You think writing with a pencil is “analog”? Please.

If you were really analog, your sketchbook would a beach with a bunch of rocks, and you’d write using bronze-age tools. Check out these examples from the dull edge of analog writing technology:

This post is offered as somewhat of an apology for the relative lack of material I’ve put up recently. I have been traveling a lot, and focused on family and fun rather than computer stuff or playing with pencils. I did have a pencil review 99% ready to go and then lost a big chunk of work during a chaotic last-minute hotel checkout. So, check for that soon. In the meantime, I thought I would quickly share something from my trip that’s cool and at least marginally related to analog writing.

After Seattle, my travels took me to Wrangell, Alaska, a small island community where I grew up. I hadn’t been back in about a decade, so it was high time to see my folks and some of my siblings. It was also Hopefully-Future-Mrs. Polar Pencil Pusher’s first trip there, and the first time meeting most of the crew. The weather was beautiful and there isn’t much to do indoors in Wrangell, so we spent a lot of time having little adventures, like discovering millennia-old rock carvings.

The artifacts above are found at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, which is very close to the “urban” core of the town. It’s very easy to get to, and there are around 40 known carvings. A person can easily spot several just casually strolling along the beach, and they’re just right out there in the open for you to see and touch (although they request that you don’t take rubbings from them, and they are protected under State and Federal law).

Information on the petroglyphs is sparse, and they are somewhat of a mystery. They’re thought to be several thousand years old, and are presumed to have been etched in the stone by the Tlingit people who are indigenous to Southeast Alaska, or by their ancient ancestors. As my partner pointed out, it appears reasonable that the artistic style typical of Pacific Northwest Native American people (such as the Tlingit) could have evolved from the style exemplified by the rock carvings found on the beach. The meaning of these petroglyphs, however, has been long lost, leaving us to speculate on the artists’ intent.

Rediscovering Wrangell and artifacts such as these caused me to leave town a little more “woke” than when I flew in. As my girlfriend and I explored the beach and other historical attractions such as the Nolan Center Museum, I was really struck by the degree to which the European authorities (including Americans, but also the Russians and British that occupied the territory historically) brought turmoil and tragedy to the indigenous population. Through even the late 20th century, the Tlingit people were decimated physically, but also culturally, by European colonists. I was also struck by the remarkable efforts of present-day Tlingit people to ensure that their culture survives. Of course, I had a general knowledge of this beforehand, but I don’t think I understood — or felt — the magnitude of it as deeply as I did during this trip.

One example that comes to mind is the Wrangell Institute, a boarding school for Native youth from all over the State that operated until the 1970’s. At face value I can certainly appreciate, in principle, the efforts to make education and vocational-training opportunities available to a marginalized (after European annexation) community. But beneath the story of ostensibly good intentions lies a much more sinister history; a story of forced assimilation where the “nativeness” of the students was literally beaten out of them while they attempted to sink or swim in a world where White capitalism was unilaterally imposed upon them.

It seems just that Institute was finally demolished in the 2000s, but that the petroglyphs remain.

It’s hard to segue out of that — stuff got heavy for a pencil blog! But on a lighter note, while we went to Petroglyph Beach to see the ancient relics, we actually spent about three or four hours looking downward at the sand. We got sucked in to beach combing and ended up with two gallon-size Ziploc bags full of smooth sea glass, as well as shells and rocks. My partner, who is a much more experienced beach comber than I am, remarked that it was the best beach ever. Pretty remarkable given that you can barely find a rock-free place big enough to stretch out a towel, and few want to swim in the icy waters of Zimovia Strait (I did it as a kid, but with frequent breaks to bask like a lizard on the rocky outcrops and warm up). TSA had a good time dissecting the carry-on bag we carted all of our loot back to Anchorage in.

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