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.





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.





Sailors and Fishermen, Feeling the Consequences of Hurricane Sandy

31 10 2012

I’m talking with you from new ground today, sweeties. I’ve been back in Alaska for a few hours now, camped out in the Juneau Airport’s Glacier Lounge. Starting at 3:30 this morning, it’s been a long travel day with a handful of challenges, but I’ll be in Sitka before midnight.

Meanwhile, I’m watching the snowflakes swirl on the breeze outside. They’re not sticking. Other than the speaker above me blaring what my dad would call “shitkicker music,” the bar’s quiet.  Chef/bartender Mike befriended me early on, bringing a glass of water designed to ward off scurvy (slices of lime, lemon, AND orange), frequent hot water refills for my peppermint tea, and a couple free cookies “because you have to have cookies with tea.” The first raven of the trip just glided by the window, and I smiled.

Being back in Alaska outside our fishing season is a rare gift. I’m up here to go to Whalefest, an annual symposium celebrating the humpback whales that make Sitka Sound their seasonal home.  I’ve always wanted to attend, but learning that author Seth Kantner (Ordinary Wolves, Shopping for Porcupine) was this year’s keynote speaker sealed the deal. Still, however much I wanted to hop a plane for a weekend visit, this wouldn’t have been possible without Joel’s parents donating their airline miles towards a birthday ticket. I’m thankful.

I spent last week working on an essay to read at this Friday’s maritime-themed Monthly Grind. “Working on” sounds deceptively productive. A personal piece that I hoped would ring true for fellow ocean-goers, I wondered what draws so many of us to the sea that can so easily devour us. Mostly, I stared at my computer screen and thought about fear, loss, and grief. (You know, the usual light-hearted stuff you can count on me for.)

On Friday night, I admitted on Facebook what a struggle this essay was proving to be. Immediately, several Hooked friends responded with encouragement. Be patient, don’t beat yourself up, take a walk. Fisher Poet Pat Dixon advised, “Write what comes. See where that leads… trust the process. …or maybe that’s all bullshit and you need a shot of tequila. Let us know what you decide.”

Since quitting drinking some years back, that only left me one option. And miracle of miracles, it worked. The words did come, and suddenly a finished draft smiled at me serenely. I was there for you all along.

But as I celebrated the arrival of words, the East Coast recoiled from an arrival of a different sort. Hurricane Sandy raged up the Eastern seaboard. Wind, water, fire; the elements joined forces to leave a trail of staggering damage and fatalities. The first of these that I learned about was the 180-foot HMS Bounty. For the second time in as many months, I marveled at the courage and skill of our Coast Guard. They plucked fourteen survivors from life rafts roiling in 20-foot seas.

Fourteen survivors… And the body of Claudene Christian, Bounty crew member for six months. Captain Robin Waldridge remains missing.

For fellow blogger/seafaring writer Chris Wallace, this was more than a tragic news story. Chris, her husband, and daughter are a family of sailors; as crew aboard the Schooner Zodiac, the West Coast’s largest wooden schooner, they’re well-acquainted with the Bounty.  We embrace different means of going to sea, yet I suspect we share similar reactions of relief, confidence, and calm on the water – just as Sandy drove both Chris and I to the same uneasy soul-searching. “I am overwhelmed with sadness,” she wrote on Monday, “and have spent the day pondering why people like us are drawn to this life.”

Just as sailors stand with each other in times of tragedy, so do fishermen.  Trollers and crabbers in the Pacific Northwest followed their New England kin through the storm, engaged in real-time Facebook conversations with fishermen riding out the storm. “It’s really bad here,” wrote one New Jersey captain. “I don’t know if any of us are going to have a boat left.”

Damaged vessels, harbors, and processing plants, coupled with lost sea time, have a crippling impact on an already-uncertain industry like commercial fishing. Industry outreach program “The Faces of California Fishing” immediately promised East Coast fishermen, “We’ve got your back.” They began organizing, anxious to create a relief fund for fleet members impacted by Sandy. Regardless of the differences and distance between our various fisheries, this generous community spirit is the backbone of our profession. I’ll post donation info as soon as it’s available. Meanwhile, follow The Faces of California Fishing for relief fund updates.

It’s about time for me to continue on to Sitka, friends. I keep circling back ‘round to my and Chris’s original reflection. Why are so many of us drawn to this nautical life? Not only drawn to; we’re mad for the sea, loyal beyond all reason and sense. I haven’t been able to articulate my own reasons yet. How about you?





