Madden Kenai Photo

Leaving Kenai, 1990
by Christopher Madden

Our trip started with a Wisconsin ride board and went via Fargo past a giant roadside cow and Glacier Park, Montana. It ended with us summering in Inlet Salmon’s boatyard on the Kenai River. We pitched our tent on pallets in view of the active volcano Mount Redoubt and wondered at the twenty hours of sunlight.

Too many dreamers came to make fortunes in Alaska that year after Exxon Valdez and the fishery over-hired to save on overtime. Fish and Game frequently closed fishing for days. I ruminated and straightened old nails while she worked the roe house building delicate boxes to pack salmon eggs destined for spawning, but headed to Japan.

The “Shackteau” was repurposed from a wooden phone booth salvaged from the yard. Re-born with duct tape, plastic drop cloths, a Swiss Army knife, lowercase prayers and uppercase obscenities. We covered the penis graffiti but left “The great Alaskan dream: an Okie heading south with a Texan under each arm” sideways on the wall. The structure served as our tent vestibule, spacious enough to stand, remove boots and hang rancid foul weather gear. Undressing was a little like fileting yourself.

A bench made from discarded halibut splitters was perfect for campfires or playing the fifteen-dollar guitar that I bought from an eight-fingered fisherman. Our sleeping bags could be romantically zipped together or unceremoniously unzipped when we argued. Sometimes she would hand me sandwich bags of morning sickness through the tarp when I returned after the docks closed.

We left when the sockeye stopped running and donated the shack to the surfers camping next door. When we moved, it triggered a feeding frenzy of denizens asking for the Hooverville palace. One bid a six of Hamm’s beer, another a twelver. I should have listed the Shackteau with a Realtor.

PHOTO: The author and the Shackteau, 1990, Kenai, Alaska.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I spent a summer working in the salmon industry fulfilling my wanderlust and thirst for seeing America. Alaska was stunning and inspiring, but a challenging place to deal with being broke and a pregnancy. I still am astonished at the feeding frenzy of people that wanted the Shackteau. My son is now twenty-five and I found this photo in a box after he moved out recently.


Christopher Madden
is an adjunct professor of English at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin and an MFA with a concentration on fiction from Fairfield University. His poems, fiction, and short essays have appeared in Temenos, Ball Magazine, Airways Magazine, and Spry Literary Journal. He has worked as a realtor, mechanic, sales manager for rare metals, bartender, theater manager, and dockworker along the Kenai River. He lives in Norwalk, Connecticut, with his wife and several cats that all have the last name Stone.