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Salmon

A couple nights ago I woke up to the sounds of footsteps on our deck. “Jeffrey, there’s someone on our boat,” I said. My body was shaking from waking up too fast and fear.

October 15, 2012
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Salmon dinner

Christine Smith

A couple nights ago I woke up to the sounds of footsteps on our deck. “Jeffrey, there’s someone on our boat,” I said. He had heard the footsteps too and was springing into action. In the absolute dark of our cabin, Jeffrey noisily scrambled over me in the hopes that he’d scare off the intruder before he climbed the ladder that leads from our cabin into the galley. In the dark, I felt him lose and regain his balance as went from crawling to standing. Next I heard a thump. That was Jeffrey hitting his forehead, as he didn’t duck quite low enough to go though the door.

With Jeffrey gone so fast, I sat up and turned on the lights. My body was shaking from waking up too fast and fear. I searched a bit for some clothes to put on. Jeffrey hadn’t bothered. I kept thinking about our neighbor’s boat which had been stolen a couple of weeks ago. The thief had spent a night on the boat before taking it out for a joyride and to set a few crab traps. I knew that guy had been caught, but did the footsteps belong to someone else looking to burglarize us not knowing we were aboard?

Before I could find something to put on I heard Jeffrey’s voice. I stopped breathing to better hear his intonation. Who’s he talking to? I thought. Then I heard a familiar voice. It was a friend. I exhaled and laid back down. I listened for a few moments as the two chatted, only slightly curious about Jeffrey’s nakedness.

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He came back to bed with a relived smile and a good-sized bump on his forehead. “It was the salmon fairy coming to bring us some fresh fish.” We had both forgotten that our friend had called earlier in the day with some extra salmon that he wanted to give us and asked if he could leave one in our freezer on the deck.

As a life-long resident of the Northwest, I’ve always felt the pull of salmon as the center of the web of life. Salmon is something to be shared, talked about, and protected. As a child in elementary school, I released young chinook salmon into a creek, then waited four years for their return from the Pacific ocean. I just looked up a survey of that creek’s spawning salmon and chinooks still return to that highly urban stream. As an adult I spent eleven winters volunteering to show people the bald eagles that winter on the Skagit River. The eagles come to eat spawned out dead chum salmon that line the river’s edge. The eagles were majestic, but the life cycle of the salmon was always more intriguing.

If you know where to look in the Pacific Northwest you’ll notice that salmon culture is everywhere. We spray paint our storm drains salmon and volunteers work to restore their habitat. Our state and tribal governments spend millions of dollars on hatcheries to ensure that free-swimming, non-farmed salmon will continue to find their way to our BBQs and tables. Millions of dollars and untold hours are spent by anglers in the pursuit of salmon. We recently cruised along the west side of San Juan Island on a calm day and 50-75 recreational fishing boats were trolling for chinooks, as were the resident orca whales. As I write this, the commercial fishery for chum and coho gillnetters and purse seiners is just beginning in Bellingham Bay. In the San Juan Islands reef netters are getting going too. I’m hoping some of these fish make it to the David B‘s galley this weekend.

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Two days after the salmon was left in our freezer, some friends unexpectedly came into town. Dinner plans were made. I took the fish out to be defrosted. It came wrapped in a white kitchen garbage bag. I made myself laugh by noting that the best salmon always comes that way. That’s how you know it was caught by a friend.

Later that night I filleted the fish. Talk in the galley was about the best recipes. My favorite way to grill salmon is to brush it with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme or dill and top it off with thinly sliced lemon and scallions. My friend suggested seasoning it with salt, pepper, thyme, melted butter and brown mustard. I hadn’t done that before. It was a good choice. The mustard made a nice thin crust and the butter sealed in the moisture.

We ran into the “salmon fairy” again a few days later. We thanked him and in our conversation, Jeffrey confessed that we’d thought he was a burglar. Then we all laughed that only in the Northwest do people break in to leave you with salmon.

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