Sep 18, 2010

A Walk of Remembrance

As an act of remembrance, and in honor and ritual, my sister-in-law and I walked along the top of my beloved Douglas Island in my home state of Alaska, and remembered the life and passing of my father.

We began our journey by lighting a sage heart that she had brought along...never realizing as she had done so, that my father's given first name was Bernhart. We lit the heart and burned its sage and its fragrance and flame lit candles along our way.

She reminded me that as a young boy, he too, must have walked this ancient mountain top path along the remnants of a trail known as the "Treadwell Ditch." As his father did before him, he did in his youth, his sons did in theirs, and now his daughter-in-law and daughter did. We walked and we remembered.... the history of a land, an island, a once famous gold mine, and a family steeped in the traditions and the history of all of those energies.

The Treadwell Gold Mine was once the largest gold ore bearing mine in the world. It was the site of a town that once boasted 10,000 residents, its own opera house, the first indoor swimming pool in the Americas, and a wealth of stores, saloons, a barber shop, grocery store, a laundry, and three separate churches.

Now, only a few building remnants and some rusty iron parts mark the original town-site and only 12 or 13 of the original miles of the ditch mark the path and source of the 18 miles of hydro powered water that created its gold mining energies more than a century before.

The Treadwell Ditch was actually a long water canal dug out by workers from 1888 to 1892 and covered with a railroad tie like structure for all of its original 18 miles along the mountain top. Collected rain and snow runoffs were added to natural creek water flows and used for an ingenious form of hydro-powered stamp milling of the gold. My grandfather worked in that foundry and milled those stamps.

Treadwell had been one of the most technologically advanced mines of its day. In 1917, The Treadwell Mine, the 700-Foot, and the Mexican Mines (which had been excavated to a depth of more than 500ft below sea level) suddenly began leaking, and had to be evacuated.

Hours later the mine collapsed. That flooding came as the Gastineau Channel tides rose to meet the incoming collapse of tunnels and as the timbered mining tunnels and shafts began to cave, the waters poured forth and into them, as well. Waters from channel and ditch became one in the cataclysmic process....and an entire mining operation lay in ruin.

1917 was the year of that collapse, and the year that not only my father, Bernhart Savikko, was born, but the very date and the year that my intuitive Finnish grandmother, Elli, refused to let my grandfather go to work.

By refusing to make his lunch in an era when no self respecting man would make his own, she managed to keep him home and safe from the huge collapse of the tunnels when water poured into and filled them. And while the records show 'no lives were lost' during this cave-in, claiming that all 1,000 workers had been evacuated in time, my saddened grandfather always said that many of the Chinese workers never were seen again after that terrible day. And that the true losses were much greater than a few mules, or horses that were claimed.

So, we had much to think about, much to remember, as we walked along the grassy pilings and saw the way nature has absorbed them into her bounty and made them simply one with the trees, the moss, the devil's club and Indian rhubarb plants along the way.

We burned our sage, lit our candles, and paused for breaks and passages of remembrance. As we sipped our little cups of wine, we toasted my father and all the memories he carried of a time now long forgotten, the stories he told of his childhood, his father and mother, his sisters and brothers, and how deeply he loved this great land of Alaska.

My heart was already full when I looked across the creek and saw this beautiful site.

Two logs had merged into one and the moss which enclosed them formed a perfect heart.

I called it to my sister-in-law's attention and pointed out how beautifully fitting it was. The past and the present forged together in time...the eternal now of love and memory.

A sage heart to burn in the beginning, and a moss covered one to fill us with its beauty near the end. My father would have been moved to tears.

I only knew that I was.

Historical Photos and links:
Alaska Treadwell Gold Mining Company - Alaska's Digital Archives


Karen said...

Dear Elaine......I felt as though I was with you and your SIL on your walk of remembrance! What memories you have! I really enjoyed the informative link you supplied about the mining lives.

May you always remember!

Hugs, Karen

quiltmom anna said...

HI Michele,
Sage is a comforting scent to burn- we burn it each morning when we smudge with our students. Smudging is a cleansing prayer that we do to greet the day. Sometimes we smudge again when we need some calming and reflective time. Your journey feels very healing and calming- I am sure your father would have enjoyed it- perhaps he did, for his spirit was present there walking with you both.
It looks like a gorgeous area and I love nature's moss heart.
Thanks for sharing this beautiful walk.
Warmest regards,

Cat said...

What an absolutely beautiful post - thank you for sharing xxx

Shelina (formerly known as Shasta) said...

What a wonderful walk, and how lovely to see the moss heart.

Anonymous said...

I loved everything about this. Thank you.

Jan said...

Beautiful walk---I'm so sorry to hear about your father--my sympathy to you. Jan

SewCalGal said...

What a special memorial walk.

Hugs, many hugs.


Magpie Sue said...

Thank you for sharing that personal and so touching experience with the rest of us. More eveidence that we are merely shadowing the work of the Great Creator.

suz said...

Thank you for allowing us to join with you on your special journey.