Just for the halibut


For years I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska as my main source of income. In recent years I've let go of that part of my livelihood. But this summer my old halibut fishing partner Dan Kowalski needed a deckhand, so I dusted off my skills as a longline fisherman and went along on a trip to the local halibut grounds in primal Frederick Sound. It's been a few years, and I can't lean into it for endless hours like I used to. But the skills and the instincts never go away. Our friend Rick Jackson also joined us on the trip as the “greenhorn” member of the crew.

I admit its a little odd, sandwiching a halibut trip between two Inside Passages mindfulness retreats. These are not vocations that usually show up in the same life time, let alone the same week. But that's the way the adventure has turned out for me, and it feels completely natural. Even though some even would say they are morally incompatible - being a Buddhist with a livelihood that involves taking life - I have never felt it to be so.

Fishing has been my link to a deep human ancestry of hunter / gatherer cultures that I'm proud to be part of in this modern manifestation. It has engendered in me a powerful respect for the inter-dependence of life, and the co-arising dance of human and more-than-human life forms.

I have never doubted that one day the table will be set around me, and the gift of life will flow again in the other direction. This gives me a much greater reverence for life, rather than the other way around.

I figure I get to work two wild edges simultaneously - the inner and the outer. Both take a certain audacity and gumption. These days I feel the pull more strongly toward the inner edges that meditation cultivates. Not so much heavy lifting in a physical sense, but plenty of challenging terrain left to explore in the inner wilderness areas of the human heart and mind.

But it was also good to be on the fishing grounds again. We filled our fish hold in two days of steady fishing - quicker than we had expected. Dan got us on the fish along the shores of Admiralty Island, and we filled his IFQ quota in no time.

Our bonus was a trip to Baranof Island's Warm Springs Bay, and a soak in the hot springs there - the best I've ever seen. It felt great on tired bodies, and the view from the natural pools is onto a torrent of water surging by in the gorge.