Leaving Alaska

 

Spur and Redoubt volcanoes

September 11, 2017  Sixty-two days ago today we left the mountains of North Carolina on an adventure that not one of our group of four could anticipate. Being exceedingly nice to each other lasted through the first week. We said “please” and “thank you” and kept the car reasonably clean and neat. Somewhere along the line we settled into a “nesting pattern” in the car. Debbie and Fred were in in charge of navigation…Debbie in the front seat and Fred in the back seat. Pat and I rotated driving and sometimes I drove from the backseat which wasn’t too popular with Pat! Otherwise I nested in the backseat doing my little research projects and knitting. I knitted 2 washcloths, 1 hat and part of a sweater during the trip. Researching where to stay was a task we all took on from time to time. We made reservations and sent Fred in to close the deal. Fred is extremely good at getting deals!

 

We could not have made this trip without the support of the Life Savers Company. We went through 2 big bags of Life Savers (like you buy at Walmart) and some individual rolls. Our other passion was Mambas and Dollar Store has the best deal on them! Your life will not be changed by Mambas but if you are ever on a long trip, they may keep you from getting grumpy.  At one point we had probably no less than 2 dozen packages of Mambas in the car. Each package of Mambas has 24 individually wrapped pieces in it.  Between the little cellophane wrappers that Life Savers come in and the little papers that each Mamba is wrapped in, “please” and “thank you” had a better chance than “neat and clean”.

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Aida, the saloon waitress! Papa coming down the steps 

In case you and yours are contemplating a two month trip with 3 of your closest friends, here is some advice and some reality: Contemplate flexibility and prepare for difficult moments; learn how to take deep breaths and let go of some expectations. But by all means GO, because the surprises of God’s grace, and the beauty of being in the moment will outweigh those moments when you just wish you’d stayed home. Lovely moments when you can’t imagine being anywhere else will abound.

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Kenai Airport

September 12, 2017 Leaving Alaska today has been hard. Alaska and its wild beauty are part of that; leaving Jill, Jeremy and Aida adds considerable pain, and of course this is the end of our adventure. I do look forward to being home and seeing Bella and Pumpkin, and at the same time I will miss the adventure of traveling. After 2 months of getting up each morning and wondering what new sights will meet me, it may be hard to adjust. This trip has taught me some new skills in observing the beauty around me – using not just my eyes, but all my senses to appreciate my surroundings.

 

I am so grateful to my traveling companions for teaching me so much and putting up with my quirks. Yes, dear friends we all have quirks…sometime I will write a blog about that! I will continue to write at this blog spot. After all what is life but a journey. We can give that journey the space it needs to be appreciated or we can just live in a kind of unaware way. I hope to be as conscious about the rest of this life’s journey as I have been this journey. I’ll share that with you.

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Back where we started 66 days before! Tired but happy.

September 14, 2017 Home now with some sleep to help me think better. Blair and Inza brought Bella to the house and they are staying a few days to help me get settled. There would not have been a trip without Blair and Inza taking care of Bella and my local cat sitter, Kathy Harrer, taking care of Pumpkin. Both Bella and Pumpkin are well and slept as close as they could get to me last night, Bella on the floor beside the bed and Pumpkin under my arm, purring away. Pat and Fred are home and resting, Debbie is back with her beloved, Betty, who picked us up yesterday at the airport.

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Mt. Spur in the evening light

Lots of changes in my life while I was gone, but those can wait for another blog on another day.

Homer and The Spit

 

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The land in the middle of the photo is The Spit – we stayed at the end of it!

Narrowing down to the last week of our wandering adventure, we travelled once again, this time heading south down the Kenai Peninsula. Homer is a 60’s sort of town with lots of character, hotels and restaurants. Eating at the Cosmic Kitchen was our first experience in Homer. It was wonderful food, and definitely a local favorite! Pat, Fred, Debbie and their family have visited Homer many times, so this was an informed choice!

