Raven's Children

Raven’s Children:  An Alaskan Culture at Twilight

Houghton Mifflin, 1992


An excerpt: “The fifth day of creation”


Half an hour after leaving the village, we reach an area where the river twists past a covey of meltwater lakes. Oscar throws the Evinrude into neutral and then kills it, allowing the boat to skim into a portion of the bank where swaths of undercut sod have split and fallen into a sort of stairway up the incline to the surrounding tableland. Charlie pulls the anchor out of the bow and then climbs stiffly up the bank, digging its tines into the parched grass above us. The rest of us empty out of the boat, Elsie skipping nimbly as a goat up the steps of sod. Oscar and Margaret climb up separately, still without sharing a glance, and I doubt they’ve so much as exchanged a word all day.

At the top of the bank we stand in a row and look out upon a huge, unportioned field of chalky greens and wintry yellows and browns, the lakes in the distance winking cobalt blue in the sunlight. Now that the big motor has stopped, the quiet is almost palpable. But slowly that ringing silence is overcome, and overwhelmed, by another sort of ringing, almost a roar, startling in its pervasiveness and breadth of register: a sourceless, throbbing cacophony of bird cries, a sound like the morning of the fifth day of creation.

Oscar grunts as he drives the sharp end of a broken oar into the grass at the top of the bank so that it stands upright like a fence post, marking the position of the boat. He stands there for a moment with his lips pressed together, hard and white, just as he did while he stood at his window earlier this morning, staring into the light glancing off the smooth surface of the bay.

Then, without a word of gesture to one another, we fan singly and in pairs out into the tundra . . . .

© Copyright Richard Adams Carey