of fresh noodles from scratch. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: The secret’s in the noodles

Handmade pasta adds layers of flavor to vegetable lasagna

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Downtime

Now here we are, two-thirds of the way through the longest month of the year

Robert “Bob” Huttle, posing here next to Cliff House, spent the night in this cabin in April 1934 and mused about a possible murder there. (Photo courtesy of the Huttle Collection)
Twists and turns in the history of Cliff House — Part 2

How much of the doctor’s actions Bob Huttle knew when he stayed in Cliff House 10 years later is difficult to know.

Achieving the crispy, flaky layers of golden goodness of a croissant require precision and skill. (Photo by Tresa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Reaching the pinnacle of patisserie

Croissants take precision and skill, but the results can be delightful

This 1940s-era image is one of few early photographs of Cliff House, which once stood near the head of Tustumena Lake. (Photo courtesy of the Secora Collection)
Twists and turns in the history of Cliff House — Part 1

Here, then, is the story of Cliff House, as least as I know it now.

Minister’s Message: What’s in a name?

The Scriptures advise, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

Visitors put on personal protective equipment before an artist talk by Dr. Sami Ali' at the Jan. 7, 2022, First Friday opening of her exhibit, "The Mind of a Healthcare Worker During the COVID-19 Pandemic," at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
ER doctor’s paintings follow passage of pandemic

Dr. Sami Ali made 2019 resolution to paint every day — and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Almond flour adds a nuttiness to this carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: A ‘perfect day’ cake

Carrot cake and cream cheese frosting make for a truly delicious day off

Minister’s Message: A prayer pulled from the ashes

“In that beleaguered and beautiful land, the prayer endures.”

A copy of “The Year of Magical Thinking” by author Joan Didion is displayed on an e-reader. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking” is a timely study on grief

‘The last week of 2021 felt like a good time to pick up one of her books.’