Just south of Homer is the 4.5 mile spit of land known simply as “The Spit”. At the end of this curved spit is Land’s End, a hotel which also has condos to rent. Pat and Fred, Jill and Aida, Debbie and I stayed in one of the condos with windows facing out onto Cook’s Bay where it enters into the larger waters of the Kachemak Bay. Across from our home at the end of The Spit were the snowy, glacier riddled Kenai Mountains which come down the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula curving slightly to form the Bay around Homer. Behind those mountains lies the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean. Homer and The Spit are ringed with mountains including the volcanos of the Aleutians and Alaska range on the western side of Cook’s Bay that I wrote about last time. The waters of this area vary in color from a pale teal green to a icy blue depending on the light. Amazingly beautiful, this area attracts artists, writers and poets who seek to capture the light, the water, the mountains and the animal life of this area.

Kenai Mountains and glaciers across the bay from our condo

Each day we watched the parade of fishing boats go out in the morning and returning in the evening. They were undoubtedly catching some halibut, which is a delicious dense, white fish.  One day a huge cruise ship came by our windows headed into Cook’s Bay; another day a barge coming from Cook’s Bay slipped around the end of the Peninsula and into the Gulf of Alaska. Otters dove for clams and floated on their backs in front of us showing no signs of shyness as we watched them.

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We gathered some of the beautiful rocks from Bishop’s Beach. Rocks smoothed by the tides they are speckled, red, green, grey, amber and the glittery black sandstone called “whacky rock”. Picking up more rocks than we could ever bring back, the joy of finding special ones never seemed to wane. We visited some of the shops in town seeing the beautiful art work of both Native and Anglo Alaskans. Beautifully carved ivories and local gems made into beautiful jewelry.

Left to right: Jill and Aida, Debbie Aida and Pat, Debbie and Aida

We played games with Aida and visited with each other, and watched some of the US Open. It was hard for me to take my eyes off of the surrounding beauty. Deep blue mountains streaked with snow and pale blue glaciers slipping between them as they ease into the teal colored waters of the sea; and with each shadow of a cloud or movement of the sun, the colors changed. Other than our Blue Ridge Mountains that surround us in Sparta, NC, this is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.

Leaving Homer on Friday, the weather finally cleared and we could see Mt. Augustine and Redoubt on the way back up the peninsula:

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Redoubt Volcano

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Augustine Volcano

And I have continued to work on the 12 days of Alaska song and this is one option:

12 glaciers melting

11 people fishing

10 Ravens raving

9 Otters frolicking

8 boats a’ leaving

7 Mosquitoes buzzing

6 Moose are eating

5 kinds of Salmon

4 volcanos

3 other fish

2 native flowers and

1 state bird…the Ptarmigan!

 

Go ahead you know you want to sing it!

Sea, Lakes and Rivers

September 6, 2017 001The North Road – Kenai Peninsula

Being in this land of lakes, rivers, seas and mountains means that time outdoors is spent in one of those venues. Walking on the beach watching otters floating on their backs and seeing snow covered mountains in the background; then taking time to look for moose or caribou around the lakes and marshes – all of this is a part of amazing Alaska!  Driving south along the Kenai Peninsula today we watched as the waters of the Cook Inlet grew wider. The confluence of the Kenai River with the water of Cook Inlet is just one of the places where ice blue glacial river water swells the Inlet. The Knik Arm and Kasilof River add glacial water from Denali and the Kenai Mountains to the Inlet which flows into the Gulf of Alaska at Homer where it is around 12 miles wide  Two thirds of Alaska’s population surround the Cook Inlet which is 180 miles long from Anchorage to Homer. Most people live in the Anchorage area and in communities along the Kenai Peninsula rather than the more remote west side of the Inlet.

