Keeping Beauty Alive

Katherine - Juneau, Alaska
Entered on September 2, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

There’s a place I go in August to fish for silver salmon—it’s a narrow pass between two wooded islands, where the green Alaskan ocean is always moving, powerful and restless. My partner and I, in our little boat, trail our fishing lines slowly through the currents. While we fish, we talk quietly, listen to humpback whales’ explosive breaths, watch scraps of cloud snag themselves on the ridges.

It’s always a jolt to the heart, when a fish strikes. The rod tip jerks down, I leap up—and the fish and I are connected, feeling the vibrations of each other’s lives.

There’s no guarantee who will succeed. A salmon is fast, and strong—it can slip the hook or break the line. But sometimes I will make a fish mine—I’ll give line as it dashes away, then take it up when it slackens, back and forth, always a little closer, until the fish is beside the boat, its silver sides flashing. Then we’ll scoop it into the net, and we’ll end its life, and bring it aboard, and I’ll run my hand over its side as its colors fade.

We’ll take it home, and we’ll have fresh salmon for supper. And in that salmon on the plate will be all of the beauty of this day: the breathing whales… our own quiet companionship… the green life of forest and ocean, cradling us, cradling the salmon… and the salmon itself, with its heartbreaking, ephemeral colors—even the sweet intricacy of its interior architecture: chevrons of pink-orange flesh pierced by translucent bones. It will be a meal made of beauty.

I am the beneficiary of so much that is beautiful: this fish, this day, the kindnesses of family and friends, the satisfaction of meaningful work, the chance to live surrounded by a landscape of such wild gorgeousness that even after 34 years here it can still bring me to tears. I am a consumer of the beautiful.

I believe in the conservation of beauty—the responsibility to keep it alive. If I simply swallow it all, and move on, unmindful… if I don’t even try to let that loveliness live on through me, it ends here. So how do I act as a pathway, rather than as a receptacle? How do I even attempt to transmute, and transmit, the grace of a bright salmon on a fine August day?

I think the process starts with recognizing the beauty that I take in, in any form: food, art, laughter, rest. It continues when I acknowledge how that goodness has fed my own spirit—and then ask myself, how can I be generous, brave, or loving today?

It’s a simple idea, but of course simple doesn’t mean easy. What’s easy is to accept beauty without even recognizing it. But I’m trying.

Thank you, salmon. Thank you, ocean. Let’s share the gift of this fish with a friend. Let’s not allow its beauty to end here.