Sacramento blessing

I know you are heating up to 115 tomorrow.  I’m so very sorry.  I sit here in a long-sleeved shirt, vest and know I’ll soon snuggle down in a warm bed because the electric blanket will be on.

Still, you are not in the Battle of the Bugs.  It’s too hot for them there and you must be grateful for that small blessing.

 

 

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!  It was two years ago on this day that we arrived in Ottawa, Ontario Province, the capitol of Canada, to experience a Canadian “birthday” celebration in their nation’s capitol.  It was like being in Washington, DC, on the 4th of July–only that year it was “over the top” because Kate and William, newly married that April, were making their inaugural trip to Canada.  There were over 100,000 people “on the hill” in front of the parliament building that day.  Huge jumbotrons were in place throughout the area so that the other 50,000 people who were in the city that day and who couldn’t fit onto the hill to witness the celebrations, the speeches, the music and dance, could still see the main stage performances.  Security personnel perched on the rooftops of buildings.  Hats of all kinds adorned the heads of the partying crowd.  It was loud, colorful, raucous and fun. 

This Canada day we arrived in Teslin (pronounced tez-lynn), Yukon Province, Canada.  We are in Tlingit (Kling-git) Nation country.  And our surroundings could not be more different from 2 years ago.

Surrounded by rolling hills and magnificent mountains adorned with spruce, alder, poplar, aspen, lodgepole and cottonwood trees, we sit amongst them, breathing in the newly-rinsed fresh air of a land unspoiled by concrete and steel.  We sit amongst a people who are reclaiming their land, their traditions, their pride.  From a 1973 land claim agreement with the Canadian government (Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), they have been reestablishing their claim to land, rights to live self-determined by their traditions and laws, and open to celebrating again their thanks to the “Man Above” who grants life to them and all that surround them.

We visited the Tlingit Heritage Center today.  After visiting their small museum exhibits, we wandered down to a large room where a table was set up with projects in various stages of completion:  gloves made out of moose hide with beaver trim that reached up to my elbow when on my hand; moccasins; beading.  Stunning, to say the least.  Pauline, a Tlingit First Nation person, was sitting at an adjacent table.  Inquiring minds want to know–and so the questions started and lessons in First Nation people began.  

 “Pauline,” I asked, “what kind of hide are these gloves made of?”

“Moose hide–like that on the chair,” she answered.

Now, I have to say, the piece of stuff on the chair looked like distorted, thin, hard cardboard.  There was no way that was the same material that those soft, supple gloves were made of.

And so, Pauline told us how moose hide is prepared for the making of clothes.  In short, it takes a year.  Frankly, I’m not content to wait a year for new clothes…but then, that’s what this trip is about–slowing down, being patient, taking time.  Anyway–there is the removal of the fur, the drawing off of the flesh, the salt water immersion to remove all remaining blood and fluid, the washing, the stretching and drying, the rubbing of the hide to soften it, the smoking of the hide to color it.  She showed us the difference between factory tanned hides and the hide that has been tanned by the Tlingit.  Different?  You bet.  In texture, smell, color–just about every aspect.  I don’t know how you put a price on this kind of work.

She spoke of the clans of the Tlingit Nation–Raven and Eagle (air), Frog and Split-tailed Beaver (water), and Wolf (land)–all representative of the elements of nature that provide for them.  Theirs is a people in touch with the land and the synergy between them.

We spent over an hour with Pauline and I was sorry we had to leave–although I needed to leave.  I always get these feelings of wondering about how I am in touch with nature, with God, with the people in my “tribe”–it’s a question I wrestle with frequently and never quite answer satisfactorily.  

Mostly I’m taken with how they spend their time in caring for each other and the environment around them.   The concrete, asphalt and steel that surrounds me in my life does not lend itself to being aware of, much less in touch with, that which seems to matter most.

This July 1, this Canada Day, there are no crowds, no jumbotrons, to hundreds of thousands of people.   Instead, 

I see trees of green….pink roses too

I see them bloom for me and for you

And I think to myself:  What a wonderful world.

 

I see skies of blue…clouds of white

Bright blessed days…dark sacred nights

And I think to myself:  What a wonderful world. 

