When I decided to make the move from Whistler to Tumbler Ridge in order to be 12 hours closer to my ?Midnight Son? in the Yukon, I knew I was going to run into a tougher, meaner, leaner and more rugged type of Canadian in the Coal Patch than what I was previously accustomed to in the Snow Patch but I didn?t expect to meet people capable of surviving on salmon bellies.
Phew. Strange lede that is definitely going to need some explaining before we go any further. ?Salmon bellies? is an old Yukon expression which refers to the spawning salmon which enter the Yukon River at the Bering Sea every summer and travel over 2,000 miles against the current to reach the mountain streams where they began life several years before. The salmon don?t eat on this arduous journey to procreation because they know they are going to die soon after depositing their seed, much like a Catskinner on Saturday night.
Therefore, when a Yukoner tells you he, or she, has been surviving on salmon bellies, it is an indirect way of telling you they have been starving lately because, when you gut and clean one of those migrating salmon before tossing it on the barbeque, it?s amazing to notice the belly is completely empty. How they do it, of course, is one of the great mysteries of the natural world almost the equal of their uncanny navigational skills.
I will never understand how a salmon can swim over 2,000 miles against a mighty current in water made murky by glacial deposits and return to the exact tiny tributary where they were spawned years earlier. Little humans can?t even remember where they live but little salmon somehow memorize the long road home on their first, and only, journey down the Yukon River, through all of Alaska, and out into the massive Pacific Ocean. Do you think they discovered GPS satellite beacons before we did?
Most humans who have emptied the larder sufficiently to have to survive on salmon bellies have a reasonable explanation for their lack of good fortune and life-sustaining food such as no work, no ambition, bad luck, the dog, indifference or a lackadaisical attitude but such is not the case in Tumbler Ridge. Work is plentiful here, wages are good, people are busy and life should be one long never-ending Thanksgiving feast, except for the following:
If a working man gets up at five in the morning, normal behaviour, gets wired on coffee, leaves the cave at 6:30 and gets to work out in the bush at the right moment to remain employed, there is no chance to buy anything in the mornings because the retail establishments of the community are still sound asleep. Since 12 hour shifts are more the norm here than the exception, you work your 12 hours, get off at 7 p.m., return to town shaking with fatigue, hunger and nutritional nausea dreaming of a medium rare T-bone with mashed potatoes, gravy and kernel corn only to find the retail establishments have already gone back to bed, or are at least at home enjoying a lovely, hot dinner after being surrounded all day by FOOOOOOOD!
Sure you can go to the Chinese restaurant and pick up a delightful plate of chow mein and chicken balls but if you eat too many chicken balls, my grandfather told me you might turn into one. Or you can go to FAS GAS and pick up a ?Hungry Man? TV dinner which should be called ?Hungry Baby? because there isn?t enough food inside one of them to satisfy an infant, never mind a fully grown man who has been working hard all day.
Restaurants are out of the question for those of us who like to smoke, begging for meals on the streets is not an option because the streets are pretty much empty by the time you get back to town and you?re generally too tired to go hunting at sunset.
So the only real option is dragging roadkill back to town or possibly cutting a couple flank steaks off any carcass you are lucky enough to come across before the welders, truckers, operators, ravens and wolves.
Give any hard-working man or woman a choice between salmon bellies and roadkill roasts and the roadkill is like a highway smorgasbord.
Is Tumbler Ridge?s grocery store only meant for office workers and bankers?
It?s getting to be a vicious jungle out there on the highways and goat trails outside of town every night at 7:05 p.m. when the hungry working class is heading back to town and fighting over roadkill. Somebody is going to get hurt.
Of course, staying open to 9 p.m. would solve all the problems, not to mention hunger pains.