By TED ERICKSEN
I used to be a terrible ‘worry wart.’ But no more. In the summer of 1942, I had an experience that banished worry from my life – for all time, I hope. The experience made every other trouble small by comparison.
For years I had wanted to spend a summer on a commercial fishing craft in Alaska, so in 1942 I signed on a thirty-two-foot salmon-seining vessel out of Kodiak,Alaska. On a craft of this size, there is a crew of only three: the skipper who does the supervising, a No.2 who assists the skipper, and a general work horse, who is usually a Scandinavian. I am a scadinavian.
Since salmon seining has to be done with the tides, I often worked twenty hours out of twenty-four. I kept up that schedule for a week at a time. I did everything that nobody else wanted to do. i washed the craft. I put away the gear. I cooked on a little wood-burning stove in a small cabin where the heat and fumes of the motor almost made me ill. I washed the dishes. I repaired the boat. I pitched the salmon from our boat into a tender that took fish to a cannery. My feet were always wet in my rubber boots. My boots were often filled with water, but I had no time to empty them. But all that was play compared to my main job, which was pulling what is called the ‘cork line.’ That operation simply means placing your feet on the stern of the craft and pulling in the corks and the webbing of the net. At least, that is what you are supposed to do. But, in reality, the net was so heavy that when I tried to pull it in, it wouldn’t budge. What really happened was that in trying to pull in the cork lines, I actually pulled in the boat. I pulled it along on my own power, since the net stayed where it was. I did all this for weeks on end. It was almost the end of me, too. I ached horribly. I ached all over. I ached for months.
When I finally did have a chance to rest, I slept on a damp, lumpy mattress piled on top of the provisions locker. I would put one of the lumps in the mattress under the part of my back that hurt most – and sleep as if I had been drugged. I was drugged by complete exhaustion.
I am glad now that I had to endure all that aching and exhaustion because it has helped me stop worrying. Whenever I am confronted by a problem now – instead of worrying about it, I say to myself, ‘ Ericksen, could this possibly be as bad as pulling the cork line?’ And Ericksen invariably answers, ‘No, nothing could be that bad!’ So I cheer up and tackle it with courage. I believe it is a good thing to have to endure an agonizing experience occassionally. It is good to know that we have hit bottom and survived. That makes all our daily problems seem easy by comparison.