How You Will Move From Sea to Land

Salmon Troller

 

When you leave the boat you’ve called home for the past three months, you will need two dock carts. Ridiculous as clowns spilling from a tiny car, bulging backpacks emerge from the corners of your 7 by 2 by 2 ½ foot bunk, the one space here that was solely yours. Gather the ragged sweatshirt that served yet another season, the pocket knife you thought lost, the barely used Irish Spring and coconut shampoo. Gather the books and socks – so many books and socks! – the Red Dwarf DVDs, the granola bars nobody else on board liked. Gather vacuum packed portions of coho, pristine fillets to feed your family through the winter. When all of these things are loaded into the Subaru, stand before your shipmates and gather your words.

You will want to thank your captain, but won’t know where to begin. Do you begin at the beginning, with the seven year old boy who grew into this graying man who still calls you Sis? Or do you praise the conscientious skipper who woke in the middle of blustery nights to ensure the anchor held fast and avoided those grasping rocks where the ocean was too thin? At sea, you and this man share a language of flicked glances and raised eyebrows. Now you wonder where the summer went and wish you’d used more words while you had the chance.        

You will want to apologize to your crewmate, wishing you could erase the times you were impatient, distant. Wishing you’d laughed at more of his jokes. Not for the first time, wonder what’s wrong with you, that even after going into this season knowing what a bad shipmate you’d been in years past, you still didn’t behave any better.

But your friends are tired and you are tired and you don’t have strength or grace enough to find any of these words. Gather hugs instead, your face crammed tight against broad chests, and tell them you love them. They are smart men who know you well; trust that now, as in all summer, they hear everything you don’t say.

Driving home, recall your mom’s assurances to your teenaged self: “If you can drive a boat, you can drive a car!” These days you do both of these things, but as rubber rockets over asphalt, no opposing current or wind muffling your commands, you don’t see any comparison between the two. Thirty-five miles per hour feels impossibly fast, reckless.

Your return coincides with your sweetheart’s absence, a long-anticipated trip to the Canadian Rockies. Eager as you are to reunite, you enter the empty house with relief. (Empty, that is, except for the talkative cat who twines herself around your ankles.) This is the first time you have been alone, truly alone, for months. The season crashes over you – record-setting salmon runs, 48 hour turn-arounds between 16 day trips, the weary push/pull of missing your partner, your boat, while being grateful for your cohorts – and you are dowsed with exhaustion. 

When you open your eyes the next morning, you’ll lie immobile. Bedding crushes you against the king-sized pillowtop, the billowing layers of flannel and fleece oppressive after all this time spent in a sleeping bag. Stare at a ceiling that is not inches from your face, trying to identify the discomfort you feel. Realize you still occupy the same position that you fell asleep in eight hours ago. Your bed hasn’t pitched you hither and yon, the sea’s restless night ensuring your own.

As you prepare to leave the house, hesitate at the door. Remember you’re Down South now, in a fishing town no longer, and return to the bathroom. Reach for eye liner, mascara, ironing your furrowed brow with an irritated finger. Slide steel spirals into your ears, jangly jewelry that’s not safe on a boat. Study the woman in the mirror. Wonder who she is.

The grocery store will overwhelm you. Wander the aisles with an empty basket on your arm, hopelessly lost in options. You haven’t planned or prepared a meal all summer; your biggest task has been to finish cleaning the fish in front of you when your captain calls you in to eat, peel off your rainpants and bloody gloves to receive a steaming bowl of oatmeal, a small mountain of curry. Realize you have no idea how to feed yourself. Text your shipmates that the grocery story is freaking you out. Finally, more out of compulsion than conviction, select a carton of orange juice, rice crackers, granola, and Greek yogurt. Pay $15.27 for four items that would have cost over $22 in Sitka.

You will be further overwhelmed by the abrupt anonymity. You will feel the presence of every one of this city’s 82,000 residents, hordes of people everywhere you look and not one a familiar face. When you flee back to solitude, 35 no longer feels too fast.  

In the silence of your house, you will hear distant ringing. This is yours to keep, a permanent souvenir from months living with the generator’s ‘round-the-clock relentless growl. Notice that your back is stiff as you shuffle from room to room. Understand that this ache is not from the work of fishing, but the absence of work. Your body protests unyielding surfaces – the floor that doesn’t shift beneath your feet, the seat you don’t sway in. This motionless world jars you. After a summer marred by only one lumpy September afternoon of seasickness, you are landsick your first day ashore.

