Warm stink of fish. Straight to my face. Warm and humid, eye-hurting, burning smell of dead fish. Yucky! Can smell kill one? I think here it could. In a fishing hut.
It’s seven in the morning and I’ve just walked through a silent, ice-cold fishing building and opened the door to my fishing hut. It’s been over-heated during the night. We’re standing right above, sea and the cold water breezes cold air through the paper thin walls, windows and floors. That’s why we turn the heaters to max every night. And that’s why the one coming in first in the morning is the one how has to face the smell; struggle to survive the possible death. Yes. I’m definite. Smell can kill. Through your eyes!
It’s Sunday. November 2014. Father’s day in Northern Europe. Nobody’s here today except for me. Well, if you don’t count in the yucky mackerel souls, the bites I’m supposed to start hooking to a line. There’s a big bucket of hooks and fishing line waiting for me. The line’s 500 meters long and has 400 hooks attached to it. I’m about to put fish bites to hooks and the line to a bucket. That’s what a line hooker does.
See, that’s what I am now; line hooker. Or fisherman’s hooker, like a friend of mine translated my new position.
Oh, you’ll get it if you do…
Now, this is a line bucket.
And this is a toilet seat. This was waiting for me on my desk couple weeks earlier when I paid my first visit to my new office. It was my new colleagues welcoming me to work. I thought it was a lot fun. Well, poo-jokes, they’re always fun, right?!
Before I start to work, I take out a bucket from a freezer. It’s not your typical home freezer, it’s a whole big room. From another freezer I take out the bites, those there above. And then I lift them here on my desk. One empty bucket and another that comes straight out of sea. To floor I toss a bite bin. And voilá, I’m ready.
I put the radio on. It’s Radio Bø, the only radio station one can listen to in this god-forsaken little hut. See, the thing with Radio Bø is that it has a playlist of probably seven songs. And those seven god-forsaken songs this radio station plays over and over again. And I: I have to listen to the seven songs for 10 hours.
Off comes Prince’s Purple Rain! Yes! No surprise!
I take out the line from the bucket on my right side. I run it trough my hands and put an icy mackerel bite in a hook. I carefully twist the line and place it and the bite to the bucket on my left side.
Smooth operator. Me. And on the radio.
This goes on over and over again. Until up comes a broken hook. That needs to be changed to new one. Smooth operating stops also when ever there’s something stuck in hook: starfish, fish skin (oh that’s a lot of work to take off), you name it… But the point is simple and clear: clean the line that’s been to sea, put a new bite in a hook and place the line nicely to the other bucket.
500 meters. 400 hooks. And the next bucket!
Oh yeah, it’s sound so easy. But let me tell ya: NO. IT’S NOT.
”Keep down, don’t lift up, don’t let the line rest in your hands, let it flow.” These are the words of my teacher Lauri that keep clinging in my head. It has started to go somewhat well already. But in the beginning this was pure hell. It took me four hours to finish one bucket!
Now I’m at the speed of 2 hours 15 minutes. Something happened to me couple days earlier and it all clicked. If feel like I’m getting this now.
Speed is what this is all about; that you could finish a bucket as quick as possible (because you get paid according to the amount of buckets you’ve cleared). But what the speed is like, that’s a whole another question. It’s not speedy speed, it’s tranquility.
”Tranquility is speed”, I summarize the first life-philosophical thought line hooking has teached me by now. I’m quite sure this work will teach me a bunch other important, life-philosophical learnings.
But the tranquility: this is a skill demanding kind of art, a mind game. Lauri has said that it’s not about physical endurance. What’s needed is endurance between one’s ears, resilience, icy-cold nerves. This job demands one controls their mind. When ever facing a problem with the line, there’s no use in getting nervous. Ya gotta take it easy, line hooker!
Tranquilty is speed.
But I’m telling ya, this also needs a steely ass. Standing 10 hours on your feet requires some endurance of your buttocks no matter the mind game.
This place is whole another world. There are actually many smaller worlds next to one another in this building. We’re working in Bua 2, hut number two. There three of us: me, Lauri and Teemu. Teemu is as new to this place as I am and my most important colleague. In the other huts of this building, there are other teams working. We all have our own designated fishermen for who we are hooking for.
Today, I’m hooking in good pace. Operating smooth with the line as in comes the boss. Fritz, a 75-year-old fisherman. As always, Fritz is minding his own (and sometimes quite odd) business, lifting up buckets, arranging new hooks to their places; making them ready for me! You know, in this place, there’s no need to fawn over each other. Not me over my boss or him over me. Fritz sits down, takes a cup of coffee and lights his cigarette. He sits on his chair quietly for a while, then raises up, comes to peek me working behind my back, sighs approvingly and sits back to his chair.
