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.

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.

Williwaws

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.

Do Not Feed the Eagles

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Someone was feeding eagles yesterday.  I don’t know if it was my idiotic  neighbor who thinks it is his god given right to feed wildlife, or if it was accidental feeding from an offload of a fishing boat.  Or if someone cleaned out their freezer.  But someone was feeding the eagles yesterday.  This led to at least 3 hours of thumps on the roof, fights and squabbles over both food and advantageous perching, and eagles whizzing down the street at about head height.  And I’m not talking three or four eagles.  I am talking about seventy-five.  Very irritating…and dangerous.

Alaskan Light

The view from the end of my driveway

The view from the end of my driveway

I was on a regular routine.  Of waking up to a certain feeling of light.  A little before 8, right between astronomical and nautical twilight in Unalaska.  The sun is sitting about 12 to 18 degrees below the horizon.  Certainly my husband’s banging around with the coffee in the morning was always my first alarm.  Way before the butt crack of dawn, but I could readily go back to sleep, somehow, with him grinding coffee beans and banging, literally, the grinder on the counter top to get the fine grounds out of the lid.  So with the spring forward yesterday, it was totally disconcerting to wake up to very dark again.  In fact, this morning, it certainly wasn’t the nautical twilight waking me up, but my grandson, who is on spring break this week, saying “Grandma.  I’m here.”

Yesterday morning I remember saying to myself oh my god, how can I survive going back into the dark.  Then I go outside at 9:20 pm last evening and snap this photo of the view from the end of my driveway.  What am I complaining about?  I’m making up the light at the other end of the clock.

Hunkering down

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When you live in Alaska there are just certain things that you expect.  You expect the long days of summer when the sun barely sets before coming above the horizon again.  You expect to spend a majority of your time hunting and gathering from May through October.  You don’t know when, but you expect that first dusting of snow on the mountains, more commonly known as termination dust.  And you expect it to be cold.  In the Aleutians, we also expect wind.

February was called Qisagunax^ by the indigenous people of the Aleutians prior to 1834.  This means famine.  February was the month when you were gaining about 4 minutes of daylight per day.  It was the month when you had already braved the storms of November, December, and January.  It was the month when you were coming to the end of some of your subsistence foods.  So food was scarce.  The communities were hungry.  It was a time when you needed to get out there and find something to eat again.

It is amazing that February is also the month during our long winters that can have some of the most beautiful weather.  Perhaps my ancestors knew this about February, so they were not particularly careful about their food stocks.  They did like to party and were generous to a fault.  Perhaps they knew they could count on the most gorgeous, brilliant sunny days in February, when the tide was out really low.  And the winds abated.  They could get out in their iqyan and fish, or hunt for that stray sea mammal.  Or access the tidepools for delicacies like sea urchins, mussels, clams, octopus, limpets, chitons, and seaweed.  Then they would hunker down when those north winds picked up again, coating everything in ice from the sea spray.

On days like these ones, I like to pull a fish out of the freezer and enjoy the fruits of our labors from the summer months.  I like to be warm and toasty in my little home, not caring what is going on outside my doors.  Like the windows, everything has a hazy, muted feeling of being cut off from the world.  Especially if the wind is blowing and your ability to hear anything besides the wind is gone.  Yes….just hunkering down and enjoying my solitude.

10,000+ Years of Adaptation and Compromise

Contemporary Unangax Dancer

Contemporary Unangax dancer

A post by a fellow blogger gave me pause to think deeply recently.  My thoughts were too full and lengthy to be deemed a simple comment, so I decided a brief post was in order.  Pete has a WordPress site called Pete’s Alaska.   Here is a link to the blog that gave me thought.   http://kl1hbalaska.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/what-is-truth/.   I want to assure you that this is not an argumentative response, just some thoughts that could possibly explain how and why I look at the contemporary world from my old world eyes.  I just thought it was fair to give Pete credit for making me think.

When Pete starts out by writing about listening to a radio talk show and wondering, along with the radio participants, just where each participant was getting his/her information, I can really nod my head in agreement.  I recently said something to the effect of  “Ethics in journalism. Is there such a thing anymore? I get a feeling that reporters and journalists have developed a journalistic style of unsubstantiated opinion. And that bugs me.”  In this world of social media, fast breaking news, and our inability to wait for the facts, I truly believe you have got to have a whole lot of common sense to wade through all the crap that is thrown out there to be able to find the truth in each situation.  That’s when having a great background in ethics and values becomes extremely advantageous and you thank your lucky stars for having parents who were full of common sense.

