Category Archives: Alaska

2013: The Blogless Year

January: What to do with a new year? Apply to grad school and watch Zags basketball, obviously. Submitted my application to SIT Graduate Institute and cheered on my #1 boys.

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Go Zags.

February: Back to Southeast Alaska for work and the opportunity to see friends in Sitka.

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Dock. Walk. Talk.

March: Let’s play JEOPARDY! (That’s my mom.)

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Final JEOPARDY: “What is Hail to the Chief?”

April: Made a documentary. Met great people, shared the story of good friends, screened it at a theater with 300 people in attendance. Folks at NW Documentary–you’re beautiful. Oh, you want to see it? Fathoming A Future

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May: Met this guy, Dave Matthews, you may have heard of him.

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I love you, Dave. Thank you, Brittany.

June: A mess of a month, but I had the chance to spend my grandma’s final days with her in Missouri (and learned I look exactly the same as when I was three years old).

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Some things don’t change.

July: Quit my job (bye JVC Northwest, it’s been good!). Trekked 93 miles around Mt. Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. Would I do it again? Yeah, I think I would. Didn’t love every moment of it, but damn that cold Rainier beer tasted good at the end. Thanks to Brian and Aunt Christy for the Trail Talk.

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Hey, Mt. Rainier. Let’s take a look at you from all angles.

August: Road trip! Packed up and left it all (again). Vermont-bound, but not before a stop at the best brewfest ever. Thanks, Bend!

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Up top! Farewell with Portland party peoples in Bend, Ore.

September: Turns out I decided to forfeit my income and work really hard going back to school in Vermont. Honeymoon phase of all new people in a new place. Delicious cheese. And reading assignments.

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Obligatory first day of school (jumping) photo.

October: New England autumn proves worthy of its reputation. Cider. More cheese. More reading assignments.

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After growing up in Seattle, I didn’t know fall days could be sunny.

November: Drew some Econ graphs, wrote some papers. Spent time with new friends who somewhat resemble lawn gnomes.

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A lawn gnome and his friend, Preston.

December: Completed my first semester of grad school. Many hours spent attempting to define sustainability. And a little stop by Yale to see a man deserving of the descriptor “inspirational,” Mr. Wendell Berry, of course.

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Story time with a great man.

January 2014: The sun has set on a semester of grad school. A jaunt to Barbados awaits . . .

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Snowfall concludes a semester on the hill.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Places.2012

I’ll follow-up a year of crappy blogging with an annual tradition: the list of places I spent the night throughout the year. I may not have Facebook, but why not still offer the highlight reel of my year on the Internet like every other shameless individual? (Please, don’t answer that.) 2012 was the first year since high school that I have not changed residence at some point during the calendar year. The year was primarily spent in the Northwest, but I managed a few strategically-crafted adventures outside the cubicle. Here’s to improvement in 2013!

Bellingham, WA* 

Seattle, WA*

Portland, OR*

Camano Island, WA

Fircrest, WA

Spokane, WA*

Juneau, AK

Haines, AK

Sitka, AK

Mason Lake, WA

Lake Cavanaugh, WA

Cannon Beach, OR

Camp Adams, Mollala, OR

Driggs, ID

Gros Ventre Campground, WY

Jackson Lake Lodge, Moran, WY

Gorge Amphitheater, George, WA

Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA

Whidbey Island, WA

Camp Ghormley, Naches, WA

Culver City, CA

Columbia, MO*

Comer, GA

total different places: 23 (2 fewer than 2011)

different states visited: 8 (tied with 2011)

new states visited: 0

countries: 1

*indicates a repeat visit

Brief Rest, Great View
Mt. Shuksan, WA – April 2012
Untitled
Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA – September 2012
Kids Bringing Offering to the Altar
Jubilee’s Abundance, Comer, GA – Thanksgiving 2012
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The Cider Makin’ Crew, Portland, OR – November 2012
LP, gg, LC at GTNP
The Most Tourist-y Shot Possible (Had to Happen), GTNP – August 2012

Let’s Catch Up

Well, I’ve had quite a few complaints about the state of my blog. And I, of course, have no excuse except to admit that I simply have not sat down to post in far too long. When it’s sunny outside, my productivity levels regarding anything computer related drop dramatically. So let’s catch up…

