Sitka Starlight

No stars here; will the moon do?

The Alaska Blogs #5

“In the darkest moments we see the stars.”

That’s a paraphrase of a saying by Emerson that I saw today on a wall in Sitka. I went out of my way to find a cruise that included Sitka, though I really didn’t know why, other than I knew it was one of the first Russian settlement in Alaska, and the capital for a number of years.  I guess that bit of history appealed to me. But the quote from Ralph Waldo was just one of many pleasant surprises in this tiny town tucked between the mountains and the sea.

Ralph’s words hit hard because the darkness felt pretty impenetrable this morning. Last night brought new IMD…well, I won’t call it conflict. Unsettlement. Some words, though not spoken in anger; some tears, unleashed with an emotion not truly explained (not an uncommon occurrence during the New Crisis, and even earlier. I thought emotional releases of all kinds brought some sort of resolution or understanding, but I’ve often watched some of these episodes conclude feeling more uncertain than before about what exactly had been revealed – if anything, But, as usual, I digress).

So, there was all that, another cloud rolled in front of my heart and soul, adding to the growing blackness. My mental refrain this morning, as I greeted my old friend Pit – Stomach Pit, that is, the churning hole of dread and anger that has greeted me too many times since the IMD began – went something like this: Empty. Hollow. Empty, hollow. Empty…empty…empty. Hollowhollowhollow!

Isn’t this TFW cruise such fun?

But today there were stars. Small ones, granted, but I take all the illumination I can get. Stars that cut through the clouds and offered – if not hope, then a small touch of comfort that said we can always find something good in the midst of any calamity. And that touch gave me needed perspective. On the grand scale of human suffering, the New Crisis is the gnat to others’ blue whale.

A fluke of nature...

And what a coincidence, whales were just the first of the stars. On my wildlife quest/excursion this morning, we had barely sailed more than 50 yards from the ship when we spotted our first humpback, its catacean exhalation spouting through the water’s surface. Then, on the following and subsequent dives, the trademark fluke rose into the water. My pics of this and the rest of the wildlife, alas, leave something to be desired, but they give a small sense of the natural wonders that are just part of the everyday scenery here. Though I think for our excursion’s crew and for the park ranger who served as our guide yesterday through Glacier Bay, the flora and fauna never become old. They appreciate the unique traits of each species, and I think feel blessed that they, mere humans, can share this beautiful part of the world with them.

Why, I otter...

Sorry, no bearish pun this time...

After the first humpback, there were two more, along with rafts of sea otters (that’s what a group is called, a raft), several bald eagles, and two coastal brown bears (grizzlies to you) munching grass along the water’s edge. They emerge from their winter sleep as vegetarians, starting with the grass and moving on to berries before turning to their preferred dinner of salmon. Along the way, there were also other waterfowl and what I think was a seal, though he didn’t really cooperate and make much of an appearance.

Back on land, I explored Sitka a bit. Officially, it’s a city, but the year-round population is just over 8,000. Sitka sits on the edge of Baranoff Island. And I think I want to live there.

Ah, Sitka. My new home?

Whoa. Where did that come from? Before the cruise, I always thought of Alaska as one of those “nice place to visit” locales. But Sitka had a vibe that pulled me in right away. It has the best of both mountains and the sea, which trumps my other fantasy spot to live, northern New Mexico. Both also have vibrant vestiges of Native American heritage, which also appeals.

I admit, as I’ve mentioned at C?WC? before, I am prone to traveler’s Stockholm syndrome – I spend a few days or maybe even only a few hours in certain new cities or regions, and I fall for them. Hard. I see myself pulling up stakes from CT and settling in to a new home. Now, I know Sitka lacks some things I usually need: exposure to culture on a regular basis, first off. But hey, that toddlin’ town of Juneau is only 4.5 hours away by the Alaska State  Ferry. And access to vegan food. Well, I could forage for wild berries, like the bears. The cost of living, too, is high; a loaf of bread, our shipboard guide said, will cost you $5, and a simple 3-bedroom home starts at about $350K. But walking past a realtor’s, I saw a sign that informed me I don’t have to rent when I can afford to own; just 25 grand for my own doublewide! With a place paid for free and clear, who cares if I have to spend a fin for bread or go to Juneau for tofu runs? And Sitka is very bikeable; the streets by the water are pretty flat, so just toss away those car expenses (besides, you can‘t get to the mainland by vehicle anyway). Man, this is getting more doable by the minute!

And the local volcano is dormant--sweet!

And you wanna know some other bonuses? There’s a cool little coffee shop connected to an independent bookstore, and despite Alaska’s reputation for electing corrupt and/or plain stupid Republican public officials, Sitka seems to be a bit of a liberal (moderate?) oasis. I always assumed a land filled with hunters and dependent on fish for much of its commerce would not be too counter-culture friendly; yet Sitka did seem to offer hope, and some of the younger folk back at the bar in Juneau also seemed hip. Of course, first impressions on those things can be deceiving, and you do have to wonder about a place that elected a preening beauty queen as its governor (the portrait of her hanging in the local community center just screamed, “This is a woman way more in love with herself than most other things in life“). Still, people who settle in the Last Frontier are not bound to get wrapped up in material trappings or passing too much judgment. They just want to do their thing, while surrounded by an expanse of unsullied natural wonders unlike anything else in the country.

Did I mention that Sitka is also free of both mosquitoes and snakes? And if you make enough noise the bears leave you alone? Awesome!

Now, perhaps before I pull up stakes for good, I should come back here for a spell, stay a few days or even a week. There’s a nice new hotel downtown, and it serves veggie burgers in the restaurant and decent brew in the bar. And looking through a local paper, I saw that the town offers some kind of visiting-writer fellowships, good for a month. Maybe that’s the way to get my extended stay! I’ll follow up on the application when I get home. I will, however, have to consult with the Fex before I go. She was struck by the place too, and talked about perhaps doing her next two-month volunteer gig here. Could you imagine if we were both in Sitka at the same time? Awkward…

But that’s all in the future, the extended stay or week-long vacation. I’ll probably do my return Alaska cruise first, the one with the person I haven’t met yet who actually wants to be on a cruise with me. For now, in this moment, I will take solace in the Sitka starlight that graced my path today, a welcome respite from the lingering darkness.

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~ by mburgan on May 31, 2010.

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