A Brief Synopsis of the Sitka Symposium

Over the back fence hangs a huge orb, Crayola blue, on a braided rope. It's a Japanese glass ball the neighbor found on the beach.  You can find them here--remnants that kept fishing nets afloat before catching a wild drift across the Bering Sea. A writer named Dan Henry camped under the ball this weekend and we talked about Haines and writing on a bright green hike up Indian Creek. He was working at the conference of writers that comes every summer, although this summer was its last. On Sunday, I went to hear Gary Snyder speak. He was smaller and older than I thought he would be, and talked about life in Japan and a commune in northern California where people passed a talking stick in large circles to clear up arguments. Snyder was wearing this light blue shirt whose arm-lengths were crisp-creased, pressed by a dry-cleaner, maybe, and I couldn't quite picture him pounding redwood poles into the frames of homes. He didn't talk like a poet, like he was downtrodden with meanings, which I liked. He had on a fishing vest, and read a simple haiku about dew that had the ending "and yet...and yet."

Someone in the audience asked him if his ideas were enough for newer generations and he said, "You can't tell kids what to do, but given enough years, a lot of them will come home and engage again," which is what I did, I think, when I moved back to Denver last year. He also said that in case kids don't come back, which is a fear I have of having my own, that "People will use the work you've done, one way or another."

Then, these two Tlingit women, one whom I know from school, stood up and handed around a basket into which thank you notes and abalone shells went for the Symposium starters. The one in a magenta turtleneck had native earrings and a long, old ponytail and they danced when she looked both ways, then said, "There is no language for true gratitude."

This is a harbor with women who grow their hair long and gray, scour beaches for smooth glass, understand that sometimes there are no words for what we need to say.