When I was on my first trip to Alaska in 1974, I pulled my 1966 Ford Falcon window van of the SE ferry into a little waterside hamlet called Haines, where we bought some groceries and sandwiches for lunch. Now before I go on, please understand that up until that point, I was an Indiana-born-and-raised landlubber. I was infatuated with boats from an early age - particularly power boats. When I was 12, Dad took me to the north woods near Sioux Lookout, Ontario to fish for walleye and northern pike. When he asked me, "Wanna steer?" the 25-horse Evinrude, I was hooked. What was it Toad said in Wind in the Willows? "There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." That has been my philosophy ever since.
So back to Haines. I had heard of commercial fishing, but thought that enterprise died out with the steam engine. I had no idea of or connection to the rich history of the west coast commercial fisheries, and was stunned when after asking a local what all the rusty, beat-up looking boats were about, I was told,"That's the commercial fishing fleet." I had seen yachts and sailboats. Never had I seen work boats. I immediately began walking the docks looking for a job. Dressed in my farmer/hippie coveralls, camera over my shoulder and my shoulder-length red hair and scraggly beard advertising my political leanings, I never had a chance. Not one skipper looked at me twice. It was the first of two times Haines would turn me down for a job. More on that later. In my wanderings, though, I snapped a slide of Snuffy abandoned on the gravel beach near the harbor, a favorite of mine ever since.
Time moves fast when you're not paying attention. After that trip, I went back to the midwest for one more winter. I ended up moving to Kenai, Alaska in the summer of '75, after being offered the "possibility" of a job as a reading teacher in Haines over the phone if the person they offered the position to didn't take it. I was living in Lanesville, Indiana and working across the Ohio River in Louisville as a Special Ed. teacher at the time. The spot we were in was idyllic - a three-story farmhouse on 25 acres bordering a reservoir, with chickens, garden, the whole works. It was a tough decision, but I finally decided that I "couldn't not go," if the position was offered. It wasn't, but when Kenai called to offer a job three weeks later, the decision was clear. I was moving north. Just for a little while, to check it out.
I stayed 23 years. Divorced, remarried (it stuck this time), raised two kids, became a commercial fisherman, taught Special Ed, English, journalism, yearbook, photography, drama. Left. All in the blink of an eye.
Another two blinks and I'm here, in Olympia, retired, writing, still photographing, living on the periphery of the fishing industry, spending time remembering and writing about things like that day in Haines. Writing this blog. All this is to say, things change. Sometimes they change right in front of you, while you watch. Day-by-day Snuffy rotted, broke apart, maybe someone came and chainsawed off her cabin as a playhouse for their kids, the kids grew up and left, and one day the last plank slipped off the beach with the outgoing tide. You passed it each day, never noticing, or maybe every now and then wondering when it got to the point it was until it was gone, never thinking about it again until someone posted a photo on Facebook and you nodded your head, saying, "I knew that boat." And the twenty or thirty or fuck me, forty years that are behind you feel suddenly like they are sitting right there next to you, just out of reach.
Like this blog. It feels like an old friend I don't want to leave behind. But Gillet Dreams is just migrating to a new rendition. Fiberglass instead of a wood hull. Maybe I'll return and poke around here again. For now, look for me to write on Gillnet Dreams version two. If you're subscriber to this one, you can sign up on the RSS Feed to be notified of my posts and follow me over there. Or you can just follow me on FB or Twitter, and you'll be notified every time I post, which isn't really all that much (though I do sometimes challenge myself to a poem-a-day for a month). I look forward to seeing you on that new beach.