The Mad Monk of Astrolabe

Paul Corbin came to Alaska many years ago to commercially fish for salmon.  The lifestyle suited him and he had many boats, caught many fish, raised a family and maintained a wilderness homestead in a remote area of southeast Alaska that would become Lisianski Inlet Lodge.  Here is his story, enjoy!

The Mad Monk

Old timers have fished for salmon it seems forever.  “Traditional drags,” as the fishermen call them like Astrolabe and Icy Point or Graves Rock were just a few of the favorite fishing spots.  There were so many of them.  Each have their stories such as, “I remember back in '68 when as far as the eye could see fish were jumping.”  In a way, it was like being in the Alaskan Gold Rush.  Fish packers were madly running back and forth with their holds plugged unloading thousands of pounds of Silvers and King Salmon at the cold storages only to turn right around and return to the fishing grounds to buy more fish.  Many of the fishermen preferred to take payment for their fish in cash.  Maybe this way of doing business was a holdover from the great depression or when the banks had crashed, whatever, we all had our money jars to keep the hundred dollar bills in. At night a few of the fishermen would anchor up in a harbor called Thistle Cove.  Thistle Cove was nestled in all by itself between rocky cliffs and the mighty mountains of the Fairweather range on mainland Alaska.  There were sandy beaches surrounding the Cove and if one were to go ashore there, you would see wolf tracks in the sand.  Beachcombing was a favorite thing to do if the weather was to bad to go out fishing and it was not uncommon to find a Japanese glass float peaking out at you half buried in the sand or from under some drift wood.  At night sometimes you could hear the wolves howling and if the fisherman looked up towards the top of the rocky cliffs, he might see the flickering of the fires that came out of the Monk's caves.  Legend has it, that the Monk of Astrolbe lived up there.  It has always been that way and if you were a salmon troller it was easy to believe that this legend was true and that some day, you would get to meet him. 

“The Mad Monk of Astrolabe”

High upon the craggy mountains
That we call Astrolabe,
Where his temple fires are blazing,
With the fog around him ringing
Sunken eyes are ever gazing
Out across the sea.

It was early in September
And the fog was like a shroud,
I was anchored where the ocean
Seemed devoid of any motion
And I somehow got the notion
I was anchored in a cloud.

As the days increased in number
And my magazines were read,
Then my mind began to wander
Crazy notions I would ponder,
Thinking everything was dead.

It was then I heard the chanting,
Stood there trembling, agog,
Like an organ's hollow groaning,
Like the souls in hell atoning,
Down the crevices came moaning
Like a death march through the fog.

Like a lorelei it beckoned
And I hastened to obey,
While across the harbor rowing
Heard the chant in volume growing,
Yes, My Master led the way.

Up through canyons strewn with boulders,
Over ledges dripping slime,
Never with a fear of falling,
Nor of him, whose voice was calling,

Up I climbed to heights appalling,
Dripping bold and black with grime.

On a ledge I lay exhausted,
Gulping every painful breath.
Then I saw his black robe waving,
Saw the bloodless lips whose raving
Sent me scrambling and slaving,
Up that rocky mound of death.

On a crag above a chasm,
Where a flaming tourch was lit,
With the fog around him weaving
Patterns ghastly and deceiving,
Stood the maddened monk, receiving
Tribute for his endless pit.

Single file they passed his station,
Fishermen of yesterday,
Shrunken bodies, white and hairy,
Bent neath loads they scarce could carry,
One by one they passed the quarry,
Dropped their burdens, turned away.

Then I recognized a passer,
Who had died at Killisnoo.
In my eyes the sweat was streaming,
As my questions I was screaming,
Was it all un-holy dreaming
Or were my visions true?

With no sign of recognition,
Came the answer of my friend,
“You must always go cruising
For the leads of life you're losing
Though it be against your choosing,
All must tally in the end.

Round each sunken rock we're searching
For the sinkers we have lost,
Seeking on the ocean's flooring,
Far beneath the breakers roaring,
In the muddy slime we're boring,
In this pit must all be tossed

Best you heed my solemn warning,
Pack your duffle, leave the sea,
Leave your ways of dissipation,
Find a different occupation,
Or you will join that congregation,
On the hill Astrolabe.

The Mad Monk of Astrolabe was written sometime around the early
1950's by Bill Edgecombe.  I'm not absolutely sure about this, just
a guess.

The Astrolabe drag was often fished in the early spring.  In April
there just weren't that many fishermen west of Cape Spencer but the
commercial season was open then and there was always a chance that
there would be a stretch of good weather, making it possible for a
fisherman to make the charge up to the Fairweather grounds and maybe
get a few good days of hot King salmon fishing.  Meanwhile, you fished
Astrolabe or Graves Harbor waiting for a good weather report and
scratched out some kind of a living wage.  Somedays you got nothing,
that was fishing for you.  Other days, you might get a few fish.  I
really needed the money then, especially after spending a long winter
with no money coming in at all.  I remember trolling right alongside
the rocky cliffs of Astrolabe waiting for a fish to bite.  Back and
forth, all day long.  Meanwhile, you could watch the goats who were way
up on the side of the mountain.   Often times there were baby goats
with their mothers.  There were seals and sea lions to see also and
once in a while humpback whales.  Back and forth, back and forth and
then suddenly a trolling pole would start shaking, “Fish On!!!!” With
the Mad Monk of Astrolabe in mind I was careful not to hang up on the
bottom and lose any expensive lead cannonballs.  However, I did lose my
share of them through the years.  The prospects of dying a salmon
troller and having to spend eternity going around the ocean floor
finding lead cannonballs and then having to lug them up those steep
cliffs of Astrolabe to the Mad Monk didn't appeal to me at all.  In
time I retired from fishing and decided to invest what little I had
into Mexico.  It seemed like it might be a more profitable venture than
trolling for salmon, at least for me.  Thats another story however.
Meanwhile, I hope when the day comes that I die, I will be exempt from
having to carry heavy leads from the bottom of the ocean to the top of
Astrolabe.  It looks like a lot of work to me.

By Paul Corbin