 

The Cook Inlet is named for Captain James Cook who visited and explored the Inlet in 1778 as a part of the search for the Northwest Passage. Two parties searched the Inlet at different times both thinking that the Knik Arm might lead to the Northwest Passage. When the second party found that the Knik was only a river they too had to turn around and sail out. The upper part of the Inlet around Anchorage was appropriately named Turnagain Arm for these attempts. The early explorers of the inlet were the Dena’ina, the first people of Alaska. In the 18th century Russian fur traders settled in regions along the inlet. In Ninilchik today we stopped to see the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord built in 1901. Its picturesque setting on a high bluff above the Inlet with the original site of the old village  below connected by steep paths along the bluff seemed surreal in this Alaskan landscape. The cemetery was distinctive with white Orthodox crosses dotted along overgrown graves; flowers growing among the weeds like distant memories trying to surface.

Ninilchik – Russian Orthodox Church and old village

In Homer we are staying on The Homer Spit, a 4.5 mile long piece of land that juts out into the Kachemak Bay. Land’s End is the name of the place we are staying, an apt name for this little bit of land surrounded by water. Ferries, barges, fishing boats, water taxies, and even a cruise ship have entertained along with the sea otters on this rainy afternoon.

The Cook Inlet contains large oil and gas deposits including several off shore fields. Platforms dot the inlet as well as oil and gas pipelines running under and around the inlet. Most of these gas lines go to Kenai where there is a large LNG plant and to Anchorage where it is used domestically. These “platforms” are “reality checks” amid the enormous beauty of the Alaskan landscape.

Oil Rig – Mt. Illamna 

Today we saw three of the four volcanoes on the more remote western side of the Cook Inlet: Spurr Mountain at 11,070 feet, Redoubt Mountain at 10,197 feet and Illamna Mountain at 10,016 feet. Sun was shining directly on Spurr this morning when we took a drive down to the beach at Nikiski to see the oil platform. Then as we started to Homer the sun came out over Redoubt for just a few minutes and finally over Illamna which stayed visible until we got into the rain further south.

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Devil’s Club – DO NOT TOUCH – Very Prickly

Yesterday I came up with a few little things to remember to the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas. I don’t have 12 things (yet) but I do have 5 days worth.  So here goes: 5 Kinds of Salmon: which you can remember by looking at the fingers of your hand. The thumb is Chum or Dog Salmon, the pointer finger is Sockeye or Red Salmon, the next finger – the tallest is King or Chinook Salmon, the ring finger is Silver or Coho Salmon and the little finger is Pink or Humpy Salmon: 5 kinds of Salmon! 4 Volcanoes: Spurr, Redoubt, Illamna, and Augustine. 3 Other Fish: Halibut, Rockfish and Trout. 2 Native Flowers: Forget-me-not (State Flower) and Fireweed; and 1 State Bird: The Ptarmigan.

Alaska

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Describing Alaska is not easy. Fred and Pat, and Debbie have all been here many times to visit Jill, Jeremy and Aida. I am a “first timer” to this wild and wonderful land. It must be easier to put all of this vast expanse of beauty and wildness in perspective after visiting several times. But my traveling companions seem to be as “speechless” as I am when it comes to describing Alaska’s features. Seeing so much of the “lower 48” on the way here has helped to make my Alaskan experience less startling. Perhaps it’s the long journey that makes this feel a bit like visiting a different country! Anchorage was so familiar: a city with all the same stores, road construction and traffic that we have at home. In our travels outside of Anchorage I have seen the marshes, tundra and snowy wonder of Alaska’s “wild side”. The lush green forests so thick and dark standing by water so blue from the glaciers that it looks like pale tinted ice; huge mountains growing out of the sea; evergreens covering their bases changing to a lighter green vegetation halfway up before giving in to the black volcanic rock. This Alaska along with the ever present snow covered mountains is the physical picture I will remember.

 

Alaska is more than physical beauty; the people that inhabit this state come in an abundant variety as well. They are adventurers from the “lower 48” who have come here to find work, solitude, freedom and adventure; and those, like Jill, who have come to serve our “first people”.  Talking to people who have migrated here from other places tells me that Alaskans feel a kind of “kinship” with each other. Neighbors become family and as the year progresses into dark and cold days and the importance of these relationships becomes essential for existence. In the spring and summer everyone lives outdoors, planting flowers, catching fish, hunting and enjoying community activities.

