Salmon Wakes

Today, I am tired.

It is our third week of 16-hour days. 7 days a week. Of ringing phones and constant emergencies, questions, endless paperwork, a crush of pressure to get it all done NOW.

And you know what? Compared to everyone else around here, I have it easy. The cannery workers have been working 16 hour shifts too- on their feet, with a break every 4 hours, in the cold wet stinky plant. The fishermen in the Naknek and Nushagak districts have been on a brutal schedule of 2-4 hours off between open periods. Just enough time to deliver, grab a snack, take a nap and then do it all over again. I sit at a desk in yoga pants and sandals and drink tea all day and take naps in my room on my lunch break.

Still, it’s 120 hours a week, and I’m tired.

The first boats came out of the water this afternoon. As I type this I can hear the growl of the boat hauler coming up the hill with the F/V Krisindy on its front. The boats will be put up on blocks in the boatyard, cleaned and winterized, to sit silently through the long dark months until we and the salmon arrive again with the spring. The fishermen have been calling and stopping by in a steady stream, to let us know they’re done for the season and get their advances. They all look tired too… wind and sunburnt, with pounds lost to the relentless endless push of fishing with no time for sleep or food, hollow-eyed and dirty. This year most everyone is leaving happy, at least… we are now at 10 million fish over forecast and the total catches were good.

Last night I sacrificed a few hours sleep to go down to the dock at low tide and have a drink with friends on the F/V Black Velvet. They were in for repairs and, due to a blown hydraulic hose, had made a mess of themselves and the boat- missing high tide and the chance to make it out of the river in the process. The water was at its lowest and the sun was setting as I climbed down… and down… and down the shaky ladder to where the boats rested on exposed muddy riverbed. We stood on the back deck and looked out at the center channel where a narrow pool of water lay awash in the purple and pinks of the reflected clouds. The water rippled gently on the surface and the fisherman pointed to one narrow wake and said, Look-there are salmon in the pool. I looked at the small wake, moving quickly upriver as the salmon tried in vain to make it up the river in too shallow water – beyond it the tundra and above it the sky and the river leading out to the bay and the boats all around us, the whole world a swirl of bright color reflecting off water and cloud so that, except for the line of bluffs cutting a horizon to the south, there was barely a separation between water and sky. The salmon wakes rippled in the water and everything was so big and alive and beautiful and I felt a swell of gratitude… common these days, even in my most exhausted or stressed moment, to look around and just think, Yes. This is the life that I want and it is the life that I have.

I looked up with that feeling tingling in every cell and next to me was my friend and we locked eyes and I felt in that moment that he felt it too. We smiled at each other and said nothing. Just smiled bigger, and bigger, as the colors swirled all around us and the salmon swam up the river towards home.

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