Blink

Goosevia Daily Prompt: Blink

I was sitting with my mother this past summer during an early evening in June.  My husband was discussing some of the finer points of the agenda for the 75-year Commemoration of the bombing of Dutch Harbor and the evacuation of the Unangan people.  Events were to include a memorial ceremony, historical presentations, personal stories, many luncheons and dinners, and flyovers by historical aircraft.  The commemoration of a little-recognized part of history is significant and educational not only for those connected to World War II in the Aleutians, but for a much broader international public.  My mother, who was 87 1/2 in June, had been 12 years old when the events of WWII enveloped the islands that she called home and changed her life forever.

On the morning of June 3, 1942 and continuing June 4, Japanese planes rained bombs on her home town of Unalaska and the Navy and Army infrastructure that had been constructed for the protection of Alaska and the lower 48 states.  Within a month, her family was split apart as older siblings joined the military or, in the case of her two older sisters who had married servicemen, were evacuated to their husbands’ families in the lower 48.  She, three of her siblings and her mother were forcibly evacuated to an abandoned fish cannery in Southeast Alaska.  Her father, not being native, was not allowed to accompany them.  They were not allowed to return to their home until late in 1945.  Although the war ended, and things were supposed to return to normal, nothing was ever normal again.  Families were smaller, having suffered the loss of 10 percent of their population in the detention camp.  Economies were changed as industries that had been in place prior to the war had disappeared.  Many Unangan homes had been ransacked by the military personnel and were unfit for habitation.  The trust that they had in their government was badly damaged.  My mother’s family was never, ever all together again after July of 1942.

So, a 75th year commemoration was a pretty important event in the life of my mother.  It would mark a time when she knew that it most likely would be the last time she would see any of her friends who might come back for the commemoration.  Only a handful of original evacuees remain living in Unalaska, so she was looking forward to seeing her now distant friends.

As she sat in the living room of the home in which she grew up, a drone of engines, starting out faintly, grew louder and louder, soon passing directly over the house.  She turned toward us and in a surprised voice said, “The Japanese.”  In the blink of an eye, with the sound of the plane engines, she was transported back to what was, most certainly, a hellish part of her life.

 

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Diversity

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In looking at this picture, you might not even think that there is much diversity in this group.  They are all wearing beyond comfortable jeans and footwear.  They are sporting the same t-shirt with various pullovers for comfort.  They are sporting sunglasses and hats for shade…except for the kids who haven’t learned the virtues of protecting skin and eyes yet.  They have all come together to support a common cause and to play a common game.  (Well, common game in an uncommon location;  tundra golf…not for the faint of heart.)  You wouldn’t think that so many different cultures could be represented in such a small group, but without going into their personal backgrounds, I will just tell you that they represent everything.

On this day of reflection I like to think that America was brilliant at being a model for diversity and inclusiveness.  How that changed mimics the changes we see on a local level.  Learning about different cultures, with the result of respecting them, opens the door for open minds. Take a lesson from indigenous cultures who for millennia were inclusive of all people no matter their beliefs, skin tone, or gender identification and/or definition.  Although I now believe that our ability to pass on values of diversity acceptance has become more difficult, I still believe that our ability to truly appreciate and celebrate diverse cultures stems from the generosity of those who choose to share their values and their dreams with the group as a whole.

Living with volcanoes.

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When you live within the Ring of Fire, you learn to live with volcanoes.  The “Ring of Fire” is a chain of volcanoes skirting the edges of the Pacific Ocean.  Containing 450+ volcanoes, it is shaped subtly like a horseshoe.  It stretches an unbelievable 25,000 miles from the southern tip of South America, along the coast of North America, including the Aleutian archipelago.  It continues through Japan and reaches down to New Zealand.

Unalaska Island’s highest elevation is Makushin Volcano, topping out at 5906 feet.  It is located approximately 15 miles west of the City of Unalaska.  It is an active volcano, with the last eruption noted in 1995.  Makushin is constantly steaming, which means it is venting…which is a good thing.  Bogoslof Island is 61 miles northwest of Unalaska Island.  Bogoslof, or Aĝasaaĝux̂, is the summit of a submarine stratovolcano located at the southern edge of the Bering Sea.  It was first recorded by non-indigenous seafarers during an eruption in 1796.  It has been erupting off and on through the years, sometimes losing terra firma and sometimes gaining.  It has become a breeding sanctuary for sea birds, seals, and sea lions.

Bogoslof began a series of eruptions in December 2016, almost daily, spewing volcanic ash clouds high into the atmosphere and sporting volcanic lightning.  Through all the fury of upheaval, the island, as of May 2017, has grown from 71.2 acres to 319 acres, or nearly 1.3 kilometers.  And what has happened to the animals that call Bogoslof home, or at least a respite?  Typically, animals are extremely adaptable.  They leave when there are explosions, swimming to nearby islands and come back when things are quiet.  The Fish and Wildlife Service has reported that even with eruptions occurring in March, marine mammals returned to birth their young.