Coming from a 46-foot boat where you forever jostled elbows and shoulders with your companions, the house’s high ceilings and open floor plan feel gluttonous. Last night you didn’t even go downstairs, unable to stomach the stimuli of two stories. But now you drift through rooms, picking things up, placing them down again. With each item comes a memory – the cloth you bartered for in a Tunisian souk, the Gatorade bottle filled with Sitka Sound, every card and photo you sent from Alaska covering the face of the ‘fridge – and with each memory the knot in your chest loosens.  

Your sweetheart has left a treasure trail of rhyming love notes though the house. As you follow the clues through the kitchen (fully loaded coffee pot, English muffins, Adams chunky peanut butter), the bedroom (rainbow striped socks, socks with crows, socks with cats), and the bathroom (clean towels, fresh soap), you will begin to remember that within these walls lies the non-boat home that you and your sweetheart have created together. This space is expansive not to contain Stuff, but love.

Finally, armed with a cup of coffee, you will enter your writing room. Smile at the inspirational trinkets in the windowsill, the sagging bookshelves, the bulletin board studded with photos, quotes, and cards. Facing the butcher paper-plastered wall, study your book’s outline. A final note of encouragement waits in the center of your desk, accompanied by chocolate. You will tear up as you read it, support so explicit it leaves you weak in the knees, fumbling for the chair. Once seated, you will pick up the black Uni-ball pen you inadvertently stole from the boat, and begin.

 

Welcome Home

 

 

I sometimes think that the writers/essays/poems that have most moved us are hov­er­ing some­where over our shoulder as we write a par­tic­u­lar piece, a sort of divine lit­er­ary pres­ence we may not be con­scious of until after the fact. That was the case with this one. It wasn’t until after posting this piece that I real­ized how obvi­ously I’d channeled two of my favorite Fisher Poets, Toby Sul­li­van and Moe Bow­stern. Toby wrote a piece called “Things You Will Need,” and per­haps a few years later, Moe wrote one called, “Things That Will Be Dif­fi­cult,” which she cred­ited Toby with inspir­ing. Both Toby and Moe are tremendous writers and humans; you can hear them read their essays on the In The Tote site. Please do. 

Listen to “Things You Will Need,” by Toby Sullivan

Listen to “Things That Will Be Difficult,” by Moe Bowstern

Apart from sharing some photos on Twitter, friends, this season was my worst for keeping in touch. You’ve been in my thoughts – I’ve missed you! How are you? For the bloggers among you, I’m terribly out of touch with everyone’s work. Got a favorite summer post you could link to here? I’d love at least a glimpse into what you’ve been writing.

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An Abrupt Course Change

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”    (Bryce Courtenay)

 

I made smoked salmon chowder on Sunday afternoon. Sautéed onions and red peppers, tossed in potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, kept an anxious eye on the clock. It wasn’t the best time to start cooking. I needed to leave the house by 3:30 to make it to Village Books for my Beyond Belief author friends’ reading. That watched pot needed to boil – fast.

As soon as steam curled from the red cast iron, I snapped the burner off. Car keys and wallet were in my hand when the phone rang.

Joel’s voice was garbled. “I’m in an ambulance. I blew out my knee.”

“I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

The drive from our house to the ER is 8.2 miles. A distance that’s nothing for folks whose biannual commute is a 1000 mile cruise up the Inside Passage, but a wide open range for thoughts to tumbleweed in a life-altering emergency. With every twist of the road, my thoughts shifted from fear for my beloved (A knee, fuck, sweetie, I’m so sorry) to the practical details of our livelihood (There are six weeks between now and when we have to be underway to Alaska, the boat’s nowhere near ready, and the money from last season is gone). The sun beamed brightly that afternoon, as we slipped into every self-employed fisherman’s worst nightmare.

I found my sweetheart on a stretcher in the hallway. Whether influenced by shock or the high traffic surroundings, his explanation was remarkably calm. “I was playing pick-up basketball at the gym. When I stopped fast, my knee kept going. I heard a ‘POP!’ and it just went out – I was on the floor. I couldn’t see my leg, but I could see everyone else’s faces… They all looked sick.”

