Hangin’ It Up

I want to thank each of you for your visits to this blog during the past week. It was fun monitoring the viewing statistics, and I appreciate the comments left here and the ones sent to me via e-mail.

On February 13 (my sister Cassandra’s birthday–I won’t mention her age), a new viewing record was set for Highliners and Homecomings. But then, on February 18th, that record was broken.

I am grateful.

To be honest, it’s been hard deciding how to follow it up. When you sum up one of your life’s greatest tragedies in roughly 1000 words, it’s hard to know where to go from there.

The sun shined bright today. I felt younger and freer this afternoon than I have since….uh…2002? I went to the gym, got the car washed, sang along with Tim McGraw when “Where the Green Grass Grows” played on the radio, and just enjoyed the moment. I felt like I was 21 again. Of course, I’m not 21. I’m not 25. I’m not even 30. Heck, my younger sister isn’t even 30. Where does the time go?

George was home for a couple of days this week, but left yesterday to return to Westport and the boat. While he was home we intended to get a lot of projects done: make a Goodwill delivery, create a room for 6-month-old Vincent, buy new filing cabinets, make a Costco run.

We didn’t get even a quarter of it done. While I had the Lists-and-Nagging Department completely covered, we came up a little short in the Energy Department. George was sick, as well as tired and worn out. I can’t blame him.

The good news is that there’s light at the end of the Dungeness Crab Season Tunnel: George has given me the go-ahead to start making our spring break plans.

He’s had a great season. The crew is well, the boat is well, and it’s just a good time to hang it up. Of course, we don’t know exactly when they’ll haul their last pot, but we know it will be soon.

Although the Dungeness crab season can continue for several more months, the skipper generally knows when it’s time for his part in it to end.

Even if he’s had a good run thus far, things can quickly change. The price of crab can come down while the cost of fuel goes up. He can lose gear or have crab stolen right out of the pot by renegade boats that move unseen during the night. Suddenly, instead of going out on a high note, he loses his edge and ends up going backwards or sideways on it all, which he does not want to do.

In an unrelated note, my car was broken into this week. We live in a nice neighborhood, but I guess when (ahem, George) you leave the car unlocked, things are bound to happen. I lost my gym MP3 player and sports headphones, as well as cash from a not-so-secret compartment. Apparently, the thieves were not country fans: I was relieved to find Toby Keith and Josh Turner still tucked safely away inside my cd case. And, fortunately for Eva, Raffi is still secure inside her Bumble Bee case.

Never a dull moment, right?


Commercial Fishing Job Risks: Stats and a Story

The following are some statistics that were included in a USA Today article about the job risks that face commercial fishermen:

  • About 152 of every 100,000 fishermen are killed on the job, according to the latest statistics of the U.S. Labor Department. That’s the highest fatality rate of any occupation, including the rate of loggers, miners, firefighters and police officers.
  • According to a USA Today analysis, an average of one fisherman has died each week in the last four years.
  • Most fishermen killed on the job drown or succumb to hypothermia in the water after a boat sinks or capsizes, or after they fall overboard.
  • Falls overboard may result from a wave, a misstep, a slippery boat deck, or entanglement in fishing equipment.
  • Alaska’s waters are the most deadly, followed by the Gulf of Mexico and waters outside the Northeast.
  • Gloucester, Mass., has lost more than 1,100 fishermen since 1900.

A USA Today analysis of Coast Guard statistics revealed that from 1996 to December 2002, 460 fishermen were killed.

I knew one of those 460 fishermen.

Because I think you would’ve liked to have known him too, I’ve written a short story about him just for this Blog.

I wrote the story as well to honor the anniversary of a date, February 17.

Sadly, it’s not the kind of anniversary one celebrates with flowers and dinner at a restaurant down at the harbor. It’s the kind one observes with flowers and a visit to the Fishermen’s Memorial Anchor down at the harbor.

You may read the story by clicking on the new page, “‘I Read It, Brother’ — Tribute to a Fisherman Lost at Sea,”  here at Highliners and Homecomings.


Fisher Poets Festival in Astoria February 22-24, 2008

The 11th Annual Gathering of the Fisher Poets will be held in Astoria, Oregon, on February 22-24. For a schedule and a map, please click on the above link. You’ll also find a list of readers, a description of all the workshops, and the list of venues. The organizers have added a fourth venue this year, which gives the impression that the gathering is gearing up to be bigger and better than ever.