Summer 2012 was an absolutely exhausting and awesome run around. For the first time in the last twenty years of my life, autumn arrives without a major transition; I’m not headed back to school, not moving, no end of season work. I’m just continuing where I’m at and, for now, that’s just right. With end-of-summer fatigue, I’m digging into the depths of my bottom drawer and lovingly putting on my fleece pants one grateful leg at a time. But before the rain returns and the monochrom days greet me with each glance out the window, here are a few summer highlights:

May/June:

At the end of May/beginning of June, I made my return to the great state of Alaska, rendezvousing with Ms. Lisa Colella, JV friend from Juneau and fellow-beerfest extraordinaire. The trip was a nice jaunt around Southeast, starting and ending in Juneau, with a quick trip to Haines for the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival and revisiting Baranof Island and my friends in Sitka.

Cheers!
Just practicing a little wood chopping in preparation for the sauna with Meg. Obviously a total success.
With mountains that size, Haines is an easy town to fall in love with immediately.

A fabulous return visit to Southeast kicked off summer in the most appropriate fashion!

July:

Back in the Northwest and able to spend some time with family and friends, I did what any Northwest native would do at low-tide in the month of July: geoduck hunting.

Family friend, Justice Wiggins, and I tactfully dug our hole around our geoduck victim.
Observing is an important aspect of supporting the geoduck diggers.
This guy was quite tasty. Oh yeah, we eat them after a nice quick boil.

With low tide on the third of July, geoduck hunting was quickly followed up with patriotic celebrations for the fourth of July at my good friend’s, Ms. Kelly Noland, cabin on the Olympic Peninsula.

Please note the proper celebratory components of sunshine, a boat ride, a patriotic halo and, let’s be honest, the beginning of a severe sunburn.

July also brought celebrations of the return of Mr. Scott Hippe to the U.S. and of his acceptance to med school with some rather quality GU folks at the Hippe cabin on Lake Cavanaugh. Those pictures are all over Facebook, which, of course, means that I haven’t seen them at all.

And no summer could be complete without a marathon of visitors coming through Portland, beginning with none other than Mr. Lucas Sharma, who, as of the end of August, has entered the novitiate to become a Jesuit priest.

Mr. Lucas Sharma (showing his Jesuit education pride) and me in Hood River, OR

August: On the eve of orientation for 140 new Jesuit Volunteers for work, our busiest time of year, I left work promptly on my birthday, August 2nd, after a month of secret phone calls and texts, to surprise my best friend, Brittany at her family beach house in Cannon Beach, OR to celebrate her engagement!

Congrats to Brittany and Abby, a wonderful excuse to be back with the original beach girls, Tab and Tif!
Abby honored the fact that she was sharing her carefully planned engagement day with my birthday by providing me with a lovely celebratory tiara–which I wore proudly.

Mr. Ian Roeber also arrived in Portland to work for JVC Northwest as the recruiter this year and found a happy little home in the basement of my house in Portland for the few weeks he is at our office, not on the road. After engagement celebrations and a full week of camp at JVC Northwest orientation, Ian and I had the brilliant idea of starting a hike in the gorge at 1p.m. on a 95 degree day.

Hot and sweaty. Trying to show enthusiasm at the top of Dog Mountain.

And since hiking the gorge is good, but not quite magical, why not take my comp days for work from our time at orientation and make a quick trip to Grand Teton National Park? I called upon my trusty travel companion, Lisa, and we hopped in the car for a wondrous long weekend in the Tetons.

Lisa and I managed to visit Ms. Gina Graziano, my roommate from Sitka, during her first week at the Teton Science School. We even found ourselves in my old stomping grounds pictured here at Jackson Lake Lodge.
Buffalo out my window. Just another day in Jackson Hole.
A rather perfect morning on Jackson Lake. What’s up Mt. Moran?
And I managed to see my former hiking buddy (and boss) from my summers in Grand Teton, Mr. Brian Bultema. With one full day on our short trip dedicated to hiking, I picked one of my favorite trails, and Brian and I found ourselves burning some serious calories on the way up to Lake of the Crags.
This picture doesn’t even begin to capture the greatness of Lake of the Crags. Topping out around 10,000 feet, my sea-level lungs were burning. And it felt amazing.
A rather perfect post-lunch, mid-hike snooze never felt so good.

