Queen of Bristol Bay, Bella Hammond. Photo by Ben Knight
Lake Clark is a world of its own, crystal clear waters glowing green, mountains circling all around, so many fish every cast brings one in. Grayling, Lake Trout, pink stripes, winglike fins, and poka dots. And a lovely afternoon with Bella Hammond, wife of the late governor Jay Hammond. Jack—our 82 year-old guide who exclaims every time he catches a fish like an 8 year old boy hooking his first—says, “Bella, you will love. If the natives of Alaska had a queen, it would be Bella.” She is a warm, quiet woman, one who enjoys her solititude. Yet her passion for protecting this area welcomes three strangers to her dining room table for tea. She heats water on an antique wood stove, porcelain black edges shining bright. Bella speaks of her own love for Lake Clark and for the waters of Bristol Bay, of Jay and his shared passion, of her lifestyle she treasures here, the lifestyle still shared by many. It was a memorable day for us all, and I felt a sense of honor to share the time we did… but then, I see more that this is exactly what it’s about—more and more people coming together out of concern for the mining threats facing this place, coming together over this fishery and all that it supports. Bella steps forward out of a belief that the more voices heard, the more power we have to gain protection. Thank you to Lake Clark National Park for your help with historical photos. It was a privilege to spend the evening with John Branson, eating salmon soup and talking Bristol Bay history. If only Jack could come on the Koktuli with us. He was a joy we miss already.