Alaska

Pinot Noir NZ 2017

Every four years winemakers from across New Zealand put together a three day event celebrating Pinot Noir. This year, Pinot Noir NZ 2017 took place in its host city of Wellington bringing together around 1000 guests total from 20 countries, including top wine professionals from each of those 20 countries, the best winemakers from around New Zealand and eager wine lovers from all over the world as well. Morning sessions focused on a series of talks and seminars, and after lunch (each designed by one of the top chefs of New Zealand or Australia), afternoons brought well-focused regional walk around tastings. By the end of the three days we’d heard from speakers that included some of the brightest in the New Zealand wine industry and a number of the world’s top wine professionals as well. In the evenings top chefs from New Zealand and Australia would serve dinner.

Pinot Noir NZ was truly one of the best wine events I have ever attended. It was impressively designed around a central theme that allowed for both focused and dynamic discussion considering the value of wine from multiple angles. There were technical seminars as well as more philosophical ones; tasting panels meant to make us reconsider how we experience wine and others that asked us to explore our own views of wine quality. The three days were designed around the Maori notion of Tūrangawaewae, a concept that captures the importance of place in how we gain, recognize, and gather our strength. Each of the three days then took a different theme for better understanding the value of Tūrangawaewae. I’ll be writing more about Tūrangawaewae later this week.

Day 1 revolved around the theme of Explore and opened with a Maori welcoming ceremony. International speakers for Pinot Noir NZ were asked to be part of the group being received by the local Maori tribes, and so to also participate in the ceremony on stage with the Maori elders and other tribes people. I was a speaker in this year’s Pinot Noir NZ, and so was asked to be part of the opening ceremony, to be a delegate received and greeted by the local Maori. It was an overwhelming and special experience. It was hard to believe the honor, that I was being asked to be part of such a sacred ceremony. The rest of the first day focused on speeches about the meaning, import and relevance to our thinking of wine in Tūrangawaewae, and then turned to understanding the value of each of the country’s growing regions before we then went to the regional tastings.

Day 2 considered the notion of Embrace and focused on tasting panels that gave us the chance to continue the conversation with wines there to help deepen the conversation. An international panel of wine experts selected wines and shared their views of greatness. The diversity of perspectives thanks to the international nature of the panel was inspiring. We were then put to a sound tasting by Jo Burzynska where Pinot noir was matched to different types of music as we explored how the varying sound types had very real impact on our tasting ability.

On Day 3 the focus was on how to Evolve and included a series of talks that asked where we are headed as not only as members of the wine community but also more broadly (wine lovers are always also part of the world at large after all), and so with that in mind, how to move forward. I was asked to give the closing speech for day 3 speaking to the question of future communication while also tying together threads from across the three days.

A number of people asked that once it was available I share my speech and its transcript here. So, now that I have both I am posting them as requested. Thank you to all of you that asked for this. I very much appreciate it.

As I mentioned, my speech refers to the conversations from across all three days of the event. Much of what is referenced will make sense in context. But to clarify a few things – the speech names a number of speakers from earlier in day 3 and references points they raised – Maynard James Keenan, Sam Neill, and Jancis Robinson are all mentioned. A few of them had also been joking about the relevance of their astrological signs, which is why I begin with explaining mine. I also mention Marcel Giesen, who spoke as part of the panel on greatness on day 2, and Nick Mills who spoke as part of the opening consideration of Tūrangawaewae on day 1. Also, on day 1, Rachel Tualelei, Ropata Taylor, and Dame Anne Salmond spoke on the history of the Maori, which is referenced near the beginning of my speech without naming them. In the beginning I refer to First Nations peoples. I am using that phrase to address the idea of first people to any particular region more generally. Such people are often referred to as indigenous (which I do also say here) but in some cases, such as the Maori of New Zealand, the people are not indigenous to that land but nevertheless were the first people of that land. I am using the phrase in that sense. In Canada, for example, the term First Nations has a more specific reference to a particular group there in Canada so I mention that here to clarify I am using the phrase more broadly. It is apparent in the context of the speech.

The other speeches shared online are also worth watching. The people named above whose speeches are available online I have linked to  – click on their name and it will take you to the video of their talk. The link to all available speeches (including regional overview videos from the event) are available here: https://vimeo.com/pinotnoirnz 

Thank you most especially to the board of Pinot Noir NZ for inviting me to speak, and to Rachael Fletcher for so seamlessly guiding everything, to Mike Bennie for suggesting me, and to David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. Thank you to James Tidwell and David Keck for so patiently letting me talk through aspects of my talk before hand. Your friendship makes all the difference.

Here is the video of the speech. It’s transcript immediately follows it.

Day 3 Elaine Chukan Brown from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

Future Communication: Pinot Noir NZ
Elaine Chukan Brown

So I want to get out of the way right away that I am a Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. That’s the terrestrial parallel to Maynard’s Dragon – totally tenacious, claws the shit out of everything to get where it’s going, full commitment, looks good in stripes. Right?

I’m also a double Virgo. Virgos are known for devotion. They’re defined by love, and most especially service. So, whatever they do, they do out of love, and total commitment to excellence. But then I have a Sagittarius moon, which means that whatever I do, I do with my hair on my fire, and I thank my daughter for making sure that it looks like it is.

