I have a newfound respect for Dramamine. Other new additions to the Respect List are: seafood, fishing, barracudas and the ocean.
As a newly-minted huntress, I told whomever I was dating that my perfect honeymoon would involve a cabin, a good measure of snow, and, of course, hunting — preferably in Alaska. In my imagination, my future (tall, blue eyed) husband and I would cuddle around a roaring fire after a day of caribou seeking. We’d hunt, we’d relax, we’d bask in the beauty of that which surrounds, we’d hunt, we’d eat.
And now here I sit, atop a captain’s chair with rods and reels extending from every inch of the back of this vessel, pointing straight out towards the never ending blue. I’m not wearing camouflage, I’m not stalking the latest grunt, my heart isn’t racing because I’ve seen the biggest rack of my life, it’s pounding because it’s more than all that, but it’s so much the same.
Months prior, a wedding was planned; a wedding that we derailed when the promise of a better life beckoned in North Dakota. Almost everything was refundable, except the honeymoon, a week of freshly-wedded bliss in the salty crests of Saint Maarten, the west Indies, the home of pirate ships, mouth-dribbling fare, but no hunting.
None, at the time, I figured, at least.
Along with the stunning digs and airfare came a deep-sea fishing trip, hosted by a seafood place located right across the street from our hotel, a fishermen’s paradise called, simply, Lee’s. Deep-sea fishing, something that my husband had done but I hadn’t, immediately scared me. It wasn’t so much the ocean, the proximity to land or the four seasons of Deadliest Catch I’ve followed with a morbid curiosity, no, it wasn’t any of that- it was the fish.
I’ll admit it now since I’ve never put this notion to screen: I am terrified of things that live in the ocean. Sharks, fish with teeth, fish without teeth, yellow ones, purple ones, ones with that gross headlamp on its head, ones that emit electricity, ones you can’t see and ones whose lengths surpass past football fields; all of ‘em. Their watery landscape that never ends, the fact that humans can’t even reach the depths to which the ocean extends, it just doesn’t settle well with me.
Lee, the owner of Lee’s, was tickled at my phobia.
“Scared of fish, you? You, Mrs. Mighty huntress? HA!” he laughed when he heard my tale of woe.
Dealing with my ichthyophobia head-on seemed to be the best bet before fishing so I went snorkeling for the first time in my adult life. My dive-master husband held my hand as I explored the rocks near our hotel’s beachfront. Fellow guests, sipping their rum punches, must have gotten a kick out of the small girl, screaming like a banshee anytime a fish ventured too near. After an hour of not being eaten or picked to pieces by fish smaller than my foot, I grew confident. After more than two hours of snorkeling off of Pinel Island, I was ready.
Deep-sea fishing, to my understanding, was in deep water. So, I took Dramamine. My goals at the time of slipping the small, yellow wafers into my mouth weren’t lofty. Years of barely fruitful hunts have taught me to keep my expectations low, painfully low in some cases. Hence, I yearned to:
1) Not throw up all over the boat, over the edges. or onto our guide.
2) Catch one fish. Just one, even if it is an anglerfish with its headlamp glowing like the aura borealis.
As our fishing day unfolded, I was struck at how similar the rising actions, climax, falling actions, and dénouement of deep sea fishing are to deer hunting.
Upon arrival to our boat, our guide began prepping the food plot bait. He had a particular technique and was engrossed in his work while we trolled into the wide, open forest ocean. After we had battled the ocean, climbing every tree stand wave, we found the spot and began to set out our doe estrus bait lines. Then, we sat and waited.
The boat trolled for what seemed like hours. Its platform, the deep, endless blue, curved with the earth, so out of reach. Sitting atop the boat cushions, I could only marvel at the world, the water it calls home, and the evil creatures that dwell within. As soon as philosophical thoughts began to take over, a tide of nausea rolled over me like a behemoth bowling ball. Gripping the side of the boat, trying to stand and roll with the wave, I tangoed with the ocean until it seemed as if she had won.
“GET TO THE CHAIR!!” our guide screamed as the whizzing of line began to overpower the sound of the ocean and my churning stomach.
Akin to the buck that refuses to budge another inch, this fish fought its slimy body away, far away from our boat. I fought, only as a fisherman can, straining with every revolution of the reel, screaming at the fish to just give up already, just give up.
Later, I recall my muscles breathing a sigh of relief, sagging against my bones like an egg breaking on a sidewalk. I recall the way the salty water, the humid air mingled in dance that played on my face, causing freckles to abound, my Irish-lass springing free. I recall my first barracuda fighting for a return to its motherocean, the final snap of his jaws, and the bat that eased his suffering.
Generally, when asked about what happened during a deer harvest, especially with bow, I fail to recall the moments prior to or after the arrow passed through my shaking fingers. I shoot, and it, hopefully, falls. I recount the moments I can, I thank the animal for the meals it will provide, I praise God for putting the animal on the earth, but I don’t believe I’ve ever remembered the way the air felt, the sound of the THUD on bone, or the way my body reacted to the shot, but now I realize, I’ll must try harder to remember.
Our hunt fishing trip ended, we returned to port where more edible fare awaited our palates. The barracuda caught that day would be used to catch bigger fish, in the future, so we settled for the indescribable red snapper caught by hands that weren’t ours.
At dinner that night, Lee, after applauding the eradication of my fish-phobia over a meal of the best seafood I’ve ever ingested, told us that all of what he does from his deep-sea fishing to his extremely popular restaurant isn’t for the money.
“I have no planning, I don’t save, I live. All this,” he gestured around to his seaworthy kingdom, “it’s here,” pointing to his chest, “it’s all about heart.”
Ancient Greeks have been documented as believing the kidneys are the location of the soul, given that they, like the ocean, filter out the bad and leave the good. They may have been onto something there, for I have found a new heart, a new respect for what I do, and it came from outside a forest, a stand, or a blind, for it was here, in the ocean.