04/24/14

Beauty

I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember and photography has been one of my hobbies since I was 15 years old. It is through these interests that the concepts of texture, light and composition have come to occupy a very active part of my existence.

Decades ago I heard a Navajo prayer, and one small part of it has become deeply embedded within me;With beauty all around me, may I walk”. This passage has combined with my inner-photographer and caused me truly look at something, to actually see it as it is, and it leaves me open to wonder.

Some might say “Well you live in Alaska. Of course you are surrounded by beauty!” I’ve been out watching exuberant Northern Lights dancing around sharp bitter stars at 40 below, footsteps squeaking the snow in a way that unique to the extreme cold, moonlight turning the frosted snow into fields of subtly sparkling jewels… pausing in the amazing quiet…to be joined by the hoot of an owl. I’ve stood on a pier looking down on a mother orca and her calf swim past in crystal clear water at sunrise. These moments are rare, but beauty is not.

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I’ve traveled outside of this state, and on rare occasion, outside of this country, and I’ve never traveled away from beauty. I’ve spent an hour watching a spider building its web in Mississippi, marveled at vines climbing telephone poles in Hawaii, become entranced by the texture of sand in the Caribbean, from a helicopter I’ve seen a flock of a million flamingos turn at the same millisecond and flash from pink to white. In Detroit a single giant brick smoke stack stands among the ruins of a long defunct factory, a seeming sentry.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen a mother and baby lost in each other’s gaze.

Recently someone commented on an amazingly beautiful video of the earth shot from and orbiting spaceship. He noted that the earth is beautiful from far away, but the closer you get the more uglier it becomes, and then he expressed sadness. I can only guess, but my assumption is that my distant friend had encountered pain and grief, and began to focus on it. He looks for the ugly aspect of life and finds it. I look for beauty and I find it.

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Like so many things in life, balance is critical. It is possible for me to look only for beauty and not experience the fullness of life; much like others can walk past sublime beauty as they look for the next bit of pain or ugliness. From a perspective measured in years and decades instead of days and weeks however, even some of the moments of pain are elements of a beautiful story.

While I was at lunch recently I saw what surely must have been a grandfather, grizzled and bearded sitting with his granddaughter and her two young kids. Her hair was died an improbable color of red, piercings and tattoos visible. You could tell they loved each other’s company, and both worked to feed and entertain the boys. It was a table tinted with love, extending into the past and projecting into the future.

Seeing beauty or pain reminds me very much of something that is taught in motorcycle safety classes; “You go where you look.” This is true on a motorcycle, and practically speaking, it is true with life in general. I look for beauty and find that I’m surrounded by it.

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Dear reader, I wish you a sense of wonder, the ability to see old things with new eyes, to see the essence of what is rather than tinted through a filter of pre-judgment and your past pains and disappointments.

May you walk in beauty.

04/23/14

The Symbols of Marriage

I don’t have energy to look for the link, now, and when I read the bitter ranting of a “Male Rights” activist, I thought I would just let it fade from my over-full brain. As Homer Simpson once said “For every new thing that goes in to my brain, an old thing has to go out.” Without my bidding, apparently my brain has been chewing on some of what I thought I had dismissed. It seems that I’m about as far from Male Rights as humanly possible.

My dad worked on and around boats for most of his adult life, and after he watched someone lose all of the flesh off of their ring finger while vaulting from a boat to the dock below he wouldn’t wear his wedding ring at work. Like me, he is often absent minded and he would often forget to put the ring back on after work. In my youth, my parents clearly showed that they couldn’t be more devoted to each other. I never (never) heard them raise their voice to each other. My mom might complain about his forgetfulness, but she never (never) questioned his character. With all honesty, I can’t think of even one slightly negative thing my dad has ever said about my mother.

The symbol of their marriage consisted of their wedding rings and their wedding photo. The reality of their marriage transcended any object. Their reality was an ongoing expression of devotion and love.

Mom and Dad in their early years

Mom and Dad in their early years

I can’t help but notice that within my immediate experience, I have no peers who have managed to remain married for anything remotely approaching the 28 years my marriage has lasted. The obvious question is why?

