Forest, Glaciers and Bears, Oh My!

The Mendenhall Glacier was just a few minutes out of Juneau.

Juneau is a beautiful place with green forests, blue sea, turquoise glaciers, big red salmon and black bears. Because the history in this town had more to do with gold mining than Alaska natives and we didn’t have any specific contacts there and we rented a car, we took the week to explore the natural glories all around us.

One thing though, it rained the whole week. It rained day and night. It rained so much that the rivers running off the glaciers were gray and silty and the backyard of our B & B flooded. It rained so much we had to wear rain pants to walk around town because you got splashed every time a bus went by. It rained so much that we half-expected to wake up and see the Ark floating by our second story window.

Jana’s cruise liner, Crystal Symphony, in Juneau.

Jana Ebeling, from our Taos congregation, hosted us onboard a cruise liner in Juneau.

Our first evening in town we dined with Jana Ebeling, from the Taos church, on her cruise ship. Jana gave us a tour of the elegant and enormous cruise ships we had been seeing all over Alaska followed by a wonderful dinner. What a treat, one we never expected to have.

Black bears at the Mendenhall glacier were fattening up on spawning Sockeye salmon.

Wayne really fell for glaciers. The Mendenhall glacier was just a few minutes from where we were staying and was set up for wildlife viewing. The black bears were very active feeding off the sockeye salmon that were spawning there. We watched one of them “fishing” below us, and another–a cub–up in a nearby tree.

We hiked some splendid, though soggy, trails through lush rainforest and did some combing and eagle watching along the beach. We also took a charter boat one day to see the fjord at Tracy Arm. The glacier was spectacular and our captain took us right up to the ice, huge chunks of which were floating all around us, occupied by hundreds of loafing harbor seals.

Our ship captain took us right up to the glacier at Tracy Arm.

                                        It was a beautiful week, if you could keep from getting discouraged by the rain (with an upbeat spirit southeast Alaskans call it “liquid sunshine”) but we were glad to get back to Seattle and a bit more summer (a strange thing to say of Seattle–some things are relative).

Soon after finding the end of the road near Juneau we flew back to Seattle for time with family.
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Sitka, capital of Old Alaska

A reconstructed blockhouse like those used by the Russians on a hill above Sitka harbor.

We flew from Ketchikan to Sitka on a lovely, clear evening, our good weather miraculously holding for almost a week. Our B&B had a view of the ocean but was a good walk from town so we walked into town every day for meals and to see the sights. Aside from one really drenching morning beachcombing later in the week (we found sand dollars and a purple starfish with 20 legs) we were warned away from all trails and walkways because of the BIG brown bears (inland they are called grizzlies).

“I’m not afraid of bears,” Carol said to all the dire warnings but the response was always the same. “You don’t know our bears! One thousand pounds of angry bear will give you the jolt of your life.”

Apparently, there had been a drought in Sitka which meant the bears had not had enough berries and the streams were so low that the salmon were late spawning. While we were there the rains began and we did see Pink salmon spawning in the creeks.

Sitka was the Russian capital of Alaska until the region was sold to the United States in 1867. Russians had explored and settled the coast in search of sea otter and had brought the Russian Orthodox mission to natives with them. The fur trading companies financed the churches as part of an agreement with the Czar.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church is the heart of downtown Sitka.

The Orthodox missionaries settled among the Aleuts, the Yupik and Inuit (commonly called Eskimos), and eventually the Tlingits of the inland passage (southeast Alaska). They learned the native languages, developed alphabets and translated Bibles. Still, the Tlingits who controlled the high hills that guarded the harbor fought in 1804 against Russian incursion. They were defeated by Russians and neighboring Haida warriors and left the area for 20 years. When they returned the Russians had built their fortifications on those same high places.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church is the flagship church for the state. The congregation is nearly all Native. They use many icons, or pictures, of saints. They do not use sculpture.

Lavrenty Young went to seminary to become a tonsured reader for St. Michael's, (shown here with his wife Marina who volunteers to keep the church open for tourists).