His teammates rallied, linking arms to carry him out to wait for the ambulance. A nearby volleyball player brought him some water. Another man found his locker and passed his things along to the medics. One of the medics was funny, with an Australian accent. Everyone was kind.

We’ve both been working out to prepare for the season, joking that our gym memberships should be write-offs, preventative maintenance for our line of work. It’s the responsible thing to do, right – to be fit, active, before making such extreme demands of our bodies? So there was the rub: Joel hadn’t been doing anything “wrong.” As he reflected, “I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I just got really unlucky.”

After X-rays and an eyeball/finger poke assessment, the hospital sent us home with a brace, pain prescription, and orthopedic referral. With three stairs to get in the front door, followed by another three up to the kitchen and four down to the bathroom, we got a swift lesson in how poorly our house is designed for folks of limited mobility. (“This is not the house that we’ll be growing old in,” Joel muttered.) We made him a new home on the couch – pillows to keep his knee elevated, a table within easy reach – and rolled out a sleeping bag on the floor for me. Neither of us slept.

That was five days ago.

Tuesday’s MRI led to Wednesday’s diagnosis. A torn ACL. Torn? Completely snapped – the doctor pointed out the ligament’s stump in the picture. A sprained MCL. Cartilage damage. Bone bruising. Surgery required. Four to six months – minimum – to recover.

One of Joel’s nurses was a man who’s trolled out of Southeast Alaska for the past 15 summers. He shook his head with compassion. “I’m sorry, man… As soon as I saw your MRI results, I knew you wouldn’t be fishing this year. Your knee’s hashed.”

From our first conversation in the ER hallway to every phone call to friends, Joel had made his best “It is what it is” noises. He planned for the worst, telling me, “Marlin still needs a second deckhand. If I can’t fish this season, you’ll go with him – he’ll have the best crew in the fleet between you and Mikey.” He embraced his friend Dan-o’s policy of identifying three positives for every negative: “Thank god I have catastrophic health insurance. Homemade mac & cheese for dinner! And even if my knee’s fucked, at least I still have legs!”

He did a herculean job of being his most positive, accepting self. But to receive the official word that he really was so severely injured, and there truly would be no going to sea for him this year… The reality was nothing less than devastating for a man who’s spent every summer of his entire life fishing in Alaska. A 30 year streak broken, leaving him unsure of what – who – remained.

We’ve seen other fishermen allow this kind of news to destroy them. For so many of us, our work is not a mere job. Releasing the dock lines, tilting our heads back to take a deep, salty breath, feeling our bodies become one with the sea and our vessels… We find ourselves whole out there, while we wander, incomplete, on land. Out there, we know ourselves in a way that, on land, we often aren’t quite sure who we are or where we belong.

Joel’s knee is too swollen yet for surgery. He’s got a pre-op appointment in two weeks, with surgery to follow. The doctor warned him that the first week after surgery will be the worst. I’ll be here to take care of him for that period, then transfer caregiving duties to his parents. As Joel commits himself to a summer of physical therapy, I’ll spend the season crewing for Marlin. The Nerka will sit patiently. This will be a first for her, too – the first season that she hasn’t spent in Southeast Alaska, since her 1979 launch. Bear the Boat Cat will be Bear the Not-Spending-This-Summer-on-a Boat Cat. (She, of all of us, will be pleased.)

As soon as Joel posted this news on Facebook, the kind wishes began rolling in. Friends urged him to keep his attitude up. “I firmly believe that adverse circumstances can produce positive outcomes,” said one who knows. Wrote another, “Life altering moment, be open.”

Stranded on the couch as he is, Joel has a lot of time to consider these wise words. He’s squaring his shoulders, bracing for what’s ahead. Even in intense pain, even knowing the worst pain is yet to come, he’s looking to the distant horizon, trying to see what he’ll welcome into his life this summer, in place of what’s always been.

I’m certain that my sweetheart will experience the great pain of his injury – physical and emotional – and move through it, finding valuable lessons and new opportunities in hardship. This is within his abilities. When he took the helm of the Nerka as a 22 year old kid, he had a trial by (everything but) fire debut that was notoriously, epically riddled with disaster. As I’ve said previously, if I’d gone through everything that he did, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to face another season. But Joel did – because he loves fishing that much, and because he’s simply a person who won’t be cowed by adversity. I know he’ll persevere here, too.

This season, Cap’n J’s job will be to repair himself. Next season, he’ll be back – he, me, Bear and the Nerka.