After wrapping up our final day in Jackson with a trip to Snake River Brewery and attending an Andrew Bird concert that evening, Lisa and I (insanely) hopped in the car at 11p.m. and drove out of Wyoming, through Montana in the middle of the night, took a quick nap in a parking lot in Missoula, and cruised through Idaho and eastern Washington to arrive in Olympia, Washington the next afternoon where we surprised Lucas at his going away party.

I suppose the 15 non-stop hours and driving through the night wondering if we were going to hit a deer was worth it. I am severely sleep-deprived in this photo, but how could I pass up a gathering with these beautiful people?

September:

Finally, I rolled into September, running on fumes, ready to reclaim my summer finale tradition after a couple missed years: a trip to the Gorge Amphitheater to see Dave Matthews Band over Labor Day weekend.

Standard scene during the day at the Gorge Campground.
Standard scene in the evening inside the Gorge Amphitheater.

However, despite having GA tickets for the shows, I only viewed the stage from this distance on Friday night. On Saturday, I had the most epic live music experience of my life, when I made it (not by following all of the rules) to the pit standing area on the floor about seven standing rows from the stage. I could see Dave’s sweat stains. And he played a glorious set with many of my favorites. It was magical (apologies to Patrick Noland for ditching, which I know I will never live down).

He was so close.

So just when I thought summer was really over…

I headed up the familiar route of I-5 to Seattle this past weekend, where I officially wrapped up my summer with a trip to the Mariner’s game. Because what summer could be complete without a trip to the ballpark? Thanks to Mr. Brian Hensley and his very entertaining family for a trip to Safeco Field!

Watching the game was a top priority.
Letting out our inner-Mariner Moose after a 6-3 victory against the Texas Rangers.

Ok, so that’s why I haven’t been posting on my blog. I was also working 40-hours a week (most weeks) amidst the run around. But bring on the rain and the chai tea and the wool leggings, because I am ready! Thanks to all who contributed to my fabulous (exhausting and awesome–see?) summer and, thanks Meghan for still reading my blog and not unsubscribing!

Cheers to Summer 2012!

Places.2011

Time for the annual review of where I’ve spent the last year. Despite living on an island in the north Pacific for eight months of 2011, I managed to fit in some roamings and spend the night in a few fabulous places:

Sitka, AK*
Anchorage, AK*
The Shrine of St. Therese, Auke Bay, AK
Douglas, AK*
Salmon Lake, Tongass National Forest, AK
Bethel, AK
Samsing Cove, Tongass National Forest, AK
Juneau, AK
Fairbanks, AK
Denali Park, AK
M/V Kennicott, Alaska Marine Highway, Juneau, AK to Bellingham, WA
Seattle, WA*
Camano Island, WA*
The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
Columbia, MO*
Chicago, IL
Bowling Green, KY
Comer, GA
St. Louis, MO
Spokane, WA
Lynn, MA
Groton Long Point, CT
Vancouver, WA
Portland, OR*
Bellingham, WA
 

25 different places (tied with 2010)

8 different states (Alaska is a big one, ok?)

new states visited: 0

1 country (or does sailing through Canadian waters count?)

*indicates repeat visit

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA
Wedding Day
Most Beautiful Farm in the World: Jubilee, Comer, GA
Salmon Lake in the Afternoon
Salmon Lake, Tongass National Forest, AK
Whale Tail, Square in New London
Whale Park, New London, CT

 

Sarah’s Alaska Tour, Part I

Note: This is the most political my blog will ever be.
Sarah hasn’t been in the news as much since other political figures have been gracing the headlines of newspapers and nightly news broadcasts recently. But she certainly hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, just last month, I ran into a man in New London, Connecticut who shared his passion for Sarah on the street corner during a sunny autumn afternoon.
Hmmm...
My buddy, Brandon, with a Hopeful and Expectant Sarah Fan

I’m not sure about “Sarah’s World Tour,” but I was able to catch up with Sarah this past summer as she explored some of her home turf around the great state of Alaska, “the Last Frontier.”

