Rommel Stake Float 10I love a parade.  Small town parades are the best.  They are full of heart and soul.

Military parades in Washington DC are not unprecedented.  But, in my humble opinion, they really are not a very good idea.  This, coming from an Army brat.  First and foremost, previous military parades have been held to celebrate military victories or when danger was imminent.   The parades were not just an exercise in stroking egos.

According to sources like the Washington Post, the NY Times, and the federal budget, the last military parade in Washington DC was in June of 1991 and celebrated the liberation of Kuwait and the defeat of Hussein’s army in Desert Storm when George HW was President.  It deployed 8,800 enlisted soldiers watched by nearly a million Americans who showed up for the spectacle.  There were tanks, fighting vehicles, missile launchers, fighter jets, and fireworks.  The pavement on Constitution Avenue was deeply rutted by the 67-ton tanks.  The parade generated over a million pounds of garbage, cost over $12 million and left an egregious impact on public and private assets.  Like the Mar a Lago trips, we can’t afford a parade if we can’t solve the problem of our homeless veterans.


What I miss the most.


Since being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis my life has become one big puzzle about what, when, and how my immune system has already been and is still being impacted.  Suffice it to say, it sucks.  No longer included in my diet are wheat and soy.  Never do I use processed foods.  I make my own ghee so that I can have butter.  I should eat only organic foods, but living in the Aleutian Islands makes that nearly impossible.  I think holidays are probably the times when I really miss certain foods.  I think the one thing that I miss the most is my mother’s Easter bread, or what we call kulich , made for our Orthodox Easter.  I am honestly going to try to make it with gluten free flour one of these years.  I just have to prepare myself for what may be utter failure and a waste of resources.

Meandering Through the Tundra

via Daily Prompt: MeanderMeander

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The variety of plants on the islands of the Aleutians, and particularly on Unalaska and Amaknak, are amazing during our summers.  Starting at the beach and reaching the very tips of the mountains, the absolute green will shock the eye.  And, if you take a trek from the beach to the tips of those mountains, you will witness a rich progression of plants, some extremely sturdy, some incredibly delicate, and all obviously well adapted to the environment.  Habitats seen are typical of those seen in most coastal zones – coastal beach, meadow, marsh, sea-side cliff, fresh and saltwater lagoon, stream, lake, higher slope and high rocky cliff.  Probably one of the most amazing, and by far the easiest methods of discovering the plant life of an Aleutian island, is to simply take a seat in the tundra.  You will be astounded with the number of wildflowers, mosses, and grasses within a one-foot square area, completely within the grasp of your hand.

Aside from the simple beauty of the plant life and the importance of plants to the wildlife of the area, plants have always been important to the indigenous people who have inhabited the Aleutians for millennia.  Though too numerous to list here as there are hundreds, they include both medicinal and edible plants.  Medicinal knowledge of the plants is the one aspect of Unangan healing capabilities that survived the advent of outside contact.  Absent today are the advanced surgical abilities of the Unangan/Unangas, as well as the practice of acupuncture.  The demise of both was due to the devastation of the population within 60 years of contact with European invaders.

As a part of most indigenous lifestyles, subsistence fishing, hunting, and gathering sustain the lives of large populations in rural Alaska.  In the Aleutian area, we have relied upon the traditional harvest of natural resources for thousands of years and have passed this way of life, with its long-established culture and values, or the right way to live as human beings, down through generations.  Medicinal knowledge and use of native plants requires precise knowledge of the environment, the seasonal patterns of medicinal plants, where they grow, when to collect them (at their most potent stage), how to prepare them, and how and in what dosages to administer them. In our region of the Aleutians, the Unangan used this knowledge to cure illnesses, alleviate pain, heal burns and bone fractures, and fight infection.  Traditional medicine is intrinsically holistic.  Conventional medicine is only beginning to conceptualize looking at health, healing, and medicine as a complete circle.  So, when I see plants, or simply discuss them, I immediately think of their value, not in terms of simple beauty, but to solve and balance health needs.

