Ruby and Nate Becker and their thirteen-year-old twin daughters, Grace and Genevieve, and their seven-year-old son, Hunter, were interviewed on July 20, 2022 by Marcy Okada of the National Park Service and Karen Brewster of the Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the Charlie Juneby Tribal Hall in Eagle Village, Alaska. In this interview, the Beckers talk about living at a remote cabin along the Yukon River inside Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. They talk about the challenges of maintaining this off-grid lifestyle and raising children there, as well as the joys of living on the land and close to nature. They discuss their subsistence hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping activities, using a dogteam and other forms of transportation, and staying connected with family and the outside world. All three children chime in at various times with their own memories and stories of particular events, such as seeing a black wolf or the rescue of a swan, and how they feel about their remote cabin living experience.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Date of Interview: Jul 20, 2022
Narrator(s): Nate Becker, Michelle "Ruby" Becker
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Marcy Okada
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
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Introduction and personal background
Coming to Alaska
Settling in Eagle, Alaska
Children's early memories of living at Wood Island
Seeing a black wolf at Wood Island
Hearing wolves and feeling connected to nature
Getting supplies, transportation to and from town, and maintaining a landing strip
Communication with the outside world
Building their cabin
Living in a sod-roofed cabin the first two years, and having a picnic in the dog yard
Obtaining their Wood Island property, and selecting their homesite
Fishing for salmon in the fall, preparing, preserving and using salmon, and catching burbot
Relationship with their dogs
Picking and using cranberries
Moving into Eagle Village, and the children attending school
Caribou and moose hunting, and processing and preserving the harvest
Sharing subsistence foods
Harvesting black bear
Favorite wild foods, and making pizza in the wood-burning cook stove
Changes in bear and moose populations
Trapping, running a trapline with his dogteam, and lynx and snowshoe hare population dynamics
Furs, tanning, and skin sewing
Rescuing a swan near their cabin
Spring break-up flood and rescue
Celebrating their anniversary at the Brad Snow Cabin (Six-Mile Cabin)
Making homemade and snow ice cream
Having electricity and the internet, and staying in touch with family
Cooking on a wood-burning cook stove and a propane stove
Challenges of remote living, homeschooling, and earning money to maintain a sustainable lifestyle
Challenges of doing laundry
Raising and educating their children
Children's perspectives on life at the cabin versus in town
Joys of living on the land along the Yukon River
Children's connections to place and nature
Current moose hunting and cranberry picking subsistence activities
Changes in salmon population, fishing, and management
Challenges of living within a national preserve, and dealing with the National Park Service
Environmental changes (fires, break-up, flooding, and freeze-up)
Changes in vegetation (spruce tree fungus, discolored rose hips, berries, and mushrooms)
Appreciation of the remote lifestyle, and concluding remarks
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MARCY OKADA: Ok. Part two. My name is Marcy Okada. I'm with the National Park Service. Today is July 20, 2022. We’re here in Eagle Village, Alaska, and we have Karen Brewster with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program, and we’re sitting here with the Becker family. Um, Nate Becker, Ruby Becker, the twins, Genevieve and Grace Becker, and Hunter Becker.
And we’re going to be interviewing them today about the subsistence way of life. And we’ll go ahead and get started with personal backgrounds. And I think the order we’re going to go in is Nate Becker, and then Ruby. The twins can jump in, and Hunter can also share stories. And we just want to make sure folks don’t talk over each other, just so we have a clear recording.
Um, so starting with personal backgrounds, where people were born and raised. And then, um, educated and, you know, where your parents are from and all that good stuff. So we’ll start with Nate Becker.
NATE BECKER: So I was born and raised in Hettinger, North Dakota. My parents, uh, moved from Hettinger about three years ago to be nearer to the grandchildren, and I guess to their children, and they’ve been in Eagle for three years now, too. Ken and Rita are their names. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: Um, Ruby Becker is actually not my real name. My real name is Michelle, but Ruby is a nickname. Um, I was born and raised in northeastern Iowa, and my mom and dad have a place out in the country. And we always had dogs, and I grew up fishing and running in the woods.
And my mom’s name is Elizabeth, and my dad’s name was Michael. He passed away about twelve years ago, but my mom is still alive. Still lives in the same house.
Um, I lived in Oregon for about twelve years before I made my way to Alaska, and that was where I got the nickname Ruby, was in Oregon. Um, and I always wanted to come north.
MARCY OKADA: And how did you two meet? KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, Nate, how did you get up to Alaska? MARCY OKADA: Oh, that --
NATE BECKER: So I was a seasonal employee for the Park Service in the Grand Canyon. I was a flight medic and a firefighter on the rescue helicopter there. I had bounced around doing other fire and EMS jobs, but I spent six years in the Grand Canyon.
Uh, long story short is, I just got tired of working for the federal government. I wanted a simpler life. I gave dog mushing a try in Minnesota for a year. I enjoyed it, and I thought, well, if I’m going to do it, let’s do it right, so I moved to Alaska.
I moved to Eagle in the fall of 2008, uh, to mush dogs and trap. Not necessarily to live a subsistence lifestyle. I didn’t even know what that was at the time. I just knew I wanted to come to Alaska and mush dogs and trap. So I fell in love with it. Went back for one more summer season of fighting fire in 2009, then moved up full time that fall of 2009.
And then after -- you guys have been to Eagle, you can appreciate the social single scene here, so I tried my hand at online dating. And that’s how Ruby and I met, was online. MARCY OKADA: While you were in Oregon? RUBY BECKER: When I was in Oregon. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: Um, like I said, I always wanted to move north when I was a child, and my dad kinda steered me in this direction. When I was a kid, like, I was his little sidekick, and we were going fishing all the time. And my dad was a bow hunter and brought home bucks, and we would, um -- he would try to teach me things as a child that he knew that I might need later on.
And any time when we were, um -- when I was growing up, there was like, there was a show on PBS called Grizzly Adams. Or anything there was like wolves or log cabins or anything like that, he’d make me come and watch with him. And he always wanted to come here. And it was his dream. And he never got to realize that dream, but in some ways, I feel like I’m following in the footsteps that he never got to take. Um, so in that way, it’s like an honor for me.
And when I was in Oregon, um, several times I’d tried to set plans in motion to figure out how to get up here. And even Eagle had been on my radar, sort of, from books that I read. Um, but when I met him, then it all kinda came together and it all happened, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and Nate, how did you decide on Eagle as the place to come and try out mushing and trapping?
NATE BECKER: So, just through online research I found Wayne and Scarlett Hall’s website. And they live six miles downriver, just outside the Preserve boundaries. And I found their website, and long story short, I just hounded them with emails until they agreed to hire me.
So I came up just as a seasonal winter guide for them, guiding tourists on the multi-day, multi-week dog sled adventures. Um, and then that kind of morphed into more of a full-time position.
Um, never really working for them in the summer months just as a full-time guide. And then after a couple years living with them, uh, I think I was up here two winters by myself before Ruby and the girls joined me.
Um, and then maybe the following year, 2012, we bought the property that we now refer to as Wood Island. Uh, 32 miles below Eagle on the Yukon. We found that property, started building in 2012, and then moved in the fall, September. August-September of 2013 is when we actually moved into -- into the Preserve on a full-time basis. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want to have the -- go ahead. MARCY OKADA: And um, when you moved to Wood Island, the kids weren’t -- NATE BECKER: So the girls were -- Well, they would’ve been four. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: They were born June of ’09, and we moved down there in August of ’13, so they would’ve just turned four when we moved to Wood Island. MARCY OKADA: Ok. And what were the --
KAREN BREWSTER: Looking like Grace is shaking her head. GRACE BECKER: We were actually born in April. NATE BECKER: Oh, yeah, yeah. No, you’re right. RUBY BECKER: It’s true. It’s true. NATE BECKER: You’re right. I was thinking of my first litter of dogs. That’s why I got that confused.
MARCY OKADA: Um, and what were those early years like, living out on Wood Island? Pretty vivid memories? NATE BECKER: Girls, you guys want to say anything? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Would you -- GENEVIEVE BECKER: I don’t remember anything much. KAREN BREWSTER: What’s the first thing you remember? Or, go ahead, Grace.
GRACE BECKER: I remember then when you were building the trail to Wood island. RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. GENEVIEVE BECKER: I just remember the six-wheeler being there, and like -- or was it the six-wheeler there? Uh, when we were building the trail? NATE BECKER: Where was it? Is that what -- RUBY BECKER: Old Red. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah, Old Red. NATE BECKER: Yeah. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. I just remember -- NATE BECKER: We stayed in that wall tent. RUBY BECKER: It was miserable. NATE BECKER: Yeah. During mosquito season. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. RUBY BECKER: It was raining, and we were trying to cut a trail. The girl --
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you girls help cut the trail? NATE BECKER: They were only three, I think, that summer. RUBY BECKER: They were three when we put the trail in, yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: The first part I remember was when Dada and Uncle Ryan were working on the roof of Wood Island. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. That first fall? We started moving all of our stuff down there and building and what else were we doing at that time?
GENEVIEVE BECKER: I remember when Dada started building -- uh, digging the holes for the stakes to go in to hold up the house. RUBY BECKER: Uh-huh. GRACE BECKER: Yeah, I remember that, too. GENEVIEVE BECKER: I remember each time he hit permafrost. NATE BECKER: For the house, or for the shop? GENEVIEVE BECKER: I think it was the house. I remember ’cause, um, it was where the old dog yard had been. Remember? RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Remember, like --
NATE BECKER: Oh, for the addition? Maybe you’re thinking for the addition? Yeah, that’s what you’re thinking. So, we kept adding on and adding on until we had enough space.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what happened when he hit permafrost? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Uh, he stopped digging 'cause it didn’t dig through it.
RUBY BECKER: What, um, what are some things that you guys remember about, like, right around my birthday? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Uh -- RUBY BECKER: What usually is happening right around --? GENEVIEVE BECKER: I remember one time Grandma Lizzie came up during your birthday, and Uncle Andy. RUBY BECKER: Uh-huh. But what were we -- what are we always doing on --? GRACE BECKER: Fishing. RUBY BECKER: Fishing. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Cranberry picking. RUBY BECKER: Cranberry picking.
KAREN BREWSTER: You must have a falltime birthday? RUBY BECKER: I have a September 20th birthday. NATE BECKER: She was born on the busiest day of the Bush year. RUBY BECKER: Right. Right. So it’s always like, what can we do in to squeeze in Ruby’s birthday?
MARCY OKADA: What have you -- what little celebratory things have you guys done? RUBY BECKER: We always make a little cake, and Grandma Rita and Grandpa Ken have usually always been -- for years, even before Grandma and Grandpa moved up here, they would come up during the fall and help with fishing.
And Grandpa has hung more fish than I have, probably, over the years. Um, and Grandma was helping us get our house, you know, set up, and helping us pick cranberries, and helping us can salmon, and everything. Um, butchering moose. Making caribou sausage, you know.
NATE BECKER: I feel like one year we celebrated your birthday by packing out a moose. RUBY BECKER: We did. NATE BECKER: That I had shot or -- RUBY BECKER: We -- we -- NATE BECKER: -- Uncle Melvin shot. RUBY BECKER: That was -- NATE BECKER: I don’t remember. RUBY BECKER: -- that was a birthday. You got me a moose for my birthday. I had always -- For many years, I -- he’d ask me what I wanted for my birthday, and I told him I wanted a moose. And one year, he got me one. NATE BECKER: Yep. Just once.
KAREN BREWSTER: Nate, can I have your pen, please? NATE BECKER: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m a fidgeter. KAREN BREWSTER: I was gonna ask the kids that how old you were when you had to start helping with the chores and the work.
GRACE BECKER: I remember one time Grandma and Grandpa were there. Remember that black bear you got, Dada? I remember we helped pack out that thing, and when we took off the packs, um, it felt like I was going to float up into the sky. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, you guys packed out -- KAREN BREWSTER: That'd be a heavy one. RUBY BECKER: A bear when you were five years old, right? That was -- NATE BECKER: Well, five or six. RUBY BECKER: Five or six.
GRACE BECKER: And then that morning when Dada had come home to tell us that he got the bear, we were eating grits. RUBY BECKER: We were having grits? Was that --
NATE BECKER: How -- I’m sorry. How old were you guys when you started scooping the dog yard? Do you remember? That’s always kind of been the first official chore. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that’s the first official chore. GRACE BECKER: I don’t know.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about Hunter? Do you help with things around the house? Do you remember being out at Wood Island? What do you remember doing first? RUBY BECKER: Do you remember riding on the six-wheeler down to the river? HUNTER BECKER: Yes. RUBY BECKER: With all the dogs running through the woods?
HUNTER BECKER: Yeah. Our dogs Peggy and Sirens look a lot alike, and one time when we were going down to the beach to play and swim, we, um, we got -- we mixed up our dogs, and Peggy got lost. RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Peggy got lost? HUNTER BECKER: Yeah, don’t you remember? RUBY BECKER: (whispering) I don’t remember that.
KAREN BREWSTER: So then what happened? Did you find Peggy? HUNTER BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Did she come home on her own? HUNTER BECKER: And also, one time we -- have you ever heard of this show called Indiana Jones? KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. HUNTER BECKER: Um, we were watching Indiana Jones, and our dog Dingo got off the leash, and then she ran down to the river. And she took a swim when it was wintertime. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
HUNTER BECKER: And she was all covered in ice when she came up. KAREN BREWSTER: How did she get through the ice? HUNTER BECKER: I don’t -- I think it was like a soft spot. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: (whispering) I have an idea. HUNTER BECKER: What? RUBY BECKER: I think that, um, the time you’re talking about was when your dad went to haul water, and he came back -- when he was coming back, Dingo didn’t come back with the rest of the dogs. And she -- HUNTER BECKER: He didn’t know that. RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Right. HUNTER BECKER: So then we watched Indiana Jones, and then she came up with a bunch of ice on her.
RUBY BECKER: She -- it was right around break-up. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. HUNTER BECKER: And then, and then -- RUBY BECKER: Er, or not -- freeze-up. HUNTER BECKER: And then we were just at the end of Indiana Jones, and then we heard barking. And then that’s when we opened the door. And then we found Dingo coming in the door with a bunch of ice on her.
At our new house, I don’t know what we call it yet, at our new house, my mom went out to go and take a leak, and she was going to take a leak, and then she looked up on our tallest tree, I think. I think it was our tallest tree. And then a little grimy hand reached down and grabbed a tree branch, and it was a porcupine. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
HUNTER BECKER: And then one time, when Veve (Genevieve's nickname) was this one that figured out that a giant black wolf was in our -- in our yard, and the dogs were barking crazy, and it was full moon. RUBY BECKER: That was at Wood Island. HUNTER BECKER: A black wolf. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It was at Halloween.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was on Halloween, too? NATE BECKER: Yeah, that was a pretty neat experience. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. That’s pretty cool. How lucky you are to see a black wolf. RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Yeah. Yeah.
GENEVIEVE BECKER: The dogs had been freaking out all day. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Veve, since you’re the first one that saw it, you want to tell that part of that story?
GENEVIEVE BECKER: I saw a black, shadowy figure slinking down the trail, uh, when we went to bed. We have this -- Grace and I slept in the loft, so we had this like window that was looking out over the yard and the trail, and I saw the -- a shadowy figure slinking down the trail. And I went and told Dada about it. And it was on Halloween, and it was a full moon out, and I thought it was a werewolf. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah?
HUNTER BECKER: And then when it was walking away, and Dada was by our chicken pen where we hunt chickens, there was, like, nine chickens, right? About ten -- about twelve chickens. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, something like that. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. HUNTER BECKER: Twelve chickens, I think we had. And then Dada -- and then my mom made a turkey sound. And then that’s what made it come back. A turkey sound.
