Thursday, July 9, 2009

AK 8 - Returning to the Source

AK 8 – Returning to the Source

There are places that most remember all their life. Places that ring deep to a central core, telling a story of where we came from and how we see the world around us. These places are like a vivid dream in our thoughts, as real at times that a smell or a sound conjures it into such detail that we feel we can reach out and touch them. For most people, images of these places live in the past, where we were kids, just opening our eyes to the world around us. Then it seems, we were more aware of the moments of our lives, then when we grow older with time. An awareness that we seem to spend the rest of our lives in pursuit of awakening again. For some these places are near by, always within reach to invoke emotions and memories of the times. Others return from time to time through their life, to feel the full force of that tactile sense of a place. For me, walking through the long beaches and trails of the Chilkat Valley about Haines has been such an experience.

Growing up, I remember Alaska most out of any other experience. Our family had a Salmon Tender called the Pacific Queen. She was a beautiful wood boat, eighty feet in length, white with fine black lines from bow to stern. In front, a wood carving of an Tlingit Eagle sat below the windows of the pilot house, upturn just enough that from a distance it looked as if the old girl always had a smile. The "Queen" was a working boat, ran by my grandparents, who had raised a family of 6 on the boat through their life. For me, I would get a month or so out of each summer to spend time, running up and down the fiords of Lynn Canal. Watching my grandfather Stan working through the gillnet boats of the Haines Salmon Fleet. Images of the high glacier capped mountains, and lingering sunsets seemed to always bring a deep warmth inside.

The beaches of Portage Cove and Battery Point were where I would wonder for hours during the lingering twilight, looking for lost treasure. Always returning before we headed out to the fishing grounds the next morning. Roaming the forests around Letnikof Cove, getting views of Rainbow Glacier falling from the Ice Fields far above Pyramid Harbor. I had my first bear encounter on a walk out to Mud Bay. Watching him forage about in the current berries, and shore cranberries, I would sit among the tree lost in the moment. During the winters, I would spend time looking over old dis-guarded nautical charts planning where I would go the following summer, imagining what the landscapes would look like from just the contours and numbers on the map. In many ways I could transport myself there just by looking at them, remembering the smell of the tideline meadows, sounds of the flowing Chilkoot River, and relief of a southerly wind on a hot high summer day, just by the word Lutak Flats written in small blocky letters. Always the mountains rising high above the patches of fireweed and lupine just at the Chilkat River's edge. These natural places became my vision of Shambala, a true mountain kingdom of Ten Thousand Buddha's. A place of pure serenity...

Walking the beaches of Haines again is like returning to something core, a source. Like migrating salmon returning to the same river, lake or stream that they began their journey, from time to time, we all return to that personal source. For me, just being among these mountains and waters brings a real sense of joy to my life. In the past few years I have became a Vagabond, heading out for distant places. In the beginning it was to find myself, and escape the disappointment of a failed engagement. But soon my eyes began to open up wider and wider. The people and places along the way, reminded me of where I had already been long ago, and the advise and kind words of strangers reminded me of those from people in my past. Somehow visiting Haines, seems to have brought it all into focus. Realizing that I do have a family history, and connection tied into the Waters of Lynn Canal. To look out and name the mountains that my grandmother quizzed me when I was 7 years old, I feel a link to that past while sitting on the shoreline at Portage Cove. Just lost in the vividness of the moments.

These were some of the great memories of my life, spending time with both my grandparents. There was a sayings that Stan would always say, "Never Run Short in the Land of Plenty." Growing up and having little, I always sort of thought this was a overly optimistic saying. But the grain of wisdom in it was, that no mater what you had, you could make it into plenty. Indeed, my grandfather did make what he had into plenty, good times. The old guard of SE Alaskan Fisherman all have a similar creed. It usually has something to do with, "Love what you do, and to hell with the rest." And yet, these words of advice seem to coincide with those memories from past days in the Chilkat Valley. As kids, I think there is part of each of us that loves that moment of discovery and exploration. Sometimes it just takes awhile for us to let go of that which ties us to the ground and our own rut. But for now, the end of the day, brings a warmth to move on, lingering only another day before heading south back to Ketchikan and the beginning of the Salmon Season...