Sunday, September 18, 2011

The hardest summers


Bill Carter has a penchant for putting himself into difficult situations. In "Fools Rush In" the Pleasant Valley High School grad traveled to Bosnia during its civil war. Now he faces the brutalities of nature.

"Red Summer" ($16.95 in paperback from Schaffner Press; also available in e-book editions for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Google eBooks) is subtitled "The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village."

The village is called Egegik ("pronounced Ig-GEE-gek") "which would not exist," Carter writes, "except for one thing: salmon, specifically sockeye salmon. Every year, in June, for at least the last eight thousand years, sockeye salmon, also called reds, enter Bristol Bay. They do not come in the hundreds or even the thousands. Tens of millions of sockeye salmon come, loosely gathered together in the shape of a giant ball, swirling in a counterclockwise motion, resembling an underwater hurricane." Then the fish leave the hurricane and "enter the river systems of Bristol Bay."

Carter had gotten a phone call that took him to Egegik, where he was to spend the next four summers as a set netter. Their "operations are stationary, with one end of the net tied to the shore, the other end to an anchor somewhere in the river, usually three hundred feet offshore." It is humbling work. "We have been at it for almost nineteen hours," he says at one point. "In the end we deliver 28,000 pounds of fish. ... My take is 10 percent, or $1,120 for nineteen hours of work."

Why do this? "The weather is brutal and the work is both difficult and dangerous. And at the end of each season I promise myself I will never do it again. I return to Egegik because I need a place where nature still has the upper hand, reminding me that my existence is fragile and fleeting."

Carter works for Sharon and her fishing partner, Carl, and the book not only connects with their lives but the rhythm of Egegik itself, where the only law is Fish and Game. In the end, he is married, and feels "like I've fully arrived in this place. I relish the silence. I feel connected to these people, to this river." And now, finally, he can leave.

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