 

Just as people came to Alaska to mine the gold found here; they also eventually came to mine the “black gold”. The discovery of the Swanson River Oil Field on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in 1957 is believed by many to be a key factor in the establishment of Alaskan statehood. Vast oil and natural gas resources both in “on shore” and “off shore” drilling stand alongside the beauty and the poverty found in Alaska. A yearly allowance to residents from the oil companies does little to resolve the poverty found among the native populations. Shipping costs for food and basic goods, added to their prices, makes the cost of living here high creating another burden. This is the vast “other side” of Alaska – the poverty and pain that is situated next to the wealth accumulated from oil and natural resources.

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Veronica’s where we had lunch – built in 1918

The Native population of Alaska is, as I have written before, a huge collection of Nations, Tribes and Clans spread across this state that is 5 times bigger than Texas. Yesterday we went to the Kenai Visitor’s Center and Museum. When the Russians came to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 18th century they encountered the Kenai Indians. They “Russianized” their tribal name to Kenaitze (Ke – night – ze). In 1971 the Kenaitze were recognized as a sovereign Indian nation. Over the years the Kenaitze have worked to understand their unique identity as Dena’ina (De – nina), first people of Alaska. There are 5 different dialects in their language, which is spoken with interspersed “ch” sounds, somewhat like the tongue clicks of some African dialects. Sixteen hundred Kenaitze live on the Kenai Peninsula. Seeking to understand more about their heritage and language, they believe that their ancestors speak to them, encouraging them in this work. Teaching the Kenaitze language to their children is a priority for the members of the tribe as they assure them that being an “Indian” is no longer a bad thing. “The best thing we tell people is that we are still here.”

The influence of the Russians who came here is clearly seen in the Russian Orthodox Church built in 1894. The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church stands close to the bluff where the waters of the Cook Inlet come ashore. Hoping to see the icons in the Church we had lunch across the road where and learned that the Church is closed for 2 weeks. Veronica’s, where we had lunch is in the Oskolkof / Dolchok House built in 1918; it is built from hand hewn logs and illustrates the buildings of the early community of Kenai

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Saw my second moose yesterday when a young (2 year old) female walked out of the lake in front of our cabin and strolled along the shore for about 30 minutes or so!

Kenai Peninsula

 

The train trip from Denali to Anchorage was uneventful. Most of the jokes our train guide told we had already heard on the trip to Denali! We were still feeling the joy of our day with “the mountain” so we were able to enjoy the ride. Arriving in Anchorage in the late afternoon we started our trip to Seward. Stopping in Girdwood we had a healthy dinner at Subway and then went to a favorite nearby shop for some Dreyer’s ice cream. So here’s the line-up of flavors for this stop: 1 waffle cone with Glacier; 1 dish of chocolate, a dish with Glacier and Alaskan Blueberry, a dish with Black Cherry and Glacier, a dish with Alaskan Wildberry and Huckleberry, and a dish with Alaskan Wildberry and Chocolate. So those of you who know us can guess who had what! Remember, Pat and Fred’s daughter Jill and her 4 (almost 5) year old daughter Aida were part of the group.

Our tummy’s were full and happy and then we headed to Seward. Jill pulled her car off the road as we started onto the Kenai Peninsula and Pat pulled off behind her, I thought we had another car issue. It seems that there is a tradition for those traveling onto the peninsula for the first time. So I was escorted up to the “Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula” sign for a picture. Even though it was cloudy and raining, the evening light was just enough to see some of the beauty of the amazing Kenai Mountains. Around Moose Pass the light faded to dark with a drizzle of rain. About 9:30 pm we drove into Seward and to the house where we were staying. We slept well, in spite of the gusty winds occasionally driving rain into our windows. Even though we have had quite a few rainy days, each one seems to bring a treasure. We saw a beautiful rainbow as we drove along Turnagain Bay:

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Magical sunlight pouring out of the clouds in Seward made a journey across the bay toward our house on the hill.

Down the hill from our house was St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. On the National Register of Historic Places, St. Peter’s was built in 1904. A Dutch artist Jan Van Emple painted a scene of the resurrection on the reredos (wall behind the altar) in the 1920’s. A picture of that painting is here. 

This painting of the resurrection is remarkable because it is set against the Seward Bay and includes both Anglo and Native American adults and children. I wish I knew more about the artist and the painting.

Hoping the church was unlocked so we could see the painting we stopped there on our way out of town. A sign announcing the time of Sunday services was outside, but we were unable to get inside.

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St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Seward, AK

Driving across the Kenai Peninsula, seeing the dark beauty of the mountains formed by volcanic action against the brilliant greens of the trees, was a journey I will never forget. The name Kenai in Athabascan means “flat land”. Once you leave the steep mountains of the central peninsula the land flattens out as it approaches Cook inlet where the Kenai River empties into a rocky seashore. Conoco Phillips operates a huge liquified natural gas facility and pipeline in Kenai which exports its product via tankers. The facility has been in operation for 50 years.

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Marathon Mountain in Seward – every year a race up the mountain is held!

Staying in a cabin on Daniel’s Lake we are only a few miles from where Jill, Aida and Jeremy live. Yesterday all the girls went for a spa day at a favorite place nearby. Our masseuse, Dawn, gently worked out the travel kinks in each of us. The rest of us waited our turn playing games and resting.

Aida and Oma (Pat) playing “the penny game”

Our lovely day ended with my first “moose sighting”! A female and two young, but mostly grown calves were grazing near the highway. We carefully approached and Jill took these pictures.

Momma and the kids eating dinner!

Today the sun is out and who knows what adventures await us!

Denali

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Before sunrise this morning three women were seen slipping out of their rooms at the Princess Lodge in Denali, AK dressed in warm clothing. They made their way to the Lodge House to get coffee and then boarded a bus which took them to the Visitor’s Center just outside of Denali National Park. There, with 20 other warmly dressed people, they boarded another bus. Chris, a forty something male employee of the Park Service drove this bus headed in a generally west, but slightly northern direction.  Some 12 1/2 hours later they returned to the Princess Lodge with tales of having seen snow covered mountains several miles high! They bragged that they had seen bears and bear cubs, caribou shedding the velvet on their antlers, Dall sheep grazing on the mountains, a moose running down the road, and a fox. Who were these mysterious women? Whoever they are, they have become members of the 30% club! Only 30% of the people who take the trip they did actually get to see “The Highest One – Denali”. Most of the time the people who take this wildlife excursion only get to see the clouds that cover this mountain.

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What a trip Debbie, Pat and I had today! Our trip was 184 miles out and back into the Denali wilderness; every time we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. We saw two 6 month old bear cubs chasing their mom through the berry bushes. Mom was in her hyperphagic cycle, eating as much as she can to store up for the winter months.  Wanting to nurse the babies were pestering their mom, who swatted at them telling them she wanted some space. On another hill we saw a momma bear sitting up and nursing her two cubs. All the bears we saw were Grizzlies. The day started with some grey clouds on the horizon, but soon the clouds were gone and we had a bright blue sky and sunshine to help with the chill. Yellow leaves and red ground cover were signs of fall; in another couple of weeks snow will start falling.

Fall Colors, Denali and surrounding mountains, Glacier bed

Denali first presented herself today with clouds over her midsection and her top peeking out. At Panorama Point the “great mountain” was fully visible in all her snowy glory. She remained beautifully present until we started back later in the day. Denali presented her shadowy self just briefly before veiling with clouds. I felt extremely honored to be able to see Denali on my first trip to the Alaska range. I understand the sacred significance of this mountain to the Athabascan first people. Denali reveals herself in a way that God’s grace comes into our lives: unexpectedly, with joy and holy surprise!