I know some of Hooked’s readers have had your own health scares, serious diagnoses that you’ve had to battle your way through. If you’re comfortable sharing what helped you get through, we’d welcome your guidance. How did you keep your outlook positive? How did you handle the times you weren’t able to be positive? What made the difference for you? When you weren’t able to be very physically active, how did you occupy your time and mind? Thanks, friends.

 

Cap'n J, Down

 

A postscript for those of you in the Bellingham area… The day before Joel’s injury, his sister and I set up his first photography show. Eleven framed photos and many greeting cards are available at the BookFare Café, upstairs in Village Books. (I hear one photo is already spoken for… Thank you, dear patron!) BookFare has long been a friend of ours – while you’re checking out the images, order the Northwest Salad to enjoy Nerka-caught smoked salmon – and we’re grateful to owner Charles Claassen for generously promoting local artists. Though this show was scheduled many months in advance, the opportunity to promote Joel’s back-up career now seems quite fortuitously timed. If you’re not able to visit his show in person, you can check out Joel’s photos here. (It’s very easy for us to make 4×6 greeting cards from any image – just ask!) Thank you all for spreading the word to your landscape photography-loving friends.

 

 

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Fishing Green: Last Season Aboard the Nerka

There’s something about last summer that I never told you.

Remember this August post, when I shared little glimpses into the first few days of our king salmon opening? And one of those glimpses was that Joel’s hands were giving him terrible, knuckles-of-ground-up-glass grief? And that you never heard what happened next, despite a cliffhanger ending and an assurance that I’d pick up the story on a later date?

Sorry about that, friends.

We did indeed claw our way through that nine day king opening. Back in Sitka, Joel went to the doctor, got some meds that didn’t sit too well with either of us. Over the following 15 day coho trip, every day – every hour – involved a reassessment of his well-being and what we should do, waffling between the confident “I feel good today, I think I’m fine,” to the cautionary “What if we really land on ‘em in the next king opening?”

You know that Joel and I are pretty attached to having the Nerka to ourselves. (And Bear, of course.) Optimistically “cozy” for the two of us, I can’t imagine life in the tiny cabin’s earlier incarnation: husband, wife, two energetic little kids, deckhand. When we finally admitted that we might have to hire a third person, we talked not about which dream troll deckhands we knew – they were all taken, anyway – but who we’d be willing to live with.

“What about Betsy?” one of us said.

“Yes!” the other enthused. That our friend Betsy had never been trolling seemed completely irrelevant. We knew her as an uber-competent, hard-working, conscientious, full-hearted and utterly delightful human – who also happened to be a professionally trained, fantastic cook.

We were both convinced. But Betsy and her partner Devon run a fuel tank cleaning business. How could she go fishing?

Trolling into a pocket of cell service, we called to ask, just in case.

Joel’s hurt? Sure, we’ll make it work.

Receiving such selfless love can be blinding. How did we get so lucky to have friends like these?

I didn’t tell you any of this at the time because I’m bad about continuing a storyline I wanted you to hear it from a different perspective. As a fisherman and a writer who writes about being a fisherman, I think a lot about how to translate experiences that are second nature to me, in ways that invite Hooked’s many landlocked readers into a foreign world. In some instances, like this unfinished business from last summer, I’m not the best person for the task.

Betsy, Scrubbing

But this woman is.

Luckily, Betsy is a great storyteller, and just posted a reflection on her time aboard the Nerka. I’m grateful for her time aboard and her willingness to relive it all on the page, and am delighted to share it with you now. Enjoy this snippet, with link to the full read below:

A fine spray of salt sea and fresh rain misted my face as I retched carrot cake-flavored Clif bar over the rail. Remorse washed through me. Not shame, though the shame of being so seasick as to necessitate puking over the rail was there, too; but guilt. I had managed to eat two things that day: an English muffin with honey and butter, and that Clif bar. It wasn’t the waste of food that made me feel guilty, either, but rather the simple fact that I had mentioned that carrot cake was my favorite flavor of Clif bar while Tele and I were shopping to stock the boat for a week or two, and Tele had generously bought an entire case of them for all of us to share. And I was pretty certain I was the only one on board who felt that way toward that particular flavor. Now, given my fairly limited adult history of puking, I was pretty certain that I would not be capable of stomaching carrot cake Clif Bars for a while. Maybe years…

Continue reading “An Adventure of Salmon and Self-Awareness (and a Healthy Dose of Self Deprecation)”

 

I wonder, friends… What helps you connect with someone/something that’s foreign to you? Are there particular examples (relationships, books, movies, conversations) that have helped you understand or identify with something otherwise outside your own life experience?

