Autumn Phillips: Two types of people | SteamboatToday.com
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Autumn Phillips: Two types of people

Autumn Phillips

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who are born knowing and those who will spend their whole lives trying to figure it out.

I am the latter.

Gather ’round:

A fishing boat is a bloody place, and fishermen are dressed for it. Rubber boots. Rubber overalls. Rubber gloves. We would start at 6 a.m. every morning. I would lean against the wheelhouse wall and watch the sunrise over the ocean as we headed out to our fishing grounds a few miles out. I would unwrap a granola bar –the only breakfast that didn’t make me seasick — and enjoy the one moment of quiet contemplation I would get all day. As soon as the engine slowed, the action started.

We had 270 lobster traps that we pulled in five at a time. With rubber-gloved hands, we would throw open the door of the trap. We had a small silver ruler to make sure the lobsters weren’t too big, weren’t too small.

I slipped rubber bands over the claws of the legal ones and threw the rest into the sea.

But the traps were full of more than lobsters. Crabs, skate fish and bottom feeders of every kind found their way into the wire box. I tore the legs off the crabs so we could sell them. I threw the skates and sea urchins into the water and the fish that were left — big-eyed, gray fish — I would stab with my bait hook and string into the trap to attract more lobsters.

Again and again, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., 12 hours of carnage. I felt so guilty, but I kept working because I’d told the guys on the dock that I was a hard worker and they wouldn’t be sorry they hired a girl. For months, I killed. I murdered. I fed the Maine tourists, but the guilt finally overcame me.

I was standing over a bin of rotten herring, filling bait bags for the next run of traps. A line of baited traps was sitting on the cap rail of the boat, ready to go back into the ocean. Inside many of them were fish hanging upside down with line running through their faces. Their mouths were moving. They were looking at me.

“Autumn. Autumn.” They were talking to me. “Autumn. Why?”

At that moment, when the fish started talking, I knew that my life was not to be a fisherman’s life, living in the woods on a tiny Maine island. That was the life of others. I packed my bags and kept searching.

There are two kinds of people in this world: People who contribute to society and people who are a drain on society.

There was no reason for me to believe that I should be a fisherman and, to the outside observer, it may have seemed frivolous to try.

What was the point? What had I accomplished? What had I contributed to society?

These thoughts came up this week as I listened to friends discussing a woman who graduated from college and moved to Steamboat. She found an apartment and a few odd jobs to piece together a living.

“I don’t understand those people,” one friend said. “They are just a drain on society.” Why would people go through college and not use their degrees? Why would they choose to scrape by when they could be in a bigger place with a corner office? Why step away from corporate America?

Living in Steamboat, it’s been a long time since I heard anyone ask those questions. And to ask those questions in Steamboat is, perhaps, to admit that you do not understand a good percentage of the people who live here. But his question opened an interesting debate. Who is contributing to society? And who is simply a drain on it? Are you contributing if you are working and paying taxes? Or are you only contributing if you maximize profits and climb to the highest rung of the ladder you can reach?

There are two kinds of people: People who live to ski and people who think people who live to ski are stupid.

You ask them why they moved here, and they answer like a voicemail recording, “I moved here to ski.” But ask one more question, and you realize that “to ski” means many more things than strapping pieces of wood to the feet to facilitate a descent over snow.

“To ski” is the symbol for a mindset, a “lifestyle.”

Ask one more question and realize that most people were at a crossroads before they moved here. Living in a ski town meant stepping away from the pressures of society. It meant stepping off the treadmill.

My dad used to ask me “when are you going to settle down?” And I would answer, from whatever phone booth in whatever country, “I can’t right now. I’m finding my voice.”

By definition, I was not contributing to society. By definition, I may have even been draining it. But I always will defend those people who need to step back for a while (or for a lifetime) to explore those side routes that are not on the career path.

I have a quote taped to my computer monitor at work, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

Discuss amongst yourselves.


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