If Sarah did go on a world tour, as this man anticipates (he’s even drawn her tour bus on the sign), I suspect she would probably want to represent her deep connection to Denali National Park by taking a bus that drives the park road regularly to Kantishna Roadhouse.

Sarah by the Kantishna Roadhouse Bus
Sarah by the Kantishna Roadhouse Bus
Sarah by the Kantishna Roadhouse Bus
I think it suits her!

And who knows, she might even consider an alternative form of transportation like she did this summer on the Alaska Railroad!

Sarah Riding the Rails
Sarah Ridin' the Rails

Sarah hopped off the train at Alaska’s most popular national park–she is quite the environmentalist, ya know!

Sarah in Moose Coat, Sunglasses AT DNP
Looking Classy in Denali NP--She's definitely ready for an outdoor adventure in that outfit!
Sarah by the Nenana River
Sarah Strolled Along the Nenana River, Enjoying Nature
Sarah Visits Denali River Cabins
And she even "roughed it," finding a place to rest her head at Denali River Cabins.

After her appearance at Denali NP and the surrounding area, she headed to another region of Alaska, Southeast, where she showed support for the troops and embraced the local fishing lifestyle. Stay tuned…

Farewell Sitka: Best of, Worst of a Year on an Island in the North Pacific

I packed my bags to the point of bursting seams and said goodbyes to the point of exhaustion. I shed a few tears as I said farewell to my co-workers from the last year and flew over Sitka one last time before the low-lying clouds obstructed my aerial view of town.

What a year.

So, I’m in my home in Seattle, where I grew up, sun shining without a cloud in the sky, and the thought of taking on a crowd of several thousand at Bumbershoot or Dave Matthews at the Gorge  over this Labor Day weekend is overwhelming. I guess I’ll stick a bit closer to home and present my “Best of, Worst of a year in Sitka” list! Though there were several other adventures throughout Alaska this year, I tried to keep the list mostly related to Sitka, with a couple of exceptions, naturally!

Best Holiday: Alaska Day, October 18

U.S.A. and Alaska
Alaska Day flag raising ceremony on Castle Hill

Best Catch (2-way tie): 20lb. King Salmon, June 6; 50+lb. Halibut (thanks, Tyler), July 17

Me and My Fishy
Me and my King Salmon

Worst Flight: November 1, trying to return to Sitka from Seattle, plane struck by lightning outside of Ketchikan, turned around to Seattle after being unable to land in Ketchikan, Juneau, or Sitka due to weather.

Best Beer: Redoubt Red, Baranof Island Brewing Co. Honorable Mention: Sockeye Red IPA, Midnight Sun Brewing

Best Party: Top Gun, May 28 with Juneau JVs and DJ Bone (thanks, Chris!)

Best Camping Trip: Salmon Lake Cabin, May 6-8

Salmon Lake Cabin
Salmon Lake Cabin

Best Concert: The Wicked Tinkers, May 21 Honorable Mention: Red Molly October 8

Best Sitka Community Event: Alpine Adventure Race, July 23 Honorable Mention: Girls on the Run 5k, May 14

Girls on the Run 5k Prep
Preparation for the Girls on the Run 5k

Best Weekly Ritual: Beer on the porch of the Larkspur Wed at 5p.m., post-staff meeting, pre-community night.

Best Community Night (2-way tie): making pretzels in honor of Lent, photo-scavenger hunt.

Most Random Run-in: Matt and Anderson from Alta, Utah at the Larkspur, September, Honorable Mention: Steve Demmert outside Crescent Harbor, in town for Herring fishery, late March!

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Captain Steve Demmert at work during a herring opener.

Best Housesitting: The Cunningham’s

Best Lunch at SAFV (2-way tie): Sushi Day December 23 thanks to Chris, Taco Truck Day, June, thanks to Vic!

