Murphy’s Law

IMG_1108 (1024x759)Our lives have come to revolve around the seasons much more than when we were younger.  I’ve come to think of winter as the months that bring wood to our beaches so that we will have wood for our smokehouse during fishing season.  Spring is when the plants start emerging, birds lay eggs, and the anticipation of good weather, calm seas, and fishing start ebbing in the corners of our minds.  Summer, of course, is the time of plenty.  Plenty to hunt and gather.  Plenty to do.  Fall is when we are racing against time to finish gathering the last of the berries and hoping for good weather to hold long enough to be able to get enough silver salmon for the family.

Last September the husband and I were feeling quite fond of ourselves.  We had successfully gotten some silver salmon.  The weather was beginning to turn, so we decided it was time to take the boat out of the water for the winter.  I will tell you that there are two days of the year that I dread more than any others.  The day we put the boat in the water and, worse yet, the day we take it out.  Husbands and wives should really not do this task together. Especially when you have a cheap husband who insists on doing everything as cheaply as possible.  Out of principle.

The boat trailer we use is a homemade trailer.  It basically consists of a homemade frame with wheels.  Lights and wiring that is not functional.  And where most boat trailers have some sort of rail system where the boat is winched up to rest on some sort of frame that has little wheels for smooth movement of the boat, we have two huge sheets of what looks like Teflon, set in a “V”.  No winch.  When putting the boat in the water, we have to back it down the ramp and into the water deep enough so that when we slam on the brakes the boat will jerk and then slip into the water.  When taking the boat out of the water, this system necessitates actually driving the boat up onto the trailer with enough power to get it up, but not enough to go through the back window of my car.  Let me tell you that the cussing and screaming is embarrassing to say the least.  I am traumatized beyond belief on those two days.

So last September after we had successfully gotten the boat out of the water and backed up into the driveway, I was so pleased to have that done with for another season.  It was then that my husband says that he feels like we forgot something.  But he can’t think of what.  Naturally, being the OCD candidate that he is, he finally slapped his forehead several hours later and exclaimed “We forgot to take the buoy and the anchor out of the water!”  Sure enough, there was the buoy floating out from the beach about 300 feet. You can kind of make it out in the picture.  It is pink.

Many people leave their buoys and anchors out year round.  They are not in the boat traffic path and it is one less thing that you have to do when  you are ready to fish.  We never have.  But I was not about to go through the boat fiasco again.  So it stayed in the water, wintering quite well.  It was something that my husband would look at each morning when going to the beach, and something that my mother looked for out her kitchen window each morning that she got up as soon as there was enough light to see.  Wouldn’t you know that on the 10th day of spring we would have a storm that was surprisingly stormy.  And our darned buoy is gone. And worse, yet, we have no idea where the anchor is resting.

Now the husband is busy hoping that the line broke where it attaches to the buoy, and thinking of what kind of gaff he needs to devise in order to be able to get that anchor back.  I’m just shaking my head.

Can’t we all just get along?

03072013 015aI was thinking about birds today.  Perhaps because I saw a flock of tiny birds and it was so cold outside that it made me wonder, as I always do, how they manage to survive the cold with their tiny little bodies. Then I thought of struggles. And life in general.  And life as it is today.   It brought to mind a poem by a woman who spent her life making block prints and poetry.  Her name was Gwen Frostic.  I don’t even know the name of the poem, but it brought to mind all of the turmoil in our country and the world.

Each swan is always a swan
with all its beauty and grace

and, the blue jay remains a jay

No turtle would try to induce
a frog  to live his way . . . .

Perhaps . . .
therein lies the secret
of peaceful coexistence

Gwen Frostic

With unending love and gratitude….

He loved his adopted home in the Aleutians.

My father, Samuel R. Svarny. He loved his adopted home in the Aleutians.

I give no apologies for the span of time between my last post in August of 2013 and today.  The time was dedicated to my parents, making myself available to help Mom with Dad’s increasing health needs in any way that I could and listening, listening to those wonderful, now silent stories that I have been hearing all my life, but still learning something new at each retelling.   I am honored that I was here to help keep everything as normal as possible over the past two and one half years.  In the last months of Dad’s time with us, I realized the importance of honoring someone’s wishes to be allowed to stay in the place that they loved.  It is an awesome responsibility and one that I urge you all to contemplate when these circumstances cross your path.  Don’t doubt your abilities.  You will find that you have many more than you thought. And in the past year and three months since Dad passed away, I have been fortunate to live a stone’s throw away from Mom to help ease her into living on her own after 64 1/2 years of marriage.  She is awesome.

The Meaning of Family.



My family ties got a little broader and tighter this past week.  I got a chance to meet my mother’s sister’s son’s grandchildren.  Our family has relatives far-flung all over these United States.  It was not a conscious decision for my mother’s family to disperse in all directions from the Aleutian Islands.  It was, instead, due to a forced evacuation of all Native peoples from the islands during World War II.  My mother’s older sister Myrtle ended up being sent to her military husband’s family in the deep south.  After the war, they eventually ended up settling in Nevada and raising 3 children.  The kids had several chances to visit as they were growing up and these visits stuck like glue in the mind of the oldest son.  He made several trips as an adult, once with one of his children.  Several other times with his wife.  The time before this trip, to spread some of his mother’s ashes in the family plot, to be reunited with her mother, father, and brothers and sisters who had preceded her in passing.

