PENINSULA - We read about heroes and we see them on TV, and in a way, we place our dreams on their shoulders and expect them to carry the extra load. We're lucky enough, sometimes, to live among them, and what I've noticed is how quiet the heroes seem to be in their daily life, how unassuming, how in tune they are to the world around them.
They can't really explain their lust for life and longing for adventure. They might turn away for a while, but they can't escape an overwhelming desire to push life, to find its joys and pleasures, to live more fully by doing spirited things. The thing that keeps them young, they seem to be saying, is to nurture their sense of wonder.
All of us are heroes in miniature: We've got to see over the next hill and around the next bend. It's life affirming stuff, this hero business; and to read about a woman who found her own self by searching out nature, by testing her will upon the sea; who tiptoed into Alaska only to be struck down onto all fours; who climbed back up and marched out proudly - almost arrogantly - well now, it's a privilege to share in a life like that.
Lorrie Haight has spent most of her life defying gender roles. She's crisscrossed the country on her Harley Davidson motorcycle; she's sailed into stunning - and stunningly dangerous - waters; she's fished in Alaska, and lived all alone in a cabin by a frozen sea. She's a woman with her feet on the ground and her eyes to the stars, and she doesn't ask for anything ... she takes it ...
The lure of Alaska captures our souls, but it took Haight's heart. In 1974, she signed on a small fishing boat and headed out from Seattle to Elfin Cove, Alaska, not really knowing what she was doing, not knowing where she would end up; believing only in herself and in her wits. She stepped out of an office and onto the deck of an old working man's boat bound for adventure. And wow, did she ever find it.
"First Time North" chronicles that adventure, at times tragic, tearful and out loud funny; heartwarming all the time, scary some of the time. Her picture of the inland waterway makes you want to say out loud, "My goodness, will you look at that!" The skipper seems like someone who crawled out from the sea and onto the boat. The parade of scraggly haired men and flannel shirted women, of bears and fish and crab and, well, just about everything, keeps you turning pages.
We live with Haight, we learn as she learns, we see those magnificent salmon being pulled from the water, we watch the timberline rising from the shore. We can almost feel the crisp mountain air as it braces across our face. This is Alaska! The land of strong coffee and even stronger whiskey, of grizzled miners and bearded loners, of dance halls and chain saws and hunting rifles.
It's a beautiful land but it takes no prisoners. The winters are harsh, the days are lonely and you find yourself sitting alone with Haight, staring out into the sunset, wondering who you are and what in the hell you're doing. But heroes don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. They cling only to the strength of their bodies and the resources of their minds. They are bound to the earth - and to the sea. They write about themselves, but leave the judgments to others.
"First Time North" is the story of one woman's quest to be her own hero. Through her book she's allowed us to follow her path. I wanted to savor this book, to read maybe one chapter a week, but I couldn't. "First Time North" - once you start it, you won't want to put it down.
Look for Haight's book in regional bookstores or call her directly at 642-8090 for an autographed and numbered copy.