Back again, a year ago

One year ago, I was just back in the lower 48. Now I’m back again from Alaska, only several weeks removed.

Last year, after my visit, I knew that I wanted to return. I’m glad that I was able to. Now being back this time, it’s like the world fundamentally shifted.

I think it feels like that for most people right now. I, like many, are left wondering: when will it be back to normal?

A slow walk

On walking around through various parks and city streets, I notice the importance of taking one’s time.

We’re often consumed by the need to be connected and now, maybe more so than ever, our connections are only possible through devices.

When you take the time to travel slowly, to linger, to be idle (while socially distant, of course), you have the opportunity to see things you’d otherwise miss. You hear the birdsong. See the leaves billow in the wind. Branches swaying.

There’s no one right way to travel the world. But there are things that are missed when moving too quickly.

Weekly Rundown

Well, damn, I don’t really have much to say about this past week. Left Alaska, and am taking a roundabout journey home. Had to fly to get from Ketchikan to the lower 48, and rather than risk quarantine back home, where someone I know could come in contact with something I may have contracted on the plane, it was better to take my time.

I haven’t seen much. Some snowy mountains outside of Colorado, and some rolling hills. I would have liked to have spent more time in Arizona. It seemed nice passing through.

Not sure what I’ll see or do over the next three weeks, but I’m hoping I’ll have some interesting updates… maybe by next week.

Travels in quarantine

For the first time in my history of air travel, the airports looked empty. The flights were sparsely peopled, and I’d think there were more employees than travelers.

I, like most everyone else, am curious to see the new world. The world of travel, and work, and leisure. When the world reopens, sometime in the future, it’ll be greatly interesting.

Fifty days

I spent fifty days in the city of Ketchikan during this pandemic. While you could say that I walked a good deal around the island, I feel that I didn’t get to know it. Not really.

A place is more than its geography. It’s about its people and its culture. While I was able to see a little bit of it, much was locked away. Protected from germs, and from my prying eyes.

Travelogues, while proving difficult for me to read in the past, do possess a certain mystique about them – at least for me. In writing my travelogue regarding my nearly two months in Alaska, it would be a lot of routine. Same place, same walks, very people. Occasional trips to resupply at the grocers.

Hopefully, when the pandemic is over and next summer rolls around, I’ll find myself in a much more accomodating environment for exploration and understanding.

Weekly Rundown

Alaska

It seems that this will be my last Alaskan edition of the Weekly Rundown, at least for the time being. The Coronavirus has effectively canceled my working season, and I will be heading back to the Sunshine State.

So, on my last post from Ketchikan for now, I suppose I’ll talk about why I decided to come here.

Last year I took a cruise to Alaska. We started in Anchorage, several days before the cruise started, and took a glass-topped train up to Denali. It was in seeing Denali that I knew I wanted to come back.

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“Whenever a bunch of fellows would get together, someone would start talking about going up north…

Things were pretty much settled to the south of us. We didn’t seem to be ready for steady jobs. It was only natural we’d start talking about the North. We’d bought out the Russians. We’d built canneries up there. The fellows who hadn’t been up was hankering to go. The rest of us was hankering to go back.”

– Mont Hawthorne, in The Trail Led North: Mont Hawthorne’s Story, by Martha Ferguson Mckeown

It was mid-June, and at walking around midnight, the sky still had the dusky haze of a setting sun. It was magnificent. And while my body shouted at me that it was tired, my eyes kept insisting it was too early to go to sleep. Hence, most places that far north seem to have blackout curtains.

I’m nowhere near Denali at this moment, Ketchikan being about 1400 km away as the crow flies. But that doesn’t matter, not from the perspective of being here in the Last Frontier.

Mark Adams, in Tip of the Iceberg, writes, “Three basic types of people live in Alaska… There are Native Alaskans, who’ve been there since time immemorial. There are people who have come north running toward something, usually a chance to do something unpleasant to make a lot of money quickly… And there are those who are running away from something.”

Obviously, I don’t belong to that first category. But over the last six weeks, I’ve been wondering which of the latter two types of people I was. A couple of years ago, I would have easily said I was running away from something. But, more recently, it seems that I came north toward something – and that was solely to find myself.