Best Reality TV Show (2-way tie): Watching The Sing-Off with Nick (and sometimes Brandon), ABDC (America’s Best Dance Crew), Thursday nights with Chris and Brandon (“You always cease to amaze me!” -Lil’ Mama)

Best Bar Game: Shuffleboard at the Bayview

Chris and his Sing-alongs
Chris singing at the shuffleboard table.

Best/Worst/Only trip to the ER: July 2, after epic fall when an unknown curb suddenly jumped in my way while running.

Best Milkshake: Harry Race Soda Fountain, Medium Chocolate Shake

Best Failed Hike: Coastal Trail in Seward with Braden, January 15

Along the Icy, Snowy, Impassable Trail We Go!
Braden along the Icy, Snowy, Impassable Trail

Favorite Trail: Beaver Lake/Herring Cove

Best View: Top of Verstovia on a sunny day.

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View from the top of Verstovia, looking toward Silver Bay

Best Coffee Shop: The Backdoor

Best “Grind:” the Fiddle Grind, February.

Best Zags Basketball Viewing: the Westmark at the bar with Nick.

Best Burger: The Wade Brevick, Bayview Restaurant

Best Sushi: The Titanic Roll, Little Tokyo

Best End of Year Exploring: Walking all the public docks in Sitka with Brandon.

Best Night at the P-Bar: post-Coast Guard Christmas Party with Chris and C.G. friends.

Best Month of Weather: May, Honorable Mention: September, 12 straight days of no rainfall, new record!

15 Ways You Know You’ve Lived in Southeast

My First Catch

You know you’ve lived Southeast for a while if . . .

1- you’re sweating when it’s 60 degrees outside.

2- you pull your rain pants out of your bag half way through a walk home and put them on in the middle of the sidewalk.

3- you’ve lived and worked in a building in which mold was recently discovered.

4- you’re embarrassed to be wearing hiking boots instead of XtraTufs.

5- you bought something at the White E (thrift shop), wore it a couple of times, re-donated it to the White E, and saw it back on the rack during your next shopping trip.

6- you’ve walked to the airport to catch a flight, even if it’s at 5 a.m.

7- you talk about sunny days like long-lost friends.

8- you’ve been given time off work to watch the herring fishery.

9- you feel guilty sleeping past 8 a.m. on a sunny Saturday or Sunday.

10- a ten minute car ride feels long.

11- a trip to the grocery store feels strange when you don’t run into someone you know.

12- you start seeing fishing vessels named after women you know in town and wonder if their husband is the captain.

13- you know where the best puddles in town are.

14- your tastes are way too sophisticated to eat pink salmon.

15- you’ve accidently picked up the wrong car waiting for you at the airport.

Roaming Photo Tour of Alaska

Uploading and organizing my hundreds of photos from vacation is a work in progress, but here is a glimpse, in no particular order, of my recent travels throughout The Last Frontier.

Me and Kennel Puppy

Me petting a kennel racing dog at the Chena Village, Fairbanks, AK.

Mom and Granite

Mom with Granite, former Iditarod winning dog, Fairbanks, AK.

The Shrine

My parents and I visited the Shrine of St. Therese, Juneau, AK.

Landscape at the Shrine, Fireweed

The fireweed was blooming in full force everywhere we traveled, Juneau, AK.

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We spent a misty afternoon at Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK.

Mom and me

But we were all smiles (and one pair of foggy glasses!) in the rain, Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK.DSC_0073

True to Southeast’s reputation, moisture was evident everywhere, in raindrops and icebergs alike, Mendenhall Lake, Juneau, AK.

BIG Bear

We saw ourselves a big ol’ Grizzly Bear munching on berries, Denali National Park, AK.

Caribou

Along with some caribou grazing along the hillsides, Denali National Park, AK.

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I took the opportunity at a rest stop to be a ridiculous tourist, Denali National Park, AK.

Denali

Most importantly, we even got to see that BIG mountain on the road to Kantishna! Denali National Park, AK.

Oh Yeah! Denali is visible!

I was pretty impressed we had such an incredible morning of clear views, Denali National Park, AK.

Denali

Man, that mountain is MAJESTIC, Denali National Park, AK.

Hey Look, I'm at Denali National Park

In case there was any confusion about seeing the mountain, I got a picture with the sign too, Denali National Park, AK.