On Writing, Then and Now

18 10 2012

Happy National Day on Writing, friends!

Yeah, that’s little me. Some things haven’t changed much since 1980, parked at a desk in my parents’ Wasilla, Alaska, veterinary clinic. I still keep a stash of animal crackers nearby as motivation, and still absentmindedly tug my lower lip when the words aren’t coming as quickly as I’d like. I still believe written words are worth spending the afternoon with.

(From a slightly comfier chair now, though, and without the red pants.)

You, sweet friends, have shown your own belief that words are worth spending time with. Last week included a big day here: on October 11, Hooked crossed 50,000 views. That’s an achievement that I wouldn’t have dared dream of when I launched this blog a year and a half ago, and one wholly thanks to you. I’m grateful for such generous readers, commenters, and promoters.

Off the boat for three weeks now, Cap’n J and I have fully settled back into land life. Joel’s taken this month to do as much photography as he can, getting up into the mountains before the winter weather hits.  (Here’s a shot from his recent trip to Mt. Rainer.) I’ve jumped back into the Red Wheelbarrow Writers community, thrilled to have weekly writing dates and a fantastic critique group.  Meanwhile, Bear’s reclaimed her favorite rotation of daily napping spots, and is making up for all the meals she didn’t eat while at sea.

National Day on Writing offers a moment to give thanks for the magic and salvation of words recorded and read. A day is a good start… but my goal is to practice literary zealotry for the coming months. While Joel shoulders another winter of boat projects, my job will be to write the memoir that doesn’t seem to be writing itself, no matter how many attractive outlines and wall-sprawling charts I make.

I’m a lazy, distractible writer. You’d think that the head-down, teeth-gritted endurance that makes me a good fisherman would translate, but I haven’t figured out how to channel that ocean-based work ethic to the page/screen. Having a team helps keep me honest – accountable – so in addition to the local writing meets and critique groups, I’ve signed up for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

On its 13th year, NaNoWriMo challenges folks to pound out 50,000 words in November – the equivalent of a 175 page novel. Quality work? Eh, not so much; the point is to get the words out, producing a first draft you can then work with. For writers like me, hesitant folks who stutter over every keystroke and hit the backspace more than any vowel, this is a terrifying endeavor.

All the more reason to take the leap.

(NaNoWriMo purists, I’m cheating at the most fundamental levels. Not writing a novel. Not starting from scratch on November 1. Totally hijacking this opportunity to work madly on memoir chapters, hoping to steal strength and perseverance from the collective energy of tens of thousands of writers all rolling the same rock up the same hill at the same time. I know NaNoWriMo has very few rules, and I’m breaking several of them. Can we be buddies anyway?)

So if Hooked seems a bit quiet over the next six weeks, you’ll know why. After all, as Sherman Alexie chided in his recent  “Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Writers”, “Every word on your blog is a word not in your book.”

Ouch – bull’s eye, sir.

But ours is a connected age. Even if I’m not blogging as frequently, we have lots of other ways to keep in touch.

On Facebook? You can “like” my writer’s page to see periodic updates on how it’s going.

In Oklahoma? Check out FISH and listen to a recording of “The Sisterhood,” an essay exploring what it means to be a woman in the oh-so-masculine world of commercial fishing. (That’s take two you’ll hear. Take one was carefully recorded when no one else was home, amidst very premeditated quiet. I’d made it to the concluding paragraphs, thrilled not to have stumbled over my tongue over the previous six pages. Then Bear started throwing up at my feet. Loudly. I tried not to take this personally.)

In Sitka for Whalefest? Come to the maritime-themed Grind on Friday, November 2. The Monthly Grind is an amazing demonstration of local talent; I’m excited to hear everyone’s performances and thankful for the invitation to read.

Attending Seattle’s Fish Expo? Be sure to check out the Fisher Poets on the main stage, 11:30 – 1:00, Thursday, November 29. Get there early to grab a seat: Abigail Calkin, Dano Quinn, Dave Densmore, Patrick Dixon, Thomas Alan Hilton, and I will each have 15 minute performances. (Free expo registration until November 26!)

That’s what the next month holds, friends. If our paths should cross anywhere along the line, please do stop and say hello – I’d love to thank you in person for sharing your time with these words, and contributing your own. Until then, my good thoughts to you, and best wishes for a rich, rewarding Day on Writing.

Are any of you gearing up to be fellow WriMo’ers? If so, good on you brave souls!  Look me up next time you’re on the site (username Tele) and we’ll support each other in this crazy courageous literary marathon. I hope to see you there.








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