|kpetunia.com -> road stories -> fishing report from alaska|
Here's the fishing reports in all their delirium induced, unedited glory. They did get cleaned up and read out loud at a zine opening and someday, they will bound into reading material as a part of XtraTuf magazine published by Microcosm Publishing. Xtratuf is a great zine and everyone should buy the whole set.
Write to me for more information or if you want me to mail you stuff.
PART ONE: GONE FISHIN'
Hello all. After spinning my wheels for a bit and trying to find my place in life, I've decided to go fishing in Alaska. I was born here, you see, so it seemed a good place to start from. So, I flew to Anchorage a few days ago and got all teary and and nostalgic about how pretty it is even though I'd never been there before to my memory. My cousin's kind of boyfriend, Jim, has been fishing here for years and years so I arrived in Dillingham in Bristol Bay with some elaborate instructions about finding a ladder to climb on board the boat named the Recovery and looking for a guy named Vinnie and another guy named John. So, a guy on the plane took pity on me and drove me out to the docks where we cruised around among the 32' aluminum boats in drydocked looking for the recovery
I found the brilliant resourceful connectivist that I was looking for the next day in Zig. Zig and her husband Matt were supposed to have picked me up at the dinky little airport the night before but they were out fishing the second opening of the season so
Dillingham is mostly an eskimo town. They talk Eskimo. They look like eskimos dressed in jeans and hoodies instead of sealskins. once in a while a crazy or drunk eskimo will come lurching by screaming some eskimo profanity at me and the surrounding scrub but for the most part everyone is super nice. There's no pretension in general to alaskans; they seem wide open and happy though I'm sure there's much more intricacy to them beneath the surface that someone here just for the first season will never see. That said, I have been amazed by how many people have stopped in the middle of the street to go out of their way for me, picking their brains for people who are looking for crew, pointing me in the right direction to the cannery (where I posted signs looking for work), the local radio station (where I made an announcement looking for work), or the grocery store (where I bought: 1 box honey nut cheerios, 1 box soy milk, 1 loaf of orowheat oatnut bread, 1.5 l. of water, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly for an alarming $35,
I took a siesta and retreated into my book for a couple of hours after my job hunt blitz and returned to Zig with a book offering and 2 names of boats looking for crew. One was a tender boat, which would be a fascinating job that wouldn't pay as well. The tender boat collects the fish from all the little boats and takes the fish to the factory - the two factories here being Peter Pan and Icicle. Half of the fish gets flown frew and whole to Japan and the rest of it gets canned. As a result, workers on the tenderboat interact with every boat that is selling their fish to that given company and have more interaction with the Eskimos and all those cute and not so cute skippers out there. Many of the fishermen look like they belong on a tuna can label - they are living caricatures of their profession. And then there are the hunky muscly fisherman who smile at me with approval and say hello as I would by. It would be extremely difficult to remain single in Alaska for long.
There is an island about 70 miles west of here where 15,000 male walruses have hauled out for the summer. The mild Alaskan sun is burning them to a crisp (they are the only marine mammals that the sun burns) and they just hang out there with their huge tusks and funny whiskers and bloodshot eyes and blistering skin on that little strip of land among the wild flowers and birds taking it. Not so far from that island is another one where the walruses go to die. They clamber up a steep hillside then roll down off of a cliff and crash down at the bottom, breaking their bones in the fall. No one knows why they do this. I would like to see this process, to see if they bring any intelligence or ritual to the act. Do they hesitate? Do the others watch? How do they react? Some think they do it because they are old and there are too many of them. May be there aren't enough herring to go around. I suggest that the Bush administration visit this site while they are looking for places to put their big fish farms and start drilling. Maybe they'd get some ideas and go rolling off a cliff, realizing there's not enough herring to go around for all of them. They're drilling the arctic. They're drilling Bristol Bay some day soon. They're putting the first fish farms in on the coasts of alaska, which will effectively end all hopes for my grandchildren to taste wild salmon. Salmon will be something to eat sparingly, since the red dye used to turn the gray flesh pink in imitation of the wild fish they are named after is known to cause eye damage in humans and all those antibiotics they ingest can't be good for you. They are dumping pumping burning chopping drilling this place down into something unlivable and everyone is just watching and hoping for a fair settlement since their jobs will soon be gone as the seas will be barren, and so on. It is just so sad - if everyone would just consume a little more mindfully, use less gas and recycle more maybe I could stop having such constant desparate fantasies about fleeing to a saner place that isn't about to be dumpedpumpedsuckedfucked too death before I'm dead.
