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Synopsis: The small boat fishermen and women of Southeast Alaska have a unique culture and language, captured in a delightfully fun manner in The Bight Before Christmas. The rhythms and plot are the same as the classic Christmas original, but that is where similarities cease.
On Christmas Eve in a quiet cove off the Gulf of Alaska, while the crew nestles in their berths, the skipper of the F/V Navidad is roused from his bunk by a commotion in the water outside, as a familiar Yuletide visitor arrives in an overflowing skiff powered by a killer whale, salmon, herring and gumboot.
Know what a gumboot is?
(A mollusk with a leathery skin, eaten by Alaska Natives).
How about hootchies?
(Colorful and strange fishing lures that look like squid or octopus, used to make salmon bite the hook).
These and other Southeast fishing terms are explained in a glossary at the end of The Bight. We hope you enjoy this version of one of the most famous of Christmas stories, re-told from a maritime point-of-view!
The Bight was written by Will Swagel, who has been chronicling the stories of the people of Sitka and Alaska for nearly 30 years. It is illustrated by Colin Herforth, a Sitka artist, musician and former commercial fisherman. Book design and layout was done by freelance designer Hannah Portello-Swagel. The Bight is a Made in Alaska product, published in Sitka and printed in Juneau, Alaska.
A Little History:
The Bight Before Christmas started as a Christmas parody of The Night Before Christmas and was first published in the Sitka Soup on December 19, 2002. For the next six years, Sitkans took the poem as their own. It was read in school classrooms, posted on the walls of repair shops, sent to friends and relatives in the Lower 48 and overseas and performed in public gatherings.
After being bugged for years by Sitkans to publish the poem as a book, Swagel put a classified ad in the Soup looking for an artist with a wry or pumpernickel sense of humor. He was contacted by and immediately connected with Sitka artist Colin Herforth, who perfectly captured the Bight spirit in a series of watercolor paintings. As they worked, 2008 became 2009. And the rest of the story is $15.95!
About the Author: While the majority of people writing in and about Alaska focus on its magnificent scenery and bountiful wildlife, Will Swagel has always been more fascinated with the quirky human characters who inhabit the small, isolated towns at the very edge of civilization.
Since 1982, Swagel has worked as a public radio and newspaper reporter, magazine writer in Alaska and has said Yes over the years to a weird assortment of writing gigs. He has written about subjects ranging from the cow carcass found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to the pizzeria in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok that managed to make pizza even when they could not get tomato sauce or cheese. His writing and photographs have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Russian Life and Alaska Magazine along with numerous others.
To subsist in the harsh environment of the North, Swagel now operates the Sitka Soup, a 16-page, bi-weekly mix of ads, public service announcements and Sitka-centric features, whose relevance disappears as soon as one leaves Sitka (Luckily, the City and Borough of Sitka is the second largest city in the U.S, ranking in at 4,800 square miles of land mass, mostly uninhabited forrest. Of course, Yakutat, Alaska is nearly twice as large, but Yakutat Soup does not sound as good.)
One Soup item popular with senior women and the lunch counter crowd is a crossword puzzle that includes the names of local people as clues (ex. CLUE: Campbell and Richards. ANSWER: Norms.). Each issue of The Soup also contains an episode of Our Town, which for more than 10 years has tracked a few adventures and many more misadventures of the Soupster and various Sitka townsfolk.
The work of illustrator, Colin Herforth, as an artist and as a person, is shaped in response to the human and natural life he finds around him. Inspired by everything from Southeast Alaskan fishing communty to vibrant village scenes of Mexico and Central America, his watercolors and pastels consistently come alive on the page. The very air comes alive if you seat Herforth behind jazz drums!
Born to a musical family in Cleveland, Colin found his way to Seattle and signed on to a crab factory-processor that worked the waters off the Aleutian Islands, the string of sparsely wooded and populated volcanic islands that are the farthest western point of North America. These giant, industrial vessels are the ones that take the crab from the Deadliest Catch style crabbers in areas far from shore, so the catcher boats can spend more time fishing. Colin found he liked the fishing world, but sought a smaller scale.
He found it in Sitka, where he moved in 1976 to hand-troll for king and coho salmon and longline for halibut and black cod. He fished for 14 seasons, which has to be one of the reasons that commercial fishermen on both coasts have found the images in The Bight to be spot-on.
In 1981, Herforth went to Mexico with a fisherman friend and ended up meeting his life partner, Christie Jones, an American artist living there. They returned to Sitka together and opened Fairweather Prints, a Sitka gallery that specializes in silk-screened and hand-painted clothing and all sorts of folk and fine art from both Alaska and Latin America. Colin and Christie travel South each year (last year was Ecuador) to find interesting new items for the store and inspiration for their art.
Herforth describes himself as painter, cartoonist and musician (drums and guitar). For the paintings, go to Fairweather Prints. For the drums and guitar, find out where in Sitka the bands Slack Tide or Jazz on the Rocks are playing. For a memorable taste of his cartoonist side, check out the humorous, accurate, colorful images that abound in The Bight Before Christmas!
Title: The Bight Before Christmas
Publisher: Will Swagel Ink
Book Condition: Very Good
Book Description Will Swagel Ink, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: Used: Good. A used book in good condition. All pages are intact, and the spine and cover are also intact. May have some usage wear, missing or damaged dust jacket, stickers, cover creases, bumped corners, bent pages, remainder mark, previous owner label or name, inscription, notes, underlining and/or highlighting. Text only; no CDs, InfoTrac, Access Codes, Activation Keys, or other inclusions, unless otherwise noted. Bookseller Inventory # J177-SK-0860635