RUBY BECKER: The wolf had -- your dad and I went out. I was holding this big spotlight. HUNTER BECKER: Uh-huh. RUBY BECKER: And the wolf, he was only maybe -- HUNTER BECKER: A couple -- RUBY BECKER: -- ten feet outside the edge of our dog yard. I mean, you could see him in the trees. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
RUBY BECKER: And he started kinda slinking down towards the trail and trying to get kinda out of the commotion. And he got onto the trail, and I just knew that once he got on the trail he was going to be gone. HUNTER BECKER: And then that was -- RUBY BECKER: And like, something in my, something in the back of my mind said, make a turkey sound. And so, I just did this -- this wild turkey sound. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah, we -- RUBY BECKER: And the wolf stopped and looked back, and Nate took him. We knew it was necessary, but it was still --
NATE BECKER: We had scared him away several times, and he kept coming back. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: So I ended up having to shoot him that night. RUBY BECKER: He was so close to the dogs and he was -- he was not -- (slapping sound in the background) NATE BECKER: Shh.
RUBY BECKER: He wasn’t phased by the barking or the activity, and we have a lot of really loud dogs. And um, so, but he’s just gorgeous. (smacking sound again) RUBY BECKER: Hunter. (whispering) Hunter. Sh-sh. (at regular volume) We had him tanned. And um, he’s beautiful. We’re -- he’s like a treasure, you know, to us.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, I was going to say, how you saw him, Genevieve, in the dark? Black wolf at night. But, you said it was a full moon. NATE BECKER: It was a full moon, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So you could see and --? GENEVIEVE BECKER: And the moonlight was reflecting off the snow. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. It was a pretty powerful experience. And we knew something was, you know, hanging around all day. And he had kinda come and gone, and there was -- there was a, um, just this insane ruckus all of a sudden, and then we knew something was, like, really close.
And -- and we saw him, and when you see him that close to your dogs, you’re -- you know, for a long time, you think your dogs are basically just domesticated wolves. But then when you see the wolf right next to your dogs, it’s -- it’s amazing. Just -- they have a different, um, energy. Different way of -- just a different way of being in the world. MARCY OKADA: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: And you almost feel like you’re intruding on them. You know, and it was almost like, apologetic. Like I felt, like I’m sorry, we’re here in your way, you know. Even though we were just doing our thing. Um, so that was kind of a neat story, but also kind of sad, you know. But we have him and he’s a treasure. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Um, we have all kinds of wolf stories. One of my favorite stories is, um, the very first winter we were downriver. Um, Nate was out guiding, and so oftentimes I’d be at home with the kids just by ourselves and with a small -- smaller group of dogs that would still be with us. And um, one night -- and this first -- the first winter we were down there, it was such a feeling of immense accomplishment, but also, like total -- like, what did we just get ourselves into kind of thing. You know, like kind of overwhelming.
I had gone out to take care of the dogs that night and was getting ready to go back inside. I was gathering wood on the back, um, back of the house, and I could hear wolves howling at the Tatonduk. And, you know, I’m looking, and um, above the house, I could see the northern lights, and they were so brilliant that year, um, and I was just watching the lights, and I could hear those wolves up on Tatonduk, and I just knew, I knew that there was no way that another human was having that experience at that exact time. Like, there was nobody else that could’ve witnessed that.
And I felt so fortunate and so blessed and so lucky to be able to be the one that got to witness that. Just that little moment was so important to me. Um, and, you know, just the kids being able to, um, you know, hear the wolves from their bedroom windows, you know, or from the front porch. Um, I just love that. I love that almost more than anything.
You guys remember that time we were sitting at the table and we were doing school? Hunter was a baby, and we were trying to do school. And we were sitting at the kitchen table. And Nate was gone, but there were wolves. There were so many wolves down at the beach. Remember, we could hear them howling. But they were so loud, we knew that they were, like, right there.
Because our place is off the river. You can’t see the river. There’s -- we’re in the trees. And just knowing -- And it was -- it was so loud, it was like a cacophony of wolves, and it sounded like such a gigantic group. Um, and I wanted to go down there so bad. I wanted to just see them. But I also knew that I was the only person that could -- HUNTER BECKER: And would’ve gotten ate. RUBY BECKER: Taken care of these three, and I knew Nate was gone and, you know, everything, so I couldn’t in good conscience go down there and try to see them.
But, um -- but I had -- And then Nate, I remember Nate was coming home that evening. And he came up into the yard, and he said something like, "What’s with all the wolf tracks down there?" Or something like that, and I just -- I told him what had happened. And do you remember that? HUNTER BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: It was a big -- it was a big pack. I don’t know how many.
NATE BECKER: I went out the next morning, and I counted like 15 or 16 different sets of tracks. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. NATE BECKER: Um, I forget the name of the wolf biologist with the Park at that time. MARCY OKADA: Oh, um. NATE BECKER: J -- MARCY OKADA: Fred, no. NATE BECKER: It’ll probably come to me.
But anyway, I got a hold of him and asked how big the packs were in our part of the park there, the Preserve. And he said at last count, they weren’t near that big, but it didn’t -- wouldn’t surprise him if they had grown. Um, but yeah, I can’t remember, 15 or 16 different sets of tracks. It was a large -- It was a large pack, for sure.
RUBY BECKER: Well, and was it -- was that the time then we had -- it was like right around Thanksgiving, and then there was a -- Was that the time there was a moose just on the edge of the island over there? NATE BECKER: No, that was a different winter. RUBY BECKER: That was a different time?
HUNTER BECKER: But -- but then one winter, we -- Dada shot a moose, and instead of a moose for Thanksgiving, we had a turkey. I mean, a moose. KAREN BREWSTER: You had moose for Thanksgiving? NATE BECKER: We had moose for Thanksgiving. RUBY BECKER: We had moose for Thanksgiving instead of a turkey. HUNTER BECKER: Instead of a turkey.
NATE BECKER: We probably had lots of Thanksgivings where that’s what we ate was moose. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Probably. Because how would you get a turkey? RUBY BECKER: Right. HUNTER BECKER: Oh, yeah. Or we could just have ordered one off of the -- online.
RUBY BECKER: But how -- how do you get things at Wood Island even if you order it online? Nobody delivers to Wood Island. HUNTER BECKER: But then they would, um, bring them to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and then Grandma and Grandpa would bring them to us. RUBY BECKER: And they could just walk down the river and bring it to us?
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, yeah, how did you get stuff? Did you mush back to town to get stuff, or snowmachine? RUBY BECKER: Sometimes.
NATE BECKER: We would try to go into the winter with most everything we need. Like most people do that live in the Bush. You know, so most everything that we could came down on the boat in the falltime. But there was still plenty of -- there was never a shortage of stuff coming down the river. Building materials, dog food, straw, our food, you know, everything else. So there was always -- there was always winter trips that required transporting something home. RUBY BECKER: Especially --
NATE BECKER: So I think as time went on down there, we -- I gravitated more towards the snowmachine than the dogs. Um, I mean, I think I still to this day enjoy traveling with dogs much more than snowmachine, but you can’t argue with the efficiency of being able to go to town and back in a day and bring home a thousand pounds, as opposed to traveling with dogs and being gone for at least two days and coming home with two hundred pounds.
Um, and then there -- we had some of the local pilots, Gary Howard, David Helmer, would fly us stuff. Um, we -- we -- basically we were able to celebrate Christmas one year because Gary Howard flew down all of our mail on Christmas day. Christmas day morning. RUBY BECKER: Christmas morning. MARCY OKADA: Hm. RUBY BECKER: We weren’t -- we --
KAREN BREWSTER: He was your Santa Claus, huh? RUBY BECKER: He was. We weren’t -- NATE BECKER: Yep. RUBY BECKER: We weren’t going to have a Christmas. And the wind had been blowing in Eagle for like four or five days. And he -- he was just waiting for a window to get down there, and it wasn’t working, and it wasn’t working.
And I remember trying to get a message to him, telling him he didn’t have to come on Christmas. MARCY OKADA: Hm. RUBY BECKER: But that man did. He brought our Christmas to us.
KAREN BREWSTER: So did he air drop it? NATE BECKER: No, we always were able to put a landing strip. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. NATE BECKER: On the ice or on the sand bar just below us, about a half mile or a mile below us. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. NATE BECKER: Maybe there was one winter I couldn’t -- we couldn’t put a landing strip in there for him, but um.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you pack it down with a snowmachine? NATE BECKER: Yeah, exactly. KAREN BREWSTER: Or you would just snowshoe it? NATE BECKER: No, no, I pack it down with a snowmachine. Or some years, if, you know, early on he could just land before there was enough -- RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: -- before there was too much snow. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. NATE BECKER: Or some years, the wind would keep it kind of swept open on its own. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: But I would usually go out with the snowmachine and pack it down and put stakes and markers out for him.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then Ruby, you mentioned communication. How would you communicate with town?
RUBY BECKER: Um, well, from the beginning, it was important for us to know that we had, um, safety net in terms of communication. So we had a HughesNet system.
Um, and then we also -- we never -- I don’t think we ever had a satellite phone. Oh no, the first couple years, we did because -- NATE BECKER: We had -- RUBY BECKER: Borrowed one from Brock. NATE BECKER: We had borrowed one from a friend for a winter or two.
RUBY BECKER: Um, and then once Nate really started guiding a lot, then he had his -- he had a Spot and a DeLorme Messenger.
Um, I always wanted -- I’ve always wanted to live, like, the way that we did at Wood Island, but when I had kids, I just -- I knew that that was a whole other element that I couldn’t, um -- I had to make all the safety arrangements that I could, you know, ahead of time, for all of us.
And also, for my family to keep track of us and be able to contact us and see how we’re doing. And every once in a while, we’d do a video with my mom or my brother or Grandma and Grandpa, or, you know, just to still have our family connections.
Um, we tried the radios, you know, being able to try and talk to Andy, but um, we couldn’t ever really get the radio thing to work. HUNTER BECKER: Which Andy? RUBY BECKER: For us. HUNTER BECKER: Which Andy? RUBY BECKER: Our neighbor Andy. Downriver. Yeah.
HUNTER BECKER: Well, he isn't entirely our neighbor, because he is way far away. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. He was our closest neighbor. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that Andy Bassich? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah. Yep.
MARCY OKADA: Hm. So, I'd kinda like to go back to the cabin building experience. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. MARCY OKADA: What were some of your positive and negative experiences while you were building a cabin?
NATE BECKER: We were always -- because we would -- we always had to go out in the summers to make ends meet. We would spend our summers working in Chicken at the Goldpanner Giftshop, RV park, restaurant, hotel there. So we always worked full time in the summers.
Um, and then -- so I tried to squeeze in some construction on a week off here or there in the summers, but most of our construction always happened in September and October when we were already just incredibly busy with moose hunting and salmon fishing and firewood cutting, and all of that that goes into getting ready for a winter in Alaska, especially in the Bush. MARCY OKADA: Hm.
NATE BECKER: And it was just -- just every fall for about four or five years, it seemed like those first four or five years, there was always an addition to put on, or always some construction to do, especially the initial cabin build. It was just total chaos.
My parents were around, and my uncle came to help hunt moose that fall. I just remember, I'd pick my -- I was down there by myself, just getting the cabin, like, just barely livable. And I picked up my parents from the airport, and we floated this huge pontoon made out of two boats downriver with all these supplies.
And there happened to be a couple -- couple young -- a young couple floating on the river that had camped on our beach. And I conned them into coming up into the yard. And my mom and my dad and myself and those two kayakers, uh, lifted -- drug the stove up the -- the wood stove up the stairs into the house so we could have heat in the house.
And that was just -- that was just kind of, right there, that was like a microcosm of all of our builds was just this mad rush to just get -- Get the steel on the roof before the snow would fly. And it seemed like it was like that for -- for years until we finally got caught up to the point where -- where a guy could take his time a little bit and actually enjoy the construction process.
But it was -- there was a lot of stressful Septembers trying to -- trying to get the house built or the addition built or something like that, you know, just to make it livable before the snow flew.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how big is the cabin?
NATE BECKER: The original cabin was 16 by 24. And then, I don’t know if it was the next summer, we put on a 5 by 16, uh, addition off the one side, 6 by 16. And that became our bedroom. And then maybe the next fall, we put on an 8 by 32 addition, uh, and that became kinda just all communal, dining, living room.
Um, I think when we were all said and done, by the time we put all the additions on, we were about 750 square feet. So it was, you know, it was cozy, but it was manageable.
But, yeah, that first winter, it was the four of us in 16 by 24. And we were just tripping over ourselves. And it wasn’t that much longer later -- it wasn't that much later that Hunter came along. Uh, and then that’s when we decided -- Initially, we were just going to put a little bedroom out the side for Hunter, and then thought about it, and it was like, we need more space. So that’s when we really got serious about adding on.
RUBY BECKER: I -- I’d like to ask the girls to talk a bit about the old cabin. So when we refer to the old cabin, um -- The first two winters we were in Alaska, we lived in a -- how big, 10 by 10? NATE BECKER: 13 by 13.
RUBY BECKER: 13 by 13. It was a, uh, sod roof cabin. Um, the floor originally was like, spruce poles. And then Nate actually put in a real floor. But it was chinked with moss, and it had a dirt roof, and um, it was out behind Wayne and Scarlett’s place. It was on their property.
Um, we kinda -- we spent a couple years living -- couple winters living there and learning. We learned a lot from them, how to -- especially dog care, and um, you know, just how to -- how to do stuff. Like I didn’t know how to keep my kids warm. Um, you know, and Scarlett taught me a lot about everything.
But um, when we first came here, my mom saw that place, and she was like, "There’s no way." But we have a very soft spot for the old cabin.
Do you guys remember much from the old cabin? GENEVIEVE BECKER: I remember there was always this big hill that we had to go down and back up to get water. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It was huge.
RUBY BECKER: Where did we get the water? Do you remember? GENEVIEVE BECKER: That -- that little creek, remember? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Last Chance Creek.
GRACE BECKER: It was a really steep hill. Super steep.
KAREN BREWSTER: So even as a little kid, you had to help haul water? Or you just went for -- to go along? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. It made a very good sledding hill, too. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: And we had this, um, tarp thing. It was like hanging outside the kitchen window, I think. And Mom always used to put bread crumbs on it, and gray jays came and ate the bread crumbs. And Veve and I always used to try to scare ’em away.
RUBY BECKER: You guys were two. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, and you remember that? That’s pretty good. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: And I remember one time we had this picnic on a blanket we would call the star blanket, because it was covered in little stars. It -- Do you remember what we had? RUBY BECKER: I remember we had some cake. GRACE BECKER: Yeah, and tea. GENEVIEVE BECKER: I remember we had some cheese. GRACE BECKER: We had cheese. And tea. I think we had tea. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Those are all good picnic foods. GRACE BECKER: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: It was in the middle of the dog yard. We had a dog yard picnic. KAREN BREWSTER: You had a picnic in the middle of the dog yard? RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did the dogs come and want to try and have some of your picnic? GRACE BECKER: Probably.
RUBY BECKER: Those years, we always had a pile of puppies, like sleeping right underneath our stairs. Um, and so every time you’d go in and out, you’d always have to, like, pick your way around the puppies and find your way out ’cause they were all, like, huddled right there. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how is it that you ended up being able to buy this property at Wood Island? Or buy Wood Island? What you call the Wood Island property?
NATE BECKER: So it was a Native allotment. A gentleman who has since passed lived here in the village. Dicky Silas. He lived just across the -- just across Long Lake here, from the tribal hall. He had a hundred acres for sale.
Uh, yeah. He had a 160-acre allotment. He was selling a hundred acres. It was more than -- more property than we needed. Uh, more property than we could afford. So we were lucky enough to find some partners to go in on it with us. And we ended up getting 25 acres out of that.
Um, so but that’s really -- like in so many rural parts of Alaska, that’s really your only option if you want to own a piece of private land is a Native allotment. And it’s not a -- it’s not a perfect piece of property. It’s in a flood plain. Uh, and it has flooded every four years like clockwork since we bought it.
