How was your salmon season?”

Yes­ter­day I received a let­ter from a friend.

Dear Tele, she wrote. Many times I think of you and Joel out on the seas all by your­selves. What a con­trast it must be to come back to land, peo­ple and cities. I won­der if you have caught lots and lots of fish. I won­der if you are still fish­ing, head­ing home, or already home. I have so many wonders.

I, too, have won­dered. I’ve won­dered how to fill my long silence. Every begin­ning fal­tered, deleted before it could risk notice. How do you pick up a con­ver­sa­tion left hang­ing, from what feels like a life­time ago?

Thanks to my friend’s invi­ta­tion, I learn where to begin.

 *****

 Begin with a June after­noon, sunny as our spir­its, when Mount Edge­cumbe appeared on the horizon.

Mt Edgecumbe's Welcome

 

Begin with antic­i­pa­tion, height­ened with every day closer to July first, Open­ing Day. When we finally left town, we exhaled. All guess­work and gam­bling at that point, no way yet of know­ing if we’d cho­sen the right direc­tion, but at least we were unplugged and under­way. Anchored alone in a quiet cove, we sat on the bow and watched a bear snuf­fle the shore, a stone’s throw away. We’d shut both engines down that night, one last evening of silence before the trip began. When the bear dis­ap­peared into dense Ton­gass under­brush, we watched her go with our ears, fol­low­ing a trail of snapped branches and shoulder-checked devil’s club.

The Nerka Heads Out

Sunset over Salisbury

Opening Day on the Fairweather Grounds

 

I’ll tell you about unprece­dented abun­dance. About an Open­ing Day that sur­passed any­thing we’d dreamed of, king salmon so fero­cious it didn’t mat­ter that they’d shred­ded our lures; they gob­bled bare hooks. For the first time in our part­ner­ship, we fan­ta­sized about hav­ing a deck­hand. (Said Joel at the end of Day 2: “If some­one asked me when it feels like to catch this many king salmon, I’d tell them, ‘It feels like I’m going to die.’”) Best was when we got back to town, learn­ing that the bounty had been coast-wide. A con­ver­sa­tion with a leg­endary high­liner con­firmed that we’d been part of some­thing spe­cial. “Fifty years I’ve been doing this,” he winked, “that was the best fishin’ I’ve ever seen.”

Tell about gratitude.

Hatch Full of Kings

Full Fish Hold

 

I’ll tell you about the good days, like the sunny after­noon on glassy water with a pod of six­teen orcas, where for the next half-hour we aban­doned all pre­tense of fish­ing. One of our part­ners called on the radio to see how we were doing. “Can’t talk,” Joel mut­tered over his rapid-firing Nikon. “Whale-watching!”

Orcas

Orcas

 

Or when, as we went to put the gear in the water at the start of a new trip, Joel glanced up to see a rare Japan­ese glass float drift­ing down the port side. How the whole sum­mer felt like that: a gift, pre­cious and unforeseen.

Joel's Glass Float

 

Or how we cel­e­brated our anniver­sary. Up at 3:45, the first boat out of the anchor­age, met with more abun­dance, this time the best coho fish­ing we’d ever seen. We never stopped mov­ing. The sun­set was mod­est, a quiet orb slip­ping into a placid pool. We were loud, shout­ing along with the Chili Pep­pers as we flung fist­fuls of entrails over­board, deliri­ous with dis­be­lief. Lack­ing the energy for an hour’s run to the near­est anchor­age, we shut down right where we pulled our gear, man­ag­ing to stay awake long enough to eat straw­berry Haa­gen Daaz for din­ner and soak shell-shocked hands in warm epsom salts. No com­mem­o­ra­tive lovin’ this year; we rubbed pain reliev­ing gel onto each other’s knot­ted backs instead, falling into our bunk with match­ing groans. Ten years: for us, a sil­ver anniversary.

Anniversary Sunset

Epsom Salt Soak

 

And I’ll tell you about the bad days, like when I caught a cold in town and felt like death but the coho were still bit­ing like bull­dogs and that’s what sea­sonal work is, you know — “Gotta make hay while the sun shines!” a friend cheer­ily reminds me — and when I glazed 600 fish one after­noon, all foggy head and aching bones, that was just doing what had to be done. And that’s how it was a few days later, too, when the South­east­erly came up hard and fast, bul­lets of side­ways rain shoot­ing into any gap in our raingear, and the Nerka heaved and slammed through a world turned gray, and still the coho bit. We called it quits by noon. “Fuck this,” Joel said, “Let’s go in.” I cleaned fish while he drove us into the anchor­age, a two hour run in the trough. He glanced back after the biggest rolls, check­ing that I was still in the cock­pit. When one flung us hard port, my legs buck­led and I scram­bled for a hand-hold. Know­ing Joel couldn’t hear me over the waves and wind and engines, a protest burst from my mouth any­way. “I do not like this!”

September Sideways Rain

Shitty Day on the Water

 

Safe in the Anchorage

 

But what I do not like is so soon for­got­ten, lost in the wake of what I love: this ocean hold­ing this boat hold­ing us; the per­son at my side and the salmon in my hands.

Salmon Heart, Salmon Love

 

Here I fal­ter, dis­guis­ing a self-conscious pause with a sip of tea. After a knee injury forced Joel to sit out the 2013 sea­son, this was our reunion tour. I want to tell you what it all meant — to Joel, reunit­ing with the moun­tains that have been the back­bone of his life; to me, dis­cov­er­ing new cer­tainty in our part­ner­ship; to us, matched in our deter­mi­na­tion to dig our­selves out of the hole of a year off — but words feel weak. Pulling our hooks aboard for the last time, we wore sim­i­larly tan­gled expres­sions. Baf­fled awe and exhausted pride: our weary bod­ies knew what our minds hadn’t yet com­pre­hended. Grief: the end of the sea­son meant leav­ing the place and life we cher­ish, aban­don­ing the iden­ti­ties where we know our­selves best. Excite­ment: being ready for the next thing, be it writ­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, a good night’s sleep.

End of Season 2014

 

We spent our last night in Sitka cel­e­brat­ing Fisherman’s Thanks­giv­ing. Good friends filled the Nerka’s deck; good food cov­ered her hatch. The party was wind­ing down when one guest reminded us that we hadn’t yet shared what we were thank­ful for. We went around the cir­cle, prais­ing healthy salmon runs, the fleet’s safety, easy-to-get-along-with deck­hands. We could have gone on, but one friend said it all in a sin­gle sen­tence. “This sum­mer was the per­fect storm of great­ness and gratitude.”

Fishermen's Thanksgiving

 

End with a mid-September night, the Nerka’s last in Alaskan waters, tak­ing com­fort in the sun­set. The sun’s farewell is always a tem­po­rary good­bye. So was ours.

Last Alaskan Sunset 2014

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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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