It is an incredible honor to be part of an event that so completely honors and speaks from the position of the First Nations people of the country that’s hosting it. As some of you know, I am Inuit from Alaska, and the terrible truth is that First Nations in the United States are barely even recognized for still existing. And so I live my daily life interacting with people unable to see who I am. And so to be here, and to have been asked to be part of the opening ceremony, finding connection, communion, companionship between the First Nations people of New Zealand and all of us that are here to speak about Pinot noir, and all of the other wonderful things we’ve been speaking about, was completely overwhelming.

But in acknowledgement of that, I wish to introduce myself to you as I would if I was speaking with my Native community in Alaska. I actually called my mother yesterday to ask for permission to speak today, and for permission to say my Native name, which in Alaskan communities is private, as a way of sort of preserving what’s most valued for us. Obviously, I’m not going to worry about it if I’m crying, so you’ll just all have to deal with it.

My maternal great-grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordon and Anisha McCormick. My paternal great-grandparents are Stephen and Amelia Ivanoff, of Norton Sound, Alaska. My grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown. My parents are Mel and Katherine Brown. I am Unangan and Iñupiaq. That is Aleut and Inuit from Alaska. My name is Elaine Chukan Arnaqiaq Brown. My daughter is Rachel Marie Williams.

For indigenous peoples across the planet, our ancestors, our people, define who we are. I am my ancestors. But also for indigenous peoples across the planet, what are ancestors are is our land, the place from which we come. So to speak with you today is overwhelming because I bring them with me.

My great-grandfather, I was lucky enough to know growing up, and he was born at a time, in a place so remote, that he saw the first waves of outside people enter his region. And he would tell me stories about the first time he saw someone from China, the first time he saw a black person, the first time he heard a radio, the first time electricity appeared in the region. When the wars came. His region was part of the front lines of World War II, which of course brought more outsiders.

As an indigenous person in Alaska, he was denied the rights of citizenship until the second half of the last century, when Alaska finally became a state. And especially in light of Jancis’s insight about recent global politics, what I would like to offer – I hadn’t expected to – but what I would like to offer is the recognition of the strength, the resilience, and the incredible transforming power that he took to every aspect of his life. And if you could imagine a life lived, to survive such radical transformation as I just mentioned …

As a quick side note, to get across how bad-ass this man I grew up with was – he actually killed a bear with a spruce tree that he cut down, cut the bows off, and made a sharp tip on because he lived in Alaska at a time before guns. Totally hardcore.

But anyway, my point being – imagine a person that could remain utterly true to himself, utterly clear in his values, utterly persistent and determined that in all of that change of which he had no control of, he would be the best version of himself, and he would do it for the sake of his people and his family, and generations of people he would never meet.

I want to speak briefly about a kind of indigenous ethics that’s implied in what I’m saying, because I think it really ties in to a lot of the values that have been expressed here: notions of sustainability; the wonderful talk we heard here on the first day from Nick at Rippon and that experience of trying to honor the land and instill value across generations. For indigenous peoples, for myself being here today, my most central project, regardless of anything else I am doing, my most central project is to act in a way that loves people I will never meet so that I may honor those that made my life possible.

Some of you have heard this in terms of thinking in seven generations. We thank seven generations back whose lives brought us here, by acting for the sake of seven generations forward, many of whom we’ll never know.

When I asked my mom permission to speak with you today, she emphasized the point that she can’t help but think of my great-grandfather, who raised her, and that there’s a sense in which I’ve brought him here – a man who grew up so differently than everyone here. He’s come to New Zealand now. And speaking to Sam’s point about the unlikely, how incredibly unlikely is it for all of you to have to listen to an Inuit woman from Alaska talk about her great-grandfather in the middle of a Pinot noir conference.

But the unlikelihood runs far deeper than that. It’s unlikely that he even lived long enough to make my life possible. We heard on the first day about the struggles of the Maori people. It’s a struggle that is utterly consistent with indigenous peoples all over the planet. And the idea that any First Nations are still alive and vibrantly breathing and clearly present here with all of you is a miracle. And so for me, in thinking how do I love my future descendants and honor those who came before me, that’s what I carry in everything I do. It is a miracle that I am here, and it is no thanks to me that that is true, and it is little thanks to me that anything I have done might have significance. It is totally, absolutely, because of the miracle of people that worked so hard to be resilient.

And what I want to offer is that this is a gift that any of us can have. I am profoundly aware of it because of my particular heritage and background and the way that I was raised, but part of what we’ve been talking about and part of what this whole program has so intensely tried to instill in each of us is that we have to fucking care about what we do, right? And what’s to come. And again, it’s because of caring for people that we will never meet. And the way that we can do that is to seek in every single step excellence in what we do.

Just like Marcel said yesterday, “Quality comes slowly over time, a step at a time.” And this morning we heard – I can’t remember now who said it – but the idea that perfection is a lot of little steps done well. That’s what I’m speaking to. We all have that opportunity.

In terms of how that shows up, I want to speak briefly – some of you heard yesterday, I apologize, but I am a recovering philosopher, and again, like alcoholism you deal with it every day. So, I wanted to use that as a background that I have to just very briefly speak about the idea of expertise because part of the struggle, I think, we face now in a world that is so full of uncertainty is this grief for the loss of the expert. Any of us in this room, because we’re of drinking age, were born into a time where the expert guided how the world moved, and decisions were made very much in a top-down model. People devoted themselves to intricate, thorough-going study, and that information would trickle out to the rest of us. So it was very much a top-down, triangular model.

And what’s happened now is the proliferation of information, thanks to the Internet and Jancis is largely to blame for us wine-lovers, right, through so many brilliant reference books. With that proliferation of information, that triangle has flattened and spread. And we’ve created a kind of horizontaling of information sharing. And, with that, it becomes very difficult to see where the expert remains.

This will tie back to the bear hunting and things like that, by the way, just so you know …

So in this grief of loss of the expert, it’s unclear what the expert’s role is anymore. And so briefly, I just wanted to ask – what is an expert? Clearly the accessed information, even the creation of information as we study the world and learn more about it is paramount there. But with this proliferation of information, there’s a way in which that’s kind of the part we’ve lost. Everyone has access to a database, so a lot of the questions you hear about the loss of the expert come back to, “Well why do I need that person? I can look it up on Google.”

But what remains is an intimacy with the information, an understanding – how do I interpret this? How do I recognize what’s valuable? How do I know it’s pertinent to now, to what I need to know now? And so that sense of intimacy we still desperately need from experts; we see all sorts of political bad decisions happening and it’s because people don’t know how to interpret properly the kind of information that they are being inundated with. We still need that kind of help. But part of what goes along with this – the way people become experts that are relevant is that we trust them. They’re reliable. We believe them. What they say makes sense. We feel a connection.

Now studies of Millennial consumer groups done recently have shown interesting buying patterns. And I’m actually not interested in talking about Millennials, except that I think because of when they were born, they come onto the scene as this shift from triangle to horizontal is happening. And so they’re, in a way, the purest expression of the impact of that change in information society.

So what we’ve seen studying Millennials’ consumer habits and interests is that advertising has almost no effect. Millennial populations, again, in these surveys, have said only one percent of the respondents actually make a purchase based on advertising that they see, whether it’s on television, or in print, or online. Instead, what they’re doing is turning to companions, to actual people around. And they’re doing this very much online, through various online sources – blogs, and various types of social media.

But when you dig deeper into this, and this links back to the other points I’ve been making – when you dig deeper into this, what you find is that what they’re searching for is intimacy and connection. And it is that that makes people respond. And it is from that that leads to people changing their minds, finding what they care about, learning to recognize who they are, and making purchases as well.

This obviously is relevant to a lot of the people in the room who are vintners, and are interested in figuring out how the heck to get people to buy a bottle of their wine. Well, it’s not advertising, which respondents said feels as if they’re being sold something. It’s too pat. It’s too formulaic. And it feels like being tricked or manipulated. And so instead what they’re responding to is someone they feel a connection to, that they can trust and believe, and think, “Oh, I recognize something of myself in them; if they like it, I must too.”

And so what’s happened is that we’ve come into a very peculiar time, where our own individual particularity, our very specific commitments, the exact thing we care about, and the ways that we express those things, are the most relevant in terms of how we recognize who we want to believe, what we want to buy, how we want to communicate.

Duncan actually asked me to speak on future communication. There is no one in this room that knows what this means, and so I worked through it in this way: what I want to suggest is that the future of communication starts in what I’m describing. We desperately still need people to risk the life of the expert; to commit so thoroughly to what they do that their life and its legacy, as Maynard referenced, reverberates beyond them to people they will never meet. Some currently alive now, and others that simply come down the road, generations away. We desperately need that.

But what I’m suggesting is that we all have the opportunity to do that now. Everyone in this room can choose that life. Nick is so fortunate, as he expressed on Tuesday, to have been born into a circumstance like his at Rippon, and he’s doing an incredible job at honoring that, and carrying that forward. And that is fantastic to see. But very many of us don’t have that situation, right. So what do we do? How do we translate that model into something we can claim?

And what I’m saying is that if we recognize that we’re all looking, now, in the midst of this chaotic world, with this mass proliferation of information that we all struggle to interpret, we recognize that we’re looking for communication, connection, and intimacy. And we seek to act in excellence, to cultivate that in very small ways, in every little moment that we do – and share that openly. We can’t expect that benefits of the old top-down model anymore; reverence doesn’t come in the way it used to, for those of us who give ourselves to lifelong projects. Many people get attention very quickly, right? But connection and intimacy is greater than that. And the satisfaction instead comes from knowing that in committing to that excellence and acting from service, our effect can reverberate out in ways we cannot even predict.

With that in mind, I really want to thank David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. It’s been a remarkable trip. I know Mike Bennie was kind enough to kind of pester Duncan and Ben about me, and I really appreciate that, too. But most of all, I thank Duncan and Ben for inviting me to speak today.

You have allowed me to bring my family here, and to make real something that my great-grandfather was open enough to know not in any specific way could happen, but that if he did well by his family, by his people, and in every act he took, that those that came after him could surpass anything he imagined, and arrive eventually, on a country he barely knew was real.

What I’m describing might seem a little alien, perhaps. But I just want to ask each of us to consider very simple questions, and to ask them of ourselves again and again and again, and even sometimes every step: what do you want to love? How can you be of service today? How will you exemplify excellence in any small thing you do?

Thank you.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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I am Yup’ik

ESPN.com has just shared an excellent short film, I am Yup’ik, about the importance of basketball in remote Alaska.

