We saw them first from a small knoll among the massive spruces and the cedars. They darkened the water of the creek, turning it reddish black and opaque where it widened and slowed among the rocks. “Are those all fish?” I said.
I grew up in Alaska, where one thing after another was constantly threatening my young life. Floatplanes stalled. Grizzlies ate our camping supplies. A moose wandering through our backyard got angrier than expected when a kid from school threw a rock at its knees. I wouldn’t say I was cavalier or brave about these experiences, but I didn’t need much time to recover from them. I was a child. My conclusion was almost always the same: I was still alive, and so was the rest of my family. We could all eat a granola bar and keep on fishing.
The airport lights flicker below, and Sig and I part in silence. I creep towards the women’s cabin. Orange and pink bleed into my view of Juneau; the July sun has been setting since we snuck away from camp two hours ago. Sunset will run into the 3 a.m. sunrise; camp will wake promptly at 7:30. I undress in the semi-dark, climb the damp wood rungs to my bunk and listen for my seven sleeping colleagues. We are all geology majors, Class of ’03, in sight of college graduation.
I bend to earth. My fingers trace woodworm tracks along a beach log. I hold a frog in my hands and see patterns of mottled green. I’m looking for patterns. My Southeast Alaska landscape is woven on spruce baskets. On my walks, I’m like the ancient weaver who noticed a tree’s shadow reflecting on water. She moved her hands as if she weaved air. Later, with spruce roots between her fingers, she weaved the-shadow-of-a-little-tree on her basket. In her ancient Tlingit belief, the shadow of a tree is evidence of the spirit inhabiting the tree. The spirit is woven in shadow pattern, which becomes the “spirit of the basket.” The Lingít word aas daayí means tree bark, yet also describes the physical shell of a human being—aas daayí. In the Tlingit worldview, personhood is connected to the spirit of the trees, that is, people and trees share the same skin.