Mid Summers Eve 2019, Sitka
It is a fine sunny day today after a few wet weeks. One morning the fog was so thick I could not see the cruise ship coming towards the dock but I could hear it approaching, closer and closer and at what seemed to be the very last moment before grounding on our beach it emerged from the clouds as large as a floating ten story hotel, (which is essentially what it is) right there before my eyes like a magic trick… or a great brown bear charging from the brush. She docked and began disgorging her passengers who bussed into town to buy their Tee Shirts and books and take their photographs of the Russian Cathedral while standing in the street, and ask their goofy questions about what the elevation is here and if we take American money. I didn’t want a deep-water dock right down town. But somehow I don’t mind one three houses down. I can’t see the boats from my house or office and very few tourists wander down here to take pictures of the ship. Some people hate tourists and I understand that, but having been both tourist here in Alaska and other places I have empathy for their disorientation and discombobulation when they disembark. I’m a worrier by nature myself, and without my wife I have a hard time orienting a map.
Years ago I was walking through the historical park in Sitka in the fall and I met two young women who had come from their arctic village to go to Mount Edgecumbe High School. This was their first trip so far south, one girl wore her traditional kuspuk and the other wore a beautiful new blouse and tight blue jeans and I must say a lot of perfume. I asked them what they thought of Sitka.
“Too many gusuks,” the perfume girl said, explaining, “white people,” and this I understood, then the other in the traditional gingham covering, said, “And these trees… so big.. and they stink…” she waved her hand in front of her face.
This surprised me. Then I realized there were no trees of any size where she lived. Certainly nothing like these old spruce and hemlock in the park.
“And the dead ones,” she cupped her elbows in her hands, “The dead trees look like rotten meat… it’s horrible.” She shivered.
I could clearly see the old rotted stump we were standing near disgusted her. I considered that she was just teasing me or playing with me, making the most of my being a white man and so stupid. But she looked honestly sick to her stomach and I gave here every chance to say “I jokes” but nothing came. We talked more about Sitka and I tried to tell them about places they might enjoy: the gym, the library and the movie theater, the soccer field, and the grocery store where you could buy candy in bulk. I did not ask them about their village because I have found that new students to Edgecumbe get really sick of explaining to people about where they come from possibly too because they are often extremely homesick when they first arrive and talking about home to ignorant people who have never even heard of, and can’t pronounce the name of their home, makes them feel even more lonely and alone. They seem more excited to talk about their own life’s new adventure.
It was probably thirty years ago that I met those girls but I think of them often.
This summer the buttercups have bloomed in and around the short greenery. Tiny yellow flowers appear almost instantly in the lawn after I cut the grass. I find them cheerful and particularly happy little things, but a friend of mine grumbles and sees them as weeds that need to be eradicated.
“Jesus,” she said, “fucking buttercups.”
The cherry tree outside my office window for the first time has born fruit. Jan sat in a red chair with her binoculars and counted seven tiny cherries on the entire tree, amid all the other withered stocks. A neighbor suggested that we cut the tree down and try again in another location. Forgetting or possibly not that this first effort for the tree has taken thirty-five years, a span of time we won’t be able to replicate. But this neighbor was ardent in their opinion, so hungry I suppose, for cherries.
It is a time for strong opinions. Last month at the writer’s symposium in Skagway there were tears and fist banging on the subject of cultural appropriation and who had the right to tell the story of history. There was a great deal of tension between those who felt powerful and those who felt powerless. While in fact, the distinctions seemed blurred to me and it felt that we were all very fortunate, and lucky in our circumstance, but perhaps that point of view was an artifact of my ignorance and lack of experience, just as my assumption that the tall trees around my home smelled “good,” or that we all… including the President of the United States, should know the difference between the truth and a lie, but perhaps all my assumptions about the world are naive. I feel naïve, and lonely often these days. Especially when I read the news.
The work of understanding this world is never done.
I’m off to Seattle soon for psychiatric treatment. The doctors decided that electro convulsive therapy would be too dangerous for my vision and I finally offered that being blind would be too high a price to pay and way too depressing an outcome. So I’m going to try and go forward with ketamine infusion therapy. I will try to write about it here if it is not too trippy or exhausting.
Until then I will be putting our house back in order after putting in new floors and remodeling the bathroom upstairs. It was a huge job with great results. (the forty year old carpet was truly disgusting) and the new bathroom has handrails, high toilet, and a shower that’s the envy of a high end spa. Where our old bathroom had a free bathtub from Raven Radio a toilet and sink we found on the side of the road.
We will also spend the summer nurturing our buttercups, and our apple tree with three blossoms, and watching our seven cherries ripen: counting our luck, and cultivating what wisdom we can as we stay involved in the world. I will be writing a new book about my faithless detective Cecil Younger while, thinking of my readers, and those long ago girls, wondering where they are, hoping they are home somewhere, and happy.
Sunshine and north wind,
seven cherries on the tree:
Hello honey bee!