Overseeing all the showy plant activity is the beach rye grass, a sentinel of great stature and elegance, which when used by the Unangan/Unangas, showed its traits of great utilitarian strength in the work baskets and mats that were made from the grass.  Then it surpassed that strength with the delicate weaving of the smaller, more decorative items, common in the post contact era, such as decorative baskets, wall hangings, and wallets.

Walking from the water, one of the first plants you will encounter is Honckenya  peploides, locally known as Scurvy Grass.  It was the plant that saved many a Russian explorer from certain death, as it provided huge concentrations of vitamin C needed to cure or keep scurvy at bay.   Although it tastes best as a young plant, even the bitter old plants will give you the vitamins that you need.  It was also used as a good healer for skin conditions, so was typically made into an ointment.  Scurvy Grass is a wonderful beach stabilizer and can be used in gardens for a great ground cover.  It will remind you of succulent species seen in typical rock gardens.

Senecio pseudo-arnica, or what we call sunflower, was commonly used to help heal wounds.  Its sturdy stems and leaves are important to keep the plant from succumbing to the wild winds coming off the sea.  During its blooming stage, it sports bright yellow petals.

The trio of umbels most closely associated on Unalaska Island, Ligusticum scoticum L. ssp. Hultenii, (Beach Lovage), Angelica ludicda L., (St. Paul Putchky), and Heracleum lanatum, (Putchky), each has an edible and medicinal component.  Beach Lovage is the plant used as wild parsley, though it is much more exciting than boring old parsley.  It has a definite peppery flavor which lends itself extremely well in spicing seafood.  We would never think to cook our fish without using lovage.  Medicinally, the seeds are used to make a tea for indigestion.  Angelica, whose edible qualities are not really used here in Unalaska, is best known in European cultures as a candy.  In Unalaska it is prized for its ability at soothing sore muscles and joints, for clearing up infections, and, most surprising, healing the burn of the related Putchky plant.  Cow Parsnip, or Putchky as we call it, is a wonderful wild celery.  Care must be taken when gathering and eating, as the sap reacts to sunlight and will burn your skin.  Roots of the Putchky plant were used as a poultice to help draw out pain.

The many uses of the Achillea borealis (Yarrow), from blood coagulator to blocker of the common cold makes one wonder about the use of plants as medicines and how the uses came about.  Many elders remember the fragrance of yarrow tea steeping in their childhood homes and will sometimes just drink a cup without having any ailments.  The sweet smell of the blooming Sanguisorba stipulata (Sitka Burnet), and its equally sweet tea from the leaves that is used in the morning as a “pick-me-up” contrasts with the stinky fragrance of Fritillaria camschatcensis (the Chocolate Lily), and its edible roots.  Called a wild rice, the roots were collected, boiled, and stored in oil for winter eating.  They could also be dried and ground for use as a “flour”.

Wormwood, or Artemisia unalaskensis; A. globularia; A. tilesii, A. arctica, was used extensively for diminishing pain from rheumatism and arthritis.  The leaves and stems were used either fresh or dried to switch the skin during a steam bath.  The volatile oils from the plant entered the bloodstream through the open pores in the skin, easily passing through the vessel barriers.  Oils and salves were also made from the plant for joint and muscles aches, as well as infections and rashes.  A tea was made from the plant and taken sparingly, as a cure for chest ailments such as bronchitis and asthma.  Its tall, leafy, somewhat silvery appearance is used to fill in flower arrangements.

The absolute beauty of the orchids on Unalaska Island, including Cypripedium guttatum (Lady’s Slipper), Dactylorhiza aristata (Purple Orchid), and the extremely rare Platanthera tipuloides, or Bering Bog Orchid, are not to be missed. The medicinal qualities of certain orchids are no longer remembered.  The berries that we gather to eat and store each year have values that go beyond filling the belly and providing us with much needed vitamin C.  Outside of the medicinal uses, just the simple act of picking berries is therapeutic to the soul. The berries most commonly harvested include the salmonberry ( good for sore throats and tooth infections), high bush blueberry (used to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure), crowberries(used to cure eye infections), nagoon berry (so good to eat, you wouldn’t think of doing anything else with them), and the bog and mountain cranberries (of course, used for bladder infections, but also for colds and bleeding gums).  With the advent of berry season, inevitably come the fall colors as our meadows and mountains take on the task of showing colors from the palest greens, to the yellows, oranges, and brilliant reds.

