What a difference a few things can make in the way one experiences life up here. I'm sitting on my bed this evening, jazz on my iPod, a beautiful green scarf with yellow suns draped over my window, a huge yellow, red, green, and blue blanket from Mali nailed up on the wall next to my bed, my room super clean thanks to a friend here who made sure the cobwebs were scrubbed away before my arrival, blue sky still blazing away outside even at this hour, and my lovely little connection to the world--my netbook--balanced on my lap. Usually, coming up here is akin to going into monastic seclusion: I run through my days doing my job but return to a bare room, no contact with family other than a few snatched phone calls, always too short, no clue as to what is happening "out there". Last year I remember the only news I heard was of Michael Jackson's death. In four long weeks, that was it for news.
Today was slow--no fish yet to speak of--and relaxed. A good day to iron out some kinks in the equipment, search for my missing ladder (still missing, but at least sighted recently), stock some fiber with the forklift, do a sniff-test of some containers with the truck driver (the past few deliveries of pallets have been moldy moldy moldy--not good for shipping fish), visit with my dear friends Mike and Trish on the fishing tender The Rolfy, wash my carhartts still filthy from last year. I am cherishing these few slow days because I know that in the blink of an eye--or the flip of a fish's tail--I will be buried in 24-hour salmon production.
I am the shipping supervisor for the fresh/frozen plant here. This means that I am responsible for everything that comes out of the freezer: I make sure all the frozen salmon is labeled properly when it is boxed up in 1000 lb. totes, that it is loaded into the correct 40-foot refrigerated container, accounted for in the shipping manifests, and shipped to the correct destination.
I first came up here in 1994 with my soon-to-be husband. It was like the football test on steroids, for we were to be married at the end of the summer and I just knew--although it was never exactly addressed--that my performance under the strain of an Alaskan working summer would establish a certain baseline for our coming life together. I am happy to say that I passed the test, had a lovely wedding, and went on to work another 4 years here until Samuel's birth. I figured with his arrival, and Grace's two years later, that my time in Alaska was over.
To make a long story short, this is my 7th year back up here (if I count the first summer back which was only a week-long intensive bid to help save the company's shipping records). I have had really horrible years here and really great years. It is always really hard to leave my family and my life at home. But at the same time, it's a very liberating experience. I have so many good friends that I see only here. Each year I become more confident at my job and it becomes, if not less stressful at times, at least more familiar.
My story will be different in about two weeks. I'll be buried under fish, working 16-20 hour days, and wondering why in the world I insisted on buying so many shoes this past winter. A little moratorium on spending might make me feel a little more like I could shut the door on this lucrative venture. But then, it'll start tapering off again, we'll go back to day shift only, I'll get a little more sleep, and then on July 25 I'll get my paycheck and instantly forget about all the hardship. In a weird way, it's like going through labor and having a baby at the end with only a vague memory of all the pain.
We'll see how much energy I'll have for writing when peak hits.