When I Am Absent

Today the walls caved in a little, just enough so I reached out for support, a little something to steady my world – and found my daughter. Strong and stoic, fully able to look me in the eyes and share her need with mine, we felt the same and said little but I love you, and I’m really going to miss you.

I cried, sobbed quietly into a shoulder I’d held countless times through the years, This time a daughter held a mother, tenderly, compassionately, sorrowfully. Few words fill space like that, just enormous grief at a loss soon to come and can’t be avoided, lessened, divided and portioned between sisters, daughters, parents and deeply loved ones because once the moment arrives, the loss is terribly unfair and lopsided. I will be absent. She will remain. And the void will fill a small, lonely universe once brimming with expectation, congratulations, advice, laughter, pride, shared sorrows and rejoicing, and endless, boundless love and grace and acceptance for this woman who heretofore has been me and my hopes for her and each of her sisters. And now it will be them.

In that moment when strong and stoic fail to provide, I know I will lose it silently. My grief is not noisy, nor is it hidden, but it bows my head and closes my eyes and brings forth long shudders of pure sadness at leaving behind very real, live, vital elements of my self, my being, all that I have never kept from those whom I love without thinking or questioning. Each of them is me, completely with my faults, weaknesses, strengths, intuition, and steadfast assuredness that what I do, how I feel and love and share and protect and build loyalty to is worthy.

When I am absent, each of my daughters will know surely that the love between us all will stand and be sufficient for whatever they will face in years to come. Most of it has already been tested and proven, and I am satisfied. Turning to me will be a second thought because they’re well-practiced in using all they were raised in to carry them through life to this point. In each of them has been proven a resilient character, the ability to measure a loss and it’s value, and courage to continue or forge a new, better path. Do not quit. Do not blame. Take self-responsibility. Learn from your mistakes or find a help source to be trusted in that determination. Most of all, stand by your people – sisters, family, loved ones, friends, those who truly matter and care for your well being. Be loyal. Be truthful, always, and find a way to do it lovingly because sometimes truth is more painful than a lie but it is never wrong.

When I am gone, remember I thought of this moment, this very one with my arms around you and yours around mine, for it is in this moment I know who you are, and that you are so very capable and strong and able in your sorrow to carry me, of all the strong people you know out there, that I cease worrying about the how of you doing it, but imagining you do it brings a smile to my face. If I were here, you would carry on, lead, and navigate as if you were alongside me with wisdom and grace and, yes, even confidence that we would do one and the same for those in need.

I love you, each of you, all three of you and I know in heart, mind, and soul you will continue to grow as strong, vibrant, vital women to contribute all that any might ask of you. Whether a meal, good humor, a place of rest, a refuge – you will offer it well and with honesty and love, without asking for recompense. Love well, do it often, don’t let that gift go stale or rust or become brittle. Who cares what others think or may judge by – make sure to share all good things with those who ask of you just a word, a kind one, and a bit of your time; we each have the same minutes and hours in a day. Fill them with good, meaningful, worthy endeavors, thoughts, and then follow through – do not leave love half baked, half done, unfinished. It’s about our fellows, this life we live, and sharing how we can to be happy without being selfish or lonely.

Love well and share it. Live well and experience all that you can. Don’t regret, don’t procrastinate, and turn over all those little stones in your Box of Rocks before you begin your story. That’s a good life.



A word to conjure up mid-summer evenings and long treks home from the public outdoor swim pool at dusk, barefoot. It drags up all the sidewalk cracks filled with tar and little weeds; some bitty flowers, some tender green shoots and faded bubble gum wrappers softened and melted in the endless sun. We spent every summer in the Blue Mountain region of eastern Oregon, a ritual that probably defines my childhood and outlook on life as an adult, found in a thesaurus without too much effort in the midst of references to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, young little adventurers and innocent hooligan wannabes who lashed inner-tubes together to raft the lazy curves of the Grande Ronde River between the Snake and Wallowa, high mountains and wildflower canyons. Back then Dr. Pepper and Green River and RC Cola and Fresca and Fanta – all pulled from the red pop cooler on the wooden porch of the neighborhood store. There was established the lifelong devotion to Tootsie Rolls of all sizes, but loyalty to the one and only big brown log, soft and chewy chunks to savor for as long as you could make it last without swallowing. I couldn’t resist. I was a Tootsie Roll addict without shame.

