Gearing Up for the 20th Annual FisherPoets!

We’re less than a week away from Oregon’s annual FisherPoets Gathering, friends! The highlight of our winter, FisherPoets is always special – this one especially so, as we celebrate the 20th year of commercial fishing women and men from across the country (and one from Belgium!) uniting to share stories, poems, and songs celebrating our industry.

I usually try to share something about FisherPoets here, wanting to convey the magic, wanting to lure you to join us. This year, fellow FisherPoet (and gifted writer, mentor, and beloved friend) Pat Dixon has written such a perfect explanation, I’d rather just send you to straight to his words. If you’ve been undecided about making the trip or wonder what this “FisherPoet” business is, anyway, please read Pat’s personal invitation.

What I’ll say is this: those of you able to join us in person in Astoria this Friday – Sunday, February 24 – 26, please do say hi if we’re in the same venue. But if you can’t make the trip? Some of us will come to you! Make a date to enjoy readings from the comfort of your home, thanks to Coast Community Radio’s generous support.

Coast Community Radio will broadcast from the Astoria Events Center on both nights, Friday and Saturday, Feb 24-25, from 6:00-10:00pm PST. Tune in to live-stream the following FisherPoets’ performances:

Astoria Event Center, Friday, February 24
MCs Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman

5 Curt Olson and Abigail Martin, Broadus MT
Danny Keyser, Astoria OR
Annie Howell-Adams, Friday Harbor WA

6 Ryan and Kyle Lutz, Portland OR
Pat Dixon, Olympia WA
Phil Lansing, Boise ID

7 John Palmes, Juneau AK
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Kirk Lombard, San Francisco CA

8 Jon Broderick, Cannon Beach OR and Jay Speakman, Gearhart OR
Wilfred Wilson, Delta BC
RK and Cherry Rice, Long Beach WA

9 The Brownsmead Flats, Astoria OR
Tom Hilton, Astoria OR
Don Pugh, Snohomish WA
Erin Fristad, Port Townsend WA

Astoria Event Center, Saturday, February 25
MCs Rob Seitz and Tele Aadsen

5 Toby Sullivan, Kodiak AK
Mary Jacobs, Ophir OR
Moe Bowstern, Portland OR

6 Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Geno Leech, Chinook WA
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

7 Rob Seitz, Los Osos CA
Vicki Horton, Port Townsend WA
Alana Kansaka-Sarmiento, Portland OR

8 Doug Rhodes, Craig AK
Mary Garvey, Seaview WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK

9 Mariah Warren, Sitka AK
Rich King, Kilauea HI
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
John Haggerty, Seaside OR


Hope to see you there, friends.



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Coming Up: 19th Annual FisherPoets Gathering!

It’s almost time, friends! Oregon’s nineteenth annual FisherPoets Gathering is less than two weeks away, with storytellers, musicians, and poets readying to flood Astoria this February 26-28. It’s an immersion into the authentic, captains and crew of diverse fisheries and eras reflecting on the single moments and entire careers that have both nourished and devoured us. It’s an exercise in expressing what has often seemed beyond expression, and the belief that the effort matters. That belief pulls us back, a flood tide, every February.


FisherPoets has been the highlight of our off-season ever since we made our first trip in 2012. (I was the only one of us debuting on the program that year, but who can forget this moment, Cap’n J’s rock star emergence at the on-site poetry contest?) Joel’s been practicing his material for months. With the final (final?) revisions of my book due the day we hit the road for a pre-FPG Portland gig (Salvage Works, 7 pm on the 24th!) I may not be as polished as my partner, but I’ll be no less joyful for this annual fisher-artist reunion. Our people.


Meezie and Cap'n J

Meezie Hermansen & Cap’n J



Our people come from all over. A record ninety-five are scheduled this year, hailing from Alaska to Florida, Massachusetts to California. A couple British Columbians. One made the trip from Finland last year. The BBC came in 2014. Just as distance is no match for passionate FisherPoets, neither can it hinder the draw of stories. Our audience members come from just as far, and are just as eager.