Like my parents, my wife Kim and I were married in a court room. Unlike my parents, we didn’t exchange rings. Other people thought it odd, but the rings seemed unnecessary (and expensive) to me. My wife was 18 years old; I was a year and a day older. Many people were struck by our young age, but we had already been together for four years when we were married. About 10 years ago we got wedding bands, and decided that no ceremony was needed to begin wearing them. Perhaps we didn’t want to jinx ourselves? Needless to say, I often forget to put mine on after work.

Early in my marriage my grandmother once offered her thoughts on marriage, and there are some elements that are worth considering. She was my grandfather’s 2nd wife, as his first wife had died. They lived in a time, place and culture that arranged marriage. She was Raven moiety, he was Eagle. This satisfied the first consideration of a Tlingit marriage. They were from equally prominent families of opposite clans, and this satisfied another requirement. Finally, it was felt that this union would help bind their clans.

Grandma and Grandpa in their early years

Grandma and Grandpa in their early years

They were married, and this is essentially what my grandma told me shortly after I was married; “I was very young, and I was resentful of your grandfather at first. He was much older than me. I didn’t feel that we had any common interests, nothing to talk about. When I was young, divorce wasn’t an option, so it was never a considered. I found out is that as time went by I began to appreciate how devoted your grandfather was to me. We started a family, and he worked so very hard to support us. As time went by we built a lifetime of experience together, through good times and hard times. He was always there for me, and I came to love him more than I can express.”

My grandmother’s experience bears little resemblance to the modern American vision of what a marriage is supposed to be; a fairy tale. This perception of marriage simply isn’t sustainable under the chaotic pressures of day-to-day life.

Another concept missing from my grandmother’s story is that of the “soul-mate”. This appears to be a modern concept, but it interests me so little I likely won’t research this assumption. To me, destiny plays no role in happiness. For myself “happiness” seems to be unsustainable over time, and if I need to be happy, I am doomed to disappointment. I will gladly settle for general contentment. Sustained effort and commitment are supremely important to remaining content however.

Although strictly anecdotal, and certainly not scientific, it has been my observation that the more the bride obsesses about creating a perfect wedding, the shorter the marriage will be. When my wife and I see someone we care about become caught up in creating their own personal fairy tale wedding we figuratively hold our breath, and hope mightily that this wedding will be the exception. If you have had a fairy tale wedding and are living happily, I am truly happy for you, and wish you the best.

My statistical sample it too small to draw any far-reaching conclusions, but all of the 25+ year marriages that I’ve personally observed could be defined by the traditional roles of a husband as the source of income with a wife who devotes herself to the children while they are young. 4/5ths of the marriages are between Christians; all of the marriages have placed a great deal of emphasis on child-rearing and the instilling of common values. None of the partners holds the other responsible for the loss of freedom or opportunities lost in their joint pursuit. I think that a mother as bread-winner would work too, as long as the husband’s ego is manageable.

Six years into my marriage my wife told me that if I continued to drink she would leave me. She had been raised close to an alcoholic, and refused to continue to expose her children to the same. Anyone who knows my wife knows that she doesn’t make false claims. I knew that she was absolutely committed to her decision, and I sought the help that I needed. Since that point she has been committed to me absolutely, and it is easy for me to do the same for her. This too is the hallmark of the long-term marriages that I’ve seen. Each partner places the other’s needs first, and as long as this is balanced from both sides of the relationship, it creates a fantastically strong structure. This has been true for me in the nearly 21 years that I’ve been sober.

To sum it up, what I consider a strong marriage is based on the day-to-day reality of life working to a common goal. Partners bring their strength to the marriage and don’t dwell on their partner’s weakness or hide behind theirs. Each partner allows nothing, to include their children, to be more important than supporting their spouse. Emotional injuries, inevitable when two people share the same space over time, aren’t dwelled on, allowed to fester until it can be pulled out at an opportune time. Acceptance and forgiveness are allowed when honest efforts at change are made.

Keep in mind that I’m not an expert, and I’m often wrong, but in my experience huge rings, exquisite gowns, grand weddings and exotic honey moons are symbols of fairy tales. The transition to reality can be insurmountable. Surrendering yourself to something greater, done equally by both partners, is unstoppable.