 

The colors of a rainbow…so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”

They’re really saying, “I love you.”

 

I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow 

They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know 

And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world 

Yes I think to myself …….what a wonderful world.

 

Thanks Louis Armstrong, George David Weiss, George Douglas, Bob Thiele, and especially Pauline.

 

Mileage Under Our Belts

We have been traveling daily since June 28.  We’ve had some good stopping places with scenery of great beauty that one would expect in these rural, remote parts.  We’ve driven in and out of British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon.  Our stops included Dease Lake, BC, Watson Lake, Yukon and tonight we rest our heads in Teslin, Yukon.

Last night we visited the famous “Sign Forest” started by a worker on the Alaska Highway way back in 1942 when the highway was built.  A simple posting of his hometown and the mileage to it has grown into a forest of posts–row after row of license plates, signs, mementoes–just about anything that someone could use to post their hometowns and memorialize their visit to Watson Lake.

The highway building is a story unto itself.  It was built to protect the interests of the US in Alaska in 1942.  The Japanese had invaded the Aleutian Islands and were working their way toward Alaska.  It was their hope that the US would divert ships at Midway up to Alaska and thereby the Japanese hoped they would take Midway.  Well, history tells us that is not what happened.  However, after the taking of Midway, the War Department, along with the Canadian government, determined that a military access route needed to be built in the Yukon/BC/Alaska arena.  And so, starting in the fall of 1942 and building through the winter and into 1943, the highway was completed–gravel for the most part.  Spruce logs lashed together to bridge the bogs in other places.  After the war, the road was opened to the public.  It has been renamed the Alaska Highway from the ‘Al-Can” with each country maintaining its portions.  Surprisingly, it is a good road most of the way.  A bit of dust and some pretty good bumps, but all in all, a good road.

Today we had the dust washed off in a good rain just before arriving at our RV Park in Teslin. Perfect weather; perfect timing.  

And tomorrow we head to Skagway, Alaska.  We’ll be there four days, including over the 4th of July.  I wonder what time they’ll start the fireworks in the land of the midnight sun?

Hyder, Alaska

We traveled to Hyder, Alaska, spending a couple of days there (June 27-28).  The scenery was beautiful; the town very small and rural as one might expect.

The Salmon Glacier trip was one of the highlights of that time.  Riding up a mining road for about an hour, I shared the time with our new friends, Normann, Rita and Marina while Ken tried fishing in the Salmon River.  We stopped at waterfalls to take pictures, marveled at the vastness and grandeur of the glacier and took many pictures (that will be posted when I have bandwidth to do so!)  The glacier was even more beautiful than the Athabascan Glacier, but then I understand why people don’t see the Salmon Glacier…It’s quite a trek to get there!

The Bear Glacier and Bear Lake, on the road to Hyder, were other highlights.  I’ve updated the image on the website with a snapshot of them.  The blue ice is really blue.  It’s because the oxygen has been compressed out of the ice crystals.  As light is absorbed, only the blue light is reflected back.

And then there was the bear sighting in Hyder.  We went to the bear observation boardwalk that has been built along Fish Creek where the bears come to fish the arriving salmon.  The area is lush with trees, bushes, flowers and the bird songs are varied and delightful.  Everyone quietly waits for the bears to meander into the area to fish.

We saw two bears!  Munching and clawing, pawing and sniffing about.  One pushed at the small fire, turning over a pile of stuff, finding delights to the palate.  Another, a short distance away, seemed to be waiting his turn.

Did I mention they were at the city dump instead of Fish Creek?  Yep.  The fish are still about 3 weeks out of their annual run and these bears were at the Hyder city dump.  Who knows who started the small fire, but it appeared the bears preferred their grub grilled rather than raw.

Totem Poles to Dancers

The last ice age of 10-12 thousand years ago brought many of the people across an ice bridge from what is now Siberia into the land we call Alaska.  As the ice bridge disappeared in the current warming trend of our world (please note this started over 10,000 years ago), the people either stayed here or migrated further down into the continent of North America.

