It’s funny how your perspective changes when you shift locations.
It can be a big shift — the view of the Rocky Mountains, depending on whether one is traveling from the east or from the west — or it can be a small shift — the difference in outlook depending on how one orients her writing desk in the room.
For two weeks, I have been working in Dog Bay, having the opportunity to view Kodiak from an entirely different perspective.
My work is aboard the Bethany B, recently purchased by my friends Vic and Constance and moored at St. Herman Harbor. She’s a double-ended trawler, vintage roughly 1965, small by some standards but holding her own at the far end of the harbor among fishing vessels so massive that on-board communications are conducted over loudspeakers.
She’s a sound boat and very pretty, and she sighs and squeaks and hums while she sways contentedly upon the water. She jumps a little when the big boats leave a wake, but she settles quickly again, lolling while I work.
Normally, I work in my office at home. The orientation of my desk there allows me a glorious view of the Fuller Boatyard, the channel, Emerson Boat Works and Near Island.
During my hours at the computer, I watch as mechanical hoists lift vessels out of the water, trucks haul boats in and out of workshops, skiffs leave wakes as they pick up speed, and kayakers navigate the wakes left by skiffs. I see the Tustumena come and go, catch glimpses of barges and buoy tenders, watch the float planes shoot out of Trident Basin.
From my little crow’s nest above the dry dock I have no shortage of boats in my line of vision.
Life is different at Dog Bay. The air is cooler and more volatile here, the clouds brood longer into the day. And my work, which is outdoors and onboard and involves a paintbrush and not a computer, is altogether different than my normal routine.
It is a routine without email and instant access to my bank accounts. It is scrape, sand, tape, prime, roll and tip. Sand again. Roll and tip again. Repeat.
It is the sound of gulls squawking and ravens with their deep-throated calls. It is sea otters flopping around in the water and men pushing blue carts filled with groceries. It is children running along the docks with their parents a watchful 50 yards behind.
It is doing a job my friends and family can help me complete. Having old-timers stop by every day to inspect our work and offer encouragement. Talking with tourists — hearty ones, who have walked all the way over here — and pointing vaguely when they ask which boats were on “The Deadliest Catch.”
My perspective is less linear here. The here and now, the wood under my brush, the precip and temperature, the tackiness of the paint — these are the contours that are defined clearly today. I worry less about the year to come and focus on the world at hand.
Keeping my balance when the fishing vessel Irene H. swings wide and bumps the dock is a more pressing concern for me right now than worrying how I will retire later.
The opportunity to work with my hands always improves my perspective, especially when that work takes me outdoors in a beautiful setting. I know that this is a privilege directly related to the fact that, normally, putting food on the table does not require me to wreck my body doing physically demanding work day in and day out.
It is romantic for me precisely because it is unusual.
Still, when the tourists take out their cameras I realize how important it is for me to shift location from time to time. It helps me to see the world from outside of my self. It is no longer I, looking out the frame of my window and watching. Rather, it is me, my friends and my family working earnestly and expertly onboard a beautiful wooden boat, surrounded by massive, colorful fishing vessels, all moored to a dock in a beautiful Kodiak harbor. Neatly arrayed, all of us the objects in someone else’s impression of the island.