The commercial fishing industry is unique in that it is especially full of talented writers, poets, and musicians. I’m trying to keep this post short, so I won’t go into my theory as to why that is. Needless to say, about 70 people with ties to the industry will be presenting orginal poems, stories, and songs over the weekend. In addition, there will be a variety of workshops (ranging from boat and cannery tours to songwriting), a story circle, and a live auction. Fisher Poets gear and memorabilia will be available for purchase.

In addition to the exciting news that special guest Ray Troll will be in attendance, I was happy to read that some longtime participants have stepped aside to allow more newcomers time to read their work.  I did notice a few missing names from the roster as I scanned the schedule, and I imagine this explains why.

I won’t have the pleasure of attending the Festival this year (I’m fairly certain that 2-year olds and infants aren’t allowed inside the VooDoo Lounge), but I have a word of advice for first-time attenders: Bring your friends!

Fisher Poets venues fill quickly and one can feel lost and overwhelmed if not anchored to a group of one’s own. Tables become crowded with friends and comrades that meet year after year, and it can get quite clique-oriented. One year I actually watched one well-known individual get up from his table to leave early because he felt overwhelmed by it all.

Each year has been different for me; I’ve shown up and had lunch with locals, hustled up writing jobs, chatted with friends of my dad’s, participated in workshops, and caught up with fishing friends from my summers in Southeast Alaska. I’ve also ended my participation early and hurried to cross the bridge out of Astoria to meet up with friends in Long Beach instead.

I’d go every year if I could, though. Anytime you have the opportunity, you have got to support the industry and celebrate the art and culture that comes from within. You can see your old friends, or you can meet new ones.  

If you attend the Festival this year, have a great time and let us know how it was.

Possible Technical Difficulties Viewing Crab Pics

I’ve heard that there have been some problems viewing the pics, so I’m trying it again. It’s weird; sometimes the links work, and sometimes they don’t. Sorry for the hassle!

Setting Gear

Bryan, Brett, and a Container Ship

Hauling Pots

Brett, Brian, and Bryan

Mama Knows Best

The role of wife and mother in a commercial fishing family is not easy. It consists largely of trying to maintain a delicate balance of activity and rest for herself and her children, and adhering to as consistent a routine as possible in the midst of the coming, going, and reshuffling that accompanies the life. Conserving energy is a must, because these seasons are long.

I love it when George comes home. I look forward to eating something good for dinner on those nights, and I savor the easy mornings that follow. I ask George for the latest on the pounds, price, and crew. I ask if he has read my blog and roll my eyes when he says, “I’d love to, hon, I just haven’t had the chance.” Of course, I know he hasn’t had the chance. I like to roll my eyes, so I ask anyway.

When you’re the sometimes-single mother of a six-month old baby and a two-year old toddler, you face special challenges. To begin with, you’ve got two cribs, two changing tables, two sizes of diapers, and four car seats (two for the car and two for the truck).

You exclusively nurse the infant for his first six months in part because the merest suggestion of bringing out a bottle causes so much distress on the part of the toddler it just hardly seems worth it. When you start your baby on solids, you make two servings as a matter of course because your toddler insists upon eating a bowl of rice cereal right along with him.

At bedtime, you lie the infant down in his crib and shut the door. He happily drifts off into dreamland. You walk back into the living room to discover your toddler lying on top of the boppy—the boppy that not even the baby uses anymore. She’s covered herself with an infant blanket and inserted a stray pacifier into her mouth. (Never mind that she never used a pacifier herself, even as a baby, until the day her brother was born.) She hands you the book she wants you to read: I’m a Big Sister.

“Baby, baby!” she says as she points to her chest, with such urgency in her voice, such hope in her huge blue eyes.

“Yes,” you say, as your heart cracks a little. “Mommy is so lucky. She has two babies! A big-girl baby, and a little-boy baby.”

You reassure yourself with the knowledge that your toddler has learned so many new words: boat, up, tickle, spider, ride, crab, nose, puppy. She loves to dance and clap with you when you practice your Jazzercise routines, and she fills every bouncy seat, jump up, swing, and carrier in the house with her own “babies.”

Nevertheless, you’re pretty worn out when you receive an invitation to a baby shower for the newborn son of a dear friend. It’s her second baby. It’s scheduled for 6 pm on a Friday night. You don’t have a babysitter, because your husband is gone crabbing, and your parents are at the Coast. The hour of the party is also dinnertime and bedtime for your babies, and they both have coughs and runny noses.

