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My love for Alaska first started when I watched the amazing PBS special “Alone in the Wilderness”. It was the story of the famous Naturalist Dick Proenneke who went to Twin Lakes and lived mostly alone for 30 years. He made his own cabin, cache, tools, and anything else you could imagine. He also filmed his adventures in a 2 part series called “Alone in the Wilderness” and I was hooked. His cabin and building area is now on the National Register of Historic Places. He was the king of sustenance living.
I don’t watch much network television anymore but when I first watched Yukon Men, I was hooked. I approached Stan and Kate Zuray for interviews and they graciously agreed. Here are my interviews with them below. Please support them!
Ironically the first person I asked to interview was Courtney Agnes. She had some things come up at the time, but she agreed to do it at a later date. I enjoyed her personality and her ability to do whatever it took to get the job done. I also liked her dad Pat a lot (Go Raiders Pat!) and the story of her mom Lorraine was a touching one. Battling a dangerous aneurysm and arthritis, her mom was now a living miracle surviving a terrible ordeal. Once the rock of the family, she now has to be the emotional inspiration due to her health issues that have been difficult for all. The family takes care of her with a dedication and love that can be very challenging at times. It’s obvious she is a huge part of the foundation for Courtney and her family, and the struggle is a daily one. Courtney’s mom’s amazingly kind and giving spirit has touched many people over the years.
Courtney is the epitome of an Alaskan “girl”. She is at home in the wilderness and can do whatever a man can do, but she also can show the maturity of a woman, mother and daughter which is needed in such an environment. She’s done construction, dog mushing and can hunt. When the family desperately needed a moose, she got it. When Pat needed help with the dogs, she did it.
I also enjoyed her mischievous and fun nature. Courtney; and Alaskan women in general; show a huge strength and work ethic and passion for their families that is inspiring. I live in California and though we have a lot of beautiful women on the outside, for some there is something major lacking on the inside. Courtney and many other women in Alaska may not be glamour girls, but their kind and vital spirit and passion for life and family creates an outer and inner beauty that makes the world a more beautiful place because they are in it. I hope you enjoy learning about Courtney as much as I have. Here is Part 1.
Jim Jax: What were your first memories growing up in Alaska as a little girl.
Courtney Agnes: The most prevalent memories that I have of growing up in Alaska as a little girl had taken place at fish camp. I think I started climbing trees at the age of three, and by age 5 I had excelled at climbing. I would often climb 20-30 foot tall trees. One time I climbed a smaller willow tree to the top and after it bent over from my weight, I had to scream for my dad and he had to catch me from about 20 feet as I feel out of the tree. I also have amazing memories of dog mushing with my dad. He stayed home with me while mom worked and I would ride a snow racer behind a team of dogs that pulled both my dad’s dog sled and I. We were always outside doing something together; mostly working; but he always made work fun.
Jim Jax: Growing up as a kid, what fun activities did you do outside of working? Who influenced you?
Courtney Agnes: Growing up with the parents that I had, we didn’t have much time at all for play, because we were always working. I mean, my girls don’t even know the meaning of chores compared to my brother and I back in the day. From the time that I turned 8 years old, I never had a real fancy, huge birthday because we were always cutting fish from 7 am to 12 am in the summers. We survived from making a living off of selling the fish that we cut. The fish could be jarred, and put away for the winter so the entire family’s help was vital.
We were super lucky to grow up with thousands of cousins to play with. We even played baseball games on the airport runway, which was located next to mom and dad’s camp. I did have a tight knit group of friends who all took turns helping each other do their chores in order to play. We mostly raced our four wheeler ATV’s around town at break neck speeds, jumping them anywhere we wouldn’t get caught. There wasn’t much else to do, other than invent games of our own because we didn’t have the luxuries that the city provided.
Jim Jax: Every family has stories; what is a good story while you were a kid
Courtney Agnes: Here is my absolute FAVORITE story of the adventures of my oldest brother Thomas and I. When I was about 8 and he was 12, (I was all knees and elbows then) during the summer he and I were left home at camp together. We always had chores to take care of, like watering the dogs, watering the garden, and many other things. Mom and dad always went to work and we were left alone to be savages. Dad found a parachute at the dump that was discarded, and Thomas pulled it out and decided to play with it.
It was a windy day so we strapped him in and he tried to launch himself on the airport runway. I really do not know what he was thinking, but it didn’t take off, so he said we needed to go down to the beach. (I was at the age where I had to do whatever he said because he would have killed me if I didn’t). I stood back and held the parachute end up and FREAKING A if he did not take off like a rocket! He didn’t take off in the air, but the parachute did and it started dragging his limp butt about a 1/4 mile up the river on the beach over rocks, mud and sticks. He was moving faster than this skinny ass girl can run after him slipping in the mud the whole way.
As I’m watching him being drug like a limp noodle, he was screaming at me saying, “Siiiiiiiiiiiiis, heeeeeelp meeeeeeeeee.” He was terrified and I was running so hard that I slipped in the mud too. At one point I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t even get up out of the mud. Finally the parachute strings caught on a log and it stopped him. He had bruises and scratches all over his body and was sore for days. This is just one of the amazing stories I have of my brother.
Jim Jax: Was there ever a time as a teenager where you wanted to leave Alaska and go somewhere for college and leave the lifestyle behind?
Courtney Agnes: When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave Tanana. I hated it. I hated being so confined to one place without many outlets which is typical teenage stuff. I always dreamed of going out of state to college, but I didn’t know what kind of career path that I wanted to pursue so I played it safe and went to college in Anchorage. Before I moved away my dad called it. He said that I’d miss Tanana and I would be back. It took 1 year in Anchorage and 4 years living in Fairbanks for me to decide to come back home. I disliked the monotonous everyday driving place to place, fighting crowds and paying for any kind of small activity that was to get me out of the house. Everything cost money, and here in Tanana all we have to do is buy gas and we’re gone for the weekend camping on a sandbar or crashing through the forests chasing a moose for dinner. I still love to travel though and Europe is on my bucket list of places to visit.
Jim Jax: You have a close relationship with your mom and dad. We’ve learned about your dad Pat, but please tell people what type of person your mom is?
Courtney Agnes: My mom worked my entire youth to support our family and was always taking care of something or someone, no matter how tired or exhausted she was. We always had different kids staying with us for extended periods of time, whether they were cousins or kids that wanted to go to school in Tanana (the school used to be pretty big in my youth). In college, if I ever needed money, $500 would show up in my bank account. She was always a giver. Before her aneurysm she had a really close relationship with our oldest daughter, Cuppy. Cup would run over to Gramma’s because she would spoil the crap out of her. The aneurysm really changed mom. She became fully disabled and unable to do a lot of things, but she constantly still worries about all of us in everything that we do. She also lives vicariously through me in wishing that she can race dogs still. She always cries before any of my races. She’s so tough physically when she wants to be though. I really don’t know anyone else who might have survived the scale of aneurysm that she survived.
Please come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Yukon Men’s Courtney Agnes.