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.’
This winter, I find myself thinking a lot of the the early nineteen seventies. Those economically challenging times are when many Alaska's residents of 40-years migrated north from all over the states. Youth and enthusiasm geared us towards learning from older residents and one another. We took on all that we could possibly absorb, or invent, in order to live the rich subsistence lifestyles that many chose; building, hunting, gardening, gathering, salmon and ocean harvest, cottage industry, engine repair, developing small businesses, being in community, on and on.
We Alaskan's have a regional story-line similar to the Finnish sisu. Its an approach that serves well in today's economic climate, here at home and far beyond the the reaches of Chilkat country.
I owe a lot of appreciation to Klukwan and Tlingit tradition. Their ancestors knew that the Chilkat- Klehini mountain valley is a nurturing place.