Saturday, August 2, 2008

Never took this to be the face of a killer

Aside from various roadkill and bugs I have never killed another being and the roadkill was accidental so suffice to say I have never deliberately murdered anything aside from a roach or ant or mosquito. I never thought about it either. As a former vegan I am excruciatingly aware of where our food comes from and generally don't dig on factory-farmed raised meat (though I can't really afford another option most times.) Subsistence hunting is a magical mythical notion to me. Hunting was never that major of a pasttime in Nebraska where I grew up and obviously it doesn't have much to do with the reality of life as a New Yorker.

When I was invited on the trip to Alaska salmon fishing was the first activity on the agenda. We flew into Anchorage and the next day drove down to Kenai to meet up with our host Matt's family who were already out on the boats. On the drive out there we got reports from mom who proudly gave the totals of 63 fish the first day and 68 the second. That's a lot of salmon. Matt explained that we would not be doing line-fishing but instead pursuing the method of dipnetting. Now only licensed Alaskans are allowed to dipnet and they are only allowed to do it for a few weeks each July. Graciously Matt's father flouted the law and let us on the boat.


We suited up in borrowed rain gear (I was given a child's set as the smallest adult. I couldn't lift my arms above my head...oops!) We went out on an inflatable raft boat that comfortably sat four, each of us had a net, but the fish weren't swimming. Starry-eyed but the numbers of 20 fish per person I was overjoyed, thinking that catching a fish would be a breeze. But first time out, not a damn salmon. Only a single flounder which we threw back. After three hours we only caught five fish total and called it a day.

I was pretty heartbroken. When you dipnet you literally dip your net into the river and the fish swim right into it. When you catch one you use the boat as support and pull it out and dump the fish into the boat. Usually they are allowed to flop about for several minutes as they slowly die but occassionally if one is especially spunky they will club it which helps end the convulsions but summons an unpleasant amount of blood.

The following day we were given the opportunity to go out again. Megan had caught two salmon so the family was insistent that I not leave Alaska without catching one. Again, we went back on the boat, with the father at the motor and this time Matt's sister and her friend at the other nets. Mariah was seated in the spot I had been last time and immediately caught two fish as soon as we finished motoring up the river to the bridge. She caught two more before I felt my net tug. Elated I pulled it up out the river and saw a seven pound red thrashing in the net. I swung the net over the side of the boat and flipped the fish onto the floor. I watched it crash and bang as it's life went out. You wouldn't expect them to last as long as they do. And when you think it is over, they'll start right back up again, twisting and thumping as their eyes go blank and their mouths open to nothingness. It's a strange thing, watching something die. Stranger still when you are the agent of it's death.

Matt's father tried to lay it out beforehand in the terms that they were swimming upriver to spawn then die, so we weren't killing anything that was meant to keep living for much longer anyhow. That fact didn't bother me. Whether or not the being was doomed. Just my placement, watching something die, actually killing something. It's not a feeling I get to feel every day. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous or creepy, I found it quite spiritual. Looking at something slowly dying at my feet knowing that thing was going to be food, I felt very much a part of nature's way. An agent of the earth, existing within it's bounds and it's rules.

It's hard not to feel that connection in Alaska no matter where you go. Kenai wasn't the most beautiful spot but it was the most accesible one emotionally. It was good we went there first because while it didn't contain the shock and awe of places like Denali or Hatcher Pass, it was the perfect primer. It exhibits the typical of Alaskan beauty. So constant in it's sunlit mountains and misty skies and wildflowers admist rusted ruins, this beauty becomes almost mundane. It's the typical skyline and god I miss it.



Well after midnight


Round midnight

Commercial nets

Wildflowers and rust


Neighboring campers

The drive from Anchorage to Kenai was our first view of just how insane the place we had arrived was. The following three pictures were taken from the back passenger seat while driving. We wanted to stop and get out every two minutes, it was that consistently mindblowing.




We did finally stop and these were the results:


Megan and me

Megan and me


Me and Matt


And that was just the second day...