Returning

By , September 29, 2011

Our recent road trip to the lower 48 to deliver Aly to college included a mix of new and familiar sites. Part of the trip reversed the route Michelle and I took almost 20 years ago, when we moved to Juneau. On that trip we visited Nisga villages in British Columbia, to view and photograph stands of totem poles, many from the turn of the previous century.

Some of what we saw and experienced walking among the weathered wooden monuments in the village of Gitwangak ended up in The Raven Calls at Dawn, the longest and perhaps darkest story in my book, Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska. We encountered the pack of dogs and the blind, white bird living in the forehead of the totem pole mentioned in the story.

Gitwangak totem pole

A blind, white bird lived in the hole in the bottom figure's forehead about 20 years ago (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

When we planned the trip, Aly, who will study archaeology and anthropology in college, asked that we schedule time to visit some of these villages. I was happy to comply, as I was eager to see these villages again.

Totems of Gitwangak

Michelle and Aly walk the line of poles in the morning mist (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

We arrived in Gitwangak in the morning, as heavy rains subsided. Mist rose from the river and haloed the poles, hushing the small sounds of the little village as we wandered among the monuments. We saw no dogs, and the blind bird was, of course, long gone. I didn’t see anyone local to ask if they remembered the bird.

The area appears to have changed. If I remember correctly (and I sometimes wonder if I do) the bank of the Skeena River behind the row of poles was wooded. Now, a building of some kind (the sign was in the local indigenous language) sits behind the poles, and the lot is grass lawn to the banks of the river. More houses fill the street than I recall.

Later in the day we visited the village of Kispiox; the riverbank there remains wooded, much as I remember from Gitwangak. I suppose I might have mixed the two memories? I doubt it. A couple of poles we saw laying on the ground on the first visit are still there. Then, they were partially hidden by brush. Now, they form a sort of grounds boundary for the new building.

At any rate, it was pleasant to revisit the villages, to enjoy the memories of our first trip, and add to them the memories of this visit.

See more photos from our trip here.

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