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Hooked Turns Two!

Birthdays are important to me, but I’ve been slipping lately. Just last week, I kept a close eye on the calendar, eager to call my dad on his high holy day. And I did call him – only to learn that I’d circled a date two days past due. Oops. Between that and the fabulous Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, this belated recognition of Hooked’s second birthday isn’t surprising.

Bear Under Fire

It’s okay – no boat cats were harmed for this photo.

Some might find it silly, fussing over a blog’s date of origin. Maybe. But in recognizing Hooked’s beginnings, what I really mean to honor is the anniversary of our friendship. Some of you have been here since our launch two years ago, while others are newly aboard. Some frequently engage in the conversation; many more are like I was all through school – claiming an unobtrusive spot in the back, carefully following discussions while flying under the radar.

Whatever role suits you best, I’m grateful for your presence. You buoy me by simply showing up, and encourage me to show up, too. Thanks to you, I strung a lot of words together over the past 12 months. Some more memorable than others; maintaining a practice of writing was the point. You made me accountable where I might have otherwise been lazy. As author Heather Lende explained, “I write because you read.”

And what did you read?

You joined Cap’n J and I for our seasonal life aboard the Nerka, transitioning from land to sea last March. In September, you heard Bear the Boat Cat share her displeasure at too-many months aboard. You went halibut fishing with us in May, spent June preparing for the salmon season, and chased kings in July. (The next two months were a blur: over 47 days, we spent 149 hours at the dock. I wasn’t such a reliable contributor during that time.) You gave thanks for the season’s bounty, taking a seat at the table for Fisherman’s Thanksgiving.

Though I often refer to our work’s seasonality, you understand that being a fisherman includes year-round responsibilities. It means advocating for conscientious management  and speaking out against genetically engineered salmon. (That work isn’t over, friends. The FDA’s public comment period closes on April 26; please go here to add your thoughts.)

You’re aware of the inherent risks we accept every time we untie the dock lines, and know that we feel each loss at sea – even those on the other side of the continent – as one of our own. You know that sometimes fishermen get lucky, like the miraculous survival of the man in the fish tote. Regardless of whether you’re an ocean-goer yourself or firmly rooted to the shore, you understand the real price of fish.

You know that gender is bound to my experience as a fisherman. I told you about being the first woman that one of my male shipmates crewed with. You met Amanda, a young woman dreaming of a life at sea. You encouraged her through her uncertainty and frustrations, and celebrated her triumph. (Amanda was also Hooked’s first guest writer. I loved you all a serious lot for the warm welcome you gave her.)

You grieved with me, remembering a young man from my social worker days, and honored Native leader Isabella Brady for her tremendous legacy. We walked for life last May, acknowledging suicide as an epidemic in rural Alaskan communities, and sought hope in this video.

We laid Hooked’s first incarnation, a WordPress.com site, to rest with a video from one of my favorite places in Sitka. Thanks to the Chicago Boy’s generous time and skill, we rang 2013 in by migrating to our new, self-hosted home here.

Good timing, this birthday. Writers burned up the internets last week, hotly arguing whether or not  they should be blogging. Is it a distraction from “real” writing projects? Is it necessary to pave the road to publication?

I can’t deny that Hooked sometimes distracts me from the chapters I need to be writing. But that’s not because blogging is something I think I should be doing, that this is a strategic, end-goal-oriented obligation. Being here with you is fun. Over the past two years, you’ve made writing a gratifying, reciprocal exchange.

My friend Karla made this beautiful suggestion. “Perhaps blogging is like the tide, a flood that can serve to recharge and the ebb which is a drain. The intensity, dependent on the seasons.”

A perfect thought to close one special year and enter the next.

Bear the Boat Cat, Celebrating Hooked's 2nd Birthday

Thanks to Port Townsend’s Tyler Street Cafe for apple strudel birthday cake. Bear approved.

