Happy Birthday, Hooked!

18 03 2012

One year ago today, Hooked went live with this post. Astute readers may notice that that first post’s date doesn’t match today’s celebration. Though I wrote and posted “The Launch” on March 10, 2011, I didn’t have the courage to make it public until 8 days later. Full of trepidation, I wasn’t sure what I had to say – or if anyone would care. Arriving late to the blogosphere (about 3 years after my dad prodded, “Do you have a blog yet?”), I agonized over what kind of first impression Hooked would make.

That first post laid out a pretty modest mission: “Hooked is intended to share the story of what it is to be a Southeast Alaskan fisherman, a troller/longliner who combs the sea to harvest the highest-quality wild salmon, black cod and halibut.”

“Fisherman” is both an occupation and identity for me, so this wasn’t a bad goal to begin with, but I like to have room to stretch. The next line left the narrative door ajar: “Fishermen are a diverse bunch, and no one’s perspective is quite the same. My voice as a tree hugging, tofu eating, public radio listening, pierced/tattooed bleeding heart pescatarian feminist, a lapsed social worker turned professional deckhand, is – perhaps – a tad unique.”

Just as my perspective is unique, so is yours. As you introduced yourselves in the comments, strangers became new friends, and I delighted in your diverse voices. Encouraging family members. Current and retired fishermen. Women from an astounding variety of life experiences. Whether actively working on the water, land-locked and dreaming of a life adrift, or seasick-prone and happily rooted ashore, you tugged the threads of these posts and found them connected to the fabric of your own lives.

So this post isn’t about celebrating 12 months of a one-dimensional online construct. This is about recognizing and honoring community, and that’s all of you who take the time to stop by and say hello. You’ve become participants in these stories. Your hearts seized as whales rose up beneath the Nerka. (Maybe some expletives fell from your lips, too, in chorus with those falling from mine.) You celebrated Cap’n J’s birthday, and you imagined the taste of traditional Tlingit foods. When I shared my writer’s panic last fall, you offered support and encouragement. You learned the interdependent relationship between salmon, trees, and Southeast Alaskans, and you rallied as spokespeople for the Tongass National Forest. You cheered for the 2012 Fisher Poets, and you grieved those lost at sea.

Hooked’s readers have been the greatest joy of this experience.  I wish I could offer you a slice of that aquatic-themed cake (or provide a gluten-free/sugar-free/vegan alternative) in thanks. You’ll just have to trust that we enjoyed it with you in mind. Bear, too.

In lieu of cake, I do have a gift for one of you. Two months ago, I printed a few copies of Hooked: The Best of 2011 through blurb.com. An 80 page collection of my favorite posts, they came out pretty nicely (only 2 typos discovered thus far, and purely my fault.) If you’d like to be entered into a drawing to win your own copy, leave a comment here before midnight on Wednesday, and I’ll put your name in a hat. (No, not a hat, but an Xtra Tuf boot. Thanks for the suggestion, Cedar – cultural authenticy matters!)  Cap’n J will do the honors on the morning of the 22nd, and I’ll stick the winner’s copy in the mail as one of my final tasks before we head north.

Are you a long-time Hooked reader, or a new visitor? As we approach the upcoming fishing season, are there particular stories or issues you’d like to hear about? What have you liked in your time with Hooked, and what could we do differently over our second year?

Vanishing Boats, Lost Fishermen, and the Price of Fish

12 03 2012

I woke up this morning with a particular post in mind. I wanted to tell you about the changes afoot here at Hooked Central. Winter is abruptly over. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat and I are packing up and heading back to Sitka next week, where we’ll reunite with our girl, the F/V Nerka. It’s been a tough winter up there, and we’re anxious to see how she weathered all these months alone. I’d planned to tell you about the long to-do and don’t-forget lists, reflecting on the ways we say goodbye to one life in anticipation of the other, and probably would’ve ended up with something very similar to this post. That’s what I had in mind.

Then two tragedies bookended the day, and suddenly those preparatory details of our life at sea seemed terribly trivial.

The first was out of Newport, Oregon. The F/V Chevelle ran hard aground on the jetty this weekend. Everyone made it safely to shore, but the 70-foot steel crabber remained lurched against the rocks, hammered by growing waves. The News Lincoln County’s article included video of the wreck, and my blood chilled as I realized what I was seeing.  As each wave hits, the Chevelle’s aft deck raises independently of her shuddering wheelhouse. That’s the sight of the sea slowly unzipping a boat down its midship line, like a piece of paper torn in half. For the ocean-goers amongst us, this video is more frightening than any horror movie villain.