“I’m too exhausted to go,” I say to my mom.

“That’s right,” she says. “You can’t make it.”

I fill her in on the latest at my hobby-job, teaching Jazzercise, which suddenly feels like more job than hobby.

“That’s right,” she says. “It’s too much.”

It’s why I love my mom. She is the wife of a fisherman and the mother of three girls, each three years apart. Although she’s just under 5’2″, she is the most capable, strong, dependable, and stubborn lady I know, with a Puritan work ethic.

When she says it’s too much, it’s too much.

I don’t have to explain or feel bad or make excuses. She understands.

Dungeness Crab Picture #4

Setting Gear

Dungeness Crab Picture #3

Bryan, Brett, and a Container Ship

This container ship was headed to the Columbia River.

Dungeness Crab Picture #2

Hauling Pots

Dungeness Crab Picture #1

Brett, Brian, and Bryan 

I want to thank Brett for sending me a disc containing 131 of some of the best commercial fishing boat and crew pictures I’ve seen.

I’m going to post them here at Highliners and Homecomings little by little.

(I’m glad somebody on this photogenic crew snaps pictures; otherwise, the rest of us would never know how much fun you’re all having.)


Thanks again, Brett!

A Bar Story (Nothing Else for Them to Do)

One week ago, I wrote a post called “Links to Stories about Dungeness Crab Boats in Peril,” in which I included links to stories about two different boats that had run into serious trouble at sea outside of Westport.

I also mentioned that one of George’s crewmembers had seen and heard members of the crew of one of the boats shortly after their rescue, and that I hoped to get his story.

I am pleased to inform you that (after prying him away from his very beautiful and pregnant wife for a few minutes on a recent break) I now have that story.

One must keep in mind, however, that after any unexpected event, it is natural for multiple interpretations and recollections to follow. For example, five people could watch one event, and there would be five separate and vastly different accounts of that one event. 

My witness was inside a bar in Westport one night about 9:00. The following is his account—simply that of a bystander— of what he saw and heard. Neither one of us is claiming that it is exact.

“Well,” he begins, “I was over playing pool when this lady came into the bar screaming. She came screaming into the bar like bloody murder, ‘The boat’s sinking! We need some help!’   

“It was my understanding that she came right off the boat. She was soaking wet. Fresh-out-of-the-water wet. Half of the bar just sat there not knowing if this was just a crazy lady, or what was really going on.  Apparently, they had been swimming in the water. She was soaking wet as though she had swam to shore really quick.

“There was some confusion at first as to whether their boat sank at the dock or on the jetty. It became clear the boat sank out on the bar.  Anyway, she ran straight inside to the bar, and then a bunch of people left with her.

“Meanwhile, I was still playing pool when six cops burst through the front door: a State trooper, a few Westport cops, a sheriff.  I thought they were coming for the smokers, as this is a bar that still lets you smoke inside.

(Note:  In the State of Washington, you cannot smoke inside of or within 25 feet of any public building.)

“They blew right by me, though,” he continued, “And tackled a Mexican guy who, I guess, was wanted out of Arizona on a $20,000 warrant. Apparently he had been hiding in Westport, working at a cannery. ‘I love you, Baby!’ he called out to someone at the bar as he was hauled off.

“The craziest thing though,” my witness said, “Was that nobody at the bar missed a beat. Nobody even looked up.  It was like this happened every day.

“About an hour later, everyone who went to help the sinking boat came back in and they were all soaking wet.  I believe they went straight to the bar and bought a round of drinks. At least, that is what I heard. I lost track of it all after the incident with the cops, so this is now just a bar story.  I didn’t hear anything more about it after that.”

“They were buying drinks?” I asked.

“Well, there was nothing else for them to do,” he replied.  

Fair enough.

I asked the witness then if he was ever nervous or even scared while at sea. He responded by telling me a story about an especially wild (“odd,” was his word) storm in Alaska that he experienced during the halibut-and-blackcod season last spring.

“But,” he said, “I never have felt unsafe. I’ve thought about it a million times, what the scenario would be like. But I’ve never felt unsafe. I’ve just thought about what I’d do.”

“And what would you do?” I asked.

“I’d haul over to my survival suit and grab the EPIRB. They’d have to pry it from my hands,” he answered.