People just keep wanting to drill in Alaska.
So it might not always look like it did back in 1997.
The fishing story continues…
He had lost track of the hours. They had been here for days, he didn’t remember how long, up and down along the coast. They slept in their clothes, ate when they could. Miner was covered in the rank of halibut. He stank guts, and he hadn’t taken his boots off since they started. There was one small yellow light in the galley that was always on, a single bulb above the flexi-stove that hammocked in its bolts as it cooked. In the fatigue he stared at it for long moments, in a daze until it was time to work again, to feed and bait and cull, until the belly of the boat was full and there was nothing to do but return to port and offer the flesh to somebody with a mind to distinguish color and size, to match them to desire.
Out the galley window he could see Jim, his red hood pulled up over a mat of white hair and his knees bent gracefully against the bulwark, watching the horizon. His hand was hanging down limp by his side, loosely holding a red metal cup. When the boat dipped he reached out lightly, as if to touch his own sense of equilibrium.
Miner abandoned the stove, stepped through the open galley door out onto the deck. Butler was there, smoking a cigarette and watching the flotilla of sea-birds that followed them, hovering over the long-line and the occasional wash of innards that got sucked their way.
“I’d like to shoot them fuckers,” said Butler, gesturing to the birds with his chin.
His clear blue eyes bridled with a cantering beauty. But he shouted at them, waved his arms. He picked up a starfish and hurled it skyward, the loopy arms trundling over themselves like some fast-moving galaxy, but the birds glided effortlessly away, extensions on a careening mobile, and the creature in its dead orange blipped into the green sea and returned to its depths.
The sea was icy and green, fed by a northern coastal stream that brought berg water down from Kodak, galoshing and wild. The rollers glided by in trilobitian majesty. An unbound pulse, a substantive and quiescent thing cascading in shivering arcs across itself.
Miner and Butler moved to the stern where Jim was standing, next to the hydraulic spool and near where the gear line had been coiled. Jim was fiddling with the knots on the two floating pink buoys. He looked up when the boys approached.
“Paul wants to lay another couple sets,” he said.
“Jesus Fuck,” said Butler, taking a final drag and flicking his cigarette in a long arc out towards the birds.
Jim looked up to the cockpit.
“We’ll lay these here now, just up ahead,” he said, indicating some invisible smear of current toward which they were moving, “Then we’ll go pick those two sets we laid this morning.”
“I don’t know where the fuck they are, but they ain’t here,” Butler said.
“They live on the bottom,” Jim said, “They suck the bottom.”
“Scum suckers,” Butler said, “Just like us.”
“Just like you, maybe.”
Paul came out onto the rear deck of the top house and looked down at them and then scanned out to sea and lifted his face into the wind and like a dog his eyes lulled. He looked down at Jim.
“Ready?” he shouted.
Jim nodded and Paul turned the boat back around away from shore and soon the engine picked up and they began to make a slow five knot line into the rollers and out to sea. Jim hooked up the two floating pink buoys and tossed them off into the wake. The seagulls scattered from the splash but settled back again when the buoys had passed. Miner looked up and saw the sun was moving up again, shining off the starboard aluminium of the top-house, the streaks of shaved mite glinting vibrantly along its surface.
They were one on each side of the now trolling line, and as it sped out from the hydraulic spool they snapped and baited and hooked lanyards onto it, and stepped quickly back out of the way as the cutfish flicked at them from the rebound. The small lines flung about on the stiff wire until it dragged them under and down. Sometimes the gulls tried to loop in and steal one before it disappeared but the wire was quicker and they retreated upwards in squawking fury. And then it was done, the line exhausted, the lanyards too, and Jim strapped on two more floating pink buoys to mark the other end of the line and tossed them over the side where they began to drift, and soon they were the only two floating things out there. Underneath, along the floor, lay the thousand hooks.
Paul turned the bow once again and this time headed south, back towards the two remaining lines they had set the previous morning.
They wandered around the deck as they waited, waiting for the sea to turn in their favor, for it to unloose something from its skin, its wandering patterns in the currents. The lines were out and they had very little.
Butler paced back and forth between the two sides of the boat, his shoulders squared, and Jim watched him without moving his head.
“Why don’t you sit down?” he asked.
Butler turned his head slowly.
“Why don’t you shut up?”
“Wouldn’t be anything interesting to listen to then.”
“See?” said Jim.
– Alaska, 1997