He is quiet. He says nothing. It’s kinda good, because when ever he starts talking, I understand nothing. When my boss talks, it’s one of those moments you have to shake your head afraid some wire is permanently broken inside, ’cause you just don’t get anything. As for someone from Finland trying to speak norweigian, I think I’m doing pretty good but when it comes to the boss…
That’s why it’s good he’s silent and I’m silent.
You know, one actually does not need words here. There’s a magical atmosphere and connection. If I’d to be very life-philosophical I would say: ”In the fishing hut, we’re all brothers and sisters, the same family”. But that’s a little too grandeur to say even for me…
The cigarette has been smoked, coffee drunk. Off goes Fritz, as quietly as he’s entered the room. This is how it works. He’s not the only one dropping quietly in and silently sitting down just to observe. This is what everyone here does. There’s no need to talk all the time and explain one’s existence or achievements. The silent connection in this fishing hut talks more powerfully than some pointless babble.
Along with Fritz we have another fisherman as boss: Tom. They have their own boats but they always go out to sea together. Fritz is getting old and the sea is ruthless to everyone, even for the younger. So off goes Tom on his boat called Straumen and straight after him Fritz on his Elias. That’s how their nightly fishing trips go. I think it’s very sympathetic.
The day before, BY-THE-WAY, Tom popped THE question:
”When will you go to to sea with me?”
”How brave are you”, added Fritz to that.
And then Fritz said something else I just did not get, of course, besides that somehow it involved the word ”mus” which means ”mouse”. But figuring from the never ending laughter attack they got of this conversation of theirs, I’m figuring it might have meant something else too.
I understand Tom’s norweigian a little better but now I’m blown off. Did I really get this right? Me? On fishing trip? ”Mus”… Only after couple of weeks here and still a rookie in this village, I could go! They don’t usually like to take people with them, but now me! Yay!
Besides mice and bravery, weather is the most important topic everybody talks about at this end of the world. You can compare this conversation to your average workplace’s talk behind the backs: you know, which boss has been with which assistant. I mean, weather’s the biggest gossip and all kinds of rumors spread around. You can never be sure if the storm will end tomorrow or the day after. Everyone’s got their own truth. That’s why I’ve decided to listen only my fishermen. Now they have told there will be a storm coming which means they will not go fishing and there’s no work for me either.
By now I already know, rumors will start to flow again; when will we get back to work? And then one morning you just stick your nose out the door and see weather’s good again and you run straight back to work. That’s how it goes here. Not much predictability.
* * *
But right now I’m hooking. Smoothly. When you once get the rhythm to your system, you don’t have to think about it. Perfect flow in which everything falls into their place, and you move harmonically to the rythm. I’m not actively thinking about anything, things just come and go. It’s kind of like meditation.
In Norway line hookers job is even less valued than is the job of janitor’s.
”Aren’t you waisting the valuable Master of Social Sciences degree? Or your history as an entrepreneur and communications professional”, someone asked me before I moved here.
”No”, I replied.
I know there’s some greater thing to this that will be revealed to me later. This is what I’ve asked for. The chance to do something completely else, and get to live life outside my bubble. This is what I value even more than the degrees on paper.
I’m not saying this is is not icky. This is. Me, who is used to work in cool offices doing clean work is now putting dead fish on hook. But right now, I’m not afraid of my career being completely destroyed. I know this is one of the most important experiences in my life.
And even if a shitty job in someone’s eyes, who cares, I’m working with the best team I’ve ever worked with. I think many small boss could learn a great deal of this.
I mean, here we are, each standing beside our bucket. As the line flows and we hook the bites, we talk about big and small things, work, our histories and future. Sometimes we’re silent. Listen to Radio Bø and the seven songs. We learn from each other, develop our work methods, challenge our brain – this work is creative problem solving at it’s best.
We’re all equal here. We help each other, we listen to watch other. To be honest, this is all very new to me; that you can work this way. We don’t compete against one another, we compete together. Help one another to reach their goals and get better ourselves at the same time.
I’m right about in the middle of my second bucket. While hooking, I’ve been planning this very blog post and because my distracted thoughts I’m leaving a little behind time-wise. My mackerel bites have melt. And when bites melt, they become a mash that almost makes you throw up.
I mean, think about… a placenta! Now!
That’s how it is when bites melt.
This is how it should be, a little icy, easier to hook.
