Merry Solstice, Friends!

21 12 2012

As you know, I’m not so much into the holidays, but Solstice always resonates with our seasonally driven, migratory life. So it was a special treat to start today with one of Lynn Schooler’s stunning Alaskan photographs, captioned with his own appreciative acknowledgement of Winter Solstice. My thanks to Lynn for his permission to share his photo and sentiments with you.

Lynn Schooler, Solstice Whale Dance

Lynn wrote, “There was the fading winter light, with alpenglow on the mountains, and suddenly a fully grown humpback whale burst from the sea toward the sky

Happy solstice, everyone. Let’s celebrate. We made it around the corner and we’re heading back toward spring.

(Of course, you’re always welcome to click ‘share’ on my photos if you like, or if we are not already friends, shoot me a friend request and I will be happy to accept.)”

If you’re not familiar with author/photographer Lynn Schooler’s work, you can start with this review of one of my favorite books. Happy Solstice, friends – my best wishes to you and yours. 





Celebrating World Oceans Day with Whales

8 06 2012

Happy World Oceans Day, friends! Wonder what you can do to celebrate and protect the big blue? Ocean rower Roz Savage has answers here. If you aren’t familiar with Roz’s amazing story, do go check her out. The first woman to complete solo rows across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, she writes with the authority of over 500 days alone at sea in a 23-foot rowboat. I haven’t yet read her memoir, Rowing the Atlantic, but it’s on my list.

Over 500 days at sea… What would you learn about yourself with that much time alone – in a depth of “alone” that few of us can imagine? Would you still like the person inside your skin when you stepped back onto shore?

I’m thankful to work alongside my best buddy in our 43-foot floating home. Even so, the long hours, isolation, and stress lead to moments of snarkiness that Cap’n J and I have come to expect. (“What the hell’s your problem today,” one snarls. A glance at the calendar mellows our tempers: “Oh, right. This is Day 10 of our trip.”) By the end of our six months on board, we’re ready for some time apart. I wonder what you do when the person you’re sick of is yourself.

Emotional strain, physical strain. Demands our bodies can’t sustain. The endless expenses just to be ready to go fishing, no guarantee of what the season will bring in return. Living in reliance of things absolutely unreliable. Ever-present threats leering over our shoulders: weather, break-downs, genetically engineered salmon, Pebble Mine, and the constant dread of our industry being shut down.

Real as the challenges are, they’re no match for the rewards of a life at sea. We witness natural wonder, beauty and awe on a daily basis, truly awesome sights that many people go their entire lives dreaming of experiencing. In honor of World Oceans Day, here’s a perfect example, footage of time we spent trolling alongside humpback whales last summer.

What do you do to make a difference for our oceans? Whether you’re fellow ocean-goers or landlocked, thanks for all the ways that you show your love for the blue.

Also, thanks to everyone who’s asked about last week’s North Words Writers Symposium. It was amazing – so much so that I’m having a tough time summarizing such a profound experience. Stay tuned for a post within the next few days.





Exxon Valdez: 23 Years Later

24 03 2012

I was 11 years old when Bligh Reef ripped open the Exxon Valdez’s steel belly, bleeding over 40,000 tons of crude into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. My family had traded Alaskan residency for our migrant lifestyle by then, setting up a winter life in Washington State and returning to Southeast every summer for the salmon season. I remember staring at the images on TV -  seabirds grounded by sludge-drenched wings, dead otters like blackened driftwood – and wearing a T-shirt that expressed despair through furious satire: caricatures of a party boat perched “on the rocks,” newly christened the Exxon Fuxxup.

Twenty-three years later, I’m sitting aboard a boat in Southeast Alaska, my body re-calibrating to the continual motion of a life cushioned by the sea. The view is stunning. Living in the midst of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and a parade of wildlife, it’s sometimes hard to remember that this splendor isn’t guaranteed. That however firmly rooted nature appears to be, we can’t take her for granted or become indifferent to our responsibilities as good stewards.

Poet Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan who knows all too well the cost of indifference – environmental, cultural. She knows that when horror is so vast, grief so unspeakable, art provides a life raft. Her post,  “Fetched Up Hard Aground: Remembering the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” pulls readers into that life raft. If you’re not familiar with her work, please take a moment to visit Vivian at Planet Alaska.