It flooded in ’09, but we bought it in ’12. And it flooded in ’13, ’17, and ’21. Um, and we built the -- knowing that going in, we built the cabin on stilts up off the ground. So knock on wood, we’ve never had water in the cabin. And we’ve had some messes to clean up. We’ve lost a little bit here and there, but to -- for that place to have survived three floods the way it has, we’re pretty fortunate, really.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how far off the river are you? You talked about making a trail. How long of a trail? NATE BECKER: Uh, quarter mile. Maybe a shade longer.
RUBY BECKER: It’s kinda windy. It winds through the sloughs, and, you know, we -- we -- we spent a long time trying to find the highest part of that property, and it’s all, like, pretty much just a swamp. But there was one spot that was like a little rise, and that was where we decided to build.
Um, and it’s kinda nice, like, being off the river, protected, in the trees. Um, there’s something to be said about being able to look out your window and see the river, and see people coming, you know, but there’s also something really nice about being hidden in the trees, too. You know.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. We’re going to start moving into getting food. What was your routine each year for fishing season? Did you have a set routine?
NATE BECKER: So we -- I built a fish wheel. Uh, built two of them over the years. Uh, man, I can’t believe I’m having a hard time remembering some of this stuff.
Uh, did the first -- why did I build the second one? It just needed -- we just needed a new one? RUBY BECKER: It was falling apart, yeah.
NATE BECKER: So I built one hastily, ran it at Wayne and Scarlett’s. And we ran it at Wood Island for a couple years. Built a new one.
And then we would -- just like everyone else with a dog team, we’d put up 2000, 2500 salmon, chum salmon, every year for the dogs. And then probably consume maybe 20 salmon every year for our consumption.
RUBY BECKER: I usually canned about sixty quarts. That was my -- that was my magic number that I -- KAREN BREWSTER: Of king, or -- or? RUBY BECKER: Chums. KAREN BREWSTER: Chums, ok. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah.
NATE BECKER: We were seldom ever around for king fishing season. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, we were always in Chicken during the kings. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: So that was never really on our radar. We just got used to eating chum. And um, I would just make salmon patties out of it all winter with gravy.
KAREN BREWSTER: How did you kids like that? GRACE BECKER: Pretty good. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It was really good. KAREN BREWSTER: It was good? RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. They miss it. We all miss it. GRACE BECKER: She sometimes made tartar sauce to go with it. RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. Sometimes we did have tartar sauce, too. Yeah.
The girls were helping. You know, "helping" with fishing when they were smaller, much smaller than Hunter. I mean, they were always on the beach with us.
You know, like they would take -- you know, they would take the fish. Sometimes Grandpa would just like hand them a fish head, and they would take it to the bucket. And they’d come back, and, you know, get -- And so, you know, they were always knee-deep in that stuff. Um, and, you know, they still would be if we were still fishing. MARCY OKADA: Right. RUBY BECKER: You know, even now, they'd be -- they’d be learning to cut.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, yeah, by now you’d learn how to cut and hang, and --? RUBY BECKER: Yep. Yep. NATE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so your fish wheel was right on the -- right in front of your property? NATE BECKER: We -- RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: The channel was on the other side of the river, though. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. NATE BECKER: So we had to get in the boat and go across the river to get to the fish wheel. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. NATE BECKER: But it was -- it was just straight across the river.
KAREN BREWSTER: You did all the processing on your beach? NATE BECKER: We’d bring all the fish back and process them on our beach, yep. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Yeah --
NATE BECKER: That was really -- I think we caught a couple burbot on a trout line. RUBY BECKER: Well, and we caught burbot in the fish wheel. NATE BECKER: We’d catch ’em in the fish wheel. That’s our favorite fish.
Ruby would try to make fish and chips out of burbot every -- Every fall, we tried to make an annual tradition out of that. We could catch one big enough to feed the family. And that was really about it for subsisting on fish.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there burbot fishing under the ice in the winter? NATE BECKER: We’ve never tried it. I’ve never put a hole in the ice. I never tried that. I know people do it with success. It just wasn’t anything that we ever tried to tackle.
KAREN BREWSTER: But people do get ’em around here? NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Under the ice? Ok. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
Andy, I think, has done that pretty successfully. You gotta have the right spot, I think. Um, but yeah, during fishing season, that’s all -- it was like, you wake up, you go check the wheel, you come back, you cut fish until two o’clock in the afternoon, and then you hang fish. And then you eat fish for dinner.
NATE BECKER: And then you feed the dogs fish at night.
RUBY BECKER: Over and over and over again. I miss it, though. I miss it so much. I miss, like, just having that simplicity of knowing exactly what’s going to happen. And knowing that we’re going to have these fish to take care of ourselves and our dogs, and that we worked so hard to get them. And we worked so hard to keep them safe and preserve them.
And that they would be there all through the winter, you know. Whether it’s in the fish rack or in our jars. And, you know, it’s even just like standing in the yard, sometimes you could hear a fish get caught. From all the way across the river, you’d hear ’em flopping in the wheel. And then we’d all cheer and get so excited, you know.
GRACE BECKER: What’s the matter? What’s the matter? RUBY BECKER: What do you want to talk about? KAREN BREWSTER: Hunter, let’s hear another one of your stories. HUNTER BECKER: Um.
RUBY BECKER: You have any fish stories? Hm? KAREN BREWSTER: Any more dog stories? HUNTER BECKER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: He’s hot, probably. HUNTER BECKER: Oh, I know. One time at Wood Island our dog, Serb, my mom went out to go to the bathroom with her, with Serb, and when she came in, she kept calling Serb, but he never came. So then she woke up Nate, my dad, and she -- and she told my dad, and my dad got the flashlight, and then they looked outside in the woods by our outhouse. And he was curled up in this little tiny nest that he made.
RUBY BECKER: He was really old, and he had lost his hearing. And -- HUNTER BECKER: Yeah, and he passed away now. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: And he had also gone blind, but he had memorized our yard. He knew -- he could get up and down the stairs by himself. Um, and he would go outside with me at night.
And that night, he got out in the deep snow and got lost, and he couldn’t figure out what to do. And he didn’t know where to go. And we went out there and found him, and he was just standing there, just waiting. He knew that eventually we’d come and find him and bring him back. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
HUNTER BECKER: And also, the one night when we were -- have you ever heard of the show called Godzilla vs. King Kong? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. HUNTER BECKER: We watched this show.
Then -- and then when we were done, my sister, Veve -- both my sister Grace, she’s right there, Grace asked my mom if we could let Fezzik (sp?) in, our biggest dog. He’s really fluffy.
My sister Grace asked my mom if she could let him in, and she did say yes, but then um, and Fezzik attacked Serb. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-oh. RUBY BECKER: Sometimes that happens. KAREN BREWSTER: Sometimes the dogs didn’t get along.
HUNTER BECKER: Because then that’s when Fezzik got banned from getting in the house for how long? RUBY BECKER: The rest of the winter, pretty much. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Most sled dogs don’t -- HUNTER BECKER: You should have just banned him for a month.
KAREN BREWSTER: Most sled dogs don’t get to come inside. RUBY BECKER: Right. Ours -- NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: Ours are in pretty good shape. Like, they all get time inside.
HUNTER BECKER: They all are pee-trained. RUBY BECKER: Not quite. HUNTER BECKER: Not to pee in the house. NATE BECKER: Couple of 'em. Couple of 'em are not housebroken, but most of them are. HUNTER BECKER: Our couple wombats? They aren’t. KAREN BREWSTER: Your wombats? HUNTER BECKER: Our dogs, we just call them that. That’s their litter. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. HUNTER BECKER: We call them -- that’s when we pretend that’s -- we call them that. That’s the word we call them.
RUBY BECKER: Do you remember picking berries at Wood Island? HUNTER BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: Hunter would grab the highbush cranberry bushes and just -- NATE BECKER: It was -- KAREN BREWSTER: Bite the berries off? RUBY BECKER: And just (chomping sound). Or even rosehips sometimes. MARCY OKADA: Wow. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. HUNTER BECKER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. And we would take our dogs cranberry picking with us, and um, the dogs learned to pick -- to eat the cranberries, too, and so, they would -- they would zero in on them and eat them with us while we were picking.
KAREN BREWSTER: Any blueberry picking out there? Or it’s too --
RUBY BECKER: No, um, we never got to a point where we could find higher ground to get blueberries. I know a lot of people in Eagle would go up to the summit and get blueberries, and we’ve done that a couple times. Um, but at home -- I still call it home. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: You know, um, we had an intense plethora of highbush cranberries, so that’s what we learned to use. And I would just can tons of cranberry juice. I’d can it with a -- I’d juice it with a steam juicer. I’d just fill up the basket and boil it, and then it would crank out this, like, concentrated juice. And then I would just can that juice, and we would make, um, cranberry cider. In fact, we just had some a couple days ago.
Cranberry cider, usually hot on -- you know, you warm it up on the back of the wood stove, and then you can add, um, honey and ginger and cinnamon or whatever. You know, any kind of combination you can think of. But um, that’s our favorite. That’s our favorite, is cranberry juice or cranberry cider.
Once you have the concentrate, you know, then you can make jelly or syrup or whatever else you want out of it. But um, we just drink the juice 'cause it’s so good.
GENEVIEVE BECKER: And then we also have it with orange peels in it.
RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Sometimes if we’re like having a fire on the beach, we’ll just, you know, dump a couple jars of the juice in, and then put water in and slice oranges right into it and let it kind of simmer on -- KAREN BREWSTER: Like making punch. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, kind of. Like a campfire cranberry punch. Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yum. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: And no lowbush cranberries? RUBY BECKER: Not really, no. There were lowbush cranberries up around Wayne and Scarlett’s, um, but no, we --
In our immediate location where we could get to on foot, cranberry -- highbush was our only -- that was our only option. So -- so we just made it work. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: And um, and years later, we got rhubarb going. We got some amazing rhubarb plants from Tim and Tova, who brought in these massive rhubarb roots that were like this big. We had to put ’em in the wheelbarrow to carry them. And once those got established, those did really good.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then did you have a garden? RUBY BECKER: We tried doing a little bit of gardening. Um, but for many years, we were never there in the summer. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s right. RUBY BECKER: To get a garden going, or to even work the soil to get it, you know.
We did some greenhouse gardening. One summer we -- the one summer we spent down there, and that went really well, but um, we just made like this little lean-to greenhouse on our porch.
Nate built me a big fancy greenhouse down there, and it’s still sittin' there. Uh, we never got a chance to use it. NATE BECKER: Yep.
RUBY BECKER: You know, sometimes I feel like once we -- once we got to the point where everything was like really dialed in. We had all of our systems. Like, we had the chickens, we had the greenhouse, like everything was, you know, awesome, and we were like ready, then the salmon stopped. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.
RUBY BECKER: And then we -- so it was the fish, and then we, um, decided that we can’t homeschool. We just couldn’t do it good enough. And --
HUNTER BECKER: That’s when we moved down to Eagle. Like a couple weeks later, we just moved down here. We moved down to Eagle.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how does that -- how does living here in Eagle Village compare to out there? HUNTER BECKER: Um, it’s kind of the same, but not really.
RUBY BECKER: You do get to go to school. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. And you like -- that -- it sounds like you like going to school. HUNTER BECKER: Yeah. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It’s fun. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: It’s a fantastic school. Yes, it really, really is. GRACE BECKER: There’s only like twelve or eleven kids. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: For the whole school? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. So you’re the only ones in your grade? GRACE BECKER: Uh-huh. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
HUNTER BECKER: A couple of them, um -- (inaudible) friend Brice is almost in their -- in their class. NATE BECKER: There’s --
RUBY BECKER: How many kids are in your class, Hunter? HUNTER BECKER: Two. RUBY BECKER: Three. There’s three. There’s going to be three second graders this year. HUNTER BECKER: And I’m going to actually have a lot more than three kids in my class. RUBY BECKER: Well, but in your grade. In your grade. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: ’Cause they combine the grades? RUBY BECKER: Yeah, there’s -- it’s basically -- NATE BECKER: Two classrooms. RUBY BECKER: There’s two classrooms, so. GRACE BECKER: Well, there was last year. But this year it’s going to be different. RUBY BECKER: They’re going to switch it up a little bit this year, I think. GENEVIEVE BECKER: This year, we get to change classrooms throughout the day. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. Like in the city school.
RUBY BECKER: Like in a real school where they have bells, and you go to different classes for different things. GRACE BECKER: I don’t think we’re going to have bells, though. RUBY BECKER: No, I don’t think you’ll have bells, either. No. No.
MARCY OKADA: Well, you talked about berry picking, and we’re going to move into fall season. And I know you -- you -- you tend to go after moose. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: Is there -- do you sometimes have the opportunity to go for caribou?
NATE BECKER: Yeah, and, you know, uh, maybe three, three winters -- we were down there for -- we were down there for nine winters, eight winters, ’13, '14, '15, '16, '17, '18, '19, '20, '21. Eight winters, I guess we spent down there. Maybe there was three winters where the caribou would come through a little bit. Um -- HUNTER BECKER: Can I go outside? I’m really hot. RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Yeah. Go ahead.
NATE BECKER: So we always focused on moose. There was a couple years I was able to get a caribou up on American Summit. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
NATE BECKER: Uh, and then there was a couple different winters where we -- the caribou were kinda filtering through Wood Island area. We tried on two separate occasions, I tried to get Ruby to harvest one, but things never quite worked out for one reason or another.
We’d just jump on -- usually I’d find ’em when -- I’d see ’em when I’d be out cutting firewood or hauling water or something, and I’d run back real quick and grab Ruby, and she’d grab a gun, and -- and -- we’d immediately struggle with her glasses fogging up and -- RUBY BECKER: My glasses and the scope.
NATE BECKER: Uh, I think you did pull the trigger one time. RUBY BECKER: I shot at a caribou once. NATE BECKER: Shot at a caribou. Um, so more often than not, it was the exception, not the rule, that the caribou would come through our neck of the woods at all. So we always focused on moose.
MARCY OKADA: And once you got that moose, various ways of processing it for storage?
NATE BECKER: So, like everyone else, it kinda depended on when you got it. I would try really hard not to get serious about hunting until it was cold enough to be able to hang the quarters. And I think we spent a couple winters down there before -- a couple falls before we had a freezer. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: And then we bought a freezer, and then that made life a little bit easier. I could hunt a little bit earlier, knowing that we could keep meat a little earlier in the season.
But we would hang the quarters whole and then put up the backstraps and the smaller chunks of meat that we had to, just put them in the freezer right away. And then as we ran out of meat, we’d bring one in and thaw it out and butcher it, you know, any time in the winter, really, whenever we needed that extra meat.
RUBY BECKER: There were a couple times, once for sure, when Grandma and Grandpa were down there, where we -- we butchered quarters and made sausage, and -- Remember that big sausage -- NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. Stuffer. RUBY BECKER: Cast iron thing you had? NATE BECKER: Hm-mm. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. We made sausages, like, in the -- MARCY OKADA: Links? NATE BECKER: Casings. KAREN BREWSTER: Casings? RUBY BECKER: Casings. And --
NATE BECKER: Pepperoni sticks. Jerky. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. We made jerky a bunch of times.
NATE BECKER: We had limited success with a lot of that. Um. The most of it just got ground into burger or cut into steaks or roast. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: Once you got your guys’ moose in the fall, did you think you were pretty much set? NATE BECKER: Yeah, one moose was more than enough. RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. NATE BECKER: If it was a big moose, we’d end up giving a quarter away, or maybe even half of a moose. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: And there was several winters where -- several falls where I didn’t get anything, and friends would give us a quarter to get us through or get us started into the winter. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: But we gifted a lot of moose quarters over the years. And had a lot -- RUBY BECKER: Received. NATE BECKER: Had a lot gifted to us. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: But yeah, one moose -- one small moose or half of a big moose was -- and we never really ever tried to keep it through the summer. ’Cause we were always moving back and forth. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Logistics just made it too challenging to try and keep meat. So we would -- we just always wanted enough to get us into springtime, was always kind of the objective.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. So was there any wintertime hunting if you --
NATE BECKER: So there is a -- there is a -- Is it a 10 or 15-day winter hunt on the other side of the river in the Preserve? Maybe it’s 15 days? December 1 through the 15 every year.
