Here the waves rise high and fall on the icy
seas and white caps chew the driftwood logs of
hemlock and toss them wildly upon sandy beaches.
The steep mountains rise straight from the sea
floor as the December sun shines through the dark
clouds that hang heavy with snow near the top peaks.
Blue icebergs drift slowly down the narrow channel.
This volcanic island is one of many that are scattered
along the coast of Southeastern Alaska.
On the South end of the island is another
tiny island and on it stands an old lighthouse,
a shambles. It has a curving staircase and an
old broken lamp that used to beckon to ships at
sea. Wild grasses and goosetongue cover the ground
and close by Sitka blacktail feed and gray gulls
circle. There is a mountain stream nearby and
in the fall the salmon spawn at its mouth. The
black bear and grizzly scoop them up with great
sweeps of their paws, their sharp claws gaffing
the silver bodies.
Walking North along the deer trail from the
South end of the island are remnants of the Treadwell
Mine. It was the largest gold mine in the world.
In the early 1900's the tunnel they were digging
underneath Gastineau Channel caved in and the sea
claimed her gold. The foundry still stands a rusty
The dining halls are vacant, broken white
dishes are strewn inside. The tennis court that
was built for the employees is overgrown with hops
that have climbed over the high fence and grown
up between cracks in the cement floor. The flume
still carries water rushing in it half-hidden in
the rain-forest which is slowly reclaiming the
land. The beach here by the ocean is fine white
sand, full of mica, gold and pieces of white dishes.
Potsherds for future archeologists, washed clean,
smooth and round by the circular waves of this
deep, dark green water.
Down past the old gold mine is Cahill's house,
yellow and once magnificent. They managed the mine. The long staircase is boarded up and so
are the large windows. The gardens are wild, irises
bud in the spring at the end of the lawn, and in
the summer a huge rose path, full of dark crimson
blooms frames the edge of the sea; strawberries
grow nearby dark pink and succulent. Red raspberries
grow further down the path in a tangle of profusion;
close by is a pale pink rose path, full of those
small wild roses that smell fragrant. An iron-
barred swing stands tall on the edge of the beach.
I swing there and at high tide I can jump in the
ocean from high up in the air. There is an old
tetter-totter too. And, it is like finding the
emperor's palace abandoned.
There is a knoll behind the old house called
Grassy Hill. It is covered with a blanket of hard
crisp snow. In the spring it is covered with sweet
white clover and soft grasses. It is easy to find
four leaf clovers there, walking below the hill
toward the beach is a dell. It is a small clearing
in between the raspberry patch and tall cottonwood
trees. It is a good place for a picnic. It is
a short walk again to the beach and off to the
right is a small pond, Grassy Pond. It is frozen
solid and I skate on it. In the summer I swim
here because it is warmer than the ocean. In the
spring I wade out, stand very still and catch baby
flounders and bullheads with my hands; I am fast
and quick and have good eyes. Flounders are bottom
fish that look like sand.
Walking North again over a rise I come to
a field filled with snow; in the spring it is a
blaze of magenta fireweed. Often I will sit in
it surrounded by bright petals and sketch the mountains
beyond. Nearby are salmonberry bushes which have
cerise blossoms in early spring; by the end of
summer, golden-orange berries hang on their green
branches. The bears love to eat them and so do
I. But the wild strawberries are my first love,
then the tangy raspberries. I don't like the high-
bush cranberries, huckleberries, currants or the
sour gooseberries that grow in my mother's garden
and the blueberries are only good for pies, jams
and jellies. I like the little ligonberries that
grow close to the earth in the meadow, but they
are hard to find.
Looking across this island I see Mt. Jumbo,
the mountain that towers above the thick Tongass forest of pine, hemlock and spruce. It was a volcano
and is rugged and snow-covered. I hike up the
trail leading to the base of the mountain. The
trail starts out behind a patch of blueberry bushes
and winds lazily upwards crossing a stream where
I can stop and fish for trout and eat lunch; on
top is a meadow. Spring is my favorite season
here. The yellow water lilies bud on top of large
muskeg holes. The dark pink blueberry bushes form
a ring around the meadow with their delicate pink
blossoms. The purple and yellow violets are in
bloom and bright yellow skunk cabbage abounds, the
devil's club are turning green again and fields
of beige Alaskan cotton fan the air, slender stalks
that grow in the wet marshy places. Here and there
a wild columbine blooms. It is here in these meadows
that I find the lime-green bull pine, whose limbs
grow up instead of down. Walking along the trail
beside the meadow I soon come to an old wooden
cabin. It is owned by the mine and consists of
two rooms, a medium-sized kitchen with an eating
area and wood table and a large bedroom with four
World War II army cots and a cream colored dresser.
Nobody lives here anymore, but hikers, deer hunters,
and an occasional bear use the place. Next door
to the cabin is the well house which feeds the
flume. The flume flows from here down the mountain
side to the old mine and power plant. An old man
still takes care of the power plant. He lives
in a big dark green house with his family and the
power plant is all blue-gray metal. I can stand
outside and listen to the whirl of the generators.
I like to walk in the forest on top of the old
flume and listen to the sound of the water rushing
past under my bare feet.
In the winter the meadow is different: all
silent, still and snow-covered. The trees are
heavy with weighty branches and icicles dangle
off their limbs, long, elegant, shining. All the
birds are gone but the little brown snowbirds and
the white ptarmigan. The meadow is a field of
white and I can ski softly down towards the sea.
The trout stream is frozen and the waterfall quiet,
an ice palace behind crystal caves. The hard smooth-
ness of the ice feels good to my touch, this frozen
water, this winter.
Down below at the edge of the sea is yet another
type of ice. Salt water is treacherous; it doesn'tfreeze solid, it is unreliable and will break under
my weight. Here are the beached icebergs that
the high tide has left. Blue white treasures,
gigantic crystals tossed adrift by glaciers. Glisten-
ing, wet, gleaming in the winter sun, some still
half-buried in the sea, drifting slowly out again.
And it is noisy here, the gray gulls call to each
other, circling overhead. The ravens and crows
are walking, squawking along the beach. The Taku
wind is blowing down the channel, swirling, chill,
singing in my ear. Far out across the channel
humpback whales slap their tails against the water.
On the beach kelp whips are caught in wet clumps
of seaweed as the winter tide rises higher and
higher. The smell of salty spray permeates everything
and the dark clouds roll in from behind the steep
Suddenly it snows. Soft, furry, thick flakes,
in front of me, behind, to the sides, holding me
in a blizzard of whiteness, light: snow.
This is a piece my grandmother had published in the 70's and I was lucky enough to find it. She passed on a few years ago and I miss her with all of my heart. She was my rock and my foundation, my counselor, mentor and best friend. I can still hear the windchimes that gently twinkled on her front porch, and smell the scent of the earth on my hands as I helped her **** the rose garden. I am glad that she is finally free of the pain that entombed her crippled body for nearly half of her life, but I wish I could hear her voice one last time. So thank God she was a writer, because when I read her poems and stories, I can! She wasn't a perfect woman, but she was the strongest, smartest, most courageous woman I have ever known.