In the past I haven’t gotten the opportunity to reflect and decompress after a fishing season. Life always continued to happen very fast and I would suddenly find myself back in a classroom focusing all my attention on deconstructing an Austen novel or discussing the Leviathan. In the gaps, I would find myself mentally wandering back to fishing as if it had been a strange intense dream, as if my experience had actually happened to someone else.
There wasn’t really anyone in my college community that could understand what I meant when I described making 15 sets a day or my hands shaking at 5 a.m. trying to make coffee. People wanted to talk about the social media moments, the picture of the salmon shark or that one day off we went swimming or the triumphant photo of me holding a giant salmon. They wanted to hear about the sunsets and the sunrises and the salmon. All of these are important incredible snapshots of beauty from a summer aboard a boat but they are not entirely reflective of the experience of being a fisherwoman.
So for the first time this summer I found myself getting off the boat in the Homer Harbor with no plans and no classroom to lose myself in. I finally, after five salmon filled summers had the opportunity to reflect in an authentic way on my experience.
This summer was long, difficult, challenging, exhausting both mentally and physically, and yet simultaneously exhilarating and eye-opening. Eye opening to the things that I truly love, exhilarating in the ways that it opened me up to myself; who I am now and the person that I wish to become. I realized through my reflection that even though I thought I was done with school, I really wasn’t. The ocean and the boat had been serving as the best kind of teacher, the kind that utterly changes you in deep, meaningful ways. It’s incredible how the ocean and the boat continue to teach me more about myself and my depths than anything else.
How strong I am, as I stack the corks for the 10th time in a day for the 20th day in a row.
How capable I am of mental and physical toughness.
How even when you are feeling your absolute worst covered in jellyfish stings and fish slime and suffering from not enough sleep that you are a survivor and you can still laugh about the utter absurdity of your situation.
How the things that I want are not typical.
Fishing and the experiences of living on a boat for months are about far more than a paycheck or a bottom line. I keep returning to the ocean because it has more to teach me about myself. The lessons I learn from my ocean classroom make me more present, more optimistic, increasingly capable of appreciating and marveling at true beauty.
I feel deep gratitude that I get these experiences. I feel deeper gratitude that I get to share these lessons with other people.
So now if I was walking back into a classroom and asked what I learned this summer I would respond that although I may have graduated from college, the education at sea is endless.