Boat Cats. Fishermen. Heaven.

28 11 2012

Some of you know my weaknesses.

Pie. Baked treats in general. Delightfully patterned socks. Pens, paper, empty notebooks waiting to be filled. Fabric. Crafty people. Books. Bread and cheese. Those one-size-fit-all stretchy gloves. Handwritten cards. Bandannas. Funky coffee shops. Bad pop music. Good tattoos. Coconut ice cream. Ravens – all of the corvids, really. Squirrels.

(Joel interjects here that I have a particular fondness for the creatures most people view as pests, “including humans.” It’s true: the outcasts have a friend in me. We recognize our own.)

And boat cats.

Regular Hooked readers know Bear, but my boat cat history dates back to 1984. My parents launched the sailboat they’d been building in the backyard, sold the vet clinic that was both home and livelihood, found a new human for our two black Labs, and packed everything else into a 40-foot van. Everything, that is, except for Yacky.

This Siamese came to us as a client. His humans brought him in for a urinary blockage, then elected to have him put to sleep, rather than pay for the treatment. “Well, if you don’t want him, can I have him?” my mom asked. Successfully flushed out, he never had a problem again.

When the Askari splashed, Yacky came with us. I suppose my parents figured we had room enough for a cat that didn’t move much. Probably the ensuing years of transience weren’t a lot of fun for Yacky – sailboat, house, broken-down motorhome, different house, new boat, dragged along with every bi-annual migration. Somehow he lived to be 18, quietly dying aboard the Willie Lee II in 1995, my mom and I both at his furry side.

Thanks to those origins, boats and cats are inextricably linked in my mind. How can you go to sea without a kitty to snuggle? Who’ll you talk to when you’re 40 miles offshore, tired of your shipmate, and not going back to land for another few weeks? Who’ll be the boat’s chief morale officer?

(In 2005, I struggled to decide if I’d continue crewing for my “brother” Marlin, or jump ship to work with Joel. A major negotiating chip was who’d be the first to get a boat cat. Those two know me awfully well.)

Someone else does, too. My friend sweet wirkman sent me a link today. “Cat Heaven Island in Japan.”   Photographer Fubirai spent over five years documenting the semi-feral felines, cared for by local fishermen. They’re stunning photos. I swooned. (After some anxiety over the spay/neuter/vaccination services. A commenter claims such a program has been in place for years, and I’m choosing to believe that’s so.)

By Fubirai, from Buzzfeed

I’d planned to spend tonight practicing for a Fisher Poets performance that’s in 15 hours, but cats on the interwebs have completely derailed me. If that happens to you periodically too, don’t miss these 50 gorgeous photos. Let me know your favorites. I’m calling 2, 4, 10, 13, 16, 20 – oh, just go see for yourself.

(Also, the story claims that the soundtrack is “optional.” If you grew up in the Eighties, it’s most definitely NOT. As sweet wirkman advised me, “play the optional soundtrack.”)

And because I just can’t help myself, here’s a video of TWO of my favorite things, together.

I know some of Hooked’s regulars have their own boat cat stories. Have at it, friends – I’d love to hear about your seafaring felines. (Joel K, I’m lookin’ at you, sir…) And because we’re about inclusivity here, ocean-going dogs are welcome, too. Who’s your vessel’s chief morale officer?





Fishermen’s Thanksgiving

22 11 2012

Earlier this week, a friend asked what I’d be doing on Thursday. When I blinked dumbly at her for a few beats, she prompted, “You know – for Thanksgiving!”

Oh. Right…

Growing up in a fractured family of three insular people far more comfortable with books and work than each other, “the holidays” don’t resonate for me. I’m not down with the history behind Thanksgiving. I’m not a Christian, and Bear the Boat Cat isn’t worked up about presents and pageantry. One of my favorite Christmases was the one I spent alone in a Californian apartment, dog-sitting for the manager of the Ben & Jerry’s shop that I spare-changed in front of. From about mid-October to after the New Year, I’m happiest to opt out of the cultural hoopla.

