Place Where You Live:

Wrangell, Alaska

Mother bear showing cubs how to fish
Photo by Paxson Woelber

I know an island shaped like a snow goose. If you were a migrating bird on the Pacific Flyway above Southeast Alaska, you’d see I live tucked into the curve of the goose’s neck, near the red alder village site, Keishishgitaan. I live at my fish camp, in a small cabin in Ḵaachx̱ana.áakʼw, now called Wrangell. Where I live is about knowing the place where I was born.

Here, at the ocean’s edge, I know my fish camp. I know that spruce tips are almost ready to harvest, and the black bear will soon dig skunk cabbage roots nearby. I know this place because of my children’s stories, and also my ancestors’ stories, which go back ten thousand years. I know how an old couple traveled under the glacier and down this river looking for a new home. On that same river, I once told the story to my children while we stood on an iceberg. Now, I live with this melting glacier in my backyard. Although I know this river delta, the ten-fathom hump where we jig halibut, the sea lion haul-out, I’m still a guest.

I’m able to live on this island because my children’s clan, my adopted clan, from Sít’ eeti Geey (Glacier Bay), settled here. We’re kittiwakes, with snail and octopus crests. Here, I’m taught how to fish salmon, set shrimp pots and hunt moose. I’m taught about the medicines from dúk buds and s’ikshaldéen because my eldest daughter and others are teaching me. I live in a constant state of witnessing and learning.

Where I live means taking care of Tlingit Aaní, the land and sea. There’s a freezer full of stink currants and thimbleberries, spruce tips, deer and moose meat, halibut and crab, and cupboards full of jarred salmon and blueberry jam. I have become this island. So if you’re migrating over my cabin, you’ll see me. I’ll be putting alder on our smokehouse fire, and there’ll be red ribbon seaweed drying in the sun.