Posted by: tlnemethy | January 13, 2013

The Woman By The Sea

I think about her, the woman by the sea, as often as my mind returns to Alaska. I never met her, nor did I even glimpse her from a distance, but I heard her mentioned and I saw the care she took in her work.  I lived a mere 300 feet from her home and her work; a tiny, weathered shack surrounded by spools of toughened and salty fishing net. I lived in the Net Locker. Every week I had to walk past that shack with my laundry bag of clothes, pink salmon chunks crusted on the collars and on the cuffs, to get to the laundry facilities before my shift started in the plant. It was a dirt road that connected us, and one that sloped dangerously around a corner threatening our very lives.

The grass was sparse around the wood framing of her shack, tapering off into crisscrossing footpaths that had been worn down to the dirt, but flanking the edges of the road were thick mops of grass that camouflaged some of the older fishing lines and their buoys. There was never time to linger and bear sightings were becoming increasingly more often so I would only catch glimpses as I hustled to the laundry room. Her windows were covered in shards of multicolored glass, brilliant mosaics of sea greens and antique blues that dangled on strings or seemed pasted to the pane itself.

Her story was mysterious and her home was kitschy in its ramshackle quirkiness. I wonder what made her live out there, in the middle of a vast salmon processing plant, without a single soul to keep her company. She could look out her window upon the shells of fishing boats past their prime and up on stilts, but would she see past them into the water? Maybe she was the wife of a fisherman, a longshoreman who never returned home, and she stays close to the sea out of love, maybe she just knows a prime business location when she sees it. I don’t know. Really, all I do know is that she and her bundles of fishing nets have me bewitched.

She reminds me of a statue in Gloucester, Massachusetts that shows a mother and two children looking out over the ocean after a man at sea. Maybe I’m a romantic at heart, but anyone who lives such a solitary life overlooking the sea is in waiting for something.

If I go back to Naknek I’ll make sure to drop by my old neighbor, maybe even see the inside of her shop. I hope she finds what she’s looking for, if she’s looking for anything at all.

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