Shortened History of Alaska
Shortened History of Alaska
When a spent salmon dies, having delivered it’s worth to the river and the surrounding country, it is a good thing. It is the way things have always worked here, the fish swarm, we catch some of them and the others complete their lives upstream. But more and more these days, images of dead fish only serve as reminders of the coming fate of these waters. Think about Upper and Lower Talarik Creeks and the other rivers of Bristol Bay that have the curse of gold in the earth around them. Killing a river is a crime against humanity yet people who pretend to be our leaders are joining with foreign mining companies to do just that.
When we flay the earth, heaping its skin aside and hauling away something we perceive as precious, we are doing something that cannot be undone. To do this against people’s homes and livelihoods is a crime against the most basic rights of human beings. The people who do these things are criminals.
In the book Nature and Madness, Paul Shepard, suggests that the way we live in this world, by destroying so much of what we claim to value, is not as much the result of greed or the lust for power as it is a kind of insanity, a mental problem that can be defined in terms of immaturity. We want to believe we are in control of nature and attacking the earth is a kind of temper tantrum similar to a child reacting to authority. Here in Alaska, things aren’t happening fast enough so our leaders have added impatience to this condition; they want to speed history along, hurry the end so everyone will know how it all turned out. But we already know how it will turn out; the process of destroying the salmon runs that took a couple hundred years in the lower 48 won’t take so long around here. We should be able to ruin this place in something like fifty years or so, nothing to it. Our leaders tell us that anything can be sacrificed for jobs and the “economy.” Now this has been expanded to include destroying salmon streams and even entire watersheds. We once believed government was going to protect us from this, stand between these people and our homes, not come with them to claim our livelihoods along with our heritage. We did not think then that government was our enemy, people posing as statesmen marginalizing the very people they’ve sworn to serve. I am sickened that we have been brought to this, the eve of beauty. Finally the back of nature is to be broken, we are going to destroy our rivers, and insanity has won.
Wendell Berry’s prediction of the marriage of money and politics has come true and we as individuals, along with our ideas about the land, have become inconsequential. Our only value now is merely that we be consumers of what that union produces. Here in Alaska, where big business and government are almost indistinguishable from each other, we have little protection from the greedy bungling that results. Instead of shielding us from the headlong plunge of the extraction industry, as we had hoped, government ignores us and even tries, in an especially ironic twist, to marginalize us further by claiming we are the ones influenced by outside ideas. These leaders are of little value to us. But I still think we should say our piece. We owe ourselves and Bristol Bay that much.
There is a passage in the House Warming chapter of Walden where Thoreau talks about the coming reign of poetry. “When the reign of poetry commences here…” the words carry a hint of the possibilities a race of poets might hold. I know how naive it must sound, to talk about using poetry in a battle against the kind of people who want to destroy our livelihoods, homes,and rivers, but I am not joking, I am as serious as the madness stalking them.
Maybe it is time to let poetry and art do what it is meant to do. We might discover ideas that could give us a chance. Somewhere there is a thought that can help, or one poem, one drawing, one real thing. What I’m asking you to do is something like this, go out to your place, and try to think. Go to your mountain and lie down in the lichen, or stand in your long grass meadow next to the wild plum orchard. Maybe it is a beach with storm-kelp strewn at the high water line and broken driftwood logs to sit on, but go there for a time and sit or lie down and imagine, let that place tell you what to do, find out the reason you chose that place.
Stop at the lake, the river, look at the long flowing shape that is a cloud of blackbirds and think about this. It is the time for poetry, the kind you eat and the kind that eats you, the kind that falls out of your mouth when you love. The way a person stands when they are so exhausted they should be lying down, or the way you felt when your dog died, (The boy sees the blood on the road, it spreads from beneath her brown coat, and behind him the cold revolver clicks…) It’s the poetry of sorrow you can’t change so you write it and someone comes and puts their hands on your face to know it with you. Do not say you left your gray scarf on the garden gate and it looks like snow, the fire in the hearth and so on, there is little time for that, say instead when father died, our brother was drunk and imitating Hank Williams Jr. when he helped to carry the casket to the graveyard, borrow the thought that covers the tractor crushing the killdeer’s eggs in the fields, or plowing down the teal’s nest.