Summer began when our prop plane landed in Pendleton, Oregon on a sunny June morning. My grandparents would be waiting in the small airport lobby where all the doors and windows would be open, fans blowing, and people milling around cars parked near the tarmac. Old blond Ford Fairlanes and even older coupes and ranch pickups trailing hay and twine out the back end, stock racks with halters and leads snapped around and ready for the next load of kids and critters headed up into the hills. But our grandparents had a city car, with a clean interior well-coated in prevention of the summer to come. Frampa was a semi-good sport about a summer’s worth of grandkids and Nana was typical for grandmothers of the day – pure, unadulterated, full-on determination to spoil and serve rotten back to their parents four grandchildren with nothing on their minds but swimming, fireworks, horseback riding, and cousins for three entire months.

Key to nostalgia for the time included the old Kool-Aid juice pitchers – jolly, round, and full of ice cubes clinking and swirling in mysterious but tasty blue and orange and green and red sweetness. We could tell if it was pre-sweetened; we knew the difference between cheating that little scoop and using the BIG spoon in the drawer when it came to mixing it up just right. Nana made sure there was always Kool-Aid in the cupboard and we sampled every flavor and color on the market.

On the cupboard below and next to the toaster was the McCoy clown cookie jar, of which I have two, having scrounged E-Bay for a replica and scoring on two in excellent shape. Did I give one to an aunt? Well-stocked with truly terrible waffle cookies (the kind filled with some kind of creamy filling) were Nutter-Butters, Chips Ahoys, Pinwheels, and an endless supply of homemade chocolate chip and peanutbutter and oatmeal cookies. My recipe box has several old scribbled notes for Aunt Thelda’s monster cookies, lemon bars, turds, and versions of Ranger cookies and bars to stuff into day packs up the creek or meadow or for an afternoon ride in the mountains.

In the cupboard above the stove were as many varieties of cold cereal that could be packed in and the doors still stay latched shut – AlphaBits, Lucky Charms, Capt’n Crunch, Trix, Chex, Life, Frosted Flakes, Mini-Wheats, and others that haven’t seen the inside of my cupboards since those days. Feed MY kids that stuff?! Well, maybe Lucky Charms and AlphaBits. I lived.

Bikes. We rode bikes, and Schwinn was the big deal – mine was pink and white and a 2-speed with a basket, bells and tassles on the handle bars. I always used the kick-stand and would stand aghast to find it had fallen over in the dirt. I could ride without hands – around corners, up the sidewalks, dodging cracks and jutting cement, potholes and even raced uphill with my girlfriends on their Schwinns. Yes, we felt very important in our expertise and abilities to ride standing up with no hands. I’m sure I don’t remember how many times, if ever, any of us suffered crash & burn disasters but, just in case, each of us had one little bottle of fingernail polish to match our bike paint and hide any trace of mishap.

Skate keys were sacred things to be stashed, hidden, whereabouts innocently forgotten if we were told to let a sister use our skates. They were measured and locked into size, even to fit around our thongs for all the good one would think that did, but we made sure the summer supplies of recreation was appropriately apportioned between the grandkids along with the green mesh swimming pool bags. Into a bag went a towel, dry underwear or a swim suit, shorts, shirt and something for the feet. Bare was preferred despite the rocks and scorching temps of sidewalk pavement. Run like hell from one tree-shaded section to the next halfway down the block and then hop onto the cool, green grass at the corner to wait for the rest to catch up. Check traffic both ways, hop across the even-hotter hot blacktop street to the corner and race to the end, making our way block by block to the swimming pool. We were early most times, mainly to get the race over with before the day heated up and arrive at the park with plenty of time to play on the swings or in the sprinklers or the little kids wading pool before going in to pay, shower, put on swimsuits and wait for the lifeguards to FINALLY get Creedence Clearwater on the PA system – the signal the day had begun and life was nothing but splashing water, loud music, wet towels on hot cement swim decks, and suntans. The lifeguards knew most of us could swim and allowed us to ride shoulders and push each other, or play volleyball or do handstands or race or dive, but eventually the younger kids and their moms and siblings started arriving and we were curtailed to no running on deck, sedate dives, and fewer and fewer cannonballs were forgiven near the brats who managed to yank our swim suits down. Yep, summer was great in the sun.

Finally, mid-afternoon demanded we gather out at the swings, spread soggy towels on the grass and open lunch sacks. Lucky those of us with plastic pitchers of Kool-Aid, peanut butter sandwiches, chips and a quarter for a candy bar. We piled everything in the middle of the driest blanket and just grabbed from the stash. Sometimes we weren’t into sharing because it might be a leftover chicken drumstick or other favored treat from home, but mostly we snagged the big fat dill pickles and chunks of watermelon or grapes or cherries heaped in leftover grocery bags and washed it all down with juice or pop of some flavor, then lay back beneath the trees and watched the sky move overhead. If we were lucky, we woke up without a sunburn or had at least turned over once or twice during our nap and only felt the twinge of red or pucker of something slightly more painful. Evening swim was short, and cooled what warmth remained of the day, and then we wrapped towels or donned T-shirts for the run home before dusk.

We could see Frampa mowing the lawn out front with his mower, or watering the lawn. He had this little whistle that never changed, just a little ‘whu-whu-whu’ sound he’d make absentmindedly while he worked, and he would holler at us kids to stay off the grass, can’t you see I’m watering there?! Then we thought he was a grumpy old fart, but looking back I saw nothing more than amused annoyment that his evening peace and quiet had come to an end – until it was time for us to go to bed and he could find his favorite TV show to close down his evening. After supper and dishes were done, we’d have regaled the household with the daily adventures and dumped our wet things in front of the washer to be ready for us again in the morning. At 10:00 the television would tone out with “It’s 10:00. Do you know where your children are?” and we’d gather our clutter, skate keys and other treasures, and traipse up to bed.

Curfew nostalgia. Get some.

A Change Coming

Bald is beautiful, except I wish I’d get there. We shaved the old noggin’ in the hospital room to a celebration of cookies fit for a palace luncheon with plenty to share on both the oncology and surgical floors, so we had no complaints from the staff about the buzzing and laughter and extra hair-style or two that got snuck in. The only drawback is we shaved to the nubbins and they’re still in there – my own dome-top 5:00 shadow. For giggles and out of a sense of impatience, I can pinch my “whiskers” between two fingers and pull the little suckers out but that’s an endless process so next trick was a big patch of Tegaderm stuck to the top of my head to see what ripped out along with the tape. Plenty. But not enough, and definitely not all of it. I scrub with little sponge gloves in the shower, rub my head all over in bed until my pillow case is covered in something out of a Gilette razor, but still no shiny pate of pure skin to glow softly in the rain. I definitely had higher expectations for my baldness; perhaps duct tape is next?

Ever spend much time wondering about colostomies? Nah, me neither, but I’m kind of surprised at how little it’s on my mind now that I have one. I could spend more time reading the paper in the bathroom than do maintaining my new “appliance,” so other than adjusting to a looser waistband, no complaints in that department, either, I guess. Well, okay, there’s the abrupt realization that you don’t feel a gas bubble coming on and it can be done in a mannerly fashion or, more likely, it’s “hey! That was me! I sound funny in this little bag!” In that case, I look around strangely to see who might be talking to themselves and share a knowing smile and a raised eyebrow with the person on the other side of the clothes rack. I dunno, but I think they’re talking to themselves so I’ll just wander on. 

I was prescribed a “pot” pill to increase my appetite. Well, there’s nothing wrong with my appetite that I need a cannabis derivative for, at least not yet; I just didn’t want to fill my stomach and then wonder how it was all going south before I moved on to the cheesecake. So far, no worries, but I have so many well-wishers convinced I’d do a whole lot better inhaling and at least enjoying the benefits two-fold. Heheh, thanks; I’ll pass.

Today we’re going to squeeze a little shopping in before the chemo. Barretts and buckle shoes for little girls, flashcards and chapter books for a nephew and sweet little Sophia, then off to the jewelers to see what these pretty little stones are mom had kept in her jewelry bag over the years. What jewelry I have kept over the years has been apportioned out among the daughters, and the few remaining pieces have already been planned into new rings or keepsakes, so it will be a fun day. I need a new pair of Keens, a couple fleecy pants to get me through the early snows, and lots of cards & stationery complete with stamps. I’m feeling very organized about the end of my life – how I want to write, what to read, where to visit, and mostly relaxing with lots of truth and honesty and compassion for those who wonder after me. I’m the lucky one going to rest, and I’ve been good with that for as long as I can remember. My life, such a good one and full of more worth remembering than regretting, so I’ve had it all, leaving little undone except more loving.