And I think maybe just one year I made a half-hearted effort to go find one on the Tatonduk. Uh, maybe just once or twice. Um, but I never really partook in that hunt.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. So if you didn’t get a moose for the year, or the season, then people just shared? NATE BECKER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And you guys were good?
NATE BECKER: Yeah, I -- We never -- RUBY BECKER: Well -- NATE BECKER: -- went into the winter without -- RUBY BECKER: No. NATE BECKER: Without some kind of a --
RUBY BECKER: And somebody, yeah, or a caribou quarter or a black -- half a black bear, or -- and I always knew I had fish in jars. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: So I never -- I was never that's -- like if I don’t get a moose, we’re going to starve to death. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: You know, like I never had that anxiety. Um, because I always knew I had fish in jars.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you hunt black bear? Or the -- NATE BECKER: Did I what? KAREN BREWSTER: Hunt black bears?
NATE BECKER: Uh, we harvested one, one year. We shot it off of the moose gut pile after we had shot a moose the day before. Um, I never -- I shouldn’t say never.
A couple times, I parked -- I would go out with the intent of harvesting a black bear, but never real serious. Uh, yeah, really, in my time in Alaska, I've shot the one black bear that we ate, and then shot a grizzly bear that was getting into the cabin a couple summers ago. Um, but I never -- RUBY BECKER: It was last summer.
NATE BECKER: -- never -- Yeah, you’re right. It was just one -- one year ago. I never really took the black bear hunting too seriously. We always -- the black bear was nice. It’s our favorite meat. Uh, like chicken-fried black bear steak is like, that’s the crème de la crème on our -- RUBY BECKER: It's pretty much the Holy Grail. NATE BECKER: -- on our table. Uh, but one black bear --
A lot of times I’d get a moose, and then I’d be so busy with other fall activities, we didn’t need any more meat, so I wouldn’t focus on it. RUBY BECKER: It wasn’t a --
NATE BECKER: And just to get a bear, while it’s really nice, isn’t enough. So I’d still have to go get a moose or a caribou or something else. So it just never quite -- I don’t know, we just never --
RUBY BECKER: Never targeted black bears as a source of food. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: But we sure enjoyed the ones we’ve had.
KAREN BREWSTER: And same with griz? RUBY BECKER: We wouldn't -- I don’t think we would’ve ever tried to get a grizzly bear for food. NATE BECKER: No. RUBY BECKER: Uh, this one was in our cabin. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. RUBY BECKER: So that was -- and we’ve been eating him all year in sausage, so --
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to ask the girls what their favorite food is. All the wild foods. GRACE BECKER: I like, um, moose steak in stew. RUBY BECKER: Mm. Mm-hm. GRACE BECKER: That’s good. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was Grace. Genevieve? GENEVIEVE BECKER: I like caribou. Like, steak.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hunter, do you want to come over here and tell us, do you have a favorite food? HUNTER BECKER: Hm. KAREN BREWSTER: You have to come over here, though. NATE BECKER: Come on over and talk into the microphone.
HUNTER BECKER: I like sorts of food like spaghetti and meatballs, and stuff like that.
RUBY BECKER: How about homemade bread? HUNTER BECKER: Yeah, I really -- One time we had these homemade bread that just slided down your throat. KAREN BREWSTER: Because it was so soft and -- ? NATE BECKER: So full of butter. RUBY BECKER: Soft and -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- buttery. And those meatballs, are they made with moose meat? HUNTER BECKER: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: Uh, at Wood Island, we have a cook stove along with our wood stove, and our favorite thing was to make pizza in the cook stove ’cause you could get it so hot, like 500 degrees.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s a wood cook stove? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. And then you just, you slide the pizzas in for like two minutes, and they’re just like -- they come out and they’re all bubbly. With the air they cook so fast. They’re beautiful.
NATE BECKER: You could really only do that at forty below, though, otherwise the cabin would get so warm.
KAREN BREWSTER: So then you'd go outside to eat the pizzas, because it was too hot? RUBY BECKER: Right. Open the door and cool off.
MARCY OKADA: So black bear meat, you mentioned how tasty it is. You know, you’re not necessarily targeting black bears, but it’s more opportunistic, maybe? NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: Are you seeing -- compared to grizzly bears, is there -- is population dynamic, you’re seeing more grizzlies, or does black bear travel --
NATE BECKER: Mm, I’m trying to think if they’re -- if I noticed any kind of a shift over the -- You know, I guess I’m going into my fourteenth or fifteenth winter in Alaska. Uh, no, I don’t think so. There’s definitely more black bears around. I mean, just by reading the sign, just by seeing the tracks.
We never -- we never really had a lot of bears. Uh, you know, I know we had some black bears in the yard over the years, but I feel like we’ve probably actually had more grizzlies in the yard or in the fish rack than we have black bears.
And that might just simply be a nature of -- a function of their nature, where the grizzlies seem to be a little more brazen and bold and willing to come into a yard as opposed to the black bears. I can’t say that I’ve witnessed any kind of a population shift or dynamic at all. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about with the moose?
NATE BECKER: Uh, I think there’s kind of been an ebb and flow to the moose. I feel like the moose population right now is -- at least in our part of the world, I’m with Ruby. I still consider it home.
Uh, you know, in that Tatonduk to the Nation stretch on the Yukon there. I think the moose population overall has improved in the last handful of years. Um, I can’t say that I have any evidence of that. It would all be pretty anecdotal at best.
MARCY OKADA: So we’re in winter now. Picture winter, even though it’s summer. Any trapping that you were doing?
NATE BECKER: Oh, yeah. I never, that was one of those things that kind of fell by the wayside once we got busier with homeschool. Um, but I did that full time for a couple winters. As full time as I could, considering I was a fulltime guide. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: Uh, but I had a really extensive trapline. Up the Tatonduk. I crossed over behind Nimrod Peak, and then I’d come down Hard Luck onto the Nation, and had this big beautiful, amazing, spectacular 75-mile loop that I only really got to run one winter. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
NATE BECKER: But I trapped really hard for the first three or four winters down there, and then it just kind of got to the point where homeschooling was -- was -- it really kind of became a fulltime job for the both of us.
Uh, so if I did any trapping at all those last couple winters, it was just locally around the place. The girls and I went out and trapped a couple of fox. You guys remember catching some fox? GRACE BECKER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: When they were probably about Hunter’s age. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: Maybe they were seven or eight. Um, you guys actually -- I remember we went down and set the snares, and I think you guys came down with me and we pulled a fox or two. Do you remember that? GRACE BECKER: Yeah. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: We used chicken as bait. Chicken feathers and -- NATE BECKER: And those fox are tanned, hanging in Mom and Dad’s basement right now.
KAREN BREWSTER: Red fox?
NATE BECKER: Yeah, couple cross fox, but yep. Yep, all -- all of the red variety. Yep. No, trapping was my passion. That’s why I moved to Alaska. Um, but like --
RUBY BECKER: I think it’s important that you tell the world that you only trapped with dogs.
NATE BECKER: Oh. Well, I wouldn’t say only, but there was a couple times I’d grab the snowmachine. But yeah, it’s -- for the first couple years when I ran my trapline, I almost did it exclusively -- almost exclusively with dogs.
RUBY BECKER: And that section over Pass Creek? NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: You -- there’s -- you couldn’t have done that with a snowmachine. NATE BECKER: You couldn’t get a snowmachine on that. There was places where I’d have to -- there’d be a waterfall on the creek and no way around it, and I’d have to turn the dogs loose and lower the dog sled down the water -- frozen waterfall. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
NATE BECKER: Um, so there were several sections on that loop where you couldn’t get a snowmachine. But I’d go out with the dogs, and, you know, maybe I’d be gone three, four days at a time. Probably the longest I’d ever be gone at any one time five days, maybe.
But logistically it was so challenging, the dog food, and just being able to carry everything I needed. I almost had to get to a point where I’d have to -- I’d have to go out on separate trips just to stage the dog food just so I could come back and then actually run the trapline. Uh, I never quite figured that -- never quite figured that trapline out.
And I never really wanted to use the snowmachine to support myself. Or a lot of guys over the years would use airplane support and have dog food flown in, and that seemed like -- it always seemed kind of like cheating to me. Um, I tried to keep that part of our existence, or my existence, as natural as I could.
Um, but we would catch -- the one year, I think the best I ever did was, never quite got a hundred marten. Ninety-six, I think, ninety-eight was the most marten I ever caught in one year.
And I probably averaged one wolf a year. Some years I’d catch two or three, and some years I wouldn’t catch any, but probably through the course of it all, I’d average one wolf a year.
One wolverine a year, maybe not quite. And that was really about all I targeted. The lynx population has been bottomed out in this part of the world for ten years now. 2011, I feel like, was the last good lynx year in Eagle, and it’s just been bottomed out ever since.
I don’t -- I know there’s that natural cycle between the snowshoe hare and the lynx, and every seven years it’s supposed to do kind of its ebb and flow, but I don’t know, it just hasn’t around here. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: So no hares either? NATE BECKER: No. No rabbits. The rabbit population maybe three, four, five years ago, they started coming back. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: And they came back. And then they bottomed out again before the lynx ever came around. So I don’t -- don't know what happened there.
And I never -- I can’t say I’ve ever had a discussion with any of the -- any of the Park Service biologists or anything, um, but I watched it first-hand.
Like I was getting excited because the lynx were going to start coming back, and I was going to be able to start catching some lynx. And then just like that, the snowshoe hare population bottomed out, and I don’t -- I don't know why.
MARCY OKADA: Um, going entailed with trapping, of course, comes fur, fur tanning and skin sewing. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. MARCY OKADA: Did you ever dabble a little bit into that?
RUBY BECKER: I have. I have. And um, in fact, we did, uh, one year we even tried brain tanning some marten with mediocre results. But usually the marten would all go -- He would -- they would all go auction. MARCY OKADA: Ok. RUBY BECKER: To auction.
And then anything else he would catch, like a wolf or a wolverine, we would use the furs. Um, so I’ve made quite a few ruffs over the years, and I made this fantastically beautiful wolverine hat. Um, and then my kids got so big that I had no time for sewing. And I still don’t, although I would love to someday.
That’s like, um, you know, the wolf that’s the treasure wolf, you know, we haven’t figured out what he’s going to become someday, but someday he’ll become something really amazing. And the same with the fox that we have. You know, all of that will become something eventually.
KAREN BREWSTER: And did you -- Girls, have you learned to sew? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Uh-huh. Little bit. RUBY BECKER: Not skin sewing. KAREN BREWSTER: Not skin sewing? RUBY BECKER: They’re learning to sew, and Grace is teaching herself how to knit.
GRACE BECKER: I like knitting. I have this dream of getting this little teacup pig and knitting 'em sweaters to wear in wintertime.
RUBY BECKER: So girls, I think it would be so cool if you told the swan story. NATE BECKER: I was thinking about that. We need to relay that one. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. I know. I know. NATE BECKER: Do you guys remember much of that? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Hm?
RUBY BECKER: It was in the fall. It was late fall. Um, we only had like maybe -- We were -- I think we were done fishing. We only had one, maybe one more trip to town, uh, planned to take the boat out of the water. And Nate would usually do that trip by himself, and then he would float the little boat or the canoe home.
Um, you want to tell it? No? It’s such a good story. Um, I’ll start, and then I betcha they’ll chime in. Um, so the day of the swan was, um, the dogs had been creating a lot of noise, and they knew something was out in the woods in the outskirts. And it sounded, um, it sounded serious. Like, you know the -- you know when they can either see something or something is like imminently close and it is -- they think it’s a threat.
And so, there’s like a change. Like the dogs bark all day long, and then it gets close to evening time -- In fact, it was dark out. And then that pitch in the dogs’ barking changed. And I can’t remember where you were, but I --
GRACE BECKER: He was looking on the computer. NATE BECKER: I was on the computer.
RUBY BECKER: He was on the computer. Ok, so that pitch change happened with the dogs, and I got this big flashlight, and I ran out back, and my first thought was, you know, we have a moose hanging, we have two thousand salmon hanging, it’s probably a bear.
But I go out on the porch, and I’m shining this light, and I’m looking out there beyond the dog yard. And the dogs are all pointing this one direction, so I knew, you know, which way to look. And I’m looking, I’m looking, and all of a sudden, I see this like weird, like slithering, like thing. And I’m like, is that a snake? Like, it looked like a snake head, like wiggling around.
And I was like, what the heck is that? And then I stood there for a second, and I realized, it’s a swan. And this swan is like clambering through the brush, this thick brush in -- beyond our house. It’s like thick with alders. And there’s like -- it’s almost impenetrable.
And this swan is like awkwardly trying to like climb over this brush. And it’s huge. It’s absolutely huge, and it’s white, and it’s like super intimidating. And it gets over this like final brush pile -- And all this happened like kind of quickly, although it seems really long in my memory, but um, it kind of clambers down this brush pile really awkwardly, and it starts walking right into the dog yard.
And one of my biggest dogs, like this 80-pound dog, is like at the end of his chain, just like barking at it, and it’s going straight for him. And I’m thinking, what is going on, and like I run in, and I tell the girls, "Tell your dad to come out here." Or something.
GENEVIEVE BECKER: Actually, no, I think you got Dada. And then when you and Dada were out on the porch, at that same time, Grace spilled a five-gallon bucket of water on herself. NATE BECKER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: That’s right! ’Cause I came in to get Nate, and then the kids were like scrambling around. And I remember Grace had spilled a bucket, a five-gallon bucket of water. The only rea -- but I didn’t know that at the time, but when I was coming back up the stairs, all this water was running down the stairs, and I was like, what is going on.
But anyway, we got out there, and I -- by the time we got back outside after getting Nate, the swan was like right in my dogs’ yard, and I was -- You know swans are kind of intimidating, especially like a full-grown one with six-foot wingspan.
And I go running down the stairs, and I’m like waving a broom around, telling him to get away from my dogs. And I’m like, "Get out of here! What is wrong with you! You know, you’re going to get hurt, or -- " You know. And I’m like trying to shoo him away from my dogs.
And we had started digging this new outhouse hole off to the side, so he like goes off, and then he’s like waddling along the edge, and then he falls into the new outhouse hole, which we had just finished digging. But it hadn’t been used yet. It wasn’t a used outhouse hole. It was brand new.
NATE BECKER: We hadn’t built the outhouse yet. RUBY BECKER: No. NATE BECKER: It was just a hole.
RUBY BECKER: So, he -- but he fell into this hole. And then he was -- he was flapping and trying to get out, but we knew that he couldn’t get out. We knew that he was safe. He was ok for a moment for us, like, to figure out a plan. Like, what are we going to do? And I can’t remember. I think we like --
NATE BECKER: We put a dog kennel, a big dog crate, down in the hole. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: And then we were able to -- with, like, some long poles, able to herd him into the dog kennel. RUBY BECKER: Right. Right, he got in that kennel. NATE BECKER: Lifted him out.
RUBY BECKER: We got him out, and we took him way over on the other side of the yard where the dogs couldn’t see him, and we like, laid a blanket or something over him, or sleeping bag, so it would be dark, he would feel safe.
And we tried to give him some chicken food and some water. GRACE BECKER: Soaked in water. RUBY BECKER: We soaked some chicken food in water, but he never -- he didn’t like that.
But anyway, then we went inside, and then we were researching on the computer about trumpeter swans, and we realized -- Yeah?
GENEVIEVE BECKER: Actually, at the time you didn’t know it was a trumpeter swan. NATE BECKER: Yeah, we were a little confused. RUBY BECKER: We weren’t sure.
