NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2016 (Challenge 2, Group 3 – fantasy/cotton plantation/mustard)


Tarjon, the Dwarf Lord, was having a bad day. Several days earlier, his entire legion of faerie slaves had escaped.

The witch who stood before him did nothing to disguise her distaste for Tarjon’s lair. She wrinkled her nose and hugged her arms close to her body, avoided touching anything.

“We will continue this conversation aboveground,” she intoned.

Tarjon looked around. His throneroom was the pride of his existence, the place he took his meals, his entertainment, and his pleasure with the creatures he was able to lure – or drag – there. It was the place he liked to spend most of his time, when he wasn’t carousing in the brewroom.

“I want to stay here! It’s almost time for my dinner!” His voice cracked with frustration. Most of the dwarves were, on his orders, hunting above ground for any sign of the escapees. For the last few days, his meals had been a haphazard mishmash of whatever his elderly, addled servant Hap was able to cobble together from the dwindling supplies in the kitchens.

“Take your dinner in the fields. I cannot abide this room.” She turned in place and disappeared.

“Aauuugh!” Tarjon exclaimed, rolling his blue eyes and raking greasy fingers through his shaggy brown hair. Heaving himself from the throne, he kicked at a smelly lump of rubbish on the floor and screamed at Hap to deliver his meal aboveground.

“Happily, happily!” crowed Hap. ‘Happily’ was the only word Hap knew.

Tarjon stomped up. Squinting against the sunlight, he made his way to the oak tree where the witch sat waiting.

He hated it up here, especially during the day. The fresh air taxed his lungs, and the incessant chattering of birds, insects and rodents were best slept through.

Dwarves were usually nocturnal.

He could tell from the silvery puffs forming on the plants in the field that the time of harvest was nearly at hand. Without a cotton crop to sell to the nearby villagers, how would Tarjon obtain the human delicacies to which he had grown accustomed? His mouth watered as he thought of the baked breads, rich meats, fantastic jellies and sauces.

Having gained the skill of mining, the humans no longer needed the dwarves to harvest precious gems and metals. The faerie-grown cotton, though, could be woven into magnificent cloth: airy and light yet strong and waterproof.

Without it, he would have nothing to barter with. Tarjon allowed himself a measure of self-pity before settling down on the ground next to the witch.

“So, what do we do?” he snapped. “How do we get them back?”

The witch took a deep, calming breath. It appeared as though her allegiance with the dwarves was coming to an end, and she was quite relieved.

Somehow, the disgusting little creature had broken the spell.

“First I must know how they were able to leave. What did you do?”

Tarjon looked uncomfortable. “Nothing. I did nothing.”

The witch sighed. “The only way the faeries could escape en masse would be if you, in some way, severed the connection to the lynchpyn. The first one upon whom I laid the spell. Do you recall her?”

Tarjon recalled. Ten years earlier, when he had finally managed to capture one of the wee folk, his intense joy was tempered by the knowledge that she would escape at the first opportunity.

So he’d called in a favor owed to the dwarves by the Ancient One now in front of him. A favor that his father, and his father’s father, and on up for many generations, had never called in. They’d been waiting for something important enough to warrant it.

Well, breakdown of trade with the humans was important enough. The other dwarves would return to the old ways, but Tarjon couldn’t live on the slimy algae and eyeless fish that had kept them alive for millennia.

He wanted steak.

The witch had cast a spell over the faerie; one that linked her to Tarjon, and to the land above his lair.

“She cannot survive under the ground as you do, nor can she thrive without a purpose. Give her a crop to tend, and the product of that crop will be something the humans treasure.” She’d given him a leather pouch of tiny seeds that he’d tossed at the faerie before retreating to his throneroom for his daily hibernation.

By the next full moon, the faerie had tilled a large field and germinated the seeds. Tarjon had captured several more faeries by then, and the witch tethered them to the same spell that held the original faerie captive.

So it had gone, over the years, until hundreds of the winged creatures tended the fields above Tarjon’s lair. They refused to breed in captivity, but as they were immortal, this was no problem.

The witch gazed into Tarjon’s eyes. He found himself pinned in place, unable to move. She scoured his memory, finding it bleary with drink and difficult to interpret. She found the scene she was looking for.