Situated in small villages in northern British Columbia are the Alaska Natives of the Gitxsan nation.  Organized in clans named Frog, Wolf, Eagle and Fireweed, they are further organized within the clans in various houses that are based on a matriarchal structure.  A man marries into a woman’s house and clan.  His children are raised in her house, but the male children cannot be trained by her (because she is a woman and doesn’t know the man’s training) or her husband (because he is not of her house).  So a relative of hers–her brother or her uncle, for example, will train up the males.  It is also not appropriate for people within a clan to marry.  It would be like us marrying our first cousins.  They figured out long ago the importance of mixing blood lines.  I could make a really bad comment about Rio Linda right now, but I won’t.

The wonderful stories of people who have no written language are captured in lovely unique ways by the provision of the area’s resources.  Oral tradition, of course is most important.  However, the true permanence of a house’s story or an event is carved into history in totem poles.  Made by a master carver NOT of the same house or village, a pole is carved over a period of about three years.  The request is placed by one person to another without the discussion of cost/payment.  Together, the carver and the requestor select the red cedar tree that will be used.  Red Cedar is preferred b/c of its oily wood that resists rot, has straight grain, and has few large limbs.  The two explain to the spirit of the tree the purpose for its use, request its permission to cut it down, and then with great reverence, the tree is felled.  The bark is stripped and the truck is placed in a cradle for carving.  Using coal, the figures are sketched out.

There is no contact between the contracted parties regarding the totem pole carving progress throughout the carving period.  When it is completed, the pole is brought to its site of permanent placement where an 8’ hold has been dug.  With the village people and elders of the master carver remaining on one side of the hole and the receiving village people and elders on the other, gifts are handed to the master carver by the requestor–items of value that symbolize the importance of the pole and the value of the skill used to make it.  At some point, the elders of the villages, who have been watching the passing of gifts, signal “enough”–enough has been given in payment.  The pole is then raised and a celebration, a potlatch, is held.  The totem pole will either be painted or will remain “unfinished”, but either way, it will remain where is it placed forever.  Should it fall, it will remain where it fell as the Native people believe this falling, just as the raising, is a part of the cycle of life.

Festivals are important events in the life of the people.  They use them to celebrate–naming of children (who are not considered persons until named), naming of new chiefs, or raising of totem poles but also for conducting business.  And that sounds a whole lot more fun then a 2-hour business meeting that can often end with nothing done.  Here things get done–and witnesses, rather than signatures on paper, are the binding word.

Having read the Earth Children series by Jean Auel, I feel like the people here were living out that story so many thousands of years ago.  I am reading The Land of Painted Caves now, the last in the series, and many of the things Auel describes in her book are things that the Alaska Natives did during that time too.  “In the time before this”, in the “pre-contact” era before Europeans arrived, there seemed to be a greater attachment to the land, the sky, the water, and a better balance of the aspects of our humanity–physical, cognitive and spiritual.

Dancing remains a way of integrating all three of those aspects.  Through the physical expression of what they know to be true, they appeal to the power beyond themselves to guide, heal and provide for their lives.  They recognize evil in the world and just as we attempt to explain evil through our stories and beliefs, so do they.

We were fortunate to experience a dance performance that spoke to praise, celebration, settling of challenges and helping those who have passed on in their earth’s journey and entered into their next journey.  It was an expression of beauty, drumming, singing, flute-playing and vocal calls.  Robed in their regalia representing their clans and the spirits of the supernatural beings, stories were told.  How fortunate we were to experience that expression.

How varied our cultures; how much our world is the same.

Picking and Plucking

I have been treated to music that I don’t often hear:  banjo and harp.  There are two people on our caravan who play those instruments and who brought them.  Now, I’m sure you understand the size of the banjo, but the size of the harp might surprise you.  It’s about 2 feet in height and is played with the instrument placed on a surface in front of the harpist.

The banjo player is from Texas and adds delightful Texan twang in his vocalizations to his playing.  The harpist is a sixteen-year old from Chicago…and I think she’s got a good voice–she just hasn’t let on yet.  (I heard her singing to herself yesterday!)

I’m looking forward to more of these experiences that take me out of my every-day world and peak my ears and alert my eyes to all the wonder that is around me.

