Elisabeth Sager was interviewed on August 3, 2021 by Marcy Okada, Subsistence Coordinator for Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, outside in Elisabeth's garden at her home in Eagle, Alaska. In this interview, Elisabeth talks about living a subsistence-based lifestyle at a remote cabin on Trout Creek, a tributary of the Yukon River. She describes picking a cabin site, building a cabin, the daily routine of cabin life, raising children in a remote setting, raising and caring for dogs, traveling by dogteam and boat, and spending months alone at the cabin with her children while her husband ran his trapline. Elisabeth also talks about the seasonal subsistence activities of fishing and berrypicking in the summer, hunting moose and bear in the fall, and trapping in the winter. Finally, Elisabeth shares some of her thoughts and feelings about living close to the land, conservation, and protecting the planet from continued human impacts.
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Personal and family background
Learning about and coming to Alaska
Living in Anchorage and at Mendeltna Creek near Glennallen
Building a cabin and learning to live a remote lifestyle
Deciding to move to Eagle, Alaska
Arriving in Eagle and settling downriver at Trout Creek
Picking a site and building their cabin at Trout Creek
Salvaging things that floated down the river in the spring
Building a second cabin after having children
Challenges of living a remote lifestyle, especially with children
Doing chores, and being alone at the cabin while her husband, Mike, was out on the trapline
Raising and caring for dogs
Going into town (Eagle and Fairbanks), friends made, and using a boat and outboard motor
Seasonal subsistence activities: summer fishing
Seasonal subsistence activities: summer berrypicking
Seasonal subsistence activities: fall hunting (moose and bear)
Story about shooting a bear at their cabin, and dealing with bears in the country
Having respect for moose
Seasonal subsistence activities: winter hunting
Trapping, and presence of wolves
Using furs, selling furs, and skin sewing
Seasonal subsistence activities: spring hunting (waterfowl, beaver, bear, and fish)
Joys of living a remote lifestyle and enjoying solitude
Challenges of raising children away from other families
Moving from Trout Creek back to Eagle, and readjusting to live in town
Continuing subsistence activities while living in Eagle
Effect of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve on their lifestyle and cabin use
Environmental and conservation philosophy, and the negative effect humans have on the planet
Changes in fish and wildlife resources in the region
Thoughts on fish and game management
People's need for meat and hunting ethics
Hopes for the future, the desire to see salmon populations increase and fishing return, and the importance of young people speaking out for more sustainable resource use practices
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MARCY OKADA: My name is Marcy Okada. I work for the National Park Service, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and I’m here today with Elisabeth Sager at her home, but we are interviewing in her yard. And today is August 3, 2021, and um, we’ll go ahead and get started.
So I’m just gonna start off with questions, Elisabeth, on your personal background. We’ll just start off with where you were born and raised. ELISABETH SAGER: Ok. I was born and raised in Munich, Germany, which is in Bavaria. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Which is a beautiful place, especially if you don’t have to live there and can just visit. Just too many people. Anyway, and I came to Alas -- yeah. Does this answer the first question? MARCY OKADA: Yes.
And so, who were your parents and where were you -- I mean, how were you educated? And then what brought you to Alaska? ELISABETH SAGER: Ok. My parents. My mother was a refugee in the second World War from Ukraine. And she and her sister basically managed to cross various front lines heading for Germany during the war because their father, my grandfather, was arrested and put in the Gulag. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And we didn’t see him 'til I was, I believe, 14. Yeah. But he did survive. And when he came back, he lived probably less than half a year longer. He was -- MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: I looked at him like a dead man walking, basically. But he did manage to come back, so. And my father, uh, comes from Hungary. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And both my mom and my father are from German descent, and their people, my father’s people, went to Hungary over 200 years ago. And my mom’s people even left earlier. It was probably 16 or 1400’s, whatever. Yeah, we were there for a long time. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: But during the war, the Germans went into Hungary, and my dad was actually a child prodigy starting to become an architect, and the university there tried to keep him very desperately. But then, in the end, they took him into the army. But he was not even 18. He was just 17 when the war ended. That was the very last where there was no more people left for -- to fight, and they even took basically kids.
So -- and they both ended up in Germany. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So without the war, my parents never would have met, ever. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Which is, I think, true for many people at any type of war where there have to be refugees. It’s happening right now. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: Um-hm.
So that’s the background. I was educated in the regular school, and then a humanistic, classical humanistic gymnasium. Gymnasium is like a high school. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: At that time it was all girls’ gymnasium. Now they are co-ed.
And I was not a good -- I was not a bad student. I was not a very compliant student, and I had my troubles. I ended up having to leave the school, because they thought I would probably fit better somewhere else.
It was a -- it was a school which was, um, what do you call it? There was lots of alumni. It used to not be -- it used to be a private school. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: For the better ones. It was not -- only lately it had become a public school. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Probably because of the funding, I would imagine.
And, you know, the reason I'm here, because I don’t fit very well. Anyway, so I went to a different type of gymnasium where there more emphasis on science, and I finished that. And then I did -- I studied social pedagogic, which is working with children. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Or to young adults or whatever.
And then I saw and read about Alaska. Actually, the first time I heard about Alaska was through my dad, who read a lot to us since my mom could not. She was nearly blind and ended up being blind. It came from starvation and TB.
And so, he read us always. He was the one reading to us. And I remember being little, meaning before school age, and he would read about the explorer in the North and about Eskimos, quote-unquote. And I always liked it. And he liked it, too, I imagine.
And then I once saw a documentary, and it looked like, huh, there’s not many roads here, and everybody gets around with a plane, which is not true, obviously. But I liked it, so I got --
My ex-husband was actually American citizen, and he went up to the states through Canada, through Alaska, and, you know, he kept talking about it, wanting to go back there, so we decided we both go back here. And that’s why it’s Alaska, since he was a US citizen. I like Canada just as well, the north. Yeah. And so we came here.
MARCY OKADA: You met your -- you met your ex-husband Outside (Lower 48)? ELISABETH SAGER: No, no, in Munich. MARCY OKADA: Oh, I see. ELISABETH SAGER: He got raised in Munich since he was like five years old, because his mother married a GI, went to the States, got divorced, and came back to Munich. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, so. He basically -- he’s American, but he grew up in Munich.
MARCY OKADA: So you were married in Munich? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And then you traveled? ELISABETH SAGER: Then you have to do the paperwork, the immigration. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And then you -- I came here in --
The first time I came here in ’74. We went back, got married, and in ’75 I got all my paperwork done. And I’m a permanent alien resident since then.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. So you came to Alaska in 1974? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok. And you’ve been here since? ELISABETH SAGER: With the break of going back to get married. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: That took, like, that summer, almost three months. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: But otherwise, yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And I do -- I did go back to Munich, especially the last years, uh, every year in, starting maybe 2005. Before that, it was every two or three years. It’s expensive. But when my mom got old, I would get every year. But she died in 2015, and I’ve been there in ’16 to help wrap things up. I’ve been there in 2019, and not since then because of the epidemic. I have a brother in Munich. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And lots of other relatives. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. Um, so that -- that explains your early years. Um, and that explains how you came to Alaska. ELISABETH SAGER: Um-hm. MARCY OKADA: You had shared that you also heard stories growing up. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: So it was in your mind. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: And so, when you first got here -- ? ELISABETH SAGER: When we first got here -- you know, you always meet people. We met some -- some other young pe -- Well, we knew somebody in Anchorage we had the address for. Somebody having a special restaurant at the Stuckagain Heights out on the hillside of Anchorage there. And that is not, you know, our -- you’re young. These were not young people. Totally different, you know.
So we did meet somebody, uh, another German, for example, and he had made friends with another ex-Vietnam veteran. And they had a little -- he, that guy, had a little tiny cabin on the Mendeltna Creek, which is just in front of Glennallen. If you go from Anchorage to Glennallen, you go, I don’t know, 20, 30 miles or something in front of Glennallen, maybe less. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: You go across a little creek. It’s called Mendeltna Creek, and he had a cabin there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So we went out there with him. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: But it turns out, you know, we -- you go there, and you talk around, turns out it was Native land. But there was two Native people there. And the funny thing is, we walked around there, and we came to a spot in the bend of the river where there was these overgrown, mossy humps. It looked like waves. MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And we looked at it and said, this is not natural. Somebody did that. MARCY OKADA: Oh.
ELISABETH SAGER: And then we -- we realized there’s two, actually three Native people still living there, the Secondchiefs. It was a brother and sister and her husband. They were old. And we went and talked to them about it, and they said, that’s the village. That whole village died. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: With the sickness which was brought in when the road was made. MARCY OKADA: So this is -- ELISABETH SAGER: There was a village there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. And the Secondchiefs, the brother and sister and that other guy were one of the few ones left. MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Over. Yeah. They had kids that were in Anchorage and stuff, so there is more from them.
But what a thing, you know. Very strange. And I think this happened in so many places here, that utter devastations. And we know now about epidemics and how it goes, you know. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: Totally helpless. There was -- I can’t even picture it. But yeah, there was the site, and it still is there. No markings or anything, but there it is, yeah.
