It’s mid-afternoon Mug-Up* on the 6th day of my tenth salmon season in Bristol Bay, Alaska. This morning we had partial blue skies and the cold sunny light of early June, but now the grey shrouded sky blends into the floodtide waters of the Naknek River and rain streams down the windows of the office. The weather here changes with an abruptness that mirrors the spirit of the place and the work we are here to do. There is no softness in Bristol Bay. It is all knife edge beauty and stark truth.
It is Sunday, early in the season before the fish have come, and this is my favorite time. The phones are quiet and we are all at our desks engrossed in the work of preparing for the season. The gloom outside and the rain on the windows creates a bubble of companionable busyness. Today is the first day that I feel *here* again. My whole self, present and engaged with this place, this work, not still half on the Outside. This is what I come here for. A total narrowing of focus. A concentration and surrender impossible in the land of TV, advertisements, cell phone apps, text messages, billboards and freeways. I am so grateful for my strange life in this place.
It has already been an interesting few days on a personal level. Lots of dearly loved people here whom I rarely see outside of Bristol Bay. There is an intimacy rooted in daily contact and the intensity of work that is different from relationships forged elsewhere. There is history going back years, and the attendant complications of history. The first few days were a little difficult to negotiate. In the middle of it, I found a note jotted on the back of a piece of scrap paper in my desk, written at some point last season. “Riding the swells and eddies of emotion. It’s ok to do that here. Bristol Bay can take it.”
She always does.
*”The term “Mug Up” was used in coastal communities by the mid-1800s to describe any snack or coffee break throughout the day or evening. “Mug ups” were an important part of life for fishermen. They would gather and have a hearty meal and warm up whenever they could take a break. Today, this nautical expression still describes a gathering of people for a drink and meal” Thanks, Urban Dictionary!