Buck Naked in Cordova, by Buck Meloy

It was, fortunately, a very dark night.

Stars pin-pricked sharply through ragged holes in the clouds, faintly outlining the surrounding mountains and enabling me to see which direction was up.

The sauna, in its wooded bower, had been hot and relaxing. I was the last to use it having arrived after midnight from a long and late post fishing season dinner with friends on the other side of town.

As I toweled dry, standing alone on the dark and quiet porch of the sauna, I considered the changed nature of a small fishing town after the season. Though the faint lights of the fuel dock were visible down the bay, there were no cars idly cruising the dirt road that edged along its margins. The normally around-the-clock rumblings, hummings, and clankings of fish industry had stilled. No human voice broke this silence. Somewhere in the distance a lone boat was invisibly making its way towards an unknown destination.

I would soon be disrupting this stillness by starting my truck and slicing noisily through the otherwise quiet murk. Feeling around, I found the hook upon which my clothing hung. My knee, which had reacted with severe pain and swelling when I leapt awkwardly from my fishhold hatch to the deck a week ago, had originally prompted this late-night visit to the sauna. Bending it sharply to get my pants on would undo much of the relief it now felt.

My brain began one of its periodic dialogs with me: "Why bother getting dressed? It's a beautiful and relatively balmy night, and the street in front of your apartment door will be dark. You can park there and scoot right in, and you won't have to aggravate your knee getting undressed. You can just fall into bed and go to sleep!"

My self thought: "That sounds reasonable." I can't argue with my brain.

So I found myself walking barefoot and naked down the rough path to my truck, my clothing folded over one arm. Then, just ahead of me, I heard a crunch in the gravel, gravel being what passes for soil in this part of Alaska. It didn't sound like a bear, so I stopped and stood silently as the crunching got louder. When the newcomer was about five feet from me and realized that he was not alone, he nearly jumped out of his shoes. The sound of my voice restored his composure. I was bare, but not a bear, and my kind of bareness, if he noticed it, apparently seemed normal enough to him, at least this close to the sauna.

Recently laid off when his employer had closed the fish plant for the winter, he was just killing time until he could catch the twice-a-week ferry out of town. Tonight, he had been marveling at the northern lights, which had been moderately intense an hour earlier. Though not a fisherman, his season, like mine, had come to an abrupt end when the coho fishing was closed prematurely. Our chat over, I continued on down to the truck.

This encounter had suddenly alerted me that travelling naked could have unforeseen consequences. Nonetheless, I threw my caution to the wind, my clothes onto the seat, and hopped in and fired up "Slicky", my trusty 1974 GMC pick-up.

"What would happen if you got into an accident?" Was my brain now playing devil's advocate? "Wouldn't a flat tire on the hill, in plain view of the houses there, be an unsettling embarrassment?" Come on, brain, nobody's awake, and it's only a few miles!

Still, I couldn't help but think of the potential for hard-to-live-down headlines in next week's Cordova Times: "Local Gillnetter Caught With Pants Down", "Fisherman Bares Sole", "Web of Mystery Surrounds Netter's Drift", "Gillnetter's Gear Well-Hung", "Shirtless in Debacle".

As I made the turn from the sauna's gravelly track through a shallow pond towards the dirt road along the bay, Slicky sputtered and died. Oh, shit! Well, at least there's no one around.

"Is everything okay?" queried my new friend, skirting the pond's margin about 30 feet away. He must have mistaken my tail-lights for the northern lights.

"Not exactly", I muttered as I stepped down into about a foot of chilly water. "I think I'd better prepare for a hike."

Getting dressed in a foot of water without getting one's clothes wet, especially when darkness precludes seeing them, is something of a trick. I saved my shoes and socks for after I had waded out of the pond. The water dripping off my cuffs didn't drip too much into my shoes. My new friend was headed towards town, too.

Hoofing past the houses on the hill, 20 minutes later, I marveled at my good fortune: I was a fully clothed fisherman, marching proud towards the end of my day. On the other hand, with the exception of my temporary companion who had peeled off to his own quarters, I had met not a soul, been passed by nary a car, seen no evidence of another human all the way home. The season was distinctly over, and the town's level of activity was mirroring the cycles of the salmon on which it depends.

Yet my knee, woefully out of tune with such natural rhythms, no doubt thinks I missed the boat when I went to the trouble of putting on my clothes.

return to Flopping Fresh Fish Company