NATE BECKER: Why a large, white bird would come out of the woods in the middle of the night. Well, it wasn’t the middle of the night, but it was pitch black. RUBY BECKER: It was dark, yeah.
NATE BECKER: Uh, so we had to do a little research. It ended up being, we determined, a juvenile. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: An immature -- RUBY BECKER: Trumpeter swan. NATE BECKER: Trumpeter swan.
RUBY BECKER: And we discovered that they can’t -- sorry, was I going to -- NATE BECKER: No, go ahead. RUBY BECKER: Was I interrupting you? NATE BECKER: Go ahead. RUBY BECKER: We discovered that they can’t take off unless they’re in water. And so, at Wood Island, like behind our place, there’s some more sloughs, but they’re really shallow. There’s like barely any standing water in them.
NATE BECKER: Well, they were froze over at the time. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, that’s right.
NATE BECKER: So we think what happened is, they were -- and the swans are always the last birds to leave. They’re the last migratory birds to leave the area here, um, so it was like the first week of October, and so the swans are flying over. They’re heading south.
And I -- he probably got tired, and he saw what he thought was -- Well, he saw a pond, landed, only he realized it was frozen, and he couldn’t take off. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
NATE BECKER: So that’s what I think probably happened. But we thought he was injured, he was sick. Like, you know, and we’re trying to make plans to -- remember we talked to Sonja Sager, and -- RUBY BECKER: Right. NATE BECKER: Sonja and Mike McDougall was working for -- RUBY BECKER: Right. NATE BECKER: -- Game and Fish at the time. RUBY BECKER: We didn’t know --
NATE BECKER: We were going to bring this swan in and rehabilitate this swan, you know, and then we thought about it, and it was like, no, we just need to take him down to the river and turn him loose.
So that’s what we did the next morning, is I just put the -- put the dog crate in the back of the ATV and drove him down to the river. And I opened it up, and he waddled out and got in the river and floated away. He was co-mingling with a bunch of ducks when I drove away. RUBY BECKER: We have a little video. NATE BECKER: Do we? RUBY BECKER: Clip. Yeah, remember, I took that little movie video on my camera. NATE BECKER: When we turned him loose. RUBY BECKER: When we turned him loose. NATE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: But --
KAREN BREWSTER: So are swans common around here? Or --
NATE BECKER: Yeah, oh yeah. Like to drive the -- take a boat up the Yukon any time in October, late September, the first couple weeks of October, you’ll always run across swans. RUBY BECKER: Uh-huh. NATE BECKER: You know, on their migratory path.
They don’t -- they don’t summer here, you know. We just see ’em in the spring and in the fall when they’re heading to or from the Arctic.
KAREN BREWSTER: And do people hunt them? NATE BECKER: No, I don’t -- I don’t think it’s even -- I’m not even sure it’s legal. RUBY BECKER: I don’t know.
NATE BECKER: It’s not legal in this part of the state. Maybe up north where they’re more prevalent, but I’ve never known anyone to harvest a swan. RUBY BECKER: I don’t -- NATE BECKER: Certainly it happens, but I’ve never known anyone to.
RUBY BECKER: I haven’t either. Uh, yeah, that was such a crazy experience because we were -- HUNTER BECKER: Was I alive at that point? RUBY BECKER: You -- yeah, you were there. HUNTER BECKER: I don’t remember that. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You must’ve been little, Hunter. RUBY BECKER: He was little. It was such this big powerful bird, and then we were able to save him because I -- you know, I remember thinking, why did he come to our yard? Because he knew -- you know, he knew it probably wasn’t the right place for him to be. But maybe he knew that someone might be able to help him.
I don’t know, like he -- he wasn’t going to make it otherwise. Like, he wouldn’t have waddled eventually down to the river. I really don’t think he could’ve made it. NATE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: All the way to the river. You know, like maybe he knew that --
NATE BECKER: I mean, physically, he’d have been capable of it, but it’d just been blind luck for him to end up at the river as opposed to somewhere else.
RUBY BECKER: Just, yeah, exactly. So I always think that he knew that we were maybe going to be able to help him, and that he came to us for help, and we could help him, and we did, and we set him free.
And now every time I hear the swans, or I see ’em, I always think maybe that’s some of his relatives or his -- maybe it’s him or his babies.
MARCY OKADA: We’ve kind of touched on transportation, so summertime, the mode was preferably by boat? NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: And then in winter, preferably by dog team, but then mixture. Snowmachine.
NATE BECKER: Yeah, I’d say as time wore on and we got -- as the years went by, the shift happened to snowmachine. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
NATE BECKER: Um, we always, like I said, we always preferred the dogs, but realistically, we probably spent -- I put -- definitely put more miles on the snowmachine the last couple of winters down there than I did the dogs.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then you mentioned an ATV.
NATE BECKER: Yeah, so we had floated a -- floated an ATV down in the boat. And we had two ATVs. Actually for a while, we had three of 'em down there. We had a six-wheeler -- an old six-wheeler, a new six-wheeler, and then we had a four-wheeler down there for a while.
And that was -- we couldn’t have gotten by without that. Like everything would show up in the boat, and then we still had a quarter-mile to get it up to the cabin site. So then we’d load everything into the ATV and drive it up that way.
RUBY BECKER: There were times where we flew down, too. Like one fall, the kids and I stayed in town through the first quarter of the school year. And the river hadn’t stopped, but it wasn’t -- there was ice flowing, and so we flew down. David flew us down, I think.
Um, a long time ago, once I think we flew with Gary Howard, but then I was like, "Wow, he’s really old. Maybe I shouldn’t fly with him anymore?" Um, nothing to discredit him, but just, you know, I thought, wow. He’s really up there. Um.
Transportation makes me also think of, um, the helicopter, so maybe we could talk about that a little bit. Um.
NATE BECKER: Well, the girls remember that. That was ’17, so they would’ve been eight. HUNTER BECKER: What age would I have been?
RUBY BECKER: Uh, the only -- the only breakup that we tried to spend down there, we had a flood. And the first part of it, you know, we had all of our contingencies in place. We had boats tied to the house. We had pickets strung in the boats for the dogs. We had all of our plans for our safety, you know.
And when the flood -- when the river, when the water came up, um, the river hadn’t broke. It was, um -- the water was coming from the back channel, and it was running over --basically, it’s -- you can’t really see it on the map, but -- NATE BECKER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: It was just running straight across our property to come back to the main river, and so we were kind of just in the middle, and it just went right over us.
Um, so like for the first day or so, the water would come up, and then it would go back down. And at night, it would freeze still a little bit, and so, at night, or, you know, in the early part of the morning, we could let the dogs outside ’cause when the water first came up in the yard, we brought all the dogs inside. And --
KAREN BREWSTER: Which is how many dogs? RUBY BECKER: Well, we only -- NATE BECKER: I feel like we had six or eight. RUBY BECKER: I think we only had -- Yeah, we had -- NATE BECKER: Six or eight at the time.
RUBY BECKER: -- six or eight, ’cause um, at that time, we were sending some of our dogs with Matt Hall down to the glacier in Skagway or Juneau or wherever he was at that time.
But we had a pregnant dog who had just given birth to puppies. HUNTER BECKER: Was that Peggy? RUBY BECKER: No, it was Buttercup. HUNTER BECKER: Oh.
RUBY BECKER: And then like six other dogs. So the water would go down and freeze at night a little bit, and so, we could let the dogs out first thing in the morning, and they would run around and do their thing, and then they’d come back in.
Um, and the kids were little. I mean, Hunter was tiny. He was not even a toddler, really. Um, and Nate and I were just like trying to keep everything safe, trying to keep everything under control. And I know it feels like it was days that we were --
NATE BECKER: Yeah, I think it was at least two nights, maybe three nights. RUBY BECKER: Three nights.
NATE BECKER: Four days before the -- we called the helicopter in, and Ruby and the kids and the mama dog and the puppies took a flight out. And then I stayed there.
And then just literally hours after they left, the ice jam broke, and the flood went away. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. MARCY OKADA: Hm.
NATE BECKER: But yeah, that was, I don't know, May 7. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: And what -- what year was this? NATE BECKER: 2017. RUBY BECKER: ’17.
NATE BECKER: We had -- the house is six feet off the ground, and I think at its highest, the water underneath the house was about two feet deep. RUBY BECKER: I think it was a little deeper than that, but -- NATE BECKER: No, it wasn’t. RUBY BECKER: You’re better at measuring things.
KAREN BREWSTER: Girls, what do -- Do you remember it? GRACE BECKER: Uh, I remember sitting on the table. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. GRACE BECKER: With Hunter. RUBY BECKER: And just, like, watching.
NATE BECKER: They remember that there was no active parenting going on for about 72 hours. We just kinda told the kids, if you’re hungry, find something to eat. If you want to watch a movie, watch a movie. And -- RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: That was kind of the standing joke was they didn’t get much parental advice or encouragement or guidance for about three days while we were dealing with everything else.
RUBY BECKER: Hunter had a meltdown at one point, and I remember Grace coming out on the porch and asking me, "What should I do with Hunter?" And I was like, "It doesn’t matter. Just give him whatever he wants."
And I came in later, and he had a bag of chocolate chips, and he’s just sitting on the table. He’s sitting on the kitchen table in his diaper, just eating chocolate chips. Like looking out the window, watching stuff float by. It was -- Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s good babysitting. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. HUNTER BECKER: We ate --
GENEVIEVE BECKER: Then we ate everything from the cookie jar. RUBY BECKER: You did. KAREN BREWSTER: Ate everything from the cookie jar? HUNTER BECKER: Did you ever eat again? NATE BECKER: Hunter, if you want to talk, you can come over here, ok? KAREN BREWSTER: We want to hear your story, come over here. NATE BECKER: Yeah, if you got something to say, buddy, come on over. HUNTER BECKER: I don’t have anything to say. NATE BECKER: Ok. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: Uh, girls, I think we should talk about the Snow Cabin. GRACE BECKER: Ah. Yeah, that was a fun trip. RUBY BECKER: That was a fun trip.
GRACE BECKER: I think it was only like a day trip. No, not a day trip. We stayed there overnight. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Overnight. We stayed overnight one night.
RUBY BECKER: Well, do you guys remember what we went there to celebrate? GRACE BECKER: Uh, no. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Huh-uh. GRACE BECKER: I think -- GENEVIEVE BECKER: No, I don’t.
RUBY BECKER: We were celebrating your dad and I’s wedding anniversary. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Oh, yeah.
RUBY BECKER: And we took two dog teams up to the Snow Cabin, which I feel like was about 16 miles. Is that right?
NATE BECKER: Oh, total distance? No. It’d have been, like, about 14 to the mouth of the -- 15 to the mouth of the Nation, and then 6 miles up. So 21 miles, 22 miles. RUBY BECKER: Man, you’re good at math.
NATE BECKER: The Brad Snow Cabin. Are you familiar? KAREN BREWSTER: The what? NATE BECKER: The Brad Snow Cabin, everyone calls it. So Brad Snow homesteaded there in the '70’s. uh, and I feel like, I think Brad and Lilly, was that his significant other? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes. Yeah.
NATE BECKER: Brad and Lilly, I think only spent one winter there, if I remember right. So just everyone has always referred to -- I think the Park Service calls it Six-Mile Cabin. I think that’s kind of the unofficial Park Service name for it. Everyone in Eagle calls it the Snow Cabin. RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Hunter.
NATE BECKER: So go ahead, girls, if you guys remember anything. GRACE BECKER: I remember we had hot macaroni and cheese in cups. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah, it was homemade macaroni and cheese.
NATE BECKER: Do you guys remember eating the wedding cake? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. GRACE BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: That was so good. We saved -- I didn’t even know this was a thing, but you’re supposed to save some of your wedding cake and eat it on your first anniversary. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: I -- that was all news to me until I got married, but I remember it tasted so good. RUBY BECKER: It was incredible. NATE BECKER: It was almost better a year later.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Well, and the funny part about this is, it took so much to make that happen. The little -- you know, your little tiny cake that you have on top of your wedding cake, Grandma took that. NATE BECKER: ’Cause we got married in North Dakota.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. It was in North Dakota. So Grandma saved that. She wrapped it up in like, layers of Saran Wrap and Ziploc bags. And then she had it in her freezer. She -- late that winter, she put it in a flat rate box and mailed it to us. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh my gosh.
RUBY BECKER: And Nate went to the post office in Eagle and got it, and then we took it with us on the dog trip up to the Snow Cabin. And we ate it that night in this dirt floor cabin with like, nothing, but it was like the best meal we had ever had.
And um, I had -- we had brought some little -- we brought some little tin cups from home. GENEVIEVE BECKER: I thought they were those plastic cups. GRACE BECKER: Yeah, me, too. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Those little plastic cups. RUBY BECKER: Oh, maybe. GRACE BECKER: Yeah, they were. GENEVIEVE BECKER: And they had tin foil wrapped over them.
RUBY BECKER: I just remember -- I thought we had brought some of those tin cups from home, and I sent the girls down to the cre -- the girls were thirsty, and I said, "Go get a drink."
And they took these little tin cups down to the creek. And it just had a skim of ice on it. And they cracked the ice with their cup and then just dipped it in the ice water.
GRACE BECKER: It was really good. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Uh-huh. GRACE BECKER: It was good. RUBY BECKER: You guys still talk about how good that water was. I know.
GRACE BECKER: Our friend David, when he did that, he got sick from it. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. RUBY BECKER: That was a different creek. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It was? I thought it was the same creek. RUBY BECKER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: He got giardia or something? RUBY BECKER: He thinks so. He’s not sure. He’s not totally sure, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: But the water at home, was that from the creek -- from a creek? Or --? RUBY BECKER: Uh-huh. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It was from a creek.
RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. That’s a good thing to talk about, water. Um, we, uh, there’s a little creek down at the base of Montauk Bluff, and that’s where we would often get water.
But some years it would freeze solid, or the overflow would be too bad. You wouldn’t be able to get water there. Um, so many times, we would just find a place on the river where there was overflow and just scoop it up in buckets.
One year, we tried to keep a hole open on the river, and that was really difficult. That was the first year that the creek froze down. Um, and it was just constant trying to chip away, and just trying to keep a little thing open where you could dip water and fill up buckets.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you say the river, is that the Yukon, or the --? RUBY BECKER: Yeah, the Yukon.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, you were taking water from the Yukon?
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, so we were -- ’Cause when it gets really -- you know, when it gets cold in the fall, all, it settles, and then it’s clear. I mean, it’s sort of clear. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
RUBY BECKER: And then we would just filter everything for ourselves, and um, not -- it’s not ideal, but there was nothing wrong with that water at all, especially in the colder part of the fall. Or the winter.
But it was just so hard to keep that hole open. We had like this Styrofoam thing, this insulation thing that we had built, and it never really, um, it never really worked that good. It was tough. So in the later years, we got water from -- overflow water from a little creek. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you have to boil and treat your water, or you just took it straight from the creek?
RUBY BECKER: We just took it, and then I would just run it through Berkey filter, like bucket, like a bucket system. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: Um, for our drinking. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
RUBY BECKER: And everything else, you know, like the dishwater, it would get heated up anyway, and like, usually if I’m like cooking noodles or rice or something, I don’t really use filtered water. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. RUBY BECKER: ’Cause it’s boiled anyway. So um, just our drinking water, we would filter. Um.
And yeah, water was always -- I mean, there were many years where we would go down and get ice and bring it up. You know, big, huge -- like in the sleds, we would bring up these huge things of ice, and melt that for dog water. Yeah?
GRACE BECKER: And we once made homemade ice cream. RUBY BECKER: We did.
NATE BECKER: Did we only do that once? RUBY BECKER: We did. GRACE BECKER: No, a couple times. RUBY BECKER: I feel like we did it a couple times. GRACE BECKER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: It was really hard work, though, isn’t it. Snow ice cream is a lot easier.