Tarjon, stumbling from the brewroom at daybreak. Making his way to the mouth of the cave, spying a glint of golden wings, a shimmering stab of drunken lust leading him to snatch the creature from the air and make his way back to his filthy lair with it, to see what it could do. A third his size and with none of his brute strength, it could not hope to resist.

The faeries were immortal, but that did not mean they couldn’t be killed.

The Ancient One released Tarjon with a gasp, just as Hap tottered over.

Tarjon, cowering with shame, turned to the old dwarf and saw on his platter the last green-tinged steak, smeared with streaks of brown mustard.

“How could I?” murmured Tarjon, picking up the steak with a grimy hand and cramming an edge into his mouth. Hap patted him on the head.

“Happily,” he said, before returning to the comforting darkness of the cave.

The Cure-All

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2016 (Challenge 1, Group 3 -Thriller / frozen river / teacup)



The memory of sun-warmed berries overhanging crisp, bright-rushing water swam languidly in Marie’s mind as she lay shivering against the snow pack, staring out at the solid grey mass of ice before her.

She picked at the edge of the rough cloth covering the gaping gash that lay bare her thighbone, fingers caressing the makeshift bandage that had begun to fuse to the wound, stitching itself down with pus and congealed blood. She caught a whiff of the decay that would eventually kill her.

The bacteria multiplied rapidly, drawing all the warmth her body could muster, her immune system’s pathetic attempt to burn it clear merely providing fuel for their vigorous reproductive efforts.

Her fingers, toes, cheekbones were losing feeling, numb in the growing dusk. Her brain was already frozen.

Like the river.

Like the bones of their mother, buried on the bank since the week after Marie’s birth.

Like the bones of their father, buried in the smouldering remains of their cabin since, on Marie’s insistence, he’d gone back for the cat.

Father had watched her tumble from her bed in the loft, in her haste to escape the billowing smoke.  Watched her impale herself on the wooden spike of the long-broken banister. The banister he had meant to repair for as long as Marie had been alive, its jagged presence once a running joke; the most interesting architectural element in their rough-hewn cabin.

Her screams had roared louder than the flames that licked the walls, caught the curtains.

James was the one who’d thought to grab the backpack of camping supplies, loop his arm across Marie’s chest, and drag her out into the snow, down to the river’s edge, press the wound closed. He pushed hard with his twelve-year-old fingers against the throbbing pulse.

Father staggered after them, staring dumbly.

“Help us, daddy!” James begged. Marie’s fading voice croaked the cat’s name over and over, a desperate chant. Father turned back to the flames, following the trail of spilled blood, over the threshold, blindly seeking whatever might make his daughter whole again.

He did not emerge.

Hours after smoke had ceased to rise from the cabin, James stoked their small campfire, it’s flickering gleam doing little to hold the dark chill at bay. He knew they needed to move from the river bank, needed to journey the several miles down the road to their nearest neighbor, before the chill consumed them.  He repositioned the tin pan filled with snow, nestling it closer to the center of the flames.

When in doubt, his father had always said, a cup of tea will cure all your ills.

“Where’s daddy?” Marie’s whisper sliced through the heavy frozen silence, drawing his eyes up to meet hers for the first time since the flames consumed their lives.

He opened his mouth, but the knot in his throat prevented him from responding. Turning to the backpack, he felt around for the small pouch of tea bags their father always packed on their camping trips, extracted one. Dropped it into the steaming water, spooling out the string by habit, resting the paper tag outside the pan. It quickly caught fire. The flame threaded up the cotton wick and into the water, where it sizzled its tiny death.

As he pulled the enameled blue mug from the pack and scooped out some of the hot brown liquid, a rustling from the woods beyond the house alerted him to the presence of another.

“Who’s there?” He leapt to his feet, his strong, loud voice belied the quivering fear in his guts, a fear that multiplied when he saw the loping figure emerge, all yellow eyes and shaggy fur stretched tight over visible ribs.

It was a wolf, and it was hungry.

For a moment, they stood and observed one another, the wolf’s nostrils twitching at the faded scent of Marie’s blood. Steam curled from the cup still clutched in James’ hands.

“Hyah!” he shouted as he flung the cup at the animal. At the same moment the wolf darted forward, ignoring James and streaking up to Marie, grasping her tiny shoulder in his powerful jaws and making to drag her into the woods.