04/21/14

Animal Rights Activists and the Iditarod

Louise

 

After moving to Alaska’s interior I started to become interested in the sport of competitive dog mushing. As I began to follow the news on these races I came to realize that there is an activist group trying to end the Iditarod. I have little problem with people with different opinions, but as I visited the Sled Dog Action’s Coalition’s website I found some incredible claims. The deeper I dug the more I saw how influential this organization was and how far from the truth their claims were.

Fed up, I offered this opinion column to our local paper;

Sled dog mushing as a sport and a recreational activity owes a great deal to the Iditarod. Every aspect of the art and science of sled dog racing has been honed by years of intense competition in this race. Dog harnesses and sleds, training methods and routines, diet and exercise, veterinary care and breeding strategies have all evolved at an unprecedented pace when considering the fact that the partnership between man and sled dog dates back at least 4,000 years.

The Iditarod has evolved as well. Recognizing that preserving the health of the dogs is critical to the sport, the Iditarod’s leadership has sought to provide open access to its athletes, and the veterinary community has responded. These sled dogs are unique in what they do and how they do it, and clinical study after clinical study has been undertaken to advance the science of canine care.

 This openness has provided a pathway for animal rights activists. Margery Glickman, of Miami, Fla., visited a dog kennel in Alaska and decided to devote her life to ending the Iditarod — and perhaps all dog mushing in Alaska. She founded the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC). Study of this entity, with Ms. Glickman as director, leads to little information aside from the fact that it is based in Miami. No board of directors or staff is noted, nonprofit tax filings are not to be found.

Whether this is an actual organization or merely Ms. Glickman, no national media attention on the Iditarod is safe from comment by the SDAC. If a small-town newspaper in Idaho highlights the adventures of a local musher competing in the Iditarod, the SDAC will most likely cut-and-paste tales of woe into the online comment section and direct readers to the SDAC’s website. And what a website it is.

The SDAC website inundates its visitors with more than 871 bulleted comments designed to create the impression that the Iditarod overflows with inhumane mushers who beat, kick, bite and even eat their dogs. Any aberrant behavior seen in the race’s history is projected onto every current musher. Medical studies that conclude that disease or injury “may” be attributable to the race are headlined stating that the condition “is” attributable to the race. Quotes are taken out of context to further the goal of ending the sport of sled dog racing. Practices of 40 years ago are presented as if they still occur. Even the experiences of mushers not participating in the Iditarod are presented over and over again as if they apply.

What is clearly missing from the SDAC website is perspective. There have been 41,296 individual starts by sled dogs; 852 mushers have completed the Iditarod. Even the sensitive subject of dog deaths needs to be considered against the historical density of sled dogs that have run this race. For illustration, if we assume that all of these dogs average 10 days on the trail, they have spent almost 12 million hours racing. This is hardly scientific, but perhaps it adds context to the claims made by the SDAC.

Ms. Glickman and the Sled Dog Action Coalition wish to end the Iditarod. They actively target sponsors and gleefully report every sponsor who buckles under activist pressure. It is a sad irony that they seek to end the best avenue for continuing to improve the lives of sled dogs. Poor dog yard conditions, the rejection of aberrant behavior and deliberate cruelty will best be addressed by a healthy and responsive Iditarod. 

Veterinarian Emi Berger was a volunteer veterinarian and was interviewed by Randi Weiner of The Journal News on March 31, 2011. Ms. Glickman picked 13 words out of a 932-word article. Under the headline “Stomach ulcers are common,” Dr. Berger is quoted; “This year, the most common thing I saw was pneumonia and stomach ulcers.”

I will offer a few more words from Dr. Berger’s interview; “The … questions I get asked all the time are ‘Is it cruel?’ and ‘Are they cold?’ ‘Do they like it?’ When that dog is dropped off, they’ll howl. They want to be out (running). That’s all they want,” she said. “It’s like a Labrador wanting to play ball. It’s the ultimate fun thing for them to do.”

Perhaps Marjorie Glickman missed that quote?

After the column was printed Ashley Keith began to try to rebut the story. Ms. Keith is heavily referenced in the Sled Dog Action Coalition’s website. In her rebuttals she stated that she physically typed much of the website’s content.

The Fairbanks Daily News Miner doesn’t retain story comments for long, so I did a screen grab of a particularly telling exchange.

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If you care to look, you can see that the original post was never edited. This is a black and white depiction of what “Noble Cause Corruption” can do to those who have closed their minds.