GRACE BECKER: Yeah. We got this metal thing, and we turned this thing, but first we put ice around it. Then we turned this handle thing. It, like -- what did we put in? RUBY BECKER: (whispering) Salt. GRACE BECKER: Salt. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: We -- didn’t we have like packets of stuff we put in the thing that mixed? Put packets of something -- RUBY BECKER: When -- GRACE BECKER: To make the ice cream?
RUBY BECKER: Oh, well, we made it with eggs and um, heavy cream powder. GRACE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: And sugar. Vanilla.
GRACE BECKER: And then we turned the lever, and it like mixed it up really good. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. GRACE BECKER: 'Til it was like, thick.
KAREN BREWSTER: Was it -- did you have a flavor? GRACE BECKER: Uh, I think we just had vanilla. RUBY BECKER: It was vanilla. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: I feel like that’s all we made. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what’s snow ice cream? GENEVIEVE BECKER: I don’t remember how to make it. GRACE BECKER: I know it’s with clean snow. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Not yellow snow. KAREN BREWSTER: Not yellow snow NATE BECKER: Not yellow. That was always the joke, yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Before I moved to Alaska, um, my husband was really poetic. And he still is, but, you know, we were getting to know each other, and he would -- he would write these incredibly beautiful passages. And one of them was about how Scarlett had made snow ice cream for dessert.
NATE BECKER: Hm, I don’t remember that.
RUBY BECKER: And he said, there’s (whispering), how did you word that? You said, "There’s something so beautiful about ice cream that’s made from the sky." GRACE BECKER: Aww. KAREN BREWSTER: Aww. NATE BECKER: That does sound like something I’d write. RUBY BECKER: It does. I know. I know. But that was just like, uh. For me, you know, I just -- it was perfect. It’s like, that’s it.
NATE BECKER: So it’s just a bowl of, you know, maybe a couple gallons of fresh -- right, kind of fresh. RUBY BECKER: Really fresh snow, yeah. NATE BECKER: Snow. And then add vanilla and I don’t remember, what else do you put in there?
RUBY BECKER: Scarlett makes it with canned milk, like evaporated milk, and sugar. And then when it’s hot, and then she pours it -- NATE BECKER: On top of the -- RUBY BECKER: On the snow. NATE BECKER: And mix it all together.
RUBY BECKER: But I’ve also known people that don’t get it hot. So I’m not sure. I think there’s a bunch of different ways. But that’s the way we do it, is the way Scarlett taught us. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: And you can make different flavors and stuff.
NATE BECKER: And it’s -- it’s passable. I mean, the flavor’s good. It’s good. It's -- You know that you’re eating snow, but it’s a -- it’s a pretty easy Bush hack for ice cream. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Sounds good. RUBY BECKER: For ice cream. Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: So you touched on it a little bit, but how did you keep in touch with family, and how often? I know you said once you had kids, you wanted to let your mom and your brother know you’re doing all right. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, mostly -- yeah, go ahead. GRACE BECKER: We used a program called Skype. MARCY OKADA: Oh.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you guys had computers and electricity and everything? NATE BECKER: We had -- we had satellite internet. We were never without. Maybe that first winter at Wayne and Scarlett’s? RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: But the entire time we were at our homestead at Wood Island, we always had satellite internet. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you had a generator that you would run? NATE BECKER: So we had solar panels and a battery bank, but, of course that didn’t do us much good in the wintertime. So we would just -- we would run off a generator, yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, it seems like early on, before we had so many lights and stuff, we could run that generator, and it would last -- the charge would last for three days.
But as our family grew and the house got bigger and we got a TV that we watched movies on sometimes, um, then the batteries had a harder time keeping up.
But um -- And then there was -- I feel like there was a while there where if we were going to watch a movie, we had to start the generator, so it was like this big extravagant event. Yeah?
GENEVIEVE BECKER: I do remember one time, Dada got a new generator. It was bigger than the -- RUBY BECKER: Yeah. We had a really old one, and then we got a better one. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It kept going like -- the old one kept going like it was coughing. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. GENEVIEVE BECKER: It kept going --
RUBY BECKER: And then our movie would stop. And then we’d have to fix the generator. And sometimes it would start back up, and sometimes it wouldn’t. And --
KAREN BREWSTER: So you would Skype with your family? GRACE BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Grandma and -- GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, and before Nate’s parents moved up, we would Skype with them. Um, and email. You know, email pictures and um.
GENEVIEVE BECKER: Or we’d use that little email phone that you can use. You know, type in the little phone number then --
RUBY BECKER: Oh, there used to be a phone function on Gmail. Gmail used to have its own phone function where you could call people. And we did that quite a bit. Sometimes it would work better than others, but um, it was fairly -- it was fairly reliable.
Um, that was always, like, really important to me that, you know -- I didn’t necessarily want to be connected to the world, but I needed to stay connected to my family. Um, so we got the HughesNet, and we were able to make that -- we were able to make that work. (Hunter says something in the background, but it’s too faint to hear; Nate shushes him)
MARCY OKADA: It’s kind of last-minute, but firewood. Firewood collection. I know you’d get -- you’d get wood in the falltime, you mentioned. 'Cause that was sort of like the mad dash, falltime was so busy, and her birthday time frame. And --
NATE BECKER: I never actually spent a lot of time in the fall. Some falls we would. You know, in a perfect world, you’re always a year ahead with your firewood. And we -- it’s funny, we -- It’s like so many other things. Like, we literally just got there, like, like I feel I --
I stayed -- How do I want to word this? When we decided we were going to move to town, um, in the spring of 2021, it would’ve been February, early March, we made that decision. Uh, Ruby and the girls -- and the kids, I guess. Ruby and the kids went and moved into Eagle to my parents’ place, I don’t know, middle of March, early March, something like that.
And then I stayed behind, um, to finish up a bunch of projects. And I had work lined up, but not until the first of May, and so anyway, I just stayed behind at Wood Island. And one of the things I wanted to do was, for the first time ever, fill my woodshed. (Hunter saying something faintly in the background)
NATE BECKER: Even though I knew we weren’t going to use it. So that was something we never ever quite got caught up on. There were a lot of winters where I’d have to go out and cut a load of firewood as we needed it.
So, but I almost exclusively cut all of our firewood in the wintertime. Hauled it with the snowmobile. Sometimes with dogs, but usually snowmobile. Sometimes I’d go out in the fall and get some with the boat, but it just always seemed to be easier to do it in the wintertime with the snowmachine.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what were you cutting?
NATE BECKER: Almost exclusively just dead standing spruce. Almost exclusively. I -- we might have run one or two birch trees through our wood stove over the years. We just never had access to -- RUBY BECKER: Hm-mm.
NATE BECKER: Well, living in the Preserve, you can’t cut green trees without a permit. Uh, so you --
RUBY BECKER: Well, and anywhere that was accessible wasn’t really birch. Most of like right around Wood Island is all just spruce. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. RUBY BECKER: Um.
NATE BECKER: So driftwood. We burned driftwood. And then after a couple years of looking, I found a couple decent stands of, I don’t know if they were beetle kill or -- but a couple of healthy -- I shouldn’t say healthy. A couple stands of dead, standing spruce that --
And that was one of those things where -- where, it seemed like that took a long time for me to figure out. For me to figure out the firewood situation down there. When to haul it. How to haul it. Where to get it from. That was one of those things, one of those systems I feel like we had kind of perfected just as we were getting ready to leave. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was your system?
NATE BECKER: Well, I mean part of that was just finding -- finding the location without having to just get one tree over there, or two trees over here, or something like that. So I finally found a couple good stands of -- where I could spend all day or all two days or three days, just cutting and cutting and cutting. Um, and then hauling two sled loads at a time, hooking one sled to the other so I could get by with half as many trips.
And then -- but part of it was just getting that one year ahead. You know, like when you burn ten cords, it takes a while to cut ten cords of firewood, so basically to get ahead one year, you gotta cut twenty cords of firewood. So you can burn those ten and then have the ten for the next year.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you guys burned ten cords a year?
NATE BECKER: Yeah, that’s about what it would take. Uh, you know, we’d burn a little bit in the sauna. That last winter there, we built a sauna. And then, you know, we’d go through a couple cords every year burning them just to make what we call the dog cooker, cooking up the fish for the dogs every night. You know, the equivalent of a camp fire every night, and to boil your fish and rice for the dogs.
Um, so maybe you came out to like, seven, eight cords for the house and two or three cords for the dogs. You know, but I figure ten cords was probably an average for us.
KAREN BREWSTER: And the driftwood, was it spruce driftwood you were using?
NATE BECKER: Uh, yeah, almost exclusively. Everything else rots so quickly. Spruce and poplar and cottonwood, everything else rots so fast that really spruce was -- we hardly burned anything other than spruce. Very seldom would I put anything else in the stove.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, I can’t even think of a time where you would have brought in a birch log. Like, I remember very infrequently over the years, I would find one in the wood piles. And I’d be like, "Whoa, look at this birch log." NATE BECKER: Usually, it’s be like -- RUBY BECKER: I gotta save this.
NATE BECKER: Usually, I’d fall a big spruce tree, and it would knock over a small birch on the way down, so I’d cut it up. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. NATE BECKER: But I never -- never targeted birch.
KAREN BREWSTER: And your cook stove was a wood-burning cook stove, also? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. And it would gobble up the wood. I mean, just gobble the wood. And we never -- I mean, I love using it, and I would love learning about how to use it and how to best use it, but um, the cabin would get so hot, even in the middle of winter, that you’d have to let the other stove just completely go out to run that thing.
Um, and then you’d have to have the right size of wood. You know, usually Nate was cutting wood for that stove down there, the big stove, and he would cut it, you know, about -- KAREN BREWSTER: Sixteen inches? RUBY BECKER: About like this. NATE BECKER: A little longer.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. And the wood, you know, the wood box on the cook stove is you know, maybe like this. KAREN BREWSTER: Like a twelve-inch? RUBY BECKER: So you’d have to have a special -- you’d have to have special pile of wood for the cook stove, which wasn’t always -- wasn’t always available.
So um, but I love waking up in the morning and starting the little crackling fire on the cook stove and making coffee, and I just miss that so much. It was very --
KAREN BREWSTER: Was the cook stove -- were you using it on the burn -- the top, too, or just for the oven? RUBY BECKER: Both. Oh, yeah. Both, for sure. Um, we did --
NATE BECKER: Yeah, we’d make pancakes on the -- on top of it on the griddle. RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. I did all kinds of cooking on the top. Um, you know, and it’s really nice when the propane stops.
KAREN BREWSTER: You also had a propane stove? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah, propane cook stove, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: When the propane stops flowing when it gets really cold, then you have that as a -- (to Hunter) What happened? NATE BECKER: Nothing. You don’t want to know. Keep going. MARCY OKADA: It’s all right. NATE BECKER: Keep going.
RUBY BECKER: Uh, when the propane stops flowing, you know, you have that as a backup. Uh, just in case, you know. Just in case you aren’t -- ’cause cooking on the wood -- regular wood stove isn’t always do-able or practical, but um, the wood cook stove is -- is much more efficient for cooking.
GRACE BECKER: You’ve cooked potatoes and stuff before.
RUBY BECKER: I have cooked potatoes. One year -- Oh, you know what? That was the first year that we were down -- Yeah, it was that fall. David, our friend David came in, and he brought us, of all things, he brought us a turkey. Like a frozen turkey. And we didn’t even have a freezer. Or a stove. We didn’t have any way to cook it.
And so Grandma, Nate’s mom, and I, we made this nice bed of coals inside this big huge woodstove. We made this nice bed of coals, and we built this like little stand for the roaster to sit on. And we put that turkey in there, and we covered it with foil, and we had it really tight, and that, by golly, that thing cooked, and we had a turkey -- sort of, a turkey dinner.
NATE BECKER: We didn’t have the propane stove at that time? RUBY BECKER: No, we didn't -- NATE BECKER: Or it wouldn’t fit? RUBY BECKER: We didn’t have like the right fitting or something. NATE BECKER: Oh. RUBY BECKER: It wasn’t hooked up right. NATE BECKER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: And we couldn’t use it. And that was like -- maybe that was like the second or third day that we had, like, had everyone there, you know. And David shows up with this turkey, and we’re like what the heck are we going to do with this?
We thought about cooking it outside. Um, but Grandma and I were like, "No we can figure this out." So we just -- we made it work, and that thing cooked. And it did taste a little smoky, but it was good. KAREN BREWSTER: Sounds good. RUBY BECKER: It was good.
MARCY OKADA: I’d like to move a little into some of the challenges. And you’ve shared some of the stories of challenges of just living out on Wood Island and how you guys made it work. If there’s just maybe one or two things that you can think of.
NATE BECKER: Well, I think ultimately, the hardest challenge for us, we talked about it already, we won’t beat it to death, but homeschooling. MARCY OKADA: Oh. NATE BECKER: You know, and just the, you know, homeschooling and socializing your kids.
You know. Uh, we’d get -- we did all right in the socializing part because we’d spend our summers out on the road system. And all of our kids take after their mom. They’re all social butterflies, so they like to talk and interact, and um.
But the -- you know, the homeschooling didn’t -- it didn’t work for us. Uh, like, in town here, our kids will stand outside at forty below for ten minutes waiting for the bus to show up, they’re that excited to go to school. But at home, you’d have to throw rocks at ’em to get ’em out of bed, you know, if it was time to start school. Um, so the homeschooling was tough. I mean, I know that’s probably not quite the answer you were looking for.
Uh, just overall, just logistics, you know. It’s one thing to move to the woods and to be content with a couple -- with a simple plywood structure or a log structure and to truly live a simple lifestyle. Simple is hard. Like, to live simply is, it’s challenging.
Uh, you know, once you start adding in the satellite internet and, you know, and all those amenities, that -- See, Ruby and I have both spent so many years, right, in the real world, you know, and you get accustomed to those amenities, and you’re not willing to give all of them up. Uh, so simple is hard, and I think maybe I -- I’m probably the culprit here, but I think I probably made our lives more complicated than it needed to be out there. Or I don’t want to say should’ve been, but certainly than it could’ve been.
Um, and it’s just, I don’t know. It’s hard to live that simply. Especially when you have kids. You know, we kind of mentioned it already that it adds a whole different element and dynamic. So I would say the homeschooling. Trying to figure out a way to do it simply.
Uh, and then oh, I just had the other one and it left. Oh, trying to make -- trying to make a living was -- we never figured that out. I mean, Ruby and I started 47 different businesses in our heads. Uh, and none of them -- I don’t think we ever took any kind of an action, really, towards seeing any of them through towards any kind of a conclusion.
You know, we just made ends meet wherever we could. I was always having to leave, and that was tough. I’d have to spend my summers out, you know, and then that was so stressful, leaving Ruby and the kids at home, any time of year, but especially during bear season.
You know, I’d be gone for weeks at a time, months at a time, just, it seemed like neither one of us had a -- had a -- any kind of a skill set that allowed us to make money from home. You know, um, so I guided where I could. We’d go to Chicken and we’d work where we could. But then we’d end up -- Literally, we would move twice a year. And that’s why we quit going to Chicken was that move just -- it just was too much.
So we never --It was one of those things, we never quite figured out was how we were going to -- I mean, you make enough money out there. And you can live a pure subsistence lifestyle, and you guys know as well as we do that you can do that pretty cheap. There’s a lot of people out there that have been successful that way. But at the end of the day -- and we could still be doing it, right. And we’d still -- we’d still be making it work.
But at the end of the day, when -- when, you know, the golden years set on, you know, and you can’t live at home anymore, and you’re not vested in anything else, and you don’t have a retirement, and you don’t have life insurance, and, you know, all those things started kind of piling up on us. In our minds, anyway.
You know, about just how practical, how sustainable, that is. Um, you know, what if something happens. You know, we don’t have -- we don’t have a Plan B. When you live that way and you’re true to the true subsistence lifestyle, you know, it’s pretty tough to have a Plan B without some kind of a substantial, sustainable income.