MARCY OKADA: So you didn’t stay with that gentleman? ELISABETH SAGER: Oh, we did. MARCY OKADA: You stayed out there? ELISABETH SAGER: We did talk to Secondchiefs, and they said, it’s ok if we build a cabin. Because we wanted to build a cabin, you know. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: You're German, you come to Alaska, you need to build a log cabin, yeah, all right. MARCY OKADA: Yes.
ELISABETH SAGER: Anyway. And they said it’s ok, because she and the one brother would still go trapping a little bit in wintertime, so they wouldn’t mind if there’s a little cabin, you know. Just one small cabin, whatever, 12 x 14 or something like that. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And so we did that. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So, they were very nice, you know. And um --
MARCY OKADA: How long did you live out there? ELISABETH SAGER: Just one winter. We just wanted to try it out. That was in ’70 -- ’73-'74. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So we did that. And we picked a good spot away from the creek quite a ways, and it had gravel on it. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And coming from Munich, you like nice, good, well-drained gravelly place. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: But stupid as we are, well, it’s obvious why there is gravel there. MARCY OKADA: Oh, flooding. ELISABETH SAGER: It’s the creek. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: We build it there.
So in springtime, we had to make a moat around it and a little bridge over it. And it’s so sad because we made it for them. And I think if it’s still standing, I would be surprised, because at any time of high water, the creek will run there. Ok, what a stupid thing.
Anyway, it was a nice little cabin, and we learned. We had no idea, overflow. Who ever heard of overflow? What’s that, you know? MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: I mean, totally -- You know how it is when you come from a city. And even so you’re outdoorsy, you have not a clue. And so, you learn step by step that yeah, this is a different place, and things -- do things differently.
We also learned that when you walk through the woods, we made that -- Joe, one of this -- that older brother of the Secondchiefs, he would walk through the woods with a -- with a regular shovel, you know. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Over his shoulder. And we asked him, it’s winter, why do you take this shovel? It’s not a snow shovel, it’s a regular shovel. And he looked at us and said, "Sometimes moose meets man." MARCY OKADA: Oh.
ELISABETH SAGER: And, you know, moose -- we thought, oh, moose eats twigs. Why would it be dangerous? Well, they are, you know, especially in winter. They are ornery, ok? Yeah? So that was -- I never forget that. I learned a lesson that moose, yeah, they eat leaves, but they not necessarily nice at all, yeah. And things like that, you just learn things.
And if you’re -- if you’re willing to learn things, you can pick it up, no matter how ignorant you are in the beginning. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: But you must be willing. Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: So what -- what brought you folks to this part of Alaska? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, the next winter after we got married, we came back. We met some other people. We traveled before we went back to Munich that year, we traveled a little bit down to the Kenai Peninsula. We met, you know, young people. Meet other young people.
We met some brothers, and then when we came back after the marriage, we went to the Kenai Peninsula to, uh -- uh -- god. You see, there comes my lack of memory. Tell me the place. MARCY OKADA: Uh, there’s -- ELISABETH SAGER: Homer. MARCY OKADA: Homer, ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
We went to Homer and first they wanted to trap some foxes on some island, and I said, "Well, how weird is that?" That didn’t -- it never worked out, you know. And then they wanted to work on the oil rig, because they -- at that time, pulled one of the rigs into the Homer harbor behind the Homer Spit. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And it’s kind of muddy there, and they had trouble raising it again, because it kind of got stuck in the mud. It was kind of difficult. And they hired people. But never -- they never hired my ex-husband and his friend.
And so, they were basically hanging around, doing a little bit wood cutting, so I got to be a waitress, which was also funny since I still have an accent, and I had even worse of an accent then, and certain things I didn’t know.
And so, I worked in that one restaurant. I think the people were Korean. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And they talked funny, and I talked funny, I thought. So it’s ok. It worked out.
Anyway, and we did not -- I did not like it there, and neither did my ex-husband. It was the year when St. Augustine erupted. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And so the snow turned all gray. The people turned all weird. Everybody loaded up their cars and springing away in the middle of ordering food because they were so nervous it would spit out ashes and whatnot.
And so, it turned into this gray slush with all the ash falling and whatnot, and then it would melt away. And neither one of us -- we like a winter to be winter. We don’t want it to melt away in the middle. And there was a lot of people on the Kenai even then. So that was not so to our liking.
So we looked at the map and said, we have to go north. We either go up to Taylor, or at that point you could go either to Eagle or Circle. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We picked Eagle. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: It looked better. Yukon -- Circle, Yukon, nah. We picked Eagle. It looked better. Straight shot, you know. And so, we came up here.
And our -- we were driving a used Scout. It barely made it here. We basically parked it with dentist at that time. Our dentist here at his used, non-working car lot. And that was it. So yeah, we --
MARCY OKADA: So you arrived. And then where did you live? Did you -- ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we camped out here by the creek when you go down to the Park Service heading to the creek. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: For a few, couple, maybe couple months. Mike got a little job. At that time, there was village firefighting crews, and he got on that one for a bit, you know, for money.
And then we went downriver. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: To Trout Creek. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We had to ask around. There was a number of quote-unquote “hippies” living along the river, and you had to find an empty -- an empty bend in the river where they wouldn’t mind if you sneak in there. Naturally, not legally because it was squatting.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. And this is still in the '70’s? ELISABETH SAGER: That is in ’75. No, ’76. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Because ’75, yeah. And then we went down there and built the cabin at Trout Creek.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. So let’s talk a little bit about that -- the cabin-building experience. Like, how -- how did you folks get started with that? I mean, you had mentioned you're -- you’re basically newcomers, so. ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we read a lot of books, and um, my ex-husband has a knack for building. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Sonja, my oldest daughter, inherited that, too. She’s really good at it. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: I grew up -- my dad is a builder. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Or was a builder.
Um, we were building to work and use tools, you know. And you got a brain, you can -- you can study and, you know, there’s books to be read, and you see, you talk to people, you look what they are doing. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: It’s just a matter of gathering information, especially what others are doing around you. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And if you think, that looks ok, it might work. Or you say, mmm, that doesn’t look so great. Then you do it whatever your way, and you learn as you go, you know.
MARCY OKADA: So how did you pick the site on Trout Creek? ELISABETH SAGER: Um, we picked the site, um -- it had to be not in the open because we were squatting. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So the -- there were big trees. There’s a creek that was -- nobody else was there. There was people down at the Nation. There was people up at Tatonduk. Dick Cook. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Um, so that was a ok place to be.
MARCY OKADA: And you started felling trees in the area? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, he would pick the trees, yeah. Carry them -- MARCY OKADA: Ok. How long did that -- ELISABETH SAGER: Huh? MARCY OKADA: How long did that process take? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we built it that summer. You have to have a cabin in the winter. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: I mean, there’s a time limit to it. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: We chinked it with moss. We had a sod roof. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: You know, somewhere there’s old pictures. It was a nice little cabin at the time. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. It was.
You salvaged things coming down the river in the spring. Next spring, we got a one -- the main window was huge. I always -- our door was little and the window was like three times as big as the door. The door, you had to kind of step in. That was Mike’s idea and design. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And um, which is great.
The window was one of those nice, you know, divided into panes. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And it came down one spring, uh, you know, in the river. And we put the -- the -- the -- fixed the glasses again and put it in. I think we fixed the glasses. Or maybe it was one we salvaged from an old place. I don’t know. You see, there’s my memory. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: But anyway, it was huge.
MARCY OKADA: When you said it came down in the spring -- ELISABETH SAGER: Things would come down after break-up with the high water. MARCY OKADA: You’d just find -- you found -- ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’d go to the places where the wood piles up, you know. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And you can find all kinds of things. Mostly they come from Canada. Sometimes from Eagle, but usually, they come from Canada.
Like pink plastic flamingoes, for example. MARCY OKADA: Oh, ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We found one, and Sonja, she was little. She fell in love with it. That’s when you go up to Sonja’s driveway, I gave her two little ones because of that. She loved that flamingo.
Because the way Sonja grew up, she had very little toys which were plastic, you know. We made things, etc. So she was just totally in love with plastic and strong colors. And there was this pink flamingo, you know, those regular big ones on a stick. And she called it Wutaki and schlepped it around forever. MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: The biggest treasure coming downriver.
MARCY OKADA: Ok, so let’s go back to that. So you had -- you -- you built the cabin in the summer, but you were finding things, you know, during spring break-up. ELISABETH SAGER: Well, yeah, sure, all the time. MARCY OKADA: And you were adding onto the cabin. And then, um, Sonja, so Sonja was born first. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Yes. MARCY OKADA: What year was that?
ELISABETH SAGER: We literally added onto the cabin. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: In the front, which in the end didn’t work out. It was not a good way to do it. Uh, but Sonja grew. (airplane flies overhead) When she was little, we had the main cabin, the old cabin, and the front addition where the kitchen was in there.