Fifteen bucks buys you an entry button for the whole weekend. That’s a $15 buffet of two days’ access to six venues of performances, as well as all the special events: workshops, films, photography exhibits, conservation and advocacy discussions, a silent auction, a dance party, Saturday night’s annual poetry contest.


Ray Troll & Ratfish Wranglers 2015

Ray Troll & the Ratfish Wranglers, 2015


And if you can’t join us in person? Enjoy a private show in the comfort of your own home, curled up on the couch in your pajamas, for FREE. Thanks to KMUN, Astoria’s Coast Community Radio, listeners can livestream the Events Center performances, Friday and Saturday nights, 6 to 10 pm PST. Check the schedule to be sure not to miss your favorites.


(One of the first-time acts I’m most delighted to see is Belly Meat from Sitka. I like imagining a giant house party in Sitka – maybe at the Larkspur – of the home crowd tuned in to cheer these guys. They should be streaming about 9:00 on Friday night.)


Nineteen years… The FPG’s success is the proof of heroic volunteer efforts. Organizers, MCs, performers: we’re all volunteers. We foot our own travel, lodging, and food. When the weekend’s over and the bills all paid (event buttons, publicity, sound/lighting tech, occasional venue rentals), the committee divvies up what remains and recognizes each FisherPoet a small travel stipend, based on how far they came from.


Not to get too NPR-annual-drive on you, but because we have such a full boat this year, I’m making a special request:


If you tune in to KMUN’s livestream to enjoy the show from home, consider contributing the $15 that would have been your entry fee. If you’d like to see your business listed on the FPG website as a supporter, consider a $250 readership. If you value this event and are in a position to make a donation, please do. Tax-deductible donations can be made directly through the FPG website, or mailed c/o Tillicum Foundation, PO Box 269, Astoria OR, 97103. We’re grateful for your support in all its forms.


All this said, FisherPoets is ten days away, but my book deadline is seven. If you’re planning to make it to Astoria, please do let me know – I’d love to see you. For now, I’m off to work, with love and best wishes until reaching the other side.


Astoria Street Musicians, FPG 2015

Photo by Tia Jensen


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A Voice Lost, then Found


On December 15th, six hours after submitting Hooked’s final revision, I lost my voice. Literally. All these years a devoted disciple of the “tell your story” gospel, and, upon surrendering that story for my editor’s review, I couldn’t manage a rasp of a whisper. (Dear Universe, must you be so heavy-handed in your metaphors?)


I won’t lie: the six weeks leading up to that deadline were rough, reminiscent of the final push to get through the fishing season, when Joel, the Nerka, and I all stagger into September, hanging on by threads of winter promises. I made similar promises for all the things I’d do after the book was sent off, lining the kitchen table with a sheet of butcher paper and, whenever I walked by, scribbling vows to neglected friends and responsibilities. Oil change. Renew driver’s license. Dinner w/ Mom. Call AB. Haircut. Trim toenails. Our roof started leaking, weeks of heavy Pacific Northwest rains distilled to a steady drip from the kitchen light. I taped the switch off, spread towels across the linoleum, and went back to writing. My left eye developed a twitch.


Those butcher paper promises ended up being just that – paper promises, further IOU’s. As soon as the book was out of my hands, I collapsed into bed for days. Honestly? Losing my voice was a relief. My loved ones wanted to celebrate this long-anticipated landmark, but I didn’t feel celebratory. I felt unmoored, missing the companion that had so long anchored my days. This was a side of writing a book that I hadn’t foreseen: the loneliness when it was gone, the uncertainty of what would take its place.


(A week into this feeling, I came upon a post by Dani Shapiro that perfectly named it. Bereft. As if to balance out the ham-fisted smack-down of stripping me of my ability to tell any story, the universe proffered just the right reassurance at just the needed time. I may have been sad, but I wasn’t alone.)


