The Elder, The Tundra, The Graveyard

15Jun02

One of my patients in clinic yesterday was 77 years old, from the village of Scammon Bay.  Dressed in traditional attire and speaking not a word of English, she began weeping when I asked, through a translator, how she was doing.

She had lost her husband 4 months previously, and was still missing him greatly.  She took comfort in the fact that he was happy with his grandchildren and the creator in the sky, and no longer suffering on Earth.  Hearing the story in the native language, though I understood not a word of it, was especially powerful.

 


 

Walking on the Tundra in the summer is like walking on a giant sponge – mud-soaked greenery sinks about two inches to permanently frozen sod, the effect of which makes shoes dirty.  It feels not unlike walking on freshly-laid carpet with very thick padding.  It’s actually quite fun.  What I didn’t realize is that tundra stops and marsh begins where the tangled greenery is replaced by tall grass.  My attempt to walk through a marsh soaked my pants halfway to the knee, and my shoes are still drying.

 


 

Found and walked through the cemetery in Bethel a few days ago.  I’d assume that people can only be buried in the summertime, given the weather otherwise, and not too deeply given the permafrost.  Most of the graves are marked by wooden crosses – I’ve been told that headstones are too expensive to fly in for most families.  A few existed, but I’d say that a majority of the graves were marked only by the crosses.

One of the headstones that did exist marked the grave of the last great Yup’ik steamwheeler captain of the Kuskokwim River.  I would have liked to have met him.

 


 

A certainty of Bethel is that the beauty exists on a micro rather than a macro level.  The overall town is nothing impressive, but in the details lie a world not seen anywhere else.

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