when i think of it now, i should have been a fisherman. but when i was young, such things were not heard of. i'm sure somewhere in the world there were lady sea captains but new ideas were not common in a place where you heard only 63 other voices. in my village it was unlucky for women to even be aboard the boat. women apparently made the winds and sea confused. but as a child i was forever on a boat of some kind. my father died when i was very young and so my uncles and the other fishermen became stand-ins. i sure talking to a fatherless girl is hard for crusty seafarers but taking her fishing, well that was one way to be together without the worry of words or emotions. and so i went to sea. i fished with my uncles on their boats. they pulled their herring and mackerel nets and i found my first place in the world.
as i got older i went out on the bigger boats. we would be fishing on grounds over two days from land. i felt so at home. i never worried about the weather or the boat going down. i was too in love with the swells and the way the sun hit the waves. at night, down in the cuddy, i would lay in my bunk and i would press my face against cold wood of the hull so that i could feel the sea next to my skin. i felt safe there, beneath the water line. i felt calm and at peace being rocked to sleep by the movement of the boat and the muted sounds of the my ocean heaven.
i have seen all manner of creatures from the sea - the porpoise, the whale, the shark and the curious and common fish. whales are somewhat of a conundrum for me. when i see a whale two things simultaneously go through my mind - "what a beautiful site" and "god, that thing would feed a lot of people." when i was young and with my uncles, the whales were a nuisance. they swam around and under the boat. they could get tangled in the nets or eat the catch. we shot them with a 22 rifle. you can't kill a whale with such a small gun but i'm sure it must have stung. some whales we could identify by the bullet scars on their backs and heads. and yet they continued to come. i realize this is terrible, idealists will say the whales came to the boats because they wanted to communicate or make friends. maybe that's true. or maybe it felt good to be shot with a small calibre gun. human beings pierce and tattoo every part of their bodies and despite the discomfort, many of them keep going back. whales may be the same. i will never know. all i know is that those whales were a pain in the ass. they did however, make out better than the seals who were shot on site. the 22 rifle could kill a seal. seals are like the rabbits of the sea. they eat and they eat and they breed and they breed.
i loved everything about being on the boat. i would catch the fish, gut them and fling their entrails to the screaming gulls. when i was young i would plead to be given a shark if one were caught. the sharks were worth no money and they were seen, like the seals, as a menace. but i, on the other hand could cut their teeth out and sell them to the americans. americans loved shark teeth. but first i would have to kill it. the raging shark would flop about the deck. he would hurl his open mouth at my sneakered feet. i would scream and jump. but, oh i was happy. my uncles would shake their heads as i dodged danger and moved to finish it off. i would stun it with an oar and then slit its throat with the bait knife. it sounds so primitive, so savage - like clubbing baby seals. but my life was not one of sidewalks and shopping malls. it was not a life removed from the messy bits. death, and stark reality were very close to me. there was no shelter built over my childhood. i stood exposed to the elements.
one winter the harbour froze completely over. a government ice breaker was dispatched to free our little outpost from the crush of the ice. the whole community stood on the wharf to watch the event. many of the men walked out on the ice to meet the ice breaker. i think everyone on the land held their collective breath. to see the our men, so small, walking atop the water without their boats was in short breathtaking. the great chunks of ice heaved and they cracked like rifles shots and yet the men walked on. the huge ship sat poised at the opening of the harbour ready to save us and deliver us back to the water. how i wish i could have walked on that ice. sometimes i think i can feel what it must have been like, the floe groaning and moving beneath my feet. our beloved sea trying to breath and sing it's song.
the sea was always there. coming towards me with the tide and carrying me on it's back across the miles. to lay on a boat, towards the bow, and see an impossibly high pillar of water heading for you. to look forward to that pillar and the next, to feel alive and oh so safe in the arms of the sea - the refuge of each wave washing away the fears and worries of the shore.