My sole heartbreak at this point in life is losing the man I loved. One day a stranger woke up on the other side of the bed and didn’t recognize me as the woman he’d begged to marry, promised could make anything work, offered and sacrificed any and everything he could to make me happy. Maybe it was Alaska winters, the harsh environment, or maybe it was his fear of not working – he never took a day off, never turned down a request, and was constantly driven to achieve, produce, acquire, make more to replace all that he’d gifted. His was a security grounded in the material, the financial, toys, the accumulation of wealth and assets. I’ve never had that drive and there’s some incompatibility there when one’s security is contentment and the other’s is based on the tangible. I’m sorry for him, for what was lost when he decided I was the cause of all that he’d “given up,” thinking that’s what it took to make me happy. The past two years his refusal to elect company-provided health insurance prevented my following up on what I had expected to be associated with a parathyroid condition but, in fact, has turned out to be an aggressive cancer with no hope for cure and probable demise within a few months. All that being said, it’s not the dying that bothers me. It’s that I loved this man, a wonderful person who adored me, and one day my life suddenly meant so little to him that he would deliberately withhold life-saving care out of spite because he thought he’d been done wrong by me. The sincere death wish, the spoken conviction that I deserve to die, slides off the entirety of a wall upon which a million I Love You’s and You Deserve Only the Best were plastered that up until this point my life had been sheltered by. That is, until nearly two years ago when all communication ceased, any participation in the life of a couple, married or friendly or related or otherwise – nothing but contempt and resentment and accusations and an inability to communicate what kind of issues had created such a chasm of disconnect and lack of support and dearth of love.

Evenso, the pain doesn’t lie with the hatred. I mourn the love I invested in a really wonderful human being who found me worthy and special and unable to live with because I meant it all to him. He wanted to live my life with me – in the woods, in the mountains, mining, frugally, very basically off the land, but soon into it he was afraid. I’d asked a friend to mentor him in the work they did keeping remote mines operating – crushers, equipment, motorized vehicles, welding, fabricating – all of it done beneath a vast arctic sky dancing with borealis and moonlight. I believe he loved the change, the challenge, the opportunity to step outside the mold of mechanic and become sufficient and valuable in his own right, able to survive and be one others could depend upon. He was good, he was able, but lost his heart when his mentor died. Nothing was the same afterward and the bitterness at his perceived misfortune and predicament placed him squarely in the role of incomplete package, however skilled and talented he was. Ray had become that security blanket and now all that he’d invested in our future became the albatross to keep him from building independence and success beyond the point he could work side by side with the best remote craftsman known in the interior Alaska mining world.

I grieved the night I left. Fearing for my safety, I refused to leave with him present. He was a wild man, unpredictable, and fully threatening to do everything he could possibly do to destroy me in any way – financially, personally, through lies (a promise left on voicemail), or even a personal visit to help me understand just how serious he was about ruining my life. He put me out with what I could carry on my back or slide out the driveway, threw belongings into the dark snowy night, and said everything was his – walk; I’d given my truck to my father when we had planned to move to the property in the woods, and had since driven one of his. Whether I had money or food or a job or a place to go mattered not, just that I leave and leave NOW. So I did. He’d told me earlier I was no longer welcome in the home, to leave, so I’d begun packing, leaving everything open if he wanted to go through what I might be taking. When I left that night with a small load, he gloated. When I came back the next day while he was at work to load more, he said nothing. When it was all out, he accused me of leaving him high and dry with all the bills, all the responsibilities, while I left to go do my own thing. Trying time after time to speak to him, to get him to share what was causing all this, all he could say was “You just don’t get it. You just don’t get it, do you?” No, I didn’t. I’d made sure he could fly down for a month when his dad passed away at Christmas, and driving down to Idaho to spend the next month with his mother to get her settled into life as a widow. The brothers had me act as Power of Attorney for all her affairs and we made changes to her life and health insurance so she could see a provider in her home town rather than having to drive to Seattle. We acted in concert to manage her wills, properties, belongings and since I was PoA, she put me on as payable on death for the funds in her accounts. All of this was communicated to her oldest son by email; there were no secrets, nothing withheld, and he was in total agreement with how we were handling things. After a month to get her settled and into a routine, I returned home to my job in Alaska after making arrangements for housekeepers and folks to check in on her. In August Alberta called to tell me she had hip replacement surgery scheduled the next week, so I gave up the job and traveled down to stay and care for her through surgery and rehab before driving her back through Canada to spend the winter with us building strength, attending doctor followup and exercises, and general progress. She was doing well, 10 steps ten times a day up and down, walking the stores, eventually eliminating the cane and walker, able to move around outside. When Kelly ordered me to leave, she was fully mobile and handling her business affairs better and better. When he’d gotten her home and the house was opened up, he took her to her attorney and had the power of attorney switched from my name to his, and neither of them felt it necessary to inform me so when she asked me to follow up on where her new 2014 insurance cards might have gotten waylaid in the mail, Kelly accused me of meddling where I had no business sticking my nose in his mother’s affairs. He also accused me to stealing from her bank account because I was payable on death beneficiary, and nothing I could say or even prove convinced him I had done nothing untoward with his mother’s affairs. Eventually, she gave up protesting beneath the constant weight of his accusations against me and we have not spoken in months.

