Visions of fishing

beach4

My mother and I have noticed that time seems to be whizzing by particularly fast this year.  We are already into May.  Mom informed us she is not fishing this summer.  That is a daunting statement coming from her, as she had taught all of us that salmon is one of the most important components of our lives.  Her reason?  No time.  She is in the final preparations for a show at the Anchorage Museum.  When she announced that she would not be fishing, we were all a little stunned.  Not that she actually “fishes” anymore, but she is still the catalyst that drives the process.  She is an unrelenting stickler for perfection in her subsistence practices.  From catch to filleted and prepped for final process is typically never more than 15 minutes or so, depending on the number of fish hitting the net.  Usually we must twist her arm to let us do the filleting.  She just loves the whole process.  So, we shall all step up to the plate this year to see if we have learned well and have what it takes.  I have the faith.  It is unfortunate that one of the best fish cutters will be self-exiled for an intense language immersion opportunity this summer.  This is an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.  Our language, Unangam Tunuu, has only fluent speakers who are over the age of 70.  So, while we all have our own visions this spring and summer, we know in our heart of hearts that we will fill our freezers, our drying and smoking houses, and our salt buckets to the best of our abilities.  Having had the best teacher in life, we will be successful.

If ever you visit Alaska…

One Foot

If, by chance you ever visit Alaska in April, and you are in Anchorage, take the time to attend the statewide Native Youth Olympics competition.  It will be a sporting event unlike any you have ever attended and one that you will never forget.

This is a sport that inspires an entire arena to quiet in hushed suspense and awe as they watch an athlete attempt what may seem to be an impossible task.  Records are consistently broken by these super athletes who really do the impossible from hopping across a hardwood floor on their knuckles, and then back again, hanging by only their wrist from a pole suspended between two running stick holders, kicking a ball suspended at least eight feet in the air with one foot and then landing only on that same foot.  These feats are only a few of the games that Alaska’s youth play that are based on games played for millennia by indigenous hunters and gatherers as a way to hone their hunting and survival skills and at the same time increasing their strength, endurance, agility, and most importantly, the cohesion of mind and body.

The camradery and sportsmanship are unlike anything you may have witnessed.  The goal is for each athlete to best themselves, so rival athletes will cheer for their competitors and coaches will coach any and all athletes.  These are games of friendship and growth.  Make sure you see the phenomenon that is Alaska’s youth.

Xristuusax̂ Aĝlaĝikux̂!

OC 003 (2)Xristuusax̂ Aĝlaĝikux̂!  Aĝanĝulakan Aĝlaĝikux̂!  (Unangam tunuu)  Khristós anésti! Alithós anésti!  (Greek) Khristos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!  (Church Slavonic) Kristus vstal z mŕtvych! Skutočne vstal z mŕtvych!  (Slovak)  Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

What I miss the most.

kulich

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.

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.

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.

basket grass

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