04/19/14

Thoughts on Glaciers and Global Warming

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In my blog post “A Lawsuit in Alaska” I discuss how the my people, the Tlingit, had to first transit over and then under a now non-existent glacier to reach the coast of South East Alaska. The Tlingit have lived in SE Alaska for perhaps as long as 10,000 years, and glaciers have continued to play a role with us.

Before European contact the Tlingits in Yakutat attributed the breaking of a glacial ice dam and the loss of a village to the taunting behavior of young men. The Tlingits of Hoonah had to move their village due to the advance of a glacier, which was attributed to a young girl calling to it in song.

In 1879, John Muir traveled with Rev. Samuel Hall Young via a Tlingit canoe from Sitka to Glacier Bay. The canoe was crewed by four Tlingit men, to include my great grandfather, Sitka Charlie (Waadan Éesh, Kaashooxgú), who was the youngest member of Mr. Muir’s crew. My great grandfather had hunted seals in Glacier bay with his father when he was younger, and knowing of Mr. Muir’s fascination with glaciers, suggested they visit the bay.

Sitka in 1904

Sitka in 1904

Through efforts to find out more about my great grandfather it has been to my great delight to stumble upon the writing’s of both Muir and Young. Clearly Muir is the more lyrical writer…what a mind this man had! It has been through Rev. Hall’s book “Alaska Days with John Muir” (available for free through Google Books) that I have gained a little more insight into the early interactions of the missionaries with some of the Tlingits outside of the Sitka area, where the Eastern Orthodox had a large head start on the Presbyterian version of Christianity.

In 1880, while on another expedition with Muir, Rev. Hall spoke with “an old Hoonah chief”, who approached him asking for help through Christian prayer to halt the advance of a glacier that was beginning to impede access of salmon into the chief’s salmon stream. The chief said “I have done my best. I have prayed to my gods. Last spring I sacrificed two of my…best slaves. I want you to pray to your god…to see if he will make the glacier stop!” As an aside, Rev. Young baptized this chief a few years later.

I am intrigued at how the movement of glaciers has been attributed human misdeeds by both the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Tlingit societies and the very modern pseudo-religion practiced by many of today’s “Conservationists”. Long before I read any opinions on the similarities between those with a Humanist belief in Mother Nature I had noted that I was watching the emergence of a veritable religion. I think anyone who can look at this with an absolutely critical eye must at least consider this possibility.

Consider the article by the New York Times on Environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth, who also happens to be something of a head priest for the Dark Mountain ritual called “Uncivilization”; “In the clearing, above a pyre, someone had erected a tall wicker sculpture in the shape of a tree, with dense gnarls and hanging hoops. Four men in masks knelt at the sculpture’s, at cardinal compass points. When midnight struck, a fifth man, his head shaved smooth and wearing a kimono, began to walk slowly around them. As he passed the masked figures, each ignited a yellow flare, until finally, his circuit complete, the bald man set the sculpture on fire. For a couple of minutes, it was quiet. Then as the wicker blazed, a soft chant passed through the crowd, the words only gradually becoming clear: “We are gathered. We are gathered. We are gathered.”

For those of you who would cry “But it’s not a spiritual belief! It’s all based on science!”, I would ask you to do what I have done; spend hundreds of hours looking at actual studies on climate before venturing into the land of pro and con advocates who interpret what it “actually means”. If you have done so and base your conclusion on formal study and perhaps professional work, I would love to sit in a comfortable room and pick your brain, to have a true discussion. If you offer arguments based on authority (97% scientific consensus etc.) we will most likely just have to agree to disagree. This area has become a battleground of ideology, and reality is a victim.

20 years after Rev. Young first “discovered ” Glacier Bay with John Muir he returned to the bay and found that the glaciers had retreated over half a day’s canoe journey from where they had been on their first visit…all without the evil of man’s defiling Mother Earth through the emission of CO2.

I will continue to wonder what would have happened to the environmental movement if my great grandfather had tossed John Muir off of their canoe.

04/19/14

A Lawsuit in Alaska

This is an opinion column that was printed in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner in October 2013. I intend to expand on this subject a bit later in this blog.

As an Alaska Native who follows the manipulation of our society by environmentalists, I watched with interest as Nelson Kanuk, a young Yup’ik man, became a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state of Alaska in an attempt to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Nelson has been presented as a youth leader by the aging environmentalists who are pulling the strings in this case.