“Nooo!” James screeched, grabbing the hot pan and whacking the wolf on the snout with a force that bent the thin metal handle. But the wolf would not be discouraged from such a generous meal so deep in winter. Marie’s screams rent the air around them, and she kicked wildly with her non-injured leg.

“No, no, no!” James lunged after them, striking the wolf again and again before using the handle to gouge wildly at its eyes. When he hit his target, he felt the soft flesh give and heard the wolf’s sharp yelp as it dropped its prize and dashed, howling, back into the woods.

Marie’s screams continued, unabated. Fresh, bright-red blood poured from the new wound in her shoulder. The movement had disturbed the scabbing of her leg, and blood poured from that as well. How much blood could she lose? Her eyes were glassy and unfocused.

“Shh, shh, Marie it will be okay. Everything will be okay.” He spoke the lie with conviction. Her scream faded to a sigh, blessed shock overtaking her nervous system and silencing her.

“I have to get you back to the fire,” he whispered, more to himself, as exhaustion threatened to consume him. How much easier would it be to just lie his head down next to hers, to sleep until some responsible adult came along to save them?

But he knew no one would come.

Gently shifting Marie back to her place near the fire, James unbent the handle of the tin pan, now smeared with the blood of both Marie and the wolf. He filled it with snow, and pushed it back into the flames.

When in doubt, his father had always said, a cup of tea will cure all your ills.


(NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2 – Mystery, wax museum, zipper)

Adrenaline laced her veins. The blood cells that would be first to leave her body kept up their perpetual joyride around her system, oblivious to the part they would soon play.

For us, time crept. Sleepless, yet dreamlike. A stillness felt through the skeletons and reinforcing rods that kept us upright. Kept us stable. Eyes fixed on a point across the room; ever-gazing and seeing nothing.

Yet among our cold bones and wax flesh, two heartbeats.

Her voice in speech was soft, but her scream, when it came, was deep. Throaty. Shocking. The blood was thick, unhurried now, as it pooled onto the floor, staining blonde hair red. Already adopting the pace of its new home. Its resting place.

One heartbeat.


Grace kept her arms crossed as she stalked on sensible heels down the dim hallway. Dark shapes crowded her onto a well-worn path. Glass eyes observed her progress.

The smell of dust on wax was pervasive. It reminded her of her mother’s old red Christmas candles. Unwrapped every year, placed on the mantle on either side of the stockings. Bearing witness to each holiday season’s drama and laughter and petty squabbles. After the New Year, they were wrapped in the same worn tissue paper that had cradled them for all time. Nestled in their box, content to wait out the displays of the Easter gumdrop tree, Fourth-of-July windsock, illuminated plastic jack-o-lantern.

When Mom died last year, Dad threw all the holiday decorations away. He hadn’t even asked Grace or Cara if they wanted to keep anything. Didn’t respond when they begged for an explanation.

Grace had felt the loss of those candles the most. Their cheery unnatural hue, the faded plastic mistletoe at their feet. Comfortable in the knowledge that they would always get to watch.

They would never be burned.

Grace glanced at Laurel and Hardy posed on a bench. Laurel’s vacuous smile was a crude-at-best likeness. Hardy’s face was a Halloween mask with black eyes. Beyond them, Brigitte Bardot posed in her little polka-dot underwear. It was obvious more attention had gone into her finer details. Grace couldn’t believe how different this place had seemed when they were kids.

Cara, where are you?

Cara had often joked about running away to the old shut-down Movieland Wax Museum. She’d said if she was there, she would never be lonely. Her instinct was always to run. To leave Grace holding the bag and making the explanations. But now Mom was gone. Cara couldn’t just run away. Grace needed her. The impulse to look here was silly, but Grace couldn’t put it away.

Not until she had checked for herself.

Can I help you?” The voice seemed to come out of Gene Kelly, hanging from his lamppost, singing in the rain.

Grace, startled, suppressed a gasp. “Hello?”

A small man with pasty skin and cold eyes peeked out from behind Gene’s trenchcoat.

Um, hi. I’m looking for my sister. I think… I think she may have come here? Can you tell me if you’ve seen her?” Grace held out a photograph, hand trembling. “Her name is Cara.”

