An Alaska Native elder hangs salmon at her family’s Strait Slough fish camp on the Kuskokwim River (Courtesy Photo | Amy Gulick)

An Alaska Native elder hangs salmon at her family’s Strait Slough fish camp on the Kuskokwim River (Courtesy Photo | Amy Gulick)

‘The salmon way’: Book explores connection between Alaskans and the resilient fish

The fish tell a deeply human story.

Whether they fished for sport, subsistence or to make a living, Amy Gulick asked every person in her new book the same question — what do salmon mean to you?

Gulick, the writer and photographer behind “The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind,” said regardless of where she was in Alaska or who she surveyed, she heard extremely similar answers.

“The cool thing was, at the end of all my research, if you were to read everybody’s answers, or blindfold yourself and listen to everybody’s answers, you wouldn’t know who they were,” Gulick said in an interview with the Capital City Weekly while in town to promote her book. “Everyone was pretty much giving me the same answer. The word cloud would be something like, ‘family, community, culture, connection to a home stream, connection to the land, connection to a very valued way of life.’”

Amy Gulick smiles outside on a gray May day in Juneau, Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Amy Gulick smiles outside on a gray May day in Juneau, Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

She said occasionally asking about the meaning of salmon would be too abstract for people, so she would ask them to imagine what life would be like without salmon.

[Hundreds show up to greet new ferry]

Gulick said respondents typically said they would lose a sense of community or a fundamental part of their identity.

Losing salmon isn’t a hypothetical for Gulick, who is a resident of Washington state, where salmon runs have plummeted.

“I’ve always been very intrigued that Alaska is still a place and probably the best place and really probably the only place left in the world where the lives of people and salmon are linked, and that’s really the relationship I set out to explore and celebrate in the book. ” Gulick said.

Previously, Gulick documented salmon’s connection to just about all organic life in the region in the book, “Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest.”

Amy Gulick talks about her new book, “The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind,” Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Amy Gulick talks about her new book, “The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind,” Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

She said “The Salmon Way” took about five years from conception to completion.

Gulick, who does not fish commercially and grew up in the Midwest, said the reason she feels drawn to salmon as a subject matter is that the fish tell a deeply human story.

She said salmon display an indomitable will to live and perseverance in the face of predators as they leave their home streams for the ocean only to return later and pass on their genes.

“I think in salmon, we see ourselves,” Gulick said. “When I look at salmon, and I look at their journey, I think of my own journey, and I think about how short my time is here. I think on a fundamental level, we all want our life to have meaning —whether they do or not.”

A salmon tattoo featured in Amy Gulick’s book, “The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind.” (Courtesy Photo | Amy Gulick)

A salmon tattoo featured in Amy Gulick’s book, “The Salmon Way: An Alaska State of Mind.” (Courtesy Photo | Amy Gulick)

“They’re totally a metaphor for our lives,” Gulick said.

Additionally, she said in the communities that are still home to salmon, they’re a binding agent.

[Measles could get off the boat in Juneau]

“Regardless of who you are in Alaska, commercial or sport, Alaska Native, subsistence, personal use, I think all of those groups of people have a lot more in common than they think they do,” Gulick said. “I hope that people can see that anyone who has a relationship with salmon that there are more commonalities than differences. We need to be fighting for salmon, not fighting over salmon. I think that’s key.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


More in News

Gabe Donohoe, lead sewer, works on creating face shields for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing people with hearing loss or dead people to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)
Local mask-making company continues to grow

In two weeks, they’ve produced and shipped more than 6,000 of the specialized face masks.

1
Juneau students earn degrees and honors

Recognitions for May 31, 2020.

A sign on a city bus urges the use of face coverings, but following an ordinance passed by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, all passengers will now be required to wear masks on buses and while using other city facilities. Friday, May 29, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)
Face coverings now required on buses, in city facilities

Masks will be provided for those who cannot afford them.

Police calls for Sunday, May 31, 2020

This report contains public information available to the Empire from law enforcement… Continue reading

Juneau City Hall on Monday, March 30, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)
Finance committee votes to hold line on property tax

“Projects will still go on. Services will still go on.”

Police calls for Friday, May 29, 2020

This report contains public information available to the Empire from law enforcement… Continue reading

Most Read