In their case, they argue that human-induced warming is threatening Alaska’s residents, changing the environment in a way that they can’t adapt to. If successful, the lawsuit would require the reduction of carbon dioxide by 6 percent per year until 2050 and then by 5 percent through the year 2100.

Sadly, Nelson has been used as a proxy by the well-funded and well-organized environmentalists. A video and photos show Nelson and his family in their village. A five-man crew flew in from as far away as New York and shot the raw footage, which was then turned into a slick video by award-winning producers in Montana.

At the tip of the iceberg of outside environmental groups are iMatter Campaign, Our Children’s Trust and Witness, but it runs much deeper, with ties to organizations that have assets in excess of $1.2 billion and include the Tides Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, according to Form 990s filed with the IRS. The lawsuit in Alaska is one of nine filed nationally, each presented as if it originated from young Americans.

Nelson is from Kipnuk, a Yup’ik village with a population of 639. Like all of Alaska’s Native villages, Kipnuk is on the horns of a dilemma, as its people make the painful transition from a subsistence economy to a cash economy. A look at the Alaska’s Trust video of Nelson shows aluminum, steel, plastic, electronics and wood being used, all imported from far away.

Every aspect of life in rural Alaska is touched by the availability of fossil fuel, and most effects are positive. Warm houses, running water, electric lights and mobility are made possible by the use of this fuel. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, last year 5,527 passengers flew from Kipnuk. Modern life is here to stay.

From outside the Native community, one might think that we are a monolithic group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, there are many ethnic groups from diverse regions, with many views on development, but you wouldn’t know it from those with a bully pulpit. From the Alaska Federation of Natives to the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, little dissent is heard.

I believe that many Natives have lost our generational perspective. Tlingit oral history remembers that our ancestors followed retreating glaciers to reach Southeast Alaska. It remembers the names of the grandmothers who, perhaps 10,000 years ago, first tried a dangerous transit on a river that once ran under a glacier. We remember repopulating the coast after the great flood.

Nelson, remarking on a flood in his village, stated that it was the worst he’s seen. Nelson was 16 years old when he made that observation.

James Hansen is a scientist, environmental activist and the lead author of the paper submitted by Our Children’s Trust to various state courts. He claims that we must reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent per year to avert catastrophic warming. This is even more dire than the alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Fossil-fuel burning in Alaska emitted 38.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s U.S. inventory. That’s 0.11 percent of mankind’s 2010 annual carbon dioxide emissions from primarily fossil fuels (33,615 million metric tons, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center).

If we were able to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel burning by, for example, 18 percent, we would drop our contribution to that type of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions to .09 percent, but at what cost to Alaskans?

If successful, Alaska’s most economically challenged citizens would be harmed most. An 18 percent increase in the price of fuel oil would cost the residents of Kipnuk an extra $198,547 per year, based on statistics compiled by the Alaska Housing Authority in a study of Kipnuk. That’s just for fuel oil. It doesn’t account for the increase in food costs, air travel or fuel for snowmachines and boats.

We must hope that our state’s Supreme Court rules against the plaintiffs. Rather than dictating inconsequential but harmful measures to address a tenuous threat in the future, its decision can end a tangible threat to our well being.

04/17/14

Morning Wolves

It was winter, and Specialist Yi and I sat in our SUSV for many long hours at a Fort Richardson, Alaska training area waiting for the Infantry Scout soldiers of our National Guard company to arrive. We were the last point of an 18 kilometer night land navigation exercise. I was a company Supply Sergeant, SPC Yi was my assistant.

It had been a long night for us as we manned the operation center’s radios , only to leave at 0400 and head to the mess hall, where we picked up “silver bullets” (metal insulated beverage containers) of coffee and “mermites” (insulated food containers) of soup, and headed for the pick-up point, where we were to wait for our soldiers to arrive.

It had been a long night for us, but for the Infantry, it had been a much longer.  Half of our small company was trying to navigate several  specific courses in their five man teams, the other half was patrolling and setting up ambushes, trying to deny them movement.

