Fall in Alaska means it's rare to be still long enough
to enjoy the fire you need to build every day.
The to-do's are too many and there's still enough daylight to do most of them.
One of the best fall activities is cranberry picking.
It's a slow process,
as the berries are individually tucked into the muskeg.
When you find one, if you're lucky it will have a few friends hanging around.
Otherwise, it's back to the slow, meandering search.
It leaves you time to let go of what you're supposed to be doing
so other thoughts are able to percolate instead.
I was out of town for two weeks of October.
Partly to visit loved ones,
and also for the conference "Revolutions!: Past, Present, and Future"
by the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, or AGLSP.
I attended a full day of the conference.
It contained four panels, with two to four different presentations within each.
You could say I've had a few other thoughts rolling around since then.
Focusing has been difficult.
It's going to take some time.
That was the best lesson from graduate school.
I learned from the best how to find your way to the root of a question,
and avoid settling for easy answers.
Better yet, how to talk about complex ideas without creating a false dichotomy
just for the sake of an interesting argument.
Questions don't always have answers,
and asking the same ones
is just repeating the story we already know by heart.
Because this is a blog,
and the internet is a place where things happen quickly and frequently,
I find myself wanting to take shortcuts.
"Just post something."
"It doesn't really matter, just write something really quick and post it."
"That's good enough."
That's when I know it's time to go do something else,
because anything worth doing is worth doing right.
I read a lot.
I always did, and now I work at a bookstore.
Some of the books I read are popcorn.
Jenna Woginrich lives on a farm in upstate New York,
and writes about her decision to quit her corporate job and do the homestead life.
My favorite is One Woman Farm, and you should read it.
Another is a writer in Haines, Alaska.
Heather Lende writes for the paper, her blog, and has had multiple books published.
She writes about her life with her husband, children, and a growing brood of grandchildren
in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
These books are popcorn.
Enjoyable, light, and with a few great kernels tucked in.
Popcorn is also a poor substitute for a meal.
When you're cranberry picking you have to stop and look up every once in awhile.
If you aren't careful you lose sight of the familiar.
But sometimes it's nice to lose your bearings,
and the best berry picking days are the ones where you don't need to know what time it is.
There is a time and place for something light.
But I was taught to write about ideas and questions that refuse to lose substance over time.
And I reject the idea that there is not a place for that on the internet.
Jaron Lanier, part of the web from the beginning, sees it as a product in a state of constant flux.
One of my favorite ideas of his is the idea that we, as users of the internet,
should be the ones who play a role in its reform.
Part of this means putting deeper thought into what you post.
That there is a time and place for spontaneous thought,
and it isn't always on the internet.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist.
Anymore that means I have to limit what I get involved in,
because there's firewood to stack and things to do.
Berries to pick, paths to wander.
I couldn't even follow through with a free online class.
I'm enjoying letting my mind loose
after so many years of having it trained on what other people pointed to.
I was also taught to remove myself from my writing.
In academics there is a mythic space in the mind of every scholar
where you find evidence and create your thesis.
A place where you remove bias and influence.
That's why I will always love my Women's Studies and Ethnic Studies classes,
because they taught me it's okay to be influenced.
It's okay to admit you have bias.
But I still like to think about questions in a way no one else really asks.
Though in reality, somebody has already had that thought, too.
So you walk it back further,
do more research,
and keep asking the questions.
You remove your own ego and experience from the equation,
because if it can't be depersonalized then the question probably isn't big enough.
Which is also not what the internet, or blogs, are supposed to be for.
So now I'm finally writing about why I'm not really writing.
Because like I said, I was in Philadelphia for a conference.
I was also surrounded by my favorite people in the world
for the better part of two weeks.
These are people that I care for deeply.
That I love.
Some live hundreds of miles away from me,
For a million different reasons, I don't talk to many of them as often as I would like.
And I don't know when I'm going to see most of them again.
Fall arrived without warning, and I found myself unprepared.
