With branches laid in place on Thursday and Friday, the waters around the kelp beds turning from their dark blue to the welcomed milky pastel green that signals the beginning of the spawn, the staff of Klawock Cooperative Association (KCA) waited impatiently through the weekend.
Morning arrives, overcast with a bit of a chill in the air as the crew climbed aboard the boat and headed out to check the hemlock branches that had been anchored out several days prior.
Arriving at the kelp beds the area was wild with life, sea lions and gulls, ducks and sea otters, seals and of course, the herring. The water was active and the air was filled with the smell of spring as the crew began to pull in the branches.
Slowly they rose to the top, like a white flocked Christmas tree rising through the cloud of spawning herring came the branches to be pulled into the boat. Grinning, excited voices mixed with the happy first tastes of this spring subsistence harvest as the gear was hauled in and the branches securely stowed.
The boat starts and moves closer to the kelp bed, the kelp hook arcs into the air to splash behind a strand of kelp and the crew begin to haul it in. Kelp fronds are carefully selected and picked leaving the kelp bulb intact so that next year the fronds will grow back. The large leaves show a healthy layer of herring eggs as they’re also carefully stowed away, the crew enjoying a fresh morning snack of fish eggs on kelp as they finish their diligent harvest then start the boat once more and turn toward home, sending a brief message ahead of them to let the community know that it’s been a good harvest.
The boat arrives at the dock as the sun begins to break from behind the clouds, and even as it ties up people are waiting, small children on tip-toes, elders smiling in anticipation as the crew lifts the heavy totes from the boat to the dock. The sounds of laughter and celebration fill the air as the crew begins to bag and distribute the harvest, we make sure that the elders get first pick, the kelp being highly prized goes first and the elders grin and smile as we make sure they have what they need.
Children dart in and out among those assembled to snatch little bites here and there from the branches or small pieces of kelp passed to them “slyly” by staff and elders alike. The sun warms us as we share this time together, the community members coming and going as the tides themselves, the staff smiling and making sure that we share as much as possible with those who visit us.
You can feel it in the air, palpable and real, an electric current that passes between the staff and the community, a connection, a bonding developed through this sharing, a tie to the past and to the culture that we’ve continued into the modern age.
Thanks are given as we pass out the last of the harvest, we wash down the dock and the boats and the gear, the community thanks the KCA, and we in turn thank the herring and the ocean that provided for us once more this year.
It’s a good day, the sun is warm, the crew is tired, the community is happy and provided for, we welcome spring and the beginning of the subsistence season.