Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sweet Heart of Summer

If its never too late to start early and time is relative then I'm right in the groove.

These months have been nothing short of large, filled with a thousand-thousand fits and starts. A late spring in May and the gang-buster heat of June brings out the flying creatures, the buzzing and biting hordes, great billowing drifts of fluff and green, green, green in every direction. Its the bio-storm of Alaska in summer, (a perfect term, attributed to J.B.)  I've just got to be out in it. Can't not.

After decades of practical-use experiments 'in the field', my drug of choice to remain calm amidst the hordes is a light lacquer of deet selectively applied to the wee remaining exposed surfaces, wrists and backs of hands, (if its too blooming hot to wear wooly cuffs and gloves beneath two Ivy League button downs), and gingerly wiped onto temples and forehead, (I may never attain wisdom, damn!) Its nasty but it works.

I'm now prepared to travel twice daily with the 39 mile crew. We lop, gather and munch our way through the celtic knot of wild, across the high benched eskers  down into nettle covered kames left behind long ago when the glaciers receded.

Red-capped chickadees fledged this week challenging the collected knowledge of the white and orange Richard brothers. Rick and Dick are the boys from Dezadeash. As yearling kitty's they would very much like to expand their hunting skills beyond the small rodent population who abandoned the little house. I like to think the short fuzzy folk moved in with the squirrel. The one who bored his way down through the upstairs wall before R&D arrived. Don't see much of either rodent family these bright days of summer, though we regularly cross paths in the forest.

Those able baby birds noisily follow our procession. They use the dense forest canopy of alder, osier, elderberry and Devil's Club to their advantage, pee-upping along our winding route above the Klehini. We feel like a mini northern jungle populated by a precarious ratio of well fed predators to hungry prey. The river flats and forest supply all the animals of the wilderness the goats and sheep and I feed the dogs and cats.  Its the Ho Chi Minh trail of the Tongass, tended twice daily, complete with the sounds of a helicopter hovering above the mountain just a heartbeat away, though gratefully free from the war torn terror of that architectural marvel .

This summer its twelve hour shift changes up there on the peak. The exploration crew is working hard and furious. At night, as mosquitoes cling from the window screen, I can watch from my bed the glimmering tower as it drills, probing, exploring the mysteries deep within Mother mountain.

Its then I think of the story re-told in Klukwan two springs ago by elder Sally Burattin.

Its the Tlingit legend of the cannibal who chased the people, the cannibal who turns out was human greed pushing the people to consume all, in all directions, taking more than needed forcing them to be wasteful.

The force kept driving them on. Across an arid landscape of grass turning to steppe then tundra. Across rocky peaks that slashed up from vast ice fields. The people fled, chased down into the mountain's crevasses, down into darkness, a giant glacial tube, a cobalt corridor of rushing water, boulders and silt.

They followed the water, often on their bellies crawling, to eventually emerge from an ice cave into a lush river valley. The group, finally able to stop, found the cannibal was no longer among them. One of the young women needed rest and nourishment and the time to deliver a newborn, the first born. To honor the opportunity to begin again and to remember the difficult passage the people called the river the Klehini,  'Mother waters'.

The waters originate high in the Chilkat Pass and are a main tributary of the Chilkat River, home to all five species of Pacific salmon and the largest annual congregation of American Bald Eagles in the world. The Tlingit village of Klukwan, or 'the storage container for salmon', continues to thrive in the heart of the Chilkat.

I'm the watcher on the trail above the Klehini, the crazy granny goat herd beneath Mother Mt. I'm always hoping our human capacity for greed doesn't out distance the heart of this amazing valley. It's never too late to remember and, well, its all relative.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's February ~ Never Too Late to Start Early

Ho! What a day. The sun brings everything into rich, startling relief.
My sled is loaded with sleeping gear and all the snow-shoe trails reconfigured to allow me to tow. It's Spring Camp, just down river. It's nearly within shouting distance of home on a high point where the Klehini can conspire with Mt. Bigger to sing into my dreams for a few nights. Maybe I'll hear the Great Horned owl as well.

Feel Spring stirring? There's two months before this Fool celebrates her 60th. The time is now.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reflections on Ground Hog's Day ~ 2013

January was a gentle beginning to a new decade, though last week, the Klehini Valley was visited by intense NW wind.  All my familiar trails were erased, buried beneath sculptural-ly fabulous whiteness. Snow country teaches to value impermanence and the unexpected.

This winter, to mix things up I've perfected the art of tree climbing with snowshoes. Because of unusually low snowfall, there's not enough to cover the tree sized brush that edges the forest and river-flats. Smaller deciduous species, alder, cranberry, rusty menziesia, blueberry, all generally bend over by mid-November creating great habitat for the smaller forest folk and a wonderful upturned basket effect for the snow-pack to build upon. So far, thirty-nine miles up-river from Haines, the snow is powdery and hip deep, but not deep enough to easily travel through the forest.

Tree climbing with snowshoes...I wonder if this activity might fall with-in the definition of sisu, (though gratefully, I doubt it could be marketed.) I discovered sisu from an interesting project shared online, by Dougald Hine. Here's a sample:

Someone has to have asked about sisu before.

‘Perseverance, persistence, resilience…’ The librarian reads off a list of possible translations, but by now I realise that what I am looking for is more than the English meaning of the word. I want to understand what it means to people here in Finland.
‘Years ago, when we didn’t have any electricity and we were into darkness for half of the year, you had to just bite your tongue and do everything that you had to do.’
So sisu was the spirit that got people through the dark times of the northern winter?
‘Yes, I think you could say that. But it gets exaggerated, too. It has become part of this nationalistic story.’

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


A sweet winter so far.

We had a great visit from Micah, (our oldest of three) and his mate, Jerin. They made the trek to Alaska from NYC in time for Solstice. Both events we honored with due fanfare.  Dec. 21, 2012 unfolded near the heart of our deepest stretch of winter cold; sunny, sub-zero and incredibly gorgeous. Using his production knowledge and newly acquired camera and sound equipment, Micah spent a lot of his time filming the Chilkat and upper Klehini river valleys. Here's a little of what he caught.

Capturing the soundscape

Hannah also rallied north for the holidays.  Her senior year is focused on writing plays, staging and producing events resplendent with masks, puppetry, and spectacle. Off time, back home, she focuses on replenishing the reserve; catching up on reading, family, and being outdoors.

Godzilla is ALWAYS in the tree!

Middle daughter Merrick, her honey Joe, and their first baby, Yarona Blue stayed south, happily hunkered down, following mama's chemo treatments focusing their energy and undisturbed time on being a new family. We missed them terribly but happy they have a comfortable setting for this oddly awkward first winter.

They're plucky. Can you tell?

A first New Year's Masquerade Ball was held at The Chilkat Center, put on by our radio station, KHNS. Good music by three local bands, the result of endless hours of practice, made dancing on the main stage a gas.

Da Band  # 1
To the nines!

I've spent January putting in snowshoe trail. There's not quite enough white stuff yet to hike up to my secret haunts even though I'm dancing nightly to encourage the Ice Gods. They're playing tough now that it's 2013.

This week we're seeing dank and drippy. Perhaps they're cooking up something spectacular for Feb-April. Hey, in these radical times, who knows what to expect?