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Part 1: All this talk about names.

Chapter 1

I guess you could say that I have never been one for religion. If there is a God, then he knows exactly how much I don't believe in him, or her, or whatever it chooses to call itself.

God. What kind of name is that anyway? Someone once told me that God told humanity what His name was, and we must call Him by that name, for any other name would be blasphemous. And to be blasphemous is to curse yourself to hell.

If there is a God, then I think it would think us blasphemous to think we could name it at all. Who are we to be given such information?

Sometimes I sit back and think about everything, which is quite a bit for most people and I admit, it seems like quite a bit for me, as well. Where do I go, exactly? To think, that is. That is the problem, memory. How exactly are we supposed to remember everything? Much less sit back and try to think about it, make some sort of sense out of it. If you think about how big the universe is and you think that all of it is something to know, you really begin to see how stupid we actually are, especially to give whatever it was that created it a name. So whenever I sit back and think about everything, I try very hard at the end of it to forget.

To forget whatever it is of the everything that I am trying to think about. Just forget everything. It seems the best thing to do.

But the funny thing is, that is when I remember where I am all those times.

There are plenty of places to be by yourself when you're in Alaska. I heard once that of the entire state of Alaska, less than one tenth of one percent had even been touched by man. Although when I think about it, that might be kind of underestimated. After all, they have probably only taken into consideration white people, who first discovered Alaska in 1741. That year, Vitus Bering sailed a small, Russian ship from what is now Petropavlosk on the Kamchatski Peninsula, that part of Russia that sticks itself into the Pacific Ocean, hanging like a dead limb off of Siberia. That's the way it seemed to Vitus and his entourage. While crossing the peninsula, a raging winter storm boiled across from the Aleutians, where they were surprisingly headed, nearly bringing the entire mission to a cold halt. Had it not been for Bering's iron persistence, he might not have made it. Perhaps it was a final warning to the expedition not to enter into a region where they were not welcome.

Bering took his own fate on and ended up dying on a cold and barren island now named after him. A small group of islands sit between Russia and the Aleutian Islands, their forgotten siblings, perhaps. I think it is a matter of will. Bering choose to hear his dark side, that which beckoned him to history, to the discovery of Alyeska, the Great Land where the Sun raises itself from each day, the place where the Aleuts came from, but may never return. So he went to conquer it. It was a great time for Russia, for the Tzar. But what is greatness, if it kills you?

The Aleuts had another fate. When the Russians commandeered the Aleutian Islands and began to milk it of sea otters pelts, the Aleuts did the killing. The Aleuts saw the otters as the "old men of the sea," due to the aged look of their faces. Even the young had this look. And even the young died, clubbed to death. More than half of the otters sank before they were caught. Mothers sank while their young were strangled and sent to become a royal robe.

After the otters were gone, the fur seals of the Pribilof Islands, two hundred miles north in the Bering Sea, were targeted. Aleuts were sent in shackles to a place where almost as many men died as seals.

Things didn't change much after the United States bought Alaska. During World War II, the Aleuts were moved to relocation, refugee, camps in Southeast Alaska for "their own safety." The conditions at the camps were so poor, most of the Aleuts died, never to see their homeland again, because the white people were having a war with the brown people.

It seems that all over the world there are places like this, where once people lived and then other people came and said, under no uncertain terms, and usually without knowing they were saying it, "die."

This is what would bring me to the cannery. It was there, among the rotting timbers that used to stand hundreds of feet tall, I would run around wanting to tear down the world, tear down the universe, for creating such a place. I could have been anywhere: Auchwitz, Manchuria, Cambodia, Burma, Wounded Knee, any place where people had died needlessly, to further some plan or another. Any place where progress had killed.

But that is where I was, in a dead cannery in a quiet bay of Baranof Island, the massive Pacific Ocean just around the corner.

