An open ocean storm was on its way toward my fish trap on the South side of Prince of Wales Island in Southeastern Alaska. I was on the floating snare awaiting the August signal to close the nets. Because there was a possibility the coming winds and waves would present a danger, the cannery ordered a boat to carry me to a safe location on the back side of the island. I was 16 and this was my first journey away from home.
My trap was on the Southwest tip of Prince of Wales Island with the Pacific open to the West. This massive region is the largest of what seems to be countless islands in the inland waterway of Southeast Alaska. It was early August and the long daylight of Alaska shrinks a bit each day following the summer solstice. The feeling of twilight lasted until past midnight and dark gradually settled earlier with each passing day. The cannery boat picked me up in early afternoon and began the long trip toward the east side of the island. There, the land mass provided protection from both storm winds and rain.
Alaskan tides are not the piddly tides of the lower latitudes. They cannon ball in during the limited time allotted by the moon. When they confront an island they rush from both ends, their pincers of water meeting on the leeward side. There is a magnitude to the pressure in nature’s turbine as these opposing forces come together in the waiting cauldron.
We entered Meyers Chuck where this drama was occurring under the cover of darkness. As we hit the current the boat was literally lifted some inches above the water behind us. Once into what seemed to be a bowl, a natural pot, the sea seemed to be in a cold boil. The stygian surface seemed to have an opaque shine like the polished surface of obsidian but with pockmarks of whirlpools, large enough to twist the direction of our small packer.
I stood on the deck with a sense of awe in the beginning. The night sky was filled with the star lanterns of the galaxy and beyond. Where no stars shined, the surrounding mountains were identified only by the lack of any dots of light. This was only the beginning. Below me, where the water met, the boar phosphorus flashed in the wake and swirled in downward spinning cyclones of liquid matter. I was, for that short time, floating in the ether, it seemed the universe was both above and below.
The Great Spirit of Creation was not yet finished with the performance. Above the black curtains of mountains, the Northern Lights appeared in great diaphanous sheets of light, shifting in random patterns to the rhythmic pulse of the engine. Shortly, the tide must have ebbed, the sea was quiet. The phosphorous only showed in our foamy wake and the glowing drapes of the electric Borealis had retreated to their mysterious home.