“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”
~ Winston Churchill
The air is crisp, the sky clear, the cottonwood brilliant shades of orange and yellow. It is fall in Southeast Alaska. The Fairweather Mountains glow with the rising of the sun. Once more, I find myself preparing to journey south. Unlike the crane, tern, and mighty humpback whale, I will explore a new route by multiple means of travel—first by ferry to Skagway and then by automobile down the Alaska-Canada Highway. I will also have company this time around, both human and canine.
Autumn has always been my favorite season, a surprise considering I struggle with winter in body and spirit. Winter melts gradually into spring and subtly into summer. The fall season brings with it great change and a reminder of the transient nature of life on this planet. One chapter ends that a new one might begin. A turning of the tide, time to reflect on the past year that is quickly drawing to a close.
In Southeast Alaska, species small and great prepare for this shift in reality. Black-billed Magpie arrive from the interior to take refuge in a coastal clime. Humpback whale disappear one by one from the waters of Sitakaday Narrows and Icy Strait. Human members of the Gustavus community venture out in search of highbush cranberry, rose hips, moose, and salmon.
I continue to admire the ebb and flow of Gustavus life. Here, a village still raises each child, and children learn to pay attention with all of their senses to the dynamic world that can bring nourishment or harm.
When I think about the reality for most youth in America—video games, cell phones, computers, etc.—I am thankful for this tiny, yet vibrant corner of the world where the ecological and social worlds overlap, not entirely without collision, but certainly where the next generation of humans can develop a deep understanding and awareness of the importance in maintaining balance and respect between these two worlds.
This past weekend, I joined a friend and her children to pick cranberries in their backyard. She told me a story of bicycling with her 3 year old daughter, a spirited Alaskan pixie, into town one afternoon. On a whim, they ate lunch at the local pizza place, the Homeshore Café. A meal at the Homeshore is a rare treat, so my friend was surprised when on the ride home, her daughter asked, “Mama, why did we eat at the Homeshore when we have so much good food at home?”. Intrigued, mom asked her what she meant. “Well,” the little one replied, “we have cranberry juice (highbush), broccoli, and carrot sticks” and so on and so forth. We picked many berries “for winter’s juice”. I offer piano lessons—lessons for me as well—to another child in town, who recently told me, “we like the rain here because actually get to see each other”. Rain or shine, people of every age are out and about, on foot, bicycle, or a passing car. There are berries to pick, cranberry ketchup to cook and can, salmon to smoke, and music to play to usher in the changing of the season.