Issue Five - February 2003


By John Sangster

To look at me, you wouldn’t think I was the kind of guy who wears jewelry, but I happen to own a Northwest Coast Indian bracelet. It just goes to show, you never know.

Evidently I overlooked my bracelet in my rush to pack and catch my plane, so right at the moment I don’t have it with me. But back home, on Lopez Island, it’s right there in my top drawer, shiny bright in its gray felt bag. Can’t remember for sure which tribe, most likely Kwakiutl.

It’s the perfect width — not too wide and not too narrow. Just right, because Patsy, with her infallible eye, picked it out for me. It has beautiful carving on it, too, but right now I can’t remember the animal. Not a killer whale or raven. Not a bear, I don’t think. Maybe a wolf. I hope it’s a wolf because I’m really taken with wolves. But I think it’s a bear. Anyway it’s beautiful. It’s what I wanted for our 20th wedding anniversary last summer.

And I have worn it — to the Bay Café on Saturday night a couple of times, and of course on our anniversary. I think I’ve worn it once or twice around the house when we had friends over — younger friends.

It feels a little uncomfortable on my wrist. I’d really like to wear it on my left wrist, but because my watch has always been on my left wrist, I wear the bracelet on my right wrist. And it feels a little uncomfortable over there. I’ve tried it on my left wrist and it feels better there, maybe because I’m used to having something on my left wrist, which is my watch. But there’s no way I could move my watch over to my right wrist. Not after all these years. That would be like deciding I was now going to write left-handed.

One possibility I hadn’t thought of until right now would be to get rid of the wrist watch and buy a pocket watch. Then I could put the bracelet on my left wrist. I don’t know though — a pocket watch makes a certain statement. I think of a pocket watch as going with suspenders — suspenders and maybe a cigar. And a bay window.

If I had a pocket watch, would I put a leather thong on it and hook it around my belt loop? Or would I just drop it in my pocket? The leather thong would be okay with some styles of dress — my Levi’s-and-tee shirt look, which is my weekend look, but it wouldn’t go so good with my insurance agent look. I guess I could just stuff the leather thong in my pocket, but it seems like it would get in the way.

Anyway I was thinking about my bracelet, not a pocket watch. And it’s not really that it feels a little uncomfortable and strange on my right wrist that I don’t wear it. And like I say, it’s not that it isn’t beautiful. I’m pretty sure that when I get back home this time, I’ll start wearing it.

Don’t misunderstand. I really did want the bracelet. I’ve always wanted one — ever since Patsy first got me interested in Northwest Coast Indian Art. We went to that incredible museum at the University Of British Colombia, looked at baskets and rattles and masks. But it was the bracelets that reached out. I liked their width fat and solid. They looked like they had weight. And the carving — the deep curving lines fleshed out of the silver by some sure-handed artist, the complex patterns that revealed a raven’s eye or maybe a wolf. It just seemed so powerful.

It was about then that we found Lopez Island, began to meet some of the locals. There were some back-to-the-landers up there and we fell in with some of them. One of them helped us clear some woods, pick rocks and seed a new pasture. We were camping in a tent back then, down by the beach. One morning he brought us fresh raspberries, and cream in a mayonnaise jar from his cow, Rainbow. He invited us to a party. That was the first time I ever smoked a joint. I noticed that some of those people were wearing silver bracelets — both the women and the men.

We used to have cookouts on the beach, and one night we were down there, just the family and a friend from Seattle, Jean. She was a decorator — older than Patsy and me, a very interesting woman. Out-there, I’d say. In those days we bought big bottles of Italian wine at Delaurenti’s in the Pike Place Market — golden yellow, the color of urine after a healthy dose of Vitamin B. But it didn’t taste like urine (or what you’d think urine tastes like). It tasted like bumble bees. That’s what Jean said. She called it bumble bee wine and we liked to drink it down there on the beach.

Anyway we’d had some bumble bee that night, and the conversation came around to Northwest Coast Art. I said, “I wouldn’t mind having one of those bracelets some day.” Jean turned and looked at me, and her eyes got wide. For a moment there was silence. “You?” she said.

I haven’t thought of that night for a long time. Those tenting days were years ago and it wouldn’t have come up if I hadn’t been thinking about my bracelet. Anyway I have my bracelet now, and when I get home I intend to start wearing it.

Copyright © 2003 by John Sangster