And when Iris was born, we -- that’s when we finished the new cabin across the creek. Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Um-hm. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Which is now Trout Creek. The old one is still there, but it’s, you know, numerous trees are growing and it’s kinda going away to nature.
MARCY OKADA: So there’s two cabins built? ELISABETH SAGER: There is two cabins there. MARCY OKADA: By you and Mike. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, um-hm.
MARCY OKADA: And what were some of the positive and -- positive experiences from building those two cabins? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, that you can make your home. You have it all there. You need a little bit hardware, yeah, and you need some tools. Tools you need, yeah. Yeah. But you can make it. It is just your labor and your skill and knowledge.
And Mike is a good builder. He’s my ex-husband. That has a reason, but he’s a good builder. Uh-huh.
MARCY OKADA: Then what were some of the challenges of just trying to -- ELISABETH SAGER: Well, the challenges is that, um, you know, certain things were labor-intensive for one thing. You know, having babies there, you washed -- I had diapers, cloth diapers. Continuous washing is not a great fun.
My one desire was, I would like to have, hm. Clothing. Like something you can just wipe down and never have to wash all summer long. You know, especially with the kids. And because, hey man, that’s a lot of work. Time, work, schlepping the water. Everything.
Doing diapers every day is a boiling situation, you know. I mean, it’s just lots of -- good part of your day is exactly that. And if you add the dishes and the cooking and the thing, it’s kind of a lot of just tedious work. Repetitive work.
MARCY OKADA: So you were raising two daughters out on Trout Creek? ELISABETH SAGER: Yes. Yes. MARCY OKADA: And you were also -- well, before that, you were pregnant with two babies. ELISABETH SAGER: Yes. Yes. MARCY OKADA: At separate times, and --
ELISABETH SAGER: Sonja is born in this old house over there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And Iris is born in Trout Creek. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: At Christmas Eve. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: And -- and -- and you’re mentioning just the challenges of hauling water. And you were getting water off of the Creek? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Or, ok. ELISABETH SAGER: No, off the creek, yeah. MARCY OKADA: And boiling it, and um, and then just trying to make do with daily life's chores.
ELISABETH SAGER: It’s just a lot of chores. And I think that’s what it used to be, too. You know, we say the good old times, but actually it was a lot of chores. And if you were rich, you had servants doing the chores. And if you’re not rich, you do it yourself. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: Ok.
MARCY OKADA: So you’re doing certain types of chores like cooking, cleaning, washing? ELISABETH SAGER: I do, (laughs). MARCY OKADA: Out there. ELISABETH SAGER: Out there. Cooking, cleaning, washing. I also do chopping the wood. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Uh, and all kinds of things, you know. And I continuously -- since Mike was gone a lot. MARCY OKADA: Where was he? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, he would go on trap line, for one thing. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Gone for weeks on end, sometimes months.
Uh, then he would go sometimes -- he would be the one usually who goes to town. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Somebody has to feed the dogs. Sometimes we would go all, that is true, but it’s a big operation because you either have to run the dogs up to town because we had just the Grumman (canoe) at that time, and then later we had a wooden freight canoe, wood and canvas. But still, you take a lot of stuff, and the dogs would have to run on the shore, so it’s an undertaking. So you don’t do it often. It’s not that he says, "Oh, you can’t go to town." It’s just logistically, it’s quite an undertaking. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And very few people can find somebody who goes and babysits a place down there for two weeks or something, you know.
MARCY OKADA: So you would stay back with the two kids? ELISABETH SAGER: Quite often, because it was just not worth the trouble, you know. I mean, endless trouble.
Or sometimes I would go, you know, and then Mike has to stay. I mean, you can’t -- for both of us to go, we would do that, but not on a regular base. You know, you do it once or twice, uh, maybe during the summer. Easier in winter, because you can hook up all the dogs, you know. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And then you go. But it’s just a logistical undertaking. You have animals.
MARCY OKADA: And how many dogs did you have? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we had -- depends at what point. We started out with one, and then two. And then we had five, and then we had eight. I don’t know whether I had much more than eight because you have to feed ’em, you know. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
ELISABETH SAGER: And at that time, we didn’t buy dog food. We didn’t have the money to buy dog food. It’s fishing. Sometimes if it was a bad fish year, you had to get -- we always had some oats or rice. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Dog rice. Meaning the broken rice, the cheap one.
And you would have -- at that time you could buy a bucket of tallow. Nowadays, it’s hard to get these days. And they have all those fancy oils and they’re super expensive.
But anyway -- and so, you would cook for the dogs. Meaning, either the fresh fish needs to be cooked anyway because they can’t handle it with the stuff on the skin, or later on you have to -- the frozen or dried fish, and you chop it up and you make a soup. Not a soup, a food. Yeah. And you get the liquid in them and whatnot. Yeah. So yeah. But what were we talking about? MARCY OKADA: And so, part of the -- the overall, arching question was just chores that had to be done. ELISABETH SAGER: Chores, yes.
MARCY OKADA: And then how often you went into town. ELISABETH SAGER: Yes. MARCY OKADA: Which sounded like once or twice a year. ELISABETH SAGER: No, I would get to Eagle more often because I could just, you know. It would be like one overnight, and you come back. You can do that. You feed the dogs and they will be fine. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: If you have the water dishes secured. It’s just like going to Fairbanks. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Or when we visited -- going to Germany, yeah. MARCY OKADA: Oh, I see. ELISABETH SAGER: That would be an undertaking.
MARCY OKADA: So you were coming from Trout Creek? You didn’t have a place here in Eagle? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we got to know the first year we came up through the people we knew, kinda, this way and that way. We got to meet Benesches in Fairbanks. Walt Benesch was a philosophy professor at the university. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: I don’t know whether you ever met him. MARCY OKADA: What was his name? ELISABETH SAGER: Walt. MARCY OKADA: Walt. ELISABETH SAGER: Benesch. MARCY OKADA: Benesch. No. ELISABETH SAGER: No. What a pity. Hm.
MARCY OKADA: So you knew someone in Fairbanks. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. And they were -- they're still very good friends. He died a few years ago. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: I admired him very much. Excellent person. And just recently, another, um, Neal Brown died. You know that. MARCY OKADA: Yes. Poker Flats. ELISABETH SAGER: Those people, they are all the old guard, or used to be the old guard. Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: So I guess part of me is trying to -- so once or twice a year during the summer, you would come back to Eagle, or someone, you or Mike would come. ELISABETH SAGER: I would, yeah, some -- several times, you know. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And I --
In the beginning, I wouldn’t come that often because, you know, I’m not good with motors. They better run. And we had just a -- we had a -- what was that? It was some kind of Japanese little thing, but it was not strong enough. You had to really run on the edge of the river to come upriver. MARCY OKADA: A motor? ELISABETH SAGER: Motor, yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And then we changed it. I think it was just a 5-horse something or other. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Which is -- I mean, you sit there and you can count the flowers as you go by. MARCY OKADA: Oh, because you’re not -- (unintelligible--talked over). Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, it’s like, "Mmm." Ok. We make progress. We’re not losing ground here.
Yeah, so it was a long trip. And then naturally we got used to run 25-horsepower Johnsons. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And, you know, I’m not big. You’re not big. I’m not big. MARCY OKADA: No. ELISABETH SAGER: You had to "pehhh." Start ’em. And I -- When I was successful, usually I would fly. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: When it -- I was not -- I’m not so great. I didn’t like it. I don’t like motors. They don’t like me. They know it. They break down on me. They do things, you know.
So, I -- yeah. But once we had a big wooden chestnut freighter that was a beautiful boat. We got this from Jim and Elva Scott. They sold it. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We made friends with them.
You know about Jim and Elva Scott? MARCY OKADA: No. ELISABETH SAGER: Well, Jim and Elva Scott -- Elva Scott was responsible for making the museums come about. MARCY OKADA: Oh, ok. ELISABETH SAGER: The little pavilion pagoda in the park there. It’s -- it's for her honor. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, yeah. They were very important people for Eagle. MARCY OKADA: Were they -- did she start the historical society? ELISABETH SAGER: Yes. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yes. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
And they had that freighter, and they sold it to us. They got a new one. Um, excellent boat. Super steady. And once we had that, I felt really good in running it with the kids. And made a little cupboard thing up front, where there would be, and you could freight a lot. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: You could push it with a 25 (horsepower motor). If there was bad waves, cross waves, standing waves, that boat could take it. I ran that boat where the motor would grab air, the waves are so bad. MARCY OKADA: Wow. ELISABETH SAGER: And as long as you keep it steady into the wind, it ain’t gonna budge. Super good boat.
It got crushed once we were up here. That one year, there was this -- regular break-up here, but like 60-foot walls down at Trout Creek. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: And it got crushed. It was pulled up high, but not high enough. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And that was the end of that boat, and I was sorry.
Sometimes there is a thing -- we had another chestnut freighter after that, but it never -- there’s just something about the form and shape and design which is right. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And that thing was right. Whoever made it. I think it was made in Canada.
