Hooked the First, Laid to Rest

6 01 2013

This is it, friends.

I’ve delayed this move for over a year, but it seems time for Hooked to migrate. Please join me at Hooked the Second. (www.teleaadsen.com) I’m grateful to the Chicago Boy – he’s done a beautiful job of setting our space up. I’d never have had the courage or tech-savvy to make it happen without his help. (Thanks, sweetie.)

Some of you have asked about Hooked’s past posts. It appears that everything is in our new home, minus a handful of the most recent comments that didn’t want to move. I’m not ready to delete our beginnings, so Hooked the First will remain dormant here. I won’t be responding to comments on this site anymore, so please bring our conversation over to Hooked the Second. I’m hoping it’s a more comfortable, reader/participant-friendly space. If you don’t find it so, or have trouble with anything, please do let me know.

I’ll do my best to figure out how to seamlessly transfer those of you who’ve subscribed, but am a little anxious about that. You can also re-subscribe on the right side of the new homepage, and if you’d help spread the word of our relocation, I’d be grateful. I’m grateful, period. You’ve all been a wonderful community. This is just a blog move, I know, not like we’re actually saying goodbye, but I feel oddly choked up all the same. (As you know, I’m a little sensitive.)

So let’s lay Hooked’s WordPress home to rest with a short video that’s not meant to be morbid. This Sitka cemetery is a special place – “Sacred Grounds,” warns the sign at the entrance. Hidden in the center of town in a Tongass thicket of cedar, hemlock, and devil’s club, trails wind through the overgrowth. The gravestones are Russian Orthodox, largely consumed by the rainforest’s inevitable moss. Stone angels are mostly headless.  Only croaking ravens break the tranquility. It’s been one of my favorite places since I was a teenager; I’m glad to close this site by sharing it with you.  (And you, SethSnap.)

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Trading One Deck for Another

27 09 2012

For those of you who responded to Hooked’s last post by voting that it was time to take pity on Bear the (long suffering) Boat Cat… Good call.

From supervising the run south, making sure the bow was pointed in the right direction…

 

…to reuniting with the Bobs, our resident Stellar’s Jays.

 

(She sends her thanks.)





Beyond a Final Scratch: Clawing Our Way to the Season’s End

20 09 2012

When the alarm goes off at 5:00, night still owns Southeast Alaska. Joel pulls the anchor and, by the green guidance of the radar, weaves our way between the other boats. The secure anchorage is calm, but deep, steep seas greet us at the mouth of the bay, abruptly flinging the Nerka’s bow up and down. Bear leaps off the bunk on wobbly legs and huddles beneath the table, staring at us with wide eyes. A single howl of dissent pierces the cabin.

“NAAAO-OHHHH!”

“Oh, sweetie…” Feeling like a terrible parent, I pat her spot on the bunk. “It’s okay, Bear-cat, c’mon back up here.”

She times her return jump with the waves and lies down, pressed tight against the cabin wall, dilated eyes fixed at nothing. We coo over her, stroking her stiff body, and Joel shakes his head. “Even Bear’s burned out. It’s like she knows it’s September now. I think that was the ‘Why are we still doing this, I want to go home now!’ howl.”

*****

That was a few weeks ago. Since then, Joel, Bear, and I have each issued our own burn-out howls. It’s been a long time since our spring homecoming –six months, almost to the day – and this unusually long season has taken its toll. The Nerka’s cabin morphed from warm and cozy to cramped and mildewed. Cap’n J’s black hair sports several new strands of white. And after half a year sealed in double-layered wool socks and rubber boots, my feet are a horror show. Our bodies are weary, our minds ready for a new challenge beyond seducing salmon to bite our lures.

Friends from Down South (anywhere, that is, below Alaska) send increasingly insistent texts. “Where are you? When are you coming back?” All of the other Washington-based trollers already pulled the plug on this season – some as early as August, opting to chase tuna off the West Coast instead.  Marlin, our last partner standing, called it quits yesterday.

