Sitkinak sun transforms Thanksgiving

A fox drags a Sitka black tailed deer carcass on a Sitkinak Island hillside. See Kodiak Tapestry, Page 3. (Mike Rostad photo)

Some of you read my articles about cooking at Sitkinak Island during the fall of 2009 and 2010. You could tell that I really like that island.

The ranch I worked on encompasses roughly 59,000 acres of leased area roamed and foraged by a herd of Angus, Hereford and belted Galloway owned by Bob Mudd and his family.

Through their company, the Alaska Meat Company, the Mudds market raw meat and fully cooked, ready-to-eat steaks, stew meat, summer sausage and snack sticks. Because of their isolation from disease, the Sitkinak cattle aren’t vaccinated or injected with growth hormones.

The Mudds operate Alaska’s first USDA-certified mobile meat processing facility.

The ranch is huddled on a spot at the foot of a knoll near fenced-in pasture and beach. The living and eating quarters include a small cabin annexed by two trailers.

On my first trip Nathan and I drove four wheelers from the abandoned loran station to the camp several miles away.

Sitka blacktail deer peeked through the scraggly willow they were munching on. We had to stop for Canada geese that hogged the road until Nathan honked his horn at them.

The wind blew hard and frequently on Sitkinak.

“Sitkinak is a constant storm, with a few calm interruptions,” I told Nathan.

In an early morning sky, loaded with stars, the Big Dipper poured its glitter over the peak of the hill behind the house. The sunrise over Cape Sitkinak on eastern Sitkinak Island was spectacular.

The yellow and golden ridges embroidered with patches of bright green lichen and dotted with red cranberries and dogwood berries basked in fall’s final glory before winter set in.

Besides the cows, deer nibbled on grass on the hill near the house and in the pastures.

The birds gathered every morning by the farm buildings, pecking at the grass for sustenance for their upcoming flight.

Bald eagles glided over the water, and another one squatted on the side of the mountain, looking like a feathery rock.

One day I saw a fox prancing gingerly through the tall grass, blending into the strands of brown. When he came upon a deer carcass, he stubbornly pulled at its leg, as if he could cart it up the mountain to its den. I edged closer and closer to the animal as I took picture after picture.

There was even a bear on Sitkinak. The Mudds saw his tracks and came upon even more compelling evidence — cow carcasses ripped apart. A cattle rustler wouldn’t have done that kind of damage.

One of the most beautiful days on Sitkinak was Thanksgiving, 2009. The dark afternoon skies were illuminated by the rays of a late afternoon sun that peeked through a rift in the clouds. Soon the opening grew large enough so that the sun could transform the drab winter atmosphere into a feast for the eyes. Mountains, ocean and fence posts were ablaze with color.

I never knew there could be so many shades of gray, brown, white and blue.

On Sitkinak I worked with Norwegians, Germans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Filipinos and El Salvadorians. The predominantly Hispanic crew gave me reason to brush up on my Spanish.

But when the sun cracked through the ominous clouds and shone on the restless ocean, we all spoke the same language which was expressed in faces bright with wonder and reverence. Those looks silently exclaimed one word: “Awesome!”

A footnote to Sitkinak: A teacher who works with Kathy told her that when she and her husband were on a plane from Amsterdam to Paris, they met a German man — currently an Alaska resident — who had been involved in mining on Sitkinak Island. He was a friend of the Mudds. Suddenly I realized that this man and his wife had stayed at our bed and breakfast in the fall of 2008. This really is a small world!

If you want to see how beautiful Sitkinak is in the summer, ask Nathan Mudd to show you some of his photos. They’re spectacular!

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