Ordinarily, the fourth Thursday of November isn’t a big deal for me. I am a fisherman – if you’ve enjoyed salmon at the Environmental Learning Center, it was coho my partner, Joel, and I caught on our troller, the Nerka – so my celebration falls in mid-September, when Alaska’s salmon season comes to a close. Fishermen’s Thanksgiving. A group of us gather on someone’s back deck (admittedly, we’re the more left-listing, green-hearted members of our fleet), share a potluck feast and give thanks for our season’s harvest, praising the ocean’s mercy and her bounty. It’s become my tradition, ringing true to me in a way that the November date never did.
But this November is different. I will be giving thanks – from Dogwood 2, my new winter home as North Cascades Institute’s Artist-in-Residence. As a writer with a manuscript deadline looming on spring’s horizon, I’m extremely grateful to be here. I give thanks to Anne Hubka, the Environmental Learning Center’s Administrative Assistant who, upon hearing that I needed a quiet, beautiful place to write my book, became my residency’s greatest champion. I give thanks to the students and staff who have made me feel so welcome in my first few days on campus. (Including Chandra Ruble, who took the time to organize a glorious rainbow of spices when she prepared D2. It makes me smile every time I open the drawer.) I give thanks to the administrators who chose to extend this generous opportunity.
I wonder if this seems a strange partnership to some, a fisherman granted artistic refuge in the North Cascades Institute. But I am a tree hugging, tofu eating, public radio listening fisherman, and our missions are not contradictory. We share love and respect of wild places, and we are front row witnesses to the changing climate and oceans. We readily shoulder our responsibilities as guests, stewards and, in some cases, harvesters. One way I carry those responsibilities is by writing. Using personal essays, blog posts and now memoir, I strive to share a way of life – in all its bloodshed and beauty – that few people will otherwise know.
That’s the story I’m here to tell. Hooked: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Salmon follows Joel and me through a season aboard the Nerka, as we chase salmon through the waters of Southeast Alaska. Salmon: carrying the scent of their natal rivers so deep within them, they fin thousands of miles before – inexplicably, instinctually – the urge to reproduce compels them home. Home… As if they’d never left. So unlike my own migratory childhood, where “home” was loosely defined and the only constant was my family’s slow disintegration. How did my parents fail in their partnership, and how can Joel and I choose to be different? What does it mean to be faithful – to a person, to a place, to a life? If salmon are, as artist Ray Troll says, “the fish that die for love,” what can they teach us?
My task is to produce a complete first draft by the time my residency concludes on February 15. It’ll be a busy winter, but you’ve given me the sanctuary to make this goal possible. While “thank you” is an important thing to say, gratitude is often better expressed through action. I look forward to giving back to NCI’s community, getting to know all of you and sharing some writerly time together. (Further appreciation: to everyone who’s made suggestions about possible workshop/group/reading ideas, these ideas help me tremendously. Stay tuned for what we end up offering.)
From Dogwood 2 to you, my heartfelt, true-ringing thanks.
Tele writing on anchor. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.Leading photo: Tele and Joel with Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Photo by Martin Gowdy.
Tele Aadsen is NCI’s Artist-in-Residence, where she is writing her first book, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon (Riverhead Books, 2015). You can follow her work at www.teleaadsen.com, and find writing-related resources on her Facebook page. Her name is pronounced “Tell-ah,” and she is overly fond of corvids.