There were four of us in Clarke's shabby trailer last night, unwinding from several days of nonstop fishing.
The conversation was casual and meandering. We listened as John L. reflected on his speckled employment history: once a boxer, then a stock broker, he had also tried to make a living as a diver until he began spitting up blood and bleeding from the ears. He had been a truck stop foreman with his wife in rural Missouri for minimum wage, had driven piles, and has always lived generally on the edge. Now that he is a Cordova-based fisherman, he sometimes actually makes money, is his own boss, and can usually support his growing family.
John related to us how, one summer, he had become nearly overwhelmed by the stark and piercing beauty of the Copper River Delta. In unusually high spirits when the sun made one of its rare appearances, he stripped off his clothes and stood at the forward station of his bowpicker cruising slowly along the bars and beaches. It was during a fishing closure and no one else was around. John simply motored up along the sandbars, down through the sloughs, around the swales and mud banks -- smiling, ever smiling -- soaking up the warmth, gentle marine air, sun, and sheer glory of the day and place. 230-pound, 6'2" John at the forward controls of his 27' gillnetter, doing what he felt like doing, even though he knew it made no sense.
He was obviously not worried about the embarrassment he might experience should another boat, by some odd chance, put in an unexpected appearance. He was not making a statement or being sexual. He was not even thinking. He was just letting himself be guided by an inner sense, responding to a nameless feeling, flowing with his spirit as the massive water around him flows with the spirit of the moon, flows in answer to the forces which push and pull on all that is fluid. A strange current in a strange land. Life so basic we do not even know what to label it. Beneath thought, beyond cognition.
John's story, almost a confession, made us laugh. We could picture his naked, smiling bulk at the bow of his vessel cruising the treeless Flats, and we were entertained by the absurdity of the image. We also envied him, admired the moment that we recognized was one of rare communion with the natural world. We were even somewhat awed by his achievement. And we are grateful that he let us feel some of its goodness, that he shared with us a warmth that will linger long after the sun has set.
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