The second one was from Tetlin, I know that, that freighter. But that one, wherever Jim -- Mike Sager is better at that. He knows all those things. I don’t. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: I can't -- I know, but it’s not in there. But it was --
I love a thing when it’s designed really good and it works. And that was the case with that boat. It was perfect. Hm-mm. Oh well, anyway.
So I did go to town quite often, if necessary, but just -- MARCY OKADA: Meaning here. Or -- ELISABETH SAGER: No, from Trout Creek to Eagle. Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And I did go to town later when we got a car, to Fairbanks, too. It’s just, you had to arrange it. It’s not something you do nilly-willy, you know. MARCY OKADA: Yes. ELISABETH SAGER: You can’t. MARCY OKADA: Logistics. You have to think about logistics. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Yeah. Planning.
MARCY OKADA: So let’s talk a little bit about life out at Trout Creek. Um, you know you said you initially started off with one dog. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And then moved up in number. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And so that means you guys were fishing in the summertime. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, in the summertime.
MARCY OKADA: You were putting out nets for -- ? ELISABETH SAGER: We fished with a -- we didn’t -- first we fished with nets. There wasn’t great eddies. We fished at Montauk Bluff for kings. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Uh, and at that time, I think -- I have pictures. It was catching good fish, but it also catched all the drift in the world. So you had a problem there. Those two things competing.
And checking the net was a pain in the butt, but -- but I -- I know I have one picture where I pull out -- hold up a salmon. You know, there’s none -- now we can’t fish -- MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
ELISABETH SAGER: At that time. Quite often I would pull out a salmon, and I have to hold it up like this. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: On the gills. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: That it clears the ground. MARCY OKADA: Wow. ELISABETH SAGER: You know. With two hands. I have to hold it up like this. These fish are not there anymore. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. Um --
ELISABETH SANGER: It’s a very sad thing to me. It’s amazing. MARCY OKADA: How things have changed. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: Um. So you’re fishing for kings, but that’s not for the dogs. That’s -- ELISABETH SAGER: That’s the kings, and then we also fished for dogs. In the beginning, we fished up at Wood Island. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Across from Wood Island, there’s an eddy, and we fished that for several years. But it was a pain in the butt, because we had to freight ’em, then downfloat ’em, you know, to Trout Creek. And it’s very -- you had to hang ’em. Then you had to take ’em off. Take them down, hang ’em up again. Lots of extra work. MARCY OKADA: Processing.
ELISABETH SAGER: And then later on, Mike made a fish wheel, and we fished the wheel across from Trout Creek. We call it Salmons Island. It’s the islands on the other side. There is a good current. We fished the wheel there.
But there was years that wouldn’t do it either, and we would fish with nets on the eddy across that. There was one fall, late fall, where there is ice on the shore, where we still had to fish. And Mike went up as far as Calico. MARCY OKADA: Oh, wow. ELISABETH SAGER: To get fish because we didn’t get the fish. There was no fish.
MARCY OKADA: So the fish wheel was for chums also? ELISABETH SAGER: Uh, no. We only -- only for chums. We never -- Downriver, we never fished for kings with the wheel, and even -- MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Even here we don’t. We don’t have -- yeah, you need a good eddy. We don’t have a good eddy for -- for --
I mean, we do have it now further down, but kings you can do that if it’s further away, because you -- you know, it’s a short season. You only need that many fish.
We never take too many kings. We never did. It’s just people food only, and we have a certain thing we preserve. I think it’s like 30-some fish we take or something like that. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And that is with giving some away. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So -- because I don’t hold for that, never did.
But then for the chums, you need something close by, because you do it every day for a long time 'til you have your thousands of fish, whatever you need, you know. MARCY OKADA: For your dogs?
ELISABETH SAGER: So you can’t go -- It would be very expensive for gas and labor to go very far, you know. So up here we fished across the river on the island side, you know. There’s the -- but not lately. Not last year, and not this year. It’s done.
That’s why you see everywhere, fish wheels -- uh, fish racks are used for other things. If you watch, we have two or three right here. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: There’s one at the garden. There’s -- at the airport is one, and close to the boat landing. They’re just standing around, you know. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: If you know what it is. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: Here and there. MARCY OKADA: They’re empty. ELISABETH SAGER: Empty, yeah.
MARCY OKADA: Um, how about berry picking in the summertime? ELISABETH SAGER: Oh, yeah. MARCY OKADA: You guys -- Out at Trout Creek? ELISABETH SAGER: At Trout Creek, you know, the environment is different. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: You start with the -- with the -- with the cloudberries, the orange ones or whatever you call them. Then you get -- there’s no wild strawberries, but there’s raspberries. There’s some wild currants. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: Black and red. MARCY OKADA: Wow.
ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, you have to know where they live. Lots of raspberries because it’s a old burn, so you have to crawl around it, but a lot of raspberries. Trout Creek itself does not have many blueberries, but in the boggy, swampy areas, like across from Montauk there would be a lot. But Trout Creek and the valley itself, not a whole bunch. No. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: So blueberries wasn’t our main staple. High-bush cranberries. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Rosehips. Uh --
MARCY OKADA: You’re picking for the winter? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Like, you’re storing berries? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Make jam or you -- you -- you -- you can them or you -- Cranberries in the later part, you would just put ’em in a cloth bag and hang ’em up, if it’s -- MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: You know, they keep quite well.
Cranberries were the big staple of us. For us. Probably the -- MARCY OKADA: High-bush. ELISABETH SAGER: No, low-bush. MARCY OKADA: Low-bush. Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, mm-mm. My favorite berries. Ah! You can’t beat ’em. They’re not squishy. They’re most beautiful colored. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: You just -- and you pick ’em when it’s already fall-ish, so it’s not hot. I mean, there’s the little stuff, flies around. The black flies, whatever. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: There’s always something around. But they are very beautiful. I love cranberries.
And here, we go up for the blueberries, hopefully pretty soon. Up high. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Because there they -- there’s some here out the road, even, you know. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: But not in the amounts. What we do, we go everybody, and we pick a day, and we have several gallons. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Three, four gallons, you know. Uh, so it’s more efficient, and it’s fun up there when it’s warm. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: In the high country. It’s not fun if it’s not warm.
And I don’t like it if too many hunters crawl around because the caribou season will be open, I think, what? 10th or 12th? I want those blueberries to happen before that. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: I don’t feel well with all kinds of people crawling around being all trigger-happy to shoot something, yeah.
MARCY OKADA: Um, how about fall time hunting, speaking of which? ELISABETH SAGER: I am not a hunter. MARCY OKADA: But out at Trout Creek -- ELISABETH SAGER: But -- MARCY OKADA: -- you guys were looking for meat. ELISABETH SAGER: Absolutely. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: At Trout Creek, moose, yeah. And then the caribou are there in the winter, but they’re there in small bands, so they’re spooky. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Um, we had one time where this huge caribou crossing happened between basically the -- the Nation (River) and Eagle. Huge. They would come across back and forth, you know, milling across here, coming through. And we got some then.
That’s when we got the only -- one time, maybe one other time. So caribou we wouldn’t get on a regular base because they wouldn’t be there. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: It was moose in the fall. It was -- we would -- Trout Creek has a game trail come down, so we on a regular base would get one or two bears every year. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: Pretty much. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Because they come and visit us.
MARCY OKADA: And how would you -- how would you process the moose and the bear? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, we would can the meat. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: If it’s too early. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
Uh, preferably, you get it as late as you can, because if you’re lucky, you have temperatures where you can hang it. And that happened quite often, yeah.
Some parts you still would can, but you could hang the hindquarters. I mean, you have to take care of the ribs and stuff, you know, but the big pieces of meat you could hang.
Sometimes the weather wasn’t so great for that, because it would be rainy and wet. Yeah. That wouldn’t be so great. But we canned a lot. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: We didn’t really dry much, because we didn’t have the setup, either fish or -- or meat. But canning, yeah. And I kinda still miss it. It was handy to have a can of meat. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: You know. Real cool, yeah. But now I don’t, obviously. It goes in the freezer. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: But.
MARCY OKADA: So it tastes different, right? ELISABETH SAGER: It does taste different. And usually, as I said, it was a mixture of it, because some -- the big pieces, you could hang. It would be good enough. They can age a little bit and then, you know, bring ’em in in winter time a leg at a time and cut it up. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And go from there. And some -- some parts I always would can.
MARCY OKADA: Did you have a cache? A cache? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok. Very necessary. ELISABETH SAGER: We had high caches, and we had barrel caches. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Because as I said, we were on a game trail. The bears would come. And we also, we never -- when we were there, we never had a trouble. You see, they would come in, but since we were gone only -- Germany we would do in wintertime, usually. Yeah, visiting. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: So that’s, the bears are out. And otherwise, we never were gone very long, and we made a point of not letting things kick around. We had some really secure drum caches, too. Bears couldn’t get in. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: So we were there a lot, let’s say it like this. There’s bears coming in. I even had to shoot one, one day. Even me. MARCY OKADA: Huh. Tell me about that, the story. ELISABETH SAGER: Well. MARCY OKADA: Bear came.
