Tlingit Stamp, James Michener’s “Alaska”

Several years ago on an Alaskan vacation James and I spent some time at a historical site in Juneau where we learned more about the Tlingit nation. They are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, and the art from their hands features some of the most iconic motifs associated with native culture. We spoke at length with a young woman who was working to preserve the language by teaching it to younger members of the community. She was most impressive with her connection to the past but also a commitment for the future of her people.

This week for the first time the US Postal Service debuted a stamp designed by an Alaskan native. Tlingit and Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl is a well-established working artist who now will be even better known in the nation. He is also a teacher and social designer with Juneau-based Alaska Native arts nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute. 

Worl’s forever stamp is titled “Raven Story” and takes one of the signature characters in Tlingit lore as its subject. The stamp immortalizes a thrilling moment from the story of Raven setting free the sun.

“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama,” Worl said. “The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars. In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape — transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.”

The alignment of this stamp event and a book I am reading is matched perfectly. James Michener’s character Raven-heart of the Tlingit nation in Alaska creates the mood and historical backdrop for this recent event being placed in a richer field of understanding.

James Michener Makes His Mark On Madison Isthmus With “Alaska”

The year-long pandemic and the need to be apart from others who do not reside in our home has had one positive outcome. While always an avid reader I find myself over the past many months venturing into the covers of books by authors I had not tried before. Between Amazon, the online use of Libby via the library, and now a Kindle there is no shortage of ways to access anything I wish to read. But what about those books that, for whatever reason, I have not considered holding in my hands?

A Facebook reader of this site, who left Wisconsin in the past four years to live in Cologne, Germany was commenting back and forth in messenger with me about a variety of topics when we landed on books. When I asked her favorite authors among the names she offered was James Michener.

“I have never read any of his work”

“What! You love books and well-written sentences and you haven’t read Michener?”

“Where would you have me start” (Since there are roughly 40 books in his listing)

She took about four seconds to type out her response.

“Alaska”

This week I started the tome which pushes to nearly 900 pages. Two things, however, struck me at once. First, his almost sly way of lulling a reader into the pages. Not with a somewhat modern event where Alaska becomes a state or mineral wealth is located deep underground. No, we trek far back in time to the earth’s plates moving and grinding and uplifting over and around the nucleus rock formation of that far northern land. In human terms, we would be talking about something that doesn’t even have eyelids, yet. The geologic birth of Alaska was presented with words that makes one read portions twice as it is so artfully done.

The second aspect of the book that took me by surprise is that Michener writes single sentences that are, at times, 30 plus words. Modern writers could not, and current publishers would never allow based on mass-market sales, for such expansive writing to occur. When my reader in Europe said the sentences would be loved, she was correct. They are gems.

I will add only one other note about the opening chapters that intrigued me regarding his style of writing. In one the death of a mammoth is viewed from the eyes of a matriarch in the animal herd. In the next chapter, we meet in Siberia a starving group of people 29,000 years ago who migrate across the land amass to what will be Alaska. It is there we then see, from the human perspective, the same sequence of events that land them food and fur that will last for most of the year.

My print version of the book arrives in the mail this week, as Libby will want their digital copy back long before I am finished. It is the type of book that–at least from this reader’s perspective–is not only an epic tale of a place and various peoples who made their lives on the land, but also the ability of an author to so adroitly craft an engaging story.

That is the type of book that warms my heart. I am so pleased to have had a conversation from abroad that alerted me to an author to help make this time of pandemic less trying.

Fran Tate Brought Bubbly Personality To WGN Airwaves Via Barrow, Alaska

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There are many reasons to have known and loved Fran Tate.  I came to know her through radio broadcasts during late nights on WGN as Steve and Johnnie talked with her from Barrow, Alaska.  When it was announced she would be on the air there was no sleeping until Fran had said good bye.  There was no way I was going to miss what was happening way up north.

The reason so many warmed to her was the fact she was just so darn interesting.  She spent decades on the North Slope, first working as an engineering draftsman, then running her own water delivery company and ultimately opening the wildly popular Pepe’s North of the Border, a Mexican restaurant that developed a cult following in Utqiagvik and around the world.

I would always prop my pillow up in bed and wait for her phone conversation with ‘him and her’ from Chicago as there was no telling in advance what Fran might warm to as her topic.  Her life was so packed full of ‘coming and going’ one wondered if she ever slept.  She even had her own radio show on a local Barrow station!

