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Saltwater summer is about a young man's first summer as a commercial salmon fisherman on the BC coast. Don Morgan is a seventeen-year-old who has made enough money trapping on northern Vancouver Island to buy himself a 32-foot West Coast salmon troller known as the Mallard. He thought this was all he wanted from life, now almost nothing about it was good. The fishing his first season began poor, and if things didn't pick up, the Mallard, which had only been his for three months, would have to be sold to repay old Shenrock for loaning him the money. Don collaborates with his friend, and fellow fisherman Tubby Miller, whom he had partnered with for years at Bluff Harbor School, and through trapping together during the previous winter.
The two pair up and proceed up north, to where they figure they will make their keep. Along the way, the two meet up with a few seasoned veteran fishermen. Among them are Red Haliday, and Tom Moore, who together share the duties of the Falaise. The four men quickly become friends and agree to meet up again once they reach Pendennis Island.
They run into old friends, from years ago, and solve many problems along the way, like how to stop two feuding Irishmen, without drowning their cat. Even though they split up for a while, and Don nearly gets arrested for shooting a buck out of season, Don and Tubby overcome their many trials and tribulations. As the fishing season draws closer to an end, a violent storm raises. A fisherman known as Old Cowbells is stranded out in the raging water. It is Don and Tubby, along with Tom who go to his aid, risking their own lives to save another.
Tubby agrees to stay on with Don, and the Mallard does not have to be sold. In the end, the life of these fishermen is really not that bad.
The story takes place along the BC coastline from the Fraser River up to Prince Rupert. It is not centered on strictly the ocean, but around the beautiful landscape and scenery they come to along the way. We find out not only about the shores and the water, but about the mainland, and surrounding forest as well.
The raging ocean becomes evident when Red says, "I've seen boils of water there'd make you think the whole ocean's coming up at you from the bottom" (Haig-Brown 31).
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There are several fishing communities set up along the passage that Don and Tubby follow. The fist they run into is Sullivan's Camp, distinguishable by its "untidy collection of buildings on log floats, tied in a sheltered bay near the entrance to Viscount Channel" (Haig-Brown 45). We know that communities like this are set up for fishing, due to the easy access to the water, and because they are located at the mouths of channels so as the fishermen come in for the night, they have a place to collaborate and exchange stories. There are several other settlements along the channel built on log floats as well. "The cannery settlement … in Hardnose Cove" (Haig-Brown 97) is another example of one.
The fishing comes easy to Don and Tubby, "fishing the eddy behind the island by first daylight the next morning. The tide was right and they began to catch fish almost at once," (Haig-Brown 58).
At first, Don's heart is not in the sea. He thought this might be the life for him, however, as he keeps looking to the shoreline, wondering what else is out in the world, we wonder if this is the life for him.
looking beyond the line of driftwood that marked
the tide's limit and wondering about the woods
and hills that climbed away from the shore… They
were in a different world at once. The shores of the
lagoon were sandy and reeds grew along the edge.
When Don and Tubby leave the boat for the first time Tubby begins to sense Don's restlessness, and his need to explore. They come across "an old cabin rotting back into the moss and dampness of the forest" (Haig-Brown 85), and conclude it mist have been that of a hand trapper, showing that this area along the coast has more resources than just fishing.
Don gets a personal experience of the forestry when he is forced to find a new cedar pole after breaking one of his own.
There was the smell of woods in it, of wet earth soft
under-foot, the brush of leaves and branches against
clothing, … he could feel the woods about him …
he found a thicket of tall straight poles A mountain
climbed steeply up from the salt water, through three
thousand feet or more of green timber to scrub and
bare rock. From the water's edge a red gash cut back
through the green for several hundred feet and
Don knew handloggers had worked there.
As Don explores the surrounding coastal timberlines we get a better perception of the area. The physical landscape seems very believable because "On the moist west slope of the Coast Mountains it is the amount of snow that governs the upper limit of tree growth to around 1650 meters, the lowest treeline in BC" (Cannings 8). And as Don continues his trek up the mountainside he "came into standing timber. It was small stuff, spaced out and hung with branches, split by bluffs and little slides…As he climbed, the timber became sparser, the bluffs steeper and more numerous" (Haig-Brown 148). So as Don climbed higher up the slope he rose "above the limit of the conifers, eventually giving way to the treeless alpine zone" (Cannings 11).
When the raging storm approaches it is up to Don, Tubby, and Tom to return and try and find Old Cowbells. We get a glimpse of just how powerful the ocean is when the Falaise comes out of the harbor "into three backbreaking swells, steep and high and short" (Haig-Brown 224). These swells toss around the forty-foot boat, threatening to overpower her. The water pours over the deck of the boat, washing sand and debris into the corners.
The end of fishing season is distinguished by "a mild southerly blow" (Haig-Brown 241), evident of the strong impact the coastal weather has upon the wildlife of the area. This weather front is most likely that of the westerlies, commonplace in the early fall.
As the four men return home to the Starbuck (Fraser) River the "gold of maple and scarlet of dogwood [show] through the dark green of fir and hemlock up the hillsides" (Haig-Brown 242), showing not only the season but also the forestation in and around the Fraser Valley. We know this to be true because "The boreal and sub-alpine forest of British Columbia are dominated by firs and hemlock, the foliage of which provides the smell of the British Columbia mountains" (Cannings 51).
The natural landscape of BC lends itself well to the story. The author has incorporated the landscape and common features of both the sea, and the land. This gives the story an atmosphere, and shows how the human activities of the area also affect the surrounding industries, such as fishing and trapping. The images provide us with some insight into the essential character of the region.
Haig-Brown, Roderick. "Saltwater Summer.
Harbor Publishing, Maderia Park, BC © 2000
Cannings, Richard and Sydney. British Columbia: A Natural History
"Mountains and Northern Forests"
Greystone Books, Vancouver BC © 1998