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A BIG Fish Story {and dreaming of home}


A favorite writer of mine, and I must admit a soul-sister, has just released her memoir called Atlas Girl. It’s about home, and traveling, and ultimately finding the grace to be free wherever she may be. I’m telling a little travel story here, a BIG fish story actually, and linking up to Emily’s book blog. Thanks for reading about travel and home and grace here, friends. And might I nudge you over to Emily’s site? You will not be disappointed.

Dawn on the Sea of Cortez

In a blink the yellow rim of the sun crested above the gray-indigo waters of the Sea of Cortez. At once, the monochromatic light that washed all things hazy recoiled and the morning dawned brilliant in the sun’s full-color light. It shimmered afire.


I clicked on my camera’s button over and over, hoping for the perfect shot. Lowering my little point and shoot, I watched Venus hovering over the rising sun, just moments before it’s solitary white light gazed over the eastern horizon, but now her face, a wan reflection of the blazing sun, began its daily retreat into the blue sky and bright sunlight. She would return with the night.

I sat on the upper deck of the 33’ fishing boat, warm winds whipping my hair, and let the captain chase the sunrise and the sea and the big game fish we might catch. Morning broke free: of clouds, of trees or man-made structures blocking its radiant rising. The world awakened all blue and yellow and water and fire. The light dazzled and made the back of my eyes ache; yet I could not take my eyes off of the dawn. My family, all six of us, were on a boat with our captain and his mate, a father and son team named Javier. Yes, they were both Javier. Senior and Junior. Uno and dos. Javier y Javier. They were our seamen and guides for the day. The promise was the hope of reeling in a marlin or a dorado and later that night, a pre-birthday dinner of freshly caught seafood for Angelo’s 50th. Sure, it would be in six months, but we’d be slogging around in post-holiday snow by the time his birthday comes around, so today, June 20, would be his birthday present.

The captain pointed toward what I guessed to be northwest. “See the black on the horizon over there?” “Yes.” “That is the wind. Always over the Pacific. Very rough. We’ll stay here on the Sea of Cortez for awhile; see what we can catch on calmer waters. Who can see the wind? Apparently Javier and I can. I made a mental note that wind makes a sooty smudge on the ocean’s horizon, that there was a metaphor there.


As the sun ascended, we witnessed sea life rising and cresting and breaching, too. Flying fish zoomed over the whitecaps. Manta Rays flung their triangular wings and performed cartwheels before diving back into the water. A sea turtle’s head bobbed like a bowling ball amidst the waves. The heat intensified and soon we were sailing not in the mild winds of dawn, but the hot, salt-sticky winds of a southern sea. Soon, two of our four kids were limp and noodly and feeling sick. I fought back the creeping nausea that crawled up the back of my neck. Our picnic lunch waited in the cooler in the hold below, but I suspected we’d not be taking luncheon deck-side.

Churning Waves and Hurling Breakfast

The waves grew and the boat lurched and leaped. Sea spray failed to be refreshing; instead I felt soft and sticky like a melting wad of saltwater taffy. I climbed down the stairs to care for the kids and the adventure of a day at sea slipped away. Rummaging for the Dramamine, I broke it in two and prayed for peaceful tummies as I served the caplet to my kids as a priest distributes communion wafers.

After hurling breakfast and last nights’ dinner, my daughter collapsed into sleep and rocked and rolled on her bench. My job now would be to keep the sun from frying her skin. I began to seriously wonder if this fishing adventure was really just a big mistake. I dreamed of the poolside, of people watching and frolicking in the chest-high water. I wanted land beneath my feet and book beside me on the table near a delightfully sweating mango daiquiri. I wanted to be anywhere but on the rollicking vessel that entrapped me. I swigged water from my bottle and closed my eyes.


Suddenly Javier (junior) came bounding to the lower deck (and impressively quick considering his non-junior size). He attended to every reel, shoved his hand into the bait bucket and hooked a live fish (equal to the size of a nice Rainbow trout) and tossed the line out. Then I saw it. A black dorsal fin. A marlin.

We’d been trolling for what seemed like, well, eternity, and now the fish chased our bait. Like a toddler waiting for a turn to hold the fishing pole, we watched Javier expertly maneuver the gear and waited for our turn at fighting the big fish. No such luck. The marlin lost interest. Our captain listened on the radio for notices of schools and lucky catches of the morning and turned the boat toward another spot. My sick and sleeping daughter rolled over, I sought some shade to protect her, my husband stood on the railing, a huge smile on his face, literally loving every minute of this hellishly hot fishing fail.

My spirits plummeted to the unplumbed depths of the sea. Three times a marlin chased the lures only to turn away, denying us the sport, rejecting the live fish Javier tossed his way. I began to think tragic thoughts, recalling The Life of Pi and The Old Man and the Sea and Castaway.

I sat lolling listlessly. Even the pod of dolphin stopping by for a quick hello did little to raise my spirits. I longed for land, and began to dream not of lunch poolside or the resort, but of home, of my garden and my funky lake cabin, of my dishes and couch and my peonies in bloom. Javier Sr. pressed on toward the southeast and I willed him to turn portside (or whatever) and just get us back to the stinking marina.