As some of you know I originate from Alaska. I grew up migrating between Anchorage in the winters to attend a mainstream school, and Naknek on the western coast in the summers to commercial fish for salmon. In the winters, villagers would fly into Anchorage for the basketball tournaments. It was our chance to see our relatives from throughout the state. My father and brother-in-law would also fly back to Naknek for the regional tournaments. They played on our cousin’s team.

For Alaska Natives, basketball isn’t just a sport. It’s a way of life. The western coast of Alaska thrives on basketball.

I am Yup’ik Includes glimpses of village life and the most insightful line I’ve seen anywhere explaining what it means to be Alaska Native. It captures a core principle I was raised with as an Aleut and Inupiat, and that is central to healthy Native life. As an Alaska Native your contribution is the most important aspect of who you are. Whatever you do, “You do it for the community. You do it for the elders. You do it for the ancestors.”

The following short film, I am Yup’ik, is one of the most insightful looks at Alaska Native life I’ve seen anywhere. Enjoy!

Great thanks to ESPN.com for sharing this movie, and to those that made the film. It was healing to see.

Maya Angelou Rest in Peace

As a Native person in Alaska the first question is always, who’s your Grandma? There it’s your family, and the place you’re from that decides who you are.

My great grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordan and Anisha McCormick. My Grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown of Norton Sound, Alaska. My parents are Melvin and Katherine Brown. I am the youngest of three daughters. I am Elaine Chukan Brown.

***

I grew up a mixed race girl in Alaska. My mother’s family was Aleut. My father’s Inupiat. Because of World War II neither knew their fathers of European descent. Instead, both were simply raised Native. For Native families, blood quantum is less a question than how and with whom you grew up. As a result, my sisters and I were raised Native too. In my guts, my head, my understanding of myself, I am simply Native.

I also know growing up mixed meant much of the time we passed. My fully Native friends were often mistreated, called “muks” by other kids in school. At times, overhearing the slurs, I’d demand those same kids I’d thought were friends call me “muk” too. They’d be shocked by my insistence. The point for me being, what do you mean by such a dirty word that applies to people you also love? The difference was I had a choice my more clearly Native friends did not. They had no mixed kid ability to disappear.

In adulthood, I found philosophy, literature, and creative writing as refuges from the confusion of slipping between cultural or racial norms. They were for me expressions of the complexities of humanity that gave room for my experience as perhaps not normal, but surely acceptable.

Still, Native populations across the United States are small, most isolated on reservations away from more mainstream populations. Worse, knowledge of Native life, whether contemporary or historic, by citizens of the United States is even rarer than the Native population as a whole. Mainstream media somehow fails to recognize the existence of still-living Native groups even with pertinent news events occurring daily.

Searching for mentors, or models to guide me forward, then, proved difficult. In my struggle to find exemplars for success beyond Alaska, the women I found, besides those of my family, turned out to be the non-Native writers Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou. My undergraduate education was filled with their language. I was lucky enough too to work with Lucille Clifton in 2003 over a summer poets’ intensive.

Between the three of them, I was able to find voice for racialized womanhood. In a world where life as a woman of color proves an invisible struggle, Walker reminded that happiness must come from yourself even as others might deny it. Clifton celebrated the vibrant sensuality of survival in the midst of almost unbearable challenge. Angelou demanded we recognize our own phenomenal body, femininity, and lives.

Maya Angelou died last week. In high school, her work found me. It was my best friend at the time, Ginny Gallup, that introduced Angelou to me long before Clinton’s inauguration. Through it, Angelou demanded I see myself as not only valuable but beautiful, and vibrant. She also demanded that I must recognize such beauty because through it I could make others see themselves, not by pushing them, but by seeing them, by listening. In her work was the realization that by loving myself, I could better love others.

In 1993, for her to stand at the Inaugural celebration for a U.S. President was a revolution. This morning, the first African American First Lady of the United States gave one of Angelou’s eulogies, another sort of revolution.

Listening to the eulogy I find it hard to explain how much it moves me except to say, gratitude makes me who I am. Please listen. Amen.

With gratitude that family loves me, and mentors found me.

With gratitude too to Katherine.

1

Happy Birthday to my Mom!

my family

my family when I’m about 8 years old. In back: dad, mom; in front from left: Melanie, Paula, me

One of the brightest memories I have of my mother she is singing in church. I am looking up watching her and she towers above me. Her voice chimes over the sound of the congregation. It is her face I remember most clearly, and its feeling. She is singing old gospel taken by joy filled calm.

My mother was raised in Bristol Bay, remote Alaska on the Western coast at the source of the largest wild salmon run in the world. The area rests on the ring of fire, a volcanic circle in the North Pacific that created a climb of islands, including the Aleutian chain and Alaskan Peninsula.

Bristol Bay is historically Russian Orthodox. As my mother tells it, when the regional priest arrived to town once a season, everyone would quickly get married, buried, and baptised. In summers, I’d attend service with Umma, my great grandmother, while my great grandfather, Grandpappy, assisted the priest.

Orthodox prayers were promises from the bible chanted to sound like singing. At prayer, the cabin sized building would be filled with a lifting, resonant song that at times felt like it could lift the church to flying.

