Keep up the traditions
In 2019 I learned it’s important to keep up island traditions. My sister, who hosted our family winter games, moved away this past year. The good news is my daughter bought my sister’s house so she inherited Game Night! There’s a new generation taking charge of food, laughter and stories. What traditions will you make an effort to keep going this year?
Maintain a strong belief system
As island folk we believe in ferries, which isn’t odd, since we’re referring to our Alaska Marine Highway System. Ferry travel is freedom, education, health, business, food, family, all part of living a good life. Taking away or reducing the ferries is a way of shouting at us island folk: We don’t believe in your communities! Well, we believe in our communities and we’ll keep fighting for our Alaska Marine Highway System. We need to ask our community organizers, legislatures, tribal and state agencies, cities, what we can do to help make the ferry system thrive. We believe in our ferries.
Our island is full of learning experiences
There are always new things to learn about island living. This year I learned about popweed, one of the first edibles to grow in spring. Popweed is the orangish/brown seaweed that grows on the boulders and rocks along the shoreline in Southeast Alaska. Spring will make its way to our island, and I will take children and my elder dad harvesting, making memories and experimenting with seaweed preparation and recipes. Harvesting popweed is the perfect introduction to spring. What new things do you hope to learn this year?
An island of hooligans
This year I reconfirmed Wrangellites are a bunch of hooligans. Hooligan connects us to place. Wrangell hooligan are an essential part of our island’s gift economy. We are part smoked fish, part grease, part milt, eggs, and river sand. Smoked hooligan is part of me, our town, and our community. What specific food connects you to your place in the world, your neighborhood, your family?
Some lessons stay with you
I recently learned to harvest devil’s club with my daughter Vivian Mork Yéilk’. My grandchildren sometimes use the phrase, “This is the best day of my life,” when we’re doing something fun together. That’s how I felt about the days our family sat alongside the narrow dirt roads, scraping devil’s club thorns from the long stalks. I can still smell devil’s club juice on my hands. This is something I want to do again with my family. What do you want to learn to harvest with your family and friends this year?
Learn to balance an island world
This past year I learned that harvesting sea lettuce teaches us about balance. Sea lettuce thrives in the intertidal zone. It loves the Inside Passage’s sheltered bays. Because we live in a rain forest, we’re seeing observable changes in our climate, so we’ve had to harvest accordingly. Too much wind and rain can batter the delicate seaweed. Too much sun can make it rot. Harvesting sea lettuce teaches us island folk about balance. How will you try to walk in balance this year?
“Community” can mean many things
Wrangell island folk are Labrador tea drinkers. Actually, my favorite name for Labrador tea is storytelling tea. The tea is the story of us, of grandkids and Mummo (me) and Great-Grandpa and of harvesting for our community. By the time someone receives a small bag of dried tea, footprints have been sunk into bog, and small hands and large hands have worked together. A lot of stories go into that offering of a small bag of tea. Take an elder tea harvesting this year and enjoy a cup of storytelling tea together.
Share our island food with other critters
Our island’s wet coastal climate makes for great red huckleberries. Our patches are well kept secrets, though, because we don’t have as many red huckleberries as other places in Southeast Alaska. Our family loves red huckleberries, but we’re not alone. Ravens like the bright red berries and huckleberries are an important food for songbirds. Deer love to browse on the berries, leaves and stems. Red huckleberries are a significant part of the diet of bears, grouse, and squirrels too. Remember when harvesting this year don’t over-pick a spot so other critters can enjoy the berries too.
Island nature links us to one another
Porcupines link us to other island folk. When we speak of porcupines, we speak of dogs and wolves and trees, and the people who’re good at removing quills from our dogs’ muzzles. We speak of sustainable forests and how to keep the porcupine population from overrunning a place. We share photographs of porcupines in our backyard trees on Facebook. We speak about how to roast a porcupine, of how to harvest quills. Quills link me to my great-niece who makes jewelry from them. Wrangell island has a lot of porcupines. This year, take notice of the “normal” things around you that connect us.
Glaciers are part of island life
There are two prominent glaciers in my backyard: Shakes Glacier and LeConte Glacier. Glaciers have formed and unformed themselves around our small island, long before island folk were chipping glacier ice for beer. We’ve taken it for granted they’ll always be here but now we know better. Within the next 15 years, experts say Shakes Glacier will recede and separate from its sources, dividing into two glaciers that’ll be difficult to access. And recent exploration with sonar discovered underwater melting rates at nearby LeConte Glacier were a hundred times greater than originally estimated. Spend time with your glaciers this year. Learn about them, go see them. Time is precious.
So what did I learn about island living in 2019?
Yes, our island holds onto traditions and beliefs, but when some things divide us, the land is capable of weaving us into a story we wrap around ourselves. Island folks band together for community runs and walks and someone forms a Facebook group to share food. Another Wrangellite starts a community fund to help with fellow islanders’ funeral costs. We coach and referee school sport teams, we start a chess club, advocate for LGBTQ, eat community moose meat dinners together and help with the Senior Center because their funding was cut. We fix up the shooting range and plow snow from the bike path. We protest against mining up the Stikine River. We give money to our radio station and donate a kitchen table to a new couple in town just starting out. We buy a burger at J&Ws for a fundraiser to support a disabled newborn returning home and we gather at the Fourth of July Queen booths to eat deep fried halibut and coleslaw. We decorate holiday trees to support the local hospice and we hold benefit golfing tournaments in the rainforest among stealthy ravens. These things we do together to form an island, Ḵaachx̱aana.áakʼw. Our island lives are 30 miles long and 14 miles at the widest, and in the shape of a snow goose with wings outstretched, flying to the Stikine River delta. What will make us an island this year?
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Vivian Mork Yéilk’.