Night Wheelwatch on the Nerka

53⁰23.596’ N

129⁰52.095’ W

11:15 pm, Principe Chan­nel, British Columbia

 

Dusk tames the ocean. Dims it to liq­uid mer­cury, a sil­ver sheet with yel­low threads peek­ing from the folds. My favorite kind of ocean. The hill­sides brack­et­ing this two-mile wide chan­nel have retreated, sac­ri­fic­ing sub­stance for allu­sion. Joy and relief rush my veins, a flood tide. We’re less than three hours from Alaska now. I lean for­ward in the pilot seat, as if that will push us along any faster.

Charg­ing ‘round the clock to reach Sitka as quickly as pos­si­ble, we’ve bro­ken the watches up like this: me on the wheel 9 pm to mid­night, Joel mid­night to 3, me 3 to 6. Joel has the hard­est shift, the three hours where full dark­ness reigns. Day­time allows sleep with­out clocks. We rotate through our bunk. In 45 min­utes, I’ll tuck myself into his body’s still-warm inden­ta­tion. For now, though, it’s up to me to keep us on course. To keep us safe. In his absence, Joel’s trust is a pres­ence fill­ing the cabin.

The sun slipped past the hori­zon an hour ago. Lin­ger­ing echoes cast just enough light to deceive. Every wrin­kle in the water ahead is a log, a tele­phone pole about to slam fiber­glass, inches from my love’s sleep­ing head. I drop this pad to stand and stare, claim­ing reas­sur­ance through height. Then, now, still: it’s all water. I fall for the same ruse every sun­set, every sun­rise. Every season.

Even in the sun’s absence, I keep this notepad braced against my knees, gaze con­stantly flick­ing between radar, com­puter chart, and black water, deter­mined to write blind even though I’ll be able to deci­pher less than half of this tomor­row. I’m think­ing of you, how long it’s been since we talked, and the dif­fer­ent sort of dark­ness I wrote from then. How to sum­ma­rize the months between that page and this? To chart the path between hol­low and peak, includ­ing Joel’s reunion with the ocean and our reunion with each other when we leased a per­mit to spend May trolling for king salmon off the Wash­ing­ton Coast, fac­ing a gaunt­let of threats – crab pots, bar cross­ings, drift­ing among big ship traf­fic – com­pletely beyond our Alaskan experience?

A daunt­ing task, and a tedious one at that. I’d rather think about friend­ship. About how, if a per­son is really lucky, they’ve got that one per­son who, no mat­ter how much time passes between vis­its, they can always pick up exactly where they left off, falling right back into each other’s com­pany with ease and com­fort. That’s the kind of friend I hope to be, and it’s the friend I imag­ine you as, too. Rather than apol­o­giz­ing for Hooked’s long silence or strug­gling to fill it, I just want to smile at you, reach across this dark ocean, and squeeze your hand. It’s so good to see you again.

There is, how­ever, one thing that needs to be said.

One week before we untied the lines to head north, I tapped the “send” but­ton. One full draft — 406 pages — off to my fear­less edi­tor Sarah. The last three chap­ters are sloppy, more ques­tion than solid nar­ra­tive. It needs a lot of help, but it’s some­thing, and Sarah gave me her bless­ing to go fish­ing and not think about it for the time being. (Actu­ally, she said, “Go do some­thing friv­o­lous to cel­e­brate!” Friv­o­lous doesn’t come easy to me, but a cel­e­bra­tory Martinelli’s with my writ­ing buddy Pam Hel­berg was pretty good.) I can’t tell you how much higher my shoul­ders are sit­ting, hav­ing handed the wheel over to Sarah. 

