2012: In Defense of the Cold

Life off the road system, sometimes off the ferry system, and often off the electrical grid
Diana Saverin

Diana Saverin
Berkeley College
Class of 2013


(Following is an excerpt from the writings and some photos by Diana Saverin)



Here is a short list of things that have happened.

Number one. My second day in Sitka I was thigh high in the Indian River, wading to the other side of Totem Park, after hearing a cello and clapping from across the way. I could not remember how to get to that open spot where I knew the sound was coming from. When I had crossed the river and pushed through the swaying grasses and climbed back up to the trail and finally arrived at the former redoubt (?), the crowd was dissipating into the forest, and the music festival musicians packing their instruments back into cases. (But I decided, then, that I was in love with cold water, and have since taken more freezing swims than I can count on both hands. Adventure, and recently this obsession with swimming, each time, makes me feel a part of this place, inside of it, thoroughly and completely).

Number two. During a dinner in mid-July, I suddenly realized that more items on my plate were fresh and wild foods than not. Fresh sockeye steak from redoubt. Full plate of sauteed beach asparagus. Some twisted sprout and dandelion leaf salad. A bowl of salmon berries and toast with sticky spruce tip syrup for dessert. (Each harvest connects me more to my surroundings. I understand in more detail these surroundings [knowing that pineapple weed grows just outside the Backdoor, that yarrow tastes like pepper, that salmon berries in July simply grow too much for me to be able to walk anywhere without stopping]. And as I interact with place more with all of my senses, and as I grow to rely on it more with each interaction, I feel interconnected with it, a part of this place.)

Number three. I have explored the banks of a nameless river, bushwhacking or following fickle deer trails and stopping to munch on plants or measure the enormous trees, for several days near Benzaman Lake, in South Baranof Wilderness. I always find solace, or whatever it is I seek, in the thick and wet wild here. It gives me that rare pportunity to narrow my world to my most immediate surroundings, and know that I won’t come across anyone else. That space and solitude and beauty and wildness make me feel like a part of the forest.

Number four. I have caught fish, and eaten fish, and given fish away. I have had wonderfully long and beautiful dinners in houses here, and been served Black cod tips and collars, and halibut cheeks, and fresh king and sockeye. There’s something about fish, here, and the glorious abundance, and the goodwill that grows as it is shared so generously, that spreads joy and friendship like nothing else I know. (That generosity, and that feeling of being invited for dinner, makes me feel a part of this community)

Number five. I have slid around that lingering snow on the Gavan/Harbor ridge all summer, hooting and hollering with two strangers I met on our way to the mountain, or racing darkness with an old friend after dinner, melting ice cream in my backpack, or guiding a lone tourist to then still hidden table rock after I spooked him, taking those curves at the beginning of the ridge just like a bear. The space for play–what someone once defined to me as social grease and spatial glue, what links people closer to each other and their place–makes me feel a part of the community and place of Sitka.

When I have tried to define resiliency any more specifically than being able to bounce back when something bad happens, I have felt muddled in confusion, despite having attended an entire conference around figuring out what that one word meant. I have resorted, more than once, and as in all other times of muddled desperation, to a list. But this list of things that have happened, to me, defines resiliency.

Because resiliency is slow, it happens over the accumulation of many things that happen, of many relationships that form and deepen, of many connections that are made. For me, resiliency comes from feeling a part of something, in every sense. Because when I feel a part of this community, I invest in it more, and am more committed to sticking around should things go wrong. When I feel a part of the forest or sea, I care deeply about what happens to the other members of the forest or sea–be them big trees, or pineapple weed, or sockeye. And when I feel a part of this grouping of people with place, I want to bring the two in closer, and bring myself closer to each, like young spruce roots, once stringy and disparate underground, then woven together tightly enough to hold water.

There are thousands of moments and things that did not make this list. But another part of resiliency is choosing what to keep. I cannot keep everything. We cannot keep everything, as individuals, and as communities. We select what we do not want to be left behind, and hope that what we keep will keep us strong. What we keep prepares us and teaches us how to stay put when we might have to bounce back from what brings us down.

I want to keep both the togetherness and the solitude I have found this summer. I want the support and community, the dinners and the laughter, the adventure and play, the runs in the snow and the swims in the sea, the beach asparagus and black cod, the space for grief and care, the intimacy with both people and place. I want this list to grow. I want it full of wild food and cooking with friends and daily swims in the ocean and cuts and scrapes from too much bushwhacking and compost trucks in the fourth of july parade and love and joy and the knowledge that when that joy slips behind the fog for a little while, when things are hard and this resiliency is put to the test, that that will be okay, too. That no water will seep through this tightly woven community of fishermen and artists and spruce trees and yellow monkey flowers and sea otters and salmon and hunters and abalone and brittle sea stars and scientists and spanish moss and white tailed deer and activists–all of us