My husband Jeff is probably relieved that I have found a venue out of his earshot, where I can get fish oil out of my system, so to speak. (Actually, you want fish oil in your system, but I’m getting to that).
I admit that I have become a colossal bore when it comes to fish oil. Urged by a sports medicine doctor to take prescription fish oil (Lovaza) to ease my achy knees, improve my addled memory and generally make me a happy person, I grew suspicious and began researching prescription versus non-prescription fish oil supplements to see if the prescription version had merits beyond benefiting the pharmaceutical industry. I can wax poetic about EPA and DHA concentration levels, fishy burps and the significance of FDA approval, and rant that I have found nothing conclusive to justify the expense of Lovaza, save the zealous glint in my doctor’s eyes.
Those of you on the far side of 40 may have noticed that at parties and soccer fields, the talk among your peers has become decidedly geriatric. It starts out innocently enough – a guy tells you he pulled his groin playing soccer; a woman says she has “hip issues” when she runs. Before too long, men stop playing basketball, women take up yoga and everyone you know has either had knee surgery or knows someone who knows someone who has.
We used to mock H., one of the more eccentric among our circle of friends, for quoting his cholesterol numbers every time we got together (he was an early adopter). Soon, however, the talk among our more mainstream acquaintances turned from sports medicine to LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol ratios. Nobody talked about sex, music or movies anymore.
It was Jeff’s bad luck that at parties, often when he joined a conversation-in-progress, the speaker would be holding forth on arterial plaque, custom orthotic shoe inserts, Vitamin D and, eventually in my case, fish oil. A person might wonder, if this is what we’re discussing over drinks when we’re in our 40s, what will we be talking about when we are in our 70s?
My obsession with fish oil probably has its roots in the early years of our courtship when, eager to fit in, I sat uncomplainingly in the Lafuma recliner belonging to our friend Jerry, a legendary Lummi Island reefnet salmon fisherman, and feigned interest while he repeatedly showed a video of a reefnet gear pulling in a big catch. Jerry’s house, which has been extended so far that it nearly sits on the road median, offers a prime view of the reefnet gears on Legoe Bay.
Reefnetting is an ancient, environmentally-friendly form of salmon fishing. Jeff had spent his teenage summers reefnetting on Lummi Island as part of Jerry’s crew, and had formed lasting friendships and lasting memories as a result.
Chilko, Adams, Horsefly… These are some of the tributaries of the Fraser River (British Columbia’s longest river and the chief Pacific salmon spawning grounds in North America outside of Alaska) for which salmon runs are named. The river plays host to all five species of salmon which, after birth, migrate to the Pacific Ocean, eventually returning to their native streams to spawn and die. In any given year, scores of different salmon runs, with millions of salmon, return home. Jeff can still recite many of the dominant runs in order and remembers the early Stuarts of 1981, the 1983 Horsefly Run and the overall consistency of an Adams run.
Eager to see a salmon run in action, our family has made two fish forays to British Columbia in recent years: to Chilko Lake, near the Chilko and Chilkotin Rivers (we traveled with ROAM, a Canadian boutique adventure travel company founded by the ever-entertaining Brian McCutcheon), where we observed bears in their natural habitat, feasting on salmon (bear photos are by Denise Greenberg),
and to the Adams River, where we witnessed the largest sockeye salmon run in a century.
Every year at Labor Day we gather on Lummi island with Jerry, our reefnetting friends, past and present, and all of our families. If the fishing is open, Jeff will make a guest appearance to fish with Steve, Karen, Jim and Mark. Later in the evening, we’ll enjoy salmon roe and crisp wine with Bob and Rachel, at the old reefnetter “ghetto,” on the deck of the house they have restored that used to belong to eccentric fisherman Will Wright. Inevitably, there will be a full-on multi-generational salmon feast with Jerry, Sue, and assorted Andersons, Nesbits, Wrights and Moans.
Our kids are probably tired of hearing tales from the glory days, when Jeff, Michael, Peter and Craig became friends on Jerry’s gear, finding it hard to picture these now-graying men, who talk about their cholesterol*, as teenagers discovering their independence through fishing.
*Jeff wants you to know that he does not talk about his cholesterol
Our collective connection to fish feels far removed from those translucent golden horse pills in a bottle.
Still, these days, while Jeff is out reefnetting, I can sit beside Jerry in a Lafuma recliner and drone on about fish oil. Jerry gives me a run for my money and can recite from memory the concentration levels in all of the major over-the-counter brands.
In mid-September we received a visit in Seattle from Karen, with a broom in tow. As a crew member (albeit a guest one), she wanted Jeff to participate in a broom-signing ceremony to commemorate catching over 100,000 pounds of humpy salmon during the 2011 season.
I still don’t know if there’s something “fishy” about Lovaza or whether fish oil (prescription or over-the-counter) is the miracle supplement its fans claim it is.
The only thing I know for sure is that fish can be the glue that holds people together.