ELISABETH SAGER: You know, they come in. They check you out, you know. They’re around. I had one dog, a female, my female, and she would not bark for nothing. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: But if she stood up and made that barky growl, there was a bear there. MARCY OKADA: Huh. Ok. MARCY OKADA: That’s the only time she would ever sound off. Not for strangers, nothing.
And I have -- the way the Trout Creek set up was, I have the big windows looking at the dog yard always. I want to see the dogs. So when I do dishes -- I doing dishes. The kids are outside playing. We hear a motor come, because you hear it on the river. We think it’s a neighbor coming up, pulling into the slough probably and stop. The kids get excited. They go out the trail. The dogs are barking because of the motor, looking down to the slough.
And I watch all this when I see Menoo (sp?), my big female. She was like a malamute, 120-pound malamute female. MARCY OKADA: Wow. ELISABETH SAGER: She’s lazy, too, you know.
She stands up, hackles up, and makes this growly bark. And I knew, looking the other way past me, past the cabin. The kids are thisaway. The dogs -- all the other dogs look thataway to the river. Menoo looks thisaway, and I say, "Shit," because there was a bear hanging around. I saw signs of it, you know. They're curious. The black bears are curious. They're smart and curious, and they check things out, you know.
So I knew there was a bear around. And that’s in the middle of the day. Like, early afternoon, you know. And so, I went out, and my gun is right out the door. So I go out the door and reach for the gun, and there’s the bear. It’s like four feet away at the corner of the cabin. It got startled by me. It didn’t expect me. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: And I have a spruce tree, uh, another four feet away from the corner there, and it went up the tree. A little ways. So I just -- I just ignored the bear, kept on walking, called the kids and I says, "You have to come with me now." And they knew me, that they had to follow me when I -- when I’m dead serious. You know, and their eyes are like that big.
So we walk in, and I say, "There’s a bear out there. Go upstairs." And there’s different account from the kids, when you ask Sonja and Iris. Iris was little. Sonja was bigger. Because what happened, you know.
But my account is, once the kids were in, I stepped outside. I knew, I’m not a great shot. I don’t have great hand-eye coordination. But that one is close. It’s right there. Ok, it’s like, what? Ten feet away? MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Maybe twelve? Up the tree. Some six or eight or ten feet. You know, I mean, it’s right there.
So I have a big gun, a Marlin, what is it called? .44 or .444. It’s a brush gun. It has a blunt bullet. It is not for distance, but it’s very powerful. MARCY OKADA: Oh.
ELISABETH SAGER: So I take it, and I say -- and it’s a lever action. I have to make -- I have to hit the bear, and then I have to hit the bear again. Because it has to be dead then, by the time, whatever. And this was a perfect bear, poor thing. And I had to take him, because he was coming in for days. MARCY OKADA: Oh, ok. ELISABETH SAGER: At that point, you have to take him. He will not stop coming in, ok? MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: And here he is, in the middle of the day. He had a diamond on his chest. MARCY OKADA: That’s what you aim for? Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: And I had -- had like a, you know, a boxy thing around on the cabin, so I’m going down, I’m leveling, I’m holding it, and I’m gonna do it. And I hit him, and he came down. And I hit him again before he hit the ground. MARCY OKADA: Hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: And then, I didn’t do anything. I told the kids. They saw. There’s a window up there. They -- they -- whatever.
And then I let Mike’s lead dog, Pots, loose. He’s very smart. He knows about bears. And I figured, he is gonna check out how dead this thing is. And he did. He’s very cautious. He would go, and I watched him, and then finally he sniffed him, and I knew. He’s dead. Because otherwise, I have to shoot him again, you know. They’re not always dead-dead. Yeah. So that’s my bear. MARCY OKADA: Hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: And I’m sorry. I don’t like shooting things at all. MARCY OKADA: Oh, yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: I do not like shooting things. MARCY OKADA: Oh, but you processed him. ELISABETH SAGER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
But then, on the other hand, I rather have everything clean so they don’t have a reason you cause that they come in extra, you know. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: But once they hang around and check you out, you have to try to catch ’em. Or if you catch it on early enough, you could scare them off, and sometimes that works. Not always. But that one, I felt strongly I had to get with us. Mike wasn’t there, obviously. Yeah. So, whatever.
But there’s, you know, bears are part of this, and everybody has many bear stories, because you have encounters, and quite often it just works out that way. And since we talk about it quite often, it’s lucky. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, quite often it just circumstances. Or maybe you were smart about it, you know, and made the necessary things that nothing happened. It’s just a combination of things. They are here, and they have their own limitations. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And we have our limitations. And between the two of that, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Quite often, more often than not, it works out.
So, yeah, you know, it’s like crossing the street. You can do what you can. You watch the traffic and do you the best, and then you cross, you know. So I -- I'm glad there’s bears around, because it means we still have bears around. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
ELISABETH SAGER: You know, I’m glad there’s moose around. I have a great respect of moose. I don’t mess with them. I see a moose, I go away. I make sure there’s a tree between me and the moose. They’re not happy creatures.
MARCY OKADA: So that respect came from living out on Trout Creek and -- ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, learning about moose. MARCY OKADA: -- observing? ELISABETH SAGER: They’re not happy. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: They’re pressured. If you have a dog, they don’t like you at all. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: You watch out with a team. They have reason, you know. Could be a wolf in a harness. I mean, what is it, and whatever.
And they don’t like you. They know you’re not supposed to be there. Uh, especially the cows. Quite often, they have a calf. They can have a two-year-old calf with them. You don’t necessarily see them. They’re ornery. They don’t take chances. They’re huffy and angry, usually. I think that’s their disposition. They’re mostly angry.
Yeah. I’ve -- I’ve come from town, where -- and I -- I watch my side, where I see a moose come -- come charging out of the bushes. I stop the car. On the highway between Delta and Tok. I stop the car. I am stopping here. There’s not much traffic. It’s ok. Kinda late at night, maybe 11:00-ish, ok.
And this big thing comes out here, running onto the road, all hackled up. So something is bothering it. Otherwise it wouldn’t have done that. And here I am in a -- in a -- that pickup. Where’s my pickup? This pickup, ok? So I’m not little.
And this thing stops in the road, looks at me, and comes running towards the standing car. Now it’s angry at me, I mean the car. I mean, what is a car to a moose, for crying out loud. Except that it has a -- it’s really, really angry.
And it’s coming, and I say, "Oh my god, it’s going to charge into the car." Damage itself. Then I have this huge thing in front of my truck. And what do I do then, you know? I have to turn around. I have no phone. I have to make somebody know that -- I can’t -- I have to flag it out. I mean, I don’t have a gun. I can’t even kill it if it’s injured. I have to hope somebody comes by, you know.
And this things, just at the last second, it turns a 90 in front of me, slips and falls. And it’s like, ok. You break your leg, I just -- might just kill you, ok? MARCY OKADA: Uh-huh. ELISABETH SAGER: And luckily it got up and went across the road.
I mean, for nothing. It was angry, not at me, but then it sees something, and it will be angry at that. You know, stressed. They don’t -- they can get very angry.
And as Secondchief said, sometimes you need a shovel, you know, to tell him, not with you. I don’t know. So I have a great respect of moose, because I also have a great respect of cows. MARCY OKADA: Hm. Of cow moose?
ELISABETH SAGER: Because I ran off cows before. MARCY OKADA: Um, protecting. ELISABETH SAGER: In the mountains. I like hiking, and I ran off stampeding cows as fast as I could down the slope, across the elec -- waltzing across the electric wire. And say, "Oh my god. Oh my god." They don't --
Those hoofed things are way more powerful than one thinks, you know. Cows. Lazy. Eating grass. Chewing. The next thing you know, you have the whole world shaking and this thunder cloud of speeding thunder demons are coming after you. Oh, man. No. I’m -- whatever.
MARCY OKADA: Um, so say you guys got your fall moose. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And were you set for the winter, or were you guys winter hunting? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, if you get the moose, you are ok. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: If you got the fish, you are ok. MARCY OKADA: Yeah.
ELISABETH SAGER: We had winters where we eat canned fish and fish patties and rice mostly with beans. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And everybody kind of isn’t so thrilled by the time spring comes around with that diet, you know. MARCY OKADA: Uh-huh. ELISABETH SAGER: Uh-huh, because we didn’t get a moose. You get the moose when you have it. You don’t have it before.
MARCY OKADA: Were you -- if you didn’t get the moose in the fall, were you out searching for anything in the winter? ELISABETH SAGER: We would have rabbit snares. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We have the, you know, the spruce, the grouse, and the ptarmigan. And the fish.
We would put up a lot of fish. Fish was our staple. We had our staple foods. The grains, the fish, and the -- the -- the -- the beans and peas and that kind of stuff. It was our staple. And we had winters where we did not get a moose, no. Hm-um.
