At the end of last month I went to Alaska, my homeland and lifelong Love. (You can read the previous entries to learn a little bit about this Place and my heart struggle with it.) My kids and husband and I went to spend two weeks with my parents, sister and her kids. It was a great trip, though like all my trips home, it was emotionally and spiritually complicated. It has taken me the better part of two weeks to recover. Thanks for being patient with me.
I left my home in Olympia in the middle of a heat wave. I left offerings out on my shrine/altar. I asked Ganesh to watch over the house while we were gone and the kids while we were in Alaska. I asked some of the other gods to come with me, if they were so inclined.
When I arrived at the guest cabin at my parents’ place, the first thing I did was unpack – mostly so I could get to my magical supplies. I set up a little altar on the kitchen counter. I then proceeded to cleanse the space (with water and salt) and bless (with incense) it. Our boundaries needed to be set firmly, but lovingly.
Over the days that passed – days in which nothing much transpired, and if things occurred in the world I was clueless, as we were completely, blessedly, off-grid* – the kids frolicked in the woods and along the beach and I sat. I sat and listened. I read. I sat and listened some more.
I listened to the sounds heard by every ear: waves crashing, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly; bald eagles crying; some bird that sounded like a sad cat; kids laughing or crying; wind in hemlock and spruce trees; boats speeding along the water way; and whales, splashing and breathing.
I listened to what couldn’t be heard by every ear – and what I heard surprised me. There was a lot of silence.
What I learned on this trip wasn’t very comfortable.
Alaska does not give a fuck.
The Land there is uninterested in most of us. The particular piece of island I was on is relatively new to me. I’ve only been going there since 1998. I think I have a decent connection to it, but not like I did with other spots on the mainland. The Land was friendly, but it was increasingly clear to me as the days passed that this little spot of earth had spores to grow. That tree had two species of lichen and three species of moss to attend to. The wind was talking with that patch of forest over there and its secrets were not for me that day.
The beach would welcome me, day or night; it was used to humans walking all over it. But the tiny broken shells and rocks, the barnacles and mussels and clams that made up the ground? They had been there longer than I could imagine. See those mountains across the water way? The nearly 6,000 ft Chilkat mountains have stood there longer than most nations or people groups have existed. It’s beautifully humbling.
For those of you that have been or plan to go to Alaska as a tourist and your heart’s desire is to go whale watching to see the humpbacks breech or feed, let me share something with you that was made crystal clear to me this trip. The whales hear your boat coming and dive deep to get away. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Some days the whales, usually the young ones, don’t care and they will flap around and put on a show. Fourteen boats will crowd around this creature to give their customers what they paid for. But mostly? As soon as the boats come out the whales go under. In the quiet of the morning, or the long, languid evenings, once the boats have gone in for the day, the whales come out in the quiet to play. I spent many, many hours listening to the whales and watching them. It never got old. Not once.
What surprised me the most was that my gods did not seem to come with me. If I lived in Alaska again, who would I find there? I stood on the spit in the evenings, calling to the Deep, and She was there. Though again, quiet, unyielding. I was shocked to find myself a tourist in my own homeland.
In a world where we can find any scrap of information we seek, either in a book or online, I think it is educational and humbling to be “left out,” as it were. Why should I expect every spirit or god to welcome me, instruct me, or even greet me? Usually I am able to get a sense of what the overall spirit of the Land is about. This Land that I know so well told me to look really, really closely – and to listen. To watch. To observe. This was not adversarial instruction, nor was it a step to greater wisdom offered down the road.
The Land did not give a fuck. I would leave and those eagles would continue to soar, the whales would continue their breathing, and the moss would continue to grow. The fawns I saw would have fawns over their own next summer. And none would remember me or know my name.
And that is perfectly ok.
*My parents live on an island without services. They use wind and solar power, with the occasional churn of a generator. Cell phone calls and the occasional text message were possible. When a cruise ship passed by I occasionally had a flash of wi-fi on my phone, so I got about 4 emails.