My voice returned, but I stayed quiet. Subdued. I’ve shared deeply personal writing over recent years, yet it wasn’t until submitting this final offering that I felt truly exposed. I didn’t want to do anything but hunker down with Joel and retreat.


But Joel wasn’t having it. He insisted I’d achieved a major life goal – a dream! – and that deserved recognition. “You’re the one always telling me we choose how we feel. You can spend these weeks waiting and feeling miserable about what might be, or you can be proud of what you accomplished and enjoy this time we have together. It’s up to you.”


In my book and in life, Joel always has the best lines.


So I took his advice. That means re-appearing in my life, turning my energy outward. Giving back to you who so generously carried me all these months. It means celebrating what is, while trusting what will be.


And it means being able to say yes to invitations I would’ve had to decline earlier this winter. Opportunities like Wage Slaves: the 78 Cents Edition. I’m honored to join Sonya Lea, Storme Webber, Michelle Penaloza, and Jean Burnet in this January 19th reading about work, hosted by Seattle’s Hugo House and presented in collaboration with Hedgebrook.


Following that theme of work and writing, I’m excited for the Young Fishermen’s Storytelling Workshop in Juneau on January 30th, a class sponsored by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council that I’ll be co-teaching with Alaskan author Miranda Weiss. (If you’re thinking about attending the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit 2016 that week, go ahead and plan on staying one extra day to join us – we’re going to have a fantastic time!)


FisherPoets Gathering, of course, is just around February’s corner, the 26th – 28th this year. The schedule will be out soon, and there’s already an impressive line-up of veteran favorites and first-timers. (Especially thrilling: Belly Meat, Sitka’s favorite bluegrass band, is making the trip down to Astoria!)


Finally, at the AWP Conference in Los Angeles on March 31st, Christine Byl, Eva Saulitis, Susannah Mishler, Lu-Anne Haukaas Lopez, and I will talk about how physical labor provides the lifeblood for our creative work, on the panel, Women at Work: Labor and the Writing Life. If there could there be a more appropriate capstone to this winter’s themes, I can’t imagine it.


That’s what’s going on here, friends. If you’re able to make it to any of these events, I’d love to see you. Meanwhile, thanks for leaving a light on – it feels good to be back with you, and I’m eager to hear how you’re doing. How’s 2016 treating you so far? What are you celebrating, where are you focusing your energy, what are you choosing to trust?

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The “Me” Within “We”: Soliciting Stories

Last June, my editor’s response to Draft #2 arrived on our doorstep just as we were preparing to head north. If there can be a good time or place to face the fact that your book needs major revisions, I found mine in the Nerka’s pilot seat, alone on my wheel watches while Joel slept, the promise of Alaska ahead. My manuscript was heavy in my lap as, removed from the world within this pocket of suspended time, I read it from beginning to end. All 323 pages, many of the margins dark with penciled edits. Then I read it again. Comments that stung the first time through merited contemplation on the second. By the third read, I agreed with most of them.

When we arrived in Sitka, I reunited with my friend Mary. She, like too many people in my transient life, is someone I’d like to share more time with. I suspect we’d uncover much common ground, given the opportunity, but abbreviated shore leave has limited us to Facebook exchanges and parking lot huddles. And to this moment, two women stepping out of a cluster of male captains to nurture a seasonal connection on a bustling dock.

She asked how my book was going. I told her what I’d just realized, seeing through my editor’s eyes: I’d lost my hold on the story.

“I wandered over here,” I flapped my right hand toward the breakwater, “into issues of sex and monogamy and fidelity. But that wasn’t the core narrative.

“It’s here,” palms together, heart-center, “in the tension of being together and separate. The struggle to maintain your identity as a strong, independent person, while in partnership with someone else. Being dependent on each other while staying true to the person you want to be, all within the confines of a boat. What that looks like.”

