Living off the Calendar: A Fisherman’s Seasonal Dissonance

31 12 2011

Life as a fisherman has skewed my relationship with time. Some folks live off the grid; we live off the calendar. Twenty-four years of following Southeast Alaskan fisheries has resulted in a seasonal dissonance that is never more evident than in December.

My attitude toward Christmas is more Tim Minchin than traditional, and I drift through “The Holidays” feeling vaguely disconnected from my cultural surroundings. In my world, Christmas Eve is June 31, not December 24. Our July 1 king salmon opening delivers all the breathless possibilities – glossy-eyed optimism to devastating disappointment – of other people’s Christmas. The 2:45 alarm will blare all too soon, so Cap’n J and I force ourselves to our bunk early, as the sun still hovers high above the horizon, retiring to visions not of sugar plums but big chinooks dancing in our heads. Did we pick the right tiny spot of a vast coastline? Will we get lucky? After a restless night, we leap out of the bunk, throw the hooks in, and wait, stomachs knotted, to see what we’ll get.

The New Year’s Eve/Day hoopla is even more confusing. My sense of each year’s beginning/ending comes from Up North springs and Down South autumns, a bi-annual migration that provides the punctuation to my life. A random date in the midst of winter – our “off” season – means nothing. I suspect teachers experience something similar, synchronizing their inner timelines with the school year.

One December holiday resonates with this seasonal lifestyle: Solstice. The shortest day of the year presents an opportunity to pause, reflect on the passage of winter, and welcome the returning of the light. Long days are critical to our livelihood: when you only have a few months to make your year’s income, every moment counts. Winter Solstice offers a bookmark-like quality to our off-season, a reminder that we’re now moving towards its summer counterpart and our northbound migration.

Almost 11 p.m. and they're still biting...

As the sun sets on 2011, I want to thank you for being a part of Hooked’s community.  Getting to know you through your comments has been a joy and an inspiration, and I’m eager for what 2012 will bring. However you identify with this time of year, my best wishes of warmth, gratitude, and miscellaneous holiday cheer to you and yours.

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13 responses

31 12 2011
Cami Ostman

I’ve loved following several of your career paths, Tele. This year the fishing/writing journey has been a revelation. Love and peace to you for your 2012 adventures!

2 01 2012
Tele

One of 2011’s delights and inspirations was reconnecting with you, Cami, and finding my “second wind” through your examples, classes, and encouragement. Cheers to more of the same for us all in 2012!

31 12 2011
Jodi aman

Great post! Happy new year! Looking forward to following you in 2012!

2 01 2012
Tele

Thanks, Jodi, and thanks for all of the work you do towards well-being!

31 12 2011
Linda Rudick

Solstice is good…no more evident than further north, way north in Alaska. Thanks for staying close to nature! Love your writing.

2 01 2012
Tele

Best wishes to you, Linda – I’m sorry that our paths won’t cross this winter (no NC trip before we head north), but it would be great fun to share a meal next fall/winter. Something I’ll look forward to!

31 12 2011
fishingblues

Congratulations on your success with your blog this year. It has been a pleasure reading your posts and I am excited for all the success your writing will bring you in the future. You are an exceptionally insightful and talented writer and I don’t doubt that it will take you far! Happy New Year!

2 01 2012
Tele

Aww, Robin… Thanks for your sweetness. Getting to know you, Jen, and our other fishing blogger friends has been one of the highlights of this experience! And I can turn your kind words right back to you – devoted blogger, PAID freelance writer with AFJ, all while handling life as a seasonally single mom. Pretty awesome achievements, those. Best wishes to you, too, friend!

1 01 2012
Uncle Jed

Thank you, Tele for making my year so much more meaningful both through your blog and by seeing you and Joel so happy this fall. Give’ Bear’ a pat for me. I feel like I met a celebraty when I met “Bear the Boat Cat”! Best of luck this see you. God willing, I’ll see you again this fall. Love, Uncle Jed

1 01 2012
Uncle Jed

“season” proof read better Uncle Jed!

1 01 2012
pierrmorgan

Thank you. You are an inspiration. Such beautiful writing. May they keep biting.

1 01 2012
Karolee Joel

Sooooo perhaps this is a bit stern to post in response to the somewhat ethereal approach to time you write about Tele, but some of us are not so lucky to just go fish and hang the calendar the rest of the year.

Might I list the meetings of essential importance that others are having to get to this “off season”?

Pacific Salmon Treaty is an ongoing saga. Dale Kelley and your treaty representatives (Howard and Dennis) are going to a meeting in early January.

The entire ATA board and most of the SPC board will be at ADFG Board of Fish in late February. Ketchikan in February is just lovely.

International Pacific Halibut Commission in Anchorage late January. Dick Curran, Linda Behnkin, Dan Falvey and a host of other fishermen will be in attendance,

North Pacific fisheries Management Council and Pacific Fisheries Management Council meetings avery 2,3 months. PFMC is sometimes in truly lovely places like Sacramento and Vancouver, WA.

And then there are United Fishermen of Alaska, Alaska Trollers Association, NSRAA, SSRAA, Regional Planning Team, and SPC ; lots of fishermen wasting lots of hours at those meetings.

I acknowledge that you are writing about “New Years Day” and the comparison to the start of the fishing year, and that each line you run is like a wrapped gift (ribbons of kelp to boot). But with so many “must attend” meetings, so much on the line at various meetings through out the year, it is difficult to say where the fishing year starts or ends, when the big one is landed, or if you are ever in the right place at the right time.

See you one the edge.

2 01 2012
Tele

Excellent points, Joel – thank you. This issue should be a post all of its own: the misconception of an “off” season, when the future of our fisheries depends on year-round advocacy work. A shameful number of us aren’t doing as much as we could – including Cap’n J and I. And, consequently, a tiny fraction of folks shoulder the weight of representing and advocating for the entire fleet. You’ve named some of these under-appreciated heroes, and you’re right there at the top of that list, my friend.

Oh hell… As I’m about to write gratitude for all of your tireless, thankless work, a terrible feeling of deja vu from my social work days hits. There were so many unhealthy agencies who failed to support their staff in meaningful, burn-out-preventing ways. Underpaid front lines workers living paycheck to paycheck, without health care, experiencing secondary trauma on a daily basis without care or acknowledgment. What they DID get was a saccharine loop from their boards/directors – “You’re so wonderful with the kids, thank you so much, we couldn’t do this without you.” Appreciation is nice, but when you’ve repeatedly said what you need and your requests seem to be lost in the abyss, those “thank you’s” start to feel like blatant exploitation. I imagine you, Dale, and the rest have a similarly sour reaction after so many years of prodding at fishermen, rallying others to help carry the load, and receiving such a minimal response. So perhaps I’ll keep my cheap words of appreciation to myself and spend some time reflecting on how/where I can improve my contributions to our industry in 2012.

Very well said, Joel, and thanks for including the line-up of coming attractions.




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