In looking for the truth, Pete is concerned about how youngsters will sift through all of the untruths that people perceive are in textbooks.  Well, we’ve all had to contend with printed sources that call into question whether or not they are presenting the real facts.  We were all  taught that Columbus ‘discovered’ America and was a wonderful father figure in American history.  Come to find out that many other people were here before Columbus, including, and not limited to, indigenous tribes and Vikings.  We also have learned that Columbus was a wretch of a human being, seizing land, enslaving man, and selling females.  But we all came out of it okay, and I can imagine that our children and our children’s children will blunder through as well.

I once met a man who came to the Aleutians to meet the people who had suffered a severing of their human rights during World War II by the United States government.  His name was Dean Kohlhoff, Professor of History at Valparaiso University.  Having gone through the entire educational offerings of the United States school system, he was shocked to learn about the evacuation of the Unangan people from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands during WWII.  As a professor of history, he knew the story needed to be added to history books.  He documented the tragic story by utilizing all of the governmental paperwork so that it was a true rendition of the story, and being a true rendition of actual history, could be placed in history books.  The book, entitled When the Wind was a River – The Aleut Evacuation in World War II, is a wonderful piece of documentation, but I am not sure how many history books it has changed.  I guess we are at the mercy of designers and publishers and just need to have a philosophy of lifelong learning so that we are always on the lookout for fresh information.

Pete goes on to write about finding the truth, and how sifting through facts has led him to believe that the finding of truth is all a matter of what and who you put your trust in.  He tells us that the ultimate truth about our country is found in the Constitution of the United States.  And the ultimate truth about religion is found in the bible.  And all you need to do is read them to answer your questions.  Which all would be well and good for all of those questions about country if this was still 1787 and nothing had changed.  If the right to bear arms still meant what it meant in 1791, I don’t think we would be having quite the contentious discussions about gun control that are happening all around the country.  I think that as well as reading the bible, we should all remember that this is a book that was written, much like our history books are written, where someone had the power of choosing what would be inside those covers.  I think what we need to remember when we read the bible is that this country was built with an idea that there should be freedom of religion…religion, not Methodist religion, or Catholic religion, or Orthodox religion, or Muslim religion.  Just religion.  Or no religion, if that is your freedom.  I think that along with our bibles, our guns, and our flags, we need to have a big dose of tolerance in our pocket full of tricks.

I have often been accused of having a Pollyanna sort of vision of the world.  This accusation may be true and I must say that it is truly an environmental issue.  It is a direct result of the environment I was raised in.  Not many history books will tell you this, but the Unangan people, or the indigenous Peoples of the Aleutian Islands, are the one race of people with a longer continuous existence as an identifiable people in one place than any other people in the world.  We didn’t get that distinction without a near genocide of the Unangan population during the Russian invasion.  We suffered mightily during the assimilation efforts during the Americanization of the Aleutians.  And we were brought to our knees during the inhuman forced evacuation of our lands during World War II.  We got the distinction because we chose to adapt instead of disappearing.  We chose to compromise instead of giving up and leaving.

If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that nothing is set in stone.  Things were meant to change. People were meant to learn from their parents mistakes, from their parents actions, and from their own actions.   Documents were meant to be ammended and to grow, to be reinterpreted,  and to become more clear.  People were meant to learn tolerance, compassion,  and to be their brother’s keepers.  I think in this fast changing world that we live in, we all have to be willing to compromise.  We all need to be able to adapt to new ideas.  In this fast paced, global society, we all need to broaden our horizons and really begin to think globally.  And (this coming from a completely anomalous matriarchal society in Unalaska) maybe we need to focus our communities on health and peace.  And, after all, perhaps the Dalai Lama is correct when he says that the Western woman will save the world.

Fine comforts.

Setting the tone.

Setting the tone.

When do we become aware that we are creatures of comfort?  I am certain it is well into our twenties or thirties.  When we are young, we take for granted the running water in our homes, our own bed, food on the table, and the freedom to run and play outside.  As we leave home for a higher education, we even take that for granted, perhaps not realizing the sacrifices others make for us in terms of financial burdens.  When comfort, or the lack thereof, really comes into focus is when we are responsible for our own comfort.  In those early years of fending for ourselves, we give ourselves comforts as we can afford them.  Gradually, we become more adept at providing for ourselves, and we sometimes go over board in the comfort area, once again becoming slightly immune to our fortune of having comforts.

And then we come full circle when we realize that our creature comforts really aren’t that numberous.  We need shelter and food and water.  Whatever else we choose to bring into our lives, really, becomes the finer comforts that we have learned to appreciate over time.  A bouquet of flowers.  Silver to grace the luncheon buffet.  Crystal, given a semblance of warmth with the glow of candlelight.   The greatest comfort is knowing that the finest comfort is not these things, but the dear friends and  family that complete the picture.