Bobbing her head, Mary’s eyes grew shiny. “Yes, yes – oh my god, yes!”

That affirmative response was a gift. She was the first person I shared this renewed direction with, and her enthusiasm helped me trust I was on the right track. That I could wrestle the narrative back to where it needed to be, and that this tension between self and couple was the point of connection between author and reader. It was the place where my story could become bigger than myself.




I don’t write on the boat. I’m on deck working eighteen, seventeen, fifteen hours a day, for weeks at a time. In the cabin, Joel and I are always within six feet of each other. Our town time is chore-focused, rushing through tasks to get back out as soon as possible. If bad weather grants us an unexpected day off, I just want to sleep. (I am so, so fortunate that Riverhead gets this. In gracious deadlines and tolerance for an author who’s incommunicado for months, my editor has demonstrated her value of my fishing life and this book.)

I don’t write on the boat, but I do think about writing. My friend Andrea says this counts. She calls this mulling over character development, metaphor, and just-right sentences “composting,” and says it’s an essential part of the writing process. I agree. I spent a lot of time composting this summer, thinking about that dockside conversation. Surely Mary and I couldn’t be alone in our experience of doing work we loved, with the person we loved, knowing the wondrous fortune of our lives – and still nursing a quiet fear that we sacrificed some essential part of our self along the way.

Were there more of us?

I put a card in the mail to a woman I love and respect, someone who was once in the same boat as my friend and me, having gone to sea with her male partner many years earlier. Joni began fishing in the 1960s. I asked how it had been for her, what she recalled of that experience, what it meant to her now.

When her response arrived a month later, I didn’t read it. I wanted to wait for a quiet, solitary space, a time when I could give her words my full attention. Space and time: the two things that don’t exist on the boat. It was only within the past few days that I finally opened her email. I’m still trying to pick myself up off the floor, so moved by the generosity with which she gave her story.

Joni’s story is not mine to share – and yet, her story is mine. You know how the cliché goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Together, we span six decades in fishing. I think about how the harbors have changed – more female deckhands, more couples running boats together, more women running their own boats – and then I hear a voice in my head, whispering questions of identity, belonging, invisibility. And I can’t tell whether it’s Joni’s voice speaking, or my own.


Sunset Through Hawsehole


This is why I read and write memoir: because I want to light these places we don’t often reveal to each other. Vulnerabilities we mask, doubts we’re not supposed to acknowledge. In placing a higher virtue on silence than on trust, we commit to our own alienation. We build our walls higher, failing to see that the experiences that leave us feeling isolated are the very ones with the power to bring us together. I tell my story because I want to know yours.

My hunch is that this issue isn’t only a women-on-boats struggle. For many of us, the challenge to preserve some sense of “me” amongst a “we” is simply an effect of growing up as a girl-child in America, socialized from Day One to put ourselves second. So I wonder if this speaks to you, and if it does, how you’ve navigated the tension between self-identity and partnership. What the rewards and sacrifices have been. If your definitions of “reward” and “sacrifice” have changed over time.

And I wonder, too, what these questions bring up for Hooked’s male-identified readers. Many of you originally started following this blog for the fish stories; that you’ve stayed through meditations on gender and self-identity means a lot to me. You’re infused with cultural expectations different from those I grew up with  – different; no less powerful. I wonder what you identify as the leading messages of your life, how you internalized them, and how those messages have impacted your life and relationships.

While I searched for the right thought to close this post, yet another inspiring woman from the fleet provided the words I was looking for. Thank you, Erin, for sharing this quote right when I needed to hear it.

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . “

— Frederick Buechner (Telling Secrets)


I’m asking big questions at a busy time, friends. Hooked’s FINAL final manuscript is due this December. Between revisions and managing all our own fish marketing for the first time, I’m out-of-my-head swamped. Forgive my belated response to the conversation. Trust that I’m reading – I hear you – and I’m grateful to know you. Love and appreciation to all. 