Joel comes from a different background. His family tree has many branches – siblings, cousins, partners – and holidays are an opportunity for bringing everyone together. They make big meals, play games, go on walks, get loud and laugh a lot and generally show how completely engaged they are with one another. Eight years in, I still feel like I’m participant-observing another species. (A generous, loving species that’s been nothing but welcoming to me.) True to my Aadsen roots, I get a little anxious as soon as there aren’t any dishes to wash or other tasks for me to fuss with. My social skills generally run out while the festivities are still going strong.

(True confession: I’m hiding in his aunt’s room right now. Slipped away as soon as the crab dip was gone. This is one of the reasons I’m so thankful to have weaseled my way into Cap’n J’s family: not only do they know I snuck away to write, it’s okay. Amazing, the tolerance these folks have.)

This all sounds bad, but I’m not a total Grinch. I believe in gratitude. That’s why I celebrate Thanksgiving in September.

*****

Fishermen’s Thanksgiving began in September 2010. The salmon season had ended, and the Sadaqa was making the run south with another troller. Midway down the Canadian Inside Passage, they tied up together in Bishop Bay Hot Springs. Marlin cooked a chicken and Stovetop stuffing, opened a can of cranberry sauce, and offered thanks for the season’s harvest.

Joel and I got in on this tradition the following year. With both the Sadaqa and the Nerka spending the winter in Sitka, we had serious chores to do before anyone could hop on a plane and ditch our boats for six months. But in the midst of all that frenzy, we agreed: there was time for Thanksgiving.

Though smaller, the Nerka was in slightly less disarray than the Sadaqa. So at 6:00, down the dock marched our friends – Marlin, Ross, and Mikey – pushing a fully-loaded cart. They handed over one delicious-smelling pan after another; I struggled to wedge everything into our tiny galley. Marlin roasted a chicken, onions and potatoes in a cast iron skillet. I made mashed sweet potatoes and squash, and a piece of salmon for the non-bird eater among us. In addition to a five-gallon bucket full of Black Butte Porters, Marlin brought a fancy ginger ale for me. Marking a long, challenging season with joyous reflection, we basked in the glow of gratitude for plentiful salmon, good weather, well-behaved boats, durable bodies, and beloved friends.

I credit Marlin with instituting Fishermen’s Thanksgiving as a tradition. One of his deckhands, Mikey, has attended all three years. In a bit of serendipitous timing, he called just as I began writing this piece. When I asked if there was anything he wanted to say about our tradition, Mikey didn’t hesitate.

“Fishermen’s Thanksgiving ruins regular Thanksgiving – or ‘Lower 48 Thanksgiving,’ as I call it. It hadn’t been a super-commercial holiday until pretty recently, but people are promoting the Black Friday thing now to the point that it’s fucking stupid, right? And having that mess sitting right next to ‘Here are my good friends, being thankful for the season we all just shared, made some money, had some good times’ creates a pretty stark dichotomy. Basically, regular Thanksgiving kinda sucks after you’ve had Fishermen’s Thanksgiving.”

*****

My November Thanksgiving did not suck.

It involved a ridiculous abundance of good food, shared in a warm house, among loving family. When we couldn’t eat another bite, we put the leftovers in the refrigerator and scrubbed the dishes with seemingly endless clean hot water. All of us are reasonably healthy and able-bodied – even the 93 year old – and hold similar social justice ethos. Each plate included a bookmark with this quote from civil rights leader Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

It was a good day.

And because it was a good day, I felt like that much more of a jerk. Mikey’s analysis of the two holidays rang absolutely true for me. This arbitrary autumn Thursday didn’t carry the profound seasonal punctuation our September gathering had. When Joel and I drove home tonight, we talked about why that was.

“This feels random,” he said. “That’s not to say that I’m not thankful for this time with my family, because I am. But in September, we’re actually marking a seasonal transition. There’s something specific on the line: we’re giving thanks for a safe harvest and a finished season, with friends who are our family, who we’ve just shared these intense months with, and now we won’t see much – if at all – until next summer. We’re marking the end of one side of our life and moving into the other. Thanksgiving in Alaska just has bigger meaning grounded in place and time.”

