Cordova: day 2 (and 4)

Jun 18, 2016 | 4 comments

Got some unexpected time for another update. The quick and dirty of this turn of events: we tried to go upriver yesterday, but due to boat problems, we were only able to get out partway and then had to come back. Additionally, I’ve picked up another cold that’s going around our group, and was advised not to spread it to camp upriver, since it’s so remote and only 4 people are up there. So, we’re back to square one, and trying again on Monday, when I hopefully won’t be contagious and they will have a working vessel to carry us upstream. In the meantime, I can tell you about my second day in Cordova. In the morning, we did a short drive out to a place called Power Creek that has gorgeous hiking trails with views of the vibrant blue Eyak Lake. I couldn’t stay long though, because I had a meeting with the Elder’s sewing circle, so my colleague, Kara, and I, took off early back to town and found our way to the Eyak building (Native Village of Eyak is the local tribal corporation here). There were only 2 elders who showed up, plus the organizer who introduced us and helped facilitate some of the conversation. It was a little slow to start, but eventually we got to chatting about the local native languages (of which there are many), and history of the tribes. We gave them the dentilia necklaces that we’d made from Kara’s tribe (Kalapuya), and the two elders opened up. They were delighted! Interestingly, they said they had the exact same kind of necklaces in their tribes, made the same way. Long story short, we ended up talking to them for two hours, and ultimately got invited to follow up with more interviews. That afternoon, Kara and I got a call from the organizer to come watch her husband “doing salmon,” which we found out meant he was filleting and processing chinook fillets for smoking and canning. NOTE: All photos in this post are by Kara Jenness. (I was filming and haven’t edited the footage yet). 13497543_10208887676723623_3220131303920411341_o When we arrived at Bob’s log cabin, he and his wife were sitting out behind his log cabin in the little shelter he had built right on the edge of a cliff over Eyak Lake. He had 6 chinooks to fillet, which he traded for with the local canneries. They would give him fish, and in exchange for processing, he got to keep half, and gave them the other half. 13418412_10208887676963629_1946486954847418465_o Bob is native Eyak and had been a lifelong fisherman up until last year. Due to health problems he retired, but continues to work with the local canneries to do processing. He explained his whole process to us, which — believe you me — he has down to an exact science. The efficiency with which he went through those fish (some up to 40 lbs) was incredible. 13483356_10208887676683622_1016720026735236254_o He meticulously sliced the fish in half, kept his work area spotless with constant rinsing, and even had a certain ways to arrange the fish as he scaled, cleaned and sliced. 13497619_10208887677723648_2728629180206151390_o He brined the strips for exactly 18 minutes, then took them out, laid them all the same direction, then slipped them onto hooks and hung them in his smokehouse. 13475226_10208887678683672_2796955851590136486_o He would let them hang and dry in the smokehouse until they had a sticky glue-like texture, and then smoke them for 4-6 hours. He promised to call us on Thursday when he was taking them out of the smokehouse. Sure enough, Thursday morning I got a call from his wife telling us to come over. When we arrived, he had already taken most of them out, but he showed us how he sliced them (again precisely, using a measured cutting guide), canned them, and cooked them in a pressure cooker for an exact amount of time. 13418620_10208887680363714_2800635971730322741_o After the timer for the pressure cooker went off, he pulled out the jars and tossed them onto the fillet table, and then arranged them into precise rows before putting them into boxes. As they hit the table, they continued to bubble inside their jars, as their lids popped and sealed. 13497848_10208887680723723_888124505835167220_o Afterwards, Bob gave us all jars (which we tried to gracefully turn down, but he guilted us into taking them, saying how much he loves giving away his salmon!). It was literally the best salmon I have ever tasted, and I have tasted some pretty damn good salmon in my short years up here. The kindness and generosity of Cordovans continues to impress me, and Bob is just one of many, though a very special one at that! I’m hoping he will let me interview him more in-depth for my research, but at the very least, I am grateful to have met him, and that he shared his work and stories with us.


  1. notacluegal

    Looks like a yummy adventure!

  2. amwillingham

    Don’t worry, I got ya Grandpa Ed, I’ll be bringing some back! 🙂

  3. gped2

    The salmon is beautiful; I wish I could get my hands on some of it. Frozen wild caught salmon is usually priced between $15 – $20 USD@lb here in SW Florida. Boy, that looks good! (Hope you get over your cold quickly and move on . . .with love, GPEd

  4. Jared Pruch

    SO awesome Andrea- beautiful pictures and great imagery with the words too…. Cool to hear how many doors are opening for you, with such generosity of spirit.

Leave a Reply