We were interested in the Orthodox approach to mission among natives, which didn’t require them to give up their culture and language to become Christian. We decided to attend worship – “the Divine Liturgy”- on Sunday morning at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The Cathedral, founded in the 1830s, is located in the center of Sitka. The congregation is almost entirely Tlingit. The historic and visual importance of the Cathedral in the community reminded us of  St. Francis Church in Ranchos de Taos. It functions the same way, as a place of worship but also as a favorite tourist destination.

Rev. Father Michael Boyle and his wife, Magdalena (the minister's wife is called "Matrushka," which means "little mother").

The Divine Liturgy lasts two hours, most of that standing, and is more elaborate than the standard Catholic Mass with candles, incense, visual images (icons and crosses) and continuous chanting. It is really one long series of prayers that incorporates chanted scripture readings, a sermon (not chanted), and communion. The liturgy has not changed in centuries and is the same all over the world.

That Sunday, one of the families was hosting a feast in honor of a deceased loved one, Joe Johnson. What a feast it was. The people were friendly and interested in our journey. Some of the elders, recognized in Sitka as treasures, gave testimony to the life of their friend which reminded us of the kinds of speeches we would hear in Navajoland on high occasions.

Tlinget dancers

One afternoon we took the Tlingit Tribal Tour complete with beautiful  dances in the clan house and a visit to the totem park. We had a conversation there with a totem pole carver who explained that every pole tells a story. He uses traditional themes but said that after hearing the story of the pole he comes up with his own original designs. His newest pole in the park included a Russian calendar and a cross, which our guide said meant “Presbyterian.” Historically among the Tlingets, you were either Russian Orthodox or Presbyterian.

This new totem pole in Sitka was erected in the old-fashioned way - at low tide, anchored with four boulders and pulled up with ropes by the whole community. It shows a Russian calendar, a cross for the Presbyterian missions, and Mother Earth on the bottom.

Our last day in Sitka, we met the newly-arrived Presbyterian pastor, Diane Wonnenburg and her minister husband, Charles. They had come from South Dakota where they were working among the Lakota people. They were just getting their feet wet, literally, in their new ministry but graciously took time out to swap stories with us over coffee.

The Sheldon Jackson School and College, founded in 1878 by the Presbyterian Church, provided an education for Native Alaskans for over a century.

We then headed over to the former campus of Sheldon Jackson College, a monument to the pioneering efforts of Presbyterians to Native Alaskans.

Jackson was the pre-eminent leader of Protestant missionary enterprise among Native peoples throughout the West, but he found his special love in Alaska.  It was a bittersweet experience seeing the empty dorms, offices and classrooms of the school which closed just four years ago. The good news is that the campus has been sold to Sitka Fine Arts Camp which will host hundreds of children of all ages in the restored buildings.

Jackson made countless trips throughout Alaska via ocean ships, canoes, dog sleds and other means of transport to oversee his mission field, as well as hobnobbing with high government officials in Washington and speaking tirelessly to church groups to raise funds (during these same years the Taos and Ranchos churches were founded). It is said that he logged over a million miles in his lifetime.

Raven Ceremonial Hat. All the people of the coastal tribes of Alaska are either of the Raven or Eagle moiety. The two moieties (from the French for half) are ancestral kinship groups which are broken down into clans. People must marry into the opposite moiety, so every child will have a parent from each moiety.

Jackson’s vast collection of Native tools, clothing, weapons and hunting equipment, sleds, kayaks, masks and ceremonial objects–everything but the Eskimo kitchen sink–is housed in a museum on campus, the first cement structure built in Alaska. (People could not understand how you could make a building out of the sand and gravel Jackson ordered them to collect on the beach.)

That evening we flew off to Juneau where the rain was getting serious.

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Catching Up With Ketchikan

Creek Street on a quiet Sunday morning before the shops open.

