If remote means to be removed, and I looked it up, and it does, then that’s what I’ve been for the last three days. Luke and I went up to a cabin that you can only reach by boat, where the only things you hear are the rain on your slippery hood, the occasional buzz of a float plane, and your own conscience telling you, “that noise was definitely a bear….ok maybe not…but THAT noise was definitely a bear….are we being watched?”
This has been a week of small triumphs and one acute tragedy.
I am walking better.
Luke got me a pair of Extra-Tough boots, what everyone wears here, and now I feel like I can conquer this wet world. But only for 30 minutes at a time because then I have to sit down again.
I discovered the library in town which looks over the Sitka Sound, with dark islands popping out of the fog, Goonies-style, mysterious and many.
And a scientist who puts electrodes on dead fish to see why they died set me up with an office in the old fish hatchery and aquarium, where I have an oceanfront view but no heat, therefore no willpower to work there just yet.
It is colder here than I expected. Alas, my thyroid is weak, and my toes constantly knead themselves together for warmth under my new Toughies while the native children on the library ledge beguile me in their t-shirts and unaffected smiles. (I asked Luke if I’m racist for thinking, “There’s an Eskimo!” “Surely, there’s an Eskimo!” and he said, “No.” And pointed: "There’s an Eskimo.”)
And the Tragedy:
We went King Salmon fishing. I fought a hog for what felt like 30 minutes, but was probably 15, we got him up to the boat, he was gleaming, he was curved, angry, speckled, and writhing to get away, and I kept reeling, Luke brought the net down, and then the little shit thrashed just so into the rim of the net, unlatched the hook from his lip, and got away to a dismay that I can only understate in order to not outwrite our mutual misery.
I have never experienced a loss of this natural nature, but lets just say it lent legitimacy to the skill and stock that many people put into fishing. To say the very least, which seems fitting since we ended up not speaking about the event for about an hour, the triumph of this water beast was humbling. Luke thought he was going to puke, and later, I felt the same heartsickness when he told me it was probably a lifetime catch—a 50-plus pounder that would have put my equally dimensioned body and the shimmery carcass of my first (lost) king fish in the newspaper. Instead I have a bruise on my stomach where I had to leverage the heavy rod.
We continued on, in the cold—me, naively thinking we could catch the same swimmer if we remained in the same spot, and Luke, achingly determined to get any king on deck. I hooked another, probably a third of the size, and this time, a gaff was used to increase our certainty of this fish’s death. It felt good, in the way third place feels good, but the whole time you’re thinking about the deliciousness of first.
Stricken pride is a bitter dish. But when you eat the salmon here without regards to its inches, as we eventually did (briefly fried, then smoked in its own juices with a little olive oil and pepper), the taste is of an entirely different animal than the $30 a pound salmon the most discriminating of lower 49 eaters will pay for at Whole Foods. I like Alaska, and I love the fish, but I need to learn how to learn from being slow.