Bad Decision

Most homes in Shageluk burned wood to keep warm, and Dave and Vera Penz’s was no different. Wood was free, and it was plentiful, if you went far enough away from the village. Early in the fall, Dave went with some villagers to cut their winter wood supply. They took a boat ten miles up a slough to a nice stand of trees and made camp on the shore. For the next couple of days they cut and limbed trees. They dragged some trunks into the water, tied them together into a raft, and piled more wood on top until they had a twenty by twenty foot stack. It was evening when they finished, so they decided to spend one more night at camp…a bad decision.

It froze hard that night. When the woodcutters woke, an inch of ice covered the surface of the slough. Their boat was frozen in. They broke the ice to clear a wide area around the boat, started the motor, and proceeded to ram the shelf of ice, using the boat like an icebreaker. Another bad decision. To Dave’s surprise, the sharp ice didn’t break until it had sheared through the bow of the boat as if it were a knife. Water poured in. The men scrambled into the rear of the boat, lifting the bow out of the water. Someone bailed frantically until they got it to shore. They pulled the boat out of the slough, turned it over, and rebuilt its front. Then they motored down a running creek and returned to Shageluk.

The men had to look elsewhere for their winter’s wood supply. All their previous hard work remained frozen in the ice until spring’s high water dispersed it down the slough and into the river.

Shageluk on the Innoko River, with sloughs. ⓒ

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