11 March, 2009

Alaskan Tales

Grin ~and~ Bear it


Brigid is a consummate writer and prolific blogger:

She loves the wild, and respects it for what it is...untamed and dangerous to those who wander out into it uprepared. Her latest post on visiting and living in Brown/Grizzly Bear country brought to mind a story told to me back in the spring of 1995.

Whilst teaching at an exclusive private school in Denver, the 6th grade class took a week long field trip to the Mesa Verde area in order to study the Anasazi culture. Every Spring we would split the class into two groups. A long tenured teacher and her archaeologist husband owned a large section of land in the slick rock country west of Cortez, Colorado, in McElmo Canyon. They and a staff made up of teachers and hired help created an outdoor classroom and campus base where the students stayed, ate slept and studied.

That piece of land is home to a two important archaelogical sites and has been part of private and public funded research into the Pueblo/Anasazi culture connection in conjunction with Mesa Verde National Park and the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. It is a magical landscape. It lends itself to stories and tales, being the home of long resident spirits. They are the ghosts of the Anasazi, the Hopi, Navaho and Zuni.
In the late Spring of 1995, I was asked on to be part of the support staff for both weeks. It was there I met the author of the Alaskan tale. His name was Glen, a big man from Vermont. Glen was the camp cook. Blessed with a brilliant smile, bright blue eyes and a well toned physique and an easy likability, he went by the camp name of "Grog." His mother, he said, gave him that nick-name:

" Grog the frog from Cedar Bog. "

This is his story.

Grog was a short order cook in a small town cafe in Vermont and an erswhile student of natural science. While attending college he began to feel constrained by the close culture, the confined New England atmosphere. He wanted to expand his horizons. He wanted to explore the wilderness. He wanted ALASKA!

While perusing want ads he found a help-wanted ad for a small restaurant/bar on the outskirts of Anchorage. Grog jumped at the opportunity, called the owner and clinched the job. In his studies of Alaska, the spectre of Grizzly/Brown/Kodiak bears kept rising to the fore. He decided he probably should have a firearm for protection...a BIG firearm.

A local hunter friend suggested that he buy a .357 magnum pistol. Grog found a used Ruger with a couple of boxes of ammo for cheap. That, he thought, would be just the ticket to provide his self defense needs in the wilds of sub-arctic Alaska. He packed his truck, said his goodbyes to New England and headed west-by-northwest.....to the last American Frontier: ALASKA!

Some 10 days later, Grog drove into Anchorage and found the small cafe/bar where he was to work. He was tired and thirsty. He introduced himself to the bartender. The barkeep had been told to keep an eye out for Grog. He poured a shot and drew a beer for Grog and went into the office to call the owner. While settling in to his beer and bump, he noticed a weathered and scarred old fellow at the end of the bar. The ol' feller stared at the young man, eyes glittering without fear or compromise. And, he said nothing.

The bartender returned, told Grog that the owner would talk to him later in the day and poured him another round of drinks. Grog pulled out his tobacco and rolled a cigarette. All the while, the ol' sourdough at the end of the bar kept a bright eye on him. Finally, Grog wandered over and asked the ol'coot if there was a problem.

He said "NO." then asked: "You're new to Alaska, ain't ya?" Grog answered in the affirmative and offered to by the old man a drink. Which led to conversation and the conversation turned to the Bush and to the Grizz.

The ol' feller asked Grog if he had a "Brush Gun." Greg answered in the affirmative and proudly told of his .357 Ruger.


"Well, " the ol' coot finally said, "Did ya' file off the front sight yet?"

Grog's mind was reeling. What did he mean? Was there a special way of shooting that was made easier with the front sight gone? The whiskey and beer were taking their toll. The big kid from Vermont was totally stumped, flummoxed. He grabbed the shot glass, hammered down his last shot of rotgut and turned to the ancient face, still staring at him.

Grog looked him straight in the eye and asked him what the hell was with filing off the front sight of a perfectly good gun? The whiskey burned in his belly.

-Again, Silence-

The bartender stood in the shadows, arms crossed, watching the exchange.

The wizened old man turned to Grog and stood up. Even with his bent and battered frame he could almost look the young man in the eye. This is what he said:

"Well, young'un....ya'see it won't hurt so much after ya' empty that pea shooter in ol' Grizz an' all you've done is piss him off... An' he takes that pop gun and shoves it up your arse!"

Then both the ol'coot and the bartender began to laugh....long and loud and hearty. It turned out that the ol' Sourdough was the owner of the bar!

He slapped Grog on the back and told him to settle down. The owner bought the next round and began teaching Grog about what he REALLY needed in Alaska.

Grog sold the .357 and bought big, long barreled, stainless .454 Casull. Not much later, he added a Remington 870 shot gun with an extended magazine.

Grog told me that the 870 did save his bacon one time while he was out in an ocean kayak, touring the Archipelago.

Whether all of this is true, I will leave it to the reader to decide. Whatever the truth, it made for a great fireside story under the stars, down in the magic of McElmo canyon.

And, I do believe even some of the old Anasazi spirits laughed.


  1. Brigid rocks! Thank you for introducing me to her.
    As for Grog... hmmmm...

  2. Grog was a hoot. And he did own that big pistol, the .454 Casull.
    As for the rest of his story, who knows?

    He had a devilsh twinkle in his eye most of the time....and he did like his whiskey and a beer chaser.

  3. Thank you for crafting such a wonderful story. Oh. . NOW I see the goulash. Not fair :-)

    This is a wonderful place to visit. Thank you.

  4. Brigid,

    You are welcome. And you are welcome to peruse the older posts.

    "Elegant Dust" is the title of a poem by my favorite poet; Thomas Hornsby Ferril.

    Tom Ferril was a Denver native, prolific writer in many venues and poet laureate of Colorado from the early '70's until his death in 1988.

    Welcome and well met, thanks for stopping by.

    I will forever be in debt to Oleg Volk for introducing us!