It’s tough to stay motivated when, everywhere you look, boats are being put to bed. But there’s a deep chasm between wanting to do something different and feeling able to, and the calculator hisses that we’re not done yet – that we shouldn’t be done yet. Though Southeast Alaska’s coho troll fishery typically closes on September 20, it figures that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game would issue a 10-day extension this year. Given the opportunity to fish right up to September 30 (weather permitting, a weighty caveat this time of year), isn’t that what a person should do?

(This is where Marlin’s voice pops into my head to scold, “Don’t should on yourself!” Tough not to, sometimes.)

Beyond the physically monotonous tasks of commercial fishing, there’s an equally repetitious mental narrative. Just like last year – just like every year – I’m haunted by questions of balance. Where do you separate the values of money and time? Between financial security and self-care? As a seasonal worker, how do you drive yourself hard enough to know you’ll be “okay” through the winter, yet still demonstrate a priority for relationships, allowing for a beach party here and an extra few hours in town there? And how do you get beyond being “okay” until the next fishing season, to actually beginning to weave a safety net of savings?

If I knew the answers, this wouldn’t even be a post. If any of you can relate to these struggles, I’d love to hear your reflections on what you’ve learned, what’s worked for you.

All of this is to say, friends, that I don’t know when we’ll next be in touch or where I’ll be writing from. We splurged on a day at the dock today, mostly to say our goodbyes. (Also to have Thanksgiving dinner with the good ship Sadaqa, of course. The fourth Thursday of November’s got nothin’ on mid-September, when we gather to give thanks for a safe season, beautiful wild salmon, and the beloved friends we share this life with.)

The alarm clock is set for 4:00; we’ll untie the lines and run to Cape Edgecumbe, about four hours out. We’ll be fishing for ourselves tomorrow, setting aside a personal stash of coho to keep us fed this winter. After that, it’s tough to say what will happen. Fishermen make art of indecision.

Until that next landfall, friends – wherever it may be – be safe and be well. We’ll be in touch.





For Steve Meier (The Aquila’s Re-Birth)

20 07 2011

This post was originally published on http://www.alaskawaypoints.com, on June 29,2011. This version has been slightly changed from the original. My apologies for the length; the man himself used a lot of words in his own storytelling, and I couldn’t do any less.

Our last trip’s halibut successfully unloaded, the Charity pulled away from the fish plant and quietly cruised down Sitka Channel toward the fuel dock. Ross and I were putting the deck back together when Martin’s astonished exclamations burst from the cabin.

“Holy shit – get in here, Sis!”

Martin has a strict no-halibut-slime-in-the-cabin rule. I called back, “I’m in my rainpants!”

“I don’t care; come look at this boat right now!”

He gestured at an oncoming vessel. “Tell me what boat that is.”

I squinted. It was a serious hulk of boat – steel bow poles speared the sky, a covered deck provided all-weather protection, and the pristine white hull was blinding in the midday sun. Identifying boats from afar is a point of pride to both Martin and I, but I was stumped.

“Uh…”

“You know that boat better than you think,” Martin said. “That’s the goddamn Aquila.”

My breath sucked in, and we stared at the passing boat as if it was a ghost ship. It may as well have been.

Beautiful day, beautiful boat

****

Joel and I were Down South when he got the call. We’d tied the Nerka up in Bellingham two days earlier, after running south with the Aquila. I watched as Joel’s face drained slack.  “Oh my god, oh my god,” he repeated into the phone. “We just made the trip down with him.”  Thoughts that were cohesive suddenly slid against the walls of my skull, as solid ground gives way under our feet after weeks at sea.  Steve Meier had died, and nothing was right in the world anymore.