He took it with a crooked smile, without breaking eye contact. Grace was uncomfortably aware of their two heartbeats, alone in the cavernous room with all those empty shells.


Are you sure you want to do this?” Todd’s voice was gentle.

Yes. I’ve told you about our police force. They’re next to useless. Sarge is in his eighties. Of course they didn’t find anything.”

And I can’t come with you?”

You’re a distraction. I need to be focused.”

You sure?” He brushed her thick, dark hair over her shoulder. Paused to twirl a pink-tipped strand between his fingers.

Yeah. Thank you for driving up with me, though.” She flashed a cautious smile; one she hadn’t shown since summer started to fade and she’d started taking the phone calls from her father. She pulled her boots from the floorboard and slid a foot into each, zipping them up the insides of her calves. She stepped out of the car and scanned the outline of the rundown building. “This place looks terrible. I’ll only be a minute. Stay here.”

Once inside, she strolled slowly down the aisles of figures in the silent, dark museum. The wax faces she’d once found so charming now looked haunted. Beseeching. She smelled that dusty, waxy smell that used to recall such fond memories. Memories of candles and laughter and home. Now the scent was one of loss. Nothing but loss.

Hi.” The voice behind her made her breath catch. She felt the adrenaline flood her body. That fight-or-flight response.

Hi. My name is Cara. I’m, um… I’m looking for my sister?” She attempted a smile, hoping to distract from the trembling in her fingers. The wrinkled photograph she produced from her back pocket was the exact likeness of a figure that gleamed, fresh, behind him.


For us, time is dead, but still we see. Wax lends itself to hive intelligence.

We see her Cara. Our Cara.

Her loss is our loss.

Her vengeance, our vengeance.


By the time Todd had made up his mind to enter – and risk serious reprisal for not following Cara’s explicit orders – it was no longer silent. It was no longer dark.

There was a pile of quivering flesh. There was a pile of wax and metal and outdated clothing. There was Cara, screaming and sobbing, kicking at a roaring fire that burned hot with rage. Her cheap plastic boots were melting, and the metal zippers were seared into her skin, leaving marks that would remain for the rest of her long life.

The steel had groaned and the wax had cracked and the passion of a billion absorbed memories and lifetimes of love lost had animated the figures: those original to the museum, and those created by the man himself.

There was an attack.

There was a spark.

They no longer had to watch.

They would finally be burned.


(NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge GR 21 – Romantic Comedy, Private Island, Walking Stick)

In her lucid moments, Joanie often felt she was little more than a crazy old crippled lady with her walking stick and her thump, thump, thumping on the wall that would eventually, obviously, drive her beloved husband mad. Drive him away.

But to Harold, every time he heard the thumping on the wall he remembered the desperation of a sharp rock against a coconut, Joanie’s grateful lips, plumped with youth and blistered with sunshine, brushing against his fingers as he held the freshly cracked coconut to her mouth to slake her desperate, survivor’s thirst.

She’d paused briefly to caress his thumb with her soft tongue before pulling away, and as he stood watching her, this strange woman who would be his Joanie, kneeling in the sand, picking away the few rough strands of coconut fiber that clung to her lips, smiling up at him and squinting against the sunshine, he felt as though he were the first man and she the first woman and this the first shared sustenance there ever was between a man and a woman, ever on this Earth. And it was good.

Sixty-four years after the shipwrecked survivors of the Oceanius were discovered by developing scouters seeking out locations to build luxury mansions on private islands to sell to billionaires, the details of the mechanical explosion and its immediate aftermath were sketchy and faded in Harold’s memory, and for this he was grateful. Instead, when he thought back to that time, what he recalled most was Joanie who stretched nude in the morning sunrise. Joanie who butchered fish impassively but cried as she field-dressed the birds. Joanie’s eyes on him, his mouth on her, making love on a private island all their own, where the warmth he found inside her gave him strength and courage against the wild jungle night, in a tropical paradise that a small primal part of him hoped they’d never leave.

Back then, Joanie had been a round, voluptuous woman with an athlete’s musculature hugged by an endearing layer of softness. She whistled while she worked, literally. Her body, voice, and hands had been an ever-flowing fountain of love, life, joy and harmony, once upon a time.