 

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The Golden Scrub Brush

One afternoon last August, the Nerka bucked hard into a steep Westerly chop. Struggling to keep my balance while flushing the blood out of a gutted king salmon, I groused under my breath. Only work half the year, watch whales, pretty much just a wildlife cruise… Right. Then an epiphany. National Fisherman publishes an annual “Highliner of the Year” issue, celebrating fisherfolks who’ve contributed to our industry. What if Hooked recognized stellar deckhands of our fleet?

Delighted by this thought of a new tradition, I got on the radio and asked our partners to help name the award. “The Golden Scrub Brush,” one responded. Perfect.

Finding good crew, after all, is a bit like finding Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Cap’n J and I are lucky: we’re both young/strong/able/stubborn enough to handle everything just the two of us – for now. Other captains go through the same exhaustive search every spring – and for some, even a time or two more before the season’s end.

A confession: every June, Joel and I scope out the new crop roaming the harbor. It’s become an annual wager between us, pointing out who’ll be the gem of the season, and whose sea bag will be dumped on the dock by mid-July. We’re usually not too far off.

What separates the gems from the rest? Work ethic, sure. Being observant – seeing what needs doing, and doing it – matched by an equal ability to listen, follow directions, and not presume that they know better than their captain. Being someone that captain wants to live with.

(Another troller described the iron-fist rules he gave his deckhand. “One, I decide who we’re coding with. Two, I talk first in the morning. Three, no, you can’t take a nap in your raingear in my bunk.” The deckhand? His mother.)

The physical demands of our work are teachable. Less so are the core qualities, who a person is at heart, that are so essential. Few of us are prepared to be alone with the unfettered corners of our mind, places we’ve never visited and don’t know are there until all of the usual distractions and buffers have been stripped away by weeks at sea.

A bumper sticker popular among fishermen, commonly slapped on battered trucks and baitsheds, issues the reminder: “Attitude Makes the Difference.” This, more than anything, is true. It’s why Joel and I immediately agreed on who embodied the inaugural Golden Scrub Brush Award.

Mike Skiffing the Bay 2012

(“Wait,” you say. “Isn’t that your buddy Mikey, who was just at Fisher Poets with you guys?” Yep. Favoritism? Absolutely. Mike is indeed one of our favorite people in the fleet – and also the person most deserving of Awesome Deckhand recognition.)

Joel and I met Mike Montagne in 2010, when he crewed on one of our partner boats. It was a temporary gig; midway through the season, he was living in a van in the harbor parking lot, waiting to see what opportunities would come next. This worked out well for us: we always needed a third person to help us unload. Mike quickly distinguished himself as reliable, helpful, and fun.

 

Mike, Betsy, T Unloading

 

We’ve passed a lot of fish popsicles through Mike’s hands since then. He’s crewed for my “brother” Marlin for the past two seasons. A jokester, he’s his own favorite target. One frequent self-deprecating line: “This is what you get when you hire someone out of the back of a van!” In truth, what our fleet got from that van is awfully good.

Like when a string of trollers were rafted together one evening last summer, and a deckhand dropped a gaff overboard. The current was strong in that anchorage; we watched the $30 tool drift towards the mouth of the bay, immediately out of reach. “I’ll get it!” Mike yelled. Before any of us knew what was happening, he was in his wetsuit, yanking on flippers, and plunging into the water.

To be clear: none of us get in the water voluntarily. (My feeling? Fuck that.) But Mikey’s part sea lion. As he says, “Lie around naked in the sun all day, eating fish? Who wouldn’t want to do that?” So while the rest of us spent harbor days napping or watching bad movies, he went swimming. I grew accustomed to seeing his dark head pop up amongst otters, seals, and kelp paddies.

The elder captains among us didn’t know this. They nearly dropped their Rainiers, sputtering, “What the hell’s he doin’?”

Marlin barely glanced over. “It’s what he does. I’ll fire up and go get him if he gets pulled out too far.”

The current didn’t pull Mike out too far. He caught up with the drifting tool, grabbed it, and swam back to the boats, handing the gaff up to the relieved deckhand. (Not everyone appreciated the rescue. I was standing with that deckhand’s captain, who scowled. “I was kinda looking forward to making the kid pay for that gaff.”)

At the dock a few days later, Mike was back in the water, pulling trolling wire out of a new friend’s prop.

I’ve watched him stick a verbal foot in front of bigotry, frequently tripping other deckhands silent with his matter-of-fact reproach, “It’s 2012, dude – don’t make it weird.” He and Joel have long talks about what it means to be men who’ll speak out against sexism and sexual violence, working to responsibly wield their privileges.