We arrived at the pick-up point, a landing zone that had been cleared of trees and brush and parked in the middle. The opening was about 1/8 of a mile long, and several 100 feet across. Most vehicles couldn’t reach where we were at, but the Swedish vehicle on its rubber tracks didn’t even break a sweat.

SPC Yi and I talked for a bit, ran out of conversation, and sat quietly and watched the sunrise paint the mountains with light. Just as the twilight was giving way to morning I saw movement from the corner of my eye. I looked left, to the nearest tree line expecting to see our first team of soldiers. It wasn’t what I was  expecting, it was a pack of wolves.

I quietly got Yi’s attention, and we watched the pack have what was clearly some form of discussion. The question they were debating was whether or not they would cross the LZ, or skirt around it and stay under the cover of the trees.  Our vehicle was clearly a main point of discussion.

A decision was made, and the 14 wolves of the pack headed straight for us. 30 or 40 feet  from us the pack split up, half going around the back, half going around the front. The SUSV is a cab-forward vehicle, and from our windshield the nearest wolf was only a dozen feet away…and my god they were beautiful. Their thick fur was luxuriant, their paws massive and padded in fur, claws clearly visible. Their eyes however were simply amazing. Old eyes, intelligent eyes.

The pack was an entity, a the entity was sentient.

They flowed calmly around us, and on reaching the woods most of the wolves simply moved on, a few looked back at us for a moment, and then they too disappeared into the still dark woods.

15 minutes later the first Infantry team arrived.

04/16/14

Validation

Having gone pretty far off the rails earlier in my life has motivated me to actively monitor my personal philosophy and reassess my assumptions. I make efforts to avoid only exposing myself only to viewpoints that I’m comfortable with…I even listen to NPR! Over the years some of my views have evolved while others have withstood continued scrutiny. It is through this ongoing process that I define myself.

When I inadvertently came across a blog by young Tlingit lady who described herself as being a native activist who is anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist I read much of it with fascination. This was truly a gem for me.

First of all, I see many similarities between her and I; we are both half-Tlingit, and we are both interested in seeing our culture and our people thrive. We wish to see the Tlingit find a voice to express our needs and desires. We both struggle to define ourselves. It even appears that we both have ties to Angoon, Alaska, a village with a population of less than 600 people.

It is in our world-view and how that applies to the place of the Tlingit in a country dominated by the American, and by extension, European culture that we differ. I am unable to muster a sense of outrage or victimhood that seems to fuel her vision of injustice. The Tlingit expanded to limits of their martial ability and held our homeland through diplomacy and strength of arms. I can imagine no alternative universe where 15,000 members of a hunter-gatherer society could stand against the encroachment and domination by the world’s industrial societies. Factor in the decimation brought by disease and the outcome was foregone.

It is through an understanding of the nature of man and the historical nature of expanding and contracting of societies, to include the history of the “pre-contact” Tlingit, that I am able to reconcile myself to the current nature of our world. I will no more cry out against the setting of the sun than I will historical inevitabilities.

I also differ in how I view the other “indigenous” people. It appears that she feels a sense of kinship with all indigenous people, a brotherhood if you will. I am unique enough, or honest enough, that I can admit that I feel no unique brotherhood. I am Tlingit, and outside of Alaska’s other Native people, who we share a great deal of history with, I feel a general human connectedness with all people. This is actually a very human response, as most Natives tribal names translate as “The Real People”.  I find people and cultures fascinating, but I can muster no extra sense of bonding with the indigenous people of the world.

Based on her posts, I wasn’t surprised to find that she has been heavily influenced by Dr. Taiaiake Alfred. Dr. Alfred is a professor at the University of Victoria and he is articulate, prolific and influential. I also happen to strongly disagree with much of how he views Native issues. I am particularly adverse to how he seeks to frame the language of the debate. He is not abashed to define what it means to be a true 1st Nations person, what the definition of a warrior is, and to dismiss the beliefs of those he disagrees with.

I hesitate to associate myself with a particular political ideology, as each word carries with it many assumptions and judgments, but I would be fair to say that I enthusiastically support the concept of a constitutionally limited federal government and powerful sovereign states and citizens. I am as strongly opposed to crony capitalism as I am supportive of free-market capitalism. This sets me at odds with the world view of the young blogger and Dr. Alfred.