Between the priest’s visits, prayers were kept by Grandpappy who had earned his way to becoming the church Reader. He assisted the priest during service reciting prayers from the back in call and response, and tended the church in the priest’s absence. The role was a deep source of honor for my family. In his 90s, when Grandpappy died he was buried in his gold Reader’s robe.

At home, each room of my great grandparents house held an Orthodox holy picture. They would rise and pray towards the picture, bowing up and down while saying their prayers in Aleut. Prayers would happen again at regular intervals throughout the day, before meals, at tea breaks, before bed.

My mother explained, you’re born Orthodox, you don’t become it as one would in Protestant tradition find Jesus. So there is never a moment of conversion. You are simply born Orthodox, and always will be. In marrying my father, my mom then also became Presbyterian, her Orthodox prayers uniting with gospel song.

In adulthood, I would come to think of that lack of conversion as definitive of my mother’s general character. Without conversion there is no pivotal epiphany or moment of change. There is only devotion. My mother carries in anything she does steady resolve without distraction.

At ten she began commercial salmon fishing with Grandpappy. “I was his only son,” she often jokes to explain how she, a girl, started so young. She was raised by her grandparents, and when he needed a fishing partner, my mother was the one that could help so she did. The launch of her salmon career would become a family tradition, each of us starting in our tenth summer (mine at the age of nine).

The steady resolve that carries my mother forward under-girds her persistence in work as well. Commercial salmon fishing, much like winegrowing, arrives when it is time and comes as fast and hard as that season demands. My mother raised us to understand when the fish came in we were there to catch them. Setting aside any questions of if it could be done would allow simple work to take doubts’ place.

One tide my mother, my brother-in-law, and I alone caught more than 20,000 pounds in two hours in a non-automated open skiff. I can’t explain how it was done but we hauled, picked, and delivered that entire catch ourselves, then returned mere hours later to do it again.

My mother returns in mere weeks to begin her sixtieth season commercial fishing. Today she turns seventy.

More than any other person in my life, my mother taught me it is never a question of if we can do what is in front of us, it is simply a matter of steady resolve occasionally filled by song.

My sisters, my mom, and I

from left: Melanie, my mom, Paula, and I, August 2013 on my parents’ 50th anniversary

Happy Birthday, dear mom. I couldn’t be prouder, or more grateful to be your daughter. Along with Rachel’s, your love, with dad’s matters most.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Happy Birthday to my Father

Dad and Me

my dad and I

One of my earliest memories it’s sunny and hot in Naknek on the Western Coast of Alaska. It’s rarely hot in Alaska. We’re in the backyard on my great grandparents’ property just this side of the long grass before the lake and my parents are throwing a party. There are fishermen, cannery workers, and our extended family everywhere. Our house is full of Native food. My dad has never been happier, and I follow him everywhere.

One of my dad’s friends has brought back herring eggs from Spring harvest and dad wants to give me some. He picks me up and sets me down on a saw horse as a seat. There are several all around the yard for people to sit on. I balance there high off the ground as he shows me the yellow-gold mass in his hands. He explains, “These are herring eggs. You’re going to taste them.” I hear it as all one word, “herringeggs,” and have no sense of what kind of food it is but open my mouth to taste. He feeds me. As I bite, the food first crunches, then pops. It is sea fresh salty. The taste lights up the inside of my head as I chew.

The rest of the memory is gone.

Dad and Me

my dad and I, Summer 2012

Until adulthood, that was the only time I’d ever eaten herringeggs, and it was over a decade before I realized what my dad had served me were herring eggs, not herringeggs. The experience had simply remained a sun-filled, crunch-pop memory of my father’s joy.

My childhood is filled with memories of my father and food. It was always Native food that lit that warm glow of joy I could feel from him. On rare school days I’d run up the stairs to discover a relative had given us muktuk and seal oil we’d then eat for lunch. He’d be quiet and happy showing me how to salt the oil just so, then chase it with a glass of orange juice, “to calm the stomach” he’d tell me.

My father grew up in a small village in Norton Sound, on the Western Coast of Alaska, his family eating Native foods hunted and gathered throughout the year then kept in cache. The barge with food from the outside came only in summer. He lived his childhood surrounded by extended family, and close to both his grandparents.

That joy I felt in him sparked by sharing Native foods I’ve always imagined as the glow triggered by the warmth of childhood meeting the warmth of life with his children. The foods we shared were first introduced to him by his mother and grandparents, then he continued the cycle sharing them later with my sisters, and me.

Today my dad celebrates his birthday. My parents are already preparing for the commercial fishing season back in Naknek where he first gave me herringeggs. He flies out later this week to ready his boat, work on the house, and lay the groundwork for the rest of my family to return next month to fish salmon as they do every season–my family’s summer harvest.

Dear Dad,

I give thanks for you. Happy Birthday.

You are my father. I am grateful. May your new year be filled with joy.

Elaine

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Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown

Last week the Nome campus of University of Alaska Fairbanks named and dedicated a Student Resource Center to my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown.

Invitation to the dedication ceremony

In 1984, two years after her death, The Crossing Press selected my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, as one of twelve women to appear in a calendar recognizing heroines of the feminist movement. The family joke at the time was she’d be proud to appear with the other eleven women, but irritated over being named a feminist. She stood in the month of July. Other women in the calendar included Golda Meir–Prime Minister of Israel; Elisabeth Kubler Ross–a psychiatrist that revolutionized hospice care and our understanding of grief; and Carrie Chapman Catt–a suffrage leader that helped establish the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote.

