These women (of whom I am one) spend their summers in all different parts of Alaska, chasing, catching, smoking, freezing and feasting on salmon that are ocean-bright and headed upstream. It takes long winters of preparation to make sure the bunkhouses windows are replaced, the John Deere aftercoolers are cleaned, the canning supplies are crated up for the ferry trip, the nets are rehung and the new running lines are designed correctly. As spring approaches, as salmon once again run back towards shore and the preparations ramp up, tensions are high and patience runs short. As women, we sort our roles amidst the chaos and anticipation. Are we provider? Mother? Protector of children? Brave and impervious captain? Mechanic? Cook? Patient wife? Helper? Wielder of crescent wrench or reader of bedtime stories?
There is no manual for how to raise a family, be a wife, be a captain and hold down the fort in the most remote places in the world. In my life, the only guide I have had for how to live in these crazy salmon days are a group of women who have lived it before me. They are my mentors and my examples. Summer months are so busy that our only connection is a chance envelope arriving from a tender postmarked from False Pass with a hastily written update on how the salmon run is shaping up and how many bears have to be scared off every day. Sometimes there is a short call on a satellite phone, asking how to drain a fuel filter or if anyone knows of an extra crewmember. Our real times are in the winter, over long dinners, cold skis and warm cups of coffee. Stories are told, questions are asked; we marvel at each other. We learn how these wise women have maintained their relationships, managed their anxiety, and fixed their deck winches. How did they take care of two young babies and have successful seasons?