Guest Blogger Miranda Weiss | Remembering Eva

The morning of the memorial
celebration and potluck for Eva Saulitis, the beloved Alaskan writer,
biologist, and writing teacher who died of cancer in January at the age of 52,
I imagined she’d be there signing copies of her last book—printed just before
her death—Becoming
. I pictured her sitting at a folding
table on the grass at the edge of the bluff, overlooking Kachemak Bay, cracking
open the brand new books and smiling mischievously.
Turns out, she wasn’t there, of
course, but the event did feel like a book signing—in a way. Eva’s dear friend
Margaret sat at the table last Saturday behind the stack of new books, handing
out the slim beautiful volumes in exchange for donations to a UAA scholarship
in Eva’s name. 
But that was later. And what came
before was painful, beautiful, scorching. About 80 people gathered on the beach
at the foot of a lovely property owned by friends of Eva and her husband Craig.
Eva had arranged to hold the celebration there before she died. The sky was
grey and white, the water still and silver.
For those who don’t know, Eva wrote
intensely about her illness, her impending death, and about the process of her
dying in a number of publications,
a blog, and her Caring Bridge website. Sometimes angry, but usually full of dazzling
gratitude, the writing was raw, beautiful, and haunting. Eva had always been
wise but now her wisdom was fierce, even as she asked question after question
that had no answer.
In the last months of her life, Eva
had asked a Homer artist whose medium is basketry to help her make her own
casket. Each fall, the artist Mavis Muller leads the community in weaving an
over head-high basket at the top of one of our local beaches and then torches
it at dusk in a celebration full of drumming, two
story flames, and whatever feelings you bring to it—giddiness, grief, curiosity
. Eva had worked on the baskets for
many years. She, Mavis, and Eva’s family all helped weave a coffin of alder and
willow boughs, birch bark, nettles, and fireweed stalks. Eva bundled the grasses
upon which she would be laid.
Although Eva’s body has long since
been cremated, the basket casket was there on the beach atop a support made of
driftwood. It was a thing of intense beauty. Into the wooden frame had been
woven the wing of a green-winged teal, a wasp’s papery nest, dried kelp, and
many other treasures of the Earth. The lid was propped open and inside the
casket were flowers, spruce cones, photographs of Eva, and messages written on
paper and ribbon. People stood at the casket and cried.
For about an hour, Eva’s family
spoke. Her husband Craig told us about how, just before her last breath, Eva
woke from a morphine-enhanced slumber, sat bolt upright in bed, and locked eyes
with her sister before giving Craig a wide smile. Her friend David Grimes sang
and led us in song, and then the casket was set on fire. We all stood there as
the tide rose up the beach, pushing us toward the blaze. But we had to step
away, the heat was too much on your face even twenty feet distant.
Eva was my first creative writing
teacher. And before her, I hadn’t met someone who combined lyrical, personal
writing with science. She showed me that path. I didn’t feel done with Eva.
There was so much left I wanted to learn from her. There are so many of us who feel
that way.
The casket sank in the fire,
turning into ashes in the shape of woven branches. For a time, it looked like a
pile of seine net bleached white by the sun. After a while, we all wandered
back up the trail down which we had come, to an opulent potluck—Homer-style. It
was then that I walked over to what could have been the book-signing table. I
wrote my check and walked away with the book which has a photograph taken by
David Grimes of a lake or pond. The surface is frozen or perhaps windblown. All
at once you see the surface of the lake, the leaves in the water below it, and
the reflections of the trees above.
“I died and the mountain remained,”
Eva wrote in the last paragraph of her book. “There is a future, and it is not
us. It is the mountain. It is the earth.”
You can give to the UAA scholarship
too. Go to and type “Eva Saulitis Endowment
Fund” into the form.

photos courtesy of Tom Kizzia
Weiss is a science and nature writer who lives in Homer. Her natural history
Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska, was a
bestseller in the Pacific Northwest. Her
Northern Lights column about life in and around Homer
appears weekly on the website of
The American Scholar. In addition, her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The
Economist, Alaska Dispatch News,

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