After a 36-hour ferry ride through the blue and green passage off the coast of British Columbia, past stunning fjords and accompanied by a few surfacing humpback whales, we arrived in Ketchikan early Sunday morning and after a quick look around Creek Street, the old red-light district built over Ketchikan Creek, we found pancakes at a diner before hiking to the Presbyterian Church.
We’d contacted Rev. George Pasley on Facebook so he was looking out for us. A group of girl scouts was visiting too so we had a friendly worship and fellowship there followed by lunch with George.

This Tlingit Tribe Pole on the Point at Totem Bight State Park near Ketchikan represents a shaman at the top dressed in a bear claw headdress and fringed leather apron. A halibut, two land otters, an eagle and frog are among the figures below him.

In Ketchikan we didn’t find any native people to “listen” to but we spent a lot of time visiting the two fantastic totem pole parks there, resting and doing a little gift shopping.

Downtown Ketchikan caters to the glamorous cruise ships from around the world that dock there, each one a floating city. Front Street, across the dock, is nearly all diamond dealers. In New Town, the part of town on the other side of a tunnel drilled through a rock with houses sitting on top, we took the bus and found a world of workers. We met many people who come from the Phillipines, Peru, Mexico and many American cities for the season to work in the canneries, for the ferries, contruction, restaurants and fishing.

Another day we took a float plane (the first time for both of us) out to Annette Island, to visit the new Presbyterian pastor at Metlakatla, the only Indian reservation in Alaska. Tom Sutherland hadn’t been ordained yet, (he was a Commissioned Lay Pastor with the Nez Perce which was how we learned about him) and had just arrived on the island. We ate sushi complete with sea asparagus, kippered salmon and sea cucumber in a tiny restaurant near the harbor and watched some small boats put out their gill nets.

This is the view from the float plane that took us from Ketchikan to Metlakatla on Annette Island.

Tom drove us around the small village and took us to see the church and then up to the hospital to meet an elder who works as a receptionist there. Elaine Guthrie explained the meaning of a small totem pole we had seen with a cross on it. She said it was made for her and two other women who retired from teaching native dances. Both George and Tom gave us valuable insights into the workings of Presbyterian mission in the area.

This little totem at the school in Metlakatla was made to celebrate the work of three women including Presbyterian elder Elaine Guthrie who taught native dances to children for many years.

Metlakatla Presbyterian Church founded in 1922 by Edward Marsden, the first North American Native ordained to preach in the U.S.

On our last day in Ketchikan we walked a little ways up Ketchikan Creek to watch the dog salmon spawning below the bridge. It was a thrilling and poignant sight to watch those noble fish returning to their birthplace to spawn, a trip they will make only once.

Look closely and you’ll see the hundreds of dog salmon swimming up Ketchikan Creek to spawn.

Even as they are arriving they are already dying. Neighbors around there said all the dead salmon make a real stink. We had arrived just in time to see them but not smell them and as you can see from the pictures the weather that week was incredible. It didn’t start raining until we got to Sitka where we are now. It looks like rain for the next week.

One difference between New Mexico and Alaska — raincoats and umbrellas. We bought ours to go to Scotland a few years ago. Here, when you hang up your raincoat to dry, it takes all day and an umbrella is your best friend once you get used to juggling it.

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Ranchos de Taos Sends out a Wave

Our congregation in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico sends a heartwarming hello making our day in Ketchikan, Alaska

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The Whitman Mission near Walla Walla

Carol writes:

Cayuse Warrior at the Whitman Mission Interpretive Center

Nowhere was the difference between missionaries and Natives more stark than the site of the Whitman Mission near Walla Walla, Washington where Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were the first Protestant missionaries West of the Rockies. They came out together with the Spaldings who settled near Lapwai with the Nez Perce. While the Spaldings lived out their lives among the natives, in the eleventh year of their mission the Whitmans were murdered by their Cayuse charges.

What were the differences? First, the Nez Perce had requested that missionaries be sent to teach them from “The Book of Heaven.” Second, if I understand it right, the Spaldings’ dedication to the Indians was unwavering, they were in fact buried in Nez Perce country, while Whitman got more interested in helping develop the Oregon trail and new Anglo settlements. The most important difference might have been measles.

