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:
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.)