More recently, Harold found her body, at least, was an ever-flowing fountain of crankiness, terrible memory, and some truly dreadful gas. In the wake of the failed yogurt campaign, it might be time to spring for the encapsulated probiotics the doctor had mentioned. They were really supposed to be helpful in the elimination department.

All those years Harold had avoided changing their babies’ diapers, and now here he was, tetchily waving away suggestions of hiring a nurse, insisting on utmost privacy and discretion, fretting over wipes and rashes and consistency and regularity, consulting the doctor with a straight face and frank language. True, though, that he also enjoyed muttering to himself “Ahh, you’re fulla’ shit, Jo,” when he was privately exasperated. He chuckled to himself every time, because he could confirm it was true in at least one sense of the word.

The man who’d spent his children’s childhoods avoiding the grocery store now tutted through the aisles, inspecting packages for damage and sell-by dates, fiber content and added sugars, stocking their home with foods recommended by the doctor; whole grain this and leafy green that. Small cartons of naturally- and artificially-flavored, probiotic-filled yogurts he dutifully purchased, opened, and offered. Each time Joanie fussed, fretted and refused to eat them, alternately citing either their overwhelming odor or their lack of enticing aroma; their off-putting too-smooth texture or terrifying, shriek-inducing debris minefields. (Fruit-at-the-Bottom was a topic the entire extended family knew well to avoid.)

When she needed Harold and he was elsewhere in the house, she called to him by thump, thump, thumping on the wall beside her bed with her old polished walking stick. Her careful aim landed each blow in the exact same place, hitting a stud in the wall that resonated through the house, creating a divot in the plaster that was the same blunted brown color as the base of the stick.

As a travel writer, she had explored the terrain on every continent, and in every country she tromped through, her endearing propensity to clumsiness had been counteracted by the sturdy stick. Now, instead of bearing her along the terrain, it called Harold to her, today clutching a little carton of coconut water he had bought as a special treat. He sat beside the bed and lifted the box to her age-worn face, gazed into her nearly sightless eyes and held the tiny straw steady for her.

As she drank, gratefully, her thin, dry lips caressed the tips of his fingers and an ancient memory hitched a ride on his bloodstream and went curling around his veins, stoking up the same physical reaction in his Southern Hemisphere as it had when he first quenched her thirst with coconut water so many years ago.

“I love you, Joanie Girl. You know,” he said in a soft voice strained with emotion, nostalgia, and a little something else. “I wanted to do this sixty years ago when we met, but I guess I just didn’t have the nerve.” Still holding the carton to her mouth, he picked up her slack hand from the comforter and pressed it to the hardness straining against his worn khaki pants. She spluttered and coughed, sitting up a little in the bed.

“Harold, you old goat!” she said with that lilt of laughter that still lit her face from within, caught his heart by its strings, fanned the flame in his groin.

She settled back into her nest, all bony angles on the carefully arranged cushions. She smiled at him and he felt as though he were the last man and she were the last woman and this was the last shared sustenance there ever was between a man and a woman, ever on this Earth. And it was good.

Post 10 – Writing About Alaska

Image Source: http://www.spoki.lv/foto-izlases/Alaska/254938

From the Last New Land I have learned innumerable things about my home state. I have also crept into the minds of dozens of real and fictional characters who have inhabited the state. I have rolled up the Tanana on a paddleboat near the turn of the century (1), I have stood beside my chief father as our villagers are taken hostage (2), I have sat silently, motionless, frigid, at the edge of a seal’s breathing hole, waiting for the inevitable surfacing (3), I have huddled, frostbitten, in a cavern near the summit of Denali (4), stripped roe from decapitated salmon on the cannery slime line (5), I have waited in the terminal of the Anchorage airport and drank beers and raged at flat-screen televisions in modern downtown bars (6).

Image Source: http://www.miami.com/sites/migration.miami.com/files/images/DuffysSportsGrill2.jpg

The beauty of literature based in Alaska and the Yukon territory is that the subject matter, the potential cast of characters, are as richly varied as the landscape. Alaska offers the perfect setting for any tale: a harsh, unyielding Arctic wasteland, a sun-scorched endless summer on the tundra, a drippy, temperate rainforest.