Maybe that’s what it is. November Thanksgiving provides a day to enjoy family we otherwise rarely see – but for me, it could be any day. Fishermen’s Thanksgiving carries the weight of intentional change. We recognize what’s been with gratitude, while inviting what’s next with openness. As challenging as seasonal livelihood is, it presents a rare gift of reflection. Deliberate demarcations of life.

Still, I know both Joel and I will be thankful tomorrow morning for leftover pie.

Despite what may come across as a curmudgeonly attitude, friends, I hope you had a lovely day, wherever and however you spent it. You’re in my best, most appreciative thoughts, no matter what the season.





Fisher-Readers, Please Meet Fisher-Writer Rich Bard

17 11 2012

The Fisher Poets have been on my mind lately. Less than two weeks until a performance at Seattle’s Fish Expo (Thursday the 29th, 11:30 – 1:00), and organizing’s already underway for the main event festivities in Astoria, Oregon. (Mark your calendars: Feb 22 – 24, 2013!) A phone conversation with fisherman writer/photographer Pat Dixon got me all sentimental for the men and women who’ve turned our profession into art. So many of us have picked up pens, guitars, paintbrushes, anything to externalize our conflicted love/hate/fear/craving for boats and the sea. More of us than you’d think: there’s a tremendous wealth of artistic talent in the fleet, of every fishery and region. During night wheel watches, while the halibut sets soak, when the fish aren’t biting… We have some excellent opportunities for venturing into our creative selves, and are surrounded by a treasure trove of characters.

With all this on my mind, last week was the perfect time to receive an unexpected email from Rich Bard. A Southeast Alaskan troller in the 1980’s and 90’s, Rich stands out in my childhood memories as a kind man who exuded thoughtful confidence, a comfort with himself, others, and going his own path. Rich was also one of my earliest role models of a fisherman who sought the grace of written words. When carbon monoxide killed one of our fleet’s most beloved members, Rich memorialized him with a poem that turned our collective grief into something heartbreakingly beautiful. (My friend Marlin and I, teenagers at the time, carefully cut the poem from the pages of the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal. Years later, we could still recite it.)

Rich’s boat stood out, too. The Anna was a lovely forest green sailboat, a sleek aft-house ketch rigged as a salmon troller. Though the Anna is still trolling out of Sitka, Rich is not. He sold her about ten years ago, leaving the troll fishery to deliver boats throughout the Pacific and Caribbean instead. The troll fleet has something of a revolving door (says she who had her own walk-away period) and I’m always fascinated to see how folks who’ve left will deal with their new, non-fishing life. Apparently Hooked has provided Rich both vicarious thrills and mixed feelings. In his email, he wrote, “The trolling addiction remains strong, and your engaging view of the all-encompassing joys and frustrations of a lifestyle that’s very hard to replicate in any other profession also dangerously reinforce the ever present urge that I should get back in.”

(You’d be welcome back on the drag, Rich. Many thanks for the kind words.)

Though we were both at last year’s Fisher Poets Gathering, I didn’t get a chance to thank Rich for his great reading – an excerpt from a novel he was working on. I’m thrilled to share that he’s finished that novel, West of Spencer, and has published it as an e-book, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here’s the overview:

Bo, a salmon troller in Sitka, has been drinking steadily through the long dark Alaska winter trying to get over a broken heart. The tactic’s not working out too well. Spring and the need to get his boat ready for a new season offer some distraction, and Bo’s love for women keeps him above the poverty level on that front, but he just can’t put the past behind him. The only time Bo feels really free of regret is when he’s out on the water, wholly involved in his work, trolling for salmon. After some radical swings of fortune during the short spring openings, the main king salmon season starts out west, and a weird chain of events puts Bo in jeopardy of losing everything.

West of Spencer nails the hard-working, hard-playing lives of fishermen who ply the Gulf of Alaska waters. The novel doesn’t shrink from the grit of the fishing life: in the stinging spray and the blood on the deck, we get the true feel of life onboard, from a wild ride in a near-gale to the pensive calm of the quiet coves. The nature of a tight-knit community comes through on the boat radios, on the docks, and at the Quixote Club, a favorite watering hole. Throughout, Bo and his friends look, however erratically, for a deeper understanding: who is God, really…what are we supposed to be doing here…why is love so elusive…and, where the hell have the fish gotten off to now?

