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.

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Unavoidably in love with plants

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.

An evening walk in Unalaska.

Sometimes  a suggestion turns into a most enjoyable event.  Mom popped in after dinner and asked if I wanted to go for a walk.  I had just finished the first step in making sea salt caramels and was feeling not so enthusiastic.   But I caved, changed my shoes, and grabbed my camera.  And off we went – Dad, Mom, Diane, and me.  It was fabulously gorgeous. 

Sam and Diane Svarny beginning a walk on the front beach, Unalaska.

Under Jim Dickson’s oversight, the City of Unalaska Road Crew has done an awesome job in reclaiming the vegetation on the beach road.  They have been true to the environment and used indigenous plant species. 

Walking around the neighborhood gives you a chance to snoop at everything your neighbors are doing – but in such a nice, unobtrusive way!  We see the progress being made on Zoya’s home renovation. 

And it looks like Coe and Phyllis have completed painting their little bit of suburban America!!  Lots of work involved here. 

I sure wish they would reopen Unalaska Building Supply!!

Looking up the valley at Unalaska Lake, we talked about the silt buildup causing the lake to give way to grasses, and yes, eventually land.  Not a good problem to have, as it impacts the species depending on the water environment for their cycle of life. 

I can't believe I snapped 120 pictures on our walk!

The flowers have been keeping the bees busy.  I just hope they had enough time to buzz around in the cranberry bushes this spring, doing their thing. 

I'm not even going to talk about how fast the fireweed is blooming.

The pink salmon in the creek are quite numerous.  Now that I am older and wiser and a fish snob, I get my humpies before they have hit fresh water and are still nice and bright.  I remember as a kid, running through the creek, throwing fish out onto the bank for my grandmother.  Obviously, no fin and feather back then!! 

Iliuliuk River, or Town Creek, during spawning season.

Spawn til you die....always such a gross saying, but true.

Approaching home, we probably walked about a mile and a half, which is a long way to meander, let me tell you!  Especially for Dad. 

Mom's and Dad's house in yellow; ours is the blue one right behind.

Dry fish has been a staple of indigenous people in Alaska since time immemorial.  We have a small batch of pinks drying. 

The 2 slabs of fish are actually silver salmon that mom is making into lox.

It was a great walk, and I’m glad I am so easily persuaded.

What’s popping up out there?

I have been spending as much time as I can hiking lately.  I can honestly say I do become quickly addicted to being out there in the hills, especially at this time of the year when  everything is beginning to pop out of the ground.  It is always amazing to me to all of the sudden notice that there is more of a green tinge to the hills than  a brown one.  Well, we are not quite there yet, but we are fast approaching that moment. 

So what is pushing its way out of the ground this week besides morels? 

Fiddlehead fern.

Fiddlehead fern.

More on the fiddlehead later in the subsistence pages.

Chocolate Lily, or "stinky flower".

Chocolate Lily, or "stinky flower".

Monkshood - poisonous!

Monkshood - poisonous!

Monkshood has similar leaves to the wild geranium.  Be careful around them.

Anemone - "White Flowers"

Anemone - "White Flowers"

"putchky"

"putchky"

If the sun is out, or is radiating through the clouds, DO NOT let the sap touch your skin.

Purple orchid. ( Dactylorhiza aristata.)

Purple orchid. ( Dactylorhiza aristata.)

Lupine.

Lupine.

And lots of sea lions!

And lots of sea lions!

And although I realize that many people are disappointed with the rain, we really do need it right now.   The hills are turning green right before our eyes!  Go for a hike.

King of the mountain.

Alena! had to work a couple of hours today, so SP was ensconced in his chair having a second breakfast.  Aunty Laresa came by and we decided to take a quick outing to see what we could see.

Looking home.

Looking home.

SP soon found a big metal chain that he proceeded to drag around the hills until he got too tired to drag it anymore.  I am sure his mom will be forever grateful that we didn’t let him bring it home.2

We wandered around and, of course, he was soon so hot and sweating.  It is very hard to keep a coat on this boy.  At least he was willing to tie it around his waist, so that we didn’t have to haul it around.

Too hot for a coat.

Too hot for a coat.

Running in the hills and exploring – what could be better?  I’m sure it would be better if Grandma wasn’t there telling him to “get away from the edge…don’t poke your eye out on the bushes…stop running so fast,  you’re going to trip in those boots!” 

Woo hoo!

Woo hoo!

We had to distract SP by taking pictures of the pole when he realized it was a climbing pole! 

Thank goodness SP isn't tall enough to make the first step!

Thank goodness SP isn't tall enough to make the first step!

We were investigating various things, including the status of cranberry plants. 

Last year's berries with spring buds.

Last year's berries with spring buds.

The fireweed are sprouting.  Shoots like these are yummy this time of year.  Use them in salads, stir fry, spring rolls and whatever else you can think of to do with veggies. 

Fireweed sprout.

Fireweed sprout.

Climbing on concrete seems to be a lot of fun.  9

And all that running around – like a dog, he probably puts in 75% more mileage than we do – a rest is always in order. 

All done in.

All done in.

Time to go home.