Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Journeys: North to Alaska!



Journeys and journaling are obviously topics near and dear to my heart. I have spent a life time learning about the paths that lead me to the places I need to be and to the events and the people that I need to experience and to learn from.

I grew up in Alaska, spending my childhood in fern filled rain forests and sandy beaches. I learned to be one with nature and enjoy solitude, listening to the ocean's waves and the hum of the gold ore in the mountains around me. True north became a mysterious compass point and finding my direction a constant struggle. I was in tune with the silent places and the tiny voices that called me to them and them to me. Voices which often drowned out the louder ones of the world that others listened to and kept me in a place that was all of my own.

When I left my home state, first to attend college in Oregon and then to marry and start a new life, I gave up a lot that I had always known and had to learn to appreciate, instead, a different journey and a different path. But my heart still lies in Juneau and the small island of Douglas, where I grew up. The pioneer spirit was instilled, with pride, in all of us. We treasured our own independence and all that came alone with it. So going 'home' means going not only returning to Alaska, but to my deepest roots, as well.


This week, I am blessed with the opportunity to head north...north to Alaska...to join with my large extended family in the celebration of my father's 90th birthday and my mother's fifth year of remission from stage 3b inflammatory breast cancer. Magnificent milestones for proud, honorable and steadfast people. My dear parents who have battled so many of life's challenges and obstacles, continue to battle new one, and are worthy of honoring and recognition.





In their honor..two quilts. For my father, the 'Turning Ninety' quilt of a previous post, based on my variation of a 'Turning Twenty' pattern. Using vintage photos and reproduction fabrics from WW2, I honor his service as a Warrant Officer on a ship in the Aleutian Islands and his own journey of five thousands miles to meet and marry his Cajun French penpal, my mother.


For my mother, a quilt filled with memories to fill her heart with love as it gives her a place to calm her hands and allow them the gentle touch of memories. The transferred photos depict our journey of healing and all of the healers who worked with us, along the way. Living with us for nine months, she, my dad and I faced the challenges with her through weekly chemo treatments, surgery, and then daily radiation. I named this quilt, 'Manifesting Miracles'. I was told that her chances for survival had been less than one percent without all three successfully achieved treatments. We faced them head on and beat the odds, together. She was, and is a living miracle.




Little did we know, what I was already sensing. Memories were beginning to be ever more dear and special for as her vision begin to fade with diabetes, glaucoma, and the the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, this simple tactile photo quilt became a place of soft memories and gentle, calming touch for her. She loved it so.

And my dad? Perhaps, he almost loved his patriotic memories photo quilt even more. The years of serving his country with courage and honor, of meeting and falling in love with his beautiful French penpal from Louisiana and bringing her north to Alaska to live and raise a family of five children.

They loved their quilts, stroking them, looking up close at the photos, feeling the different fabrics, the quilting, how it was all pieced made them so happy and so proud that I had learned to do this for them. Knowing just how much I loved them. They were dear and special gifts ..for them, for and from me.

And so, I journal, and so I leave for my journey; to connect with my family, to re-connect with my roots. I yearn to hear the ocean's heartbeat, feel the strong northern winds on my face, walk in the snow and listen to the pull of rich metals in the mountain's depths.

I take my quilts with me, grateful for this new medium of expression and of love, shared. I am so thankful that I learned to quilt, however simply it still may be. Grateful that I have learned so much from all of you and have the opportunity for sharing my experiences and my voice. I will be back in two weeks, stronger and more grounded, filled with new memories, but missing two dear people and two more of my quilts!

4 comments:

  1. How wonderful to be able to share these milestones with your Mom and Dad! 90 is a big one! and surviving cancer - phenomenal! All of us have been touched one way or another by that disease and we should applaud those who survive while remembering with fondness those who didn't.

    have a great trip back to your homeland.

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  2. What a thoughtful and meaningful post. I grew up moving. Moving from state to state from country to country. The one constant was nature. Safe journey home.

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  3. So good that you are able to celebrate these milestones. Hope you have a safe and comfortable and heartwarming journey to Alaska.

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  4. good traveling.
    I don't stop by as often as I wish to but there is the matter of time in this (tangable) world. Enjoy the blessings of your family. Enjoy your roots & bring some back to sustain yourself.
    You will not be missing your quilts that you have given , you will be extending you reach into another relm.

    Safe journy back to us.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.