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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Basketwoman by Unangan artist Gert Svarny
In 1910 an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed that every year in each country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. Thus International Women’s Day was born.
In my strong, matriarchal society of Unangan women in Unalaska, I have had many stellar examples upon which to base my life attitude. My mother, Gert Svarny, continues the values and ethics that her mother Alice Hope instilled in her. Even my younger sister and my own daughters have taught me a thing or two about strength and character. I am lucky to have a public reference about my grandmother to show my children and grandchildren how devoted she was to her community, by the love shown her at her death. In his book Moments Rightly Placed, author Ray Hudson writes: Then on the afternoon of December 4, 1966, Alice Hope died in Washington state. The next day a service for this deeply loved woman was held at Unalaska, and when her body arrived five days later, Anfesia (Shapsnikoff) assisted Father Ishmael Gromoff in yet another service. Anfesia stayed all night with her departed friend, in the company of the Hope children and grandchildren and friends, until the service at the church on December 11th. Anfesia noted in her diary, “had Liturgy with Mrs. Hope’s body; after funeral service walked her up all the way.” Carrying the coffin the length of the village from the church to the graveyard was an act of uncommon devotion.
Who is the woman, or women, in your life who have guided you on your path? Gentlemen…this is a question for you also.
I have come to the possible conclusion that when I post something to a ‘page’, it doesn’t get recognized by wordpress as a real post. Tell me if I am wrong. I have posted the above titled piece on my Subsistence page.