Good morning, Happy Wanderers,
Part of Alaska’s prosperity comes in the colors Green and Gold. I am not going to talk about the black gold of oil. We saw nothing of that. The fishing and logging are good in Alaska’s Southeast. Alaska Green Sitka spruce, red and yellow cedar. Whole islands clear cut down to the water’s edge. This was more apparent in Canadian waters, but it is a shock to look out from the ferry deck and see an entire islet mountain shorn of its timber. Much of the Alaska green is second or third growth. Because these islands are solid volcanic rock, it takes a long time to form soil and produce the alder, fire weed pioneering growth that later becomes a cash crop forest. Alaska green in more ways than just color. There is a fair amount of controversy around the 50 year contract to log the Tongass National Forest.
Alaska Gold comes in the form of salmon. A blind person could tell they were in Petersburg by the scent of salmon in every stage of processing: canning, vacuum packing, smoking and of course the catch coming in to the processing boats anchored in the Wrangell Narrows and on into the South, Middle or North harbors.
- Processing boat receiving salmon in Wrangell Narrows
That there is gold in these fish was clear on Friday night. The bars were overflowing and by six p.m., there were rowdy men carrying on loud conversations in slurred voices on the one main street.
A deck hand can make $20,000 to $40,000 in the summer months. We met young people working at every imaginable job, staying with their parents, and heading off at the end of the season to complete a medical degree, a massage therapist training, and a business degree in some college in the lower 48. Along the east shore of Mitkof island, the beautiful homes’ vast glass walls frame a mountain range of ice flows, jagged peaks, and snow fields of the Stikine-Le Conte Wilderness. Icebergs glide along the base of the mountain range. Humpbacks surface off shore. Sea lions carry on a noisy conversation as they rest on a buoy marking this dangerously narrow channel.
Colie, driver for Midnight Rides, a local taxi company, stopped with us on the eastern arm of the Mitkof highway and pointed out the peaks, the whales, the icebergs. We may have missed them without her practiced eye.
A young local beauty came to stand beside us on the beach to watch for her sweetheart’s boat coming through on the rushing tide. He had texted her that he was coming in between a tiny pair of islands. She was excited to see him after three months at sea, fishing. She lives in a hike-in cabin with no electricity or running water about 17 miles west of town. She confessed that her solitary summer had been a pleasure even as she was thrilled at the return of her seafarer. Her story is repeated household to household. As our hostess in the Waterfront B and B told us, either the women make it for a lifetime, or after a year, they say, “you can stay or you can come with me. I’m going back.” Not an easy life for relationships.
A Norwegian town, Scandinavian colors invitingly decorate the buildings, but Petersburg is not particularly interested in tourists. Cruise ships with more than 100 passengers are not invited. It’s all business. Alaska Gold, Alaska Green. Work hard and make good money.
The local book store is the obvious cure for winter doldrums. One of the best collections of books I have seen from fiction, travel, children’s books, the latest non-fiction and an exquisite display of native and other gift items: masks from Nome, scarves from the Aleut, drawings and sculptures from the best Alaskan artists. My hair stylist in West Seattle’s sister works in Sing Lee Alley Books. With no more than a text introduction, Judy loaned us her car for day and encouraged us to stop by before leaving for Skagway. In our borrowed car, we found a sweeping sandy low tide beach on the south side of Mitkov. Lying deeply asleep in the warm sand under the branches of a Sitka spruce, I felt cradled in the lap of the Goddess. I wish I knew the name of the Spirit the Tlingit would thank for my peaceful sleep. This is the perfect environment for contemplation and writing.
Judy’s husband works on the Alaska Marine highway, assigned to the Taku, the smallest of the fleet of 11 boats. He was returning after a two-week tour. As the Taku slipped through the narrows into the dock, the boat grazed a buoy. We landed at 1:30 in the morning. Before noon, a friend called Judy to ask if her husband was driving. Tut-tut. “No, he wasn’t and how do you know?” It’s a very small town and nothing is a secret for long.
I am so glad we are traveling with the locals. It’s a treat. Time passes very slowly dependent on the tides by ferry and on the weather by plane.
I am glad to visit, knowing I don’t have to depend on
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Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving,
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