We were in a code group with Steve for 5 years, lucky enough to spend our salmon seasons trolling alongside the Aquila. Every group has an undisputed highliner, and Steve was ours.  If there was one fish in the ocean, he’d catch three.  Salmon, halibut, ling cod, dungies; the fishery didn’t matter.  Steve was a driver, out there to harvest, and that’s just what he did.

Unlike some highliners, Steve was humble.  When one partner asked if anyone was catching, Steve reported what he had. The partner joked, “Oh, you don’t count!”  Steve came back all offended, “Whaddaya mean?”  The rest of us knew exactly what was meant: if any of us used Steve as the bar that we measured our day’s success against, we might as well go find land jobs.

There’s an entry in our 2007 log, “We beat Aquila Steve today!!!”  Three exclamation points; it was that big of a deal.  He congratulated us that day – “Yeah, you had a good day” – then came back with a vengeance, thoroughly whupping up on us the next.  We shook our heads, knowing that was the natural order of our group’s universe, and imagined him chuckling to himself.  “Heh heh heh.”

Lots of trollers get stuck in a geographic groove, a mental force-field blocking them from venturing too far west, nosing too far south.  Not Steve.  He would go anywhere, try anything, if there were fish to be caught.  He made us all bolder, better, than we would’ve been without him.  We’d have followed him to the ends of the ocean, just for the pleasure of going there with him.

Steve was honest in a way few people are.  He liked you, or he didn’t; he agreed with you, or he didn’t. Either way, he’d let you know. We counted on hearing at least one good “Steve rant” over the radio every season, and man, there were some doozies. With the uninterruptible power of a keyed mic in his fist, Steve was a gale that couldn’t be stopped. So many can dominate a conversation with their views, but few can step back and poke fun at themselves afterwards.  When Steve finally wore himself out, his tempo slowing down and volume mellowing, he’d pause with a self-conscious chuckle.  “And that’s enough out of me for today.  Heh heh heh.”

Here’s the thing about Steve: he found deeper value in people than their differences, focused on the common ground he had with folks whose beliefs he was worlds opposed to.  He told one of our group’s more conservative members, “You’re way over there on the right, and I’m way over here on the left, so we should just talk about fishing.”  And that’s what they did, with mutual respect for each other as fishermen and friends.  “He tried to save me when we first met.  That didn’t go too well,” Steve remembered with his deadpan delivery, followed with a signature smirk. “I did find myself saying ‘fuck’ about every other word around him after that.”

Ferocious as he was, Steve was strong enough to admit his wrongs.  When Joel crewed for him out of Crescent City, he and the other deckhand were packing crab pots from the storage barn to go down to the boat.  They decided to work together, each on either side of a pot.  Steve showed up, took one look, and laid into them.  “What the hell is this?  You’re gonna take all goddamn day doing it that way!  Every man to a pot!”  He ran over to the barn, grabbed a pot, and rushed it over to the trailer to make his point.  Slamming it down, he slowly stood up, hands immediately going to the small of his back as he surveyed the scene.  “Jesus, these are heavy.  You guys must be fucking tired,” he said.  “Keep doing it the way you’re doing.”  He went gingerly back to the truck, nursing a tweaked back that would give him trouble for the upcoming days.

There was no one like Steve Meier.  That was evident at his memorial, where fishermen from all up and down the Coast crowded a North Seattle backyard. One after another, we told stories of this extraordinary man. He’d inspired many there to face their battles with alcohol; everyone agreed, “If Steve could get sober, anyone could.” He’d bailed deckhands out of jail, tried to help young men whose struggles he surely saw his own young self reflected in. One fellow crabber, a mountain of a man, curled his fists and wept openly before the crowd. “At least the sea didn’t get him.”

As devastating as his sudden death was, the thought of illness weakening his body and spirit was worse.  Joel said it best: “Death would have to sneak attack Steve, there’s no way it’d be able to take him head-on.”  Head-on… How Steve lived every moment of his life.