During portions of the last century Alaska Native languages were not allowed to be used in schools, and various cultural practices were also banned or illegal. My grandmother, Emily, fought to have such laws changed while also encouraging her students to speak their language anyway. As a result, she was fired from her teaching post. The local communities demanded she be reinstated.

Emily went on to dedicate her life to preserving the stories, history, and knowledge of our elders publishing three books and leaving multiple manuscripts. In order to direct her work, she spent her life earning multiple degrees, spending much of her time on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. While there she helped start the Alaska Native Studies program, and helped found the Alaska Native Heritage Preservation movement through the state. She was recognized as a result by both a President of the United States, and the Governor of Alaska.

She died in 1982 near the close of her PhD at the age of 78. One week later University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for the work she had already completed.

Dad at the dedication ceremony

my dad at the dedication, photo from Heather Jones

Last Thursday, my parents and extended family flew to Nome to attend the celebration of my grandmother’s life, and the opening of the new Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center. The Center symbolically brings together Emily’s two passions — preserving and sharing knowledge of our heritage, with an eye towards learning for the future.

In her book, The Roots of Ticasuk, she explains the meaning of her name, Ticasuk. “My Mother explained that my Eskimo name ‘Ticasuk’ meant not just ‘Hollow in the Ground’ but the place where the four winds stored their treasure gathered from all over the world, and I felt very good about my name after that.” For Emily, heritage and education were those treasures.

Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus.

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5

Happy Birthday to my sister Paula

Us Kids

us kids. from left: Melanie, me, Paula

My sister Paula today celebrates a birthday. Ten years older than me, she fills few memories of mine from before she left for college. But in her returning to Alaska before I myself left home, she stands instead as a guidepost through my adulthood. More than any other member of my immediate family, Paula has lived with a kind of malleable steadfastness I admire. The rest of us shine different gifts.

Soon after college my sister Paula returned to Alaska and began a job she still keeps. That was two and a half decades ago. A few years later she bought a condo she was later able to sell and invest from in a house with the man she’d marry a little before I graduated from high school. They still live in that home in Alaska.

Looking back, I see that I have lived my adulthood driven by curiosity and a thirst for improvement through challenge. In the midst of such searching, I’ve come to find clarity with gracefulness as the core of my values. In seeing this finally, I am able too to recognize it is Paula that has given me my example of a person living with strength through clarity. At the center of every decision she’s made there is a commitment to forthright follow through, to family, and, most central for her, to God. Such persistence has made her life a miracle.

Soon after turning thirty, Paula gave birth to their first daughter, also my parents’ first grandchild. Melissa was two months old when, having just returned to work after maternity leave, Paula had a grand mal seizure during a working lunch. She was diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor and immediately rushed to surgery. The prognosis gave her less than two years to live. It’s been now almost twenty.

Doctors have since told us she is one of two people in the country known to have survived such a tumor. Speaking with her about her miracle of health she states plainly that during her ailment she focused on one thing — prayer for her daughter to have a mother.

I return to Alaska once or twice a year. I am often lucky enough to see Paula outside Alaska again one other time a year. Still, I rarely tell her what today I wish for her to know. Here it is.

Dear Paula,

You have taught me the power of steadfastness. Your life is a testament to faith. I am grateful you are my sister. I wish for you to know, I count you among my blessings. You stand as a model to me of clarity, and learning to grow through grace. For by grace you have been saved by faith. Through your clarity, God’s light shines.

Happy Birthday to you. This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

My love to you. God’s love for you. Amen.

Your sister,
Elaine

 

2

Dinner at Mattei’s Tavern

On Sundays we’d go for pastry. In the 1980s, a small rush of French émigrés made their way to Anchorage, Alaska and started a revolution. They opened bakeries for breads, cakes and delicate sweets.

My family attended Sunday service at the stone chapel downtown. We’d don our best clothes, with long winter coats, and simple shoes then duck-walk across the icy parking lot to keep from falling. After the hour-long service, longer with communion, we’d pile back in the car and stop half way home to pick up Napoleon, Éclair, and cheese Danish when my dad was in town.

He worked every other week at the North Slope of Alaska building and maintaining the electrical needs of arctic oil feeds. On alternate weeks he was home.

Sundays, then, began with a sense of grateful reverence, recognition of how we were blessed. Celebration came through simple silence, moments of prayer communing with god. It continued with simple sweets. The warmth of the prayer coupled with the prickling joy of delicate French sugar. The entire day given a feeling of bright gratitude with the pastries a symbol of the gifts we gained.

Alaska’s food revolution came eventually to include more variation in foods, and my mom’s love for pastries evolved into my parents’ love for bistro fare. Bistros for them a perfect restaurant balance — good food touched by congenial service — hospitality with conversation.

My sister Melanie and I inherited our parents’ love for food. She (along with my friend Fred) sparked in me more than anyone my original love for wine. We found together our enthusiasm first and foremost to bubbles. Together we have devoted ourselves to restaurants around the United States and Canada looking always for food with a deft hand, a delicate intricacy of flavors paired with beautiful wines, in a forum that celebrates warm hospitality.

