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  • Winter in Lingit Aani Brings Magpies and Ravens
  • Ernestine Hayes (bio)

My grandmother's name was Saawdu.oo. Ruth Willard Hayes. She chopped wood for the cookstove and washed clothes with a scrub-board. She rolled a scarf around her head, picked up a knife, and went to work sliming fish. After putting me to sleep, she bathed herself, and the next day she powdered her face while I watched. She drew eyebrows atop brilliant knowing eyes and reminded me from my first day: get ready. Be prepared. Don't let anything surprise you. You must be willing to face every threat.

For the first few years of my life, I lived with Saawdu.oo while my mother was in the hospital for tuberculosis. During those years, my grandmother taught me how to see the world. She taught me to listen to the spiders in our house, for they knew the things that I needed to know.

During summers, I sat on the hill behind our old house and waited for her to call me in for soup or send me on a chore. During fall, I tried not to go to school. Spring was not much different from winter. In winter, I listened for the Taku wind and hoped for a sled to ride down frozen Capitol Avenue. Inside the house, I stayed away from the snow that drifted under the door into the dark hall. I sat in the kitchen and with my grandmother waited for my grandfather to come home. We both wondered what mood he would bring with him through the door with the drifted snow. With the wind. With a wide smile carrying gifts or with a cold grip on a cheap bottle of something to help him forget. [End Page 90]

Winter in Lingit Aani brings magpies and ravens. Eagles allow themselves to be more freely seen. We take measure of the wood, we sweep the stove, we unpack blankets from their summer store. We watch the mountains and the birds for marks of early snow. We wait.

Unlike spring, winter does not bring more signs of spiders into the house. Like the bears, they must be holing up somewhere. Or dying. Or dead.

My grandmother instructed me about spiders. Don't hurt them, she warned. Learn from them. Watch them. Learn.

Spiders hunt. Although we might consider them bashful around humans, they show no such timid spirit with their prey. Even the webspinners remain at the ready, testing their woven silk for the struggles of unwary victims. Though their size is small, their nature persuades us to boldness.

Spiders greet the world early. They wake and get busy early in the day and early in the spring. While the more familiar admonition for those who would lead a correct life is to wake before the ravens, rising before the spiders behooves us even more. The industry of spiders exemplifies right living.

In the garden, spiders occasionally mimic the colors of nearby blooms. Their sly lurking reminds us that boldness and industry will suffer from an absence of cunning.

When still a newly married young woman, my grandmother traveled to Klukwan to visit her dying sister and retrieve the youngest child, a fresh-born girl named Kaaxkwei. With the child, she and her new husband, Ernie, traveled back to Juneau. In two or three years, her first natural child was born. She eventually gave birth to three boys and two girls. One baby boy died. She and Ernie began to drink.

Spiders are persistent. One sleepy morning years after I had begun teaching my own grandchildren about spiders, as I waited for warm water from the faucet in the hand sink, I glimpsed a spider whirling down the drain. I washed my hands at another sink and told myself there was nothing I could have done. I promised myself and the spider [End Page 91] that from now on I would more carefully attend to the presence of other lives.

Normally I trap spiders in a clean glass jar, blocking their escape with a stiff paper forced at the feet of their panic, and release them onto the wet ground outside the...


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pp. 90-94
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