Writ­ing a book is often com­pared to preg­nancy. Car­ry­ing the story to term, the labor, strain­ing to birth this being that will live on inde­pen­dent of you. It’s an obvi­ous metaphor (and one my sub­con­scious fully embraced last win­ter, when this devoted non-breeder dreamed of a crown­ing baby that I didn’t know how to expel from my body.) Tonight, though, I’m think­ing that writ­ing a book is like dri­ving a boat up the Inside Pas­sage, trav­el­ing non-stop from Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton, to Sitka, Alaska, through dark water and twist­ing chan­nels, sleep depri­va­tion and unfore­seen haz­ards. A per­son can’t do it alone. I’m grate­ful to every­one who’s been here for the ride, includ­ing Joel, who fielded two full win­ters of solo boat work, too much time apart, and more pep talks than any­one should have to issue, and you. Thank you for under­stand­ing when I needed to step away from this site, for send­ing your cards of encour­age­ment, anony­mous choco­late, and best writ­ing wishes. As much of this jour­ney still lies ahead, I trust we’ll reach our des­ti­na­tion. Safely. Together.

Eleven fifty now, almost my bed­time. When you read this, I’ll be post­ing from Alaska. Alaskan trollers have a record king salmon quota this year – 325,000 fish, the largest quota since abundance-based man­age­ment began in the late 1990’s. Trans­lated, that means there’s a lot of king salmon around. Joel and I will be ghosts on the dock as soon as the sea­son starts on July 1, push­ing our­selves to make the most of this oppor­tu­nity, town time lim­ited to unload­ing, refu­el­ing, gro­cery­ing, rush­ing right back out. Turn and burns.

I’ve got a smart­phone that I’m far too tech-inept for, and while blog posts on that tiny key­pad are beyond the lim­its of my patience, swollen fin­gers, and rare ser­vice pock­ets, I’ll post pho­tos from our trips on Face­book and Twit­ter. No bound­aries on a pen, though. If you’d like to find an old-school enve­lope or Alaskan post­card smil­ing up from your mail­box, don’t hes­i­tate to send a note. I’ll be at this address through mid-September:

Tele Aad­sen

507 Katlian St

Sitka, AK  99835

Until next time, whether we reunite by screen or by page, I’m so glad to see you again. (Smile; squeeze.)

 

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FisherPoets Live on Kickstarter!

Fish­ing, sto­ries, cul­ture, com­mu­nity, authen­tic­ity… These are some of my favorite things, and they all come together in the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy, Anchored in Deep Water. My friends Pat Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have done a tremen­dous job cre­at­ing and edit­ing this project over the past year, and have just launched a Kick­starter cam­paign to fund print­ing. Thanks for read­ing their let­ter below and sup­port­ing this project in what­ever ways you’re able. 

 

Anchored in Deep Water, Gathering

Art­work by Chelsea Stephen

ANCHORED IN DEEP WATER:

The Fish­er­po­ets Anthology

Com­mer­cial fish­ing is an indus­try in the midst of extreme change. Many of the tra­di­tional fish­eries of the 20th cen­tury have already dis­ap­peared due to con­flicts over allo­ca­tion, the degra­da­tion of habi­tat and the advent of tech­nol­ogy. Many of the old tech­niques and meth­ods are gone or are fast drift­ing out with the tide. The Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing, an annual event at the end of each Feb­ru­ary in Asto­ria, Ore­gon for the past 17 years, has been a way for fish­er­men them­selves to chron­i­cle these changes and the attend­ing issues and the sto­ries they inspire. The Gath­er­ing brings together scores of writ­ers, poets and musi­cians each year to per­form their work cel­e­brat­ing the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try through­out the United States and abroad on the stages of Astoria’s tav­erns, restau­rants, muse­ums and art gal­leries. Cov­ered by such respected pub­li­ca­tions as the NY Times and Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine, the Gath­er­ing con­tin­ues to enter­tain and attract audi­ences because the world it describes is a myth­i­cal place for so many peo­ple. Cre­at­ing an anthol­ogy of the writ­ings of fish­er­men and women is to cre­ate a unique and sig­nif­i­cant record of com­mer­cial fishing’s his­tory and cul­ture. It is one impor­tant way to pre­serve their voices.

Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have edited and designed Anchored in Deep Water: The Fish­er­po­ets Anthol­ogy, seven books of orig­i­nal poetry, songs and sto­ries writ­ten by com­mer­cial fish­er­men and women who have per­formed at the Fish­er­po­ets Gath­er­ing. This is the first com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of fish­er­po­etry in over a decade. While this printed anthol­ogy can only pro­vide a glimpse of the spo­ken word per­for­mances at the event itself, the books cat­a­logue a rich his­tory of the event and of the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try itself. The books are the­mat­i­cally orga­nized: Every Boat Has a Wave deals with risk and sur­vival at sea; Illu­sions of Sep­a­rate­ness deals with the pol­i­tics and envi­ron­ment of the fish­ing world; Mak­ing Waves is filled with sto­ries by and about women in the fish­ery; Gath­er­ing chron­i­cles the com­mu­nity and cama­raderie inher­ent in com­mer­cial fish­ing; Fam­ily Dynamic speaks to the fam­ily issues com­mer­cial fish­ing inspires; For the Love of Fish chron­i­cles the rea­sons fish­er­men go to sea; and the final book, Mend­ing Holes, which is still in the works, is about the his­tory of com­mer­cial fishing.

Nearly 40 writ­ers are rep­re­sented in the anthol­ogy, from Mass­a­chu­setts, Rhode Island and Maine on the east coast to Alaska, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia in the west. One poet hails from Hawaii, another from Japan. Sev­eral of the writ­ers have work in mul­ti­ple books. (Visit In The Tote for a list of con­tribut­ing Fish­er­Po­ets.) Each book is 50+ pages long, with orig­i­nal cover designs cre­ated by Port­land, Ore­gon artist Chelsea Stephen and pho­tographs by fish­er­poet pho­tog­ra­pher Patrick Dixon. The books will be made avail­able singly or as a com­plete “boxed” (more like a sleeve) set.

We are seek­ing fund­ing for the print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion costs of 300 copies of each book (that’s 2100 books) as well as 200 sleeves. We are offer­ing fine-art, archival prints as rewards with the books for larger donations.

We have until the end of April — that’s National Poetry Month — to reach our goal of $10,000. Whether you’re able to help by con­tribut­ing to the Anthol­ogy or by spread­ing the word among your com­mu­nity, we can’t do this with­out you. Please visit the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy Kick­starter Cam­paign Page to enjoy our video (includ­ing appear­ances by sev­eral Anthol­ogy con­trib­u­tors.) Thanks so much for your help!

Sin­cerely,

Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen

 

FisherPoets Gathering 2014

Thanks from all of us! (Photo by Pat Dixon)

 

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Returning to the Cave

Just as Cap’n J and I out­fit the Nerka with emer­gency equip­ment – radio, bilge pumps, fire extin­guish­ers – I reach for par­tic­u­lar sur­vival gear as a writer. Lately, the one I’ve been keep­ing clos­est is Dani Shapiro’s Still Writ­ing: The Per­ils and Plea­sures of a Cre­ative Life. This book is a rare gift, one I flip open to a ran­dom page and find myself face to face with the truth I most need to hear. Today’s sec­tion, “The Cave,” is no exception:

 

One of the strangest aspects of a writ­ing life is what I think of as going in and out of the cave. When we are in the mid­dle of a piece of work, the cave is the only place we belong. Yes, there are prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. Eat­ing, for instance. Or help­ing a child with home­work. Or tak­ing out the trash. What­ever. But a writer in the midst of a story needs to find a way to keep her head there. She can’t just pop out of the cave, have some fun, go danc­ing, and then pop back in. The work demands our full atten­tion, our deep­est con­cen­tra­tion, our best selves. If we’re in the mid­dle – in the boat we’re build­ing – we can­not let our­selves be dis­tracted by the bright and shiny. The bright and shiny is a mirage, an illu­sion. It is of no use to us.