On one of these trips, he was in Unalaska during the time that our Traditional Knowledge summer camp was taking place.  From that experience sprang the seeds of an idea to have his grandchildren experience their roots and learn about their indigenous culture.

Dennis and his two granddaughters arrived the day before camp began on a day with the fog hanging halfway down the mountains and after having spent two hours in Cold Bay, Alaska waiting for fuel.  They were unfortunate to land in Cold Bay after 2 Japanese military planes had emptied the fuel trucks of all fuel.  Two of his children were to arrive three days later.  His daughter, the mother of the girls, and his son, both of whom had never been here before.  They had the true Aleutian experience of flying to the point of being directly overhead, and turning around to return to Anchorage because they couldn’t find the airport in the fog.  Well….not a true Aleutian experience because they actually made it onto a flight the next day and landed.

Oh the girls had an experience like no other.  The fish – baked, smoked, made into lox.  The octopus.  The fish pie.  The sea lion.  Learning to weave.  Making masks.  Learning some Unangam tunuu, the Aleut language.  Songs and dance.  And the son and daughter?  Hiking some of the trails made by their ancestors some 8,000 years before.  Climbing above the clouds and watching the landscape and village magically appear as the clouds dissolved.

But the real magic was in the sharing of family and history.  Seeing the bonds forged between a great, great aunt and great, great nieces; between great aunts and great niece and great nephew; between cousins and second cousins, and beyond.  The magic of feeling a kinship with virtual strangers.  The real magic was in the wistful expressions on the day of departure.  The strange pulling at the heart strings that the islands give to people who come here with their hearts wide open.  Yes.  And the promise of returning again someday.

Where Heaven is a local call.

Front Beach, Unalaska, Alaska.

Front Beach, Unalaska, Alaska.

In the throes of summer, where temps range from the low 40’s to the mid 60’s, time flies by.  It is a perfect time when the seas are just right, the clouds are high and scattered, the sun is shining, and the fish are running.  The grass is lush and green and wildflowers are full of bumblebees.  A spellbinding moment in time when the “other half” is patient and peaceful.  These are the times that I think of how my friend Tiny remarks on Unalaska’s spectacular beauty and how he believes that heaven is a local call.  He is so absolutely correct.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder



This is what I am hoping for on Sunday morning.  Clear blue skies with just enough of a breeze to give an airplane good lift so that our luggage will not be left behind due to weight and balance.  I am taking off for about two weeks.  Going to brave the frantic pace of the lower 48.  Crowded airports,  milling crowds….traffic.  I also will get to see my sisters, so that, in itself, makes it all worthwhile.  I’m packed.  A novelty for me as I usually am packing the morning of my flight….that must be where my daughter learned the habit.

That is an airplane in the photo, by the way,  on final approach.  Not a bird.  It is a Saab turbo prop with 30 seats.  Typically it takes about 3 hours to Anchorage where we will switch to a jet.  We can hope for a tailwind, in which case we may make it in 2 hours and 40 minutes or so.  If it is a rocking and rolling takeoff, I’m at least hoping that I will be granted a tailwind aloft.

I’ll be checking out all your blogs while I am gone, but am only taking my Kindle Fire, so no posts for me.  I guess you can say I will be on vacation.

Islands of the Smokey Seas

Drenching rain, trying to come down as snow.

Drenching rain, trying to come down as snow.

March, April, and May can be the most vexing months especially during the last few years when nothing that was before seems to be happening now.  Last year we had our last snow on May 31st.  Now as I glance over at the window, instead of just rain plastering the window, I see it has changed to lumpy rain.  I guess you would call it sleet.  The rain has been doing the job of melting mounds and mounds of snow, and opening up the wild landscaping to the previous fall’s compressed, tan detritus.  It’s around 8:00 PM, so the temperature is most likely dropping.  It is blowing about 35 from the ESE with gusts to right around 50 right now.  There is very little visibility out in the bay or surrounding mountains.  Can’t even see the mountains.  Yesterday it was almost that “S” word that we don’t say out loud or in print, just in case we jinx the season.  This morning everything was frozen.  Now it is blowing like hell.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.  If there is one thing you can say about weather in the Aleutians it is that it is never boring.  It keeps you on  your toes.  I should probably invest in a waterproof casing for my camera.  As it is, I have to decide when is too wet and wild to take the camera out.   How much time do I want to spend wiping it down when I come inside?  When you grow up in a place known as the birthplace of the winds, you learn to judge how much the wind is blowing by observing the environment.  The first thing you observe is that there is always wind.  White caps generally start when it is blowing 25.  You can see gusts coming by the way they darken the water….black water.  We all look intently for black water at either end of the runway when we are making an approach to land.  Black water at the end of the runway is very, very scary.   You know that when the gusts are picking up water off the sea, it is blowing at least 50.  When that happens we call them williwaws.



So while we wait to find what these next few months will bring us, I will just continue to be exhilarated by the weather.   Ah, yes.  I live in the birthplace of the winds; the islands of the smokey seas.