At the end of June, herring returned to Auke Bay to spawn in significant numbers for the first time in more than 20 years - and though the ultimate success of the eggs remains to be seen, it's a promising sign for those working to increase herring's abundance in Lynn Canal and Southeast Alaska.
Each year on July 4, Juneau and Douglas kids hurtle down Saint Anne's Avenue in cars (perhaps) of their own making. Some speed straight down the course in less than 15 seconds. Some take the paths less traveled, bouncing between the tires that line the route. Some look so serious their faces could belong behind Nascar steering wheels. Some look terrified. Regardless, for most that participate, the Soapbox Challenge becomes a tradition.
The floor of the evergreen forest surrounding Tutka Bay Lodge was covered with ferns and blooming dogwood during the recent Post-Conference Workshop of the Katchemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Renowned essayist Scott Russell Sanders admired them as we walked with him along the boardwalk that connected the lodge to our writing classroom – a renovated skow named Widgeon, high aground in a nearby cove. For those of us from Southcentral Alaska, a carpet of ferns and dogwood is a familiar sight. But for Sanders, who hails from the hardwood forests of the Midwest, they were something new. Which made them the perfect inspiration for the two days we spent together exploring the meaning of “home” and our place in the natural world, and ways to convey these themes through writing.
Kirsten Dixon (standing), co-owner of Tutka Bay Lodge and generous host of the two-day post-conference workshop, visits with participants and presenter Scott Russell Sanders (3rd on R) and his wife Ruth (4th on R).The ten of us attending the workshop were a diverse group - from highly experienced published authors and writing professors, to scientists hoping to address their topics more personally and creatively, to those of us from varied backgrounds who aspire simply to write more, and to write better. Many of us probably would not characterize ourselves as nature writers, but I doubt that any of us left the sessions untouched by Sanders’s deep concern for our beleaguered planet or his commitment to protecting and healing it through the best means he has to offer: the written word. Sanders, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University in Bloomington, has published a dozen collections of essays, eight children’s books, five novels, and two short story collections over his 40-year career, and received several prestigious writing awards. It’s safe to say he could write and publish on almost any topic. Yet at this stage in his life, he says, “it’s all about the earth.” He has written extensively about the burden our modern ways are placing on future generations and the planet itself. But he believes we can still change our trajectory. His essay collection Hunting for Hope: A Father’s Journeys (1998) came about after a heated argument with his son, who criticized him for writing pieces that gave young people cause for little but despair. Accepting his son’s challenge, he tried to offer answers to those who would ask “why have hope for the earth?” Many of his writings since, including The Force of Spirit (2000), A Private History of Awe (2006) and A Conservationist Manifesto (2009), have continued to examine this question.
Scott Russell SandersTo Sanders, stories play a powerful role in fostering hope by building our connections to place. All places have stories that need to be told, yet folklorists tell us that in modern times the U.S. is the “least storied” place in the world. Many of the names and legends significant to Native Americans have been lost, and today countless places with rich natural and human histories have no writers, painters, photographers, or artists of any kind to embrace and speak for them. The absence of story makes it easier to dismiss the deep, often unexpressed ties we have to the places we love. We may fear being too sentimental if we reveal our intimate connections. But we should take the risk, Sanders urged: “Sentimentality is asking the reader to feel an emotion your story hasn’t earned,” he said, “it’s not the inclusion of emotion in your story.” And he paraphrased the late poet Richard Hugo: “Any writing that doesn’t at least risk sentimentality isn’t trying hard enough.” It’s better to be honest about emotional attachment and take the risk than to be so fearful you don’t delve in.
Nature writers are often criticized, Sanders says, for “not caring about people.” But to him the health of the earth and the health of people are inextricably linked. And the fact that a writer focuses on the environment – or on poverty, war, or any other topic - doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t care about other things.
“You can’t write about everything,” he says.
Sanders conveyed several other messages that stood out for me during the far-ranging conversations we exchanged in the tight circle of chairs and pillows at the Widgeon. First, that the impulse to write is a gesture of generosity, and begins with the pleasure of making something you can give. [Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (1983)] Second, that the stories we receive are not given to us for ourselves, but for our people; our visions must be shared. [John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (1932)] And third, that writing can help us re-instill the language of “common good” to the national discourse. While there has always been a tension between individual and collective interests in our country, the language of “common good” that dominated during the founding generations has been largely replaced over the past century with language exalting the “individual.” This undermines our sense of shared responsibility for each other and the land we love. [Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985)]
Ultimately, Sanders says, what writers have in common is a feeling for language and a sense of what moves them. All writers – whatever their genre or focus – should take their writing in the direction that has energy for them and offers new growth. Looking out the windows of the Widgeon to the dappled light of the forest, he put it this way:
"Ask yourself, where are the spruce tips?”
Barbara Hood is a retired attorney and co-owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. in Anchorage. She is a huge fan of 49 Writers and credits the organization with both expanding her own writing interests and creating a community from which all Alaskan writers can draw support and inspiration.
Every Thursday at 6:00 pm at the Downtown Public Library This is a study group facilitated by language learners who are dedicated to the goal of revitalization of the Tlingit language. The group is free of charge and open to everyone in the community. No previous language experience is required or expected from anyone. Join in […]
Each week throughout the summer, the Juneau Public Libraries, in collaboration with the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries and local businesses, award young readers various prizes for writing book reviews about their favorite summer reads. During the third week of this fun Summer Reading Program activity, the Juneau Public Libraries received 51 different book […]
Download this awesome poster! You’ll never get bad advice from three adult men wearing pug shirts, so go ahead and submit your short film for the JUMP 2014 Summer Film Fest! Deadline is July 10 or so. Screening at the Gold Town Nickelodeon July 17-20. See the guidelines and submission form for more info.
An illustration by Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal in Hannah Lindoff’s children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast”
Juneauite author Hannah Lindoff first children’s book “Mary’s Wild Winter Feast” is hot off the press. Illustrated by artists Nobu Koch and Clarissa Rizal, both Hannah and Clarissa will be doing a book-signing the weekend of “Celebration” at 11am on Friday, June 13th at the Juneau Public Library. Come on by and buy a copy of the book!
Clarissa heads into the cat skan to check for internal bleeding…
The assessment after the bike accident (that happened on May 12th) revealed that my front brake system on my bike had gone awry causing the brakes to clamp down on the front tire which hurdled me over the bike, bouncing me on the cement street and hit my head on the curb! At the urgency of my youngest daughter, she took me to the emergency room to make sure I had formed no blood clots or bleeding on the brain. (And do you know how many thousands of dollars that cost!?)
To her relief, I was clean of harm…BUT my body suffered multiple bruises and I had sprained both hands/wrists badly, especially my left hand…I have not been able to do anything with my left hand except that although still painful, I can at least WEAVE! Slowly but surely I can weave as long as I take breaks to not cause additional strain.
I ice-packed the sprain the first four days to reduce the swelling. In addition, to assist with the brusing and a speedier recovery, I used the famous “Skookum” salve made by Harlena Warford in Hoonah, Alaska that you may buy on line from www.gutsuwu.com. I swear by this product. I applied this salve to all my bruised areas and to my bruised brow and face; it was amazing to see and feel the results!
And for continual circulation and support, I used my trusty “Incredibrace” for both wrists—I travel with these companions; they have been life-savers over the past year!
I am reminded every day how precious an artists hands are!
X-raying painful hand/wrist for broken bones!—there were none!