Alaska Railroad

We hopped on the Alaska Railroad for a scenic ride from Fairbanks to Denali and Denali to Anchorage, AK.

Byron Glacier, Portage Valley

Byron Glacier in Portage Valley, AK where we spotted several more glaciers.

Resurrection Bay

And we even managed to enjoy a semi-sunny boat ride around Resurrection Bay that bordered Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, AK.

Well I think that’s a healthy dose of my recent Alaska roamings. There are always more pictures on Flickr that I’m slowly attempting to organize. This coming Wednesday, I’ll hop on the ferry heading south with many memories of this great state.

An Alaskan Vacation

After living in Alaska for a year (officially on the 7th), I am currently seeing Alaska the way most people do; I am a tourist! And I am loving it.

Today I learned that 500,000 people visit Denali National Park every summer and earlier I read (in some unremembered source) that 900,000 people visit Alaska every summer via cruise ship. You may think those numbers are outrageous, but I dare you to argue after you see Juneau on a sunny (or misty) day when five cruise ships are crammed in the Gastineau Channel. And yes, that is about 200,000 more tourists that visit annually on cruise ships than people who actually reside in the state of Alaska.

My travels have been made possible by my wonderful mother and father who came to visit me in Sitka and have allowed me to join in on the fun during the rest of their state-wide roamings. I won’t bore with too many details (and I don’t have pictures on the computer yet, so bear with me), but I will share some of the highlights.

There have been many “firsts” for me since my parents arrived in Sitka last week. For the first time I . . . 1) walked into the Russian Bishop’s House (though I’ve lived across the street from it all year), 2) walked into St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, 3) visited the Alaska Raptor Center, 4) saw a bear in Sitka! 5) went to the very interesting and informative Sheldon Jackson Museum, and 6) rode the Alaska Marine Highway when I took the “fast ferry” from Sitka to Juneau, a short four hour trip on a sunny day (the first sunny day my parents experienced after a week in Southeast!). We joked all week that it was a good thing they came to visit so I could finally see the sights that Sitka has to offer! Shortly before we departed town, my mom managed to catch a glimpse of Mt. Edgecumbe, which had been hiding behind gray rain clouds all week, allowing her to officially cross off everything on her “to-do in Sitka” list!

My parents and I roamed around in Juneau this past weekend, doing everything on the list except the Mt. Roberts Tramway–again too cloudy–but we had no trouble visiting the JVs, seeing Mendenhall Glacier, driving out to the Shrine, and slurping up some samples at Alaskan Brewery. My dad headed back “down south,” aka: he returned to Seattle, while my mom and I flew to Fairbanks. With only a day in Fairbanks (which happened to be my birthday), we hopped on a very touristy boat ride down the Chena River and got to see Susan Butcher’s (Iditarod winner) dog kennel and demonstration. After a lovely birthday dinner on a porch overlooking the river, the next morning my mom and I hopped on the train chugging down the Alaska Railroad to Denali. We sat upstairs in the train cars with the full ceiling windows for optimal viewing, which kept us fully entertained as we headed south.

We arrived at tourist central, aka: Denali Station, where we were met by our rather subtle resort bus and driver to take us to Denali River Cabins. I only emphasis our humble bus and driver because we were not following a herd of hundreds in matching jackets to get on a massive coach bus painted with Princess, Holland-America, or Celebrity Cruise logos. And we most certainly were not staying at the “Princess Monstrosity Deluxe,” as my mom lovingly referred to the Princess Wilderness Lodge, wedged in between all the other resorts along “the Strip” or “Glitter Gulch,” as locals and guidebooks refer to the tourist trap highway running through the “town” of Denali outside the park entrance. A few more miles down the road from the park entrance and these luxury resorts, lies Denali River Cabins, a Native-owned and operated resort, where we are staying in a cute, stand-alone cabin along the river.

