Peak fishing season has come. During this middle part of the summer, pink salmon seem to fill the ocean, swimming thickly and jumping in joyful spurts all over our bay. We go to pick our nets, wondering how many thousands of these small, lively salmon we will catch and pick by hand each day. Pinks make up the bulk of our volume, and are sold directly to the cannery for use in canned, smoked, and pouched products.
We know it’s peak fishing time when we wake with wooden and useless hands, made into claws from pulling fish out of the net for 16 hours a day. And when we start thinking of all the words that rhyme with “humpy” – the common name for pink salmon. And when we start worrying about how many fish we have in our skiff before we can offload them. And when we can finish each other’s sentences or go for hours without speaking, simply working side by side.
Our world seems to go into a flurry of life and richness at this time of year, too. Swirls of white kittiwakes form and spiral and settle back to land on our beach, and brilliant fireweed blooms into fields of magenta while pushkie turns yellow. The light is crisper, and at night we finally have enough darkness to enjoy the full moon and look for shooting stars.
A long hard day of fishing has finished, leaving us with the usual sore tendons and swollen hands. Our arms and fingers twitch and dance on the covers as we fall asleep, and our dreams are full of pulling; pulling on lines, pulling the nets, pulling fish. Our minds, unable to shut off the all consuming, strenuous work of fishing, cause us to pull our sheets and sleeping bags, flailing our arms during sleep.
We tell our crew this is “humpy madness.”
Tonight, everyone in camp is giving thanks for soft beds, resting their weary bodies for a few hours, breathing slowing into REM cycles. And they are missing out. One more duty calls. The refrigeration system needs to be shut down, having chilled its load of thousands of pounds of pink salmon. There’s no need to waste the diesel, so I pull myself out to the skiff via the dinghy. It's calm and quiet, but I have company. A seal faithfully follows along, curious and sleek, while bats flit and dive overhead, sometimes closer than expected. Their mostly unseen lives, set against the failing light in the western sky, highlight the unique beauty of Kodiak’s ecosystem.
My hands and upper body are talking to me about the damp line; my sinews are complaining about the overtime today, this season, and past seasons all stacked up. But for these moments, the bats, the seal, and I are simply in the night together, acknowledging each other. It’s good enough for me.