I live in a place where the cast of town characters are as seasonal as the birds.
I should be used to this by now.
But this time feels different.
Right now when I sit still
I find my heart hurting anew every few days.
Good thing it's fall, because I don't really have that kind of time anyways.
Soon I will be able to step back,
find my questions,
and refuse to settle for the easy discussion or angles.
But today is not that day.
And that's alright.
I'm not here to make popcorn. And if you're still here reading,
something tells me you aren't looking for that anyway.
A combination might be nice, but not today.
So just check back when you think of it.
And thank you in advance.
When the ferry reached the dock it was early; they announced that they were actually on time, but they had to fix the satellite connection, so the boat slowly rotated in place for the next ten minutes.
Next time you're early, just say you need to reset and walk in some lazy circles.
Sometimes the plane is early. Not often enough though.
I’m about to travel for two weeks - first in Alaska, then in New England - and am trying to
consolidate my life into a reasonable camping-backpack-sized pile.
Part of the trip is an academic conference, and I had a hell of a time trying to figure out what to wear.
Instead of asking, “Will this help me fit in?”
(because I have accepted the near-impossibility of that reality)
I ended up asking, “What will I be comfortable in?”
There’s only one problem.
I don’t want to be comfortable.
In case it wasn't clear in my last post, I did not accept the campaign job.
Let the wild rumpus start.
It was a dry morning and my first day off in a while, so I rode my bike to find some blueberries.
I'm visiting family in Seattle on the way back from New England. Sitting in my grandma's kitchen, reading an essay by Terry Tempest Williams about her time in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the sacred of wilderness and its role in fostering our spirit of democracy and our sense of self.
The Blue Angels are overhead, practicing for the big air show this weekend. The fighter jets roar, over apartment buildings and back decks and front lawns, all soon to be filled with families and friends celebrating the spectacle. We are playing war games while parts of the world burn and our neighborhoods hold people living with their traumas, visible and non, that come from seeing the fires up close.
"The power of nature is the power of a life in association. Nothing stands alone."
Terry Tempest Williams
I just applied for my dream job, and am trying not to freak out. They asked for a writing sample along with the cover letter and resume, so it took me a solid month to get everything edited to the point where I was anywhere remotely comfortable submitting it.
Here's the writing sample. If there's a typo... please don't tell me.
Many thanks to Chris at his blog, Master of Unemployment: The Journey to No Job, for the idea.
Here's his hilarious website. Just a heads up that you might find language that's a little.... salty.
The World of Salmon
The way we construct our world is a fascinating thing. The living get special treatment, stratified by species. People belong in one category, with its own varying kind of value. Animals are occasionally given special deference (particularly if cute or edible). The nondescript Nature that exists in documentaries or national parks is what we escape to when the objects in our lives become too noticeable for comfort. It is difficult for us to admit our dependence on those things - technology, nature and other species - so how will we come to terms with the fact that we’ve been shaped by them all along?
It would be ignorant for me to say this was the only way of seeing the world that existed. I come from a land shaped by salmon and the technologies that enable us to catch them. Tlingit came to this island for thousands of years to tend their fish traps before returning to their sunnier, more permanent locations nearby. Fish brought Norwegian fishermen to the island, and the icebergs coming from the nearby glacier convinced them to stay. As technology connects us to the world more and more each year, each generation is faced with the same choice. Do we stay? When technologies allow us to come and go at whim, and we know how much of the world there is to see?
It is a choice not given to our companion species, to borrow a term from Donna Haraway. Salmon are a species of place. They know where home is. They are creatures of habit facing an uncertain world, and trying to anticipate their movements cause no end of hand wringing in my corner of the world. The wildness of Southeast Alaska’s rainforests has nothing on the diversity in our waters, and all of it is being rocked by forces generations in the making. Our management systems are trying to keep their speculations up to date, and the people who make their living by that data are reacting and crossing their fingers. Their bottom line is at stake, after all, as well as love for their home and the adrenaline rush from pulling into harbor with a hold full of money.