More than anything, this pain comes from the betrayal and loss of a person I valued in my life as a wonderful person, helpmate and partner. I don’t know what transpired to cause the change, but somewhere in my heart I know he must believe he has been wrong and I will never be able to tell him I hold nothing against the man I loved or who loved me, but do not know this stranger who would rather go so far as to let me die than work out a problem in love.

My daughters keep their counsel, knowing how grieved and hurt I am, but they’re also my foundation of strength. Nothing will ever come between us, and I know when I leave, they will always have that in their hearts for eternity. That’s what counts. Just the love.


Summer is more than half past and trees are beginning to change color. The flux of guests is beginning to ease a bit, just a bit, but enough to relax somewhat. I compare the pace of life now to what I thought was busy then, and chuckle. So much perspective with age, and we never realize how we’ll view things differently as decades pass.

It used to be that my day was full – of wood gathering, fishing, beachcombing, general day-to-day life in the bush. Today my days are exceptionally full. I get up at 3:30 many days to prepare a hot meal for folks departing for a day of exploration. Breakfasts continue through 9 a.m. and I’m left with clean-up, bread baking, and preparation for the evening’s new arrivals. The next morning is the same, the one after that, and many, many more after that. I’m seeing, finally, a reprieve from the constant hustle, maybe even a day or two here and there where I might sleep past 4:30 a.m. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve had two mornings in the past 75 days when I could stay in between the covers until at least 6 a.m. Such a treat, eh?

Not complaining. When I mined, it was April to November with nary a day off. Sometimes my duties as medic rolled the clock around once at least, and there were all the drilling samples to log and organize. Or I’d be managing a crew welding plastic pipe or digging a pit or logging with an excavator the shallow-rooted trees common to interior Alaska (yeah, fun!). In the fall running into winter, I’d be alongside a geologist, sampling holes or prospecting new ones, marveling at the water seeping out of the permafrost at -30 temps and lower. We built road, an ice bridge or two, and chain-sawed through the beaver pond for water to wash with. With the addition of a couple chlorine pills, your skin would be equal to a crocodile after a couple of months and no amount of lotion could soften that tough exterior. Mining was a grand way to live – in the weather, the cold, beneath the stars, and becoming nonchalant about the mounting color in the pan.

Fishing was busy, too, but it was different. Sometimes it’s hurry-up-and-wait as you make a set and let it soak, waiting to pull and clean whatever happens to be on the other end of your line. The weather was dicey, downright sphincter-clenching, and we weren’t always wise about whether to observe a harbor day or brave the elements. Here I am, though, none the worse for wear, but looking back I sure do remember the times I should have thought thrice and not just twice about poking our noses out.

These days life is busier, but relatively easier in comparison. I hate breakfast, can’t stand the smell of bacon or eggs, and eat a steady diet of fruit and my own homemade bread, toasted. I don’t eat store-bought meat, have a good stash of excellent king salmon, king crab, and look forward to a harvest of beach asparagus, goose tongue and berries. It seems each time I sit down to write it’s about a good life, now or then, or what is to come. In spite of setbacks and disappointments, a few dire situations and not too many regrets, I have very little to do over differently. Who knows what I’d miss if I did anything differently? I’d be different, no doubt – my outlook, the outcome of different scenarios may have well have impacted where I am today, and I’m sure not dissatisfied with where I find myself now.

I’ve come to realize the value of health insurance, I can say that much. I’ve always been blessed with exceptional health, strength, fortitude, and good attitude toward what must be done. Recently, I’ve paid cash for this and that and the reality of how limited options would be without some coverage is a stark one indeed. It’s an easy thing to say you’re healthy and don’t anticipate illness, would opt for this or that in lieu of conventional treatment, but when you face that choice or a lack of one, you realize quickly we don’t live in a society where the neighborhood doc will see you in exchange for eggs or a basket of shrimp. That said, however, I still believe I will opt for palliative treatment rather than medicine and technology if it ever becomes necessary to make a choice. So far, knock on wood, I’m a fortunate soul.

I listen to Sam Cooke, Seals & Crofts, John Prine, Jerry Vale, Robert Goulet, Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, and a host of others. They’re a shallow substitute to what I listen to when I’m in the bush. Once, a long time ago, I put some Gordon Lightfoot on while I painted the interior of an outbuilding. It sounded so out of place, I turned it off. Nothing compared to the sound of wind in the trees, eagles, ravens, tide rolling up the beach – the sound of silence in a place where nothing man-made dominated. I was in my place, no question.