At its best, eating meals with Melanie feels of succulent revelry — that original sense of simple gratitude our parents gave us through Sundays of church and pastry blooming into a kind of reverence for the beauty of flavor, time together, and relaxing service. Some of my happiest moments have come from these meals.

In the last year, Los Olivos has opened a new restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, bringing together the history of place — the venue opened for the first time in 1886 — with the intricate freshness possible in today’s farm-to-table restaurant culture.

Chef Robbie Wilson offers a seasonal menu designed to showcase, on one side, foods that might have carried that original 1886 menu elevated with a gentle lift — schnitzel of flatfish kept away from the heavy side, accented with the crunch of pickled mustard seeds and calabrian chiles. On the other side, he offers too foods carrying the cultural flavor fusion that so clearly speaks of now — short rib pot roast put along side lightly cooked vegetables and poured over with fresh made ramen broth. On both sides, the flavors are rich, layered, with a light bite of surprise.

The Mattei’s team also hosts the expertise of wine director Stephane Colling. His wine list shows smart devotion to Santa Barbara wines. He seems to select labels that consistently give clean fruit expression with the juicy and often mineral length that works so well with food. The list treats local wines seriously, however, by offering more than merely what comes from Santa Barbara County, offering too worldwide selections.

The current by the glass iteration, for example, mixes local jewels with worldwide gems. It’s possible, for example, to taste Goodland Wine‘s Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, then follow it with Mulderbosch‘s South African iteration. The intent seems less about comparing the county’s wines to wines from elsewhere, however, and more about selecting beautiful wines for a range of palate interests that can be poured at a range of price points.

Visiting Mattei’s Tavern the thread that winds through the decor space, the menu, the wine list seems to parallel my description of Chef Wilson’s food — layers of interest, warm expression, and bites of surprise. The approach to service and overall presentation bring together the heritage of the place with modern flare. The salumi plate, for example, Felix Mattei’s Dirty Laundry, literally hangs prosciutto (my favorite) and coppa with clothespins over a board carrying pickled vegetables and mustard. One of my favorite details houses the children’s menu within the slides of a working View Master, giving kids their own visual treat for the meal.

Throughout the meal, server Jenny Mitchum offered a comfortable touchstone. She hit the balance I enjoy of showcasing the food as it arrived, checking in to track our needs, and giving us space to enjoy our conversation.

I appreciate the revitalization of the historic Mattei’s Tavern space. Partners Robbie and Emily Perry Wilson, plus Charles and Ali Banks, have navigated the challenge of utilizing a historic landmark in a manner that honors its heritage while celebrating fresh new flavor for the region.

I can’t wait to meet my sister there for dinner.

***

The Mattei’s Tavern Website: http://www.matteistavern.com/

***

Thank you to Robbie Wilson and Stephane Colling.

Thank you to Jenny Mitchum.

Thank you to Jason Smith.

Thank you to Charles Banks.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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I was raised in a multi-generational family in which the strongest tradition is sharing what we appreciate, and what we have learned through stories about the history of our own and our family’s lives. In thanks for the people with whom I was able to travel Chile and Argentina, I share this story. Thank you.

***

Travel from Alaska to Argentina

I was six the first time my maternal Great Grandmother, Umma, left the state of Alaska. As a full Aleut, she’d lived her life on the Western coast in first one fishing village, and then another. The area is Russian Orthodox.

Orthodox priests were assigned regions to lead, rather than individual churches. Every few months the priest would arrive in a village, and the people would quickly get married, buried, and baptized. And confess.

Confessions occurred in the small church cabin painted with holy pictures, and maintained by my Great Grandfather. Inside, the village would gather, most standing except for seats for the elder women. My Umma would sit through the service, as I stood behind her, my hands crossed on her right shoulder.

Villagers would wait through incense and prayers, blessings till time for confession, then stand in a line to speak to the priest. But first the priest would cross to the front to give communion to Umma where she sat, then return to the back to receive all the others.

Confessions in Orthodox tradition occur in full view, rather than to the side in a small box of a room. After the people proceeded past the priest at the back of the church they would continue in a circle around the sides, kissing holy pictures, till they met Umma. Then the villagers would stand and wait to greet and kiss her too. Sometimes they would also bless me. She was an elder of the community. As her great grandchild, I received honor from her too. It was a blessing I carried with me by being her relation.

My mother was the oldest of her family. She was raised by her grandparents, while also close to her parents. It was partially tradition of staying close to her elders, partially particulars of their own family.

As the story was told, when still young enough to walk to the back of the church, Umma met with the priest. My mom was still little. He said to my Great Grandmother, “someday this one will take you much farther than you’ve ever expected.” Our trip out-of-state was the journey.

Our entire family traveled together landing in Seattle, then driving to Oregon to my Aunty for Easter. I sat in the back, on the edge of the seat between my great grandparents on one side, my middle sister on the other. In the front, my parents and oldest sister rode. On the drive we would come around corners and discover another tall building, or a greater expanse through the trees. Umma would grab my back, squeeze, and whisper, Aling-na! her surprise for everything new that greeted her. On our arrival in Oregon we shared a bedroom. She told me the story for the first time of how the priest had predicted our travel.

She told me too how after I was born she would look at me and smile, then say to my mom, I don’t know where that one came from. It was her way to say too she didn’t know how far I would go.