And we just never -- we never figured that out. We just -- we were always I would say living from paycheck to paycheck, but we’d go months and months and months and months at a time without a paycheck, so I’m not even sure we were doing that. So anyway, that’s my take. RUBY BECKER: Good job.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, you were paying for it somehow. I mean, you had to, say, buy fuel for a generator. NATE BECKER: Oh, absolutely. KAREN BREWSTER: And gas for a boat. NATE BECKER: Absolutely, but we weren’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: You made enough money.
NATE BECKER: We always had -- we always had to come out in the spring and work. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: At the very least, I always had to. We -- there was a couple times we were able to figure out a way for Ruby and the kids to stay at home.
And there was kind of an interim period there where we quit -- we quit doing the Chicken thing in the summers, but we hadn’t moved to Eagle yet. And I’d go out, and -- and I did carpentry for a couple summers, working for friends here and there. And then I’d be gone all summer long.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you guys -- But you made enough in the summers? NATE BECKER: That we didn’t have to -- KAREN BREWSTER: To get you through to the next season. NATE BECKER: We didn’t have to work in the winters. And we could --
RUBY BECKER: Well, and you were still guiding a little bit and trapping a little bit. NATE BECKER: Yeah, I was guiding. We never really made much money trapping. A little bit here and there.
RUBY BECKER: Right. NATE BECKER: I think if I added it all up, if I could sit down and put a pencil to it, I probably broke even all those years trapping is probably what happened.
But I -- you know, we made some money guiding. Um, and then, but it was tough. Like it was -- it was tough to --
At the end of the day, I just -- I didn’t feel like we could afford the life I wanted to be able to give my kids. And that was part of the reason for -- along with homeschooling and other reasons that we moved to town.
RUBY BECKER: I have a challenge that I’d like to share. It’s much more mundane. Laundry. NATE BECKER: Laundry was tough. Laundry was tough.
RUBY BECKER: Oh my god, we tried everything to wash clothes. And we tried the plunger, and we had -- we have a wringer washer, and uh, then sometimes Nate would make a trip to town, and we’d just send, like, a whole sled, a snowmachine sled, full of laundry to town. And he’d wash it at the laundromat.
And uh, you know, washing stuff by hand and just wringing it out and hanging it up. But like, it was just -- especially with the kids. They just make laundry. I don’t know how. And um, it was such a gigantic challenge that was constant.
KAREN BREWSTER: And at some point, you were doing diapers? Or washing diapers? RUBY BECKER: And we did diapers. We did diapers for -- KAREN BREWSTER: For Hunter?
RUBY BECKER: And I didn’t do cloth diapers exclusively, but we did a lot with cloth diapers. Um, there was a time where I think I was putting him in disposable diapers at night, and then just regular diapers.
And um, yeah, and I remember when I first moved to Alaska, before I even saw the Yukon in its liquid state, I remember talking to Robin. She’s a friend of ours that lives in Chicken. And she raised her daughters really remote. And she said, "Ruby, none of this matters, because it all comes down to water." And at the time, I was like, "Wow. I wonder if she really knows what I’m talking about." Or, you know, like, all I want to do is wash the clothes.
But she was right. I think about that. I think about those words, almost every day, still. Because it’s so true. It all comes down to water.
And like, we were washing clothes in that wringer washer, and it would -- it would take like five or six buckets of water for a load of wash, to like wash it and then wring it out and then rinse it. I mean, just incredible amounts of water that, you know, when you put your clothes in a washing machine, it -- you don’t have an appreciation for how much water it actually takes.
Um, that for me, that was always the biggest -- for me, that was always the biggest challenge. Knowing where was our water going to come from, and is the water that we have going to last long enough, you know. And like, I was always, I was always -- I wouldn’t say I was always worried about water, but that was like the guiding principle of life was, do we have enough water? Where’s it going to come from? How are we going to get it? How long is it going to last? What are we going to put it in? You know.
Sometimes we would go and get ice at the beach and just bring it up in these sleds and cover it up with tarps and just bring big pieces in as we needed to thaw some out. And uh, you know, for the dogs and stuff. That was always like the biggest thing for me.
Um, you know, I never minded the, um, isolation or technical challenges. Like he kind of took the lead on most of the -- HUNTER BECKER: (whispering) Hey, Dada, does the machine stretch? RUBY BECKER: The logistics, and that kind of thing. HUNTER BECKER: But which machine does? NATE BECKER: (whispering) Talking about the --
RUBY BECKER: Um, I always enjoyed the challenges, especially with, like, raising a family like that. And um, how to make things work without refrigeration and without a freezer and without running water. And all of that.
And we -- I feel like we did pretty good with those types of challenges. It was more like the, um, sense of what am I depriving my kids of? Not that we ever felt like sheltering our children, like some people I think move out to like protect their kids and shelter them somewhat. But I never felt like we were trying to do that.
Or um, we always wanted them to have a well-rounded perspective of the world, and I never, I never wanted them to feel like they were deprived of anything. So whenever we would go to town, we would always like take ’em to a movie or let them eat at McDonalds, which is totally gross, everybody knows it, but to them, it was a big deal, you know.
Um, and, you know, just to have a full scale, you know, view of what the other part of the world is like, um, so that they would have a true appreciation for it. Maybe not in the time, but maybe in later years, you know.
Um, but then it came to a point where Nate has coined it, not the last winter, the winter before, he calls it the nuclear winter, when we had such a hard time with school, and the girls were in sixth grade that year, and their math capabilities were growing exponentially, and I couldn’t do it. Like, I couldn’t do it. And Nate was doing a lot of the math, and we were just spinning our wheels down there, and we were like, why -- why are we trying so hard to do something that isn’t really working?
And we knew, the writing was on the wall, we knew it wasn’t going to get easier, it was only going to get tougher, um, as far as education for them, and um, and then also I thought, gosh, are we just, like, are we just being selfish? Like, this is the life that we want. This is the dream that we had for ourselves, and then we’re like forcing our kids to kind of go along with it, and then, you know, we should give them opportunities to have other experiences, too.
Um, so that was -- that was kind of the -- you know, we came into town ’cause those were the biggest challenges. And um, mental challenges, as well, like are we doing the right thing, or am I, you know, being selfish and living this life because I want it, not because it’s what the kids want or what’s best for them, you know, so. It's kinda that kind of stuff, um.
KAREN BREWSTER: What do the -- what do you kids think? GRACE BECKER: I liked it. KAREN BREWSTER: You liked it? HUNTER BECKER: I liked it. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You liked -- all liked living out there? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: Would you rather live at Wood Island, or would you rather live where we live? GRACE BECKER: Schoolwise, I would rather live -- NATE BECKER: No, it’s all part of it, yeah. GRACE BECKER: -- here, but funwise I’d rather live there.
HUNTER BECKER: Some ways, I would like to live at Wood Island, but when I’m at Eagle, when I want to go to school, I want to live at Eagle.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And did you guys ever consider living out at Wood Island in the summer when they’re not in school?
RUBY BECKER: We did, but again, the money thing. And then, like I said before, Wood Island is kind of in a swamp. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. RUBY BECKER: So. NATE BECKER: Yeah, the mosquitoes there are -- RUBY BECKER: There’s that. Yeah, they’re -- KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: The one summer that we spent there, um, the kids and I spent there, Nate was out working intermittently, and he would come home for a short time, and then he would go back out to work.
And that was pretty much, like -- It was really hard. The mosquito thing, like I can endure a lot of mental torture, but that was beyond what, um, I wanted to endure. Uh.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you -- you girls, you’re old enough that, did you feel isolated out there without other kids around, or it was ok with the three of you? GRACE BECKER: It was ok. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You guys all get along? GRACE BECKER: Hm? HUNTER BECKER: Eh.
RUBY BECKER: I feel like they got along better when we lived at home. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: But Hunter was younger, and the girls were younger, and, you know, everything’s shifting, so -- uh, they spend a little more time bickering nowadays. It’s definitely the case.
MARCY OKADA: So, I’d like to flip the coin now. What did you love about living on the river? What did it mean to you? How did living on the land and next to the Yukon River make you feel?
RUBY BECKER: I always felt like we were part of the river, not like just something to be used as a resource. Like, I felt like we didn’t belong to the land. Like, we belonged to the land, it didn’t belong to us. It still doesn’t belong to us.
It’s just, you know, it’s part of us, but I miss it so much. I miss -- I miss always knowing what we’re going to do based on what the river’s doing, or what the weather’s doing, or how -- You know, now it’s more like scheduled instead of allowing what naturally is the most likely thing to need to happen at that time to happen.
And it was more like -- the people talk about like that circadian rhythm, like you -- we would get into a rhythm on -- and that has been harder to kind of feel a part of here, although we’re still pretty new in town. Um, can’t really call this town, but -- KAREN BREWSTER: Sure.
RUBY BECKER: You know, to us, this is town. KAREN BREWSTER: The village? RUBY BECKER: The village. KAREN BREWSTER: You’ve lived here a year? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Just over. RUBY BECKER: Yep. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. RUBY BECKER: Yep. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about you, Nate?
NATE BECKER: I didn’t appreciate -- I don’t think, not until we moved to town did I truly appreciate how connected we were, I was, to the river.
Like I remember at one point last fall, when we live -- we live a quarter-mile down the road here, and we’re -- the house is 200 feet from the river, but we can’t -- we’re back far enough, you can’t hardly see the water from -- from the house. And some days it doesn’t even feel like we live on the river.
Uh, and part of that is the bank is so steep, you can’t get -- you can’t easily access the water. You gotta go a quarter-mile either direction to actually get -- actually further than that. More like a half-mile to get down to the water.
So I don’t even feel like I live on the water anymore, and I remember this strange feeling last fall where -- where, uh, I just felt like I’d lost all sense of the Yukon. Like, I was going to work in the dark, and I was coming back from work in the dark, and it went like weeks and weeks and weeks at a time, and I hadn’t even seen the river.
And I just remember thinking how strange that used to be, where our lives were just centered on the Yukon. Like, you couldn’t go anywhere any time of year without traveling the Yukon. Seldom was the day any time of year, even if we weren’t traveling, where you didn’t at least walk down and check on the river. Like, you had to go check the boat. Or you wanted to go just see what the water was doing.
Uh, and um, like, there probably weren’t that many people in the entirety of Alaska, that was more in tune with what the river was doing than the way we were, I felt.
And like I could’ve told you any given time in the last ten years, you know, as long as we were around and not in Chicken, like, if the water was coming up or going down or, you know, what the ice was doing, or overflow, or anything regarding the river at all. And now I have no idea from day to day. (a loud noise in the background and some muffled conversation)
Shh. Now I have no idea from day to day what’s going on with the Yukon. I need to figure out a way to change that a little bit. I mean, obviously, I’m working full time. And, you know, our lives have changed. Um, I don’t know.
The -- you kind of get sucked into the whole lore and the legend of the Yukon River, and, you know, and Robert Service and Jack London and all those stories, and poems, and uh, you know, it’s a powerful force. It’s a -- it’s definitely the lifeblood of this part of the --
And I’m sure it’s this way all the way to the mouth. I’m sure anyone who lives within a stone’s throw of the Yukon would probably agree with that sentiment. Um, but it’s life around here, for sure. Eagle wouldn’t exist without the Yukon. Um, you know. Which is true with most villages in Alaska. Like most of them tend to be on a navigable waterway. But there’s just something so special about the Yukon River.
RUBY BECKER: The spell of the Yukon.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about you girls? Is there something that was particularly meaningful to you about living out there?
GENEVIEVE BECKER: I like mushing dogs in the wintertime.
RUBY BECKER: We would go on really long walks sometimes, too. We would just walk. The trail would always go, like right out onto the river from our beach. And we’d just walk and walk and walk.
GRACE BECKER: And there was this one really rocky place that we called, um, "the rock garden," ’cause it was just full of tons of rocks that were so cool. And we just walked along it 'til we reached a sandy spot. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
GRACE BECKER: There were like these places of sand. Like there’s this little path between ’em. Remember that spot? RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. GRACE BECKER: It was really cool.
KAREN BREWSTER: Listening to you guys, the kids, it really sounds like you learned to observe and get connected to nature by living out there. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that -- would you say that?
NATE BECKER: Do you think that’s true of you, Veve? KAREN BREWSTER: You think that's true? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: I think to them, they don’t even think of it that way. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: It’s not -- that’s kind of like an abstract. I think for them, these two especially, it’s so much a part of them naturally that I think to try and describe that would be really abstract.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that's why I -- the story of the rocks that you -- RUBY BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- you have special places. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: That you would see all the time, and you associate with those, and you have a name for ’em, and you would observe them. And it has a meaning to you. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: That I think give you -- comes from living out that way. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: And I don’t know if you guys see it that way.
RUBY BECKER: My friend David has this story about the girls. (loud noise in the background) When he and his friend came to visit us, they arrived in their canoes, and we were down at the beach. It was falltime, and we had been fishing. And the girls were just running wild on the beach, you know, completely oblivious. HUNTER BECKER: (inaudible)
RUBY BECKER: I think you were a baby when this story happened. Um, oblivious of the rocks and the cold, and, you know, they were just their truest form of themselves.
And they had, like, painted -- they had painted their faces with cranberry paint, and they had feathers in their hair, and they were making little campfire rings. And ten -- they were helping David and Mark find spots for their tents. And they made these little trails to their tents. And they were just like these whimsical little --
NATE BECKER: Feral children. RUBY BECKER: Right. Right. And -- and the way he describes it is just perfect. I can’t do a very good job of it.
But um, you know, and the way we’ve lived with our dogs so closely, the girls are so, um, in tune with the dogs. And they -- they know what the dogs are thinking and feeling and what they’re trying to communicate. And these girls are really, really good with dogs. Really good with dogs.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you guys still have dogs? RUBY BECKER: We still have -- GENEVIEVE BECKER: Nineteen. KAREN BREWSTER: Nineteen?
RUBY BECKER: We still have almost all of -- two of our dogs are the same age as the girls, and we have a couple that are a little bit older. And half of our yard is ten years or older.
KAREN BREWSTER: So are you girls running dogs? GENEVIEVE BECKER: Mm-hm. GRACE BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: You mush your own dog sleds? GRACE BECKER: Mm-hm. GENEVIEVE BECKER: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, one year we, um, got notified that there was going to be a roller-skating party at the school. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, cool. RUBY BECKER: In Eagle. And so, the girls and I mushed two teams. HUNTER BECKER: Why couldn’t I come? RUBY BECKER: (whispering) You were too little.
The girls and I mushed two teams up to town and went to the roller skating party and saw all of our friends, and then we mushed home.
KAREN BREWSTER: So Genevieve, you like dog mushing? Are you gonna be the next Yukon Quest racer? GENEVIEVE BECKER: No.
KAREN BREWSTER: No? Go along with Matt Hall? ’Cause he grew up here, right? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah, yeah. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Yeah. We know Matt well. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: So now I’d like to talk a little bit about going back to some of the same -- well, obviously your home is Wood Island, but still utilizing the same areas. And I know you folks haven’t moved in very long, into town, but utilizing some of the same areas in the Preserve. KAREN BREWSTER: For subsistence? MARCY OKADA: For subsistence. RUBY BECKER: Um. MARCY OKADA: Or plan to.
NATE BECKER: So I intend on going down moose hunting this fall. I have an uncle who’s been here twice before. We’ve harvested a couple moose together. And he’s coming this fall. I’m going to take a week off work, and we’re going to go down to Wood Island. Spend a little bit of time around the favorite hunting holes there, and then probably a little bit of time up Tatonduk.
Um, I’m trying to think of any other subsistence activities that -- I mean, obviously hopefully one day we can put a fish wheel in the water again. You know, we’ll do that up here, obviously, not down there. Uh.
