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  • Writer's pictureMyron

September 2021

The October news comes to you from the Minnesota farm where a fall visit is happening after missing last year’s visit. It seems strange to not have an elk roundup on the schedule which happened every October for about 25 years. The elk are long gone and the timing couldn’t have been better because the locker plant that processed the elk is unable to handle such jobs at this time because of Covid. Normally, harvest was done by delivering live animals to a small plant about 25 miles from the farm using a horse trailer. Now it would require a much longer drive with an old beater truck with an even older beater at the wheel. Instead, the elk pen is gone and where the elk roamed, deer now congregate. The farm has an abundance of deer right now, including several large bucks that have been regular subjects on the trail cams, like this one.

Daily activity on the farm includes checking trail cams and nighttime patrols with a spotlight to check for wildlife. Sometimes those activities intersect and the trail cam captures some guy driving by with a spotlight. For those who are wondering, spotlighting is legal - without a gun of course, and it is a growing family recreational pursuit nationwide where it is allowed.

The Minnesota farm is in the midst of a significant drought, and as a consequence, the fall color show is a bit muted. But one tree in front of the cabin didn’t get the message.

Farewell to the Dog Farm

October 1st was the official departure day from the Angstman home in Bethel, and that caused a reflection back to 1974 when the saga began. There are many recent accounts of family moves to Bethel, but that August day in 1974 was an adventure worth recounting. Hired as the first Public Defender for Bethel, it was later revealed by the boss that the job was offered because most of the other candidates didn’t seem like they could handle the move to a primitive spot like Bethel. Considering the amenities that came with the job, that is likely a realistic assessment. When most folks in the modern era are sent to Bethel, they are met at the airport by folks from their new job, taken to their apartments and shown around their new office. Not so at the Public Defender’s Office. It didn’t exist, and neither did the apartment. The Angstmans arrived with their dog in tow, and took a cab to the Kuskokwim Inn, where the hefty daily room charge was paid out-of-pocket, a pocket that was fairly shallow at the time with a large law school debt to pay. The only hope for lodging was a legal service lawyer who promised by phone to keep a lookout for a place. Upon arrival that fellow said Henry Jung was building some apartments nearby, and they might be about done. Those three units were checked out, and one had an open window, which seemed invitation enough, and the Angstmans simply moved in. A Tundra Drums message went out to Henry Jung and he dutifully showed up at the courthouse as requested the next day, most likely thinking he was in some kind of bind. Instead he was informed he had new tenants, and he seemed to go along with the plan. A price was agreed upon, and Henry went back to Napakiak a bit confused about what had just transpired, but reasonably satisfied that he had rented his new building so easily. That apartment still stands, about a block from ALO.

A Winning Tradition

The courthouse served as an office, along with the small closet/conference room at the jail, for a couple of months because in the 1970’s there simply was little real estate available in Bethel. Finally an ancient blue trailer house was rented for an office, and eventually a secretary was hired. It took some time to get a phone (and also a dial tone) but a post office box was easy. Postmaster Ted Samuelson fixed up the Public Defender with Box 10, which is still their mailing address and about the only legacy left behind by the first guy on the job. Oh, and one other thing – early on it became apparent that the Public Defender was ready to take on the District Attorney nose-to-nose despite a huge deficit in experience. Jury trials were the order of the day. While experience and legal knowledge was lacking, an ability to connect with jurors and provide a spirited, passionate defense turned out to be the key to winning. Keep the jurors awake, entertain them if possible, and make damn sure they know that the defendant has a strong advocate. There was nothing wishy-washy about the defense effort in those days. There were a few cases lost because of lack of experience and numerous other shortcomings, but the wins far outnumbered the losses. Thankfully that winning tradition in the Public Defender agency continued in Bethel for a long time. Bethel has long been known as the place with the most jury trials per capita in the state, and likely the nation, and public defender defense verdicts are very common. And the key elements of connecting with jurors and litigating with passion never changed after leaving the Public Defender’s Office, which resulted in a long and successful 44 year run as a private lawyer at ALO. Many high roller opposing attorneys came to rural Alaska after sizing up their opponent for a year or two as their case moved toward trial confident a win was at hand. Their confidence often held until final argument, when that country rube got a chance to talk directly to the jury and seal the deal. At that point, seeing jurors respond with nods of approval to the argument, it became obvious to most opposing counsel that they were losing. Their facial expressions revealed their disbelief – “How can we be losing to this guy??” It's always a tense moment when the verdict is read in open court. Winning is great fun, and winning when the other side has assumed all along they couldn’t lose is even more fun.