It’s the crayfish, that orange thing which is some zooplankton species of crayfish, calanus finmarchicus, that attracts the fish. Did you know that? The mackerel is actually subsidiary in this whole thing. The poor thing has just happened to eat a canalus finmarchius and when it’s fished to be a fish bite, the most important thing, canalus finmarchius, comes inside it’s stomach.
So the mackerel only is subsidiary! That’s what we all are. Only subsidiary creatures to something greater. Now THIS is the second life-philosophical learning line hooking has taught me.
”We all are subsidiary creatures to something greater.”
This all is passing. After us this world might not exist anymore. Norweigians don’t want to do this work so the line hookers have to be found from other countries. And if we don’t want to come here longer, there might not be anyone doing this. The other important thing is to find new young fishermen to continue fishing. But it’s getting harder to find these people. Other things and more efficient fishing methods interest the young more.
Of that I’m really sad for, but this trend is hard to change – if even impossible. At the very same time I feel myself very privileged to experience this all. I ordered something totally different of life, accidentally ended up here, and I got to experience a world of which I didn’t know a thing earlier.
I just want everyone to experience this. Show you the miracles one can find when stepping out of one’s little bubble; the belief that my reality is the only right one, the only approved one, the only possible one.
In this world, in this beauty of the nature my own bubble was crushed. There’s so much more to life, so many different ways
of living, of being.
”One is not more real or right than the other.”
Sorry, I can’t stop this. This is the third life-philosophical thought. Maybe the most important ever.
I swirl my line, take off the old bites stuck in the hooks, change hooks. After every hundredth comes a small green rope. By now I’ve learned this is called a ”stone rope” but I have no idea so far what that actually means. One learns one thing at a time. A learning after another piles up on the previous one. That’s important in line hooking; you can’t learn all at once.
I have a game: as I hook my lines, I learn one new thing bucket by bucket. I want every bucket to be finished few minutes faster than the previous one. That’s how I am. Competitive, willing to challenge myself. In this work those are good qualities. So are the butt muscles.
Tranquility is speed, I have to repeat to myself over and over again. The technique has to be flawless in order to be faster.
Purple rain! Only the fourth time today! Only one thing can be worse than this, and it is when Lauri starts to sing along the Purple Rain. He loves Bø. And Prince. I don’t.
I love carbs.
I’ve taken a brake and starting a new bucket. For a competitor like me line hooking is a game which is hard to stop. But brakes are very important. You got to remember to eat in between every bucket even if not hungry. Well that’s been easy to me. My body is screaming for carbs. The night before I woke up to my body aching. The day before I finished four buckets all together. 1 600 hooks. 2 kilometers of line. With preparations and cleaning it takes 2,5 hours to finish one bucket. And I took an hour walk with my dog too..
I’m just trying to justify the amount of chocolate I eat every day.
The biggest occupational accidents that take place at this office are caused by slimy bites on the floor or a hook ending up to various places. Like beneath your fingernail. Damn it hurts. But thank god for redfish! There’s antiseptic fluid in it’s eye and when one gets injured we just pop the redfish’s eye and put the finger in it.
These kinds of things I learn every day!
The second bucket of the day is already finished without problems. Aching from the previous day’s work, I decide to call it a day. I lift my bucket on wheelbarrow and roll it to the freezer to wait for Fritz. Sometime in the evening he comes and takes along the buckets and goes off to sea. Because of his age, Fritz fishes with six four-hundreds (proffs slang, ya know!). Tom usually takes about 10 three-hunders and a couple of 400’s. We hook new bucket as they use them.
This is how it goes. Round a circle.
I wash all my equipment, clean the hut and turn off the coffee maker. I mark the buckets I’ve completed today on a list an turn off Radio Bø. I guess I’ve gotten used to it, haven’t noticed the radio in hours.
I turn off the lights and make sure that the heater is properly on. While closing the door I come think: is there anything we could do to this smell?
On the other hand. In how many work places is it possible to fart without noticing?! Here it is… I guess there’s a good, reverse side to everything.
Yeah. There’s a good, reverse side to everything. Let that be the fourth life-philosophical.
* * *
I worked as a line hooker in Stø, Vesterålen in Norway from October 2014 to Februaty 2015. Line fishing is a form of fishing and a great craft work which is unfortunately a passing tradition on the coast of Norway.
I’m a blogger, writer, speaker and a communications professional now located in Finland. A woman, the (human)nature and an adventure is the theme I research in my work. Exposing myself to different adventures and new worlds I explore the nature around us and the human nature sharing my experiences of different kinds of ways people live around the globe.
Have an adventure for me? I’m more than happy to hear of it and join the ride, because I’m looking for a summer adventure right now, read more here!
The same blog post in Finnish here