Image Source: http://icons-ak.wunderground.com/data/wximagenew/d/DWard/76.jpg

There are centuries of various cultural actions and interactions to draw on, from thousands of burnished-skinned Asians traveling over Beringia to single white males living in stationary solitude, to waves of immigrants from countries near and far. The technological adaptations from nomadic hunter-gatherer to highly specialized whale and walrus spears to the industrial gold rush to the current modern wave of iphones and ubiquitous 3g access. The diverse animal life, from legendary bird-sized mosquitos to tiny voles, slim arctic fox to Kodiak bears to Blue whales, the largest mammal on the planet.

Image Source: http://pacificenvironment.org/img/original/Animals/002353.jpg

So much diversity and variation contained in one enormous land, yet the specialty of the Alaska writer seems to be to take a micro-slice of this diversity, a single cel in the mind-boggling animation of life in Alaska, and illuminate it; capture its color and beauty, depth and scope. This is arguably true for most good writers, but the added appeal of the wilderness, even when it isn’t so wild, is what draws the imagination and holds it fast. It’s what gives the land its appeal and writings about it an extra edge, a sharpness, a sweetness that pervades the prose, traveling across time and space and distilling the wonder that is Our Great Land.

Image Source: http://www.banffcentre.ca/media_room/images/2006/definitions/images/heartbeats_of_denali_L.jpg

1. Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie, pg 93

  1. Ashana, E.P. Roesch, pg 57
  2. Moon of the Returning Sun, Richard K. Nelson, pg 397
  3. March 1: -148*, Art Davidson, pg. 535
  4. Salmon Egg Puller, Nora Marks Dauehauer, pg. 709

Post 9 – Seasons

How quickly we can adapt to changes in our lifestyles, our habits, and most especially, our habitats. Though some corners of our brains will resist — holding tightly to fond remembrances of times, places, and people in our past — physiologically speaking we are well equipped to accept change.

I grew up in Northern California.

Winters were mild, summers were scorching. Spring and fall were unremarkable, serving mostly as school art project fodder and harbingers of the revered seasons to come.

By scorching, I mean blisteringly hot. I mean temperatures well over 100* for days at a time. I mean not being able to walk on blacktop without shoes. I mean second-degree burns from seat belts and public pool water reaching body-temperature by noon. Hot.

Winters were gentle. Of course, I didn’t think so at the time. At the time, they seemed absolutely frigid: biting wind, freezing rain, the occasional lacy layer of thin ice on top of the puddle by my morning bus stop. Forty degrees never felt so cold!

Then, when I was 13, my family moved to Kodiak, AK. We drove up the Al-Can highway and arrived in mid-September, just in time to herald the first “real” winter I’d ever experienced. Cold, wet, slushy snow, a constant cyclical freeze and thaw that caused a thick, slick layer of ice to form on every surface, an actual NEED for boots, mittens, and coats!

Image Source: Marion Owen Photography, Kodiak AK. http://marionowen.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/img_3698_kodiak-winter-owen.jpg

The summer, unnaturally mild, drenchingly rainy, making me long for the warm summer nights of my childhood, the summer rain so lukewarm that the shock of Kodiak’s chilly drops are all the more profound. High school girls walking around in tank tops and cutoff shorts at 50*, a temperature that would cause a mother in Shasta County to exhort her child to zip up her coat.

Still, by the next year I had physically adapted to the climate; I could navigate icy sidewalks like a professional, and balmy 50* breezes found me putting my winter coats back into the closet.

Four years later, I found myself in Fairbanks. Arriving in July, I felt a rebirth of sorts: 90* weather! Hours and hours of daylight! Scorching blacktop! Of course, the most remarkable thing about summers in Fairbanks is that such a temperate, welcoming climate will so soon turn into an Arctic wasteland, home to a cold that gets into your bones and teeth and blood and car batteries. That first winter I didn’t see how anyone could possibly survive such cold. I am a history lover, and thinking of the pioneers of Alaska, living in Fairbanks without centrally-heated homes and automobiles and convenience stores every few miles, my mind was boggled. Visiting Kodiak for a week at Christmastime, I was amazed by the welcoming warmth of the 28* weather, bracingly shocked at my re-entry to Fairbanks at -40*.