When you live on an island, you begin to realize the true importance of the environment.  Its health represents stability and wellbeing.  In the worldview, the entire environment is made up of tiny subsections of local environments which are under each of our local care.  The Unangan/Unangas believe, as do most indigenous peoples, we are here to take care of and preserve the environment for those generations not yet seen.  Just meandering through our tundra makes this concept a simple one to understand and to promote in your heart as well as your mind.

Familiar Comforts

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My daddy loved kielbaska, sauerkraut, noodles, cabbage, and perogies, albeit the perogies definitely had a native flair to them.   His love of nut rolls and pastries with poppyseeds had my mother making special loaves and twists for Christmas morning breakfast that her great grandchildren expect, still, to this day.  My father was born in Chicago and did not know more than a few words of English when he went to school in first grade.  How is that?  He was raised in a Slovakian community in the Chicago area.  He soon moved to a farm in Wisconsin and finished his formative years in a very rural, close knit Slovakian community.  He received The Fraternal Herald until the day he passed away, and a small insurance policy was paid out to my mother from a Slovakian insurance company policy that his parents bought when my dad was small.

And, yet, his four daughters knew very little about his Slovakian heritage.  He felt it was more important that we be raised in mom’s culture, Unangax, an indigenous group from the Aleutian Islands.  Once a people numbering 20,000 prior to Russian contact, within 60 years of contact the population was a shocking 1,875.  And besides, he fell in love with the islands.

As time began taking a visible toll on my dad, it became so important to make sure he was comfortable and happy; that he not worry about anything.  That he know that he did not have to leave the home he loved.  That we do everything we could to make this happen.  One night, when I made haluska for dinner, my mother looked at me like – whaaat?  Well, I said, this is a Slovakian dish and I thought dad would appreciate it.   He did and it was delicious.  It’s funny how as we see time slipping by, we bring out the things we think will bring memories and comfort.

Climate Change

Six pictures.  Unalaska Island, Aleutian Islands.  Photos taken between March 1 and March 10 for six years, of the same general area.  2013 is how it has always been.  Climate change is not a conversation; it is happening here.


It changes our subsistence cycles.  The water is becoming warm which impacts our fish species, numbers, and quality.  Our plants, both edible and medicinal, are just as confused as the human beings.  Twenty years, folks.  We have to make a difference.  Go solar.  Go wind power.  Ban plastics.  Farm responsibly.  Save the earth for those generations not yet seen.

The Fabric of our Lives

via Daily Prompt: FabricFabric

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I have been paralyzed.  In my thinking; in my writing.  I don’t know what to say to the rest of you outside of my little, safe world.

This nation was built on the bloody fabric of indigenous genocide.  There can be no arguments about that.  There can, and will, continue to be arguments about the depths of genocide.  Was it 112 million?  The more acceptable 10 million?  At any rate, circa 1900, there were 300,000 indigenous peoples remaining.  Even in my little world the population of my indigenous ancestors went from 20,000 to a staggering 1,875 within 60 years of contact with Russia.

This nation was recrafted as a haven for refugees fleeing unjust religious practices.  It was a place to flee to if you had pretty much used up your welcome elsewhere in the world.  It became a place where people could build a life for themselves and their families and more than survive; they could prosper.  It formed into an independant country through bloody warfare and was crafted into a democratic union.  It was a safe haven for those in need.

So what happened?  Why are we now so unaccepting of those same types of people who are seeking refuge?  Or who is it that is unaccepting?  I can sit here and watch the cloth unravel, row by row, seemingly indelibly because how can you ever recover from such hatred being spewed?  Spewed by our leaders.  Spewed by our faith leaders. Spewed by our fellow countrymen.

I am appalled at the lack of empathy that we have for humanity.  I believe it will be the resistors who will have to weave this country back together, perhaps the same, hopefully better and more inclusive.  Who is going to take up the banner?  Like a piece of fabric blowing in our Aleutian winds,  we need to have flexibilty in order to bend, but strength in our frame to hold us together.  Who will that be?