"What a beautiful day!"
An older man dressed in head to toe Helly Hansen rain gear and xtra tufs, the unofficial uniform for southeast Alaska, said with a smile as we passed on the dock. It was pouring rain, and it wasn’t meant to be ironic. I smiled. “Sure is.” There was no wind today, and a day without wind is a nice day when you're out on the water.
It was beautiful, sunny, flat calm, and amazing for most of our trip. The last day it rained and blew 25 from the Southeast, stirring up whitecaps, chop and salty spray. A good reminder of how lucky we were for most of the week, and how a rainy day can still be considered a beautiful day - if there isn’t any wind.
My Dad and I took a quick trip up to Craig, AK to go fish for our first time as non-residents. We flew into Ketchikan; I was born there but haven't been back in over a decade. From there we took a three hour ferry ride to Hollis where we were picked up by my Dad's friend, and the guy he had sold his wooden troller to (the Glory) when my parents moved south to Sequim. It's about an hour long drive across Prince of Whales Island to Craig where we’d be based for the next couple days - trying to fill our freezers with fish.
Its amazing, going back to where you are from. Its energizing, relaxing - like a long nap on a sunny day. Its a comforting feeling of being somewhere you already know and understand on an intimate level; an unspoken bond full of inside jokes and memories that spark slight smiles - you know it, and strangely, it somehow knows you - like an old friend, you pick up right where you left off, just like you had never been apart at all. Its hardwired in there and going back always stirs up something that is a part of me.
The heavy greens seem to pop in the dull, cloudy light that defines Southeast Alaska. Everything is alive there from the moss covered logs to the barnacle laden rocks. The weight of the dew always pulling low the branches of the trees and salmon berry bushes. It gives the sound a dullness as well. Things sound different there - muted, soft, always wet.
Every day we would wake up on the Glory at four am. I’d make breakfast on the oil stove - something with onions and eggs and coffee, and then make sandwiches for the day while my dad would prep the boat, tying leaders and rigging up flasher / hoochie combinations. We’d have conversation of where we were going to fish for the day. "Back to where we caught fish yesterday, or off to a new spot today?" " When and where are we going to be for the tide change?" "Should we load up on Coho first, or go in search of Kings?" "Spend the day fishing for halibut instead?" "Or, should we make a detour and catch some 'tacos'," what we were calling rock fish by the end of the trip. They do make excellent fish tacos…. So many options.
With the twin outboards whirring behind us, we’d shoot off to our destination, dodging sea otters, driftwood and big piles of bull kelp, to drop the gear and make our passes up and down the beach. “One more pass” one last time.
The slap of whales tales and the sound of their breath always beside us, sometimes surrounding us - eagles screaming to each other from across a bay. Life is absolutely alive there. It truly feels like a place where nature is still king. It doesn’t care about you or your problems. You are insignificant - you feel no superiority to nature. You are a part of something bigger. You are in a world that doesn't belong to you. It is wild.
If you ever are feeling that the world is a small place, go to Alaska.
Our trip was scheduled right in the busy time of work for me and I was hesitant to commit. It can be hard to look at a trip and not calculate in the cost of turning down work. Strangely, its much harder to calculate the cost of not having those memories. While it was only a week back in Alaska, it will probably always be a big part of my memory of home. I’m not sure how many trips back to Alaska I have left in my life - and I’m very glad to have taken this one with my Dad. The almost 300lb of fish we brought back was a nice bonus…