And so, now, this morning, I’ll bake more bread for the folks who find that amazing because some of them don’t eat anything they don’t buy. I rarely eat anything I don’t prepare from real ingredients, so I’m silent as I overhear their comments. I feel no regret that I think my life was, is, and will continue to be better than theirs for very simple reasons. Life is good if you have perspective. It’s a necessary thing.


THE STRAIT WAS CALM; the weather was cooperating this year, he thought to himself as he aimed the skiff away from the dock. They’d already offloaded their first catch, taken their money in fuel and bait and a couple of ice cream bars – two apiece, to be exact. They’d watched as the tender crew put slings around the tails of the two biggest fish, 213 lbs and 265 lbs. It was a good first check, though after expenses it didn’t amount to much. It put them into the profit category for the remainder of the 48-hour opening, however, and Pete breathed a little easier. The winter had been a long one, and trapping hadn’t produced as much as he’d hoped. It was getting harder to get by, despite their frugality. He didn’t want to leave to take a job when fall rolled around; there was a lot he could get done if he could keep at it until the snow came.

At the mouth of the bay he saw the wind had kicked up in the strait. This morning it had been calm and easy, but a breeze had come up at tide change and though the chop wasn’t bad, he knew it wouldn’t let up for a couple of hours. By then the day would be late and evening would cool things down. They had a lot of hooks in the water and he hoped not to fight the weather to get them all back again.

He slowed as she reached with the gaff to pull in the buoy. He ran the line through the puller and pulled the cord. It cranked over and fired off immediately, and the line began to spool on the deck. Maggie quickly scooped it up and slid a garbage can beneath it, reaching in rhythmically to keep it coiling neatly. Within minutes the first fish appeared and they worked steadily for another hour, hauling in one fish after another. As the anchor came up, she made space for the can and placed an empty one beneath the spooler. Both buoys riding atop the line, the full can was pushed before the console and they were ready for another set.
The puller worked easily, pulling anchor line and anchor to the surface. She quickly stashed the float and rock out of the way, and turned to the line when she heard the little Honda strain. The boat listed to port as the line grew taut and he switched the puller to neutral as he stepped over the bench and started the outboard. Round and around they went in a circle, trying to untangle the line from whatever hangup it had encountered fathoms below. Gently, the line eased and he pointed the boat back into the current and took his place back at the puller.

“You drive,” he said, and leaned over the line. She quickly stepped behind him and put the boat in gear. She’d keep on it, the bow pointed into the current at idling speed to avoid slack line getting caught on logs or pinnacles on the ocean floor. It was an uneven place they’d chosen to make this set; the bottom wasn’t smooth like their other favorite spots. It was a good place to lose gear and they knew current had washed line and hooks onto bad ground. Time and again they fought to free the line, determined not to lose gear. Between circling and hauling, they managed to pull forty-seven fish before cutting the line and letting it fall free to the ocean floor. Quickly, she pointed the skiff toward the far buoy, where they’d grab and start working the set from the opposite end. It was trickier to do this, run up on the gear in the opposite direction. The tide wasn’t in their favor and she’d have to drive the boat until they got it all up. As long as the weather held, it would be just an inconvenience, but if the wind came up, the chop and swell could turn hard work into a long, unpleasant afternoon.

Maggie looked down and grinned to herself. She could be at the clinic, staring at a computer monitor, listening to doctors drone on about patients and lab tests and followup treatment. She could be in uncomfortable shoes and taking a lunch hour and wondering why she wasn’t doing exactly this – fighting with fish, drenched in saltwater and staring off at snow-covered mountains. It was exactly what she wanted to do and there was nothing she would regret for choosing this life. Maybe in twelve hours when she was exhausted, soaked to the skin and her teeth were chattering, she may wish for clean sheets instead of a sleeping bag, but it would be fleeting. She liked the way her bed smelled of forest and campfire, and she knew it would take but moments to fall asleep once her head hit the flannel. No, she had no regrets, and she would take all the hard work over the comforts and steady income, living day to day rather than paycheck to paycheck. The sun rises and the sun sets, and her world could spin a bit better for the choice she’d made.

“Can you keep on the gear?!” Instantly, she pushed the throttle and the boat moved ahead. The wave action caused the boat to ride up and down on the line, the slack jerking taut with every rise. Moving ahead, the line straightened out and stayed that way, water spraying from the roller as the line sped through. Not good, she thought, and determined the daydreaming could wait.

