Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice Fishing Extravaganza!

Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year, and one of the most widely celebrated earth holidays around the world. People who use the sun for a clock and a calendar throughout the world watch as the sun seems to move further north in the sky every day between mid winter and mid summer. On mid summer's day the sun seems to stand still before beginning it's move back south towards the winter solstice. Summer solstice is also the day of the longest daylight and generally mild weather throughout the northern hemisphere.

Just like for the winter solstice and the equinoxes I make a point to celebrate the longest day of the year by waking up for the sunrise. This year I had an especially important reason to wake up for the 5:30 am sunrise - I was going fishing!

A student as the school I work at is a charter boat captain during the summer. He offered me and a friend a trip on his boat and I said yes! My friend David and I drove down to Garibaldi, a town on the Northern Oregon Coast on Friday night and pitched a tent at a campground about 10 minutes north of town. We were lulled to sleep by the roaring of the ocean and the whisper of wind in the shore pines. The cell phone alarms went off at the absurd hour of 4:45am and I laid in my sleeping bag for a few minutes listening to the birds. The sky was still quite dark and it was that fantastic hour of the morning chorus. I was thrilled to hear my favorite birdsong, the varied thrush. It's a woody flute like, spiraling sound that has always sounded like fairy music to me.

It only took us a few minutes to pack up camp and get down to the docks in time for the 5:30 check in. It was a cloudy morning but the sky was distinctly lighter as we headed out of the Tillamook Bay into the Pacific Ocean. Once the sun came up over the coastal mountains there was a few minutes of sunshine on the water and clouds. How magical!

The magic only lasted a few minutes, unfortunately, as my increasing nausea crested along with the sun slipping back behind the clouds. The boat was roomy enough for the dozen adults on board, but still a very small thing in a very large ocean. Once we got to the fishing grounds I gave in and fed the fishes before casting my first line. Apparently all those years of drinking in college have finally paid off and I was fine with getting sick and then getting right back to fishing. I've always been a trooper like that.

We were fishing for rockfish, a bottom dwelling group of fish that are generally not terribly pretty to look at. My first catch was a canary rockfish, an exception to that rule. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to keep the pretty orange fish but I quickly pulled out another rockfish that I could keep. As the day went by my seasickness did not really diminish but neither did my enthusiasm for fishing. The highlight of the day was when I pulled a humongous, 30 inch ling cod out of the ocean. I promptly named him Fred and started daydreaming about how I was going to prepare him for eating.

The day was fantastic for sightseeing as well. We saw grey whales on the way out and blackfish (a toothed whale inbetween dolphins and orca in size) on the way back. We stopped in a cove at Oswald West State Park and got a close up look at the seastacks and seacaves. The whole day was filled with seabirds like brown pelicans, auklets, and my favorites, the murres. Murres fill the same ecological niches as penguines and, like penguines, look dapper in their black and white plumage. They are quite graceful underwater but rather ungaingly on land or in the air and always look like their on the brink of falling right out of the sky.

Despite the seasickness and the jelly legs when I got back on dry land it was an immensely fun day. I like to spend solstice days outside as much as possible and this was the epitome of being outside. The weather was great and my freezer is now stocked with more fish than I've eaten in the last year combined.

All good celebrations should be culminated with a feast so the next night I brought one fillet of Fred to a friend's house to share. Half the fish fed four of us to stuffing point, with extras for my breakfast the next day.

Pesto Baked Ling Cod

1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup water
3 green onions
2 tbs fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbs prepared pesto
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
The biggest white fish fillet you can find - or four regular sized portions

  • Combine the olive oil, water, onions, fresh basil, salt and pepper in a small blender jar. Blend until combined and then stir in the pesto. Reserve approximately 5 tbs of the marinade in a resealable container and add the lemon juice.
  • Lay the fish out on a parchment paper lined sheet of aluminum foil. I had to use two sheets of foil crimped together to make a bed big enough for the fillet. Cover the fish with the pesto marinade and wrap well in the parchement and foil. Be sure to fold the parchment over so the foil doesn't touch the fish. Marinate in the fridge up to 24 hours.
  • Place the fish packet in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake, still wrapped, until fish is cooked through and flakes with a fork. My fillet was approximately 2 inches thick and took 40 minutes. Thin fillets will take less time. Remove fish to a serving platter and drizzle the reserved marinade and lemon juice over the cooked fish. Serve with rice, salad, and more lemon for squeezing over top.

One of the key elements of nature based spirituality is the understanding of the cyclical nature of life. Death and winter are not the end, they are the middle. All life on earth requires the death of other life to survive. Solstice is a time when the Father Sun's energy is at it's peak, but also the time when that energy starts declining. In the wiccan Great Story this is the time when the God is starting his descent toward his sacrificial death - giving his life so all life may survive. Fred gave his life, however unwillingly, so that I and my friends may share in the life giving aspect of a celebratory feast. Thank you Fred! May your relations live long and happy lives in the depths of the ocean. And may we all feel the blessings of the Sun God on these, the longest days of the year!

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