Sunday, March 30, 2008

my world, part II

last week, i was here:

checking a net under the ice for whitefish outside the village of Kaltag on the Yukon. i was in the village attending a week-long memorial service called a Stickdance - a wonderful, powerful, community-wide expression of love and grief for family members that have passed away. the fish from this net were distributed around to village residents who were cooking for the nightly feasts that precede the people dancing and singing their loved ones into the next world.

it's the last thing that these people do for their loved ones and they do it right.

today, i'm here:

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada at a meeting of the Yukon Salmon Panel, the body that implements the international treaty allocating Yukon River salmon between Canadians and Alaskans.

in between, i had 3 hours on the ground to trade in my carhartts and bunny boots for slacks and danskos. it's kind of a tough transition; my mind is still very much on what the people of Kaltag put together for their potlatch. in some ways, though, there are significant connections. salmon are integral to Alaska Native culture. the harvesting of salmon is more than just food for the summer and winter, for humans and sled dogs - the process of catching salmon and putting it away also says very much about kinship, social obligations within villages, and relationships between land and people in Native Alaska. salmon are second only to moose as a main food at ceremonies like Stickdance.

so in many ways, this Panel is not only negotiating over salmon, they are also very much negotiating the future of these connections and relationships between people and salmon for Alaska Natives and First nations peoples in Canada alike, as well as others who rely on the fish.

for me, it's two weeks of two very different ways of getting at the same thing...and one more step in a long journey for me of understanding these critical relationships and how to take care of them in the right way.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

welcome to my world

here's a new one - blogging from a village on the Yukon. i turned on my laptop this morning to download a few interviews i'd conducted yesterday here in Nulato and what did i find? a wireless connection. in a village. wow.

now i don't want to romanticize this. the internet has long been in the villages of interior Alaska. schools depend on it and a teacher friend of mine who lived in Teller in the NW part of the state told me recently that the internet possibilities in her school far outweighed what they found when they moved to Fairbanks. when you're not connected by road and at the whim of the weather, you turn to the ether.

but this is different. this is me, in the tribal council building, turning on my computer and by some alchemy of software and air waves, i'm connected. to my husband in Fbx, to my email (a mixed blessing), and in the picture above, to my friend Ned, who's half-way through a 2 week snowmachine trip along AK's NW coast helping a scientist taking permafrost and ice cores.

and here's my morning: in the way back on the left is the tribal administrator for Nulato - a hard-working friend who puts up with me setting up shop at his conference table every now and again, breakfast in the green bowl there, the latest knitting in front (the skittles sweater), ned's blog, the most recent paper in the villages (last Thursday's), my digital voice recorder downloading interviews, and my field notebook.

welcome to my world.

'm on to Kaltag tonight for the Stickdance. i'm not going to even hope for wireless.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

late bloomer

i meant to write about this on the vernal equinox which was, by now, a few days ago. but better late than never, i suppose, as you'll soon see. what's important is that i tell the story of my flower. this is my amaryllis. that is snow on my driveway behind it. despite said snow, this amaryllis means spring to me. it has been in my life for 5 years, almost as long as i've had Cob, and there's a reason for this which i'll get to in a minute. but first, let me tell you about my plant. every year it blooms in the last week of February into about the first half of March. once a year, it lets loose these flamboyant, red, trumpet-like blooms to herald in the change of season, and then goes back to its silent way of being for the other 11 months of the year.

each year i've had it, it's grown one additional stalk of blooms, which i tell you, delight me to no end. just ask Cob. it's like 'plant-cam' all over again. i don't do anything special to it - just water it every now and then (i think a Fairbanks winter is as close as you get to a good hibernation - dormancy that some plants need). during that winter, we go down to about 3 or 4 leaves and then every spring, they start coming back with the sun until i begin to see the beginnings of bloom stalks, and then there's another, and another, and then, well, then my old friend is back and the world is right. it's like the final promise of spring that can't be broken. it's for real - all this winter stuff will in fact end, and spring comes back in a triumphant blaze of red.

but this year, two things happen. we apparently maxed out at 4 stalks (unless i re-pot for some growing room this summer) and it bloomed a whole month late? what does THAT mean? any theories?

but here's another thing that will help you see this plant as i do - for all its promises. i was given this plant by two of Cobbie's friends, Antonia and Dante. A & D were in the peace corps with Cob 10 years ago in Ukraine. they are a wonderful italian and german couple in their 60s or 70s and truly, if you meet them, you will want them to adopt you. they befriended Cob during what he calls his 'disastrous peace corps experience' and when it blooms, it reminds him of them and the friendship they share. when i got this guy, he was a little squirt of a thing in a little plastic pot competing for attention in the wonderfully overgrown tangle of grapes, pomegranates, endless plants, and artwork that is their backyard.

now we depend on him to come back every year and bloom for us - funny how that never gets old.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

knittin' girls of the north

last night, Chez Cob-Brown was graced by some of the loveliest knitting ladies in the north for a regular ol' stitch and bitch. some think of knitting as a dying art, fit only for old lady-types who've got nothing better to do with their time. people, you are so wrong. i learned to knit about 10 years ago when i was looking for a portable craft. i'm not terribly artistic, but i can read directions and i have patience (contrary to what many think!). over the last decade, i've found a few like-minded souls, and i've even grown a few of my own by passing on the skill and hopefully the love. what do i get in return? the opportunity to hang out with a boat-load of amazing people (happen to be all women in this picture, but not always...) who care to make things usually for other people they love - by hand. have a look:

Theresa and her cabled sock grimace - ok, two needles can make you feel like you have 10 thumbs. but 4 little tiny needles?

Norma and her traditional Estonian Goat's eye pattern sock. Norma's first sock is moving right along after the successful completion of a hooded baby sweater for a cousin's child.

me and the "Skittles baby sweater" made from remnants of other long-gone projects...

Mia and her baby dress, for her niece Ella. Ella charmed us all at Mia's wedding last November - hell, i wanted to knit for her!

Kristin and her purple baby dress - a Dale of Norway original. Kristin learned to knit about 2 years ago while working in the field and has been off and running since. this is baby project #3 (plus a lot of other good stuff) as far as i know...

Kat and a sweater for herself (go Kat!) made from cranberry bamboo yarn...Kat's made a thousand things for everyone else. a good knitter always remembers to do a little for herself every now and again.

Dea making child's socks out of a fuzzy, soft yarn for a knitting friend's child who is being raised on an organic farm and runs around barefoot...

Cara and her navy baby sweater for a sweet babe in her life that has something to teach us all about hanging in there!

that's a lot of stitches and a lot of love - and no crusty old-lady-with-nothing-else-to-do stuff.

thank you ladies.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fall leaf or Rum Raisin?

ok, after 2 years in our house of white walls, Cob and i are taking the plunge to paint a wall. we're not painting a room - just a wall. actually two walls that connect our foyer to our kitchen. i feel very clever about this - playing with space and creating flow in my house. feeling oh-so-clever, i then contemplated paint colors. we wanted warm (it IS the foyer after all and we want people to feel welcome), but neither of us are bold decorators (which is why we have all white walls to begin with). so, 271 paint chips, countless suggestions from friends (namely Cara, Theresa, Norma, and Kristen), and a couple of bottles of wine later, we have a winner! or rather, we have two potential winners: rum raisin and fall leaf.

Kat suggested buying a small amount of paint and painting a 2'x3' section. trying on the color for size but not really committing, she said. since i couldn't decide between two colors, there are well, 2 sections of paint. Cara demonstrates her patented "W-V" technique.

as i said before, there are really two walls that connect to one another, and in so doing, connect the foyer to the kitchen. however, in our house full of light that changes on a minutely basis, these two walls carry the same paint in very different ways. and we needed to know what that looked like. our two sections turned into four. Cara painting in the foyer.

now remember, we're deciding between an orange, which is happy and light, but maybe a little happier and lighter than i feel these days. the red is nice, but oh-so-dark when there's no natural light on it...hmmmm.....

ahhh - one coat of paint, but you get the picture. vanna...err - i mean Cara shows off our paint job. i'll live with this until i make a decision. any votes?

and since i know what you're thinking (wow, those are really, ummmm...bold colors), remember the wise words of my good friend Will, "when in doubt, go big." can you tell i'm in serious doubt?