RUBY BECKER: Cranberries. I mean, I can pick cranberries here, too. They’re just -- I mean, I’m sure I could find a spot where they’re as good as they are on our beach, but um, it’s just absurdly easy at home. They’re just -- there’s so many, and they’re --
KAREN BREWSTER: So did you go back down there last fall to pick cranberries? RUBY BECKER: No, we didn’t. We didn’t go down. Um, the kids and I did not go down last fall.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is your hope to go this fall?
RUBY BECKER: Our hope -- Yeah, the kids and I haven’t been there since last March. Which is really hard. And we talk about it all the time. So we’re hoping to get down there this -- yet this summer.
Nate just went down for the first time to check on the place, um, last week, but it wasn’t -- it wasn’t the right trip to take the kids on. It had been closed up for a long time, and we weren’t sure what the status was, so um, but hopefully we can get down there. MARCY OKADA: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. Pretty much the girls’ entire childhood is still down there, you know, and Hunter’s, too. Like all their toys and all of their books. We have some of their stuffed animals here, but all of our books. All the childhood is down there.
KAREN BREWSTER: All your childhood memories, for sure. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
MARCY OKADA: How about changes in -- (crashing sound) MARCY OKADA: -- changes in Preserve management? Subsistence management. I mean, you folks lived in the Preserve. Have you seen some changes that aren’t too good?
NATE BECKER: Well, I mean, obviously the one everyone wants to talk about right now is the -- how the salmon have collapsed, both the chum and the king. But that, I mean, to point to any one single entity and, I mean, that’s -- you can’t do that.
There’s so many user groups with something like salmon that -- that -- I mean, certainly in our lifetime here, that’s been the -- that’s been the biggest -- that’s been the biggest, uh, management issue that we’ve seen.
But, I mean, there’s a lot of different agencies and entities with a lot of really, really smart people who can’t figure out why that happened. And we’re cognizant of that.
Um, but if it stays like this, you know, the dog teams are going to go away. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: You know, like, I’m sure some of them already have. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: Nobody in Eagle. No one in Eagle has gotten out of mushing because of this, but I’m sure it’s happened in other parts of the Yukon. It’s just a matter of time before it happens here.
I mean, we’re going to get our numbers down. And I think that was going to be a natural progression within our dog yard regardless of the salmon numbers. We’ve always traditionally been maybe around twenty sled dogs. Um, and now we’re going to try and get down to about half that. And just attrition is going to get us there in a couple years. In a couple years’ time, we'll be down to ten, um.
KAREN BREWSTER: They just age out, and you don’t have puppies? NATE BECKER: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That very first dog team that I acquired, started acquiring, started to acquire fourteen years ago, they’re aging out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. NATE BECKER: Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I mean, are there challenges to having lived in a national preserve? NATE BECKER: Uh. KAREN BREWSTER: Restrictions on --?
NATE BECKER: There was some challen -- for the most part, everyone was pretty great to work with. Uh, you know, I had to get a permit any time I wanted to cut a green tree bigger than three inches in diameter. Did I always follow through with that? No. But I tried my best to toe the line and to be a good neighbor. And we always felt like the Park Service was a good neighbor to us.
Uh, I actually, I felt blessed to live in the middle of the Yukon-Charley Preserve, in the middle of an area designated to not only support but to promote subsistence living.
And I always -- I know that the Park Service has a really bad reputation in a lot of places, uh, and Eagle was certainly one of them. I think maybe some feelings and attitudes have adjusted over the years. I think just as a -- just because of time, I think people’s stance on the National Park Service has softened a little bit.
I always considered the Park Service a friend, and I worked for the Park Service for six years. I mean, in the interest of full disclosure. So I get the -- I get the Park Service mentality and the ethos. Obviously, it’s different in Alaska than it is the Lower 48, uh, but at the end of the day, the Park Service exists for the right reason, and I think Ruby and I certainly both agree with that sentiment.
Um, so I mean, yeah, there’s -- there’s -- at times it seemed like there was a little bit too much red tape. More red tape than a guy should have to deal with, living the way we lived, but I mean, I get it. Like, like -- so I don’t know.
I always enjoyed living in the middle of 2.2 million acres of National Park Service-administered land. And I always feel like they were a good neighbor to us.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Me personally, I mean, I never had to deal with, like, all the permitting and stuff that Nate did, but um, just knowing that we’re surrounded by that just always felt so safe. Just untouchable, kind of, like nobody’s going to come and mess with us because they can’t, you know.
Not -- I -- I’m not even describing it right. Like, if somebody, like, if somebody wanted to come and set up like some rickety camp on the island, like -- you know, like -- They can’t. They can’t just like, come and be weirdos. Like, we were going to be away from the weirdos. I know that sounds just --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, it's sort of like I was -- my house in Fairbanks, I was always afraid someone was going to buy the empty lot next to me and come and cut down all the trees. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s kind of what you’re saying? RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That you felt you were somewhat protected? RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: In a cocoon or something? RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Very much so. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I get that feeling. RUBY BECKER: Very much so. KAREN BREWSTER: I get that, yeah.
MARCY OKADA: I guess lastly, is just changes in fire, and freeze-up, break-up? Are you just -- I mean, are you folks thinking it’s getting more dynamic or -- KAREN BREWSTER: Environmental changes? MARCY OKADA: Environmental changes that are impactful.
NATE BECKER: Did you say fire to start with? MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: You know, there’s been so few, I feel like so few significant fires within the Preserve. I’m trying to even remember the last significant one. I feel like it happened before I even moved here. Little ones here, every now and then. So I can’t say that I’ve noticed any significant trends one way or the other regarding fire.
Uh, break-up, I feel like I moved to Alaska -- so obviously, the ’09 flood everybody remotely familiar with Eagle -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. NATE BECKER: -- knows what the ’09 flood means to the residents around here.
And you talk to -- hear stories about or talk to the old timers about, you know, break-up in the, you know, '70’s, '80’s, '90’s, like they’d have the occasional high water, but it seems like they seldom had to deal with ice jams.
Um, and it just seems like -- it seems like any more, like, you know, whether it’s Eagle or Circle or Galena, or wherever, you know, there’s some place just about every year that’s affected by an ice jam and flooding on the Yukon.
In terms of my 15 years of traveling this waterway, I don’t -- I’m sure there’s historical data that shows that break-up is happening slightly sooner than it used to, but it’s always the first week of May. It doesn’t matter if the snow goes away in March or the snow goes away in May. Like there’s some years where our snow was gone by the first of May. Or the first of April. And most years, it’s the middle of April. Some years, it’s the first or second week of April. But it doesn’t seem to matter.
The river always breaks between the fourth and the seventh of May. I do feel like break-up -- or I do feel like freeze-ups have pushed a little longer. RUBY BECKER: Yeah, I was just going to say that.
NATE BECKER: Like it used to be -- when I first got here, everyone claimed that October 15, you had to have the boat out of the water by October 15th. Uh, then maybe you could get by a day or two, but you better not have anything planned on October 20th, because you probably weren’t going to be able to do it.
But that's really -- I feel like that’s pushed back. I feel like now, it’s the 20th or the 25th. I forget if that was last year. Was it last fall, it was earlier, but it -- ? Probably can’t remember it because it was last fall, and I didn’t have a boat in the water, so I don’t -- didn’t care.
But there was -- there's been a couple years, I was able to go to town and pick up -- Wasn’t that I picked you and the girls up in the boat like on November 1st or October 30th or whenever? RUBY BECKER: Yeah, it was October 31 because it was the night -- it was the day after the Halloween Carnival at the school. NATE BECKER: Ok.
RUBY BECKER: And then, that was the magic date that we had to stay at school through the first quarter, and then we could go home. NATE BECKER: Ok. RUBY BECKER: So it was November 1st
KAREN BREWSTER: And you picked them up in a boat? NATE BECKER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. It was snowing on us, but really there wasn’t much -- there wasn’t any real significant ice. I mean, we could get the boat right to the boat landing. There wasn’t really any shelf ice on the beach. Or -- NATE BECKER: Mm-hm.
RUBY BECKER: No ice running. He wouldn’t -- we wouldn’t have gotten the kids on the river if there was ice running.
KAREN BREWSTER: What year would that have been? RUBY BECKER: 2 -- NATE BECKER: Fall of 2020, maybe. ’19 or '20.
RUBY BECKER: Had to have been ’19 because the fall of 2020, we weren’t in school. I mean, we were doing school, but -- KAREN BREWSTER: ’Cause of COVID? RUBY BECKER: It wasn’t in person.
NATE BECKER: Oh, yeah. You’re right. ’Cause of COVID. Yep. So it would’ve been ’18 or '19. Probably ’19. RUBY BECKER: It was ’19. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. NATE BECKER: Yep.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah, ’cause we had Peggy’s puppies. We had -- we had puppies in the boat and the kids in the boat with their parkas and life jackets.
KAREN BREWSTER: Any other environmental changes that you’ve noticed?
RUBY BECKER: Um, you know, my -- I haven’t been here long enough to really speak to that, um, but, this -- this orange dust on the spruce trees is really significant in the last couple of years.
So I brought it up on the teleconference for YRDFA (Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association) last year, and people were talking about it being a fungal thing.
It’s like a cyclical thing, and it goes in the tree -- it goes in the spruce trees, and then it’s in something else in other years. Like, in the ground. I can’t remember. But anyway, that has been really, really severe the last couple of years here. Um, yes Grace?
GRACE BECKER: Especially on rosehips. RUBY BECKER: And you see it a lot on rosehips, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Rosehips have -- yeah changed, huh? RUBY BECKER: Yeah, in fact, some of the rosehips are even like a, like an orange color.
KAREN BREWSTER: I saw some, I think today that were like bright orange. RUBY BECKER: Bright orange. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. RUBY BECKER: Which I had never seen. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: So do you stay away from using those ones? RUBY BECKER: Oh, yeah. We wouldn’t use anything that was like weird or different.
Uh, Sonja says that the cranberry -- the lowbush cranberry population is, like, decimated around Eagle. Whether that’s caused by overuse of the land or just some other natural cycle, I don’t know, but they can’t find lowbush cranberries to pick in any volume.
And their family, they usually use a lot of lowbush cranberries. Um, so I know -- and Elizabeth has talked about that, too, about how the lowbush cranberries are so scarce now.
Um, you know, I’m sure I could think of other -- like other things I’ve noticed in the plants and the trees, but right now, I’m -- they’re not coming to me.
But I notice a lot all the time. When you, um, when you live in the woods, then you see these things. And then when something changes, you really notice it. Um.
KAREN BREWSTER: Mushrooms? RUBY BECKER: This year has -- there have been no mushrooms at all. MARCY OKADA: It’s so dry. RUBY BECKER: Yeah.
GRACE BECKER: In our straw there’s quite a few mushrooms. RUBY BECKER: There was some mushrooms in the straw. GRACE BECKER: By the dog houses. RUBY BECKER: By the dog houses. Yes. But there was a little moisture there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
RUBY BECKER: So they were able to produce mushrooms. We never used mushrooms just because living so remote, and I never really knew what was ok. And being so far away from the hospital with the kids, I just said, they were forbidden. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
RUBY BECKER: Um, so we’ve never. I know a lot of people use a lot of mushrooms, but we’ve never -- we’ve never done that. Just 'cause -- Basically, because Mom was too paranoid of something bad happening, so, um. NATE BECKER: (whispering) Hunter, shhh. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, shall we -- MARCY OKADA: I think --
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. You have anything else you want to summarize it? I know everyone’s getting tired. And Hunter’s really antsy -- RUBY BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- to go out and play in the sun.
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. Well, I think Nate and I could probably go on for quite some time, but um, yeah.
NATE BECKER: Yeah, I’m good. I know, yeah, we could sit here for hours more and tell more stories. RUBY BECKER: Right. NATE BECKER: And talk about this, but um.
So what’s the -- is this -- is this part of or kind of like Project Jukebox? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: It is part of it? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Ok, that’s what I thought. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
MARCY OKADA: I don’t know if you want to wrap up. NATE BECKER: Yeah, however everyone --
KAREN BREWSTER: I would say, yeah, anything else you want to add and wrap up? Summarize your experiences living on the Yukon.
RUBY BECKER: I feel really, really fortunate that we had what we had. And Wood Island will always be there. We’re not going to sell it. We’re not going to get rid of it. It’ll be ours, you know, forever.
HUNTER BECKER: Until you guys die, and then you guys -- RUBY BECKER: Right. HUNTER BECKER: Bring it on to other people.
RUBY BECKER: Then it’ll be yours. NATE BECKER: Give it to you? Will it to our kids?
KAREN BREWSTER: Hunter, do you think you want to go live out there when you get bigger with your family? HUNTER BECKER: I don’t know. KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t know?
HUNTER BECKER: The place that I would like to live in is in Sitka. NATE BECKER: Sitka? KAREN BREWSTER: Sitka. RUBY BECKER: We did go to Sitka to visit Daddy, didn’t we? HUNTER BECKER: Because I want to be a police officer. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. HUNTER BECKER: When I grow up. KAREN BREWSTER: Like your dad? Well, that’s good. GRACE BECKER: If you did live -- HUNTER BECKER: Or maybe Daddy can pass on the job to me? KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe.
RUBY BECKER: Well, that probably would work out. Like, your retirement age and Hunter’s, like -- KAREN BREWSTER: Starting age?
RUBY BECKER: It might actually kind of work out that -- I don’t know.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about Grace and Genevieve? Do you want to go back out and live out there as adults? GRACE BECKER: I don’t know.
RUBY BECKER: I could see one of them doing it. I’m not going to say which one.
KAREN BREWSTER: Genevieve, what is your response? HUNTER BECKER: VeVe would be doing it. NATE BECKER: Sshhh. GENEVIEVE BECKER: I don’t know.
NATE BECKER: I don’t think -- I don’t think any of our kids are quite old enough yet to truly appreciate their childhood. KAREN BREWSTER: To be able to --
NATE BECKER: I don’t think they know -- I don’t think they appreciate just how unique it was or is. Um, once they get -- once they spend a little bit more time out in the real world, I think they’ll have a much fonder appreciation for -- for how they were raised and where they were raised. I know they will. I know they will. It would’ve been lost on me at their age, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And I think, yeah, you guys are lucky kids. NATE BECKER: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. RUBY BECKER: And we are, too. We have been.
NATE BECKER: I mean, there’s no better way to teach your children appreciation than to not -- I was just thinking about while we were sitting here, is like, Ruby and I have been together for eleven and a half years now. Is that right? Yeah, eleven, going on eleven and a half years, and we’ve never had running water, you know. We’ve never had any kind of a septic system.
We had lights. We had the battery bank and lights at Wood Island, but we never had electricity. Uh, so, I know it taught me a really healthy appreciation for those things. And still does. RUBY BECKER: Mm-hm.
NATE BECKER: Still does. I know how nice it is always to go -- especially after my parents moved to town and we’d go and visit them, or stay a week with them in the summer or whatever.
KAREN BREWSTER: Get a shower?
NATE BECKER: Yeah, get a shower. And do your laundry. And, you know, electricity at the tip of your fingers. And running water. And all those, so --
RUBY BECKER: Yeah. I think we -- and, you know, like we were just getting to the point where we were like, we were good at it, and we were, like, we had everything, like, all of our systems, and like, we just got there, and then, you know, we had a sauna, and it was awesome.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, is there the potential that, you know, as the kids grow up and go off to school, whatever, you guys could go back and live there as a couple? NATE BECKER: Maybe. Yeah, we’ve talked -- We’ve talked about that. Yep, we might. Yep.
KAREN BREWSTER: Your retirement home?
NATE BECKER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: At the very least, it’d be nice to go back and spend, you know, one last winter sometime, right? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
NATE BECKER: You know. Um, if nothing else, 'cause I got ten cords of firewood there. RUBY BECKER: Right. They’re just sitting there. NATE BECKER: I need to burn up at some point. MARCY OKADA: Seasoning.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. All right. Well, thank you guys so much. NATE BECKER: Oh, absolutely. RUBY BECKER: Yeah. NATE BECKER: Thank you. RUBY BECKER: You’re welcome.