Behind the Masaredos
by Mike Florian
It’s easy to become a cynic at a time like this, when the weight of the world and the way of the world is against you, when you’re tired of the fight. When all you want to do is go with the wind. You know you have to drag yourself up, again and again, just show up every morning. That’s what does it. Just show up and give it your all. It’s so wearing. You become despondent, fatigued, a coward. You don’t want to go back into the ring. All you need is a couple of days to rest, to sleep, to loll around, to walk the streets with ease and look forward to doing nothing.
But instead you’re sitting on the floor of the engine room, eleven o’clock in the morning, when you’ve missed the good part of the day and you have only the afternoon and the setting sun to look forward to and the sadness gets amplified. You’ve spent the days trying to get the motor running so you can get out there and catch a few fish, enough to make a payment, enough to feed the family. You think of all the other things you want to be doing but know you can’t. Not because you’re not able, but because you don’t have the education, you don’t fit in, you don’t have the connections. You’re from the other side of town. You know you’re smart and you know you’re hungry but they won’t give you a chance.
So you stay here, in the lee of the island, and monkey-wrench the bolts and undo the manifold and adjust the injectors and get your knuckles skinned and look at the clock and see that you’ve missed slack water time and time again. You think of what got you here and where else you’d rather be. You think of your old man and his old man and all the rest in town that made you a fisherman not by choice but by circumstance.
You get bitter and twisted that they didn’t show you another way. That this was the way it is, and you curse as you slice a finger and curse even more when you see a missing tooth on an oily gear plate. You put everything back just so and you pray that the power take-off stays working a few more days so you can go see the boys as you promised. You pick yourself up, off of the red-grated floor of the engine room, push the starter button and the engine roars to life.
You forget all the thoughts of past and future and you head up into the wheelhouse, haul the anchor and steer the boat out of the harbor, out past the Masaredos islands, around the point and into the wind. You stand behind the wheel gripping the spokes and you buck the ten-hour sail along this northern coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, the fury against your forty-five foot boat abating. With no one else aboard this May afternoon you put it on automatic pilot and think.
You think about where you want to be. You think about the work, the sleep-robbing fishing and the prices paid back in town. You think about the previous winter when all of you were sitting around at the Sons of Norway hall and telling it like it is. Like when Pacific Coastal grades your catch down so it’s worthless, how they tell you that by the time it gets to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, places you’ve heard of but never seen, by the time it gets there it isn’t worth the money you got paid and it might come off your next settlement.
You talk your winter’s tales at the coffee shops and in the galleys. You talk about how you’re going to get those guys, the ones that sit in the big houses and complain about not getting anything for the fish and still drive a fancier car than you. You talk about how they eat at the Crest Hotel and how you eat at Amy Wong’s takeout. How on a summer day when you walk with your family down Third Avenue your face and forearms are as dark as the sun can make them and your forehead as white as a working man and how they, the buyers and purveyors of the finest fish on the coast, walk down the same avenue all tanned and lean from working out at the local gym. You talk of how you’re going to fix them and fix them good — except you’re not exactly sure how but you’re sure a time will come, and soon. You talk and talk and the boys listen and rally.
You talk at Thanksgiving and at the crowded table you don’t thank the Lord but you thank all the boys for bringing home the bacon, for doing what’s right, for not running to town when the days are pitiful and slow, for staying on the grounds and hoping the next tide will bring in the fish. You briefly name the men that didn’t come back this year. You don’t pray to God but you pray the widows and kids survive as they best they can.
You talk at Christmas when you give your kids a tool from the tool chest or a doll from Ollie’s wife who makes them. And finally you talk in February when the sky is clear and the snow crunches underfoot as you make your way onto the deck of your Hilda to make sure the stove is still on and dissipating the frost. You turn the fan to the six-setting and crank up the heat, and the first of the boys arrives and then the second and the third until a bunch of you are squeezed into the wheelhouse and galley.
All gets quiet save for the lapping of the waves against the hull and the whirring of the stove fan and you open your mouth to speak. You speak to these boys, these men of the sea, these men that are as honest as anyone, as hard-working as anyone and as hungry as you. These are the men that want to make it better, to make it fair. These men don’t need fancy cars or trips to Hawaii, they just want a fair share and have decided they will do something about it, these men.
So you start, slowly at first, but then the adrenalin kicks in and the passion comes out. You tell them that what you need is foremost and first, that what you need and they need is to stick together. You remind them that they are the best there is on the coast. You tell them that without them, them who catch eighty per cent of the fish, the buyers wouldn’t exist.
You remind the boys that without them the buyers would have the bottom of the barrel to sell, the pinks and the wormy coho. You remind them that it’s their spring salmon that sell the other fish, the ling, the cod, the sole, the hake, the rockfish. You tell them they are the leaders and not the followers. We are all young, you tell them, young and smart and that we can change things.
You finish the talk and shake hands with all of them, with Ollie and Sven and Jack and Sverre, all of them. You feel good and you go home to Mary and you tell her how it went and how the boys trust you and they look to you to make the next move and you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders and the next thing you know, from the evening breeze now coming through the wheelhouse window, you reached Egeria Bay at midnight, tired and weary and greasy.
You drop the hook and look forward to the day tomorrow. You’ve prepared your gear and laid out the charts, and by golly you’ll do it right. You shut down the boat, turn on the anchor light and go to sleep.
Copyright © 2013 by Mike Florian