Nick Varney (courtesy photo)

Nick Varney (courtesy photo)

Unhinged Alaska: The last time I saw him

Dale had always been an excellent judge of character and his reputation went untarnished by his amazing group of friends …

Great memories are seeded by even greater friendships and one of my favorites was planted 17 years ago this month.

The story went something like this …

During a Fourth of July celebration party in 2004, I my mentioned to my bride that it would cool to meet with an old high school sidekick and honorary brother again and asked what she thought of inviting him up for a week of fishing.

Dale and I hadn’t seen each other in over 35 years but kept in touch jawing about our early fishing escapades, military experiences, and general topics chronicling our latest adventures while navigating life’s trails and trials.

Jane thought it was a splendid idea so I made the call.

Things became a bit complicated when he called back.

He sheepishly admitted that he had downed a few adult beverages at a wedding reception and mentioned his pending coho/halibut expedition to Homer. Not cool. His son-in-law, a cousin, along with his son, plus the next-door neighbor immediately volunteered to be his backup crew.

When I mentioned the issue to the queen of the castle, her response was a stare that could have brought a rhino stampede to a dead stop.

I offered a simple solution. We could rent a small power wagon to shift aside some of the stuff that had been accumulating in the basement for 30 years and then tidy up the designated sleeping area with a magnum powered leaf blower.

She said it wasn’t the solution that was simple and had other ideas about taking care of our hopeful visitors. Hence, she launched a purge that was, much to my relief, nothing close to the ones featured in the movie series.

I instantly became busier than a rat bounty hunter at a Jersey dump site and by the time things settled down, I all but worn out a set of tires hauling things to the landfill.

It wasn’t all bad. While getting rid of soleless boots, 20-year-old carpet remnants, apparel with more holes than the starboard hull of the Titanic and ancient medical books recommending bleeding for curing the common cold, I discovered that we had front windows in the cellar.

Things got a bit dicey when Jane suggested that there was little chance that I would ever reread the several hundred paperbacks that I’d boxed up in anticipation of enjoying them again during my sunset years.

She commented that even if I began to speed-read without further ado, I’d probably be significantly over a century old by the time I finished and require high power forensic lenses just to button my shirts.

The library was pleased to receive a significant largess of novels for its upcoming used book sale.

As I drove away from the stash, I hoped the staff wouldn’t crack open the stack of cartons too soon. Once they got a gander at the profusion of horror novels, serial murderer mysteries, sundry tales of the exceptionally weird, and frivolous tales of the absurd, they might not let me back in.

The purge was finally over and the timing perfect.

Four days later, our five visitors, one of which we actually knew, rolled into the driveway sporting smiles rivaling the grills of giant semis.

Dale had always been an excellent judge of character and his reputation went untarnished by his amazing group of friends who proved to be not only ardent and skilled fisherman but quintessential guests as well.

The ensuing week with him and his companions was like stepping back into a time where the only vigorous arguments between buddies were about critiquing each other’s fishing techniques, not politics. It was seven days of chasing halibut and silvers instead of the latest news, all topped off by late-night penny ante poker accompanied by purge recollections they considered unequivocally hilarious. The surrounding air couldn’t have been fresher or our souls more energized during their stay, although after their purge reactions, I probably should have asked the smart asses for a new set of tires.

The week’s fishing was spectacular and when they headed out to catch their flight back to Washington, their rented SUV nearly high centered on the access road due to their load of fillets.

It was the last time I saw Dale.

He passed away from cancer in the fall but we’ll still get together during the fishing season because I’ll bring an extra chair and pole when I cast a line from the shorelines.

Passersby will probably just see an old man talking to himself, but Dale and I will know better, won’t we?

Nick can be reached at

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