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Late Afternoon Denali

We spent 2 hours of our wilderness experience with a US Forest Ranger named Doris. She joined us about 20 miles from the end of the trip in. Doris took us on a couple of short hikes as she talked about gold mining in the Denali National Park. In the 1905 gold rush miners found gold in the rivers and creeks near Denali. Gold miners came down the river from Fairbanks to make their fortune in gold. Only a few of those who came were able to find work in the mines and even fewer became rich from the gold. One of the miners who came and stayed was a woman named Fannie Quigley. Fannie came to work the streams for gold and met a man named Joe Quigley. They staked a claim and began to mine the gold and other minerals and metals from the area. Homesteading in a log cabin they existed on what they could mine, grow or hunt . At the site of their original log home they dug into the ground behind them to provide a cold space for storing food. They dug back below the surface to the permafrost layer which provided a “natural” freezer to store food in.. After Joe had a mining accident and came home from a long stay in the hospital, he and Fannie decided to get a divorce. They sold their mine and Joe went to Seattle where he married one of the nurses who took care of him after his accident. Fannie built her “retirement home” with her share of the sale of the mine. We were able to visit this little 3 room house where Fannie died at age 72. She laid down to rest after chopping the wood to cook her dinner.

Ranger Doris, Fannie Quigley’s retirement home, Fannie Quigley

We were able to clearly see the Muldrow Glacier  which comes down the south side of Denali. It forms the major approach for those who want to climb the 20,310 feet of Denali’s south peak. As it comes off the mountain it’s melt forms the McKinley River.

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McKinley Express

Riding the train to Denali from Anchorage was a relaxing treat. Getting to see the carved, evergreen covered mountains from the relaxing luxury of a glass covered observation car is such fun. An eight hour train ride gave us an opportunity to visit with others riding the train. Many of them are from places other than Alaska, but some are Alaskans who are enjoying a vacation away from their usual routine. The young woman employed by the train company to narrate our ride was Alaskan and gave us lots of local “gossip” as we travelled along. On a rail bridge that is over 700 feet high I looked down at the Chulitna River underneath the bridge feeling a moment of” suspended anxiety as our guide assured us that the 100 year old bridge was safe!

 

Tomorrow we are headed back to Anchorage on the train and then to Seward, AK.

Anchorage

 

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Moose statue outside of Anchorage Museum

What is that bright object in the sky? Donning sun glasses for the first time in several days we walked to the Anchorage Museum this morning. It is a beautiful, modern building with 4 levels of exhibits, a planetarium, a restaurant, and a Discovery Center for children. On Level 2 the exhibit we were there to see is called, I Am Inuit. The exhibition features the photographs of Anchorage – based Inupiaq photographer Brian Adams. Adams traveled to Inuit communities throughout the Alaska Artic to capture Inuit life, taking pictures of individuals and telling their stories. The picture of Lyndon Wegionanna in Shishonaref, AK shows her standing by the sea shore. She shared her perspective of being Inupiaq in this part of Alaska: “I am 18 and every year I see the land slowly decreasing. People call it climate change; others call it the big bologna. If they came up here with us for a year they would see what we are talking about…” Another young woman who is a rapper put it simply: “I can’t live without ice.” For all of these “first people” of Alaska whether they are Athabascan, Inupiaq, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Haida, Yupik, or Alutiiq / Sugpiaq value their culture. The elders of their tribes speak with one voice in telling their young: “Always know who you are”

This afternoon Debbie and I went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This unique center just north of Anchorage is a place where engagement with native culture is encouraged and questions are welcomed. Notable to me at this place were the number of young people involved in every part of the Center. Dressed in Native dress, they guided us through exhibits, danced, and made themselves available in many other ways to answer questions. We watched a short film about totems adding to what we learned in Ketchikan at Totem Bight. As we walked through the indoor exhibits there were Native artisans working. A man who makes brightly colored tiles from the clay found in Cook Inlet; several women threading tiny beads to make beautiful jewelry, including one woman who works beside her 85 year old mother! There were salves made from local herbs and plants, carved walrus ivory and semiprecious stones set into pendants and other jewelry.