MARCY OKADA: So you mentioned Mike was out trapping in the winter. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Sometimes he’d be gone months at a time or a month at a time or more. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, maybe three, four weeks, a month at a time. If he was out up north, he would be gone longer, yeah, several months, yep.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. Um, what was he mainly trapping for? ELISABETH SAGER: Uh, mostly marten. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And then, depending, you know, some lynx. Uh, it was often some wolverine, because they come and say, "Oh, there’s a trapline. I go live here, and I eat those things."
And um, we never really trapped for wolves very much. MARCY OKADA: Ok ELISABETH SAGER: Mike, I think the whole time, he got maybe three wolves, and those ones he shot in fall. And Sonja has a wolf parka. I didn’t really like it. And he stopped doing that in the later parts totally.
We had a wolf family living there. Part of them were black. We saw them all the time. They would even come in and check on us, like, right across from the cabin, they would stay on the other side of the creek. Go a little bit on our bridge, which was actually just a log across, and then check us out and vanish.
Um, we would see tracks of them all the time. Sometimes if we had a little net, just on the Trout Creek side, on that little bluff for, you know, little regular fishes in the river in springtime, we could catch the suckers and the whitefish and that stuff. They might take something. They never troubled us. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: And I never had a problem with the wolves at all. On the other side, they had more problems. Like Dawn (last name?) and Dave Evans, they would have more trouble with the wolves over there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: We never had trouble with the wolves. MARCY OKADA: Hm. So they’re -- ELISABETH SAGER: And I never -- I've seen ’em --
In wintertime, one time I was walking the puppies down to the slough. It’s winter, the slough is all frozen. And I see those three wolves come bounding through the -- In the middle of the slough, they saw us, and I immediately retreated up the bank. And they kept bounding, and they looked really happy 'til they were close enough, and the first one realized, I’m a person. MARCY OKADA: Oh.
ELISABETH SAGER: And he literally bound and twisted in the air when he realized I was not another wolf friendly something -- another or something. And made like a 90 in the air and then split into the islands, and they all went. But prior to that, he was just happy.
I like wolves. Uh, they can creep you out, because at times, they creeped out. When we had just two dogs, I remember that one fall, they were staking us out. And at night. I swear, beautiful sounding, but it gets up your hackles. When they're all staked out around you and they start making their special wolf song, and the dogs are "uuh uuhi" (dog whining noise) and want to come in. And you let ’em in, because they don’t feel good about this.
Yeah, there is something kinda creepy about it. And you think twice even in the day, and say, "Hm, if they were here watching me last night, they're probably here right now, ok."
And there have been cases where dogs have been attacked, or a wolf sit in the dog yard. And you suddenly realize, you have one dog too many, and it’s not chained up. Yeah. And stuff like that. On the other side.
Don Woodruff probably told you when his dogs got attacked. He was walking up the Kandik on the line, you know, checking his line or going somewhere, and one of his females was lagging behind. And she almost got killed by them. MARCY OKADA: Huh. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, because they were trailing them.
Yeah. So it depends, and it depends how hungry they are, because they would go with the caribou, and then sometimes they kinda miss the connection. And then the caribou, they get into little bands, and they get really spooky. You know, four, five in a band or something, so they are harder to catch, yeah.
And, like Dave Evans across the river at Nation, he had one come in his shed, and he had to shoot it. When he shot it, it was skin and bones. It was starving. MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: You know. So yeah, sometimes they are very hungry.
But on our side, the wolves were -- they lived there always. They wouldn’t go migrating this way and that way. And we never had trouble with them. We even watched the young ones on the shore. I enjoyed it. Part of them were pitch black, and the other ones were gray ones. Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: So -- I mean, you had mentioned that Mike had shot a wolf in the fall. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And Sonja has a -- has a parka. But in regards to other furs, um, were you -- ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: -- using the furs?
ELISABETH SAGER: Mike was mostly trapping marten, some lynx, and some wolverine. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: He was trapping.
I did most of the skinning, and -- and putting up the fur. You know, drying it and stuff.
Um, we did make some garments like the hats. Mike made Sonja’s parka. He could also sew, you know. Uh, he had a bear parka. We did -- that’s hard to tan the bear. We tanned our own things, you know. So uh, but he did have a bear parka, and I still -- I don’t know who has the bear parka now. Whether it’s Sonja or Mike, I don’t know if it’s still around.
And, yeah, so we did make things with some of the furs. Meaning usually, if you have a marten which is damaged, you would probably keep it. (airplane flying overhead for the next minute) I would keep it and -- and use it for myself, for ourselves, you know, the good pieces.
And not send it off to the auction, because you better send off prime furs if you want to get a decent price. So you pull out the ones which are, you know, maybe chewed on or have an injury damage or something, you know. So yeah, we had certain furs, and we did sometimes send away the hide of the moose to a place, and they would turn it into leather, so we had that. MARCY OKADA: Hm. Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
MARCY OKADA: Huh. So you were skin sewing. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, I like working with leather. I like working with fur. And I used to do quite a bit for our purpose. When I moved up to town, I had to -- I sewed some hats. Mostly fox, because Kozarik's had a fox farm there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: And people wanted some hats, and I needed money.
But I don’t like sewing for, you know, commercial -- for -- for money. I don’t like it, because hm. It’s more -- I don’t want -- I’m not good at making lots of anything. I like doing this now, and then I want to do this now. I’m not good at mass producing. I hate it, yeah.
And then I -- there’s many other things I like to do even better than sewing. I know how to sew, and now my kids sew. Sonja and Iris and Alida, they all know how to sew a ruff, you know, a wolverine ruff. Make a nice one. And they sew --
Iris and Alida, they got it from Rita Dewilde. They had her teach them. So they all do. Yeah. Which is good. It’s a very good skill to have, you know. That you know what to do. It’s nice, I think. No matter what.
I know furs are not in, but here you have certain furs you have a very good use. You have a good wolverine ruff on your parka. I have some ruffs which are probably 30-some years old, maybe 35, and they’re still good. You know, because if you treat it well. So it’s not a wasteful thing for us to have. So --
MARCY OKADA: Um, spring hunting. You know, like you said, you were making fish patties, but come spring, what kind of new meat were you looking for? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, Mike is the hunter so I -- have to talk to him. Well, the ducks and the geese, if you can find a way to get ’em. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, meaning either you have the water open and you get ’em, or you have the ice good enough that you can get out there. It’s not that easy.
Um, beaver. Yeah, I’m not a beaver eater. Beavers are my friends. I can’t eat them. But everybody likes beaver, so -- At least in my family, they like it. I participate because it’s necessary, but the beavers are my special friends, ok. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: And then, bear. We usually would get bear in spring. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah.
And then the fresh fishes. You know, we have a little net, whitefish net in there for the whitefish or the suckers. The dogs get the suckers and the sheefishes and so, and yeah. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: That’s 'til you wait for fall to get that moose again. Yes, and sometimes it would come really easy, and sometimes it didn’t want to come at all. You know, it just depends. A little luck needs to go in there besides your knowledge. It has to, always, a little luck come.
MARCY OKADA: Um, what did -- what did you like about living out -- out there? ELISABETH SAGER: Ah. MARCY OKADA: What did it mean to you? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, living out there, you have to try it out if it fits you.
Because you may -- has nothing to do how much you like nature or whatever. It has mostly to do with, can you -- do you like the solitary? Do you like that nobody else is around? MARCY OKADA: Hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: You know, and can you talk to the trees, you know? Is it ok for you if you talk to the trees. And so, you have to see whether you can stand the loneliness or if it’s something you like, or if it’s something you suffer with. Yeah. And I think that’s the main thing.
And then you must be willing to pick up on the necessary skills. Yeah. To -- to be safely out there. And I think some people take to it, and some people have a hard time that they need to actually go somewhere else where they have more half and half of it. Because they can’t be without the social part. It’s not good for them. And I think you only know, really, when you try it out.
Now I happen to be very good on my own. Yeah. I have no problem talking to trees or rocks or anything. So I like it. I like that part, and I can --
And I thought when Sonja was born, my god, there’s just me. Will the child even learn how to talk, you know. No problem. Apparently, I also can talk to myself. And -- and so, it really depends.
And obviously, I like -- I have a pretty vivid imagination. I like books, but I also like making up my own stories. And so, it -- I think a good deal has to do, is it hardship for you, or is it something you enjoy and take pleasure in it.
MARCY OKADA: There were no other families nearby? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, there was at Nation. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: But it’s not that you would constantly visit or anything like that, you know.
And kids were far and in between. There was later on some kids down at the Kandik for a little while. A couple. You know, here and there, there was kids, but not anything you go there and play or anything like this, really. Yeah. So yeah.
And I think it’s ok for little kids to be down there, but when they get older, I think you have to really work hard to compensate or make socialization a valuable for them. Because it’s part of their development. It’s really hard if they’re too isolated. I don’t think so that it’s that good.
There must be -- whichever way you arrange it, if they go visit -- live with Grandma or Auntie for a while in the summer. Or so, you know -- You must give ’em a way to experience the other part, too, when they get older. Meaning when they get preschool age. They have to start getting exposed to other things.
