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  michael koepf  
 

The Fisherman and his sons.
1960's off Bodega Bay
(John)(Ernie)(Me)(Ernest Köepf)
  Growing up in a world of fishermen, one is naturally primed to a predilection for fiction. When I no longer sought a living at sea, and came ashore for the final time, one of the few options left was to become a writer. It was a long shot, but life at sea is precarious at best, so I traded hook for pen knowing that if I failed I would not drown.

Memory is subjective and I claim no exception. I always wanted to write about the sea and the people who work on or near it; people effected by this vast, harsh, watery reality. A memoir may have been best, but it was not my bent. I wanted to write a book that would express how I was personally affected by the men I knew and the place we went and how that place shaped who we all came to be. So I choose fiction and imagined memory drifting--drifting to what I recalled--drifting to what I imagined.
 
 
I also wanted to write an epitaph. A small monument to my father and the men of his generation who did their jobs, cared for their families, and received little adulation as our culture drifted on into the Sargasso sea of preoccupation with self. They were not perfect men, but they were good men. On one hand they were the most rugged of individuals, but on the other the most coöperative of individuals. As I grew older and they went under one by one, I missed them. We all should.  
Me on flying bridge headed out
Fort Bragg
Late 70s
 

Me late 70s off Half Moon Bay
  I was born in San Mateo, California, in 1940, just over the hill from Half Moon Bay, the town where I spent my childhood. In those days, Half Moon Bay was mostly a community of Portuguese and Italian farmers. Princeton, five miles to the north of Half Moon Bay, was a port where my father was a fisherman. This region of California mostly lies beneath fog all year; I can still hear the foghorn rattling the windows as I fell asleep as a child. For a long time, my childhood home was the only one on the block, and, in fact, was located in one large brussel sprout field.

Beyond Princeton lay Moss Beach, a place where the dozen or so children who lived in our vast, empty neighborhood played daily. I was a unique beach: At low tide, underwater reefs were exposed for hundreds of yards off land. The children would fish for eels and abalone, and hunt treasures and lose lead sinkers amongst colorful tide pools filled with sea anemones and rock crabs. In a sense my brothers and I grew up playing around on the bottom of the sea.

 
 
At about eleven years of age, I decided to become a writer. To be quite honest, I have no idea how this notion came about. There were few books in our house, and I cannot remember my mother or father ever discussing authors or reading. I did have an aunt, however, who read voraciously and kept a small, private library. I loved going to her apartment in San Francisco, sitting at her typewriter, looking at her books, and gazing out the window at pigeons about whom I imagined stories while I pretended to type. I kept all this under my hat until I was thirteen, when I was fishing with my father on his salmon boat. One day, he got into a fistfight in an icehouse over bait. It was all quite scary to me. Afterward I told my father that someday I would write about it. He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a strange look. It certainly was not ridicule, but it also was not encouragement. Though I knew nothing of writing then, I learned something essential about it--one is completely and utterly on one's own.  
Half Moon Bay 1940's
Coming to dock
E. Köepf on flying bridge
Maria B.
 
 

Fisherman and his son (Ernie)
1960s
Off Bodega Bay
  During my teenage years, I worked on my father's boat in the summer and at a gas station at nights during school months. I hated Elvis, got hooked on rhythm and blues, overhauled cars, wasted a lot of gas, found and lost true love over and over again, and received lousy grades in school. I left home at seventeen, joined the army at eighteen, was sent to southeast Asia as a Green Beret, and before long realized I was all grown up.

I went to college on the GI bill, but I also bought my first fishing boat, which I worked on in the summers. I was on my way to living on two planets--the academy and the sea, educated folks and real folks, theory and practice. I still have not lived long enough to attempt a reconciliation between the two.

By 1968 I had received an MA degree in writing from San Francisco State University. I wrote a manuscript about deep sea divers. I wrote another about men at war. Neither was published. In years to come, I would attempt to balance a writing career with that of fishing.

I met my wife, Mary, and lived in Big Sur, where I ran a one-room schoolhouse. We then moved right outside of Mendocino and built our own home with our own hands in the forest. Before long, our son, Ehren, was born.
 
 
In all of this I had no proof that I had any sort of plan or goal in life. Survival seemed my only career. Deep inside I was still the kid who watched pigeons and could not type. I wrote Save the Whale in 1978, and it was published. In the 1980s, I quit fishing altogether and went into politics. For several years I wrote columns and investigative articles for an obscure newspaper. It all came to naught. I published another book. This, too, came to naught. I taught in prison. I taught in junior college--another kind of prison.

Before Mary died, she encouraged me to complete my unfinished novel about fishermen and the sea. I did it. I left the woods to work in Hollywood. My son grew up to be a good man, and I survived. So far, that is all I know of my life.
 
running the bar at Fort Bragg
Old Days
30s-40s?
 
 
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    Copyright © 1998 Michael Köepf.