Monthly Archives: September 2011

Canines

Now that the bear’s teeth are painted on the Baranof pole, the canines I thought were missing can be seen easily.  Canine means “pointed tooth,” comes from Latin “caninus,” meaning “of the dog.”  Hair of the dog that bit you?  You can say you’ve come down with Caninus.  A canine tooth is also called a cuspid, dogtooth, or fang.  
A mother brown bear from these woods, protecting a cub, charged one of my neighbors last season, according to friends here.  The neighbor tried to escape the charge but fell to the ground.  The mother bear came on, overtook her, and opened her great jaw.  She gently squeezed the fallen woman’s arm with her canines.  A little warning nip.
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Bear

Bear in the northwest legends are powerful and human-like.  You can marry them if you like.  A brown bear as dark as many black bears–except for his blond ears–has been fishing the stream out my window, scooping up pink salmon as if his hand were a fork, and tossing back the ones that don’t pass the sniff test.  He sits in the creek when it’s deep from the tide “like a man sitting in a hot tub” (P. Christo).

This wooden figure has bear-like ears but no canines.  The canines are optional, according to some books.  “The minimal tail of the bear is generally ignored.”

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Frog

Frog in one’s throat, fine as frog hair, frog on a musical instrument, spring peepers in ditches and drainages!  The frogs in Pacific Northwest totem poles generally “display a wide mouth with no teeth.  They have no ears, but they do have large round eyes and toed feet” (Hilary Stewart).

Yesterday I checked on the progress of the Baranof frog, coincidentally when a cruise ship of over 2,000 tourists had stopped in Sitka Sound.  The gentleman repainting the pole, a man I hadn’t yet seen working there, looked carefully at my hiking shoes when I rushed up in the rain and remarked, “You’re making great progress.”  As if my lack of rubber boots identified me clearly as one just off the boat.

“We’re only painting it,” he said, puffing on his stub of cigarette, thinking I suppose that I believed he was actually still carving the pole.

These photos show the Baranof frog receiving more paint throughout the week.  After I took this last one, a woman from the ship also photographed it from the same angle, realizing I guess that it was one of the easiest faces on the pole to shoot.  “You’re living up here?” she asked me.  I explained my month-long residency plans.  She in turn described life on the cruise.  “You eat, and eat, and eat, then you sleep because you’ve eaten so much, then you eat some more.”  I remarked that they must need the rest, remembering my own snoozing over a book on the ferry ride up.

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Sound

September cruise ship shuttles sightseers to the town of Sitka.
There’s the auditory meaning of the word, and the connotation that something sound is in good condition.  There’s also sound as in body of water, an embayment too deep, wide, or rugged to be called a cove.  Sitka Sound is that kind of place, an opening to the North Pacific with a clear, cold surface so alluring one could watch the comings and goings of whales, sea lions, cormorants, eagles, and murrelets all day.

The Baranof Totem Pole undergoes rehabilitation: removal of bolts that once held it together, repair of cracks that open in the wood after years of standing in the weather.

Frog gets a new coat of paint during the Baranof Totem Pole rehabilitation.

Pink, or humpback, salmon use their last strength to swim to the streambank after spawning.

Eagle from the George Benson designed raven-and-eagle canoe in downtown Sitka.

No Thoroughfare Bay off Sitka Sound during a warm autumn wind smells of spruce and alder.

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Opening

I was born in Portland, Oregon, a city I hardly recognize now.  It hums to the engine of movement: cars, planes, bikes, pedestrians.  Paul and I walked much of the downtown, enjoying the corner gardens, renewed brick buildings, curbside sculpture, and wide sidewalks.  It’s a city of detail–utility hole covers worthy of art shows, lovingly detailed signs, windows filled with ‘zines we’d need weeks to read.  Pallet gardens decorated the breakfast room at the Ace Hotel.  Early morning grilling had commenced outside the Whole Foods.

The word port takes many meanings: the larboard side of a vessel, a city’s opening, a very sweet, strong wine.  Portland is the opening to a great land, the northwest corner of my country, the end of the outbound journey for Lewis and Clark, the mouth of a massive river that churns at bridge piers and dams.  It was also the portal for me to enter this life in a downtown hospital, barely waiting for my mother to step off the elevator and into the birthing room.  Four a.m.   

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