Dr. Alfred and Jeff Corntassel published an article in the Politics of Identity titled Being Indigenous: Resurgence against Contemporary Colonialism. While I agree that we owe it to our ancestors and our descendants to be vigilant and maintain our tribal concerns, our motivations appear to be much different. Dr. Alfred appears to be strongly “progressive”, and with that he brings the influence of Marxism to Native politics. He quotes Frantz Fannon, who stated “Indigenous resistance…is constantly under attack as colonial powers erase community histories and senses of place to replace them with doctrines of individualism and predatory capitalism.”

From my foray into the college level politics of racial identity I find out a little more about myself. I don’t see myself as being a Native-American, or even Tlingit-American. I am a Tlingit who happens to be an American, or conversely, an American who happens to be Tlingit. I’m proud to be both. Further, I reject the mantle of victimhood, and I reject the artificial construct of an innate spiritual bond to the other indigenous people of the world. I hold all people with compassion.

And finally, I see that there is a voice for Native people who subscribe to the concept of society framed by the Bourgeois and Proletarians, and from other research and thought, I see an attempted usurpation of Native Identity to advance the causes of environmental activism. What is missing is my voice. Who speaks for me?

It seems that I must speak for myself.  

04/13/14

Going Fast

It is surprising how much the books and magazines that filled my childhood home came to impact my adult interests. My dad had built a Ford roadster in high school and his continued interest brought Hot Rod magazine into our home. My older brother Bob and I would look at every picture, read every story, look at every advertisement.

Sitka, Alaska isn’t the natural home for fast cars. SE Alaska consists of thousands of islands thrusting steeply out of the Pacific ocean. Flat land is rare, with towns crammed between the ocean and the mountains. The Sitka I grew up in had 14 miles of paved road, void of a single stoplight. By comparison, there was nearly the equivalent number of miles of docks for Sitka’s thousands of seiners, trollers, longliners, tug boats, packers and pleasure boats.

I made my first trip to Portland before I was two years old and  retain only the faintest ghosts of memories from that trip. I was fourteen on the next trip Portland, and it was a trip full of impressions and revelations. I can remember the smell of a “U-Pick” strawberry field under a summer sun with amazing intensity. But an even stronger memory is the smell of burning rubber and nitro methane.

My uncle Dick took our family to the Portland International Raceway, and to a kid who loved fast cars based on magazine pictures and imagination, the dragstrip was an exercise in delicious sensory overload. The smells and sound were new, but I knew every car and the year is was from. I also had no frame of reference for the speed the cars developed. Even the slower cars were amazingly fast to me. Who knew that top fuel dragster shook the earth, vibrated the bones in your body, obliterating all other input in its awesome power?

Blower whine was my new favorite song.

The next summer, back in Sitka, I took the money I had saved from my job and paid cash for my first motorcycle. It was a red 1980 Honda CB-125, a leftover model from the previous year. I knew it wasn’t an amazing bike in spectrum of motorcycles, but it was mine. I had never operated a vehicle with a clutch, but between having studied my dad operating his International pickup truck and reading the bike’s owner’s manual, I figured out how to operate the bike in the dealer’s parking lot.

Anyone who has operated a motorcycle knows the amazing feeling of watching the world go past, controlled by the turn of a wrist. As a teen, the experience was sublime.

I worked a box-boy for tips at the Alaska Lumber and Pulp’s commissary, which sat at the head of Silver Bay. The road to the pulp mill followed the shore’s undulations, and was known as “The Snake”. My bike might have been slow, but on The Snake I could pretend I was Eddie Lawson on a superbike. Later, my friend bought a Honda MB5, and my mighty CB’s 125 4-stroke cc’s simply were too much for his sporty (looking) bike’s measly 50ccc motor 2-stroke motor.

In the years since I have maintained my love of fast things, but for the most part I’ve had higher priorities for my income. My wife is a lover of powerful things as well, and when we moved to Anchorage it didn’t take long to find  the dragstrip in Palmer. All of our kids have memories of day or weekends spent at the dragstrip.

I’ve owned 4 relatively fast vehicles. The word “relative” is important in talking about speed. For mortals, there is always someone faster.

-2004 SVT Focus (autocross extraordinaire)

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-2011 5.0 Mustang (12.9seconds @ 109mph)

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-2004 Kawasaki ZRX (11.4 @ 119mph)

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-Yamaha YZ426F. Of all of these, only the Yamaha remains.