Named and gendered, boats take on identities independent of the captains who come and go. They’re sized up and judged, bestowed with reputations that can’t be absolved with a change in ownership or a new name. So what  was the fate of the ship forever shackled to one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters? The Mudflats blog answered that question earlier this week:  “The Exxon Valdez Gets Its Death Sentence.”

In our sound-bite society, with social media’s barrage of moment-by-moment news updates, we’re good at year-of tributes. Succinct summaries of what happened back when and where they are now. This post is a perfect example – I wrote in that exact formula, without a second thought. And now I wonder… We remember, but what have we learned?

Photo Courtesy of John Lyle, ARLIS Reference.

Update: Immediately after posting this, I learned that Mudflats had re-posted her 2010 story, “Walking With the Ghost of Exxon.” A powerful account of what she found lingering in Prince William Sound 21 years after the spill – long after we’d been assured that everything was cleaned up -  this is on Hooked’s “Required Reading” list. Please do read and share.





Your Inner Lorax: Protecting the Tongass, part 3

4 03 2012

Thanks to Ashley Brady-Power, Dr. Seuss, and Scott Chambers.

Today begins an important week for the trees. Trout Unlimited and Sitka Conservation Society are sending a team of commercial and sports fishermen to Washington D.C., where they’ll lobby for increased funding for habitat conservation/restoration in the Tongass National Forest. Now is a critical time for this effort: on Tuesday, the Senate’s Natural Resource Committee meets to determine the 2013 Forestry budget. (Learn more from TU’s press release.)

Hooked readers may remember December’s posts on the skewed management of the Tongass. The world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, the Tongass is home to 70,000 humans, 30,000 bears, all 5 species of salmon, as well as deer, wolves, and over 300 species of birds. Its 17 million acres blanket Southeast Alaska, where coastal communities are sustained by less than 200 timber-related jobs and more than 7000 fishing-related jobs. Yet the Forest Service’s annual budget directs $25 million toward logging and road building, and $1.5 million – that’s 1 point 5 – to conservation and watershed restoration.

Many of you bristled at that discrepancy. You fired off emails and phone calls, urging a management plan reflective of the region’s actual economic and cultural values. You wrote a small mountain of letters, which will be hand-delivered to Congress and the Forest Service on Monday. You’re an inspiring team of Loraxes, friends, and your voices are making an impact. Thank you.

You don’t have to be an Alaskan or a fisherman to care about this funding discrepancy. In an awesome show of community organizing, Sitka Salmon Tours recently took the Tongass on the road. Through events in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Nic Mink and Helen Schnoes explained the critical role of this rare ecosystem, where “the salmon are in the trees.”

Their audiences got it, and they rallied. I’ve read the 80 letters our Midwestern allies contributed. It’s a powerful experience, hearing strangers voice the connectedness between their own lives and this distant wild that many will never see firsthand.

Here are some snippets of what they wrote:

“I am writing because my life is richer knowing that wild places like this still exist in our world. As a teacher in Illinois, my students and I do not encounter these gorgeous wild landscapes, nor do we see rivers and lakes so abundant with fish.”

“It is important to me that the food I consume is healthy and sustainable. I know wild Alaskan salmon is both, but I fear for the future. When more money is allocated to the destructive acts such as the logging of old growth forests rather than to restoration of salmon habitats, I fear for the future.”

“This funding gap would be silly if its reach were not so damaging. There exists a gross disconnect: the tree removal harms salmon habitats, which in turn negatively affect the salmon population and is  much less economically valuable than the $986.1 million that salmon fishing and hatcheries generate.”

“While only a small portion of people in the Midwest will ever have the pleasure of traveling to the Tongass, many of us value the forest and its salmon as important national treasures.”

“I don’t have to be from Alaska to understand that salmon is one of the most sustainable and renewable resources of our entire National Forest system.”

“We need to see our forests for more than just the trees.”

Beautifully said.

Great big thanks to everyone who’s already urged the Forest Service to re-examine their Tongass budget. If you haven’t done so, it’s not too late – NOW is the critical time to chime in. Please take a moment today to summon your inner Lorax and send a quick email on behalf of the trees… and the salmon… the streams… and all of us. Direct your messages to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell (ttidwell@fs.fed.us), USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman (harris.sherman@usda.gov), Senator Mark Begich, and Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Need an example to get you started? Whether several concise sentences or an impassioned page, your words are an essential contribution. Please share your message in the comments, and much gratitude for your advocacy.