Back in 1999, I couldn’t imagine having allies like these. I thought I had to abandon the commercial fishing world I’d loved as a child, a world that suddenly didn’t feel safe or welcoming as a young woman. To see fishermen living these values is a powerful, inspiring affirmation.

Mike brings other affirmation to our work. During a boat party last June, he swept an arm at the surrounding mountains. “We could be anywhere in the world right now, doing anything, but we’re here, doing this.” Awe filled his voice. And there it was: attitude, making all of the difference.

If the stars align, I’ll be longlining with Marlin again this spring, training Mike in the halibut arts. In the past, I’ve often not been a great deck boss. (For some of the same reasons I’ve chosen not to parent, including a streak of ugly impatience.) Sometimes it goes better, though – that is, sometimes I go better, and it seems working with Mike would foster that. I hope those stars do align. Like Cap’n J, those are two men I’d be pleased to go to sea with. And while an imaginary award is fun, this truth is really the best recognition: on deck and in life, Mike is the kind of good that encourages everyone around him to be better, too.

 

Stay frosty, Mikey.

Stay frosty, Mikey.

 

Obviously the 2012 salmon season is long past. Time got away from me on this one, as it does on so many posts I’d like to share with you. In this case, the delay worked out: today is Mike’s birthday! When better to receive a major award?  Please join me in wishing him a happy birthday. For the fishin’ folk among you, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a good deckhand. Any preemptive nominations for next season’s Golden Scrub Brush?

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Hooked on National Fisherman

I’ve been mostly on an internet hiatus this week, friends, working on a deadline, but want to quickly share a bit of news. Some of you have asked about the piece that I read at Sitka’s maritime-themed Monthly Grind. I didn’t post it here because I submitted it to a magazine. Happy news: National Fisherman bought that essay, “After the Man in the Tote.” Thanks, NF!

Many Hooked readers are familiar with September 11’s post, “Lost at Sea: The Man in the Tote.” Minutes after watching the Coast Guard’s amazing rescue, I scribbled madly, convinced that this miraculous survival story needed to be shared. But at the same time, a second story tapped my shoulder. “There’s a different way to look at this,” it urged. “Even with the unexpected happy ending, what did this scare bring up for other fishermen?”

It certainly triggered some long-buried trauma for Joel and me.

Tele Having a Bad Time

You can read an excerpt of “After the Man in the Tote” in National Fisherman’s January print issue, available now, or read the whole thing on their website, where it’ll be posted for the rest of December. I’m grateful for their support.

Gratitude is a fast-growing creature. Since Hooked launched in March 2011, I’ve been fortunate to receive so much support from commercial fishermen and our industry advocates. Pacific Fishing linked to Hooked almost from the beginning, publishing a generous introduction article in their June 2011 issue. Alaska Waypoints offered a column upon their own web-launch, and has been a vocal promoter and good friend since. So I’m further honored that National Fisherman has added Hooked to their blogroll, a sweet spot between iconic photographer/fisherman Corey Arnold and gillnetter/direct marketer Matt’s Fresh Fish.

Over the 28 years that I’ve been fishing, there have definitely been times I didn’t feel like I “fit.” Times when my gender or left-listing values seemed to set me firmly apart from my shipmates. As I’ve observed more young people and more women enter our fleet, more fishermen identifying environmental advocacy as a necessary extension of our profession, and heard from folks who’ve found their own life experiences reflected on Hooked, that sense of other-ness has lessened. The publications listed above have helped me see our vast oceans as small, interdependent communities. They provide valuable information and advocacy, reminding us that we’re in this together – dependent on each other, regardless of our various regions or fisheries – and that there’s room at this table for all.

I’m thankful to be offered a chair.

 

(January is also National Fisherman’s popular “Crew Shots” issue, and you can look forward to seeing some familiar faces. Fellow fishing blogger Jen Karuza Schile’s husband is pictured with his longtime crew, proudly representing the F/V Vis. The Tammy Lin and Lady Linda honor multiple generations of Sitka trollers. You’ll see Cap’n J and me soaking up the rays as we cut halibut cheeks on a sunny June day. I’m delighted that we’re sharing the back page with Jen Pickett, Cordova gillnetter, blogger, Fisher Poet and friend.)

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