Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer in Naknek

The Naknek river and our dock. The fresh/frozen plant is on the right with the red roof, the cannery is on the left, fish tanks in the upper right corner, two of my refrigerated containers in the foreground.

Once again I have survived a summer in Naknek. Five weeks of working everyday, three weeks of which we were on a 24-hour work schedule. I worked between 16 and 20 hours a shift during that period. While it was happening I had all kinds of things I could have written about, had I had: 1) a decent internet connection; 2) energy; 3) time. And some things it's just as well I didn't commit to "paper". I either want to forget them, they are no longer important, or my perspective has changed greatly since catching up on my sleep.

When the salmon finally hit all of my time boiled down to working, eating very hurried meals (ghastly food but that's all in the past, no point in flogging that one), and sleeping. It's a pretty amazing experience: the work that gets done, the demands made upon my mind and body, the people I work with (Mexican, Samoan, Burmese, Cuban, Filipino, Japanese)... above all the people, how we survive, laugh, stress out, cope with boredom, become fast friends as only can happen in such an intensely stressful situation.

Until I finally figure out how or what to write about, I'll just post some pictures to give a sense of where I go every year.

Along the beach of the Naknek river. Gillnetters tied up to our dock. We are very close to the mouth of the river which empties out into Bristol Bay, and then the Bering Sea. The tides are huge: when the tide goes out it looks like you could walk across the river.

A gillnetter.

Dawn on the dock, looking back towards the plant from the edge of the dock. The blue totes hold whole fish and ice, the red totes hold headed and gutted salmon waiting to go through the fillet line.

The shipping office. Alex is the other shipping supervisor--beard nets are required, I'm happy not to have a beard. You can see that I have a huge puddle of water in there. It seeps in from the ice house next door. The tally girls (who operate the computer that generates bar-coded labels for the totes) dubbed the puddle "Lake Ari." The machinists have promised that after years of me having wet feet, they are finally going to solve the leak problem, and I should have a dry office next year.

Junior loading thousand-pound totes onto the shipping truck. The boxes go up the road, across the street, and are loaded into the appropriate freezer container. By the end of the season I had 8 or 9 containers going, all with different sizes or styles of salmon and different destinations. It's enough to make a sleep-deprived gal's head spin.

Unfortunately, sometimes fully-loaded containers have to be unloaded because the wrong product is in there, or a there is a missing label, or a partially-filled box is in there by mistake. I don't remember the reason for this particular unloading, but I do know that my forklift driver was not a happy camper. 36 boxes are a lot to unload, even with the help of a forklift.

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