Do not worry who is looking, go to your place and breathe with your mouth against the earth, something might happen. Set science and reason aside. Maybe you climb trees and knowof an oak with spreading branches and you can go up and watch over some meadow on moonlit nights and let the tree remember to you the days of rain, no rain, all the days of summer and winter and the lightning and snow and then you can tell us.
Perhaps you know of a plum orchard on the Pine Ridge where someone has dragged an old flower pattern sofa to watch the red-tail and the prairie chicken or you can spread out on the grass and the dirt. Think of Bristol Bay and the Black Hills, and how nothing has changed because when they found gold there and the Lakota would not sell, they took them anyway. Maybe, like Crazy Horse preparing for battle you can take the dirt pocket gophers have thrown up from their tunnels and rub it on yourself. I don’t know what to tell you, you will have the ideas. Maybe you remember a different pasture and lying in the grass as a child when the bob-o-link landed on a goldenrod that bent as he sang his own name, his own name, and then went off flying. Maybe you could find that pasture.
I’m doing this because I don’t know what else to do. In Bristol Bay, the people protest, yet our own governor and interconnected elected officials yuck up to the foreign strip-mining company. They are letting us down into the Third World. For God’s sake, it’s Bristol Bay. It’s already one of the last places. I don’t mean to bother you, I wish I wasn’t, but again, I don’t know what else to do. This is my point, maybe you do, maybe your place, your part of the world will tell you.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” It is possible there is still time to make things work and we can do the one small thing that will make the difference, and from which part of the future might be salvaged. If there is only the slightest chance of this, we should jump into the fray and do all we can, even if all is lost and we are doomed to be proven fools, we will have done it. Take what you learn and, when you are ready, send it to some of the people below, or to someone you know. Send them one of the fish if you can. They are reminders of a good thing.
Thinking that art and poetry might give us a voice that might compete I sent a packet containing these images and part I of the narrative to the people who claim to represent me in government. Mike Navarre, Kenai Peninsula Bourough Mayor, 144 North Binkley Street, Soldotna, AK 99669. Linda Murphy, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President, P.O. Box 4124 Soldotna, AK 99669. Kelly Wolf Kenai Peninsula Assemblyman, P.O.Box 2416 Kenai, AK 99611. Mike Chenault, Alaska State House of Representatives, State Capitol Room 208, Juneau, AK 99801. Peter Micciche, Alaska State Senate, State Capitol Room 125, Juneau AK, 99801. Cathy Giessel, Alaska State Senate, State Capitol Room 427, Juneau AK, 99801.
Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, Alaska State Capitol Building Third Floor, Juneau, AK 99801.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, P.O. Box 110001,Juneau, AK 99811-0001.
Congressman Don Young, 2314 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, 709 Hart Senate Building, Washington, D. C. 20510.
Senator Mark Begich, 144Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D. C. 20510.
Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington DC 20240.
Vice President Joe Biden, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20501.
President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500.
I asked them to help save Bristol Bay or give a good reason why it should be destroyed.
We would like you to respond to this packet. You could send your poem /art to one of these people, even one of the fish. Or maybe you know of another elected official who could use a gentle reminder from one of the people they work for. Think of it as a different way to approach things based on the idea that art doesn’t always have to be intellectual wallpaper but also can be useful. Tell us what you think and what you found out. You can send your report and ideas to one of us at the addresses below
Michael Dinkel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erica Watson: email@example.com
Also: Michael Dinkel
PO Box 2218
Soldotna, Alaska 99669
Or you can respond directly at The Shortened History of Alaska on the WordPress site michaeldinkel.com where we will post updates and the responses, unless you ask us not to.
This packet was created and mailed by the following people;
Images and text by Michael Raudzis Dinkel
Social Media insights and idea refinement by Erica Watson
Proofreading, and applied decorum by Karen Dinkel
Images printed by Ralph Sterling at Sterling Studios