I often say that in my youth I was so obsessed with Artemis that I didn’t spend much time in worship of other gods, but I should clarify that it doesn’t necessarily mean that I did not have affectionate regard for other gods even if I did not actively worship them. Of those gods, Poseidon is perhaps the one that goes the furthest back in my memory. As a child who was born on an island (and spent summers on said island ever afterward growing up) and grew up near the gulf of Alaska, the ocean has played a very central role in my understanding of the world and my relationship to nature. In my early childhood I fancied that there were beings beneath the waves that were looking back up at me every time I traveled on a boat. The sea was a place that was an important part of life for most who live in Alaska, and even to those more inland as even the salmon, which is an important subsistance food, were known to spend a large portion of their life in the sea before returning to the streams inland.
But this is not an exotic seaside place with soft sand beaches and exotic flora, nor does it possess warm breezes. This is a harsh landscape, where leaping waves slap against sharp craggy stones, or washes up upon treacherous silty, muddy banks that make up the mudflats. The water is gray-green with its turmoil, and even the shells are often of small size and some nondescript hue, with the exception of the abalone shell with its rainbow sheen. The water is cold, even in the summer it is cold (which makes me wonder at my own insanity when I was a child that I once swam in the ocean during Spring Break). The ocean here is perhaps one of the most unforgiving and burtal in the world, and anyone who has ever seen an episode of Dangerous Catch which features crabbing on the Bering Straight between Siberia and Alaska would probably agree. But I feel that the very primal nature of the sea here makes the most wonderous garden of Poseidon. And for all this drab coloring it hosts a variety of sealife, a richness in fish and numerous species of whales and porpoises which rise up from the depths. I have seen the dolphins swim along the jetstreams created by my uncle’s fishing boat, I have seen humpback whales spray large columns of mist into the sky. And I have seen the friendly orcas (which people like to call whales but are really part of the porpoise family) swimming together in their pods. Even as I have seen gill-nets full of salmon, and crabpots with large ruddy crabs. Much of the wealth of Alaska is within its sea. It can only do very limited forms of agriculture such as wheat and vegetables and berries, whereas other fruits (such as those of vineyards and orchards for example) fail. On a lesser scale we can say its game is also another valuable natural resource, when we aren’t taking into consideration the mineral wealth of the landscape. But our true heart is part of the sea, which can be seen if one takes up a map. Those villages and cities of the interior are considerably fewer, clinging as they can do various rivers and streams, whereas all along the coast you will find the densest populations thriving in a largely inhospitable landscape.
It is also a place of volcanoes and earthquakes, which is natural as a land feature that is part of the Ring of Fire. For those who don’t know, the ring of fire is the area which encompasses the Pacific plate and its adjoining plates along the western side of the Americas (both North and South). This is a region with tremendous activity which results in numerous volcanoes, and earthquakes from seismic activity. Volcanic activity has actually been one of the biggest land-makers in the west, and a good portion of Alaska is believed to have been built up from volcanic activity. You can read more about the Ring of Fire here. Now, whereas some may think that Hephaistos would be a god to perhaps more strongly associate with Alaska geography due to more “fiery” activity, the fact that this is occuring in response to movement of oceanic plates which results in releases of magma does not strike me as something alien to the worship of Poseidon, just as earthquakes in general are attributed to him…and this is something that is no stranger to us. We have in recent years seen earthquakes that split the ground and severly altered roads and landscapes, and that is nothing compared to the big quake of 1964 which brought utter devastation and destruction. In this fashion we have the very harsh reality of living here that is measured against the plentitude…and for most of us it seems like a fair bargain.
Therefore, when I first read of Poseidon, he made sense to me on many levels as a kind of paternal deity of Alaska, with Demeter as the maternal deity (for we do depend greatly on what vegetation we get during our short summers)…with Artemis who presides over the beasts, and bright northern light of Apollon and the midnight sun of Helios, and the long rule of Selene in the winter. These are the gods I associate the strongest with this land and in the most immediate fashion, though I recognize the role of all the Olympians within the nature of a place and that there can be no place absent of their activity and certain features bring to mind other gods. Yet gods of vineyards and orchards, of shepherds (though we do have a dairy in one valley!), gods that delight in exotic blooms or associated with the burning heat of summer are less apparent and active here. Yet all the same, the first god who comes to mind when I think of Alaska is Poseidon, closely followed by Demeter, Artemis, Apollon and a number Titans and Titanides. Perhaps it is because this is a primal land still, and so much of it untouched, that it suites these gods to more to my mind, and more strongly echoes their domains. It is a place of harbors and seas, of tall snow capped mountains and wealth of the land, of tundras and forests, of mammals, birds and fish. We are blessed here I think.