For example, Sonja grew up speaking German, and when she was about almost three, around that time, and we came -- we were in town. We were visiting, you know, picking things up or whatever here in Eagle, and at one point says -- She told me in German that she’s stupid because she cannot talk properly. MARCY OKADA: Huh. ELISABETH SAGER: And I said, what do you mean? She couldn’t talk English. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: And I said, you’re not stupid. I tell you how to talk properly.
And I realized what I’m doing. I -- I totally spaced out that, no, obviously, she wants to talk to everybody else. Obviously, just because you are in America doesn’t mean that she speaks the language if she never hears it, you know. So -- and it went very fast. Within a couple months, she -- she could do it, yeah.
But you have to watch out for those things, that you unadvertently -- inadvertently make a mistake on that scale, which is not good for the kids.
And the same is with the isolation. You have -- we are social creatures, you know, and this is your pick. And you have to give ’em the chance to see the other thing and experience it, too, in my opinion. So. And sure, lots of kids grow up out there, and I say, you can compensate. Just give --
MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: (to the cat) Are you hungry or what? You see, that’s what she does. If she wouldn’t bring those mice, I would have no garden. And I love mice. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: I mean, this one is alive. Ok. Don’t look that way.
MARCY OKADA: Um, so how long did you live out there? ELISABETH SAGER: We got there in ’76. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Ah, god, when did I get divorced? I should know that, shouldn’t I? Uh, ’87. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: ’88. I don’t know.
MARCY OKADA: So about a dozen years or so, you were out there? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Yeah, somewhere around there. MARCY OKADA: Ok.
ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Something like this, because -- Mike built this cabin, by the way. The front part, you know. And we moved in here. We were a winter in the old house. Part of a winter in the old house, and then, that got finished and we moved in here.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. Oh, so you both moved into town together? ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: And your daughters were -- ELISABETH SAGER: Well, at first they were with me. We have joint custody. And then, you know that’s -- that’s whatever.
MARCY OKADA: Ok. But I imagine there must have been some acclimation to come back and live out he -- in Eagle. ELISABETH SAGER: Well, at that time, all the kids, they knew the neighbor kids. You know, Nelsons at that time, our neighbors. We were spending, you know, regularly come to town. As I say, you make a point to socialize the kids. You know, you do have to.
So they knew the house. We stayed there numerous times, the old house. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Where we spent part of the winter in there.
So at that time, when we got divorced, they already had their friends here in town. I mean, they -- it was not -- sure, they missed Trout Creek, because, you know, that was their home, but we did move, and we didn’t move to an unknown place. MARCY OKADA: Yes.
ELISABETH SAGER: This was a known place to them and a known neighborhood. Good neighborhood they knew. There was kids over there, and kids over there, and yeah.
And even to this day, um, the girl Emily, who is as old as Sonja, I call her my near-daughter because uh, she’s the -- always been the very best friend the girls could have. Even so, they moved to Fairbanks long time ago. You know. So, yeah. They made the move ok.
MARCY OKADA: So once you came back into town, some of the same activities were still happening, right? You know, still going out hunting, still fishing the river. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Still kind of maintaining the same -- ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: -- lifestyle. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah. MARCY OKADA: Just you’re not -- ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, you just picked the berries in different places. You put the net in a different spot if you had one, and, you know, yeah.
And I did -- in the beginning I had more dogs. And I did fish for chums for a couple years. And then I said forget it because I was getting less dogs. And I’m -- didn’t need to. And I haven’t fished for chums since then.
I was together with Hanna’s, my youngest daughter's father, Andy Bassich here, and he fished for chums. There’s his fish rack still there, that depleted thingy there.
But I never did, so, after that. Because I had no need to. Situation changed. And I didn’t have the means I would need to rely on.
You know, my kids were younger then. Now they have their own fishwheel and stuff, but at that point they wouldn’t. And I would have to rely on others to use their stuff, because I didn’t have all the tools and the means.
I’m not a builder. No. I'm makeshifting, as you can see on the stairs. Do you see how they're propped up? With pieces of wood. The lower step. That’s how I fix things. 'Til somebody else who really fixes things fixes it.
I come out of a family of builders, but I could do it maybe, but it’s like hand-eye coordination. Like hunting. I measure things, and then it’s not the right measurement anyway. It’s just not my thing. No. So I know when it’s well done, so. But yeah, we did pretty much similar activities, just in different places. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: So.
MARCY OKADA: Um, when you say in different places, were you folks necessarily going back into the Preserve, into Yukon-Charley to -- ? ELISABETH SAGER: Uh, even now, quite often you go hunting there. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: Because first of all, there’s a good chance the moose are down there. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: Down there, there’s a longer season for the moose for the locals. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: It’s better, too, when all the others, whatever.
And you know the layout. You know what places to check. You know, some people have their -- like with everything, they have their favorite places they go hunt. Some people go up a side creek. Others do this or that, you know, the typical thing. And it just depends. Um, yeah.
Mostly, ideally, when you say, I go hunting, when we say that, ideally you would mean, you go down the river. Uh, if you go out the road, you specify that. If you go somewhere else. But if you say, I’m going, kinda, ok, I’m gonna go moose hunting, you kinda in your mind, at least in mine, you would think, yeah, I go downriver. Or on the river or something. But naturally, you can hunt in many places, obviously.
(talking to a bug flying towards her) Hey, go not to me. I knew it. MARCY OKADA: Um, oh. ELISABETH SAGER: Don’t like you. MARCY OKADA: Um, I think it was a spruce bark beetle. ELISABETH SAGER: I know. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: That’s why I don’t like ’em. And I don’t like killing things. MARCY OKADA: Oh. ELISABETH SAGER: So usually, I just fling him. MARCY OKADA: Oh, he came out of nowhere. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, because it’s determined. They are determined, in their weird little ways.
MARCY OKADA: Um, so in your experience, have you seen -- you know, you -- you were living down at Trout Creek and then all of a sudden 1980 came and the Preserve was created. ELISABETH SAGER: Yeah, that was another reason. MARCY OKADA: And -- and so, maybe speak a little bit to that.
ELISABETH SAGER: Well, the reason -- that was also another reason, because now it’s a preserve. And it was really weird, because they came and talked to us. And we had to sign over our cabin to them. And I said, this is illogical. You tell us we’re here illegally, but you tell us we have to sign the cabin over to you? But I think it’s something, you know, lawyer, legally thing. Maybe because we made it. I don’t know.
In my mind is, if you build something in a place you’re not supposed to, you really cannot sign over anything. You’re not supposed to be there in the first place. MARCY OKADA: Hm. ELISABETH SAGER: But -- So I’m not sure. But the point is, originally, we had to sign something that we sign over the cabin to the Park Service. And there must be something to it, because since then, we hold a permit for the cabin. The girls renew it. We are all on it. Um, and um, nobody -- it’s not a public use cabin. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm.
ELISABETH SAGER: So here runs the mouse. She escaped. That’s -- Willy is looking for it in the garden, and the mouse went under the house. Thank you, Willy.
Yeah, anyway. So, that gets -- Sonja and the girls stay on top of that. We still hold the permit. Um, but at that time was the time where you could not permanently live down there anymore. That’s why everybody had to go up to town. And we did. Both Mike and I.
It just happened to fall together with our divorce plans, too. It was just coincidence. MARCY OKADA: Ok. ELISABETH SAGER: But divorce or not, we would have had to move, because we could live there part time, like when we are trapping, or we could be there when we are fishing, but we could not be a permanent resident. So we needed something in town. It just happened that way.
And I don’t mind the park. Some people do. I don’t, because every scrap which can be kept a little bit together from being screwed up, I’m grateful for. And if it’s the Park Service doing it, so be it. I have no problem with that.
I just think overall -- I don’t know. I just thought about it today. Thing is, people want to utilize everything. It’s like this point is -- if we don’t start thinking differently. You know, Iris was the one, I think, had a poster on her door when she lived here in this house with us. And it was a speech of some of famous Indian Native chief. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And he said, basically, if the fishes are gone, and the animals are gone, the people have to go, too.
This planet is fine, whether we are here or not. Whether we can live here. It’s just part of the universe. It doesn’t really matter. But it matters to us. If we want to be here, then we have to do something to stay, be able to stay here.
And it doesn’t mean that we have to look at everything as a profit. It cannot be measured on that. You cannot say, oh, there is no salmon, king salmon, coming up the Yukon, when you don’t do everything to take any stress away from the king salmon, yeah. But they have -- Alaska has the False Pass trawling fleet. Makes a lot of money. All the other fishing things and whatever, hatcheries, everybody makes a lot of money, so it can’t be touched.
But ha, you won’t make a penny if you don’t do anything about it. And neither will there eventually be people around who can make a penny. There ain’t gonna -- you can’t eat pennies, yeah. It is terrible.
That shortsightedness is sad, because quite frankly, I don’t give a shit if a thousand years from now, there’s no people here. Then there is no people here. So what? There’s no people on Mars. Are we very sad about that? No, it’s exciting. Oh, there’s something -- maybe there was some. Maybe we are Martians? Who gives a shit? I don’t.
But the point is, I’m tired of they all saying, "Oh, we have to do something. We have to do something." And then it always stops at the buck. No. "Oh, it’s too expensive. Oh, we lose too much money." Or too many jobs get lost. Well, there will be other jobs. Come on. Work on getting things done good.
But everybody it's just this shortsighted little thing in everything. And that way, whatever. I have no hope for mankind on the planet, you know. And there’s this famous saying that, did a tree fall if nobody is there to hear it? Yeah, the tree falls. And nobody cares a darn whether anybody hears it. Ok? It’s just this over-emphasis on humans. So what, you know? No, we’re not that important. But we have a chance to be smart about it, and we’re not. Not that I can see it. MARCY OKADA: Um --
ELISABETH SAGER: So there is no salmon. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. So I guess that was my question is, you know, how have things changed in terms of fish and wildlife resources that you’ve seen? ELISABETH SAGER: Amazing. Utterly amazing.
When I came here -- Obviously I come from Germany, this is this country which is still wild. The way it’s wild and woolly. The way it’s supposed -- it's doing its own thing.
I know, it didn’t take very long before the trouble started. Because I remember when we came here, it was just beginning that they were giving out all those extra commercial fishing license. There used to be very few commercial fishing license. And if you research it, at some point, lots more were given out.
And then suddenly, you could fish not just for your own thing, you could sell it. And then it became this gray area of subsistence through selling it, which enables you to live and get other things. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: And everything went down the hill.
Then the -- the -- the other commercial developments. The trawling, the factory trawling. Factory trawling, I think, ruined many things in many places. We are not the only one. And why they not ever outlawed this nasty things, I don’t know. I do know, because it’s money. Because it -- the damage is just too much.
I have nothing against fishermen, and I wish they would find a way that fishermen can make a living, you know, the regular fisherman with their boats in the villages or wherever they live. But this is not the case. Yeah, it’s not the case and whatever.
So I’m sad that even Alaska, where many people don’t even know where the heck it is, because they think it’s somewhere below Hawaii the way it’s on the map, if they even know where it is, ok. That even Alaska, you see it coming. They’re talking about those fishes forever. They do things.
They do nasty things, where they manage the wildlife, where they have wolf control, where they try to eradicate the wolf packs. You’re messing with something. You think you get more caribou? Maybe you get more sick caribou? Maybe you get too many caribou. Leave it alone.
But I have the feeling nowadays, if people can drive out the road and have the caribou right there, they are unhappy. Oh, they have to be also there at a certain time, ok. Meaning during hunting season, make sure they’re there.
And in my mind, it’s go, make a pasture. Grow caribou. They will be there at the time you want them. Shoot them, if that’s what you want. Yeah.
I am frustrated how Fish and Game is quite a (quote) unquote, “managed for human consumption. For human use.” That’s not how it should be managed. Fish and Game should be managed for the fish and the game, and the humans can take something if there is a abundance and it’s done correctly. Yeah. That’s my big problem.
Because they -- every time we mess majorly with one thing, ten years later, we see something is wrong on the other side. "Oh, we didn’t know." No. You knew if you wanted to look at it and use your head. You knew there would be a consequence. Ok. Little kids learn in school it’s all connected. How come you get your degrees and you come out and you suddenly don’t remember that? I have a problem with that.
I have a problem with our Fish and Game Board, majorly. It’s totally top-heavy on not for the fish and the game sake, but for the people use side. Yeah. And it’s ridiculous.
And it’s not going to help us out, because as I say, once they’re gone, they’re gone, you know? It’s hard to get the genie back into the box once you pull it out, you know. So I have very little patience with that.
I know people love hunting. I know they say, "Oh, it’s our right." And we also take meat. Quite frankly, I don’t have -- I buy chickens, and I buy a bacon, but I don’t buy beef or pork. I don’t, you know, meat-meat. MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Because I’m lucky and fortunate. Because we can hunt a moose. Yes, I know how that feels. Or we can hunt a caribou, yeah.
And lots of people move to town, and they still want that. And I can see that. But we have to first of all look at our resources and don’t mess with them. Yeah.
And it’s going to be crazy out thataway. And quite frankly, when I look at the people who come up here hunting on the road. If you’re around and you see it. Some of those rigs are huge trucks. Some have freezer trucks up there. All those fancy off-road vehicles. All that stuff. If they have enough money to have these rigs, those freezer trucks, those off-road vehicles, yeah? MARCY OKADA: Um-hm. ELISABETH SAGER: Maybe they didn’t need those three, four hundred pounds of caribou? Not really, yeah.
I’m -- I’m totally think anybody who needs meat should have a chance to hunt for it if they can. Or somebody should hunt for them if they can’t anymore, like old people.
But I think that hunting culture is cultivated and not -- not necessarily has anything to do with meat or doing it necessarily in a respectful manner.
It’s a -- it’s a -- it’s like a gun issue. I have to have a gun if I’m a man, or a woman for that matter, or something, you know, that right. It’s my right for this or my right for that. It all falls into that, in a way, and um, has little to do with actually the people who would use or need or -- there’s just too many people who do it for sport and fun. That’s what I would say. I’m not a friend of sport hunters. I don’t like it.
MARCY OKADA: I guess my final question to you, Elisabeth, is just, what -- what are your hopes for your grandchildren’s generation? ELISABETH SAGER: Well, it surely would be nice if they still could fish a few salmon. And I say even moderation. As I say, we never take huge salmon. Some people have put it even up for dogs. I’m totally against that.
And if the fish are low, we will stop. Like last year, we didn’t even fish the last two openings, because it was too low. The numbers were too sad. Especially since we know, since Mike McDougal works at the sonar, we know, ok. And you can’t justify it, you know. So we got about half the fish we normally can, and none in the freezer, really, last year.
This year, we don’t get any. As a matter of fact, there’s -- the red salmon in Bristol Bay are tremendous, great numbers and everything, and I have four fillets from friends of ours who -- who got some from a friend of theirs from down there. So we will have actually salmon one meal, a fresh -- well, fresh frozen.
But it’s very sad. I wish that in the future, my grandchildren and their children, that things would still be a little bit ok, you know. Not everything ruined.
I mean, we have so many threats. We have those mining threats. These -- these things which can cause -- the oil threats, which can cause disasters which are not fixable. Yeah. Why -- why even contemplate trying to do something that is not fixable if something happens? That to me is inconceivable.
You know, I know Alaska has many riches. Yes, that is true. And the world and the commerce and the business wants it. But we have other riches, which would get destroyed by it, yeah.
And I don’t see how they still fi -- our politicians go on the other side. They want to develop. I don't -- I’m not against -- hey, I’m not against infrastructure. I wish we would have a better infrastructure for the people who live here, not for the Outside companies who come to exploit our minerals and treasures.
It is like a -- like, you know, we used to be, what you call? A colony. They suck out all the treasures. We don’t produce hardly anything. We don’t, uh, manufacture anything with our resources. The resources themselves go out basically raw. It’s the fish. It’s the oil. It’s the minerals. We are not doing anything with it.
If we would do something with it, we could make it on a small scale. We’re not that many hu -- amount of people. If we could develop our own infrastructure for the people who live here. That would be a good thing.
Hey, look at anything you buy, the packaging. The packaging we get up here. You certainly -- it’s not -- you don’t have to reinvent it. It’s already there. They know how to reuse it. Now we just need money from the government, because it is expensive to set it up. Indeed. You have to dish something out in the beginning 'til it works for itself. But we’re not doing that. No.
And there’s little chance for that, because that means somebody -- the state puts out money for something which is way in the future. Ain’t going to happen.
I mean, just -- the packaging. I was in town. I went to Costco, so I had cardboard like no tomorrow, you know. And ok, it’s probably not much good cardboard, because it’s all shiny and glossy and poisonous colors on it, but one could not do that. MARCY OKADA: Yeah. ELISABETH SAGER: Then we would have good cardboard, we can do something with it. Whatever. There is ways, we are not using it. So that’s sad.
But I hope that the young people get more forceful. They have -- sadly enough, you’re not getting it with being good, change. You always have to be very forceful about it. And I don’t say violent, but persistent and bugging and forceful because otherwise, nobody listens. Politely? No. Would you please do that? So what?
That’s my opinion. But I love this country, and I like that it’s still wild and woolly compared to other places. It’s good country.
MARCY OKADA: Well, thank you, Elisabeth. ELISABETH SAGER: You’re welcome. And, you know, you can edit that thing. I’m just talking. And uh, yeah. You can do with it what you want. But it’s just my rambling talk. Since I’m an old lady, I can be excused if I make some not politically correct statements. So I’m already sorry if I did offend anybody. Thank you. MARCY OKADA: Thank you. Thank you for your time. ELISABETH SAGER: You’re welcome.