Just before dark, a black line appeared on the western horizon, stretching from north to south as far as we could see. We kept fishing–this was my last day of king fishing for the year–and I was focused on trying to get one more fish. “What is that?” Sweeney said. I looked up, and the line was clearly closer now, and less defined, a kind of blurry streak where the water met the sky. The line drew closer, slowly at first, but gaining speed. A boat fishing a half mile west of us suddenly disappeared in the black haze. We pulled our gear in and ran to check it out.
As we headed west, the line kept coming east to meet us. Now we could see what it was: birds. More birds than either Sweeney or I have ever seen, flying in a tight, swarming flock that stretched for miles. Then, on some invisible cue, the birds started setting down in the water around us; sooty shearwaters, the great circumnavigators of the Pacific. Shearwaters fly thousands of miles every year, from their nesting grounds in New Zealand, up the Western edge of the Pacific along the Asian coast, across the Aleutians, and now, down our coast, headed back to the Southern Hemisphere. But so many of them! We wondered if it was the raging gale we’d fished in the day before that drove them here in such numbers, or the anchovies filling the bay, or some mysterious force we couldn’t fathom.
August is coming to a close. Summer kings, at least for me, are over for another year. What a way to finish–two days of fantastic fishing with a great friend, an ice chest full of fish, and this crazy spectacle of birds. Time to head home, fire up the smoker and start getting ready for the more structured life of autumn. Time for kids going back to school, soccer practice, swimming lessons, homework. Time for me to actually get back to work on my book. The Farmer’s Almanac called for a cool, wet August and early fall this year. So far, the forecast looks right. On the drive home, rain came down in sheets. My first thought was not yet, it’s too early. Then I started thinking about big ocean cohos coming into the Sound, and chanterelles pushing up from the forest floor. It could be awhile before I get back to that book.
When I’m writing, I think I should be fishing or at the farm. When I’m at the farm, I think I should be writing or fishing. When I’m fishing, I think I should be writing or at the farm. Then there’s wood to stack, fish to process, berries to pick, a boat to maintain, friends to hang out with, camping trips to squeeze in… This time of year we put the proverbial headless chicken to shame. I’m not complaining, either. I love all of it. It just feels like I’m careening around in a kind of sleep-deprived mania. Which I am.
The kids, though, are the antidote. They remind me to stop, catch my breath, and soak up the beauty of summer in the Pacific Northwest. This is a picture of Weston, on the way back from picking up the mail, stopping to watch the little Douglas squirrels chase each other around an old alder snag. I was rushing along, already focused on the next task, and the one after that…and then there was this. Just a brief moment of grace to feel the sun on our faces and watch what goes on in the forest.
It was perfect.
What a treat! Skyla and I made this blueberry ice cream the other day, and sadly, it’s already nearly gone. Our ice creams are generally based on Mary Goodbody’s excellent recipes in the Williams-Sonoma ice cream book, but we tend to evolve them to suit our tastes. Here’s our latest version for blueberries:
3 cups blueberries, 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup cream, 1/2 cup lowfat plain yogurt, 1 tsp lemon juice.
Bring blueberries, water and sugar to a boil, then simmer for a couple minutes. Cool, then run through a food processor until smooth. Push mixture through a sieve or screen, using a rubber spatula to help push it through the mesh. Refrigerate filtered mixture, overnight if you can wait that long.
Stir in cream, yogurt and lemon juice until mixture is evenly colored. Pour into the pre-frozen ice cream maker bowl (we use one made by Cuisinart, but any of the modern, freeze-ahead-of-time machines work great) and hit the “on” button. Done in about 20 minutes, and if it isn’t all eaten up while soft, put it into the freezer for a firmer texture.
While we’re on the subject of ice cream, I recently received a request for the strawberry ice cream recipe in Closer to the Ground. Again, we tweak it all the time according to our current tastes, so feel free to improvise. One nice thing about the strawberry version is that it’s a lot faster and easier to make than blueberry ice cream. Mostly because it doesn’t require cooking/straining the fruit. Anyway, here’s our basic strawberry recipe:
2 cups strawberries, 1.5 cups cream, 1 cup lowfat plain yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, pinch of salt.
Chop, slice or mash (depending on how you like ’em) the berries in a bowl with 1/4 cup of the sugar. We like to leave some of the berries in quarters or halves to have some chunks in the ice cream. Refrigerate.
Mix cream, yogurt, milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt and vanilla in a bowl until sugar is disolved. A wire whisk works great. Refrigerate. I’ve found it works best if you prep the cream mixture and the berries earlier in the day so they’re cold when you put them in the machine.
Pour cold cream mixture into the ice cream maker and run until it thickens. Then add the berry mixture and continue until thick. Man, I love ice cream. Enjoy!
Do the Fish Gods really pay attention to the actions of us mortals? Or was this just a random sequence of events? I understand that karma, in the Buddhist faith, is a much longer-term proposition. But I wasn’t really sure what else to call this.
We had spent a long morning on the water without a bite or any signs of life. Finally, early in the afternoon, I found the bait and immediately had a good fish on. I lost it, but optimism took a sudden rise. Now we were on ’em. Time to put some fish in the boat. Yes!
Then I heard a whistle and some distant shouting. I looked up, and there was only one other boat in the area and it was sitting dead in the water. Two people were standing in it, waving their arms in the universal distress signal. My immediate thought was to pretend like I didn’t hear anything, keep fishing, and capitalize on the fish we’d just found. But with the weather deteriorating, a small, powerless boat could get into serious trouble. So I grudgingly pulled up the fishing gear and ran over to the other boat. They had their downrigger cable wrapped around the prop, which I then spent a good long time trying to untangle. The wind came up and and it was soon impossible to work on one boat while leaning over the rail of another. As the two boats conspired to separate, fingers were smashed, tendons stretched and forehead veins bulged. I believe a fair amount of choice language left my mouth. Finally, it became clear I was going to have to tow them in. With the rising chop, we managed about 3 miles per hour. More choice words.
When they were finally safely at the dock, I ran back out to where the fish had been, and of course, they were gone. But at least it was raining. Time to call it a day and head home with tail between legs.
On the way in, I thought we might as well try a little local spot that hadn’t produced yet this year. But we’ve done well there in the past, and you know, what the hell. If there’s a level of expectation that’s microscopically above zero, that’s what I was feeling in the midst of my dark mood and lousy weather.
And somehow, my earlier “good deed” paid off. In the next two hours, the clouds parted, the wind fell out, we hooked nine kings, limited the boat and released several others. Random luck? Cosmic payback? Karma? If it was the Fish Gods, thankfully, they only saw my actions, and didn’t hear what I was saying or thinking while rendering assistance to my fellow boaters. Whatever the cause of this good fortune, I’ll take it. When I had to clean fish and wash the boat by headlamp in a steady rain, I didn’t mind a bit.
So remember this lesson: If you’re out on the water and see a boat in distress, you have to do everything you can to help. It might get you into a bunch of fish, and more importantly, someday, it might be me.
A short literary break from the hurly-burly, high-season fishing, farming, foraging gig:
I have not been to Cuba, but I’ve spent enough time in tropical countries to know the ominous feeling that lurks below the surface of vibrant colors and sunshine. A feeling of something dark, an undercurrent you can’t quite articulate, a feeling that things might happen beyond your control. This contrast between tropical light and dark permeates Julie Trimingham’s debut novel, Mockingbird, in such a beautiful way, it feels exactly like the real thing: never quite said, but always there.
This is a book of gorgeous language, so rich and self-assured I found myself re-reading sentences just for their music. How can anyone’s first novel have this much confident, fully-formed talent on display? The story itself is a tale of a woman–a young, white, North American actress–who finds a seemingly abandoned child in Cuba. In her well-meaning efforts to care for the child and her visions of giving it “a better life,” we see her moral ambiguity, and possibly a kind of cultural arrogance.
As she bonds with the child, she leaves a trail of wreckage in her wake. But what’s more interesting, at least to me, is what we come to understand about the narrator through her first-person subjectivity. In the tradition of Huck Finn, these are truths the narrator cannot see in herself. Mockingbird is a beautiful book, and for me, an absorbing, exotic escape from our crazy-busy season here in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend it.