Still Open for Business

And the run isn’t over. ALO is still open in Bethel and serves clients statewide, now mainly by internet and phone, but a bunch of major cases are on hold waiting for the resumption of jury trials. Contacts with rural Alaska were often done by phone anyway, because of the great distances involved and expensive travel costs. Many ALO clients over the years never met their lawyer. That’s maybe fortunate, because many of those clients might still think they were dealing with a tall handsome guy in a three piece suit with fancy shoes, like they see on TV.

New Owners

Nate and Rachel DeHaan and their two kids purchased and moved into the Angstman house, and promised to recognize the place as Old Friendly Dog Farm for a while. The ancient sign on the barn has held up well. It was painted by Reyne Athanas in the 80’s and she must have used good paint. The dog in the painting – Old Friendly, was the leader of the first team on the Dog Farm, when he was over 10 years old after a long career as a sprint racer. He wasn’t photogenic and was a hardened survivor of some challenging early years at Deacon’s Landing on the Upper Kuskokwim. He had one peculiar trait that is worth recalling. When Friendly got his daily watering in a coffee can, he would drink half of the water and then take a short break during which time he would pee into the can, then promptly lap up the remaining mixture.

Nate put up a fence in the summer dog yard and moved in his dog team. Here is a clip of him getting ready for a dog training run.

As the house sale was happening, a few newcomers moved into the yard. Nate’s family thought they were cute, and these pictures by Dolly confirm that.

But unfortunately the squirrels are the small red variety which can cause lots of trouble in buildings, and which don’t come with a warranty.

Mandatory Moose, Deer & Other Creatures

Deer activity is high right now. A recent spotlight tour with friends Steve and Candy Oelkers revealed more than 30 deer on the farm, and that tour included only about half of the farm. Here, two of those deer performed for the camera.

The Mandatory Moose for this month ran a little short on patience.

This photo of a polar bear is top notch.

Here is a shot of a bunch of college buddies pulled from a drawer when moving. A valuable reward to anyone who can identify them all.

Great Reads

This article "White Supremacists Crippled By Lawsuit Over Charlottesville Rally" describes a series of lawsuits that have been very successful at stopping hate groups in America. through court. Another series of suits is now impacting the folks that promoted the notion that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Those suits are also having the desired effect. Defendants like Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell are having to put up or shut up on their baseless claims, and they are finding themselves in a pickle because there is no evidence they can present to defend themselves. They are accused of fabricating public statements and because they can produce no evidence to the contrary, they will go down in flames. Trump also has suits pending against him for public false statements and just now those cases are going forward with depositions. His past performance under oath has been laughably bad, and those long question and answer sessions can’t be a lot of fun for him.

Seth Kantner has been mentioned in the ALO news before when his books have been published. His latest book “A Thousand Trails Home” is another great read.

Seth’s view of rural Alaska and of Mother Nature fit right in with views often expressed here, but his are based on a lifetime spent in closer proximity to the wild at a remote homesite on the Kobuk River. By comparison, Bethel is like the suburbs. His fascination with caribou dates from his early years when his family subsisted primarily on that animal, and he describes his father harvesting as many as a hundred a year to feed his family and dog team. Seth has a reverence for the land and lifestyle of the Ambler area of the Kobuk River, and expresses that reverence in words and photos that will connect with most people tuned into Alaska.

Don Rearden is a writer connected to ALO through his youth in Bethel where his family shared lots of adventures with the Angstmans. His book Raven's Gift was reviewed here sometime ago. He wrote this opinion piece for the Anchorage paper and it hits the mark – "I wrote a book about a pandemic hitting Alaska. The reality is worse." (Anchorage Daily News)

Until May...

The end of September is always a somber time for the wilderness branch of ALO. First the challenge of putting the cabin, boats and other gear away for winter is a reminder that lake activity will not resume until May. And then the float plane is pulled from the water for the winter in Bethel. For sure there aren't a lot of senior citizens who enjoy the privilege of flying a float plane into the Alaska wilderness numerous times every year. But for now, May can't come soon enough.


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