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.
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:
I didn’t know him. I wasn’t familiar with his work, nor did I know I should be.
I first became aware of James A. Michener during a Twitter Q & A session with another author, discussing Thurber’s The 13 Clocks. Neil Gaiman had said that James Thurber’s book for children was quite possibly his favorite, and was then asked what would be second.
His response was Michener’s Poland. Being Polish myself, I looked this up straight away. Poland is a sweeping novel, spanning 700 pages. And despite my browsings at the library and used book stores, I’ve yet to come across a copy. (I did find it on Amazon, obviously, but I’ve not made the purchase.)
As I’ve been reading Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s account of traversing sections of the Pacific Crest Trail on a three-month through-hike, she mentioned both her mother’s love of Michener novels, as well as reading The Novel on her trek, one of Michener’s books. Again I’m amazed at the interconnectedness of it all – that I can go so long without a hint of one author, only to have him pop up in two very interesting places.
As a preparation, I’ve purchased Alaska on Audible, another of Michener’s epic tales. At 57 hours, I’m sure that I’ll be listening to this for quite some time.
Hello again, campers! Ready for your campfire tales? No? Not really?
I finished listening to the Camp Red Moon short anthology, and it took me a while to recognize the voice in the second story. Kevin T. Collins, who’s performed the audiobooks to the Sam Capra series by Jeff Abbot. Speaking of, it’s about time for another installment in that series.
Anyway, here’s what’s on my plate this week.
Reading: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Just getting started, and I haven’t seen the movie either, but I recognize the desire to travel, isolate, and found yourself. A lot of my library seems geared towards those sentiments, even if they all haven’t been read yet. A 26-year-old, reeling from tragedy, decides to make the 1100-mile solo hike.
Listening: You Learnfrom the Alanis Morrissette jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill. I had this in the nineties (it’s probably still floating around my cd collection somewhere). This ensemble number is really touching, and I enjoy it a lot.
Doing: Goal setting. I’ve been using a couple of resources – Designing Your Life, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, & Tim Ferris. Before I start making cuts to some of my projects and interests, I want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reason. So having those goals set are important.
If nothing you’re doing seems to be working in the fight to regain your energy, maybe it’s time to take extreme measures.
I’ve tried several over the years. Once when I was fighting a severe bought of depression, I quit my job, moved out of my house, and was planning a move far away. I wasn’t sure where, but anywhere would have sufficed. For a month or two, I stayed with a friend on an air mattress. He didn’t mind, though his wife might have. Anyway, good friends will stick with you when shit hits the fan.
Deciding to take this trip to Alaska would be another opportunity to upgrade, even if only for the summer. But I foresee the time away allowing me to dissect my life in a way that I haven’t been able to do in Florida. Honest observations on what’s working and what’s not.
So it seems that upgrades are decisions that can either succeed or fail, whereby you remove yourself from one or more aspects of your life that are constantly draining energy. It’s why people seek better jobs, better housing, better communities. The hunt for better is about trying to upgrade ourselves.
But we must make sure that we’re doing it conscientiously, and not just throwing money at a problem or, worse, going into debt to be seen as “keeping up with the Joneses”.