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 coo have come north running toward something, usually a chance to do something unpleasant to male 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.
Alaska, like much of the Country, has pretty much shut down. Bars, restaurants, the company I was working for. However, I’m fortunate to have a number of trails to explore within walking distance.
Rainbird Trail: Scenic views and a hilly wooded path, this two-and-a-half-mile walk provides a look at the Tongass Narrows and Gravina and Pennock Islands. While moving through the forest, there is a selection of spruce, cedar, hemlock, and pine trees to observe in their tree-fulness.
Deer Mountain Trail: A significantly more strenuous hike than Rainbird, and currently covered in snow at an elevation of about one mile from the base, it on;y went part of the way up. Deer Mountain is described as “Ketchikan’s iconic and idyllic backdrop.”
Several other locations are within driving distance (only some 30 miles of highway move up the Western coast of Revilla Island), and these include Carlanna Lake Trail, Ward Lake and Perseverance Lake Trail, and the Coast Guard Beach Trail.
I only briefly headed down to Ward Lake, but anticipate further hiking over the weekend. The weather has turned sunny, while still hovering between thirty and forty degrees Fahrenheit.
The history of Ketchikan is closely tied to fishing. As I mentioned last week, the Kadjuck Tlingits made summer fishing camps along the coast of this island at the Tongass Narrows. But it was in 1883 that a salmon saltery (fish packaging operation) was established. This saltery, started by Mike Martin, was the first such business in place.
In 1885, Loring cannery opened its doors; in 1887, the Tongass Packing Company built its cannery; other immigrants began to open businesses, and in 1900, on August the 25th, the City of Ketchikan was incorporated with a population of 459 residents.
Southeast Alaska is one of the great breeding grounds for all species of the Pacific Salmon. There are about 1,100 islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago, which themselves have steep inland ranges and streams (aided by the about 150 inches of rainfall each year). All these factors contribute to the returning salmon runs, some with upwards of one million fish!
During the mid-to-late summer, salmon can be seen running over the falls and fish ladder at Creek Street, right through Downtown Ketchikan.
Well, I’m here. I might as well post some information that I’ve found interesting.
The City of Ketchikan, AK sits on Revillagigedo Island, which is about 89 km (50 mi) long from north to south and 48 km (35 mi) wide from east to west, making it the12th largest island in the United Statesand the167th largest island in the world.
The island is separated from the Alaska mainland to the east by Behm Canal, from Prince of Wales Island to the west by the Clarence Strait, and from Annette Island to the south by Revillagigedo Channel and Nichols Passage.¹
There are two cities on the Island, Ketchikan and Saxman. The name Ketchikan was chosen as the creek which flows through town is Ketchikan Creek. It was named for Kitsch, a Tlingit native who claimed the section of creek for fishing. Kitsch-hen was anglicized to Ketchikan, as the Tlingit didn’t have a formal written language. Hen translates to creek, and Kitsch to “the thundering wings of an eagle”.² Aptly, bald eagles fly and nest along the coast up and down the Southwestern shore.
The other city, Saxman, is famous for its totem poles. It has the largest collection of standing poles in the world, which is impressive as the Saxman is only one square mile.³ Many of Saxman’s totems were apparently stolen in the late 1800s during the Harriman Expedition, which I’m currently researching.
Today is basically half a year of my posting every day. It’s… unbelievable. I wasn’t sure that I’d make it this long keeping up with daily posts. You get in a groove.
Admittedly, some days are harder than others. Some days I’ve found no time to write, heading from one gig to another. Some days I’ve been able to queue up a week’s worth of posts in one sitting.
One or two days, I just got it in under the wire.
This is a bit of a milestone for me, and thank you for taking any time to read this at all. It’s my practice and testing area; an avenue for thoughtfulness and experimentation; and a crucible of trying to come up with the right word for the right situation. But it’s been one-hundred eighty-three days, and damned if I’m not looking forward to the next six months.
And saying that, it’s basically my stay in Alaska. The next six months of posts will all be from Alaska.
A Valentine’s Day rundown. Mostly worked this week. But, some things:
Reading: The Ballad of Black Tomby Victor LaValle. This had been on my to-read list for a couple of years, and I couldn’t remember why I originally put it on. What started as a novella on a Harlem street-hustler (in a moderately magic-filled world) spiraled into Lovecraftian horror. I enjoyed it – a fun, quick read – though I still can’t recall what was it that made me jot it down originally…
Listening: Bach’s Cello Suites. My favorite is 1, which is a ubiquitous piece, but all of them are lovely. I’ve always enjoyed cello music. I’ve been told it’s because the cello makes a sound closest to the human voice of all the instruments. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wanted to revisit some cello music, particularly Bach.
Learning: About Alaska. Currently looking over some information regarding the 1899 Harriman Expedition. Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt was an admirer of the reports of flora and fauna being assembled by the team of the expedition, but it didn’t stop Roosevelt from dismantling Harriman’s railroad company in 1904 in antitrust litigation.
And more on personal libraries, following up from the earlier post: