Fish and Fire: Ninilchik resident writes stories of his life

  • Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Mike Chihuly and his wife, Shirley, greet a passerby while he signs copies of his recently published book, "Alaska Fish and Fire," on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at the annual Peninsula Art Guild's Fine Arts and Crafts Fair.

Ninilchik resident Mike Chihuly has lived enough lives to write several books since moving to Alaska more than 60 years ago. Instead, he packed them all into one.

Chihuly’s book, “Alaska Fish and Fire,” was published in August and released in October. It catalogs Chihuly’s life experiences from growing up in Alaska and working on the state Board of Fisheries to his time spent on the Agulowak River and working as the chief of Ninilchik Emergency Services.

“I probably should have written two or three books,” he said of the broad range of topics covered in the memoir.

The 65-year-old retiree has packed a lot into his years in the Last Frontier, starting with what he describes in the book as a memorable trip to the state from Seattle as a young boy. It turns out the boat had a safety drill during which passengers had to don life jackets and prepare for what to do in an emergency, but as a child, Chihuly didn’t understand that.

The book is peppered with similar amusing anecdotes, as well as some more serious sections. Chihuly said that during the short writing process — a mere two months — he didn’t mean to write a chronology of his life. He just sat down and started writing the stories he thought people would like.

What he saw as story after story made it onto the pages was that the story of his life in Alaska was unfolding, he said.

“I guess it’s a memoir because it’s just 26 chapters of my life, or 26 views of my life,” Chihuly said.

This is not Chihuly’s first foray into writing. Since catching the bug in a writing course his sophomore year of college as a fisheries student, he has written several articles for outdoor and emergency response magazines.

He took a break from writing for a period while he was busy with work and his children, he said, but has stuck with it ever since.

“I had been threatening to write a book for a long time and I didn’t know where to start, and I put it off and put it off,” Chihuly said. “It just hit me last winter. I said, ‘You know, Mike, talk is cheap. If you don’t get this done, you’re never gonna get it written.’”

Chihuly got plenty of feedback while he was writing the book, sending chapters out to several friends and asking for advice. One of them was David Bear, the current chief of Ninilchick Emergency Services, who worked with Chihuly for about six years and appears in the book.

“It was wonderful,” Bear said of working under Chihuly’s direction. “I’m fortunate to have worked with a guy I consider like a hero.”

Bear provided feedback on chapters and has also read the finished product. He said Chihuly did the chapters about fire and emergency response justice, accurately portraying how it is to respond to emergencies in such a tightknit community where everyone knows each other.

Chihuly said it has been surprising to hear feedback on what turns out to be people’s favorite chapters or details. Some readers picked up on the relationship described between him and his wife, Shirley, and told Chihuly they would have liked to read more about that, he said.

While Bear said he was interested in the fire and emergency response section of the book, he also said he was fascinated by some of the earlier chapters, in which he learned things about Chihuly’s life as a fisheries biologist and a young man growing up in Alaska.

“I discovered a lot about him as a person,” Bear said.

“Alaska Fish and Fire” is available at the Homer Bookstore and River City Books in Soldotna.

Megan Pacer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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