Image Source: http://www.alaska-in-pictures.com/data/media/12/fairbanks-winter_1007.jpg

Seasons in Alaska vary widely by region, and some parallels can be made between the weather found here and that found in the lower 48. But the seasons here become such a part of the local identity, shaping the land and the people, a constant background element that works its way into the psyches of the people lucky enough to call this land home. I still fondly recall those warm Californian nights with a pang of regret, but when I take my daughter and dog to the ocean and the warm salty air swirls around us, I pull my coat a little tighter around me and know I wouldn’t trade these seasons for anything.

Image: Author's Own

Post 7 – Culture

The story of America is, of course, told through the eyes of various immigrants and migrants, cultures interweaving and overlapping and intermingling until the “melting pot” is the best descriptor for our great land. Alaska’s tale is no different. Most people travel here for the opportunity to make what they will of the vast and varied exploitable natural resources.

”]Others came for the taste of adventure that only a wildly untamed wilderness like Alaska could provide. These aims were not at odds with each other and also mirror the desire of American settlers pursuing manifest destiny; it was not a weak spirit who traveled cross-country in a covered wagon with their often pregnant wives and young children.

”]”]Though even today many Alaskan towns are shaped by their settlers, some coming piecemeal from different places in the US or abroad, while other parts of Alaska boast geographical or philosophical features that make them especially attractive to large sections of foreign populations.

I am equipped by personal experience to discuss one such unique mass settlement, the creation of a “pocket” of Filipino culture in a land so different from their native home, here in my hometown of Kodiak, AK. This “Little Manila” settled in the heart of Kodiak is reminiscent of densely packed populations in larger cities such as New York or San Francisco; a world in and of itself, yet bleeding perceptibly into the culture at large as it exists outside.

While Filipinos have had a presence in Alaska dating as far back as the 1700s, and playing a pivotal role in the exploration and fur trade of the 1920s and 30s, the settlement of Kodiak Island by Filipino immigrants began in earnest not more than 30 or so years ago. It was at this time that Kodiak had shifted from a predominantly military operation to a truly booming fishing town, bringing in more fish than it could logically process with the town’s current workforce, which was at the time primarily composed of the fisherman who were involved in bringing in the catch. Halibut, Salmon and King Crab were the delicious trifecta of seafood that formed the basis of the fish economy but of course everything from herring roe to cod to rockfish were brought in and needed processing to be sent to market.

”]”In true Alaska tradition, the initial harnessing of a natural resource as abundant as – in this case – the seafood led to a massive over-harvesting of the populations, but that is a different topic for a different day. For the moment, the focus was on the enormous sums of cash that could be gained from this abundant resource, and the smelly, dirty, unforgiving and never-ending work that took fresh-from-the-ocean protein and turned it into a beautiful, marketable product.

”]”A labor force was needed, badly.  Sometime in the 70s, the first substantial wave of Filipino immigrants came and found an island home as far removed from the climate and natural rhythms as it was possible to be. However, for a people used to hard work and unforgivably long hours just to scratch out a living, the rhythm and flow of a 12-hour shift on the “slime line” followed by the steady weekly paycheck offered a wonder of an incentive for immigration. Money was sent home, but so, too were tales of the rainy days, fresh ocean air, and endless supply of ocean life ready to be processed in exchange for steady income. Wave after wave of Filipino immigrants rushed to the island haven, and began buying up the inexpensive prefabricated houses initially erected in the 50s to house the families employed at the defunct Kodiak Naval Base.  A natural community was formed, isolated yet fully integrated into the rest of the island.

View of Aleutian Homes. Photo author's own.

As with many mass transplants of culture, there are numerous older members of the Filipino population who live their lives out in Kodiak without learning more than a word or two of English. Similarly, most of the American-born children are bilingual, but very few don’t know at least basic conversational Tagalog, even if they don’t learn to write it.

”]”Filipino food has become a mainstay of Island culture, though there are no Filipino restaurants. Pancit (noodles) and lumpia (a kind of eggroll) are common potluck additions, and the offerings of many a successful charity “feed”.

While researching this post, I came across scant information regarding Filipino culture in Kodiak, but was excited to learn that the Baranov museum is currently compiling information and artifacts in preparation for a full-scale exhibition of Filipino Culture in Kodiak, planned for October 2012. I can’t wait to visit the exhibits and learn more about the cultural history of our island, and will be sure to update this blog post with photographs and information when I do!