I’ll bid adieu to Alaska again, and I’m pretty certain I’ll be back at some point. Maybe as early as next year…

Weekly Rundown

All about Ketchikan, Volume 5.

The Tongass National Forest:

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Sign for Signal Creek Campground at Ward Lake, in Tongass

Tongass is the largest National Forest in the US and covers most of the Southeast of Alaska. Seventeen million acres, to be nearly exact.

The Tongass National Forest stretches about 500 miles along the SE Alaska coast covering an area equal in size to Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. It was designated a national forest on September 10, 1907, by proclamation of the President, Teddy Roosevelt.

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Tongass is the point of some controversy recently, in the question of whether to allow logging in some of its areas. Today it is home to two national monuments (Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island) and nineteen designated wilderness areas. Which is part of a larger question of ecology vs. economy: how do you decide what’s of value?

Environmentalist (and huge Alaska fan) John Muir noted as he watched federally protected lands across the U.S. come under threat, “Nothing dollarable is safe.” And that is a conundrum that has faced man since the industrial age. What portion of land needs be preserved and what should be developed?

Sitting here, in Southeast Alaska, I’m glad there is still wilderness outside the door. In this country of ours. People from around the world come here in hoards to see Wild Alaska. Not this summer, maybe. But other summers, those in the past. And next summer, I estimate the largest tourist season yet here.

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Weekly Rundown

All about Ketchikan, Volume 4.

There are three groups of native people who live in this area, in and around Ketchikan, Metlakatla, and on several other islands here in the Alexander Archipelago.

“The Tsimshian were relatively late arrivals to Southeast Alaska. For thousands of years, the islands of the Alexander Archipelago had been primarily the territory of the Tlingit [prounounced clink-it]. (A third group, the Haida, arrived from the south in the eighteenth century. … Tlingit society at the start of the nineteenth century was made up of approximately sixteen tribes, called kwaan.” – Mark Adams, A Tip of the Iceberg.

“The Tlingit, originally fourteen tribes, spoke a language related to the Athabascan Indians of the interior and occupies the coast of Alaska from Yakutat Bay down to the Prince of Wales Island. Ther were pushing the Eskimo off Kayak Island in the beginning of European contacts and had begun to enter the Copper River.

The Haida, who spoke a similar language, yet one which differed somewhat from that of the Tlingit, lived on the coastal areas of the Queen Charlotte Island and the southern part of the Prince of Wales Island in Alaska.

The Tsimshian lives on the mainland from the Nass to the Skeena River and down to the area which is the modern city of Prince Rupert.” – H.R. Hays,  Children of the Raven

These are the three native nations of Southeast Alaska. Two others – the Inuit, to the North, and the Aleuts, to the West – call Alaska home. The common belief is that native populations of Alaska (and the rest of the Americas) arrived across a landbridge.

“The easiest way to get here is on foot. The Bering Land Bridge has been the longstanding theory because that’s the clearest connection between Asia and North America, up in the Arctic, and it only appears when ice is locked up on land and sea levels drop. It’s the only place where you could walk from one side to the other.” – National Geographic

 

Quest for anomaly

A little over a month ago I took a pre-employment drug test. I went through my steps, emptying my pockets and providing a sample. I initial my vials and then stepped into the main office. At this point, the nurse looked at the paperwork and saw what the pre-employment test was for.

“Alaska? It’s too cold outside here now.” It was probably mid-fifties in Florida, about twenty to thirty degrees warmer than I’ve been getting.

It wasn’t just the weather that stopped her, of course living in Florida she was definitely used to warmth. But Alaska was far. I realized then that if people were surprised by what you were doing, you were probably doing something pretty interesting.

I’m certain it’s not too interesting for Alaskans who work in Alaska. Mark Adams, in Tip of the Iceberg, writes, “Three basic types of people live in Alaska… There are Native Alaskans, who’ve been there since time immemorial. There are people who have come north running toward something, usually a chance to do something unpleasant to make a lot of money quickly… And there are those who are running away from something.”

But if you’re hardy enough to make a living up here, you’re accepted in Alaska. it’s a different brand of the American Dream, though offered from the same manufacturer. And to many who reside in the lower 48, it’s just anomalous enough to be an interesting way of life.