Staying just outside of a national park as a tourist gives me flashbacks to working in Grand Teton National Park at Jackson Lake Lodge, the largest resort found in Grand Teton. I feel somewhat strange as a tourist, rather than being on the working side of the travel industry, and as I walk around and see the seasonal employees that are my age and have the jobs I had at JLL, I feel like I should know them, their hang-outs, and the daily routine of work here. When I mentioned this to Braden the night we arrived here, he said, “Oh, so you’re around your people.” I let him know that I wasn’t sure they were my people, but I certainly felt like I must know some of them. Last night, my mom and I wandered into The Chubby Salmon for dinner where we were served by the bartender who, once again, looked like he must have been a co-worker from years past in Grand Teton. Casually chatting as he served us our dinner, we stumbled upon the discovery that he did, in fact, work at the exact same lodge as me, just four years before me. I have somehow found myself forever in the network of seasonal workers!

Besides flashbacks to summer jobs, I have had the chance to explore the BEAUTIFUL land of Denali National Park. Granted, I didn’t put on my backpack and travel on foot, but with my mom, I was able to take the 14-hour, 85-mile bus ride all the way to the end of the park road at the old mining town of Kantishna. We had an excellent bus driver/tour guide and within the first three minutes we had spotted a moose and ten minutes later we spotted a wolf. My first wild wolf sighting! The weather looked semi-hopeful as we turned the bends toward Denali and sure enough, the 20,320 foot peak began to loom bright white above the green brown hillsides along the road. Denali, aka: Mt. McKinley, is said to be visible only 15% of the time from the park road and when we reached Eielson Visitor Center, Denali dominated the landscape, but park rangers said it was the first time in three weeks the mountain had been completely visible. INCREDIBLE. We had a half-day of mountain views in the morning before the clouds covered the dramatic landscape. But the wildlife sightings continued all day with a total of three wolves spotted–one of which was chowing down on a dead caribou in the river, seven bears spotted–including a momma with two second-year cubs and another who had finished the wolf’s feast of the dead caribou in the river and was comfortably curled up asleep next to the remaining head and antlers. We also spotted live caribou, Dall sheep, ptarmigan, and, of course, we can’t forget the arctic ground squirrel! It was honestly an AWEsome day with so many unpredictable elements coming together to give us quite the show. Pictures to follow in a few days.

After strolling the visitor center and National Park campus buildings today, we are headed on the train to Anchorage tomorrow. There is still more exploration to be had in South Central (not to be confused with Southeast or the Interior where we have already been).

As my vacation would suggest, my year-long commitment with Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Northwest has concluded as of July 31. A few of my housemates have departed from Sitka and a few remain to enjoy the long summer days Alaska still has to offer for a few more weeks (as I sit at 63 degrees latitude, though cloudy, the trees are still outlined by light at 11:15p.m. even six weeks after the solstice). I will be soaking up what’s left of summer as I finish my vacation, return to work for a couple of weeks, welcome the new JVs/train the JV taking my place, and then I will hop on the Alaska Marine Highway once again for a somewhat longer journey south!

What Do You Know about Alaska?

When I thought of coming to Alaska the stereotypes came to mind: BIG mountains looming above valleys, bears roaming around catching salmon in rivers, glaciers carving through rock, the hard labor of fishing, and bald eagles soaring just above the tree-tops. Not bad, right? Why not hop on a cruise ship to see the sights?

Mostly, when I came to do JVC in Alaska, I thought adding Sitka to my resume of places I’ve lived would fit in nicely with Grand Teton National Park and a farm in Northeast Georgia; it shows my diverse interests and my ability to adapt. But, as always with each place I go, the land becomes secondary to the people I meet and come to know. Alaska isn’t the mountains, the bears (I haven’t even seen one yet, knock on wood), the powerful glaciers, the fishing, or the eagles, though that is all that many people know of this vast state. Perhaps this is not the most profound thought, but I’ve come to recognize that it is, of course, the people here who have effected me the most and, in getting to know them and their relationship with the land, I have gained insight into the stereotypes of Alaska that I crossed the border with last August. After a year here, with my departure looming at the end of next month, it’s only natural that a Jesuit-educated girl do a little reflecting. In a way, I believe I came to Alaska for all the wrong reasons.