If there is a time for that bright­ness, it is at the end: when the book is fin­ished and the revi­sions have been turned in, when you’ve given every­thing inside of you and then some. When the cave is empty. Every rock turned over. The walls cov­ered with hiero­glyph­ics that only you under­stand – notes you’ve writ­ten to your­self in the darkness…

 

Life over the past month has indeed been bright and shiny. I’d like to share all that good­ness with you, post­ing pho­tos and videos and news of friends’ upcom­ing events. I’d like to tell you how my res­i­dency con­cluded, with thought­ful reflec­tions on the expe­ri­ence and grat­i­tude for your let­ters and encour­age­ment along the way. I’d like to respond to those of you who’ve asked about this year’s Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing, shar­ing sto­ries of Cap’n J’s debut per­for­mances (which, all nepo­tism aside, were amaz­ing), his sis­ter Ashley’s win of the On-Site Poetry Con­test, and the pure joy this annual reunion brings. I’d like to tell you what a tremen­dous suc­cess last weekend’s She Tells Sea Tales was, as an inau­gural fundraiser for Port Townsend’s Girls’ Boat Project and a pow­er­ful cel­e­bra­tion of women in mar­itime trades.

 

What I really don’t want to tell you is that, in the midst of this inspi­ra­tional love­fest, I’ve been hav­ing a hard time. A hard time: even in admis­sion, I am less than authen­tic, reach­ing for a euphemism designed to main­tain my “I’m fine” wall. I don’t want to tell you that in ven­tur­ing so far from the cave, I’ve got­ten lost in a dif­fer­ent dark­ness. I don’t want to tell you about spon­ta­neous weep­ing and sleep­ing too much. About the unnamed grief of watch­ing day after day van­ish with­out my par­tic­i­pa­tion. About being ter­ri­bly aware that I am fuck­ing up, yet feel­ing par­a­lyzed to behave any differently.

 

Depres­sion and anx­i­ety are not usual states of being for me. My grimmest hours, hav­ing occurred in child­hood and ado­les­cence, have long been packed in memory’s base­ment – until now. Now should come as no sur­prise. I marched down those stairs, blew cob­webs aside, and flung the card­board gate wide open. How can I be caught unaware by what I have invoked?

 

As a beloved men­tor pointed out, “The guilt, shame – even when ‘just’ writ­ing about it, you’re reliv­ing those moments all over again as you recall them on the page.” Fun as that sounds, I bolted from the cave as soon as my res­i­dency ended. In per­son and online, I’ve been binge-socializing ever since, care­fully posi­tion­ing one delight­ful dis­trac­tion after another between me and my writ­ing. My job.

 

Yet as actively as I resist, every day that I don’t return to the cave leaves me feel­ing more lost than the day before. Dis­tance sprawls between me and my work, vast acreage for self-doubt and fear to set up camp. Again I turn to Dani Shapiro, this time her reminder that a writer’s work is what will save her, even as she acknowl­edges the return won’t be easy.

 

The page is indif­fer­ent to us – no, worse. The page turns from us like a wounded lover. We will have to win it over, coax it out of hid­ing. Promise to do bet­ter next time. Apol­o­gize for our dis­re­gard. And then, we set­tle into the pat­tern that we know. Three pages. Two hours. A thou­sand words. We have wan­dered and now we are back. There is com­fort in the famil­iar. We can do this. Breathe in, breathe out. Once again, just as we’ve been doing all along.

 

So this will remain a quiet place, friends, as I step away from the inter­nets. Know that the radio silence isn’t you; it’s me. I’m end­lessly grate­ful for your kind­ness, yet it’s obvi­ous that as much as I admire the many peo­ple who suc­ceed in writ­ing their books while fully engag­ing with the bright and shiny outer world, I am not one of those peo­ple. I know only one way out of this, and that’s back to the cave.

 

The Cave

 

 

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