"In the middle of the narrow swift-running tidal river of Johns Pass, between beautiful Johns Island and Stewart. Still aboard the SAN JUAN II. We are whistling for somebody to row out to the boat and relieve it of its note-taking passenger. Nobody comes, though my old neighbor's boat swings at his float. He is up in the swamp, maybe. We'll have to go on to the next island and whistle for a lift––no, the good captain skillfully noses his boat into Dad's small float. Homer goes down and helps my small son, South Robin, and I off the boat, and here we are! (How it always delights one to catch or leave a boat in the middle of a channel or far out from any dock. As if somehow the world were still the simple, friendly, unhurried place they say it used to be. I know well enough that the boat's crew can quickly get enough of that sort of thing, but it is fun while it lasts!) We set our bags and typewriter onto the PAWNEE, Dad's boat, and wander off up the dusty farm road to look for the master of the farm. There comes Dad in the clumsy wagon driving old Barney! He has been up to the swamp with grain for the turkeys fattening them for the Thanksgiving market. We climb aboard and sit talking of gone days. The sea laps the beach a dozen yards from us, lolloping in and out of the potholes of the sandstone formations. How good it smells! Dad says he sits at his window during winter storms watching the spray and sniffing that fragrance of salt water and seaweed. The people who live on the islands say very little about the romance of their home, but when you do get them talking about the water, and boating, and beaches, and agates, you discover there is a very positive appreciation of the beauties around them.
We go down to the boat to chug over to Speiden, the headquarters of this big farm sprawled over three islands. We'll go by the reefnets and watch them fish awhile.
Oh, the familiar put-put of the little island launches, the smell of their exhaust, foul but somehow agreeable. The boats are twenty-thirty feet long, but there is no room on them. The engine with its oil and noise quite fills the cabin. The tender rides the afterdeck. The pilot stands at the wheel. If there is a passenger he rides in the seat of the tender if the weather is fine or hunkers down inside with the engine if the weather is rough. Roomy the boats look, but there is really no room for them at all. When outboard motors will do the work of inboards they will be enormously popular for the inboard engine is a hog for room.
The near slopes and bluffs stroll leisurely by as we swing out and around the point to the reefnets on the south slopes of Stewart Island. The incomparable thrill of being home again. Bellingham, I love you––jolly, friendly, cordial, lively little city that you are––but I love the islands more!
|June Burn loved the Islands,|
the people of San Juan County loved her in return.
Click to enlarge.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The long, white graveled beaches and lush green ravines, the rocky bluffs and steep hills, the little coves, the fields of kelp, the smooth fair waters or the white madness of wind-blown channels; the grain fields and fishing banks; the flowers and birds and romance––but we are at the fishing grounds!
One gear has already been lifted for the year, two others fishing now. Four, long, slender fishing boats lie out there on the water just outside the kelp field, the nets swung between each two boats, the leads running out fifty or more yards, spreading as they go. From the wooden floats of the leads hang lines that serve to direct the fish down the narrowing runway over the nets.
One man in each boat stands on a high box from which vantage he can see deep into the water and know when the fish are coming down the road, bound lickety-split for his net. He gives a signal to the other members of his crew that the fish are coming, bids them be ready, tells them when to begin lifting the net and directs the speed of their lifting.
At the gear furthest up towards the bay, Indians fish. General's thirty-foot canoe with its long, slender up-thrust bow and stern holds Willie Jim, maybe or Joe, with his two 16-year -old Indian girl helpers. In the other skiff fat old Isaac sits on the high box as watcher, while General (Major General Scott is his full given name) and one other man sit waiting for the signal.
At the gear that I am watching, Art and Louis stand at the bows of their respective boats. The helpers are gone. Dad gets into Art's boat to be ready to help in case the fish come. I wonder what they would have done if we hadn't come along, for two men cannot easily handle a net full of fish.
* * * * *
Suddenly, the three men stiffen as if electrified. "Tu-tu-tu-tu-tut" Art begins to shout, which interpreted means "Here come the fish!" "Not yet!" he shouts. "Now!" and "Slow boys! Slow, now! Now they're in! Haul her in, fast! Uumph, umph, umph!" the men grunt as they haul the net up. The towboats come together slowly, the fish wiggling and leaping in the net.
"Altogether, boys! Over with them! There goes a big fellow overboard––catch him, Louis! Ah-h-h!" as the net is emptied over into one of the boats––the one least full of fish. It is the end of the season and few fish are being caught. This is the only haul of the day, the boys are delighted to get even these few that leap and flop and squirm in Art's boat beside which I sit in PAWNEE's tender.
Once this summer, the boys say they had 1,600 salmon in the boats, 800 of them having been hauled in at once. What shouting and yelling, and pulling, and tugging there must have been that day! What a shining silver mass of salmon! What leaping overboard, what flopping and slithering! It is a thousand wonders the net didn't tear, so old and black it is.
The fish buyers come along every day and twice a day during the big run. Men hip-deep in fish, pitchfork the "shining apostrophes" from the 40' fishing boats into the fish buyer's barge, whence they are once more pitchforked into the receiving places of the cannery.
So much for reefnet fishing. See you tomorrow. June." Puget Soundings. June Burn.1929