I hear the beluga whales are like popcorn around here when the fish start running in earnest. Sometimes the orcas eat the belugas, which is supposed to be quite sad to see. I wonder if the prurient scientist or the whale hugging hippy in me will overrule when the old black and whites come to town. There is also a school of resident (fish eating) orcas who have developed a taste for fishermen's halibut in Prince William Sound. They mouth the lines with their lips and when the part with the hook and fish on it comes through it, they pop the halibut right off. Fishermen turn their boat engines (a.k.a. the dinner bells) off and will just sit there for two hours or more during a short fishing period hoping they'll trick the orcas into leaving their lines in peace. My guess is that orcas are happy
So. I might get on a boat called the Flyin' Tiger captained by a man named Opie. Jim gave him the stamp of approval as did Zig and Matt. He sounds messy, eccentric, like a good human and fine fisherman who doesn't exactly have his shit together but catches
Well, it's 11 o'clock PM and the sun is finally starting to think about going under and so am I.
And hey, if you know anyone who's looking for a deckhand, particularly if they are the kind of person who values a good cup of coffee, pays right and knows where the fish are, tell them they can find me on board the Recovery vessel in the PAF boatyard. You can tell them that I'm handy on a boat. Tell them I don't mind killing fish and getting dirty. Tell them I've never gotten seasick (so far). That's what they said on KDLG radio yesterday, anyway. Just don't tell them that I'm a whale hugger on my way to study the orcas in Canada in a month. It'll be our dirty little secret.
All the best, Kat
PART TWO: FISHING REPORT
Well, it's a month and 80,000 lbs of fish later, every one of them having been ripped out of a net with my newly calloused, incredibly strong hands and I've got some stories for you...
Opie of the F/V Flyin Tiger vascillated back and forth about whether to hire me or his brother and dodgy job offers kept trickling in as worked the boatyard day after day. I changed my radio ad. Every hour, KDLG 670 made the following announcement for me:
Amateur fish killer seeking boat. High entertainment value. Enjoy working hard and getting dirty. Good cook. Can tie several different kinds of knots. Haven't been seasick despite much time spent on boats. Family has mango farm in Mexico. Fast hands, not a druggy. Good attitude. Excellent thumb wrestler. Find Kat onboard the Recovery Vessel in the PAF boatyard or leave a message at: 415-847-7295.
In the end, I did end up getting on the Flyin’ Tiger just in the knick of time and we went a fish killing.
My genes are contaminated. I have a chronic case of fish lust which has been passed down through generation after generation of Norwegian fishermen and women until I landed on me. This sickness renders me unable to relax in the sleepy tropical fishing villages that many tourists find so pleasant; while my travel companions appreciate the little dinghies full of fish that land on the beach around sunset every night as general ambiance, I sit there angrily sucking on my drink flooded with jealousy and lust over all of those fish in the boat, none of which were yanked out of the sea by me.
As a non-commercial fisherwoman in California, I have paid a lot of money to get on a party boat for the day to troll a single hook through the ocean, hoping that something will bite, knowing that I’ve got a dinnertable full of people back on land hoping I get lucky. Then, the fish start to hit, and even when they’re hitting like mad, we are only allowed to bring home a measly 2 fish. That’s the limit. On one of my favorite party boat trips, all three of my companions who I’d suckered into coming on board were terribly seasick and I got to work all of their lines and catch all of their fish while they laid down below, miserable with mal de mer.
Working the slime line in the cannery up here would have been the worse kind of torture for me. All those fish passing through my hands and I didn't kill any of them.
And so, I was happy getting the Flyin’ Tiger ready for departure - stripping and mending nets, repairing the rudder and so on, knowing that it was all in the interest of getting out there and finally catching enough fish.