I loved her tales of polar bears walking down the streets of Barrow when the nights never ended, being so far north of the equator.  It was serious business to have these lumbering giants meander about, but when Fran told it there was humor to be found.  When she told of how snow would leak through any crack in a door when the winds would howl radio listeners would just snuggle further under a blanket as Fran told the perfect winter story.

When large groups of tourists would fill her restaurant I found it enjoyable to learn how every ingredient had to be brought in through deliveries from afar, raising the cost to run her famed business.  In later years when fire swept through the place she clearly loved there were no dry eyes from those who knew and loved her.

I was reading my online news feed this week when I learned that the bubbly personality was gone.  Though I had not heard her voice in years her laugh came back to my mind and a smile spread on my face.  That was the effect Fran had on people.

I am glad to have known her just a bit via radio.  She clearly had something special when it came to connecting with others.

Thanks Fran.

Godspeed.

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Is Mark Begich Smoking Something Other Than Salmon?

This is perhaps the most improbable candidate and outcome that can be envisioned for November.  But after all we have seen why should this not also be added to the things to be monitored?  Let us be honest and say at the outset the deranged loony right-wingers just can not accept that they were defeated in a number of statewide elections in Alaska.  Their time would be better spent watching ice melt or betting on which neighbor will be the next one chased by a polar bear rather than think Senator Murkowsi is about to be bested by a Libertarian in a general election. Someone is smoking something in Alaska and I do not think it is salmon!

Running a last-minute, write-in campaign for Senate might seem like a crazy idea for Mark Begich.

But confidants of the former senator say he really might enter the Alaska race, convinced that the example of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s own successful write-in campaign in 2010 and the unusual dynamic of this year’s ballot give him an opportunity to win.  

Murkowski was expected to cruise to re-election against an underfunded Democratic opponent and a handful of other third-party opponents, including Libertarian nominee Joe Miller.

Murkowski lost to Miller in the 2010 GOP Senate primary but defeated him in the general election thanks to an improbable write-in campaign. She appeared to have avoided him in 2016, until Miller was unexpectedly added to the ballot last week as the Senate nominee for the Libertarian Party.

Miller’s candidacy convinced Begich he could win, according to Lottsfeldt, who has also advised Murkowski. The Republican vote would split between Murkowski and Miller, the thinking goes, while Begich unifies Democrats and left-leaning independents.

“All of a sudden, you see all of [Murkowski’s] votes on the right dissipating,” Lotssfeldt said. “So she needs votes on the left, but now the left is going … why not vote for one of our own?”

More Problems In Alaska Due To Global Warming

Still there are those who want to wish that climate change is not taking place.

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For seven decades, the Alaska Highway has mesmerized adventure-seeking travelers. In one breathtaking stretch through the Yukon, glacier lakes and rivers snake through aspen forests and rugged mountains that climb into the clouds.

In recent years, though, a new sight has been drawing motorists’ attention, too, one they can spot just a few feet from their cars’ tires. Bumps and cracks have scarred huge swathes of the road, with some fissures so deep a grown man can jump in and walk through them. Scientists say they’re the crystal-clear manifestation that permafrost — slabs of ice and sediment just beneath the Earth’s surface in colder climes — is thawing as global temperatures keep rising.

In some parts of the 1,387-mile (2,232 kilometer) highway, the shifting is so pronounced, it has buckled parts of the asphalt. Caution flags warn drivers to slow down, while engineers are hard at work concocting seemingly improbable solutions: inserting plastic cooling tubes or insulation sheets, using lighter-colored asphalt or adding layers of soccer-ball sized rocks — fixes that are financially and logistically daunting.

At the time of its construction, the highway was a show of American ingenuity and determination during World War II. In March 1942, just months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army hastily began to build a road linking Alaska, another exposed Pacific outpost, through Canada to the lower 48 states. Seven months later it was opened, providing a key supply line in case of invasion.

Today the highway serves as the main artery connecting the “Last Frontier” with Canada and the northwestern U.S., bringing tourists to Alaska cruise ships; food, supplies and medicine to remote towns; and equipment to oil fields and mines that are the region’s lifeblood.

Can Mark Begich Hold Democratic Senate Seat In Alaska?