Here’s the quick version. The Cayuse were interested in trading but not much in agriculture and still less in Christianity. Whitman gradually became more interested in white settlement, even leading one of the largest early wagon trails out to the Oregon territory. It was from one of these caravans that the Cayuse picked up the measles. Half of their band died in a few weeks. The Whites who were now passing through the mission by the thousands were sick, too, but Whitman, who was a doctor, seemed able to cure them. Among the Cayuse if a Medicine Man could not cure someone he could be killed.

In 1847, a group of about five men entered the Whitman’s home and clubbed Marcus to death as he sat before the fire. Narcissa fled but was shot through the chest in the yard. The mission was destroyed and over 50 students from the school were taken hostage. These were raped and forced to work for the tribe until the Hudson Bay company ransomed them. The Cayuse War lasted only a short while. In 1855, that same treaty that sent Chief Joseph fleeing from Oregon, the Cayuse were removed to the Umatilla Reservation. They were a small band and their language has long been extinct.

One note of sadness for the Whitmans was that there only child, Alice, the first white child born out West, drowned in the creek near the mission. She was just shy of two years old and beloved by both the missionaries and the Indians.

These are a few quotes from Narcissa’s writings at the interpretive center near Walla Walla, Washington
about the ideals of missionary life, the goal of which was to “bring the Gospel to the Indians and to teach them the arts of civilization…particularly agriculture and horticulture.”

“How can we think it; that if they once succeed in getting good crops of corn and potatoes that they will leave them for the scanty and laborious system of root digging.”

“…it would not be long before we should see them located around us, with houses, fields, gardens, hogs and cows and their children enjoying the benefits of constant instruction.”

This diorama from the Whitman Mission center depicts the benevolent ideals of Protestant missionaries.

This information comes from the interpretive center. “Only a small band took part in the killings. Five were found guilty partly because other Cayuse said so – at least one might have been innocent. The urgency to make Oregon a territory was partly due to the national desire to capture and execute the Whitmans’ murderers.”

Below I have copied an unattributed quote from a Cayuse Indian after they were removed to the reservation. I have copied it as it was written at the interpretive center.

“It was the time of no time.
There were no fences then and no one owned the land.

Cayuse Women

The way the Medicine Man went and got guidance spirit
Contact with animals or whatever it is
Kept on dancing every winter –
They got strong and power came to them
Everything was different in those times and clean air and wilderness
and they could get the truth through the animals.
I don’t think they can now.
Legend days will be over.
Humanity is coming soon. There will be no more…
They will be sad like I am, broken hearted over my last child –
Never to return again – Death takes her
And that’s the way it’s going to be.
I wander along only in the high mountains
and the heads of small streams all the way through –
I’m never down in the civilized country
I’m way up in the wilderness.
Years to come people will lose the only child and will have the feeling just like I have – sad
and that’s why these days sadness comes to us.”

Those last lines ironically reminded me of what the Whitmans must have felt at the drowning of their daughter in the creek.

The mission became an important stop on the Oregon Trail. Pioneers poured into the country by the thousands. The end result of the mission was that the Indians never became farmers alongside the whites but were moved to the reservation where they knew hunger, violence and despair.

A bit of the Oregon Trail has been preserved at the Whitman Mission.

We had a little trouble finding the mission which is now surrounded by elegant wineries. Had we known we could have had a nice wine tasting adventure. Maybe, next time.

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From Old Chief Joseph to Nez Perce Prayer Warriors

After Dad’s wake we had planned for a few days of R & R at the Wallowa Lake Lodge in Joseph, Oregon. It was great to let down, not drive anywhere and watch the doe and twin fauns that hung around the lodge near the pristine, natural lake. Wayne managed to get in a swim even though it was cool and cloudy and the water temperature was as Carol’s dad used to say, “just this side of snow.”