The fishing world in Alaska is misfit heaven. There are many traveller types who rank a good story to tell over a healthy 401K plan and prefer an annual sprinter's work stint to the 9-5 long haul, hoping that at the end of the race they'll come away with enough cash to launch themselves off somewhere exotic and new, where they will heal up, harvest some new stories, and get ready for the next season. There are also rednecks and gearheads around here so rough that they make anyone resembling such a sort in the lower 48 seem like a pansy in comparison.
We launched the boat and started catching fish immediately. My hands swelled up like sausages and started to turn into the calloused claws that they would remain for the duration of the trip. My feet became a scary toxic place to go and I kept them safely buried under a few pairs of socks and rubber Xtratuf boots as much as possible. The Flyin’ Tiger is the rockiest boat in the fleet; to stay upright and onboard, I'd have to be in continual motion doing the sailor's dance and I slept wedged in against the wall in my little coffin bed, hanging on to keep from being thrown down to the floor.
The first week was full of morning demons as this and that part of the boat broke down. Opie would wake in a rage and go storming around the deck ranting about NAFTA and cheap Chinese inventions and liberal cocksucker presidents ruining everything whenever the stove broke or the bilge pump ceased to pump while I bailed out the bedroom or held the broken regulator onto the camp stove trying to get some water to heat up so that we could all have some coffee.
The fish killing itself was simultaneously exhilarating and disgusting. We let out our 150 fathoms of nets and sometimes the fish would start hitting right away making big splashes at the buoylines. On the good days, they'd hit it like cement; the whole net would just light up and the buoys would look like they were being struck by machine gun fire. More often than not, though, it was just a clatter of fish here and there along the net and then we'd pull it back in.
All of the fish were caught initially by the gills. They’d just crash right into the net and get stuck headfirst and start fighting and wriggling around to escape, but they were in there. It was my primary duty to get them back out. Occasionally, the more thoughtful fish would just swim in, get stuck and lay still so that you could simple reach under their gills, pull out the net that held them there and pop them out onto the deck with a little shake. Usually, however, they put up a fight, swimming through this hole and that in a desperate effort to escape, resulting in a triple bagged fish that required great yanks, tugs, and an occasional cut to the net to get out.
Really good fish pickers look like boxers punching the net and dancing around the fish touching the net here and there as the fish fall out. Rookie fishpickers like me have to use 65% aggression (I cursed and grunted continuously as I got them out) and 35% finesse to extract the fish. My hands got stronger every day and I was soon able to grab a fish by the back of the head and tear it’s face off with one hand off if need be to get it out there. You've got to turn parts of yourself off in this business in order to be able to do it. Our bycatch was remarkably small; we only caught the occasional flounder and school of jellyfish, which came up over the roller spraying jellyfish juice, making your face sting.
We fish the shallows mostly, pulling right up to the beach then letting go of the net almost on land and zooming out into the river, pooping out white corks in our wake.
A few weeks in, the ghost fish started to appear. It was the middle of the night when I saw my first one. (Openers usually ran from 1-9 pm and then again from 1-9 am). Ghost fish are fish that have already been caught, injured, and died and end up floating around to be caught up again in their dead, eyeless, stinky white rotten state. The stench can be almost unbearable and they fall apart in your hands as you try to extract them from the net and throw them overboard to rid the boat of the smell as quickly as possible.
After all the fish are hauled in, if there's time, we make another set and start pitching fish into the bins. This is the part where fishermen get their Popeye muscles because grabbing 2 fish at a time by their heads and throwing them across the deck at high speed into the fish holds will make anyone's arms ache after the first 5000 pounds. If it's the end of the opener, or we're about to sink under the weight of the fish (our boat holds 17,500 lbs with the scuppers in – I know this because we almost sank with more than that one day) we blast off to the tender, who buys our fish. There will be likely a line of boats ahead of us and we will tie up to them and wait our turn to pull next to the tender. Once we are there, we tie up tightly beside their barge and they lower a giant hook using a crane onto our boat, we connect the hook to each 1000 lb bag of fish, which is hoisted up and onto their barge. They drop our empby bloody, fish scale encrusted bags back down to us, we scrub the holds, douche the bags, hose the deck and dive down into our bunks for an hour of sleep or so.