Tonight, I went back online and saw this headline from today’s Seattle P.I.: “Boat sank so fast no time for distress call.” The article includes all the worst kinds of heartbreak… The crewman who’d had a bad feeling about making that trip, but a worse feeling about his house payments. The deckhand who’d been hired on just a day earlier, eager to work. The Coast Guard station that received an EPIRB alarm from the Lady Cecilia at 3:37 a.m., and arrived on scene, 17 miles off the Washington coast, only to find an oil slick, some debris, and a life raft – empty. The search team that scoured over 640 square miles of unconcerned ocean. The four men who weren’t found. The two year old boy who won’t see his father again.

Here at our house, we keep a little altar over the fireplace. Some candles. A weeping Buddha, circled with small mementos from the sea. Photos of people we’ve lost. I keep a photocopy of an old Portland Oregonian article tucked up there, too. I don’t know the author’s name or the publication date, don’t even know how it came into my hands in the first place, but I know it resonates in a deep, waterlogged place in my heart and it’s all I really want to share with you today.

The Price of Fish

“The deep sea fishing boat ‘Republic’ will never sail out for the tuna again, nor for the salmon – out of Astoria into the green swells from westward. Part of her bow has drifted ashore near Long Beach, and some of the forward deck – and where the hulk of her is, only the sea can tell. Her last port of call was the storm. And the fishermen who sailed her, and looked to her fishing gear, and harvested the sea? Where are they? Perhaps the gulls know, or the cormorants. Only this seems certain – that they and their boat will fish no more.

You walk through the market and glance at the fish stalls heaped with limp silver. Only a day or so ago these fish, most of them, were out where ‘the low sky mates with the sea.’ Now they bear price tags. Even fish, so we say, is high priced. That is true. Fish are high priced – and the least of the price is reckoned in coin.

Men who would rather fish at sea than work ashore sail out on the fishing boats to seek and follow the fish. It is a glad, hard life, and they love it well – but they stake their lives on the catch. It isn’t often that the boats don’t come back to port, for their oil-skinned skippers and crews to shout to their friends on the dock with word of their luck – but sometimes they don’t. The ‘Republic’ was one that didn’t. And how are you going to figure that into the price of a pound of fish?”

Rest in peace, Dave Nichols, Jason Bjaranson, Luke Jensen, Chris Langel, F/V Lady Cecilia, and F/V Chevelle. My heart goes out to all of your loved ones left on shore.

Hooked on Oregon Public Broadcasting

7 03 2012

I told you about my first scheduled performance at Fisher Poets Gathering 2012, but I didn’t tell you what happened next.

During the break, a tall, kind-eyed man introduced himself. Ifanyi Bell, digital producer with Oregon Public Broadcasting. He wanted to do a story about a greenhorn performer, someone brand-new to the Fisher Poets scene. Would I be interested?

I recalled the fall course I’d taken with editor Brooke Warner. She’d rejected proposals based on the author’s nonexistent platform, and urged us to start building our online presence before shopping our books. Would I be interested? Ah, yes.

We met up Saturday afternoon in the Fort George Showroom, the same venue that I’d perform in later that night. Good for his filming goals, and a welcome opportunity for me to get comfortable with the acoustics while rehearsing that evening’s piece. (If you were in the audience that night, you’ll notice that what I rehearsed isn’t what you heard. Abrupt change of plans a few hours before show time… But that’s another story.)

With floor to ceiling windows and brick walls, the former car showroom was cold, but the company was warm. We bonded over our unique names, both familiar with using their mispronunciation to weed out telemarketers. (If-ahn-ee and Tell-ah, BTW.) Delightfully personable, he asked insightful questions about the culture of commercial fishing, storytelling, and where they intersect. Our interview re-routed into an almost two hour conversation.

Ifanyi’s story went live on OPB this afternoon. Watching the finished video, I felt like I’d stepped into one of my favorite storytelling podcasts. His gifts as an interviewer had been apparent, but seeing the way that he pulled it all together was astonishing. Take a look, and keep an eye out for this man’s work. You can follow @ifanyi on Twitter.

Thanks, Tom Hilton, for this photo.

Serious skills you have, sir… Much gratitude for promoting my work with such generous artfulness.

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)

A Greenhorn’s Debut: Fisher Poets 2012

2 03 2012

I know, sweeties, I know… Hooked is sitting awfully low in the water with all these Fisher Poets posts. Apologies if you’re a wee bit weary of my shiny eyes and dazzled reports; I’m newly in love with this crowd, and am not ready to let go quite yet. Give me about a week to wrap up this public processing – still have another handful of stories and videos I’d like to share with you – and then we’ll move on to other fishy things.

(Things like our fast-approaching departure. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat, and I will be reuniting with the good ship Nerka in 3 weeks.)

