I feel just a little bit guilty, keeping Alaska all to myself. We’ve been home two weeks and a single post is all I’ve managed? Life is busy, sure. I am seriously bogged down at work. Lonely for the grandboys, looking for their company. And knitting, knitting, knitting — backed up on baby sweaters! But this morning the Hubs kindly made some extra coffee on his way out the door. I got up early just for you. Well, for me and my Ketchikan memories, too.
Ketchikan is a small city, hardly more than a fishing town, on Alaska’s southeastern coast. It is on Revillagigedo Island, bordering with British Columbia, Canada, on the east and sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by Gravina Island on the west. It is situated within the massive Tongass National Forest — the largest in the nation at 17 million acres. (Even all of that and it doesn’t touch Alaska proper!) Ketchikan is a small settlement in a wild place.
Ketchikan played a role in the gold rush and is renown for timber, especially cedar, hemlock, and spruce. But its’ true claim to fame is salmon: it is the self-proclaimed salmon capital of the world. There are five species of Pacific salmon. You will find them all here or very near. (The salmon we most often eat in the lower 48 is Alaskan dogchow!) Several canneries were established in the early 1900s for worldwide distribution. Although processing peaked in the 1930s, wild salmon flourish.
Indeed, the day we visited the salmon were running thick in the creek meandering through town. We stood on the bridge and watched awhile as several crewmen from our ship tried their luck. Salmon, salmon everywhere, in a mad dash to spawn! They cast and cast and cast again, not very successfully. Whether poor technique or choice of bait, they could have scooped out a bucketful with less effort. Amusing, eh?
We wandered around town a bit that Sunday morning. It was easy-breezey, clear skies revealing mountains hovering above the harbor where boats bobbed like corks in a bathtub. Brightly painted clapboard homes and shops welcomed us, clerks and townies warm and gracious to yet another horde of tourists. The end of the season and still, they smile.
I met a Japanese artist and recent immigrant, Kana Yamasaki. She came here to be married to a fireman. I didn’t ask how that happened, exactly, but wondered. Japan is no further away from Alaska than New York but still, it seems a rather drastic move? She spoke of the friends she misses in Wakayama and the quiet life she loves in Ketchikan. Her artistry is flourishing here. I bought two gorgeous watercolor prints to remind me of our adventures.
In the background of shop after shop, Christian music played softly. One shop owner commented, “We can’t go to church so we bring church here.” Such is the price of retail in a tourist-based economy. On a side street was a rustic Christian bookstore and above it, church was in session. Second story plate glass windows at the The Upper Room gave clear view to a well attended Catholic mass for the faithful.
Ketchikan gets a lot of rain — 13 feet per year, more than any other Alaskan city. We anticipated a steady drizzle and geared up appropriately. Instead, we were blessed by clear skies for flightseeing the Misty Fjords National Monument. What a gift.
Our destination this day, The Monument, is more than two million acres within the Tongass wilderness. We flew over the tail end of Revilla on our way, leaving power lines and all signs of human habitation far behind. One of the most distinctive features of the Monument is New Eddystone Rock, a volcanic spire standing as a sentinel. Sea lions were hauled out on its sandy shore as we soared over.
Misty Fjords is, in a single word, impressive. It’s hard to describe the exhilaration of skimming clouds and mountains, dipping and diving into fjords and feeling like a mere fly, a gnat, nothing more, in the sweeping expanse of sky and sea and river and rock and forest and bogs. In every direction, wilderness.
I hope you visit this majestic place one day. For such a time, I offer a proven recipe for discoverng your place on the planet.
Seven Steps to Proper Perspective
1. Strap into a six-seater floatplane.
2. Fly up against massive rock face.
3. Set down on the calm water of a secluded bay.
4. Turn off engine.
5. Step out on floats.
Then you will know why God says, I am Who I am.
~ René Morley