After a 10,000 lb day, my hands actually steam and I can see the veins in my chubby little Norwegian girl hands for the first time ever. My veins are standing out and pulsing in the palms as well as on the backs. If I don't move my hands for an hour or two between sets (such as when I am sleeping), they stiffen up and can not close enough to hold a can of beer, much less a fish pick for the first half hour or so until they are warmed up.
So the routine goes: I wake up, wrestle the gloves and boots on, pop several ibuprofen, tug on the orange oompa loompa fishing suit, heat some water up for coffee and we let the nets out and wait.
Opie can be an asshole, but he's a funny asshole and has a somewhat good conscience. Mark, the other deckhand, is duller than dirt, will not utter more than a sentence even when pressed and is a lethargic worker. Opie hates Mark and continuously bitches about him to me, and I would rather have Opie take it all out on Mark than on me, so I absorb Opie’s bitching and try to make Mark feel okay about the fact that Opie can’t stand him.
I’m the official cook onboard, which isn't too inspiring since both Mark and Opie see the need to eat every day as an annoying inconvenience rather than a pleasure. In fact, Mark has told me in a rare burst of talkativeness that he would aspires to be a breatharian some day. As I mentioned, we are on the tippiest boat in the fleet and the camp stove regulator doesn't really work, so if you don't hold it firmly against the stove itself, the propane leaks out making dramatic fireballs shoot out where the little stove flame should be. Needless to say, we're not exactly eating bouillabaise onboard – homemade macaroni and cheese is a real coup.
After days and days of living on 2 hour catnaps, we're all a bit raw and delirious. I had always equated exhaustion with a lowered ability to reason and when I made a stupid mistake, Opie flipped out and I pleaded exhaustion. He screamed back, “We’re all exhausted, that’s no excuse for doing something stupid,” and the exhausted=stupid paradigm was blown to bits for me and I had to make a choice between giving up and doing it anyway, no matter how tired I was. I decided to commit to it and get through this season.
I have started crooning love songs to the big red buoy at the end of the net to bring it closer into the boat as we picked our way through miles of tangled up fish. Mark stands there picking fish scales off of his hands and washing them over and over again obsessively. Opie is going cross eyed with irritation at Mark, me, boat problems and the fact that he's having a really bad luck this season. We should have caught double the amount that we have by now.
Fourth of July
They say the belugas are as plentiful as popcorn around here but I'm relieved that we haven't seen any ever since Opie bragged to me about shooting a sea lion one-handed from a distance, John Wayne style.
On midnight of the Fourth of July boats started setting off fireworks out there and the shoe got ripped off the boat when we hit a sandbar. The shoe is a 5 foot long metal brace that holds the rudder in place. Opie's fiance arrived to join us on the boat and Opie schemed about cutting Mark loose when she arrived. We headed into town to put a new shoe on, to hold the rudder in place but first we stopped by the tender and drop off fish and see if we couldn't get the shoe all the way off, since it was a huge hunk of steel dangling horizontally off the stern, slowing us down to 2 knots per hour in our progress towards land. The guys at the tender slipped a boat strap under our stern and lifted the back of the boat out of the water. Opie dangled off of the side of the boat by a rope with one hand, balanced on another rope in a loop around his foot, and as the boat bounced around in the water, he used a torch to cut the shoe off the boat. The waves came up, putting out the torch, he got the preheat back up and went at it again and again until the thing finally fell off. It was one of the madder things that I've seen.
We made it to town before dark and it was Eskioke night at the bar. The bars are already a sad and desperate affair without the karaoke singing Eskimos, and I wouldn't wish the vision of a drunk Upik tunelessly crooning old Madonna songs into the mike on my worst enemy. The Upiks are happy-go-lucky rolypoly people of the north with a goofy accent if and when they speak English. Their lives are about subsistence, nothing more. If it's Saturday, it doesn't matter if the fish are biting - they'll all be taking saunas in tin shacks next to their homes. Same goes if the blueberries are ripe. A harbor seal washes up on the beach and it is butchered with lip smacking gusto. The white guys tend to think that the Upiks are a little senseless and I bet the Upiks think that the white guys are equally dumb for working themselves into sleepless deliriums to get the nets wet on the nose of the hour of every opener.