Running with a known name may not be enough to carry Mark Begich over the finish line on Election Night.

Mark Begich, on the other hand, has a very Alaskan story to tell. In October 1972, his father, Alaska’s sole member of the House of Representatives, was on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau that disappeared. Partly because House Majority Leader Hale Boggs Sr. was also on the plane, service members from three military branches relentlessly searched mountainous terrain for 39 days. The two congressmen, along with Begich aide Russell Brown and the pilot, were eventually declared dead; their bodies were never recovered. (Ted Stevens used to joke that plane crashes were “the occupational hazard of Alaska politics”; he died on a flight four years ago, after surviving one in 1978 that took his first wife.)

It’s also fair to say that he has performed without distinction as a senator since winning a fluke election six years ago. He doesn’t have a trademark issue; no important bill bears his name. As a Democrat from a red state, he landed positions on both the commerce and appropriations committees, but according to one commerce staffer who claims to like Begich personally, he often arrives at meetings unprepared and asks questions whose answers lie in summaries just in front of him.

Alaska Primary Will Prove If Sarah Palin Has Any Leverage Left In Home State

Today will be exciting politically for two reasons.

First, the Alaska primary for U.S. Senate has long been factored into the mix over which party will control the senate after the mid-terms.  If Republicans nominate a teabagger chances are that the seat will remain in the hands of the incumbent Democrat.   While I want the Democrats to keep this seat, and retain control of the senate, I also want competent candidates from each party nominated since it is far too risky, given the state of our political landscape, to wish for the weakest and most silly candidate to win the primary.  Therefore sensible and concerned people around the nation should not be hoping that Joe Miller prevails tonight.

Which brings me to the second point, which concerns Sarah Palin and her desire to remain relevant.   Last week she endorsed Miller, who once before sought unsuccessfully the senate seat.  Though Miller won the 2010 primary he lost to a write-in campaign by Lisa MurkowskiI am hoping that the air-headed Palin finds herself once again looking from outside the tent of power once this election is decided.  I am hoping that common sense can be the ultimate victor tonight when Miller is sent packing along with the ‘I read everything’ Alaskan dimwit.

While I have no illusions that Dan Sullivan, the mainstream candidate in the primary, will be a liberal Republican I am assured given his background as an attorney and also as senior adviser to Secretary of State Condi Rice that he is intelligent.  And that matters to me a great deal given the issues we face, and the political logjam in Washington.  I trust thinking voters weigh that today when they cast a ballot in the primary.

Pictures From Our Vacation To “Seward’s Folly”

For most of my life, for whatever reason, I felt that visiting Alaska was not one of the things that would ever come true.  It seemed so far away, and so large that it would be a challenge to place it conveniently on the vacation list of places to travel.  So for 50 years it sat on my list of things ‘not accomplished’.  Until this year.

It turned out Alaska was not so far away with modern means of travel.  When James and I got there we found it to be adventuresome, and grand in the most heart-pounding ways imaginable.

It was 6:00 AM the second full day aboard the Miracle, a cruise ship operated by Carnival.  James was still sleeping, but with the same feeling kids have on Christmas morning I was up and peering out the balcony drapes to see where we were, and what was to be seen.  When we had went to bed the ocean reached out to the horizon.  But as the sun shined bright that morning I gasped at the sight that greeted me.  I at once threw open the drapes, and drenched the room in light as I pronounced, “James, you have to get up and see this!”

With a camera I captured from our balcony the view that makes caffeine a weak substitute when it comes to stimulants.   The air was fresh and brisk, the water smooth and serene as he headed towards one of those perfect places of God’s creation.

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We snapped over 900 pictures during the course of our trip that took us from Seattle to Skagway, and saw sights that left us smiling and peaceful.  But perhaps there was no more awe-inducing hours than when we traveled in the Tracy Arm Fjord, witnessed the countless waterfalls, the snow capped mountains,  and saw the blue ice of a glacier.   The following photos are a sampler of what we witnessed.

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At Skagway we took a train ride, and were swept up in the beauty of the mist, and fog.

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There is no doubt that Alaska has our name on it for a return trip.  Traveling like this is fun, but it also can be exhausting and takes a bit of a toll on the body.  But the spirit is renewed.

I was again reminded while on the trip of the quote from John Muir.  “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

How true those words are, and how much I feel them within.

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