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The ZRX I miss the most. The bike of my teen dreams was Kawasaki’s GPZ 1100, and that bike was the inspiration for the ZRX. Visually, it pushed all of the right button, it was supremely comfortable, and yes, it was fast. Bike nuts can point out bike after bike that are faster, but remember, “fast” is relative, and in my frame of reference, the ZRX reigns supreme.

In the future I expect to own other fast vehicles, but for now I’m stuck with memories and magazines. Oh, and motocross bike!

04/12/14

Dreaming of my boys

I wrote this 6 years ago, shortly after waking….

Recently I woke, sensing a dream slipping from my mind. I couldn’t remember the dream, but I sensed that a great deal of time had passed. And then I realized I was holding a child.

Sometime in the night my 7 year old son Ethan had climbed into bed with me, and I awoke holding him in my arms. It was Ethan in my arms, but for the slightest of moments my heart soared as I looked down and I thought I was holding my other son, Zach. Not the 21 year old man he is, but the 7 year old boy he used to be.

In that brief moment joy filled me completely, the sense of recovered time rich and intense. Zach is married now, living with his wife, Danielle over 350 miles away. He’s a wonderful man, and he had been a wonderful child. He wasn’t even two years old when he told his mother “Thank you for being in my world!”

As I passed into wakefulness I realized that I wasn’t holding Zach, somehow brought back to me once again as a young boy…I was holding Ethan. The nostalgia was so intense that it almost exuded smell like ozone.

I can’t describe how this realization hurt, but it pierced me. In a heartbeat, a feeling of loss, and in the next heartbeat came the joy to be holding my so, so sweet son Ethan…and in the next heartbeat the sense, in the way a boat plows into a the wall of wave, of time passing, knowing that this moment, this very moment, holding this exact child would taken from me, replaced by an ever older version.

As the days have passed since that morning I’ve wondered if I had the power to roll back time would I claim Zach as a child again? The answer is actually very clear; I am at the right place and time in my life. My sons are truly fine people, and I love watching them grow. Perhaps the secret is to let go of who they once were and love them in this moment for who they are. I look forward to our tomorrows while I treasure our yesterdays.

In the years since this morning I’ve watched my boys face adversity and come through it better people, stronger and more focused. I am so proud of them and their sisters. I now have three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way. What a blessing.

04/10/14

What the river sees

I stood below a bridge at the mouth of the Knik River with my 16 year old nephew. We looked inland, where several miles upriver the Knick Glacier was slowly receding.

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It was clear from the shape of the mountains upriver that a giant glacier had once sat where we now stood. A clear line marked where the mighty glacier had ground everything below it smooth and rounded, while the peaks above stood sharp, ragged and ancient.

I realized that thousands of years ago, the very spot I stood at was covered in hundreds of feet of ice. I wondered if the sand and gravel we stood on had been gouged from the mountain, many miles distant, a millennium ago by a glacier now long gone.  My sense of self slipped away, I felt disembodied and freed from the flow of time as I know it.

I saw the ebb and flow of the tides and seasons, and then centuries progressed, and then millennium moved by seamlessly.

I thought of the  molecules of water  proceeding in cycles of snow, ice and rain, or trapped in the bodies of living things, only to once again cycle through to new structures, shaping the land, filling the oceans, inhabit the bodies of living things, and eventually to fall again as rain or snow.

It occurred to me that the glacier that cleaved away the land was made up of uncountable snowflakes, so delicate alone, yet so dominate in its glacial form. Yet even this mighty form was but a phase, for even glaciers have a finite life.

As my perspective grew, as it stretched beyond my time, my sense of self importance fell from me, for how could it stand against the seasons and the cycles?  Stripped of this indulgence I didn’t feel lessened,  I felt integral, a part of something so large that I could only comprehend the smallest corner.

As my reverie started to fall away I noticed my nephew was disgusted. Obviously our views were very different, so I asked what was bothering him.

The graffiti on the bridge in front of us had caught his eye. My nephew said “Uncle Mike, I can’t believe that someone would paint words like that on the bridge. It’s ruined the entire view!”

I think that if the river, the mountains and the glacier could talk, they might say “What bridge?” And maybe, if I could listen long enough, I would be able to hear them speak.