Good people and good places are the foundation for great memories, and all it takes to remind one of any or all of the three is sometimes as insignificant as a small rock.
In this case it is a rock the size of an egg, but flat and polished from years of movement of sea water and sand.
I found the rock while walking a remote beach on Afognak Island, Alaska, with Roy Randall, who explained the oblong rock with chipped out groves on its ends was once woven into the hem of an Inuit fishing net.
The stone is just one of many treasures that rest on a shelf near my desk. Like other treasures I like to handle every so often and think with wonderment about people who have actually followed their dreams.
That was in the early 1990s on a trip at the invitation of Alaska Tourism to see that all of the Last Frontier’s allure was not trashed by the Exxon Valdez spill, a crude oil freighter that had run aground in March of 1989, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of crude into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound.
This was the worst national environmental disaster on record at the time, and would challenge man and sea to mount a defense and recovery effort.
Afognak Island and nearby Kodiak Island avoided the worst of the oil slick due to a lucky wind switch, and efforts to re-attract wilderness travelers to this remote corner of the earth was underway. I reported the success of those efforts at the time but meeting Randall and his family is what my memory bank sees.
Texan Roy Randall landed on Afognak Island in 1964, during a far-reaching search for prime hunting ground and undisturbed forests. College educated, well-versed and successful in a variety of endeavors, Randall’s overwhelming passion was shooting and hunting and his thirst for more of each motivated his search.
He lived alone in a tiny shelter and spent his days as a full-time seal hunter, a trade that would be regulated out of existence in just a few years.
Randall barely survived the infamous Alaskan earthquake and ensuing tsunami by climbing a huge rock. When sea lions and seals go ashore to rest it’s called hauling out and that’s just what Randall did to survive.
Randall found solitude has its limits, and when he heard rumors that a young lady from the lower 48 was summering with her uncle on another distant, but reachable, island he packed a tent and went a ’calling.
Randall laughed as he told the story of an intense summer courtship and soon-after marriage that gave him a perfect mate and willing partner.
Shannon Randall soon found her fit as Roy’s seal skinner and together they built a fine log home overlooking Seal Bay where deliveries still come by barge just two times each year.
Following the end of their market hunting career in 1972, the Randall’s decided that to stay in the wilderness paradise, they would have to open their door to adventurers. Thus, they soon turned necessity into a lasting business of lodging and guiding world travelers.
Roy and Shannon raised their family on the island, providing the children with a quality education by building a separate classroom and hiring a teacher each school year who stayed in their home and taught daily lessons for months at a time.
Without question, Roy Randall was one of the most clever and inventive people ever born. He built guest cabins by downing towering spruce trees, floating them to his hidden bay and stacking them by using a clever series of ropes and pulleys and wooden temporary crane.
The logs he used were so large that just four made a complete eight foot high wall. Randall was so skilled at building with logs his structures required no caulking to seal out the cold.
While there I enjoyed fishing, observing sea lions at arms reach and looking in awe at gigantic whales spouting towers of water just yards away from our small boat.
We fished for halibut, ate the freshest of harvested salmon and experienced a wilderness like no other. Shannon Randall, and sons Luke and Josh, continue to operate Afognak Wilderness Lodge and more information about this wonderful, unforgettable destination is available online.
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