Night Wheelwatch on the Nerka

Dusk tames the ocean. Dims it to liq­uid mer­cury, a sil­ver sheet with yel­low threads peek­ing from the folds. My favorite kind of ocean. The hill­sides brack­et­ing this two-mile wide chan­nel have retreated, sac­ri­fic­ing sub­stance for allu­sion. Joy and relief rush my veins, a flood tide. We’re less than three hours from Alaska now. I lean for­ward in the pilot seat, as if that will push us along any faster.

Charg­ing ‘round the clock to reach Sitka as quickly as pos­si­ble, we’ve bro­ken the watches up like this: me on the wheel 9 pm to mid­night, Joel mid­night to 3, me 3 to 6. Joel has the hard­est shift, the three hours where full dark­ness reigns. Day­time allows sleep with­out clocks. We rotate through our bunk. In 45 min­utes, I’ll tuck myself into his body’s still-warm inden­ta­tion. For now, though, it’s up to me to keep us on course. To keep us safe. In his absence,

Joel’s trust is a pres­ence fill­ing the cabin.

The sun slipped past the hori­zon an hour ago. Lin­ger­ing echoes cast just enough light to deceive. Every wrin­kle in the water ahead is a log, a tele­phone pole about to slam fiber­glass, inches from my love’s sleep­ing head. I drop this pad to stand and stare, claim­ing reas­sur­ance through height. Then, now, still: it’s all water. I fall for the same ruse every sun­set, every sun­rise. Every season.

Even in the sun’s absence, I keep this notepad braced against my knees, gaze con­stantly flick­ing between radar, com­puter chart, and black water, deter­mined to write blind even though I’ll be able to deci­pher less than half of this tomor­row. I’m think­ing of you, how long it’s been since we talked, and the dif­fer­ent sort of dark­ness I wrote from then. How to sum­ma­rize the months between that page and this? To chart the path between hol­low and peak, includ­ing Joel’s reunion with the ocean and our reunion with each other when we leased a per­mit to spend May trolling for king salmon off the Wash­ing­ton Coast, fac­ing a gaunt­let of threats – crab pots, bar cross­ings, drift­ing among big ship traf­fic – com­pletely beyond our Alaskan experience?

A daunt­ing task, and a tedious one at that. I’d rather think about friend­ship. About how, if a per­son is really lucky, they’ve got that one per­son who, no mat­ter how much time passes between vis­its, they can always pick up exactly where they left off, falling right back into each other’s com­pany with ease and com­fort. That’s the kind of friend I hope to be, and it’s the friend I imag­ine you as, too. Rather than apol­o­giz­ing for Hooked’s long silence or strug­gling to fill it, I just want to smile at you, reach across this dark ocean, and squeeze your hand. It’s so good to see you again.

There is, how­ever, one thing that needs to be said.
One week before we untied the lines to head north, I tapped the “send” but­ton. One full draft — 406 pages — off to my fear­less edi­tor Sarah. The last three chap­ters are sloppy, more ques­tion than solid nar­ra­tive. It needs a lot of help, but it’s some­thing, and Sarah gave me her bless­ing to go fish­ing and not think about it for the time being. (Actu­ally, she said, “Go do some­thing friv­o­lous to cel­e­brate!” Friv­o­lous doesn’t come easy to me, but a cel­e­bra­tory Martinelli’s with my writ­ing buddy Pam Hel­berg was pretty good.) I can’t tell you how much higher my shoul­ders are sit­ting, hav­ing handed the wheel over to Sarah.

Writ­ing a book is often com­pared to preg­nancy. Car­ry­ing the story to term, the labor, strain­ing to birth this being that will live on inde­pen­dent of you. It’s an obvi­ous metaphor (and one my sub­con­scious fully embraced last win­ter, when this devoted non-breeder dreamed of a crown­ing baby that I didn’t know how to expel from my body.) Tonight, though, I’m think­ing that writ­ing a book is like dri­ving a boat up the Inside Pas­sage, trav­el­ing non-stop from Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton, to Sitka, Alaska, through dark water and twist­ing chan­nels, sleep depri­va­tion and unfore­seen haz­ards. A per­son can’t do it alone. I’m grate­ful to every­one who’s been here for the ride, includ­ing Joel, who fielded two full win­ters of solo boat work, too much time apart, and more pep talks than any­one should have to issue, and you. Thank you for under­stand­ing when I needed to step away from this site, for send­ing your cards of encour­age­ment, anony­mous choco­late, and best writ­ing wishes. As much of this jour­ney still lies ahead, I trust we’ll reach our des­ti­na­tion. Safely. Together.

Eleven fifty now, almost my bed­time. When you read this, I’ll be post­ing from Alaska. Alaskan trollers have a record king salmon quota this year – 325,000 fish, the largest quota since abundance-based man­age­ment began in the late 1990’s. Trans­lated, that means there’s a lot of king salmon around. Joel and I will be ghosts on the dock as soon as the sea­son starts on July 1, push­ing our­selves to make the most of this oppor­tu­nity, town time lim­ited to unload­ing, refu­el­ing, gro­cery­ing, rush­ing right back out. Turn and burns.

I’ve got a smart­phone that I’m far too tech-inept for, and while blog posts on that tiny key­pad are beyond the lim­its of my patience, swollen fin­gers, and rare ser­vice pock­ets, I’ll post pho­tos from our trips on Face­book and Twit­ter. No bound­aries on a pen, though. If you’d like to find an old-school enve­lope or Alaskan post­card smil­ing up from your mail­box, don’t hes­i­tate to send a note. I’ll be at this address through mid-September:

Tele Aad­sen
507 Katlian St
Sitka, AK 99835

Until next time, whether we reunite by screen or by page, I’m so glad to see you again. (Smile; squeeze.)

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