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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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Residency Wrap-Up & Storytelling Events Ahead

We spend all summer moving through the salmon season, yet September always sneaks up on me. It lunges out from where it’s been hiding, hunched behind the corner of August. I jump every time.

The end of my residency with the North Cascades Institute feels similarly startling. It shouldn’t: my February 15 move-out has been approaching ever since I moved in on November 20. This conclusion stirs in me an ambivalence similar to the fishing season’s end. Being here has been a tremendous privilege, in terms of the work I’ve been able to accomplish and the gift of being welcomed into the NCI community. I’ll miss this beautiful place and its people.

Goodbyes are part of my seasonal life. The joy of returning to one community tempers the pain of leaving another. I’ve missed Cap’n J and Bear the Boat Cat, and am looking forward to exciting events (a whole list of them below). Regardless of my many migrations, I’m still learning how to put the gifts of an experience above the grieving of its end. Saying goodbye to the ELC staff and students will be another lesson.

The celebrations ahead will help. After months of mountain seclusion, I’m plunging back into socialization, with a full calendar of readings. If you’re in the area, know that you’re invited. I’d love to see you.

Reading / Residency Reflection. Environmental Learning Center, North Cascades Institute, Thursday, February 6, at 1:15 in the dining hall. If you’d like to join us for a fabulous $5 lunch at noon, please do let me know in the comments by Monday, as a menu planning courtesy to the chef. (And the chef? Remember our dear friend Betsy? Lucky you, getting a Betsy meal!)

And then? FisherPoets! FisherPoets! FisherPoets!

It’s quite an extravaganza this year, friends. We’ve got a pre-Gathering warm-up in Portland. I’ll be one of many performers at the Jack London Bar, Wednesday, February 19, 7 to 10 pm, $5 cover. This line-up makes me swoon: Moe Bowstern, Toby Sullivan, Pat Dixon, Billie Delaney, Steve Schoonmaker, Rob Seitz – plus Joel Brady-Power in his debut performance! (After two years’ dipping his toes in the on-site poetry contest, he’s making it official this year.) I’m all a-flutter over this night.

FisherPoets Gathering is February 20 – 23, in Astoria, Oregon. The schedule is almost ready… but not quite. Keep a close eye on the website, and follow the FisherPoets page on Facebook for the latest updates. Remember, even if you can’t join us in person, you can enjoy the Astoria Events Center performances online, thanks to KMUN’s live-streaming. This is a wonderful opportunity to participate from the comfort of home.

You can catch a closing show back in Portland, again at the Jack London on Monday, February 24, 7 to 9 pm, featuring another stellar crew: Meezie Hermansen, Lara Messersmith-Glavin, Rob Seitz, Rich King, Abigail Calkin, and Moe Bowstern.)

Last is an event that I’m particularly honored to join. She Tells Sea Tales: An Evening of Storytelling is a fundraiser for the Northwest Maritime Center Girls Boat Project in Port Townsend, Washington. It’s Saturday, March 8 – International Women’s Day! – from 7 to 10 pm at the Northwest Maritime Center, and features regional authors Kelley Watson, Billie Delaney, Moe Bowstern, Erin Fristad, Holly Hughes, Emily Monson, Barbara Sjoholm, Diana Talley, and me. Tickets are $15, available hereI hope you’ll  join us in supporting the Girls Boat Project.

She Tells Sea Tales


That’s a whole lot of goodness coming up fast, buddies. Meanwhile, I’ve got two weeks left to make the most of. The airwaves will be quiet. My letter-writing has slowed, too, so if I owe you a response, know that it’s on its way… Just not quite yet. All of you who’ve taken the time and care to write, I can’t tell you how much your presence has carried me through this process.

Signing off, sweeties, with love and gratitude,


c/o ELC

PO Box 429

Marblemount, WA  98267



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