In celebration of 40 years of service, owner and operator of Talaheim’s Alaska fishing lodge, Mark Miller, and his daughter, K’Dee, take a moment to reflect on the family business.
Q: If you were to give each of Talaheim’s four decades one major accomplishment, what would that be?
1976 – 1986
Mark: That first decade was all about getting out of tents and into a proper structure. Then came the European clientele. This was before the Internet, so we were lucky to have a handful of guests who loved to talk almost as much as they loved to fish. A picture of my son at age eight with an fifty-pound king salmon on his lap spread across Europe so fast that new fishermen were arriving at Talaheim knowing Luke’s name before mine. We had visitors from France, Scotland, England, and Germany in that first decade. Talaheim–heim meaning home in German and Tal short for Talachulitna River–also got its name during that time.
K’Dee: When Talaheim turned ten, I turned nine, so it goes without saying that it was a big decade for both of us. I remember the European clientele well. I especially remember Sir Reginald Sheffield and his wife, Lady Victoria. When I was six they visited us at Talaheim, then that following winter, we visited them in London. We saw Peter Pan the Musical in London’s West End. From that point forward, I bugged Dad about flying me to Hollywood. Thirty-five years later, I’m still bugging Dad, but this time it’s on the whereabouts of Sir Reggie and Lady Victoria. He threw his hands in the air and told me they were busy with “some big wedding.” Some big wedding it was: their daughter had married United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Mark: The second decade was all about building. And gathering logs– lots and lots of logs. We built the Family Cabin when the family outgrew the Old Lodge. Then we built the first guest cabin, which we called The Honeymoon Cabin. Then the second guest cabin. Then the third. Then came the New Lodge, which still remains today, turning the Old Lodge into a shop, then a guide shack, now a pantry and beer cooler. There wasn’t a day during that second decade when my pockets weren’t littered with sawdust.
K’Dee: My family got its own real bathroom when the New Lodge was built. I had just turned thirteen and grown tired of using the communal outhouse and sauna. A few years prior to the New Lodge, when Dad put a real toilet into the Honeymoon Cabin (our first real toilet at Talaheim!) I was so jealous that my mom had to turn to me and say, “Don’t worry, when the guests go fishing, we’ll take turns using it.” I hate to admit that a toilet represented an entire decade of my childhood, but it’s the truth. Being a preteen in the Alaskan wild is no joke.
1996 – 2006
Mark: Helicopters defined Talaheim’s third decade. Suddenly the entire world was open to us, and only us. We visited streams that before we’d only flown over; streams that were unnamed by any official map. If we saw a footprint on the beach, it was ours from the week prior. Guests never saw another human. Our helicopters brought remote fishing in Alaska to a whole new level.
K’Dee: The same year Dad got his first helicopter I brought my first boyfriend out to our fishing lodge. Surprisingly, my parents had no problem with us taking the raft and floating down the Talachulitna alone. I should’ve known then that something was fishy. First it sounded like a large insect. But then it appeared, rising from the valley for the river, blocking out the sun’s rays–Dad’s helicopter. Shaped like a gigantic spider, Dad circled us slowly, then went down river to drop off a guest, only to return, and circle, in between each trip. So much for alone time.
2006 – 2016
Mark: It took three decades for our Alaskan fishing lodge to turn a profit. It’s only within the last ten years that it’s become a viable business, and because of that, we were able to make some substantial improvements. Solar panels were installed, providing 24hour electricity. With that came Internet and a more reliable phone. A new helicopter was purchased, as was a tractor, which helps us maintain our level airstrip. And my favorite improvement– the sawmill. Sawdust still fills my pockets, but at least now there’s a lot more of it, and it comes much quicker. My thanks goes to our Friend upstairs for keeping all of us safe over the last 40 years. The Alaskan wilderness is not without risk and we have certainly been blessed with a long stretch of healthy and happiness.
K’Dee: I may have left Talaheim for Hollywood in 1997 after graduating high school, but Talaheim never left me. Often times I get comments on my mule-like work ethic and my ‘big idea’ way of thinking, at which point I say, “You should meet my dad.” Same reply goes for my storytelling capability: “You should hear my dad around our dinner table.” This last decade has been all about remembering. And gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude for growing up among all that Alaskan beauty, and all those guests who made life such an incredible adventure.
Stay tuned, coming up next on the blog: A sit down with the staff of Talaheim’s Alaska fishing lodge!