Surviving the Island of Grace
Sometimes love can take you to unexpected places. Leslie Leyland Fields learns this when she marries the son of an Alaskan fisherman. She moves to Bear Island, a small island off of Kodiak Island in the Alaskan peninsula.
There, subsistence living is the norm. No running water for bathing, dishes or drinking. Running to a well to bring up the water that you will need for the day has to be done. If it is washing day, sometimes making three or more runs to fill the wringer washer. Because washing is difficult and time consuming, wearing the same clothes day after day is done making them even dirtier and harder to clean. They also must use oil or kerosene for lighting. As Leslie and others remark, their life has not really entered the 20th century.
In this memoir subtitled, Life on the Wild Edge of America, you learn how the salmon fishermen live and work. Although they have nine months off during the Fall/Winter/Spring, their Summers are nonstop with 20 hour days separated by four hours sleep. It is very grueling and dangerous work setting the nets, picking the fish from the nets and bringing them in to the cannery. This goes on for weeks until they are doing it in their sleep.
Sometimes Leslie is out on the boats and sometimes she is at home doing the laundry, mending the nets, making the meals for the workers and eventually tending to her own children. Leslie, her husband, and eventually two children live alone on an island off of Kodiak island. If they want company, they need to take a small boat known as a skiff to other islands. If the weather is bad or the waters are difficult then they are on their island for weeks at a time. In the Fall they travel or take part-time jobs to help with the expenses. But home is the island.
This is a truthful memoir of the difficulties and joys of living on an island with no electricity or running water, where reading is a major past-time and just watching the beautiful landscape fills hours. Leslie has her faith to help her during difficult times but she is also very capable in her own right. Her Mother would purchase and rehab houses and then re-sell them. All the children were expected to help with the rehabilitation. They were poor but the skills she learned growing up helped to make her adjustment to the island easier.
This is a realistic but loving portrait of the people and environment of the Alaskan peninsula, specifically the salmon fishers. While she is there, she experiences the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its impact on the beaches, the fishing and the economic impact to the small fisher communities. These are hardy people who work hard and love what they do. Having read this book you will appreciate the work that went into your salmon dinner.