Bacon Grease, Lysol and Salt

We are in the land of “No-See-Ems”, chiggers, mosquitos and biting black flies.  We are in the land where insects rule and if you doubt it, I dare you to go outside without being fully covered and/or coated in my new favorite fragrance:  “OFF!–Deep Woods”.  I wonder if we should even leave the windows of the rig open.  If the “No-See-Ems” are so small as to not be seen, surely they could get in through the screens.  It just makes me itch all over to think about it.

I went to the local beauty shop for a hair trim today.  “Cheryl Loy’s Hair Design”–the best place in town to meet locals, I’m sure–unless, that is, there is a barber shop in town.  Cheryl loves to travel and mentioned she had just returned from her first trip to the family island.  “Family island?” I inquired.  “Fiji” she responded.  Wow, up in the far north of British Columbia we meet Fijians.  Keep my mind open, Lord.  Oh, and I just met a couple who are going to stay in this campground for one night.  They are on an 18-month cycling trip from Argentina.  Brave, brave people.

Anyway, June, an elderly woman, was also in the beauty shop.  She is from Montana but has lived here since 1962 when she and her husband bought land ($.10 on the dollar for ranch land back then) to raise cattle.  “How are you handling the bugs?” she asked me.  “OK, as long as I use plenty of “OFF!” , get it in all the uncovered places, and stay covered up. I have the bites to show for places I missed!” I answered.

“Pity the poor horses,” she responded.  “We make a paste of bacon grease (to sooth the bites and repel the insects), Lysol (for antiseptic purposes) and salt (to heal the wounds of the bites).  We put it all around the horses noses and mouths and inside their ears.  Poor things, they just lean into us when we spread it on.  It must feel so very soothing.”

I guess if “OFF!” fails to work, I have an alternative.

 

 

 

Take Your Pick

If you are looking for employment in northern British Columbia here are your choices: 

  • Mining: Gold, Diamonds or Copper
  • Logging
  • Milling
  • Ranching
  • Farming
  • Construction–mostly roads/bridges
  • Natural gas production
  • Oil production

 Interestingly there is no commercial fishing and all waterways are considered salmon and/or trout habitat.  So, you miners, loggers, millers, ranchers, farmers, gas and oil producers and construction people–watch what you send into the rivers.  They are serious about saving the habitat for fish up here.

Our Caravan

We are in Hazelton, British Columbia having arrived 2 days ago.  We are enjoying the downtime and a chance to meet many of the people with whom we will travel for the next 34 or so days.

We’ll be traveling with a crowd: 19 rigs of varying sizes and types and 39 people.  Ages range from 12 to at least 70+.  There are 44’ Class A rigs (better known as those big busses), Class C rigs (most commonly known as motor homes), campers on pick up trucks, trailers and fifth wheels (of varying lengths–we, at 27’, are probably in the middle).

Our first of 2 orientations was last night.  Spike, our fearless leader, has been leading these caravans for over 17 years–this after a career as an MP in the Army leading military caravans.  His quiet demeanor and gentle way, appearance of Santa Claus with his white beard and gray-white hair, disguises a no-nonsense, strong-leader personality.  He knows how to do this and he has the plan.  There’s no messin’ with the plan; only he can mess with the plan.

General Rules:

Be on time.

Stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.

If you smoke, smoke downwind and never in the group.

Stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.

Follow the itinerary you will be given each day.

Stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.

Animals–tag them with the special tag provided so if they get lost, they will be returned.

Stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.

Spike (Wagonmaster), Roger (mechanic extraordinaire) and Bill and Debbie (tailgunners) are here to help with every need.  Follow their instructions.

Stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.

You get the picture.

 

We learned how to pull out of sites in an orderly fashion and how to park each night in the RV park where we have reservations.

We learned how to handle road emergencies.

We learned how to handle medical emergencies.

We learned about the topography of the areas where we will travel.

We have maps than tell us (if we remember to reset our odometers each morning) what mile we will be at for rest stops, fueling, banks, groceries.

 

I’m convinced that even with this size crowd, there will be no problems.  Spike’s got it.  So stay in communication with the VHF radio provided.