Mount Edgecumbe Presiding

1 04 2012

The view of our neighborhood, friends:

Mount Edgecumbe Presiding, Joel Brady-Power.

Cap’n J got this one a few evenings ago. Mount Edgecumbe never fails to bring a smile to my face. On April 1st, that smile expands to a chuckle as I remember our volcano’s role in one of the most elaborate hoaxes of all time. Enjoy the story, friends, and enjoy the remainder of your weekend.

Want less story/more info? You can follow @TeleAadsen on Twitter. 

The View From Sitka: Totem Raising, Part 2

13 04 2011

On October 14, 2006, the stars lined up just right (in the alignment of bad ocean conditions) that we were tied to the dock on the day of a totem raising. The newspaper explained this “Wellbriety” totem pole, going up at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s Mt. Edgecumbe campus, was honoring a process to heal the total person – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being.

Just one year removed from tending to Seattle’s homeless youth, I was still seeing “my kids” nightly in my dreams. The concept of Wellbriety deeply resonated. Before I could over-think it, I’d hopped off the boat and started the 3 mile walk from the harbor to the clinic. Anxious excitement curled in my belly, I was almost running by the end.

More than 300 people had turned out for the event. A steady drizzle of Sitka sunshine fell on children, elders, families. We stood in respectful quiet – not silence, not with all those kids running around – as the ceremony began. Tlingit elders from the Raven and Eagle clans named the pole: Yei eek kwa neix. You are going to get well.

Thick rope guidelines stretched out from the 4000-pound pole. When we took our places, it was clear that the left guideline had many young men, while the one on the right largely consisted of women. An older woman in front of me called, “Can we get some more guys over here?”

I heard a little girl’s voice pipe up from somewhere unseen: “Girls can be strong, too!”  Someone’s raising that kid right, I thought.

Our hands clenched, as if braced for a tug-of-war. But totem poles are stories and stories must be handled with reverence, not the teeth-gritted strain of competition.  In unison, under master carver Wayne Price’s instruction, we began a slow march back.

Master carver Wayne Price. Photo Courtesy of SEARHC

Watching intently, an eagle perched on a nearby telephone pole, and a raven on the clinic roof.  As the pole ascended, the outstretched wings of Raven, carved at the top, caught air for their first time. The eagle began keening, welcoming Raven to the sky.

Seeing Yei eek kwa neix in its entirety, I saw all of my kids’ struggles and my hopes for them. A medicine woman stood at the base, a basket of healing herbs in her hands. Above, a shaman and wolf spirit helper prepared to plunge into the darkness, retrieving those lost in addiction, torment and grief. Then, in a sprawling run free of design, the freedom to reflect and heal in the journey from darkness to light. And there at the top hovered Raven, a gleaming brass disc of the sun held in his beak, guiding us to another way.

You are going to get well.

With the pole solidly in place, people broke apart into celebratory groups. I began a slow walk back to the harbor, footsteps heavy with reflection. I thought about the gratitude and honor I felt to participate in a cultural legacy not my own, the pride of sharing a community where Native culture is not held hostage in a museum, a dusty-shelved shrine to the past, but is a living, breathing, singing, dancing present and future.

I’ve sometimes felt that “Southeastern Alaskan” is its own cultural identity. An evolution of shared connectivity that crosses racial and ethnic lines, forges bonds built of skunk cabbage springs and crowded cruise ship summers, autumns where seasonal folk sweep out as winter winds whoosh in.  And I’ve second-guessed that presumption, scoffing that it’s all too easy for someone of dominant culture to imagine connection when we don’t carry the ancestral scars.

A new friend has gently corrected me. “Your culture includes the Tlingit because you are a Southeastern Alaskan. It includes living among an indigenous peoples, interacting every day. There is value in that.”

I think now about the grace in her statement, and recall the initial explanation of the pole. Roberta Kitka, Chairwoman of the sponsoring Kooteeyaa Project, said, “Wellbriety Kooteeyaa means healing, hope, unity and forgiveness for Tlingit people and anyone who is working on the healing of mind, body and spirit.”

We are going to get well.

Does this ring true for you, sweet reader? Are there places in your life where you’ve questioned your role, wondered if your presence was beneficial or baggage? What does wellness mean for you in your own life, and how do you create it?

Me, I think I’ll keep asking questions, and look to ravens for guidance.

Photo by Joel Brady-Power

[As with all totems, the Wellbriety pole is far more complex than a blog post could ever do justice to, particularly when written by someone engaged in such a brief sliver of the journey. A detailed description of the project, pole, and carver is here. You can also read a powerful essay about this day in Heather Lende’s book, “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: Family, Friendships and Faith in Small-Town Alaska.”  My gratitude to Michael Jenkins of SEARHC for granting permission for photo usage.]

Across Oceans, Walking Home

20 03 2011

Japan’s 9.0 earthquake and consequent tsunami struck one week ago.  As the depth of the devastation continues to unfold, I’ve been thinking about our Japanese brothers and sisters, wondering how people manage to get through the unimaginable.

Three days ago, Al Jazeera News posted a video of 65-year old Takio Tachibana, a fisherman whose home of 38 years was destroyed. Surrounded by the remains of his family’s life, he pulled a rake through the rubble. Slowly – the motions of someone who has to cling to a tool, even if that tool is as relevant as a plastic spoon for clearing an avalanche. His wife and son were safe, yet in addition to their home, Tachibana’s boat – their livelihood – was lost. The disbelief on his face was clear – how does someone spend a lifetime going to sea, only to have the monster chase him through his very door?

Viewing photographs of shattered coastal townships, I’ve been thinking about the precarious nature of the relationship between humans and the sea, the sense of community forged between people, even on opposing sides of the globe, whose hearts pulse in time with the ebb and flood of the tides.

During one halibut season several years ago, my “brother” Martin perfectly articulated this sense of an ocean-based global connection.  He’s traveled extensively – Tunisia, France, Italy, most recently – and makes a point to always visit another country’s fishing villages. “Wherever I am in the world,” he reflected, “whenever I step on a dock, I’m walking home.”

When Joel and I travel, we always pack a few fishing photos.  Some of the Nerka on a blindingly blue ocean, some of the mountains towering above us, some us-with-big-fish snuff shots. When we pull these out to share with the locals on a Costa Rican riverbank or in a Tunisian boatyard, no es importante that we stumble over our minimal Spanish and hopelessly butcher the couple Arabic phrases we cling to, our linguistic life-jackets. When those pictures come out, suddenly we have a shared tongue.  Ours is the language of people who’ve gazed over an expanse of water so great that it washed away every illusion of self-importance, every misplaced notion of what was essential, water so omnipotent that it washed the very sun off the horizon. Together, with our global shipmates, we are drunks who clutch this confused cocktail of absolute freedom and total dependence, who’ve traded the certainty of firm ground for the risk-filled relief of a deck undulating beneath our feet. Each time we leave the harbor, we know this might be the time we don’t come back. And, knowing all of these things, we drink that glass dry, drain it of every last drop.

But Japan’s docks are gone.  Wrenched from their anchors as cruelly as a hermit crab yanked from its shell, their walk-on-water, floating footway promises utterly, irrevocably broken. I’m left wondering, how do ocean folk find their way home, when all of the moorings are gone?

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