Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fear. And a little hope.

The Cordova Fishermen's Memorial in Cordova, Alaska

I spend a lot of time in Alaska worried. Scared. Afraid for what might go wrong or an accident that could happen.

These worries are not unfounded. They are built upon a foundation of cautionary tales and true life rescues, narrow escapes and tragedies. And sometimes facts and figures.

In 2013, NPR's Planet Money published The Deadliest Jobs in America, in One Graphic -- here it is, y'all.

Source: Bureau Of Labor Statistics
Credit: Jess Jiang and Lam Thuy Vo /NPR

You read that right. Fishermen have the deadliest job.

Why do I torture myself?

I mostly keep these things at bay while Aquaman is out fishing by being busy with The Wrecking Crew and engaged with things happening in town and with friends. But sometimes, I willingly explore and evaluate what can go wrong. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.

So a walk along the harbor turns into me stopping at the Fishermen's Memorial - something I've passed by countless times but never stopped to examine closely.  

This statue is surrounded by plaques placed by the families and loved ones of fishermen who are no longer here. The empty spaces are filled and will continue to be filled with memorials.

Quoting Robert Frost - a kindred spirit here.

I read and felt connected to this thing that is so much bigger than any one person - commercial fishermen, their families and their community. Some of these men I knew, others were names I recognized from living here, and still others were unknown to me. Yet the sentiments expressed were not alien, not unrecognizable. Many tributes were literary, which warmed my heart. Others incorporated the language that is fishermen and Alaska. But I felt as if I understood in a way I never could have before. Because now someone I love is out there.

Quoting Robert Louis Stevenson - my father was fond of this one.

There were several like the one below, for those lost at sea. 

It was sobering. It crossed my mind that although I knew this was time well spent, reflecting on the realities of a very dangerous industry, perhaps I shouldn't dwell on it while a husband and child were out there fishing. 

And yet...

The memorial stayed with me that day. I think it was on my mind when I picked this book up from the shelf in the bedroom of the apartment where we were staying - 

I started reading and guess how this book begins? With a rescue on the Copper River flats. Yep. Right where Aquaman is fishing. And now that I know a bit more, I recognize the names of the places and where this particular fisherman got into trouble. It made my stomach hurt, reading this book. But I couldn't put it down. And then I picked up this one by the same author:

This book was the inspiration for the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. Walker served as a consultant on the show for several seasons. His book chronicles his experience working on crab and fishing boats in Alaska. I found myself holding my breath and tightly gripping the book as I read. I would have to take breaks so I could stop clenching my shoulders and jaw.  

I am always so relieved when Aquaman and The Wrecking Crew are back on shore. Not that it means the danger passes. We are constantly engaged in difficult tasks on and around the water. Something that sounds simple - like loading a repaired net onto the boat - is not simple at all. It is scary. It involves cranes and ladders down incredible vertical drops at low tide with really cold water. 

Getting ready to load the net.

Pulling up below the dock.

The net is in the back of the truck. Thing 1 is standing by.

This is the part where I got nervous. Thing 1 had to crawl down the ladder to make sure the net didn't get hung up on the dock.

Please don't fall.

Please don't fall.

Please don't fall.

He just looked so vulnerable. And little. But he knew what he was doing. 

Then Thing 2 had to swing out over the edge of the dock, crawl into the back of the truck, and stop the net from going over too rapidly so that Aquaman could pull it on the reel properly. 

I just kept repeating, "Be careful."

You just can't tell from the pictures how far down the drop was because it was low tide. It was a long way. Trust me. 

And while I was fearing for my children, Aquaman was running around on deck down below trying to load the net. 




See Thing 1 on the ladder?

Reeling in the net.

But it all worked out. No one was hurt, no damage to any equipment. I worried for nothing.

So do I stop myself from worrying the next time? Nope. When Thing 1 wanted to go fly fishing alone at the weir, did I calmly agree? Well, kinda. But I went with him and kept watch. 

That tiny speck on the water is my child.

Still there? Yep. Still okay? Yep.

Something seemingly simple, like going fishing, involves him walking along slippery rocks - potentially being thrown off balance. Not to mention the bears who would like to have what is on his hook. Or what if he falls into the cold water? And hurts himself and floats downstream? And he can't get out? 

Why do you keep bringing this stuff up?

So when he makes it back safely, I do things like go and get milkshakes. Cause I'm celebrating my babies being alive!

You can have whatever you want, honey.

This is in no way a critique of anyone's safety skills or knowledge. If anything, it's an admission of how susceptible I am to fret. 

I know that Aquaman checks and double-checks and researches and calculates and tries to be as safe as possible. 

I trust him. 

So how do I handle the fear? 

Any way that I can. Sometimes it helps for me to dredge up things that have worked for me in the past in overcoming fear. In the 80s, a self-help book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway was incredibly popular. (My God it's coming up on the 30th anniversary of its publication -- anybody else remember this book?) My mom read this book and would invoke this edict by Susan Jeffers regularly when any of her five children struggled with life's difficult decisions. Besides being something we made fun of my mother for reading, (This self-help stuff is cheesy! Gosh!) it became a family rallying cry -- "Feel the fear and do it anyway!" we'd shout as we went forth to face the world (only partly tongue-in-cheek). Remembering this sometimes helps me still. It reminds me that fear is unavoidable.  

Occasionally, I'll find new things that give me hope. Usually, it's words. Like these by Rebecca Solnit in a recent article in The Guardian:

"It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine...Hope is an embrace of the unknown."

Solnit was referring to dark times in the world and issuing a call to action, but it spoke to me in terms of fear being about the unknown - often, it is the worst case scenario that our minds can dream up. So drumming up a little hope seems like a smart thing to do. 

This hope helps me to battle the fear -- especially now that The Wrecking Crew and I are tucked back in the real world while Aquaman continues the remainder of the fishing season solo. We text back and forth when he has service -- him telling me the temperature is in the 40s and it's raining sideways, me telling him the temperature is 105 and there's a heat advisory. Heat sounds kinda nice, he texts back. Sideways rain sounds kinda nice, I respond. 

I feel like I've gotten soft since we've been home. Back to the classroom, I've traded in my Grundens raingear and Xtra Tuf rubber boots for tasteful skirts and sandals that meet the teacher dress code. I'm not mending nets, I'm refining lesson plans. I'm not so tough.   

I worry about him. But I know this is the nature of the business. Commercial fishing is dangerous. And I also know that he's never been happier. This is work he was meant to do. 

So here's to fear. And hope. And to being Xtra Tuf.  

I try to be Xtra Tuf when I put on these boots.