Sometimes fishing is a dance, a state of complete oneness with the world, a kind of magic. In the midst of winter, my mind keeps looping back to one such day last summer.
It was June 21, a sunny day – more than 18 bright hours of it – and full of the excitement of Uganik bay’s annual solstice party potluck, where all of the 15 or so fishing sites gathered to share camaraderie and to take a little break from the daily grind of fishing. Since Tollef and I fish 6 miles away from each other at our own sites, we cherished the chance to be together, spending nearly the whole party with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders as we ate, drank, and chatted with friends. At about 11:00 pm our nets called to us, so with a kiss sweet on each other’s lips, we gathered our crew, got in our skiffs, and sped away from the little cove that was already shadowed by the mountain behind it and the coming brief night.
As soon as we rounded the point heading toward the middle of the bay, brilliance stopped us in our wake. The sun, melting into the snow covered peaks of the Katmai volcanoes 60 miles across the open waters of Shelikof Strait, had turned the entire undulating ocean into an orange-rose-gold sheet of silk. We stopped for photos, for awe. In the distance, Fin whales gracefully rose, breathed, and submerged in turn, hardly creating a ripple with their great elegance. Upon starting up again, a group of Dall porpoises raced over to us, playing in our wake. As they looked up at my delighted crew - Gillian and Lizza - peeking over the edge of the bow, it seemed to me that interspecies joy was being exchanged.
We skimmed over the gentle swell to our farthest net, about 7 miles from the party, as the sun continued its slow slide out of view. On a normal night, we would have been in bed by this time, but we had taken a long time away from the nets and wanted to check them one more time before sleep. We pulled the first section of web into the skiff and each of us had a few fish to pick out. As we kept going along the net, more and more wriggling salmon came up, surprising us, since it’s usually slow fishing at night. They seemed somehow different from our normal fish - extra voluptuous, lively, shimmery, almost like fairy tale fish come to grace our nets on this rich night.
Near the middle of the net, when the sun had fully set to my right, a light over my left shoulder caught the corner of my eye, and I turned to see an incandescent ripe moon rising behind the jagged peaks of inner Uganik Bay, its luminescence magnified by glassy water. Again, we paused in awe, our skin prickling and cooling from the gentle wild rose scented night breeze slipping off the mountains. After a few moments of simply breathing in and out, showered in the moon’s rays, the three of us wordlessly resumed our work, each doing her job in effortless harmony with the others.
In that liminal space-time between day and night, sun and moon, and between sky and ocean, our joints and limbs flowed effortlessly, easily matching the rise and fall of the ocean, and our minds were free to simply revel in beauty. That's the closest I have come to knowing magic.