Molli Myers, Karuk Tribal member, mother of 5, and founding member of the Klamath Justice Coalition.
Most people know the four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall. Well, when I was a kid we had four seasons too, winter, spring, summer and FISH.
Growing up, the very best time of year was fall fishing season. The weather was warm and my dad’s best friends would show up to camp, bringing cousins and aunties who we only saw during fishing season. We stayed up late, got up early, skipped school(!) and celebrated each afternoon that my dad, brothers, cousins and uncles rolled in with another load.
Everyone had a job; my dad would make his traditional dip netting poles and the men and boys would do the fishing and cleaning, then the boys would usually have the job of packing the fish out the long trail from our fishery at Ishi Pishi falls. Back in those days, when I was a kid, we had a lot of fish and I don’t remember them ever coming home empty handed.
They would bring the fish to the house where my mom and the aunties would work with us kids to filet, strip, season and hang the red, pink and orange strips in the smoke house, always battling the buzzing yellowjackets, who managed their fair share. We would seek out the punky wood that would ensure clouds of billowy smoke without flaming. Alder was commonly used, but if we had some old cherry or apple wood we’d use that first since my dad liked the flavor, or maybe just liked how it reminded him of bacon, “Try this one, these are applewood smoked!”
It does sound pretty awesome actually.
Once the smokehouse started smoking in the late summer, there was always someone keeping the smoke going on the fish. An uncle would sleep outside to battle the bears, and the strips would hang for a day or three, depending on smoke and weather conditions. We’d work together to pack them into mason jars and the pressure canner would come out. Finally, we’d pull the gleaming jars of smoked fish out and line them up on the counter, kind of to cool off, kind of so we could admire our hard work.
Today while so much remains the same, some things have changed. Our family has our own smokehouse now, just a little way down the river from my childhood home. Our salmon are less plentiful today, but we are taught from the time we are little that as long as we continue to harvest, the river will continue to provide for us, as it has for our ancestors since time immemorial.
My husband and I are now the parents passing our knowledge on to the next generation. We are the new ancestors, and as long as we are here the season of fish will keep carrying on.