In the Epoch of the King Salmon

Paul Vega


Opening day of king season and a glassy ocean receives the fleet after their long, bucking ride up from Sitka. Sometimes July on the Fairweather Grounds is like this, like old friends returning to each other. But this July there will be only three more days of good weather. The other days it will blow. Westerlies, southwesterlies, white caps and swells, twenty-five knot winds that come whipping off the open ocean through the trollers’ welded bait sheds making a sound like a locomotive humming in the distance. With the winds there is rain, there is usually rain even in calm seas. It does not storm, exactly, but mists, sometimes aggressively; it is never warm. But worst of all, the fishing is bad. Each year the kings get fewer, smaller. Fathers complain to sons. Husbands complain to wives. Soon the whole thing will sound like Tlingit myth. There was once a time when the ocean was so thick with wild salmon you drug hooks through it and caught fish.

Thirty miles in the distance, the Fairweather Mountains, the largest coastal mountain range in the world, hover like a mirage. There is no other way to describe it, though there used to be: for 30 million years the whole coast was a glacier, but now is not and will never be again. Now: the radiant white peaks thaw, sending crystalline water down the banks over a tree line carved by a falling chunk of ice that caused the largest tsunami in history, one so big that the waves from it moved at 600 miles per hour and flung anchored fishing boats miles out to sea like a slingshot. Others were luckier, riding their boats on the aftershocks like giant, lumbering surfboards, returning the next year to fish again and marvel at the placid emerald bay as it teemed with shrimp and iridescently scaled black-gummed king salmon who had grown to 30, 40, 50 pounds—monstrous sizes—and who drove the fisherman to take hundreds of photos in which they marveled at the beasts and later showed to their wives and children. In the photos from the epoch of the king salmon, all the glaciers ago, the fishermen’s expressions seem to say the same impossible thing: this is forever.


paul-vegaPaul Vega is a managing editor for Pacifica Literary Review and received his MFA from the University of Washington. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Pinch, DIAGRAM, CutBank, The Collagist, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @paultvega.