Close your eyes. Speak the word “salmon.” Where does it take you?
This is how the organizers of The Salmon Project introduce their research in a new book called “Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from The Salmon Project.”
“Salmon and Alaskans,” writes executive director Erin Harrington in the collection’s introduction. “We have danced with one another for a millennia. For thousands of journeys around the sun, for more than three millions spins of the earth, for hundreds of thousands of turns of the seasons, we have shared a rhythm.”
The Salmon Project began as a series of focus groups in Alaska communities. Strangers from around the state, not necessarily fisherman, gathered to discuss their values and what it means to live in Alaska. The conversations always included salmon.
“We are salmon people,” wrote Harrington. “In our research and engagements with Alaskans about salmon in their lives, one word comes up again and again — lifeblood. People find salmon so vital to their lives that to be separated from it would cause irreparable harm.”
The book, edited by New England transplant Nancy Lord, is an anthology of salmon stories. A young wildlife photographer staked out on a river on an island in Southeast Alaska, waiting for his chance to photograph his first bear. A 63-year-old woman in Wasilla remembers a 68-pound king salmon she caught on the Kenai River in 1983. A lifelong Alaskan’s conversation with a pediatrician when she asked if her three-month-old son could start eating salmon. Stories about “love at first chew” and family trips to fish camp.
“Salmon, for our indigenous cultures, were — and are — of course much more than food. Social organization, seasonal patterns, technologies, art, customs and beliefs, rituals, trade, warfare — all of these and more were built in part on relationships to salmon,” writes Lord. “Today, as narratives in this volume will show, Alaska Native cultures maintain a deep and abiding connection to salmon and to values that developed alongside the shared use of salmon.”
These are beautiful stories about the fishing life and what it means to live in Alaska. The book also includes photographs by Clark James Mishler that “capture some of the faces and places that are, here in Alaska, made of salmon.”
Whether you’re an Alaskan familiar with these tales or a fisherman from a different region, you’ll enjoy learning about the culture and just how much a fish can mean to someone.
University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks