by Kara Gibbs—Cedarville, OH
Running line. Kicker. King keg. Cork line. Lead line. Cottons. Typically, these aren’t words that you would hear coming out of the mouth of a mother, wife, businesswoman, author and teacher. But you would if this woman was Leslie Leyland Fields ’78, who is involved in commercial fishing in Alaska every year.
While at Cedarville, Leslie married Duncan Fields, an Alaskan fisherman, born and raised. Needless to say, she knew from the beginning that their lives together would be built around fishing. The Fields and their six children (ages 4 to 19) live on Kodiak Island, Alaska. But every summer since 1978 they move to another island off the west coast of Kodiak Island, near Larsen Bay, where they are the island’s only inhabitants. As the sole residents of Harvester Island, they work in an extended family fishing operation, Fields’ Wild Salmon—an intensive four-month season of commercial salmon fishing.
“Fishing and living out on a remote island, inhabited by just our immediate family, has provided a dimension to our lives that few people have,” Leslie says. “I’m glad for this, to step away for three months from the invasiveness of our culture, to live on the water, to engage in physical labor.”
Still, she realizes there’s a price for this remote kind of life, regardless of how romantic it sounds. “Some of the hardest times of my life have been out there, dealing with the isolation, the harshness of weather, the rigors of the commercial fishing season, which test even the hardiest of souls and bodies.”
As if being a mother of six and a fisherman weren’t enough, Leslie keeps other areas of her life just as busy. As a faculty mentor, she teaches creative nonfiction in Seattle Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts program, the only MFA program in the country rooted in an exploration of the nexus of faith, art and mystery. She is also the author of five books: Surprise Child; Surviving the Island of Grace; Out On the Deep Blue: Women, Men and the Oceans They Fish; The Entangling Net: Alaska’s Commercial Fishing Women Tell Their Lives; and The Water Under Fish. Her most recent book, Surprise Child, has been featured on "Focus on the Family" and "Family Life Today" with Dennis Rainey.
In addition, Leslie’s essays have appeared in numerous publications, such as The Atlantic Monthly; Orion; Image: Art, Faith, Mystery; Best Essays Northwest; Christianity Today; It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters; On Nature: Great Writers on the Great Outdoors; A Mile in Her Boots: Women Who Work In the Wild; and America and the Sea: A Maritime History. Leslie has also seen her poetry published in The Seattle Review, Bellingham Review, Northern Review, and Patches of Godlight: Father Tim’s Favorite Quotes, among others.
Between her teaching and writing, Leslie also runs a professional writing business, The Northern Pen, performing manuscript critique, mentoring and editing in all stages of creative, professional and academic writing.
Leslie spends a few months out of the year as a conference speaker. She has developed workshops, readings, craft talks and in-school visits. Some of her speaking topics include: The Changing Value of Children: A Personal Look at Global Demographics; Creative Nonfiction: The State of the Art; A Guide for the Over-Committed to Creating an Authentic Writing Life; Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography; and Writing the Wild.
Despite her busy life, Leslie thinks of Cedarville often. She’s been back several times in the 28 years since graduation, the most recent visit just last year. She met with students and faculty and did a reading.
"It’s a joy to return,” she says. “I owe a huge debt to the college. I had several key professors who truly challenged me to think biblically about every area of life.”
Much of that was in Leslie’s own discipline, literature, where the intellectual and spiritual rigor she learned and practiced there equipped her to pursue further education, world travel and teaching. “All the disparate experiences of my life are founded on the skills and faith that Cedarville nurtured.”
When asked what ties together all of the random aspects of her life, Leslie said, “I am hugely grateful that God has given me all these arenas of work and ministry. They do truly feed one another. Writing makes me a better mother. Teaching makes me a better writer. Editing makes me a better teacher. Being a wife makes me a better everything. It’s all tied together in one chaotic glorious mess!”
What is next for Leslie? She is working on two books, one on the myths of Christian parenting and the other titled The Spirit of Food: Feasting and Fasting Toward God.