From the author/editor of several books about commercial fishing (Out on the Deep Blue, 2001, etc.), a more personal work chronicling her 23 summers spent pulling salmon from Alaskan waters.
Fields (English/Univ. of Alaska, Kodiak) balances the gritty details of this rigorous endeavor—check out the superb analysis of why a person’s hands are the precision tools of fishing—with an affirmation of life lessons learned along the way. Raised in New England, she attended college in Ohio, where she met husband Duncan, a native Alaskan from a fishing family. They were drawn together, she writes, “by a mutual love of philosophy and theology,” and this shared interest makes her memoir as much a chronicle of spiritual journey as a recollection of her life in fishing. Recollections of an impoverished childhood—she was one of six children abandoned by their father, who helped their mother restore old houses—alternate with accounts of her adult life. Fields describes the fishing seasons she worked, beginning as a newlywed in 1978, as well as journeys to Asia and to Africa made before she settled down to raise two children. Though strong, she found fishing daunting: the hours were long; the weather capricious; and the way of life tougher than she’d anticipated. (Scarce water supplies, for example, turned bathing and laundry into major chores.) She was close to Duncan’s family, but as the years passed she found the fishing season straining her marriage: there was no time to talk to her husband; and after the children were born, she feared medical emergencies (travel between their island and Kodiak, where the nearest doctors were, was always dangerous). But faith and her realization that life on the island was part of “the grace that sustains” have reconciled her to a choice she made all but unknowingly at age 20.
Vivid details and intelligent insights invigorate this celebration of the human spirit at work in unfamiliar places.