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If you look closely at the woman’s face in the picture above you will notice some lines that are tattooed below her mouth. The women of this Native tribe have researched the facial markings that their female ancestors wore and are restoring this tradition . These lines represent a woman coming to age or to womanhood.

In the late afternoon we watched as Native women danced, performing to the drumming and singing of the men. Each song represented a story about tribal life and nature. Behind the performers on the stage was a map of Alaska with different colors representing the areas of each tribe. The men start very young as you can see in these pictures:

And here is a sample of the dancing, drumming and singing that we saw:

Before the afternoon was over we walked around the lake behind the Center to view the various village sites representing the major cultural groups. Each tradition opened up their distinctive way of living whether the long houses of the Haida or the underground houses of several other traditions In one village setting the jaw bones of a great whale were set into the ground like a parentheses on the shore of the lake. Travelers spotting this gate of greeting would know they had come to a safe place. Jaw bones which are 8 – 9 feet high certainly lend a whole new picture of how Jonah was swallowed by a whale!

 

One treat of being in Anchorage with people who have been here before is the chance to visit their favorite eating establishments. Here are a couple of pictures from our dinner Friday night. We were at the Glacier Brew House. The waiter Mark was so cute with Aida!

Tomorrow we leave on the train for Denali. We will see if the great mountain will show herself to us as we tour this National Park.

Glaciers

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Glacier Bay National Park

Rain has plagued us as we have made our way north on the Kennicott. Arriving early in Juneau yesterday we woke up to cloud covered mountains and misty wetness. The Kennicott was taking on fuel at this stop and it  was a longer than usual time at port. Many passengers, including some of our group, left the ship to visit Juneau. They visited the Sealaska Heritage Museum  and came back with lots of information about the indigenous people of Alaska,  There are many tribes and clans of the Alaskan aboriginal people: the Athabascan, the Tlingit and Haida, The Alutiiq and Unangan, who are more commonly referred to as Aleut; and the Tsimshian who migrated to Alaska in 1887. Each group has distinctive differences such as language and cultural, but they do share significant similarities.

The exhibit at the Sealaska Heritage Museum was called Alaska Native Masks Art & Ceremony. The group that went to Juneau brought back information about the masks on exhibit. “The masks are used in ceremonies and in dances to evoke, appease and influence the spirits they depict. ‘The masks have a life unto themselves. When you are in their presence, you are linked to the spiritual world in ways that can’t be explained.'” – Perry Eaton, Alutiiq artist. (Alaska Native Masks Art and Ceremony, Sealaska Heritage Information Booklet) Many of the masks, as noted above, are spiritual in nature and used ceremonially, but  there are also masks which are used in theatrical performances. Used to represent a historical event or to tell a mythological story, the art they represent is an important part of the creative expression of the indigenous people. The Spirit masks and Shamanic masks used in sacred ceremonies are felt to have a power of their own. Many masks are created as art and sold to Native and non-Native alike, but there is a continuing tradition that sees certain masks having great spiritual power. These masks are links to the power of Great Spirit who heals and restores humanity.

Leaving port in Juneau we were able to see the Mendenhall Glacier and other glaciers on the slopes nearby. Glacier Bay National Park. Mt. Fairweather at 15,300 feet was visible off and on as the clouds allowed. Glaciers store about 75 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply. Often, especially when the glacier becomes very dense and compacted, they appear blue. This compression of the ice forces out the tiny pockets of air in the crystals. This “dense ice” absorbs a small amount of red light, leaving a bluish tint in the reflected light that we see. Glacial blue is another one of those colors that you can’t find in the crayon box! It seems to be many blues at once – sometimes teal in tint and sometimes the delicate blue of the an evening sky. Glaciers are composed of snow that has fallen over many years so that it becomes a mass of ice which moves. Because of the sheer weight of its mass it moves like a very slow river. Sometimes they push or carry rocky or other debris with them called moraine. A glacier is “alive” as long as it has the mass to move.

