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About Bays

From Moby Dick by Herman Melville

People wax rhapsodic about the ocean. The crashing, musical, frothing, dramatic, holy shit! ocean. But I live on a calm cove off Richardson Bay, one of five that make up San Francisco Bay, the largest estuary of the Pacific Ocean. It smells like eucalyptus and fog and brackwater. Egrets, great blue, and night herons fish anchovies in the rivulets left by low tide. Cormorants and pelicans, tufts of light and dark, are year-round residents. The hull of my home is bedazzled with barnacles and native Olympia oysters.

We just hosted Wild Food Camp on an island in Kachemak Bay in South Central Alaska. This bay was my first love. Wind and water currents swirl around the inlets, spits, and bounce off islands and fjords. Williwaws and squalls blow through with day breezes and lenticular clouds gather above the peaks; then, late in the summer, moonlight puddles up on calm quicksilver water and the muddy delta left behind by huge tides. I moved to Alaska over 20 years ago, and when I go back and visit Kachemak Bay now, I still pause to catch my breath. Her winds smell like honey and ice and over the rush of them, you can hear the calls of oystercatchers and whales exhaling.

Bays of the Salish Sea, where we had Lummi Island Wild Food Camp, smell differently. Some briney and some floral, the air thick with recent rain. Islands, like scalloped apparitions, floating green and tangled above a turquoise sea. A commercial fisherman on Lummi, Riley Starks challenged me to a competition. “Blind taste test. Our wild salmon against your Californian or Alaskan salmon,” he said. “Let’s see who has the best salmon.” I responded, “How do you pick a winner? We all love what we know. Alaskans love their salmon, the sockeye and kings, and less so chums and pinks, but still. Californians will love their kings the best. And you will choose your salmon.”

There is no “best”. There’s learning to love a bay, tide to tide, and bite by bite.

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