Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore
Book: Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore , by Nancy Lord, ISBN10: 1582430705, ISBN13: 9781582430706, Counterpoint, April 2000, Paperback
<p>"Summers, I live at fishcamp. June through August, Mondays and Fridays, my partner and I catch and sell salmon that pass our beach on their way to spawning streams. The rest of the week, and parts of May and September, Ken and I mend nets, comb the rocky shoreline for useful poles and cottonwood bark, do a thousand camp chores and projects. We live quite happily in a tiny cabin at the top of the beach." -from Fishcam.<p>For the past eighteen summers, Nancy Lord and her partner Ken have made a living, and made a life, fishing for salmon off the west side of Cook Inlet on the southern coast of Alaska. In Fishcamp, Lord provides a nuanced and engrossing portrait of their days and months in camp at the inlet.<p>Beginning with their arrival by plane on a freshly thawed lake, she describes their joys and tribulations as spring gives way to summer and the long months of summer unfold. With poetic cadence and magical tone, Lord draws the reader into life at camp, sharing experiences that range from the mundane to the sublime: the mending of nets; the muscle-wrenching labor of the catch; the exquisite pleasure of an improvised hot-tub; the often unnoticed bounty of the inlet's flora and fauna. Interwoven throughout the descriptions of quotidian adventure are threads of the deeper history of the region-stories and legends of the native Dena'ina; anecdotes about past and current inlet residents; discussions of the lives of their neighbors, both human and animal, who, like them, live with fish.<p>Fishcamp is Nancy Lord's eloquent paean to the place she calls home. In clear and richly textured prose, she captures the simple beauty of a life lived with nature, "a part" rather than "apart." As Lord explains, she shows us in Fishcamp "something about what even one place and its infinitely varied life contributes to the connections among us all and to the wholes we call 'world' and 'culture.'...Wherever our places are and whatever we do in them, perhaps we might all begin to pay more attention to the little and big things that do indeed connect in profound ways to all the rest, miles and eons and cultures apart.<p>Fishcamp is a remarkable combination of personal, cultural, and natural history from what will surely be recognized as one of the most talented new voices of our time.
Lord and her partner, Ken, first saw Cook Inlet in southwestern Alaska in 1978. Having taken up residence in a nearby town, they bought an abandoned fish camp on the shore of the inlet. They have lived there five months a year ever since, earning a precarious living as salmon fishermen, keeping what fish they need to eat and selling the rest to a cannery. Written in quiet, unadorned language, Lord's book about their experiences is like a large fish stew, with all manner of fascinating information about bears, fish, birds, insects, plants and trees tossed in along with slower-moving accounts of mending nets and putting boats up for the winter. Professional environmentalists will be interested in the struggle for a share in the salmon catch among subsistence fisherfolk, the commercial fishing industry and sports fishermen (the lowest of the low, in the Lords' view). Geologists will be intrigued by the changes in the earth still taking place after the great earthquake of 1964. But the purpose of Lord's contemplative book is to share her belief in the interconnectedness of all things: as she sums it up, "everything has a life of its own, but nothing lives by itself." A map or two would have been a helpful addition. (May)
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