Jon Tippit always said the Seward Small Boat Harbor was the Heart of Seward.
That you can tell when town is thriving, and even feel it’s energy by looking at the hustle and bustle of the tour boats, crews, and anglers. I like Jon, I worked for him one summer. I don’t think I did a very good job for him, but he put up with me long enough to make it through the season. He and his Capt. Phil taught me a lot (and tolerated me to boot) and as a result, I’ve always recommended them when we were booked up – they’ve got a really great outfit called Alaskan Summertime Charters.
You could go further into Jon’s musings and say that part of the peacefulness of the long winter is also attributed to the harbor. With the summer boats winterized in their slips or on the hard nearby, the fresh inches of snow makes them all look faultless in the dusk-like light of January. It reminds me of those paintings of troops besieged in some cold mountain pass, or watching a working horse put to bed; brushed, wrapped, and stabled after months of driving stock in the wild. It’s thrilling to me, to see all that potential bridled in one spot. A ticking time bomb.
The commercial fishermen keep the blood pumping through the Seward winter, bringing in Halibut, Pacific Cod, and Sablefish and more nearly year round to the local canneries and restaurants. In spring, Seward stretches and yawns alive, with Gray Whale Tours starting mid March to follow the migration, add Halibut & Rock fish, even King Salmon charters firing up in April for the sport fishermen. Kayaking companies load water taxi vessels to the Kenai Fjords National Park to explore Aialik and Northwestern Glaciers and start to break the soon to be well worn trails to Caines Head and Fort McGilvray.
Early Season crew training – Man overboard drills
For us down the road at Miller’s Landing, it’s the same, but different.
Being just outside of town on the Miller family homestead, spring is waiting for snow to melt, maintaining boat trailers, building picnic tables, bulldozing beach launches, scheduling vessel inspections, fixing cabins, plumbing, taking reservations, getting moorings set, maintaining heavy machinery: you name it. Located South of Seward we have no harbor, no defacto day to day neighborly camaraderie with other marine operators.
Launching the landing craft Michael A with my grandfathers front end loader
Sometimes I imagine them all across the pier from each other, comparing maintenance notes and fishing spots, helping each other spool reels and rig tackle, treating each other to quick lunches eaten dockside with poorly scrubbed filthy hands. It’s probably just a rosy fantasy borne from a need for a ton of help doing what has to be done. The grass is always greener I guess. The heartbeat of Miller’s Landing is definitely in our boats as well, and before you know it, that slumbering lumbering thump becomes that of a hummingbird.
Before you’re quite ready.
Every single time.
So many fish. Sooooo many fish.
The night before the first trip you go to sleep early, eager to wake up and finally get out there. You’ll get up and shower, your bag of tricks is full and you’re excited. You won’t realize it then, but it’ll end up the last time you get to sleep that early for the next 4 months. Everything becomes humorous. The job isn’t a job, it’s an addiction. It’s not work, it’s a definition of self. There’s no worldly reason to do any of this outside of a completely irrational, totally irresistible desire to do it. Fish. Kayak. Sight See. Nervous Tourists. Weather Forecasts. Logistics. High expectations. Maintenance.
I never make it to the gym.
It’s funny how you don’t think about these things when they’re happening, like you don’t remember how you felt in the middle of a foot race. You can remember starting, and finishing, but the events falling between those points are a questionable blur at best. Heart blasting away. 5am to midnight. Photos of tiny fish, giant fish, random pieces of engine you used your phone to see, and inevitably sea cucumber. Why the hell do you take a picture of every sea cucumber? I guess it’s like they say: “if you don’t stand for something…”
Sea Cucumbers are serious.
Food comes infrequently, you don’t see the wife, projects you thought you could do to the house do not get done. Your eyes burn, you drink too much coffee. Your hands swell to twice their normal size. You can’t pay someone enough to do your laundry for you, and when you get it back it smells worse than when you gave it away – that weird cross between fabric softener and halibut gurry. You eat though, your wife understands for the most part, in the end you’ll find someone to help you catch up with all that construction. Eventually people stop telling you you’re bleeding (I’m still not sure if it’s because they get tired of it or they’re not sure if it’s actually your blood). It’s your anniversary. It’s your best friends wedding.
That halibut had crabs.
There’s cripplingly gorgeous things everywhere. You get the front row seat to the best of everything. All the stuff nobody will believe, all those impulse driven reactive moments, all the things you can never quite photograph, you get them – you see them every day. You pick up on a ton of truly strange teeny empathetic moments. The crazy emotions of the clients as they catch their fish or see the whale or watch the ice. Little lifelong lists being checked off silently all day long. The kayak guides you couldn’t slap the smiles off of. The handshake and the back slap and the cheer after a big halibut comes aboard, the frenzy of catching salmon. The pouring rain and cold, coming in skunked, having the engine fail, a kayak capsizing, losing a big fish at the end of the day.
All these intense contrasting highs and lows, as often dead tired and weary as the polar opposite. That’s what so many of the important moments in your life seem to have been made up of. Maybe it’s moments like that that made you the kind of person your wife wanted to marry, the kind of person who was able to have the opportunities you had, experience the experiences you did. Maybe those whirlwinds of intense delirium, pain, joy, pride and disappointment made you… you.
But you can’t see those things when they’re happening. You can see them now that they’re about to happen maybe a little clearer, maybe with rosier glasses, but it’s clear: credit is due.
So, Thank You, I guess. Thank you now, for when I won’t be able to quite find the words later. Thank You for coming to my grandmother’s homestead at the end of the road. Thank you for helping me retire my folks, and keep this crazy business running for another generation, and most of all thank you for letting me do this.
Thank you for being my heartbeat.
Maybe Robert Service said it best – I think he said a lot of things best – but this time of year his poem “The Spell of the Yukon” keeps going through my head. I’ve memorized it, but I encourage you to read the whole thing, because he probably says all this better than I do. This is the last bit:
“… There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back—and I will.
They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite—
So me for the Yukon once more.
There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
Hope to see you all soon.
P.S. Screw it, here are some sweet sea cucumber pics:
Sea Cucumber boggles fishing client
Sea Cucumbers make it rain
Sea Cucumbers – always good traction
Sea Cucumbers lenjoy calm seas
Sea Cucumbers go for the throat if you smoke on the boat