Wendy Erd writes at a small desk in the bedroom of her home on the
bluff outside Homer. The window opens on a patch of dense second-growth
spruce -- "the dark woods" that Erd prefers unkempt and overgrown, a
place she won't allow her husband to clean up or thin out.
She works on unlined sheets with a pencil -- really just a large pad of
recycled scratch paper. Later she revises at her computer. But for
first drafts of poems and nonfiction stories, she prefers the feel of a
pencil in her fingers, the tactile contact of lead on paper.
Erd, 45, has fished in Bristol Bay for a dozen years now with husband
Peter Kaufmann. That leaves the fall and winter for writing. Often the
stories and poems emerge slowly, requiring many revisions. But
sometimes they arrive complete, scribbled on the page in a single
That's what happened last fall with the poem "Waiting", winner of the
Grand Prize in the 1996 University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily News
Creative Writing Contest.
"The majority of it came in one sitting," Erd says. "Isn't it lucky
when that happens? To me, that's what makes it worth all the struggling
Erd wasn't an ambitious writer when she arrived in Homer more than two
decades ago. She loved writing and reading, but her commitment to her
own writing ripened slowly.
Growing up in suburban Palo Alto, Calif., she'd attended a community
college near home, then spent several years at the University of
California at Davis, where she concentrated on English classes but
never declared a major. It was 1971 when Erd decided to travel to
Alaska with Kaufmann, who'd just graduated with a degree in zoology.
"Peter really was the instigating force, because when he was a kid in
grade school, they showed some travelogue about Alaska, and he was
hooked," she says. "We were just on one of those adventures where you
head north. We just came to see what Alaska was like and never left."
Anchorage, they decided, was too urban. A new friend suggested they
check out Homer. The canneries were hiring, and droves of other young
people were arriving and moving into the woods.
"We left and drove straight to the end of the Spit at Homer and signed
on at a cannery," Erd says. "We were cresting on that wave of people
coming in and taking over all those old cabins on the hill."
Erd and Kauffman never left Homer. Over the years she's worked "a
million jobs" there, Erd says -- gardener, janitor, tutor, even
education curator at the local museum. For a while, she ran her own New
Leaf Landscaping business.
She and Kaufmann both spent about eight years as seasonal field workers
for the state Department of Fish and Game, before a stint on Kalgin
Island in Cook Inlet convinced them to try commercial fishing on their
own. Twelve years ago, they bought a limited-entry setnet permit for
harvesting salmon from a beach in Bristol Bay.
Off-season in Homer, they lived in a homestead cabin without running
water. Eventually, they moved into their own home on the bluff
overlooking town. It's peaceful there now, even when they disagree
about how to manage the woods surrounding their house. (They finally
agreed on "his" and "hers" sections -- his trimmed and open, hers wild
As the years have passed, Erd says, writing has gained in importance
for her. About four or five years ago, she began pursuing it seriously
-- "with intent."
The trips she and Kaufmann took to Asia in the winters served as
catalysts. Amazing experiences and exotic sights demanded to be written
"I've always been writing, and I've always really loved writing," she
says. "I think maybe (the traveling) combined with just the fact of
having my winters where I can really concentrate."
Last year, she attended a two-week residency at a writer's colony in
Vermont. But mostly, Erd has nurtured her talent alone, often as a way
of reflecting on her own experiences.
"I don't think my writing background comes from academic (sources), as
much as on my own," she says. "If you were to look in the files of all
the stuff I've written, I would say it's two-thirds nonfiction and
In the early 1990s, she began entering her stories and poems in the
Kenai Peninsula Writers' Contest sponsored by the Homer News. A couple
of stories and a poem won and were published. Another poem was
published by Homer-based Wizard Works in a book of poems about Alaska
birds called "Flights of Fancy."
She sold a few stories to the Anchorage Daily News, including an essay
about her experience in a Chicago supermarket as one of the Alaska
commercial fishermen who went Outside last year to market salmon.
Another story about visiting Vietnam will appear next year in a
collection about women traveling abroad.
"Waiting" -- Erd's third published poem -- arose from a writing
exercise. During a workshop in Homer last fall with author Pam Houston,
she was given an assignment. "The prompt was, take a headline or a
byline from a paper and -- not reading the story that goes with it --
write your own story," Erd says.
Later at her desk at home, she was intrigued by a headline in the Anchorage Daily News: "Nervous Japanese Await Quake."
The city of Kobe had just been rocked by a massive earthquake and Japan
was expecting another. The poem came quickly and easily, drawing on
Erd's own memories.
"The imagery came from traveling in Japan," she says. "We've been there a couple of times."
Erd shies away from discussing the meaning of the poem. She likes
thinking that readers will find their own significance. "That's one of
the wonderful things about writing: Everyone reads and finds their own
Erd and Kauffman now are preparing for another season at Bristol Bay,
though they've put their permit up for sale and are considering
retiring from fishing. "It's so exhausting," Erd says.
Come fall, she may try to write about Bristol Bay. She's got other work in progress as well, much of it almost finished.
"I have a lot of poetry that I haven't sent anywhere," Erd says. "I've
been focusing more on the writing end than on the publishing end. And
I'm never satisfied -- I'm my own harshest critic."