“Hold up, fish on,” he said into the wind, his voice carrying past her and over the exhaust of the outboard. She eased back on the throttle until it clicked into neutral, watching the line come up. Not a large fish, he unsnapped the line and threw it into the boat. The line sped faster through the metal plates and into the garbage can, spilling over the sides. She reached to stave off the spillage and saw the rock anchor come up. The rest of the longline whipped through and into the boat, and she pushed the throttle forward as the buoy came aboard. He turned and stepped to the wheel, leaving her to lean back and throw her feet over the bench. Gunning it, he turned and headed for the bay, surfing over the growing waves as fast as he could do so safely with the load of fish they had aboard. He didn’t say anything, just squinted into the wind and pulled his stocking cap down around his ears. She turned her to face the stern and watched the trail of turbulent water they left behind as they made their way home. Hours of hard work lay ahead – gutting, cleaning, and icing fish, scrubbing the boat, hauling gear up and off the dock in the dark, then falling into bed and unconscious sleep for five hours.

At the tender, business was brisk as the crew hoisted and swung the day’s catch onto their deck and into the hold. Hydraulics squealed and slime dripped while weights and grade were called out. Pete sidled into the corner by the float plane dock. As Maggie grabbed the bullrail to tie up he switched off the engine and stepped onto the dock without a word, and she was left to follow him to the tenderman standing near the ice tote. The crewman nodded to her and looked over at their catch. “Not bad for first day and a short soak,” he commented. “They cleaned and ready to go?” “No, we’ll put everything on the dock and get to work. Need some ice to keep them cool once we get them laid out.” Pete was lighting another cigarette and motioned to her. “Push this tote over to the ice hose and we’ll fill up.” Maggie turned and walked over to the blue plastic box that stood chest high. She lifted the lid and saw a foot or so of hard ice in the bottom. “We can empty this first, right?” She looked at the tender crewman and he nodded. He hollered at the deck hand aboard and the hydraulics came down over the tote. They threaded the sling through two feet and the man at the controls lifted it enough to slide it over to the rail, where he continued lifting til the tote tipped and emptied. That done, he lowered and pulled the tote back near the ice hose to fill with flaked ice. Crab lights shone all around, illuminating the dock, busy with fishermen and loaded with fuel barrels, totes full of ice and fish. The sun was setting and darkness descended quickly and, with it, the damp cold of early spring on the water.

Covered in halibut slime, sleeves soaked with seawater and stiff with a slurry of fish blood, scales and bait, Maggie reeked. She turned to tell Pete she’d start on this end if he wanted the bigger fish, but he was gone. She looked up at the ramp and saw him heading to the boardwalk with one of the other fishermen, mug in hand. Stepping back into the skiff, she started transferring halibut to the dock. The larger ones she got the hoist man to winch up with a tail sling. Once she had them all laid out, she knelt and got to work cleaning. The small fish were fast and easy; twenty minutes later she was sweating and up to her armpits in the bellies of the larger fish. Reaching in and giving the gonads a quick twist, she pulled them out and tossed them into the black water. She stood and stretched and found Pete at the other end, working his way toward her. He looked up and got to his feet, pulling a cigarette out of a shirt pocket from beneath his sweatshirt, and walked toward her.

“Ready to do it again in the morning?” He teased. She looked down, knowing she wouldn’t stay mad at him. “Yeah, it’s all money. Who was that you went up the ramp with?” She pulled off a glove and shoved her hair back under her bandana. Her hand smelled like fish guts and blood. “Oh, that was Matt on the Ruthie D. He was telling me about a whole set he lost up the way. We almost got tangled up with his gear back where we had so much trouble.” He took a long drag off his cigarette and tossed it into the water. “Let’s get this finished up and sold, and go to bed.”

Fact, Served Cold & Hard

Truth: I Without justification, defense, explanation, I prefer my company and no company to that of others. Apparently. Convincingly. Not at all surprisingly. This morning a guest put Fruit Loops in the microwave and nuked them for more than 3 minutes, dry. Last night a group used every bowl in the dining room and left nothing for folks wanting cereal in the morning. I also found my good kettle with noodles burnt onto the bottom. Wine in the sheets, ugly stuff in the trash, essential oils in the carpet.
I’m quite generous in spirit and giving, rather a soft touch for one in need, but The Takers I have no tolerance, patience, or use for. And THAT is exactly how I intend to stay. Lord, please get me through this B&B season. Simple request: keep me gracious. That is all.


The morning began like the one before; up early, throw on the hash, slog through the early risers and wipe down the kitchen before hitting the rack. Same thing, different day – hash browns, over-easy, bacon, toast. Throw a few grapes on the side. Again, and once more until it became a blur and all you did was turn potatoes, push down the bread, and slide the plates to the servers. Nothing creative, nothing new, same old thing day in and day out.