There were a bunch of guys hanging around the boatyard sucking down Wild Turkey that Deanna, Opie's fiance had brought and trying to restrain themselves from setting off all $500 of their fireworks before dark. None of the fireworks made it until nighttime and most of them were aimed at each other, dancing around on oil barrels. All I can say is that I am quite surprised that everyone emerged with all 10 fingers intact, that I can’t believe the dog didn't get blown up, up chasing fireworks as they spinned and flared around on the ground, and they all must have been seeing double or triple to miss each other for all of their efforts to make a direct hit. If you are still not sure that guns, fireworks, booze, pot and marrying your cousin should all be legal in the same state at the same time, try spending the 4th of July in Dillingham and then you will make up your mind.
We missed our 5:45 AM haulout time the next morning and the 20 foot Bristol Bay tides forced us to wait another 12 hours for the next opportunity to get the boat out of the water. Meanwhile, we started hearing talk about people pulling 50,000 loads out of the water - yep - the big days were here and we were high and dry. Everyone was pretty bummed out and Opie, especially, started to go crazy.
Opie fired Mark, with a succinct, "We don't you pack your bags and we'll call this a season." Just left him on a tender and we were back to three people onboard just like that. The Peter Pan Seafood power plant burned down today and couldn't handle any more fish for a while. When we were allowed to fish, we were put on 3000 to 5000 lb limits, so couldn’t make up for our lost time onshore even if we did get lucky. So we tied up to others in our radio group, sucked down Bloody Marys and tried to have a grand old time despite the fact that the fish were jumping all around us. I was really into the other guys in the group - the Toonces, the Sound and Fury, the Lobo del Mar, the Cash Flow and the Brown Dog. I kept trying to get Opie to let me go fishing with the Brown Dog, who fished for a different company and was short a deckhand but he insisted on hording me in case something opened up and we suddenly got to fish. (I think he was afraid that if I got to fish for someone else, I wouldn’t come back. He was probably right.) Robert and his crew blithely chatted about whether they'd still be able to make their 250,000 lb goal this year if these limits kept up. Opie, with only 50,000 lbs under his belt, drank and sulked. The Cash Flow and the Brown Dog radioed in to let us know that they were slaying them out there as we chased our beer with peppermint schnapps. Opie fumed. Boats were loaded up. All of them had their scuppers in. It was looking like they were getting 5000 lbs a shackle, 4 shackles a boat. Me, Opie and Deanna got back on the Flyin Tiger, pulled away about 1/2 a mile and Opie just flipped out. I was already in bed when the explosion happened but he was out there on deck screaming bloody murder, punching and beating himself up, and scaring me to death. He stormed into the cabin and fell into bed and started to snore immediately. I pulled my sleeping bag out onto the deck because I didn’t want to wake up looking at him. He stumbled out on deck a few minutes later, puked violently, went back in and started screaming bloody murder again. As he raged and threw himself about the cabin, I peeked out from under my sleeping bag and noticed that the boat next to us looked close enough to swim to. I didn't think any of my possessions were worth staying on board for if this kept up much longer.
We were finally able to fish the next opener and but only caught a measly 1,300 lbs. Opie a was broken man, and I couldn't look him in the eye anymore. Deanna apologized for the fight, if that’s what it was, but Opie never said a word about it. He was subdued. We had missed the peak.
Suddenly, without reason, we drove back into town, and I packed my bags as we headed towards land, knowing something was up. When Opie started mumbling about I guess you should pack your bags and we’ll call it a season, I wasn't surprised but disappointed that my time as a fisherwoman had ended just when I was started to figure things out. He told me I had been a great deckhand and that it was killing him to let me go. He told me that I'd always have his recommendation which was worth more than a bonus and he was very sorry that things had ended as they had. I told him that it was okay, he'd be okay, he'd catch more fish. He said his whole identity was wrapped up in being this great fisherman and he didn't know if he could live without that trophy. It was five days before I’d planned to leave, so it seemed like too short a time to get on another boat even though at this point, every time we came into town there were always desperate captains whose crews had beat each other up, gotten hurt, freaked out, or simply not worked out, leaving them with not enough people to pick fish. I decided to spend these extra five days on a little field trip. Maybe go check out the grizzlies in Katmai or perhaps make the journey to Walrus Island. I picked up my piddly little check for $3000 (10% of 60,000 at .50/lb) and went back to the container unit to start organizing my stuff.
