The Bursch Family

As touched on in “Salmon Summer”, I didn’t really know what to expect from my first season venturing out to Pilot Point, Alaska as a commercial salmon fisherman with the Bursch family.

Just arriving into Anchorage beneath a clouded midnight sun was more than enough to process. The four hour drive south from Anchorage to Homer and the subsequent two hour flight to fish camp upped the fascination factor even further. So engrossed in the new world I found myself a part of, it would take a good couple weeks before the logistical issues surrounding provisioning and setting up camp began to register.

As for what was required to incorporate two small children into such an equation…that part never came close to registering, it being so far removed from my reality thescan0223n. It’s only now, 18 years on, that I’ve come to appreciate the planning and commitment required for such an endeavor.

Only now that a combination of curiosity and necessity have provided to impetus for the question and answer session that follows.

 

JWK: Can you give a bit of background on LBK (life before kids). How long had you guys been fishing, what you did between fishing seasons, did you travel a lot ect?????
Cate: We fished 8 summers before having our first child, Frances. When not fishing there was lots of adventuring. Traveling, living in the bush at our cabin in McCarthy, and dog mushing in the winters.
JWK: I know it’s not polite to ask a lady her age, but can I be so bold as to broadcast across the internet how old you guys were when Fran came on the scene?
Cate: I was 31, Tom was 28.
JWK: Were kids always part of the long term plan? If so, did you and Tom spend any real time planning how your fishing lifestyle could still work with a child/children?
Cate: Kids were always in the plan for me since I was a kid and grew up in a large family. i think for Tom by time we got married (1987), he wanted kids too. But we waited 5 years. One of the main reasons I chose set netting as the kind of fishing I wanted to do was that we didn’t want to be separated when we had kids. A lot of fishing wives spend the summer in town while their husbands are on the high seas all summer. But set netting is family friendly, so that’s one reason we got into that kind of fishing.
JWK: How young was Fran when you first ventured out to Pilot Point? Did you or Tom have to miss a fishing season?

Cate: Fran was 7 months old. But she had already lived more remotely in McCarthy, our then winter home. Smart salmon fishermen plan their children’s arrival! I was 6 months pregnant and fished most of the openings the previous summer. The local village health aide did my prenatal check-ups and I would report the results to my midwife.

JWK: Can you describe your frame of mind as you packed for that first season with a child in tow? Apprehensive…super nervous….was there any second guessing as to whether or not “Now just probably isn’t the best time to do this”?

Cate: I don’t remember being nervous at all but probably because we were living remotely in McCarthy so much that it was the norm. Plus, set netting is traditionally a family operation in Alaska and there were 3 other moms who brought their babies out that same summer on our beach. I enjoyed having the health aide in the village for routine check-ups and concerns. It all seemed perfectly fine.

JWK: Do you have any specific memories from that first season with Fran in tow that stand out? Moments that may have left you questioning the wisdom of your decision or was it all one of those, ‘fear of death is worse than death itself’ experiences?

Cate: I couldn’t afford to not fish any more than Tom could. We had planned to hire a nanny all along. I had a very loving Swiss gal about my age who doted over Frances when I was out fishing. She was a pretty good nanny and I wasn’t worried at all. However, there was one instance where Franny was on my back in the scan0234back pack and I turned my back on a piece of equipment I was washing with a hose. It fell against the pack. Luckily the strong upper frame of the pack took the blow and Frances never woke up. I was scared and shaken after that one! I was glad I had one of those old Tough Traveler packs. They were the first of the really good kid backpacks.

JWK: What was the toughest part of caring for two young children in such a remote place as Pilot Point? What’s been the best part?

Cate: The hardest part was to have one part of my brain on the kids and the other into fishing. This was stressful and other fishing moms say the same. It’s like trying to do 2 jobs at once. Dads are more able to turn the kid job off and focus primarily on the fishing. But the kids were always in the back of my head. I would get soooooo tired, because I’d come in from an opening and couldn’t sleep if the kids were upset or crying in the cabin with the nanny. I’d have to pitch a tent out in the grass to get away from their voices enough to sleep.

The best and most fun part was to all be piled in bed together on a cold and windy morning when we did not have to go fish that day! Then we’d teach the kids about all the stuff we were doing out there. We had fun. They grew up around abandoned baby seals, flounders, lots of sand and wind! But mostly a kid’s surroundings don’t influence them as much as the security they feel from their family. I really value the close knit family we ended up with because we worked together.

JWK: What are some of the biggest parenting lessons that your time fishing with the girls has taught you and Tom?

Cate: Our rule of thumb was that we couldn’t NOT do something with kids unless we had tried it 3 times and it still didn’t work out. You have to give yourself practice in taking kids along. First time might be hell. Second, a negative experience, Third time you figure it out, or its still bad and you quit doing it.

But most of the time you figure it out….You bring different gear, you adjust to the kids’ schedules or maybe you just don’t stop working when they are sleeping…etc. Parents’ first trip to the grocery store takes just as much learning and practice but its expected so we do it and figure it out. Traveling and other stuff isn’t that much different if you stick it out and make adjustments.

When people say they can’t do an activity anymore because they have kids, it usually means that the extra work it takes to do it with the kids isn’t worth it to them. Camping, hunting and traveling with kids is more work! That’s why most people quit. They don’t see that its worth that much effort. Sometimes the safety thing conveniently covers for the real reason.

The last parenting lesson Tom and I have to offer up comes from our experiences BEFORE having the girls. We trained dogs a lot before we were parents. It helped a lot. Both dogs and kids thrive on fair, consistent and well-timed corrections. I’m glad I had dogs and learned how to get them to be well behaved. It improved my parenting skills.

JWK: Lastly, to overprotective parents with bubble wrap at the ready , what would you say?

Cate: The imposcan0238rtant thing is to have a healthy loving relationship with your family. Find things to do with your family that you can all do together and have fun. Adventures can happen anywhere and working together as a family to come out of them on top is what bonds you together. Don’t stop doing fun and enriching things because you have kids, but don’t torture yourself trying to be something you are not. We did all this crazy stuff with our kids because that was the life we had already chosen and we happened to have kids and we wanted to be around them. We loved doing it so it was worth the extra trouble to involve the kids.

 

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  1. tracybuasmith July 31, 2015 Reply

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