Montana Wolf

Thursday, August 26, 2010

We continued down Icy Strait bound for Hoonah, a Tlingit Indian village with a harbor and spic n'span facilities. Read: shower! We stopped along the way to fish and drop shrimp pots. Ron caught a shimmery silver salmon. As for the shrimp pots, they came up on the motorized pulley brim full. "The most I've ever gotten in one pull," he said. Followed by, "Not a word." Shrimp hot spots were guarded with a cloak of secrecy akin to mushrooming sites in the Lower-48. We grabbed the wiggling shrimp and tossed them into a 5-gallon bucket of salt water. Then Ron took his place on the back of the boat at a piece of plywood laid over the cooler and methodically cleaned and filleted the dark orange flesh of the salmon. Tiny silver scales dotted the deck like pieces of mica in the sun.

I steered the boat by now, and ran the motor that pulled the shrimp and crab pots. I was at the gears at the steering wheel when we dropped anchor and ever watchful for floating debris that could cause engine damage. I pulled in the raft that followed behind us and tied her up close with a nifty knot when we sat still to fish. Proud of that knot! Dang proud of all the progress! Capt. Ron was an unforgiving task master who had no patience for my reticence or confusion. At times he'd bark an order, referring to an object on the boat and I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. As in, "Grab me that gaff," as he was reeling in a fish with fight. Say what? I'd used the gaff; seen both of them on the deck and watched him hook a fish at boatside through the gills. I just didn't know what the sharp hook on the end of a pole was called. Gaff, indeed.

All this to say, my exasperation was excruciating at times. Exaggerated, no doubt, by my tender emotions, as I turned my head and broke into tears. Hard to have a man barking orders just a few months past divorce. Part of me felt it's good to have the structure and security; for sure to be with ultra-competent hands at sea. The other part of me wanted to jump overboard when I couldn't respond in my usual smooth, competent way. There was a huge learning curve out here; I was SO out of my element, balancing awe with survival. Overboard was sure death of course. Well, unless you figured on a Humpback Whale coming to the rescue. Which I did.

I climbed the ladder to the upper deck when I needed space. I gathered up my camera, notebook and pen and escaped into the writer's role of witness and communed with the likes of the marbled murrelets, small chunky seabirds that graced the sea in pairs. When separated, their loud peeps pierced the air. There they were, out there in the middle of nowhere, floating and diving in unison as the boat neared within a few feet. These little wonders lived in old growth forests of Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce up to 45 miles inland from shore. They laid one egg in a lichen nest, fed their chick herring and other small fish for about 40 days. Then, miraculously, the chick fledged and flew alone to the ocean. Here they were, gliding effortlessly upon glassy waters. The perfect little couples. I smiled...taunting me, perhaps?

We passed teensy Honnah Island and turned south towards the island town located on larger Chichagof Island. It was almost too much to take, a gargantuan cruise ship anchored off shore, boating their 1000's onto shore to partake of their private zip line, seaside bar and cafe. Around the bend was the picturesque, quiet harbor of Honnah. The most beautiful I'd seen. I immediately loved this place. Couldn't wait to jump onto the dock and make my way with Teak into town. Less than 1000 people, Honnah was about 2/3 Indian but Ron remembered when all but 3 people were Native.

I entered a fishing supply store looking for postcards. It was 7:00 p.m. and they were officially closed but the owner let me in. She told me of coming to Honnah from Connecticut with her new husband over 30 years ago. Such a big move to this isolated village, reached only by sea or air. She was thrilled to hear I was a writer and told me of her son traveling to Sitka years ago when James Michener was writing, Alaska. Her boy wanted to be a writer and spent the afternoon at JM's knee despite showing up unannounced. Had we been staying another day we would have shared dinner. As for me, I was basking in the this conversation with a woman and trying to get that cruise ship out of my mind. She told me only about 60 people from each ship make it into town. It's a couple mile hike.

I understood her settling into this place that means, "village by the cliff," in Tlingit. I had the feeling that I could do the same. I thought of those Murrelets flying many miles to sea to dive for sandeels, herring and shiner perch. Sometimes one must travel far for nourishment.

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