For many the idea of living off the land is a romantic notion left to stories of olden days or wistful dreams at the office. But for Sara Loewen it becomes her way of life each summer as her family settles into their remote cabin on Uyak Bay for the height of salmon season. With this connection to thousands of years of fishing and gathering at its core, Gaining Daylight explores what it means to balance lives on two islands, living within both an ancient way of life and the modern world. Her personal essays integrate natural and island history with her experiences of fishing and family life, as well as the challenges of living at the northern edge of the Pacific.
Loewen’s writing is richly descriptive; readers can almost feel heat from wood stoves, smell smoking salmon, and spot the ways the ocean blues change with the season. With honesty and humor, Loewen easily draws readers into her world, sharing the rewards of subsistence living and the peace brought by miles of crisp solitude.
Loewen's compilation of lyrical essays, written in "fragments of time over the last several years," is a slim volume capable of enduring echoes. Loewen and her family live in Kodiak, Alaska, much of the year, but "leave every May for the salmon season, moving to Uyak Bay on the west side of the island." For half the year, she writes, they give up "fresh produce, telephones, cars, dryer, and dishwasher." It's a life Loewen looks at from a distance, sometimes wishing she was "an Alaskan who lives outside of Alaska," while she wonders what it is, exactly, that keeps people there. As winter fades, she describes spring as "a teasing, mercurial girl... will break my heart tomorrow with a gale or a snowstorm." Loewen's essays are exquisite slices of life in which she describes the patient, silent wait for the birth of her second son, reminisces about her childhood friend and their stories of Old Harbor, and watches as the corpse of a freshly dead whale approaches shore. This solemn, spare book is an intimate and loving look at a life that very few people live, so rich with detail and emotion that its handful of photographs are almost superfluous.