Tom Montecucco from the Bravo came by the container unit with his deckhand, Levi and he asked me how I liked picking fish. I looked down at my incredibly strong, completely numb, extremely alloused hands and loved the sight of them for the first time. "I LOVE it!" I said. "Yeah, each fish is like a little puzzle that you have to solve as quickly as possible, isn't it?" He said. I was so busy trying to keep the boat from sinking, trying to prevent Opie from killing Mark, trying to cook on a stove that either shot fireballs or didn’t work at all, trying to get the fish out of the net and trying not to get hurt at the tender that I hadn’t really thought about how much fun I’d been having out there. But the truth of the matter is, I was having a great time!
I’ve always been one of those people who they say, “has a lot of energy.” Which was always seemed a dubious compliment to me, implying that I was a hyperactive superspaz, or one of those annoying people whose presence just plain wears you out just being near them. But I always did have too much energy to do the same thing for too long and had always been looking for something to do that could wear me out mentally and physically at the same time. Travelling and adventuring was the closest thing I’d found to it.
It was fun to finally get worked as hard as humanly possible. It was fun to be unique as a woman out there - it's about a 1:20 ration of women to men – while at the same time completely losing your identity, gender, age and sense of self in your big rubber orange foul weather gear. We never had a mirror on board but I assume that I was as covered with black mud, fish blood and scales as the others and it felt great to get so dirty and stay that way for days and days. You don't have the time to think about how much you hurt or how good you feel, to think about how you are feeling or thinking or feeling. You have one purpose out there on the water and that is to pick fish, nothing else. All of the boat drama had to be completely forgotten the moment that the fish started to come up over the roller and I loved standing their poised with my hands in the air ready to pounce on them and get them out.
I hadn't seen my body in weeks, as it was encased in many layers of clothing but despite the fact that I was downing candy bars and beers every chance I got just to keep going, I knew that weight was dropping off of my frame every hour. When Tom woke me up the next morning with a job offer, I jumped at it and off we went.
While Opie's boat was a hacker's delight, Tom's boat was a slob's worst nightmare. He lived the maxim, Everything in its place and a place for everything. Our first day out, we saw Opie being towed backwards by the Brown Dog and being repeatedly rammed against the shore in an effort to slam his rudder back into place. Tom and Levi sparkled in their clean orange suits, due to the deckhose onboard. Every time a fish hold was opened, Levi would call out, "Open Hatch!" and more than one was never open at any given time. There were no more tie ups and fun times with the radio group but we jetted the Bravo into shallows where no other boat could go and plugged net after net full of fish as others tried to follow us and beached themselves until the next high water. Levi is a scrawny, perky, meticulous guy in his early 20s. He enjoys reading the bible, making chain mail, and makes dentures for a living back home in Spokane, Washington. Tom sellsreal estate, has a 14 month old kid, a wife he's known since the 8th grade, and lost most of his teeth in barfights in his early 20s. He has a nice view of belugas and other salmon eating wildlife (they were here first, he says) but a creepy view of politics. He thinks Bush is too soft, that we should have turned Afghanistan and Irag in to glass with our nuclear bombs and that the war on drugs strategy should be toshoot any and all known drug dealers of any kind on the spot. 5 days was just about the right amount of time to spend onboard the Bravo, I'd say, and then I'd be ready for some people I could call Home again.
