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.
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
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!