One time I was so mad at the world, I took my skiff, my Dad's skiff, out as far as the gas allowed. I lay in the bow of the boat, like the Lady of Shallot, wanting to drift to my death. To crack the mirror of existence in some way and be rid of all the pain. To drift into a cloud bank and find myself at Avalon. To be grabbed up by a spirit and taken to the spirit world. To see the gates of heaven and be welcomed by God. To have my spirit turn to a bird and fly into the night sky, loosing itself happily in the darkness of forever. To be plucked up by Raven and added to the stars. Anything. Any of the tales I had heard about, from all over the world. So many different places, so many different people, with so many ways of dying, and so many ways of being reborn, and so many ways of transcending mortality, and so many ways to find peace in the various places where the honoured dead went. I wanted desperately to know: What awaited me? What glorious fate would I receive? Heaven or hell. It didn't really matter to me, just as long as I did not have to face the pain each time I tried to think about everything. Just as long as I didn't have to face the confusion left by the wake of the universe on its passage through time.

That is when it began to happen. At one point I was ecstatic, almost fell out of the boat jumping around. Then I became terrified, because my life had started to pass before my eyes, like white caps on the small waves that rode the gentle swells of the Pacific, the still, calm, pacified water.

I was soon to die.

I remembered birthdays. The parties were great fun. Someone's dad would take my friends and I to a pasture above Sitka, where we would camp, roasting marshmallows in the autumn air. Sometimes it would be too cold, or the snow had begun to fall. But there were those years when we would be up there. Sometimes able to see Sitka, the old, and yet very young, Russian capital of Alaska. We could watch the sun as it set lazily behind Mount Edgecumbe, the dormant volcano, which sat as a subtle reminder to Sitka that life was always on the edge. The fire would be lit and out came the hotdogs and marshmallows, buns and graham crackers, ketchup and chocolate bars. Fog would roll in and the moon would rise. The earth would disappear under the clouds; the carpet of Gods, as Dad would say. The moon would throw light onto the carpet, Mount Edgecumbe poking through, looking like an easy chair. You felt like a spy, wondering if the Gods would come home and find you hiding on the bookshelf. Instead, the stars would shimmer, some would fall, streaking across the sky. Or the eerie lights of the north, the aurora, would begin to dance. Pale blue sheets of energy rolling across the heavens.

"Those," Dad would say, "are curtains. Behind them is a window to another dimension."

They fluttered in the solar wind, the silent wind that carried invisible energy outward into the emptiness of space, carrying messages perhaps to other worlds. Someone would be monitoring the stars on another planet far, far away and making notes on our small, insignificant little sun. What would the sun look like from that far away, even from the next star? Alpha Centauri, Dad said it was called, only four light years away. How small did our sun look? With tiny specks of dust circling it, one of which is our home. So small. So insignificant. Even from so close as Alpha Centauri. Perhaps you can't even see it from Aldebaran, or Betelgeuse, or Sirius. From some places, we probably don't even exist. Like trying to spot an ant in a valley from atop the tallest mountain in the area. Impossible.

And that's when I would wake up, the billions of stars above me, trillions of miles away; and yet they weighed down upon me, suffocating me, looking right past us, moving right past us, not even giving us a thought. Just the mere hiccup of some stars would disintegrate the whole solar system into nondescript memory. And I would lay there, oppressed by the universe, until our tiny sun slowly wiped that fear away with the gentle colors of day.

We would start playing Cowboys and Indians or tag or hide and seek. And for another time, I would forget about the stars, comforted by the blinding light of our insignificant sun.

And that seemed like my whole life, a whole twenty-two years of feeling insignificant. And that was all I felt as I lay in the bow of my skiff, my Dad's skiff, adrift under all those stars, which now heaved and hawed as I danced drunk upon the waves. It was as though they were marching again, marching towards us, not noticing the sun, our earth, the vast oceans which cast back their weak reflections, my little skiff, my Dad's little skiff. Me. Marching past me as though I didn't exist. And as they moved past, I felt the insignificant little puff as everything vanished into the emptiness of space.

Finally, it was all gone.

Finally, I was dead.

Got to Part 2.

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