But there are different kinds of joy in these moments. And vastly different amounts of money. The seiners, with capital-intensive fishing techniques that rely on volume of fish without harping too much on quality, go through boom and bust years as they rely on investments and luck of years past. Trollers are usually a one-man operation, involving smaller levels of capital investment and fewer fish. Their aim is quality, as they handle fish individually through the catching, cleaning, and sometimes even taking care to pack each individually in ice. When I bought fish from trollers for three months, the more passionate would occasionally pick up individual fish to show me.
“Look at this. This one’s a beauty, right here.”
“Now I’m gonna be keeping this one. Put up too good of a fight to let it go.”
“Gotta work on my homepack for winter. Been a good season, anyway.”
The young were excited about the record-breaking catches people were reporting. The wise knew change was still coming, good season or no. Things are different.
We are still a place living season to season, with forecasts limited to what our scientific models can reliably show. The so-called Western world’s presence here has been a relatively recent one: the Tlingit and Haida tribes have been here for around 10,000 years. For them, things have always been changing. This is just the time that the change is negatively impacting everyone, even the ones with millions on the line.
How well the salmon are doing is only one small piece of a larger puzzle. We have been a culture that assumed we had all the pieces. Each discovery or breakthrough, every solution to problems, was one more exclamation in a declaration. Too late we are realizing that all our brilliance has given the planet a fever it may not recover from. And that it may take a little more than an aspirin to bring us out of our delusions.
Commercial fishermen are the hybrids of our capitalist resource-intensive system. They rely on the whims of the market and their knowledge of the natural world to keep their world spinning, where the only constant is change. We may have more in common with them than we like to admit, at the end of the day, as we find ourselves adrift with no shore in sight.
I've been struggling to put a lot of things into words lately. Most of my writing has been for job applications, and I think I'm struggling with how to apply for jobs that will take me out Petersburg.
My relationship with Petersburg, Alaska has always been a complicated one. In high school being surrounded by mountains made me feel claustrophobic. When I got to the Palouse and saw the endless rolling green hills I was comforted - living things! Open space! - and immediately homesick for the mountains I had grown to loathe. Seattle's mountains were beautiful, but too far away. New England's are easily accessible, but crowded.
I am a mountain snob, apparently. Who knew there was such a thing?
I believe having a sense of place is important. That where you choose to make roots says a lot about who you are as a person, as does where you grew up. Not that everything is defined by these characteristics. People have to live places they don't like for any number of reasons, or shrug off the vestiges of their past at the earliest opportunity. But those decisions in any direction still say a lot about who we are.
I'm in the process of deciding that Petersburg is not where I need to be. Love is bringing me back to Vermont/New Hampshire. Love for a person, and love of place. I love the culture of Vermont (New Hampshire, we'll talk about you some other time.) I love the opportunities, specifically with local food issues, rural issues and social justice. I'm looking forward to making that step up and out of this place.
As much as I'm looking forward to going someplace new, likely for an extended chapter of my life, there is one thing I know.
I will always look forward to coming back.
... and none of it being posted. I have four Word documents I'm working on at any given time, two journals with me constantly, a cover letter and a writing sample for a dream job to finish. And I'm still somehow failing to post any of it on this page.
In the meantime I'll just post pictures of some of the dogs I've taken care of this winter.
I had lofty goals for the summer of 2013. I was going to Elfin Cove, Alaska, year-round population 20, to buy fish from trollers. I brought books for the downtime, my computer to write about all my adventures, and clothes I wouldn't care about ruining. I was ready.
As it turned out, I barely had any downtime. I mailed home half my books midway through the season, my computer languished in its case (except for when I needed it for work) and it has taken months of processing to feel like my writing will do it justice. I'm still not sold on that last part, but if I don't start soon I'm afraid I never will.
Also: pretty pictures.