Wayne at the Wallowa Lake Lodge

On our second day there we took the tram up to the top of Mount Howard, named for Gen. Oliver Howard who led the army in pursuit of Chief Joseph’s band as they fled the Wallowas toward Montana. The gondola lifted us up a steep slope right into a cloud, a disappointing development as the whole idea was to see the spectacular views. We sat on a bench with chipmunks crawling into our laps looking for a handout and enjoyed being enveloped by mist, the hard-scrabble, one-sided trees at timberline floating in and out of view. The Clark’s nutcrackers called back and forth while children delighted in feeding the chipmunks.

The tramway up Mt. Howard overlooks Wallowa Lake in Oregon

As we hiked around the mountain top the fog began to lift and we now saw that we were surrounded by snowy, Alps-like peaks. After so many months of drought in Taos it was thrilling to see big, plump glaciers feeding streams gushing down the mountainsides.

On the way out of the valley the next day we paid our respects to Old Chief Joseph. He was given the name Joseph by the Presbyterians but renounced Christianity, tearing up the “Book of Heaven” when the Americans tried to force the new treaty that would require the removal of his band from the Wallowa Valley. Before he died he made his son, also called Joseph (though his Nez Perce name meant Thunder Rolling in the Mountains), promise never to sell the land where his mother and father were buried. We don’t know where young Joseph’s mother was buried but Old Joseph was moved to this site because his grave had been twice vandalized.

Old Chief Joseph's grave was moved to this site near Joseph, Oregon after the original site was twice vandalized.

As we left an osprey feather Carol had found at the Lake at the monument, we talked about several quotes we had read by Young Joseph. We found these later in a book belonging to Wayne’s Dad (in Mt. Vernon, Washington, where we are writing this) about the Great Chiefs, published by Time-Life.

“In 1871, Young Joseph inherited the full weight of chieftainship. As he later described his farewell to his dying father, the blind old man sent for him, took his hand and said, ‘My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home.'”

Here is another quote from that same book after Young Joseph had been removed to a reservation in the state of Washington:

“In 1901, Joseph told an interviewer: ‘My home is in the Wallowa Valley, and I want to go back there to live. My father and mother are buried there. If the government would only give me a small piece of land for my people in the Wallowa Valley, with a teacher, that is all I would ask.’

Although he made a trip to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph’s request was never granted. The Presbyterian missionary, Kate MacBeth, in Lapwai was deeply opposed to Joseph’s return. He died in his tipi in Colville, Washington in 1904, pitching forward on his face as he sat by his campfire. The reservation doctor there pronounced that, “Joseph died of a broken heart.”

On our return visit to Nez Perce country we met up again with Corbett Wheeler who showed us the church and mission founded in the mid-nineteenth century by pioneer Presbyterian minister Henry Spalding in Lapwai, Idaho. Spalding and his wife, Eliza, traveled out West with Marcus and Narcissa Whitman as missionaries for the American Board of Foreign Missions. Their call was part of a response to a delegation of four Nez Perce who had gone to Missouri, requesting to learn more about the “Book of Heaven” (the Bible), which they had heard about from earlier fur trappers.
In those days this part of the West was not part of the United States. Eliza and Narcissa were the first white women to travel into the Far West. Working through Hudson Bay Company forts, the Whitmans established a mission with the Cayuse Indians near what is now Walla Walla, Washington while the Spaldings went to Lapwai among the Nez Perce.

Corbett Wheeler points to his ancestor in a wonderful display of photographs at the Nez Perce interpretive center.

We went up the Clearwater from Lewiston to the Nez Perce interpretive center where Corbett seemed to know everyone. Among a gallery of old portraits, Corbett pointed to one of his relatives, as he had done in the cemeteries, too. Everybody is related to just about everybody else. Unlike Taos and Ranchos, the missionaries were buried on the reservation so we also visited Spalding’s grave in a nearby park. Corbett said that, between the expansive plans of the tribe and the National Park Service, the Presbyterians are always making sure their churches aren’t grabbed for museums.

This Presbyterian Church is at the orginal missionary site of Henry Spalding. This is a church the Nez Perce keep proving is a living church so the Park Service doesn't nab it.

