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.

The Meaning of Family.

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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.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

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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.

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.