"Salmon Spawning," by photographer/author Amy Gulick (Salmon in the Trees)





Walking Home: An Alaska Book Week Review

24 09 2011

Alaska Book Week is almost here! October 8-15; more info here. Join Hooked in celebrating ABW from wherever you are, by cozying up with one of Alaska’s many talented authors. This is a review of one of my favorites.

Packing for halibut fishing last May was pretty simple. Longlining’s fast pace and grueling hours equate to minimal down time that is best spent sleeping. Practicing great restraint for someone who usually packs more reading material than clothing, only one book went into my sea bag: Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler.

Winner of the 2010 Banff Mountain Festival John Whyte Award for Mountain Literature

As soon as the gear was set, we retired to our bunks for a 2 hour nap. I nestled into my sleeping bag, book in hand. If I’d wanted to prioritize sleep, this was a mistake: Walking Home captivated me from the first page.

The back flap reads, “Lynn Schooler has recently lost a dear friend and feels his marriage slipping away when he sets out into the wilderness to clear his head. His perilous solo expedition – first by boat, then on foot – takes him along one of the world’s wildest coastlines, being battered by the elements, fording a swollen river, and, for several harrowing hours, becoming a grizzly bear’s quarry.

But this barren landscape is also rich with human stories – of trappers, explorers, marooned sailors, and hermits, as well as the myths of the regions Tlingit Indians. Paying tribute to these lives at a lonesome turning point in his own, Schooler aspires to understand what it means to be not only part of nature’s web, but also a member of a human community in the flow of history.”

Though Schooler “set off into the wilderness,” Walking Home is no Into the Wild. Alaskans have little patience for Hollywood-ized stories of poorly-planned jaunts into nature. True to his forty years’ experience in Alaska, Schooler’s precautions were meticulous and humbling. This is someone I’d leave the dock with, I thought. That trust in the individual allowed me to trust the author, losing myself in his gorgeous prose.

Schooler’s geographical subject, Lituya Bay, is a favored oasis of fishermen, a place particularly close to my heart. Close in physical proximity, too: at the time of my reading, we were 40 miles offshore, gazing eastward to the very coastline he trekked. His historical research was as extensive as his personal preparation, weaving several centuries of stories with his own.

Though the region’s history and his adventure are fascinating, it was Schooler’s internal journey that truly resonated with me. His voice sounded familiar – the tone of so many men in this fleet, an entire generation selfless with their knowledge and time, keeping inner tumult as firmly guarded as a hot fishing spot. Following his unflinching gaze, insights absent of self-pity or blame, I found myself wondering if other fishermen had processed their own mid-life losses similarly. As bold a venture as Schooler’s solo hike was, the vulnerability of exposing his internal process seemed a far more courageous act.

Throughout the season, I raved about Walking Home to fellow fishermen who know and love this coastline. One frowned at my summary. “His marriage was in trouble, so he just left? Huh.”

Well… Yes. I understood my friend’s disapproval. But I also recalled my own reaction to deeply troubled times, when I fled to the sea without a backwards glance to the loved ones left behind. Having needed to walk out on my own life a time or two, I recognized the necessity of movement.

Death and decay are constants in this ecosystem, as they are in our lives. Out of loss comes new growth; as nature repairs herself, so do we. Following 1958’s great wave – the largest tsunami ever recorded, worldwide – Lituya Bay’s ravaged tree-line reasserts itself. The remains of shipwrecked vessels vanish from the coastline, as loved ones exit our lives. We grieve their departures, search for the lessons of our shared time, and continue on.

Book lovers all have favorites that we return to, over and over, for familiar comfort and new insights among well-worn pages. When I finished Walking Home and immediately began to read sections to my shipmates, struggling to see the print through thickening twilight, I knew this would be one of mine. For anyone who’s spent time on the water or in the woods, who craves the wild spaces around and inside of themselves and knows the echo of their own companionship, Schooler’s work is utterly relatable. It’s an ideal read for Alaska Book Week.

Those of you in/near Anchorage, mark your calendars for February 10-18, when Perseverance Theatre will perform a stage adaptation of Schooler’s 2003 memoir, The Blue Bear. Stay tuned via Facebook, where you can subscribe to Lynn Schooler’s daily photo posts – stunning meditations on life in Southeast Alaska.

Prayer flags flying, July 4th in Lituya Bay

And you, friends? What’s on your reading list for Alaska Book Week?








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