I was done. Hot, so hot, and exhausted from trying not to vomit. I swallowed back bile and tears and when he finally turned toward Cabo San Lucas Marina, I nearly sobbed.

Reeling in a Really Big Fish

Just before we entered the no-fishing zone, we hit a school of dorado (mahi-mahi) and my family (except for me and my passed-out daughter) all participated in reeling in the glistening emerald-green fish that would be our dinner. Jazzed with new enthusiasm, and a mildly successful catch, we headed toward land. I climbed back up to my seat near the captain and he became chatty, relieved I think, that the tourists wouldn’t be returning to shore empty-handed.


This tourist town with its sun and surf and lures of excursions and poolside entertainment was once the town of his youth. Born in Cabo, he fished even as he learned to write his name. He talked of the simple days before Cabo was a spring-break destination and time-share-sales racket. There was the rock diving near Lover’s Beach where the San Andreas fault line creates a deep underwater canyon, swimming at Playa Medano and the loitering at the marina and waiting for the tuna boats to bring the day’s haul to the cannery. He recalled swimming and seeing roosterfish and dorado and even tuna close-in, the sea full fish, the shore dotted with the facades of the tuna industry. Fishing was the livelihood—and the love the home and the heart—of the citizens of Cabo. He grew up on good ceviche and fresh tuna steaks and fish tacos. His face, nut brown and sun-soaked, smiled at the memory. “Now it’s this”, he said as he waved his hand toward the marina growing in our vision. “Not all bad, but not the same.”

Javier stayed in his hometown and raised his son on the open waters of the Sea of Cortez and among the waves of the Pacific,  the hope of a hooking a strong fighting fish, and a cerveza on the shore recounting the day’s adventure with friends. Javier, and his legacy, Javier Jr. Theirs was a life at home on the water, the salty brine crust familiar on their skin and glittering in their dark hair, good stories to tell on the docks and fresh dawn breaking on the sterling sea.

Wanderlust and Home

Home again, and in my garden, I pulled weeds easily from the rain-drenched soil.


photo, Gemmina Olmstead


Swelling clouds had collected over the Pacific Ocean and unending winds gathered them into thunderstorms that beat rhythmically across the coastlands and over to my eastern Washington neighborhood. This morning a mild sun peeked through silvery clouds. I am familiar with this home, and being apart from it has refined my vision of my surroundings. Flying fish may dance across the open ocean, flicking saltwater from their bladelike fins, but my ears are filled with the buzzing of bees and the song of the goldfinch perched in the serviceberry bush, just beyond my reach. A waltzing swallowtail catches my eye and lands on the upper branch of the old-fashioned rose. The droning boat engines are mimicked this morning by the whirring lawnmower’s two-stroke motor. My bare legs brush against the lavender and the scent follows me as I complete my chores in the garden. A slug glistens in the sunshine and the wind is fresh-watered and cool. I am a tourist no more. Later this weekend, I might hook a wriggling worm and cast a line into the predictable waters of Loon Lake. We’ll have plenty of fish that got away, stories of the bass and the now, the marlin, that wouldn’t fall for our crafty plans to lure them from their watery homes.

We’ll have other vacations, sights to see and tourist traps, but I will remember Javier. His home, not his vacation, is Cabo San Lucas. He is as at home on a boat as in his house. He sleeps with the ocean air and open windows. During winter, when Angelo’s real fiftieth birthday comes around, Javier will be taking the tourists out and whales will breach and tourists will gasp. He’ll go home and he and Javier Jr. might recount the day and siesta in the shade of the stuccoed back stoop of his house. They’ll perhaps decide to change up the rigging a bit, and try the green jig tomorrow.

And I wonder if this is the home of my choosing or my making, or if it’s home by habit or accident? I wonder why do we vacation at all when everything I love, everyone I love, is here.


My husband and kids and my books and my friends.

My chair by the fireplace and my varieties of columbine and campanula and cranesbill geranium.

My sisters and friends and church.

Lazy lake days and baseball games. Snow on Christmas and ringing in the New Year with our dear, old friends.

My morning coffee and cream.

It feels predictable most of the time, but home can be crazy (even miserable), too. We’ve been through enough to know that there are adventures to be had both here and in far-flung parts of the world, and that home is a presence in the heart more than a spot on a map. And that no matter where we are, the sun rises fresh each day blessing us to see by it’s light bits of God’s creation and pieces of home.

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writer, christian, wife, mom, happy person, thinker, gardener, encourager, reader...


  1. teresa says

    i love the sea of cortez it brings me fond memories of when my husband and i stayed at the One an Only Palmilla. did you know that theres another type of fish in that sea…the red demons? they breed in those waters. there are some crazy Big Fish stories about them pulling sailors right off the boats.

  2. oh girl, just getting around to reading people’s #atlasgirl posts now, and alyssa! you sure can tell a story! i LOVE all of the descriptors, and felt like i was there with you on that rolling boat! what an incredible journey. love you.

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