With only 700,000 people living in the largest state in the Union, the social network of Alaska is actually quite small. Southeast (especially among middle and high school students) is often regarded as one giant social web; all the same sports teams play each other year after year as students grow up together, and the faces seen at each ferry dock along the Alaska Marine Highway become predictable for long-time residents. At the beginning of the year, my housemates and I acknowledged that Sitka is the same size as many of our colleges. Gonzaga for instance is roughly 6,500-7000 people, including the graduate programs. Sitka is roughly 7,000-8,500 people, depending on the season. With no car and the basic necessities close by, I often feel like I walk within a ten-block radius around my house in Sitka, much like on a college campus. When I arrived at Gonzaga freshman year, I often referred to living on campus as a freshman as being in the “Gonzaga bubble” having little understanding of the rest of the city of Spokane. This year, on numerous occasions, I have found myself feeling a bit stuck in the “Sitka bubble” getting caught up in small town gossip, thinking of only local news and events with little knowledge of what else is going on in outside realms. Part of me resents being so cut off and, of course, another part loves the ignorance that comes with such isolation.

As a way to close out my time here, I’ve dedicated my literary pursuits to reading only non-fiction books about Alaska this summer. Of course, I had to read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer earlier this year as it is probably one of the most famous contemporary books about going into the Alaskan wild, and I had to be able to answer “yes” to the many inquiries I received of whether or not I had read it. I’ll attempt to refrain from turning my blog into a book review, but the books I have read so far include The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler (which I cannot recommend highly enough), Travels in Alaska by John Muir, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende, and I am currently reading Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge by Jill Fredston. Besides just describing the sheer audacity it takes to row thousands of miles in Arctic waters, Fredston also compellingly reflects on her encounters with not only nature, but the people along her journey.

As I was reading Fredston’s words this morning, I stopped dead in my tracks, dog-earring the page immediately when she described the social ills that plague this large, misunderstood state. Below is a short excerpt from her chapter about rowing down the Yukon river through the Alaska interior. Though the land and people are not exactly the same as what I am experiencing here in Southeast Alaska, the themes of the human struggle in this state are common, and she describes it more accurately and articulately than I believe I am currently capable of. This section of reflection begins after Fredston and her husband arrive at the village of Kaltag, where there has been a death of a young man the day before.

The summer we floated the Yukon, there were ten such alcohol-related deaths in this region. By the time we reached Kaltag, we’d already passed several raw bluffside graves topped by heaps of plastic flowers. Some of these deaths were suicides; others, like the one in Kaltag, were labeled accidents. Studies from this same period, the mid-1980s, showed that ten times as many young Alaska Natives as Caucasians would take their own lives. There was a one-in-ten chance that a fifteen-year-old Native male would commit suicide, or at least try to do so, before he reached twenty-five. Statistics, however, cannot capture the grief and anger and numbness we saw etched into those faces in the dawn at Kaltag. They cannot convey the weariness of a culture being eroded by forces as undeniable as the river itself. Nor do they show the currents of hope that nevertheless persist.

The Native culture that binds individuals to the land and to one another has been beset by Western institutions, disease, and values. Subsistence, the term commonly used to describe Native dependence upon what can be gathered, hunted, and caught for food, shelter, and clothing, was traditionally far more than just a lifestyle. It has long provided an economic and spiritual base for the culture, a life that centered on sharing, humility, and respecting nature. For some villagers, unemployment checks and boredom replaced the subsistence framework. With limited local work opportunities, others sought full-time or seasonal jobs outside the village, on forest-fire crews or in construction.

Drinking is one way of numbing the turmoil of change. With it has come a huge increase in accidental and self-inflicted deaths, along with domestic abuse and other violence. Under the influence of alcohol, many Natives have frozen to death within sight of their villages, drowned by falling overboard, or died in high-speed snowmachine collisions. In the wake of this widespread destruction, there has been a growing sobriety movement in which some communities have attempted to assume more control over their lives through sovereignty. Many have voted themselves “dry.” Native elders like Uncle Al have been a moral compass in trying to rekindle their people’s sense of independence, self-esteem, and purpose, in part through the teaching of traditional skills.

(From Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge by Jill Fredston, p.98-99.)

I am grateful for her words that convey profound insight of a place and people few will ever see or understand.