We 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.
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.
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.
In the throes of summer, where temps range from the low 40’s to the mid 60’s, time flies by. It is a perfect time when the seas are just right, the clouds are high and scattered, the sun is shining, and the fish are running. The grass is lush and green and wildflowers are full of bumblebees. A spellbinding moment in time when the “other half” is patient and peaceful. These are the times that I think of how my friend Tiny remarks on Unalaska’s spectacular beauty and how he believes that heaven is a local call. He is so absolutely correct.
I am in awe of myself. Not because of anything I am doing at the moment, but because of the amazing things I did in my twenties, thirties, and forties. When my oldest child was 4 1/2, I gave birth to my third child. It is true that once you have one child, adding to the mix is a piece of cake. But…I stayed home for 6 years, (which has its own unique problems for a woman) until number three was 2 years old. From that point on, I worked full-time, paying exorbitant amounts for daycare, and juggling our lives between traffic, school, homework, housework, and sanity.
Having experienced those now familiar institutions called separation and divorce, I did this juggling act pretty much on my own. When number 3 was 4 years old, I took a look at myself, and the life I was going to be able to provide for my children and beat feet back to my home town in the Aleutians so that the kids could be raised near my family. Wow! What a difference. No more daycare. No traffic. The kids walked to school. Extended family was there. The community was there. Of course I added things to the mix, so instead of just working and raising 3 children, I also was on numerous boards and was very involved in revitalizing culture. But I raised 3 kids who went to college, none of whom are in jail, and each is self-supporting. Wow.
So I am feeling a little bit embarrassed about the fact that I am rooting for this horrendous storm that we are in the midst of to continue….at least until late tomorrow. Why? Because my number 2 daughter was just out of town for a week, leaving me in charge of her one and only 11 year old. The plan was for her to come back on Friday, and then leave again on Monday for another week long business trip. Well, this being the Aleutians, her flight was cancelled on Friday. And on Saturday. Now, any normal person would have just hung it up and continued on their way to Portland. But this Aleutian woman that I raised finally made it home yesterday at about 2:40 in the afternoon. And is schedule to leave sometime today. I don’t know when. She flies so much, she never knows her flight numbers and packs the day of her flights. But after a week of being totally responsible for one child’s life, including feeding, homework, social activity, cleanliness, music lessons, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera….I really need a nap. And a lazy day. I want to throw in the towel.
I am really in awe of all those poor grandparents who have had to take on the role of parents in our society. I have never been more aware of nature’s limitations on energy and patience. The deja vu moments when you think, “Hey! I’ve already done this!” Yes, nature is right in making it more natural to have young when we are young. I can manage to be an excellent caretaker for a while, but, yeah…..I’m ready for simply being there after school for 2 hours until mom gets off work. That’s what I’m talking about.
Update: The weather cleared up. The planes flew. My whining did no good. But…I’m okay, lol, and SP is fine.
Wordscan be the most powerful tool that we have at our disposal. We saw this with great clarity during the last election cycle. With our instantaneously connected social networks, we saw words used as both a way to lift up our spirits, hopes, and dreams, and in the next instant, as a pointed jousting lance, with the purpose of neatly disposing of an opponent. I must admit, I’ve done both; but the feeling of content lasts much longer when I’ve used my words in a positive way.
My 83 year old mother recently brought over a copy of a letter that her father had written to one of her older sisters who was away at boarding school. These words from 73 years ago were precious to my mother, so much so that she sent a copy to each of her four daughters. She loved the way that her father captured the essence of each of his children in a few succinct words or phrases. It brought back memories of things she had forgotten, or things that were skirting on the edges of her mind; the precious memories of a time before her life was indelibly changed by a forced evacuation during WWII. But those are words for another story.
I am in awe of my two daughters who have taken their words into song. They can turn a phrase that will make you think deeply, or in another direction that will absolutely YANK at your heartstrings. Their words will make you nod in agreement, or sigh with the feelings of love you didn’t know you were harboring. Alena (Syverson) once wrote a song about the Bosnian conflict called Beautiful Blind Followers. It was the song that Laresa (Syverson) later sang, noting that it was the song that sparked her interest to write her own songs. Beautiful blind followers with crowded thoughts and frightened minds – took their chances on twisted lives; wasted their time. Occupied dead souls keep their silence of thousands, of millions disappearing into the void…
I love that you can put down words, let them sit awhile, and think of better ways of putting them together to better convey what you are thinking or feeling. My esteemed friend Jerah Chadwick is a wonderful poet, who after living in the Aleutians for 26 years, was well known for the way he integrated local culture and environment into his writing. In After the Aleut, Jerah turns a phrase that comes back to me time and time again. Say a woman once stepped from volcano steam, or a man from the sea, desiring to live among us. I appreciate his ability to take pieces of oral storytelling and integrate those pieces into a contemporary conglomeration of great depth and feeling that speaks to me in ways that it doesn’t speak to other readers. A true gift.
Words, so personal but so public. Words, that for good or bad, shape lives. As I get older I find that I choose my words much more carefully than I used to do. But once I have chosen those words, I use them with abandon – without fear of outside opinions. I find as I get older that I prefer listening to words that have been chosen well; those that can bring harmony to conflict. Those words that give purpose to a life well lived. Much like when Laresa sings in Light –as the years go rolling by we’ll stand beside this rising tide, we’ll plant our seeds so they won’t die and sail into the afterlife. Where maybe things won’t seem so bad, we won’t regret the lives we’ve had, and maybe that’s where I’ll see you the way I’ve always wanted to.
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.