****

The Aquila glided past, her new captain lifting a hand in acknowledgement of our stares.  An unexpected relief swelled through me. “That’s not Steve’s boat anymore.” A beautiful boat, one he’d be impressed by, but not one that wielded the power to gut-stab me when we pass it on the drag.

It’s hard to believe this is our second season without Steve. He’s always with us – smirking from a photo at the helm, constantly memorialized in dock conversation. I walk by the Aquila and can’t take my eyes off of her. Turns out her new owners are a real nice couple. That helps. Seeing the care they’ve poured into making her their own, that helps, too. The raw edge of loss shifts into a quieter, gentler pain.

But Christ on toast, we miss you, Steve. We’ll conk some kings for you, old friend.





Living Seasonally: A Deckhand’s Preparation

26 04 2011

Living seasonally applies unique meaning to life.  Time doesn’t seem to pass particularly quickly, as we mosey through the “off”-season, balancing necessary boat maintenance and improvements with the luxuries of being self-employed. Plenty of opportunities to indulge in hobbies, re-connect with friends and family, and putter around the house. After six months of squeezing ourselves into the confines of 43 feet, we bliss out on the decadence of an 1800 square foot existence.

I keep an eye on the calendar and warn non-fishing friends that any goodbye get-togethers need to happen now, or they won’t happen at all.  I take note of the red flowering currant unfurling in our greenbelt, say goodbye to the varied thrush and start waiting for the evening grosbeak to appear at our feeders.  Even with that cognizance, even as a lifetime veteran of this process, I still feel awe at the annual demarcation of exchanging one lifestyle for another. The change is total – geographic, professional, cultural, social, from living environment to daily routine.  No matter how gently you handle them, closing one door to open another conveys abruptness.

For the past two weeks, I’ve lived by lists, surrounded by scraps of Do-Before-Leaving itineraries.  Car insurance on hold, thrift store for hoodies, cancel netflix. After several months’ lapse, there was a sudden, desperate urgency to going back to the gym, and Joel got used to watching me drop to the floor mid-conversation for impromptu push-ups and sit-ups.

With all of this experience, you’d think I’d spend my last night ashore curled up on the red couch with Cap’n J. We’d reflect on our winter together and talk about our hopes for the coming season, Bear the Boat Cat spilling across our combined laps. A very mindful, intentional way to embrace transition, honoring what’s been and welcoming what’s to come.  Instead, I spent Sunday night in the midst of this:

Bear the Boat Cat, seasoned crewmember, knows this drill.

Our living room piled high with boots, gloves and raingear (several seasons’ broken in and smelling like it, plus a new pair as back-up), I demonstrate a brand-name allegiance that you’d expect from an affluent high schooler: Carhartt, Grundens, Romeos, Xtra-Tufs. The Ziploc bag of toiletries bulges with Extra-Strength Advil, Tiger Balm, and Biofreeze deep heating gel.  A sleeping bag and pillow, mirrored with a small mountain of socks – there’s no luxury on a boat to equal a fresh, dry pair.  And to shore-up my dock cred, a collection of Ray Troll T-shirts and hoodies. Less typical of your average halibut deckhand: the separate backpack bulging with  notebooks, journals, writing manuals, and netbook.

Watching the backpacks and black plastic garbage bags stack up by the front door, I have a moment of gratitude for my vertically-challenged frame. “Personal space” on a boat is generally limited to one space only, and at 5’2″, I can cram plenty into the foot and head of my bunk and still have a welcoming nest.

Cap’n J drove us through a miserable deluge yesterday to deliver me to Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal.  For the next month, I’ve signed off from the Nerka, working with captain and partner Joel, to return to the good ship Charity, crewing for captain and “brother,” Martin.  The halibut are calling, so we’re in the mad scramble of tidying the Charity’s remaining loose ends.  I hope to have another opportunity to share our progress with you, sweet reader, before our Thursday send-off.  Meanwhile, Captain Marlin has appeared at the coffee house and the work day is ready to start – best fishes, friends, until next time.








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