In which I encounter the Raven

Welcome to Week One of my sabbatical. Or week One and One-Eighth, to be exact, but exactitude is over-rated, or will be by the end of Week Sixteen. I was talking with a friend some weeks ago about blogging on this four-month sojourn and she likened it to a treasure-hunt, and occasional blog posts to the coins I might toss out along the way. I like it.

IMG_1561I’ve been in Anchorage these past several days, where a frequent topic of conversation is the weather. As in “You’re from Portland? I bet spring is so much nicer there than it is here. Come later next time.” And “Just wait. In a few days all of these bare trees are going to POP into leaf and blossom.” I don’t mind it the way it is; bare birches and all sorts of trees with barely perceptible buds of promise.

IMG_1558My mother and I came to visit my amazing and fabulous uncle Vic and his lovely wife Jane who is The Greatest Hostess in the world. Vic has just published an autobiography which, as one of the reviewers says, reads like a thriller. It has been wonderful to read his stories, hear his stories, and share space with him and Jane in their house that backs up against these trees. We have been to the Anchorage museum, gone for lovely walks among the birches thick along a snow-melt creek, and eaten lots of great food.

Alaska is an amazing place; whenever I am here it inspires me in a dozen different directions. A highlight of the museum was the Portrait Alaska exhibit of photos by James Clarke Mishler. The range of faces and scenes give a phenomenal, vast picture of what it means to be of this place.

Whenever I am here I wonder: what is my Alaska story? How do I fit into a place like this, that is another world and yet quintessentially American, where my only living blood relative (other than my dear brother) on my father’s side of the family has made his amazing life?

Yesterday at the museum I encountered, again, the Raven, a familiar symbol in native folklore and mythology through the Pacific Northwest. In some native cultures, the Raven is the Creator; the sphere in the Raven’s mouth is the world. In other cultures, the Raven is not the Creator, but the Great Organizer. (I love that!) In some contexts, the Raven is both Creator and Trickster God. (Kinda like the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus, right?) What I didn’t know until I bought a postcard and did some research, was how pervasive the Raven is throughout the world, not only in the Pacific Northwest. I love the postcard because there is the Raven with Edgar Allen Poe, there is the Raven on the sail of a viking ship, there is the Raven on medieval battle flags. And much, much, more (you can look it up).

So, thanks to this 1995 hand-colored linocut by Evon Zerbetz, the Raven became, for me, this week, the connective tissue between my own world and this Alaska world. IMG_1560