We had a big delivery at the tender one day and the wind brought the waves up. The tender is the place where most accidents happen and I was always nervous when we were there. The huge crane lowers a 40 lb metal hook down to you, you unhook the mechanism that connects to the fish bags, connect them, and then connect back up to the hook. Then the crane hoists up the bags, which are heavy with 1000 lbs of fish, and lifts them back onto the barge. This wouldn't be a big deal on land but when your boat is bouncing around in the water and your deck is covered with fish slime and you've got to keep each other from getting knocked in the head with the hook or other things, it can get stressful. Even tying up and letting go at the tendercan be dangerous, since you're tying up your towlines to their boat and they snap hungrily at your fingers as you knot and loosen them around the cleats. Even Opie, mister safety lite himself, had said that not properly managing the hook while the other deckhand connects the bags is grounds for firing. He then got angry with me for not being more aggressive and quick at the tenders during a big, stormy delivery and I got angry back at him for making me rush under dangerous conditions. We resolved our problem by him getting more involved with the deliveries and me being more aggressive with the bags.
So when the big bag of fishcame jerking out of the fish hold onboard Tom's boat, knocking me right overboard into the sea, it had an air of inevitability to it.
It was cool and green and salty down there, and very quiet.
I surfaced after a second or two, and saw that Tom had already jumped over to the fish catcher/swim ladder on the back of the boat and had his hand stuck out. I was back onboard as quickly as I'd fallen off. It was a very lucky fall - if I'd been caught between the bag and anything else, I wouldn't be here writing this letter to you right now. News travels fast on the Nugashik River and we never encountered another boat from then on who didn't call out to me, "Got your flotation device on?" "How was your swim?" or something else.
Our last day of fishing, we got to tie up to the Toonces, the Little Moose and the Brown Dog one last time. All of them were married or girlfriended, unfortunately, because I'd developed a crush on every single one of them, especially, that Tom Glass from the Brown Dog. I would have gotten in trouble with him if I'd been on his boat. Just before we untied and went out for our last opener, I asked Tom if he vote for Bush or had anything against NAFTA. He looked puzzled and said, "No." I gave him my phone number and told him I'd work on his boat next year. God, I hope he calls.
We decided to call it a season at 25,000 lbs in 3 days and I actually got on my plane on time. On my last night in Dillingham, I cruised around with a filthy little pirate/squid fisherman with a curly red mohawk on his ATV who was jumping every pothole that he could in an effort to get me to cling on more. We landed so hard in the jump from the dock to the land that my ass crashed down on the metal bars in the back and I saw stars. I limped off of his bike and crept down to the Bravo for a quiet, painful night after that with him calling, "Sorry! Katherina, come back! I'm so sorry!" behind me.
I slept for 8 hours in a row and woke up slowly for the first time in weeks. I got a look at myself during my first shower in ages and had a hard time recognizing this skinnier muscled pale with black and blue spots all over body as my own. I still stare at my hands in wonder. Everyone is looking a little gaunt around here and they're teetering around on land like a bunch of drunks.
I went to Ketchikan, Alaska, where I was born and rode the ferry down to Vancouver Island. It was a stunningly beautiful trip that everyone should take at sometime or another. Now I'm in someone's cute little bed and breakfast in a quiet town that no one has ever heard of unless you're an orca junky like me. Everything is so clean and abundant and easy around here. After weeks of screaming and cursing and fishkilling I am creeping around these civilized people watching the spare skin slough off my hands and trying to remember how to be gentle and somewhat appropriate again. I've got an internship to go play with orcas at the famous rubbing beach on North Vancouver Island. I'll be recording them, observing them, and yelling at tourists for getting too close to them. My dreams have emptied themselves of fish and filled up with orcas again and it feels good to have moved back up the food chain.
Then it's down to Lake Shasta for our annual white trash waterskiing extravaganza. After a season of being kneedeep in dead fish, warm Keystones, and conversations with Republicans, not to mention my brown face and hands and white rest of me, redneck comes real easy to me.
I'll be hunkering down for the autumn either in Portland, Oregon or San Francisco to try and turn some of these stories from the past 10 years into a book, pull off some sculptures, plant a beautiful garden, maybe learn how to teach yoga, cook good food and nourish people. The fish pay was abysmal, so I'll be looking for web gigs and sculpture commissions, and trying to find someone who wants to publish my book.
Hope your summers have been spectacular so far, your lives are lookin gorgeous to you, and that this letter reaches you healthy, happy and strong.