She used to ride horses, and had memories of riding a sweaty bareback through cool, shallow creeks and the shade of hanging willows, of coming to the perfect stopping point where she could let the horse have his head and she would lay back and close her eyes. She would listen to persistent flies and the sound of her horse pulling grass, the rhythmic grinding of each mouthful. She wondered if it needed to stop chewing to swallow, but could never tell. Slowly, she would doze, the horse stretching each hind leg before picking up a hoof to place it absentmindedly ahead of the other. Those summer days, those days of youth; hard to distinguish the difference.

Standing before the flames of the gas range, she mused on a particular camping trip into the Little Minam area of eastern Oregon. The group was large, made up of cousins, aunts and uncles, friends. Plenty of spare horses and numerous coolers, tents, and the plan to spend two weeks trekking into the mountains on horseback. She took for granted that she’d spend summers in the desert, never thought it odd to spend fall and winter in Alaska, and spent each year at her grandmother’s boarding house hanging homemade noodles to dry over the backs of chairs and pulled-out drawers, washing sheets, developing crushes on this or the other railroad worker who bunked in one of the several rented rooms of their boss’s home. The rules were strict: no guests of the opposite sex, and no women. Period. Only men were allowed to rent rooms, and the no-exceptions rule was firm. She wondered why her grandmother never considered that she was a woman in a house full of men, but swimming lessons or skating on the sidewalk sufficed when there was no answer to that question.

The camping trip was remarkable. The sun shone the entire time, and when they broke out above tree line high up in the mountains, the air was crisp despite the heat of the sun. Cougars and deer could be seen, a bear even, but the only time she was aware of the potential danger was in the evenings when the horses were hobbled and the men took turns checking on them during the night. She felt bad that her horse had to be shackled like that; surely she would not wander. Her uncle was a bandy little cowboy and brooked no argument when it came to the stock; his was the final word. He was her favorite, Uncle Bobo, a quick, bowlegged and sinewy man who’d spent a lifetime astride a horse, logging, working cattle, revered as the butcher with the best Little Black Book of Recipes in the butchering community. She though now how long ago it was that she and her friends could go into the butcher shop and ask for a piece of bologna sliced off the roll – just a hunk of mixed-up meats to chew on as they rode their bikes. She’d forgotten how different life had become since those days, and she was sure it would be hard to find another butcher shop like that one anymore. She looked at the pre-sliced bacon in her pan. Now it was even hard to find slab bacon anywhere – it all looked, tasted, cooked up the same. No wonder breakfast was the least-favorite meal of her day.

One afternoon the horses spooked. They’d been climbing, riding a steep side hill and came out on a cliff side just large enough for all the horses to gather and be comfortable. She didn’t see it, but suddenly the shout went up that Mary had gone off the cliff on her horse. It took several hours to get to her and haul her back up the mountain. The horse was okay, but she’d taken a pretty good tumble and had a deep gash to her thigh, serious enough to send a rider ahead to a dude ranch to call for a helicopter. Once the drama of the accident was over, the trip was subdued and she knew when they reached the ranch their plans to stay and camp had changed. Shoot, hadn’t her horse jumped a creek and landed on top of her, only boots and hat showing? She’d come out of it alright and managed to ride on. Mary had a Kotex tied to her leg, a thick thing sopping with blood from the wound. She remembered how concerned the women were, and the men had put together a litter to pull behind one of the horses that wasn’t spooky. She looked terrible, but the thought never occurred to her that it had been a life-threatening injury. It had, of course; she was just more focused on the trail ride than the dangers. In the end, days later, when all was well and Mary had been to the hospital to get stitches, she felt like grumbling about how the two weeks had been reduced to just more than half, but knew the other women would look at her sternly for such a complaint.

She lived for such summer adventures. Life in Alaska was, well, life in Alaska. She flew all over in floatplanes, spent hours spotting fish with her dad, or standing in the rain at the hangar on the wharf. She coveted the jump seat just behind the pilot, the thrill of diving under when the Goose landed. She seldom thought her life was different, it was just plain and ordinary to her. They had airplanes, they flew all the time, everywhere, and most of the people she knew did the same thing. Summers, however, were like going to paradise – sunshine, blistering hot sidewalks, outdoor pools, green football fields full of chick-chick-chicking sprinklers, and bike-riding. Winters meant school. Summers were magic.

Her sister commented once on her memories of childhood. “I don’t know where you grew up, but I didn’t think it was that great.” She would shrug and think to herself that it was probably because her sister was closer to her mom and so missed out on all the fun stuff like airplanes and camping and horses. Whatever. She’d had a good childhood, and it carried her through adulthood with an attitude of expectation, hope, and anticipation for whatever lay ahead. It got her through mornings like this.