 

One of the lounges on the ferry; a view from the ferry

Today we docked in Whittier, AK at 6 am and began our land journey in Alaska. The ferry has been a great home in every way over these days, but it was good to get back onto land. Thank you Alaska Marine Highway for being a great ride with wonderful employees! Our land transportation vehicle has changed a bit since we left home. The Hardee’s Subaru Outback collected some stickers on the journey. It’s usually pristine tailgate is now a record of our memories!

 

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* One correction from the last blog. I misidentified the Totem village we visited as Totem Bright – it is Totem Bight. 

Myths and Legends in Ketchikan

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MV Kennicott  docked in Ketchikan, AK

The Ferry docked at 8 am in Ketchican, Ak, We hurried up our morning activities and I set foot on Alaskan soil for the first time! We had breakfast at a restaurant across from the dock and then set off to see Totem Bright which is about 8 miles from Ketchican. It is a State Historical Park. In 1938 the US Forest Service began a program aimed at salvaging and reconstructing the large cedar totems left by the Natives as they moved to communities where work was available. The villages and totems they left behind became overgrown  by forests. The Forest Service used the Civilian Conservation Corps funds to hire skilled carvers from among the Natives. An Alaskan Architect, Linn Forrest supervised the project of constructing a model Native village. Every attempt was made to use traditional means in copying the fragments of totems that were left. Native artisans were hired, traditional tools were used and paints created from natural substances such as clam shells, graphite, lichen and salmon eggs were supplemented by modern paints

Totem Bright contains beautiful Native totems, and a Clan House. Clan Houses were community houses where 30 – 50 people lived usually of the same clan. Representing those built in the early 19th century, the house at Totem Bright is all open space with one common fireplace. The totems at each corner on the supporting beams were colorful symbols of the ancestor who showed his strength by tearing a Sea Lion in two with his hands.

Understanding the totems is a process of identifying the symbols used and the culture of the tribe itself. The Tlingit and Haida people who carved totems were matrilineal tribes meaning that the clan understood its identity by tracing the family of the mother. The Tlingit and Haida were divided into matrilineal groups called “moieties”. The divisions are represented by the Raven, Eagle and Wolf in totem art. Haida totems have figures overlapping and interconnecting, while the Tlingit figures are more isolated from each other and have a more rounded and sculptured appearance.
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Haida mortuary pole – Thunderbird and Whale

This carving illustrates the mythological conception of thunder. Thunder is created y the beating of the bird’s wings, and lightening by the blink of its eyes. This huge bird lives high on the mountain top. The whale at the base of the pole symbolizes the mountain top where the bird rests before devouring his prey. It is said that whale bones may be found on many mountain tops that have been carried there in ages past.  (Interpretation taken from Totem Bright interpretive guide)

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Kaat’s Bear Wife

The bear and tracks on this pole, copied from a pole on Tongass Island, symbolize Kaat’s bear wife. Kat is a character out of Tlingit mythology known across the country and claimed by many as an ancestor. he hunted grizzly bears for a living. After his death, his wife retreated into the hill country with songs of sorrow. The pole was carved to commemorate his bear wife. In 1985, carver israel Shotridge replaced the bear portion of the pole.   (Information taken from Totem Bright interpretive guide)

 

Totem Bright setting along the coast, Entrance to the Clan House, Totem in the Clan House

The early missionaries misinterpreted the totem as objects of worship and often destroyed them as idols. Totems, however, were not worshipped; they were silent storytellers that helped people remember since there was no written language. They are a part of the oral tradition of tribal culture.

It rained on us the entire time we were off ship, often blowing rain in our faces! This part of the Alaska coast is actually considered a rain forest receiving over 100 inches of rain each year! Lush and green, walking in the area around Totem Bright was a wonderful experience that I would not have missed.  Getting back to our ship home we all made good use of the hot showers!

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Three inch rope covered with moss