Hunting Jade in Alaska and a Close Call
Hunting Jade Down by the Yukon River
I served my country as an Airman beginning with basic in the summer of 1968 and my final assignment during my short four year career found me on a small ACW Radar Unit about 10 miles North of Galena where there was an air base and a squadron of F4 Phantoms. The gravel road from Galena AFB ran along a crooked terrain that scaled to the higher ground though not too steep to curtail the ease of traveling in our four wheel drive deuce box truck. It was covered with snow for most of the year but our personnel regularly scrapped the road. To add to the difficulty, the winter months were dark. The sun never rose during those months and for the120 of us stationed at this God-forsaken military site, our recreation was limited to occasional outings to hunt moose or to check fuel supplies in our huge outdoor tanks which had been filled in the fall just prior to the first snows and the freezing over of the Yukon..
We stayed busy doing our jobs and mail call was always a high point of our days. Letters from home were read over and over and during the hours we did not work, we had the facilities of an Airman's Club which had a two lane bowling alley, a gym, pool table and ping pong table. We had a movie theater and recent movies were shown multiple times before a new one would arrive. We were self sufficient and were reconciled to the fact we were here for at least 12 months.
When I arrived in June, the days were almost 23 hours in length. We played softball at midnight in the Land of the Midnight sun. The Inuit Indians were our competition and were a very good softball team. Fall arrive and the days began to get dark and the temperatures cold. Our first snows came in late October, we knew our lives would now be limited to our own individual coping mechanisms. Some drank and it wasn't uncommon to find some passed out over a bathroom commode. I didn't drink then nor do I drink alcohol now.
Almost every Friday during the winter months we would have a Commanders Call. Our site was near another ACW site at King Salmon and regular fishing trips to King Salmon during the warmer months had allowed stock piling enough fresh salmon which our mess hall prepared for those Commanders Calls. Sometimes our First Sergeant would plan an event and on other occasions, quarterly, we had a USO show.
The time passed and spring came. The Yukon thawed and fortunately for us, it had not flooded the Inuit village as it had in previous years. We would spend our leisure time hiking and it was on one of those hikes that I almost bought the farm. We had been out along the Yukon looking for jade which is fairly common in Alaska. In fact, I read there is a whole mountain of jade located on the Seward Peninsula. For us it meant scanning the shore for nuggets of jade.
I was busy looking and had picked up several stones I thought were jade. My attention had gotten distracted as I looked around to see where my friends were when I stepped into quicksand. As i was going down my life flashed before my eyes but just as I thought this might just be my appointment with death, my parka and winter pants caught on the edge stopping me from going any further into the mire.
Using my elbows I back peddled until my torso was out of the mire and I was back on solid ground. Had I gone under I have no doubts my body would never have been found. After regaining my composure, I hiked back to the site almost 3 miles back up the mountain. Needless to say I had been shaken both emotionally and mentally. I completed my tour in Alaska in June and came back home to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
My wife who worked for a local jewelry store took my jade nuggets to the store one day to have them checked. It was a sore disappointment to say the least. The stones I had salvaged that day on the river bank weren't jade at all but worthless granite stones that had some sort of fungus growing on them that had turned them green. At least for a while my dreams of having jewelry made from my jade were exciting but I was very disappointed they weren't the real thing.