Trollers happily spend every spare moment talking about gear – what we’re running, what we’re catching on, what worked last season but isn’t doing shit this year. That’s the fun part of our obsession, but the bottom line remains: you can’t catch fish if your hooks aren’t in the water. There’s a similar hunger among writers to fill up on workshops, retreats, exercises, groups, any opportunity to compare literary practices. As trollers talk hoochies, writers tirelessly discuss our latest work in progress, how it’s going, what’s working, what’s not. And just like keeping one’s hooks in the water, in the end the only thing that will result in a finished book is the sheer discipline of keeping your butt in the chair. I get that, but still couldn’t resist asking Rich how West of Spencer came to fruition.

“I’d had a rather vague idea of a novel I could write about Sitka for some time, but like many (most?) writers, motivation’s the big issue,” he explained. “Journalism, with its deadlines, can be relatively easy, but a long speculative work needs its own motivation. I finally got started through a desperate urge to produce something (anything!) out of a particularly gloomy Northwest mid-winter. Continuing it provided an outlet when I was hired as captain to help an owner who didn’t handle the tropic heat very well get his boat from Florida through the Canal and north (as one of my crew remarked after a temper flare-up, “Yep, every day the boat gets a foot shorter.”) By the time I finished that trip, the book had gathered its own momentum and it was a comparative coast to the finish. Not sure if the urge to get outside oneself during time of frustration is the best source of motivation, but it’s worked for me.”

As delighted as I am by my fellow troller’s accomplishment, I’m less delighted to admit that I haven’t yet ventured into e-reader territory. (E-reader? Please. I’m still clinging to my dumb flip phone, no matter how overtly the Verizon staff sneer.) So I’m turning to you, sweet Hooked friends. Those more technologically advanced among you who crave a well crafted, utterly authentic nautical tale, please do check out West of Spencer. Thanks for showing your support for a fellow fisher-writer, friends, and many congratulations on your work, Rich!

Longtime Hooked readers may remember last year’s poetry competition, challenging Fisher Poets to use the line “work is our joy.” Rich’s piece, shared in the video below, was one of my favorite entries for sheer cleverness. 





Cap’n J Visits the Oregon Coast

12 11 2012

Almost at National Novel Writing Month’s midpoint, I’m still buried in this month-long exercise to produce as many words as possible. (They say 50,000; I’m shooting for writing every day and being thankful for whatever results. I’m already breaking the “rules” anyway, working on a memoir instead of a novel.) I’ve missed you, and just wanted to pop in to send a little hello, let you know that all’s well here. I hope it’s so for you, too.

While I spent a few days in Sitka at the beginning of this month (an amazing, wonderful, heart-full time), Joel headed off in the opposite direction. He did a photography workshop on one of his favorite places, the Oregon Coast. I’m not able to share many words with you this month, so I’d like to showcase some of Cap’n J’s lovely images instead. Here’s one that seemed appropriate after our recent conversation on what keeps some of us so leashed to the sea.

Enjoy, friends, and be well -

T





Tonight! Author Seth Kantner on Raven Radio

3 11 2012

One of my favorite things about Sitka is Raven Radio, the community public radio station. The day they got their live streaming up and running was a good, good day: I could listen to Mississippi Delta Blues and Meathead’s Mix Tape even when we were Down South!

Thanks to that live stream, you can enjoy some of KCAW’s eclectic local programs, too, wherever you are. Tune in tonight at 6:30 (that’s Alaska time; 7:30 Pacific) for The Library Show, a conversation between Sitka librarian Sarah Bell and Alaskan author Seth Kantner. I had the treat of sitting in on yesterday’s taping, and it was a great discussion of Alaskan writing, including how “place” can be such a powerful presence as to become a character itself. Do give it a listen if you’re around a computer this evening; I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with physical place as an important character in your life.








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