In Lapwai, capital of the Nez Perce nation, where Corbett grew up, we found the old parade grounds for Fort Lapwai. From here General Howard led the Army’s pursuit of the non-treaty Nez Perce on the thirteen hundred mile trail to their final defeat at Bear Paw, Montana (forty miles from freedom across the Canadian border).

Further up the river, we turned off into a beautiful canyon where we pulled up to the home of missionaries Ron and Judy. They were hosting the prayer warriors that night. After a feast of roast pork sandwiches and salad, we all got comfortable in the living room for a long evening of hymn singing in Nez Perce, Bible study and prayer.

The prayers ranged from the very personal to the national political scene–including the conflict in Washington over the debt ceiling. Among the prayers that night for traveling mercies, were prayers for Loretta, her family and her horses as they went out for the 11th year, riding 100 miles of the Chief Joseph trail. The entire ride will take 13 years. This year they will arrive at Yellowstone Park. (Ken Burns in his National Park series told a story about how the fleeing Nez Perce ran into some campers in the newly formed park and took them hostage so they would not give away their position to the Army. What a strange encounter that must have been and dangerous. An escape attempt by the hostages led to the death of two men, if I have the story right.) On the return trip they planned to visit Big Hole for the anniversary of the Battle of Big Hole, Aug. 6. Another woman prayed for the fish, huckleberries and camas root the people still depend on. Corbett graciously prayed that our visit would help all of us to see with new eyes and to live together as Jesus wants us to. We learned that among the Nez Perce Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “Great Chief” and his new covenant called “the new treaty.”

The Nez Perce Prayer Warriors

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My Old Man of the Mountains

Trying to catch up before we head for Alaska. We are relaxing in Mt. Vernon, WA with Wayne’s parents.

Carol writes solo here.

Dad in Granite a few summers ago

Wayne and I had planned to spend two days in Nez Perce country but we split up our time in Idaho to attend a wake my brothers planned for my Dad in his beloved ghost town, Granite, Oregon, an old gold mining town in Northeastern Oregon.

This was Dad's place in Granite, Oregon

I had learned that the Nez Perce fled their homeland in this area of Oregon after the “steady Indians” of Lapwai signed their land away with the treaty that reduced the reservation by ninety percent. Old Chief Joseph, who’d gotten his name when baptized by the Presbyterians, tore up his Bible and renounced Christianity. It was his son, Chief Joseph, who became famous for leading the “non-treaty” Indians out of Oregon.

The reason for the new and very drastic treaty was gold. Miners were pouring into the Wallowa and Blue mountains after gold was discovered there. One of the great ironies of our listening was that I suddenly realized that my great-great-grandfather, a forty-niner who had come up to Oregon after a few years in California, had been among those miners. He had claims near my Dad’s cabin at a place called Lucas Gulch. That was my maiden name. When we were kids we just thought it a funny coincidence but when my brother did a little research he found out the gulch was named for our ancestor. I used to tell my children to be proud, for how many families got a gulch named after them.

In Lapwai, I realized that the actions of my own forebears had pushed the hero Chief Joseph and his band out of Oregon, a sad and tragic tale of history. We are all responsible for the injustices toward Indians I suppose but this made it a little more personal.

That knowledge put a little different spin on maybe our last visit to Granite. My brother plans to sell Dad’s cabin because none of us can use it and it is so hard to keep it from deteriorating in the brutal winters. Dave wanted to have a keg and barbecue for Dad’s neighbors who had helped out so much by visiting him in the nursing home in Baker City and taking care of his cabin.

Dad's friend Buster and my brother Dave

About 40 people came and spent the afternoon shooting the breeze, Dad’s favorite pastime, and reminiscing about our old man, one of the last of the good ole mountain boys.

My brother Dan (left in black) shoots the breeze with friends of Dad in Granite

My brothers are still considering where to put the ashes but decided that a memorial stone for Dad should be placed in the Granite cemetery, he was such a part of Granite lore. As we drove back to Baker City for the night, I said

goodbye to the gold country where Ispent so many happy hours as a kid and adios to Dad. He’s in a better place now.

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