I feel suffocated. By air. As I jump into the void that is anything but, the wind blasts my body. It fills my nose and mouth making it a minor struggle to breathe. I crane my head back. It helps but little. Breathing has switched from a passive to an active process and I find myself concentrating to fill my lungs. I have to breathe with purpose.
As I fall, the chute catches and the world goes from a rushing tumult to silence. Suddenly I can inhale with ease and I look down at the splendid earth and laugh. It is the only appropriate response.
People ask why I wanted to go skydiving. I have no good answer. It’s difficult to describe the experience; the noise and the quiet, the rushing wind and the stillness. So many emotions and sensations wrapped up in a single event. But now I realize, maybe having to breathe with purpose is a lesson for more than just the freefall. Maybe it’s the takeaway lesson for life.
“Folklore says that every seventh wave is bigger than the previous six, and there is some statistical evidence to back this up.” Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities.
It’s a lumpy sea on the flood and the day brought all the troubles that come with twenty foot tides in Cook Inlet. If the force of the wind increases by the square of its speed, well then, by my careful calculations, we are screwed. We have two choices, to go or to stay.
Maritime wisdom suggests keeping a thumb’s width from danger as measured on a nautical chart. If only it were that easy. With no protected port, a sou’wester is a double-edged sword. It often brings bounty. It always brings hardship. It can push the run inshore, but we have to launch straight into the storm to reap the reward. It doesn’t matter whose thumb is used for the measure, today we are well within a digit of danger.
This season we are shorthanded but making the best of it. Stormy days, we feel it most. With our pared down crew, we decide to launch. John drops the skiff in the surf, but before he can park Allis and the trailer, we are blown off the pullout line. I can’t recall the last time we had a failure to launch.
We start over. Trailer the skiff. Bring it back to the line. This time my cousin’s crew helps us hold steady in the surf waiting for the flat spot. I don’t count to see if it comes after the seventh wave. Folklore can’t help us now.
We hop in and pull our little skiff into the froth. Waves break over the bow, soaking us before the outboard is even running, but we manage to get off the beach.
Sou’westers always bring hardship. It’s time to see if this one brings a bounty.
It’s winter in the Great Land and the days are dwarfed by nights
The skies are lit by dancing, crackling Northern Lights
The river ice is snapping like beasts bustin’ through the timber
The cold cuts through my joints, they are much more stiff than limber
The fluttering aurora catch stars in a mesh of green
My thoughts start to wander as I survey the scene
The longer days of summer now compose my dreams
With visions of the sockeye’s return to natal streams
Nets flung across the water like these lights across this sky
Salmon hang like stars, flashing silver sides
The days are getting longer and soon I will be
Out there on the Inlet, rocking on the sea
But it’s still winter in the Great Land and the days are dwarfed by nights
Tho the skies are lit by dancing, crackling Northern Lights
There are moments
Moments of darkness
Maybe the contrast between the two makes them more apparent
Makes these moments, good and bad, touch our hearts more deeply
Like the wildfire burning uncontrolled which, in spite of the harsh flames and smoke, adds softened hues to the sunset
Beauty from ashes
I have been on this water every year of my life
Yet times I feel I’ve not been on this Inlet at all
The conditions are never exactly the same
I am never exactly the same
What’s that saying
No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. *
There are moments when I feel I am living the truth of that statement
No matter our catch
No matter our price
No matter our bottom line
I am wealthy beyond measure
Because of these moments
It’s 3 am. Our first overnight in years. Gone are the times when openers were measured in days; now they are meted out in hours.
The water is calm and glassy with a little leftover swell. Not a problem, just a reminder of the sou’wester that blew through.
We gently motor to the gear, careful to avoid nets and cork clusters between camp and our locations. The sun has set, but no one told the northern sky. There is still light. Faint, but enough to find the way without a spotlight. Or maybe day is already dawning — it’s hard to tell in Alaska this time of year.
The full moon shimmers on the water off our stern. As we pick the gear the moon descends, turns the color of a sectioned grapefruit or blood orange, then disappears.
By the time we head back to camp to deliver our catch, day has clearly dawned. A beautiful transition, worth the lack of sleep. Gotta love the night tide.