I could feel the island breathing beneath me as I laid down on the tall fall grass at a 45 degree angle with the top of the island above me and the crashing ocean below. The thousands and thousands of arctic birds squealed and squalled and I breathed in the beauty and the soliditude and just the amazingness of being THERE. And, I felt the island breathe.
Diomede Island is in the middle of the Bering Strait. It is thousands of miles from the cities I grew up in and it’s even further away in so many respects. The people are a hearty group of families who have lived off the land and made a very rapid transition to modern times. The elders and their children (my age group) could easily remember using seal oil lamps and living in the old ways without electricity. The changes of modern times brought internet and computers and fuel tanks and it was almost stunning how people just jumped right into this new world of technology without batting an eye – while still living without running water and embracing many of the traditions of the past.
But Diomede has its challenges. Rapid change in communities brings a lot of stress and demands on people to have the answers faster than they have time to discover what the answers might be. How one grieves, seeks guidance, trusts, forgives, builds community, advocates for change are not clear and concrete – they are not easy things in general and Diomede seemed to experience a tremendous amount of loss in a short time – and it brought up anger and hurt and pain.
As I lay on the grass far from the community of 30 or so houses all nudged in together amidst rocks and dirt paths and bitter greens, I could feel the island breathe.
I was not high or drunk or partying. I was just absolutely Present and I remember feeling an unbelievable sensation that the island was alive. The pain of the village seemed like another world and so small in comparison to the immensity of the place the island held in the middle of the Bering Sea with its endless sky and deep vast ocean teeming with life.
I’ve heard about geographical pockets around the world where people swear there is a different type of energy. I’m not really that foo-fooey a person. Certainly there are certain landscapes and places that make me still, but to say they are alive…not really my style.
And yet that day lying on the grass, I felt such a beautiful peaceful connection with that island and I understood absolutely and completely why the people who live on it call it home.
Living in a small village in the middle of the Bering Sea where human emotions are both fragile and strong is no easy thing. During my time there I learned a lot about the way grief digs its roots into people’s lives and how important it is to nourish relationships.
Sadly, I guess I didn’t really learn that till I left. If I could go back again, I think I would spend more time visiting and doing activities that brought people together (wise words I heard spoken many times from people there). And now I have a bit of a wry expression on my face – I guess I’m not even practicing that here where I live now!
Too busy. Too tired. The house is too messy. I feel bleh. Excuses. And completely forgetting what I learned…
Breathe in the land.