In Unalaska we face a daunting number of issues when volcanic activity is present.  There are ash clouds and ash fallout.  Lahars and floods, pyroclastic flows, clouds, and surges.  Debris avalanches and lava flows are not so much a worry as are directed blasts, volcanic gases, and volcanic tsunamis.  If you are a resident of Unalaska, you really don’t dwell on the issue.  Unless, of course, you don’t get your mail; or your flight has been canceled because of ashfall.  When you think about it, the real danger is that we could be decimated in a matter of seconds by a pyroclastic cloud.  Or a nuclear bomb.  Volcano, bomb, bomb, volcano.  Worrying about it won’t make it go away and nothing we can do will change the outcome.  It is not a defeatist attitude.  It is part of the price we pay for living in paradise.

Carve

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvia Daily Prompt: CarveCarve

Lined up around the edges of the studio, rough cut stone takes up the under spaces along the walls.  Under the finishing desk, mounds of stone hunker down, seemingly forgotten.  Under the ledge that acts as a shelf.  Bone and wood haphazardly stacked on shelves along the wall.  A moistened finger brings out the color of the stone… a piece of soapstone with the colors of jade.  Back in the corner, a find of alabaster.  I am always fascinated when she “sees” something in a clump of stone; amazed that she won’t pull a piece out until her vision is clear.  How does her mind work to decide to make that first cut with the handsaw, taking off the stone she won’t use?  Completely self-taught, she finds a balance, not only in literally making the stone stand on its own, but in the other materials that she brings to the carved stone, each piece a brilliant carving in its own right; each piece a part of herself, the story she is telling about her people, past and present, and the environment in which she thrives.

Tix^yux^ – Wild rye.

Basket woven by Diane Svarny.

Unangan weaving has the reputation of being some of the finest weaving being done today; for millenia, for that matter.  It can take a weaver many months to complete a project.    It also has the reputation of being some of the most beautiful weaving, exacting in the details of process and design.  So much goes into weaving each project that it should come as  no surprise at how time consuming even the first steps can be.

If you have ever been to the Aleutians during the summer, one of the first comments you are likely to make will be something about the abundant, large grass growing on the beach shores and up into the meadowlands.  You are looking at tix^lux^, or wild rye grass, or in the scientific lingo, Elymus mollis.  It is this beautiful grass that played such a large part in the lives of the Unangax^.

Salmonberries and mushrooms 066 (2)Weaving used to be a very utilitarian aspect of Unangan life.  Grasses were used to weave fish baskets, berry baskets, clam containers, floor mats, wall coverings, room dividers, mittens,  socks, burial mats, capes….you name it and it was probably a woven product.  The beauty of the fine weaving, though, was not recognized until the Unangax^ were invaded by Russian fur procurers and items began leaving the region, either as items taken forcibly, or, in later years, as items of trade.

I am lucky that my mother has passed on the art of gathering and curing grass for basket weaving.  It is no longer a common occurrence.  I miss seeing women returning from the hills carrying large bundles of grass over their shoulders.  Those bundles were tossed and dampened and protected from sunlight for up to 2 months, depending on conditions.  Then the grass was stripped down to the inner blades of grass; the ones that were at the center of the blade, thus protected from the salty elements.  One large bundle is reduced to a bundle measuring, perhaps, an inch in diameter.

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Just so you know, both my daughters have been on the August grass gathering forays.

Women’s March 2017

mom-plus-3We are privileged to live in an extremely diverse town.  If you can think of a nationality, we most likely are fortunate to have one or two or a small community living here.  We just all live and work together.  Our community is a blue town living in a red state.  We believe in equality and justice for all.

In our disbelief, the results of the recent election finally crept up on us.  I kept thinking that something would happen between November and January to save us all from the fact that life as we have known it was going to go through some dark and drastic changes.  So I was ready to support my fellow women who were marching on Washington in peaceful protest.

We all marched for many different reasons. Because we can. My 87 year old mother marched to remind US citizens not to step on people’s civil liberties like happened to the Unangan/Unangas people during World War II.  She was 12 years old when her civil liberties were taken from her by the US government.

Ours was not as formal as some of the larger city marches. We didn’t have speakers. We did have signs. Great signs. One said Ataqan Akun.  We are one.  One of them said March 4 love. One said March against Hate. Another said equality and justice. One said feminist AF, carried by a man. One said Tuman tanax^ agliisaax*txin. Take care of the land. Another said Tuman alag^ux^ agliisaax^txin. Take care of the sea/ocean. And one said Ig^ayuux^txin, ang^im atxag^ingin agachan madada. Do the things you know are right.

And this is not right. Unfortunately, things are being taken away from us all, but some are suffering sooner than the rest of us. We, the marchers, just knew it would happen before others realized the impact.   We all need to practice the values handed down by the indigenous people of this great land   Our people. Our values….the right way to live as human beings.