I’ve got a wee window in between fishing trips here in Alaska so figured it might be nice to give a report, if only to myself, on the state of my disunion.
So Dog and I left Oakland in the first week of June with the goal of making it to Alaska to fish, and finishing the final draft of the novel by August 15th. Deal is the book has to be in by then to keep the Fall 2015 release. I swear if someone had explained to me how nutty this how process was going to be…
So sublet the spot in Oakland, drove through the night up to Portland. What wonderful rest stops Oregon has! Cal worked well as a pillow. In Oregon stayed with an old friend from college, in a lavender-scented neighborhood with homemade ice cream and Thai restaurants that served authentic water buffalo. Then up to Bellingham, where I lucked into a housesitting gig on Lummi Bay. Right on the water, Cal was very happy with the beach walks and long sunsets. I had good time to dive into the rewrite and consider the main character’s interiority – this doesn’t come naturally – and also rewrite some sex scenes, which were too male-centric, surprise surprise. Fueled by triple espressos from my buddy Kyle’s Spartan Espresso coffee stand – yum. Then down to Seattle for another housesitting gig in Capitol Hill. Walks in Volunteer Park with Mr. Colorado, and the sun didn’t stop shining. Strangely enough, this made it easier to write. Maybe it was the knowledge that soon enough I’d not have any time. So there was a certain amount of urgency. The idyll ended and then it was to the airport with Dog, where he behaved so well. From my seat on the plane I could see him being loaded up, all shivering. And I felt very, very bad. He really doesn’t like flying. But I trust he knew it was for a greater good. And it was. Within hours he was tromping in the muskegs, happy as a clam. The tug was all rented so Rick and Darcie let me stay in their wee cabin, so sweet – some day I hope to build something similar for a writing studio. We had a couple days to acclimate, and visit the tug, which Jackie has transformed into an absolute wonder with her garden. Folks stop to take pictures of the stern. During the days getting the boat ready for the opener. Chaos in town – this was the largest king opener since the Pacific Salmon Treaty in 1985, so permit holders were in from all over, eager to get in on the action. We anchored up June 30th by Biorka, woke with the sun around 3 and the race for fish was on. Work from 3 AM until it got dark around 11 PM tidy the boat up until midnight dinner then back up at 3. There were 171,300 king salmon up for grabs, and Karl, my skipper, is about as fishy as they come. So we did pretty good. Part of my job was iceing fish in the hold, so I got to spend a fair amount of time with the kings, watched how they dimmed as the life drained out of them. What an honor to work with these fish, to be able to make a living this way. As usual Karl did everything twice as well and fast as I was able to do it, but I guess that comes with your 31st season of trolling. I did what I could to keep up, trying to run the gear smoothly, ignore the frozen fingers after working an hour in the fish hold. The body rebelled for a couple days but then it gave up and went along with it and then things were fine even if I couldn’t close my hands in the morning. Catching these rainbow-sheened torpedoes made it all okay. And the big ones were a thrill, how they lumbered out of the water, thrashing hard enough to torque your wrist around.
In the evenings we anchored up in a sweet cove off Kruzoff that might just be heaven on earth.
Also sometimes behind St. Lazaria off the volcano, where Jacques Cousteau once dove, as rumor has it. Sometime soon I hope to come back to these places when I’m not working, to hunt, or just set crab pots or a skate, and just hang. This land does not cease to unpleat itself, as if there are places that only come into view if you look, and stay long enough. A couple days into the fishery it blew up a bit, and that got yucky, huge rollers eclipsing neighboring boats. I was glad I didn’t bring Cal, who gets seasick and just lies down in the fo’c'sle, seeming to turn an extra shade of white. (In this one pic to the right you can see just the mast of another troller.) We did constant battle with sea lions, setting off seal bombs that go off like depth charges, and other preventive measures that put the seals in “training,” as folks like to say. We were also pursued by a shark at one point, who made short work of one of our salmon. And through it all I was trying to write, at least in my head. But that didn’t really happen until we sold our fish, and turned around to go back out for ling cod. We had a long run to the secret fishing grounds, so I got to take the wheel and get some editing done, which was nice, although my own book started to put me to sleep, which isn’t really the point on wheel-watch, and also not encouraging when it comes to holding the attention of others. So I had another sweet-and-salty and more coffee and then the book got interesting again.
We finally arrived at the offshore grounds, way offshore, and were killing it with ling cod, one after the other, when the Coast Guard decided to show up. They said they weren’t going to board, then circled us for half an hour in their drug enforcement cutter called the Nashon. Finally they did board, armed with semi-automatics, looking like orange stormtroopers. One was from Texas, apologetic, and seasick to the gills. He was a weapons specialist who had requested deployment to Bahrain so he could get war experience. Instead he ended up in Alaska, “policeing,” which didn’t really set well with his Texas philosophy, as he explained. It might have been a good cop bad cop routine because the other guy was scouring the boat for something wrong. And he finally found it – a chipped tooth on a survival suit. Which meant that our trip was cut short. The cutter accompanied us on the 9-hour ride home, not allowing us to anchor or sleep. It was weird, surreal, this multi-million dollar cutter on our ass for the trip home, making sure we got back to the “pier.”
But get back to the pier we did. Unloaded the ling for some good money. And this afternoon back out we go – the body is considering another rebellion, I can feel it, but that will be quelled. California softens one. Hopefully no more Coast Guard BS. And hopefully some more good writing time as we run.
At least I’ll have something mildly amusing to write about for the next novel. What?