Sara Loewen

saraloewenAlaska Literary Award, 2016

Sara Loewen is the author of Gaining Daylight: Life on Two Islands, which won the Willa Award for creative nonfiction. She earned her MFA from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Her essays have appeared in Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from the Salmon Project, and the Alaska Dispatch Magazine, 61 Degrees North. She works at Kodiak College and commercial fishes for salmon with her family at their setnet site in Uyak Bay.


This land, this water, this air, this planet—this is our legacy to our young.

                                                                                             -Paul Tsongas

Our six-year-old wasn’t happy about leaving the fishsite this fall. What kid wants to give up daily skiff rides and building beach fires and driftwood forts for alarm clocks and classrooms?

To ease his reluctance, I let him pick out his first real fishing pole when we were back in Kodiak. His little brother, Luke, inherited the rusty push-button rod with Star Wars sound effects that no longer casts but is still good for poking at things.

Grandpa wasn’t sure that Liam was ready to bring in a silver, and it’s true I spent a good part of our first trips to the river untangling his hook from alders and steering Luke and the dogs away from his erratic casting.

But when he backed a bright twelve pounder onto the gravel, and we drove that silver straight to Grandpa’s, and when, every day during journal time for the first month of first grade, Liam drew fishing scenes —I could see the river, the flight and fall of each shining lure, the beauty of those salmon, the praise over dinner—all becoming a part of my son’s story.

For the remainder of the fall, after school and every weekend morning, Liam begged to be taken fishing. And often we went, even though it meant lifting our old lab into the bathtub to wash off the slime and stink of rotting humpies he’d rolled in. And drying out Luke’s boots over and over. Or wading out on a submerged tree, seven months pregnant, way over my boots, to untangle his lucky lure.

As parents, we want the stories that shape our children’s lives to be made of good things—effort and success, nature and wonder.


Salmon “embody our home places,” writes Tom Jay. “Salmon are the deep note of our dwelling here.”

I’ve watched our boys’ attachment to our setnet site on the west side of Kodiak grow with every season. To see it is to glimpse my husband’s childhood here—what made Peter the man he is, why he defines himself through this work and place.

Kodiak setnetters pick salmon one by one, pulling each fish from nets stretching one hundred and fifty fathoms into the ocean. How many thousands have passed through Peter’s hands?

From a mile across the bay, he recognizes reds or pinks or dogs by the shape and path of their leap. He knows salmon in a way I never will, though they are the calendar around which we arrange our year—moving to the cabin each May and returning home in the fall. Salmon are our mortgage payment, the food in our freezer, peace of mind in good seasons and worry in the lean ones.