Thanks to everyone who commented with kudos for Cap’n J, Hillel Wright, and the other contestants. Some of you also left nudges: “So, when are we going to hear about your readings?” As it turns out, friends, I’ve found it more difficult to share my own story than to celebrate someone else’s. Shocking, I know.

We got our programs at Thursday’s welcome dinner/open mic. Peculiar experience, seeing a dream laid out before you in official black and white.

Friday started lazily. (For one of us, at least – Cap’n J jumped out of bed at 5 to shoot sunrise at Ecola State Park.) Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, admiring the waves rolling in under clear skies, a new post up, rehearsing that night’s piece, even time to snuggle with my sweetheart. Pretty good stuff to lead into a big day.

Joel’s sister Ashley joined us that afternoon, and we headed into Astoria. The clear morning surrendered to a harbor day – sideways rain, window-rattling gusts by the end of the night. Somewhere after Seaside and before Warrenton, the glow I’d worn from the previous evening slipped off, revealing wide-eyed, electricity-under-my-skin anxiety.

We parked as close as we could to the Baked Alaska and scrambled to get inside, heads ducked against the building storm. Flashed our FPG buttons to the volunteer at the door and claimed seats near the front. I gave a thought of gratitude to co-organizers Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman for putting me in this intimate venue. The “stage,” a 6-inch plywood rise, faced a mellow audience scattered throughout two narrow aisles. Compared to wilder venues that the pros handled, the Baked Alaska promised a gentle introduction.

The show kicked off with music. Jon on guitar and Jay on harmonica, our emcees began with an ode to “the girl with dark eyes at the cannery.” Author Penn Wallace followed their set with the story of his own greenhorn debut – an 8 year old boy accompanying Poppa on a 1949 albacore trip. A Cordova fisherman stepped up to fill another performer’s absence. In testimony to everyone’s gifts, for a while I forgot my nerves and just enjoyed the show.

Then Jon invited me up.

Careful to sidestep the tangle of microphone cords, I sought refuge behind the music stand and looked for the crowd’s friendliest faces. I told them how thankful I was to be there, then confessed, “I’m also a little nervous.”

[The next morning, I would attend Ron McDaniel’s fantastic workshop, “Polishing Your Onstage Performance.” He’d declare, “Never announce yer flaws! Don’t tell ’em you’re nervous – you just told the sharks ‘Hey there, fellas, sorry to disturb you with my bleeding!’”  Huh. Good point.]

Fortunately, there were no sharks in the Baked Alaska that night. A woman in the front row offered an encouraging smile, and I continued. “So, I’d like to launch this maiden voyage with a piece for the best fisherman – and the best storyteller – that I ever knew. Maybe some of you knew him, too.”

With that, I began to read The Aquila Rides Again.

A revised version, it wasn’t what some of you have seen before. I’d wondered if I’d be able to tell a room full of strangers about Steve Meier without crumbling. And moments before I went on, I panicked, wondering if it wasn’t a terrible mistake to lay that heavy of a story on the crowd. Oh well…Too late to pick something else.


Cap’n J and I aren’t much for mariner superstitions. Our operation includes a woman and a cat, after all, and our best trips have started on Fridays. Yet the Nerka’s cabin is festooned with good luck charms: a sequined fish from Tunisia, a Grecian amulet against evil eye, favorite fortunes from Kenny’s Wok. My winter writing space offers similar imagery: quotes from other writers, a mock-up of my book cover, photos of cheerleading loved ones who’ve vowed to buy that book.

No surprise I’d cloak myself in talismans, too, for an event like this. A blue and white bandanna, a gift from my social worker days from a remarkable young woman. (May I get through this with a smidgen of your strength and grace, I thought, knotting it tight.) Serious earrings – 6 gauge steel spirals, courtesy of my favorite piercer, Dana Burnidge. No one with such badass jewelry would be scared on stage – right?

Funny, the props we reach for when we’re feeling vulnerable.

But the truest sources of courage can’t be worn or bought. Cap’n J later observed, “You really hit your stride midway through.” Reading about Steve invoked his spirit – his authenticity, his gruff compassion, his ferocious truth-telling. As I described our friend, I felt myself slip into the self-assured way in which he walked through the world. Turns out, there’s no greater talisman than the memory of your hero.


Clouded by that otherworldly daze that comes of accomplishing something you weren’t sure that you could do, I returned to my seat. I felt grateful for the opportunity to share someone who’d been such a cornerstone in our lives, and appreciated the kind reception. But there’s a shale-ridden slope between celebrating a life and exploiting it, and I don’t plan to read this piece publicly again. It’s enough to have relied on Steve’s strength for my first time on stage; I can rely on my own from here on out.

Photo by Joel Brady-Power

Were you at one of the venues that night? Or did you tune in to KMUN’s live stream? Who did you get to hear?

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