My parents were both raised in coastal villages. My father, Inupiat, originates further North. Their home regions were small enough both chose to board elsewhere in the state for high school. For university they studied in Fairbanks, where finally they met and decided to marry. Both remained close to their extended families but in having children they made a choice to raise their daughters outside their villages. We spent winters in Anchorage attending a mainstream school, summers on the Western coast commercial fishing with our Native family.

My parents’ wish for their children was for us to be clearly based in our Native heritage while capable of asking only what it was we wanted to do, without question of if we could do it. A life migrating between Anchorage for school in the winters, and the coast for work in the summers was part of that.

Reflecting on my recent trip to South America, I find myself overwhelmed by generations of gift. I am the only member of my family, besides my daughter, that no longer lives in Alaska. My sisters are both quite accomplished but have chosen to live their lives there in the state of our birth. In this way, I stand both as a fulfillment of my parents’ wish that we succeed in the broader world, and as the one who suffers an effect of that gift without family near by. Family for Native people is integral to who we are, and part of any accomplishment we keep. It is me that must do my work, but my family that has made that possible.

We departed Argentina recently on their mother’s day, a celebration in recognition of the generations of women that are family. Before leaving we shared lunch with Nicolas and Elena Catena. They are two people that, like Robert Mondavi for California wine, helped carry Argentine wine into the greater international presence it has today. Spending time with them was an honor.

We were asked, each of us, to speak to what we learned in tasting wine in Argentina. Alyssa Vitrano began by realizing the parallels of her Italian heritage with that of many of the people in wine of Argentina. Mary Orlin, Kelly Magyarics, and Mary Gorman-McAdams spoke eloquently about the quality of the wines we’d tasted, and the intricacies of vineyards with landscape. We all mentioned the warmth of people that received us. When it came my turn to speak I was flooded with the voice of my Great Grandmother — her story from the priest and my birth. Sitting with such accomplished, warm-hearted people there in Argentina, my family’s wishes for me had sent me farther than I ever expected.

***
Thank you most especially to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus, Alyssa Vitrano, Kelly Magyarics, Mary Orlin, and Mary Gorman-McAdams.

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

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3

Living Alaska

Growing up in Alaska I could only run or ski so long. A group of us would leave the house and run several miles across town to the cross country ski trails where a truck with our equipment would have driven to meet us. Then we’d nordic relay around the course in preparation for upcoming races. Still, even after several hours of training, we’d be out of something to do.

Besides one year with a late hour coffee shop in town, mostly there was nothing to do if you were underage. Then, even when drinking became an option most of the bars were too sketchy to waste time in. As a result, my friends and I had to get creative on what to do to pass the time. Mostly we spent our time driving, getting to know all the streets of neighborhoods all over town. Or, we’d come up with ridiculous games specific only to that evening’s mood then race around in the dark fulfilling the task we’d made up.

Last night, my sister Melanie, our friend Robin, and I decided to reprise Alaska ridiculousness with a new game. We had to on-the-fly design a photo series of iconic Anchorage moments showcasing a bottle of Forlorn Hope San Hercurmer Delle Necce, and Dirty and Rowdy Semillon.

Here are the photos from the series.

The Alaskan Athletes Hall of Fame

Susan Butcher in the Athlete Hall of Fame

Susan Butcher, 4-time winner of the Iditarod, was the baddest bad ass athlete the world has ever known. For real.

The Wild Animals Almost Got Us

Musk ox sniffing out the wine

That Musk Ox was totally sniffing out our wine. Melanie even set off an alarm trying to save us.

dude. bear almost got our wine.

Dude. The bear almost got the bottles.

oh shit dog!

Oh shit dog.

One in Three People in Alaska Has a Pilot’s License

my sister good woman

One in three people in Alaska has a pilot’s license, and the state is covered in lakes. So, there are lots and lots of float planes.

she braved leach infested water for this stuff

Melanie took off her shoes and braved the waters of a leach filled float plane lake. She brave woman.

wines on the floats

When traveling you are likely to meet bear.

wine on floats

Bring wine.

Totem Poles are so Alaska

Taco King Totem Pole

Totem poles are from Southeast Alaska but in Anchorage even Taco King “Real Mexican Food” has its own Totem Pole. #TacoKing

Tourists Run the State

The Alaska (tourist) train

The Alaska Railroad only moves tourists. Through town. The tourist train crosses the middle of town then up to Denali National Park and on to Fairbanks. We showed those tourists what’s what.

The Mortal Coil

Anchorage's whale of mortality

In downtown Anchorage, a block from the courthouse, in front of an office building full of lawyers there is a sculpture of the whale of mortality, whose waves threaten ships and tempt hunters (but the whale dives for wine). (Incidentally, one of the lawyers in this building helped me secure custody of Jr. Thank you, lawyer.)

The Inlet View

with a view of the inlet

The city is surrounded on three sides by the mountains. The fourth side by Cook Inlet.

the view a little later in the light

The sun finally sets this time of year for just a few hours.

Cook conquered the New Worlds, and then one conquered him

Captain James Cook conquered the New Worlds, including Alaska, until the New World conquered then ate him. Go Hawaii!

Junior High is to Embarrass You

I was a Trojan.

In Junior High I was a Trojan. We were all embarrassed even though we barely understood what it even meant.

How embarrassing

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