The Push and Pull
Feeling the vigor returning to our arms, shoulders and backs, even with this year’s relatively mellow start to the season, is gratifying. Since our spring was filled with welding and hanging nets, with only a bit of swimming in the cold ocean and hiking to invigorate us, we came into the season in less than ideal shape. With the renewed animation fishing brings to our bodies comes a sense that we can once again handle all the duties coming as the summer deepens, the hordes of humpies (our local name for pink salmon) hopefully fill our nets, and the next big storm blows over our island.
Depending on currents, wind, and weather stretching the lines tight and making the boat harder to control, or large amounts of fish to joyfully pick out of the net as fast as we can, our fishing workouts vary tremendously throughout the summer. Our latest exercise session has been dealing with vast rafts of bull kelp that float into our nets with the 21-foot tides. Rolling the kelp out of the web, chopping it up with rusty machetes, and slinging its yards long fronds out of the boat keeps us energized and strong. The work begets feeling in our arms and shoulders in a satisfactory way, but at night our hands can talk of tingling or become numb like wood as swelling constricts our blood vessels. It is this very type of experience we are seeking, knowing that it is tangible, and therefore meaningful.
It's the push and pull of the dynamics of nature that literally forms us. One could call the struggle to fish a pain in the ass and not "easy," but dealing with the challenges and feeling that we have done something concrete with our bodies is precisely why we enjoy it. Out here on the edge of civilization we choose not only to fish to enjoy a commercial bonus to our lives but also to live through the seasons and be in close touch with something more potent than we are.
Our coastline weaves with wind and sea to create a swirling beauty, one that varies day to day, hour by hour. Low cloudy accumulation flows over the terrain, heavy with almost tropical moisture, painting the plants in a living gauze of silvery light. The addition of twenty hours of daylight sends our vegetation into extreme growth mode, pushing the grasses over head height. The real eye candy is the fields or whole mountainsides blooming into magenta carpets of fireweed, juxtaposed on the lush multitude of greens. Further out on the wind-blasted edges of bluffs and cliffs the lupines stand straight up with purple bell-like flowers, trading nectar and pollen with the bumblebees. And for our olfactory sense, the favorite smell of the summer is the wild roses, bar none; they truly perfume the air, calling us to stop and smell the delicate pink roses.
The other half of our view is, of course, the ocean, which also teems with life. Seagulls and kittiwakes ball up and dive in a frenzy on schools of little bait fish, and very recently we’ve seen pods of killer whales moving on and humpback whales jumping and smacking their tails. There are fat, 12-pound plus chum (aka “dog”) salmon to pick, which were historically fed to sled dogs as fuel but are now prized for their roe around the world and for making healthy shelf stable kibble for pets. The first of what we consider to be “fall” fish – the prized silver salmon – are just beginning to hit our nets. And as the season deepens and darkens, sparks of bioluminescence twinkle on lines and in our wake to remind us of the mysterious bounty of life below the surface.
Each season has its own trademarks and coats the land wears, cueing us to think and act without complacency, to figure things out for ourselves, and to use our brains and hearts to open up to the great magical world around us. Feeling our bodies and souls mirror the dance of our island’s rich summer life makes us grateful to be exactly where we are, doing exactly what we are doing. As we chat with our fishing friends two and three or more decades older than we are, we all agree that, though this fishing life can be taxing on our bodies, it's a powerfully satisfying existence.