on the outside looking in

This past weekend I was in Sitka, AK to surprise my grandparents with a big family gathering for Christmas.  All of their children were there, and all of the grandchildren, save one, were also present.  I wonder what it must be like to be in the December of one's life, surrounded by the family you created.  I feel blessed beyond words for this family.  So many families are plagued by death, illness, family feuds, divorce, or some other schism which has fractured the family and made family gatherings less than joyous.  While our family is certainly not immune to familial strife, there is an overwhelming sense of love and peace amidst the multi-generational gathering.  It is a shame that I missed out on so many years of my grandparents, due to being young and not understanding their significance and fascinating lives, as well as living a plane flight away which limits visits significantly.

Now they're into their 90's and I wish I had as many years ahead with them as I have behind.  I'm seeking out ways which I can continue to commune with them, even if they end up passing on soon, through taking the baton on their projects.  Both my grandma and grampa were rather creative people.  My grandma hand illustrated dozens of publications, from official nurse midwife childbirth guides for remote native Alaskan villages to yearly christmas cards and family announcements.  My grampa carved bowls, spoons, plant vases, napkin holders, and could make nearly anything.  For one of my childhood christmases he made me a mobile closet for my american girl doll (Samantha).  Another christmas he gave us all scale models of a dog sled which he made exactly how a full size version would be made, only about a food long.Their house is full of his little boxes and spoons, and so is mine.  As I sit here typing, a plant grows out of one of his hanging basket containers, decorated with carved Tlingit designs on each side.

I've been wanting to start carving spoons, as he did for decades, and recently found a pair of salad utensils at the thrift store to start experimenting with carving.  One of his "famous" designs is a pair of salad utensils with a fish carved into the end of each handle.  Every member of my family has one.  I received mine as a wedding gift and he's made ones for the other grandkids too, just in case he doesn't live long enough to see their weddings.  While in Sitka I found a whole box of salad spoons and forks he carved from scratch.  In the box were two drawings my grandma had done which were intended to be wood burned into the handles.  A dog sled for one of the set, and a native in a kayak spearing a whale for the other.  Grampa let me take them with me to finish.  His eyes are now too bad to carve any more.

Coming back to Tacoma I feel a little bit like a fish out of water.  I've never been able to shake the feeling that my home will always be the Last Frontier.  Going back is like sinking into the warm water of a most perfect hot spring, enveloping me with the feeling that I am where I have always belonged.  Perhaps it is more fierce because Alaska truly does flow through my veins.  I didn't grow up anywhere near the village where my people spent centuries fishing, but in many ways Alaska feels like one big village, especially in comparison to living "Outside."  I never thought much about that term, which all Alaskans are familiar with, which describes anywhere outside of Alaska, usually the Lower 48.  But when you are "Outside" and you come back to Alaska it does feel a bit like you were outside in the cold and you are stepping back into the warmth of your cozy home.