Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sitka, Alaska

If I ever become homeless and destitute, I think I'll move to Sitka, Alaska to live off the land.

When my parents and I visited there the first week of August, we were thrilled and delighted to see that the Sitka area is covered with berry bushes. The salmon berries and blueberries were just becoming ripe, so we enjoyed our fill of them as we walked around the town. Salmon berries are a lot like raspberries, except some of them are a light-orange (salmon) color. Yum!

You do risk getting swallowed by the huge bushes at times! I was amazed at the enormous size of the leaves on the Devils Club plant:

Not only does Sitka have an abundance of berries, but it also has an abundance of salmon, swimming upstream to spawn. There were so many salmon that my Dad (who likes to fish occasionally) said: "Having so many of them, so easy to catch, takes all the fun out of fishing!"

Fortunately, all the nice brown bears that compete with the the fishermen for the salmon and the berries add the adventure back to fishing! While we were there, some of the trails were closed because bears were in the area.

Here my mom points out some bear tracks we saw just in front of a blueberry bush.

Because food was so easy to come by in Sitka, the native Tlingit people had time to develop a sophisticated culture. Here's a photo of them in some of their native dress:

They also created totem poles, many of which are now gathered into a beautiful wooded park in Sitka.

Not only do Totem poles tell stories, but they were also symbols of status and wealth. In some cases, totem poles were put up to shame people who had done misdeeds, and would only be taken down once the person had made restitution for the wrong they had done.

(I'll have to suggest that to one of my friends, who has a "Wall of Shame" for men she dates that don't treat her right...creating a "Totem Pole of Shame" might be very satisfying to her!)

Normally, you can see Tlingit dancers perform in Sitka, but because we were there when the cruise ships were not (since we flew in and then took the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry out), we didn't get to see a performance. But, we did enjoy seeing the town without cruise ship crowds!

When I think of American Colonial times, I normally think of Britain and the 13 colonies, but now I've been to Sitka, the former capital of Russian America, I'll remember that parts of the United States were also colonized by Russia! You can normally see Russian dancers in Sitka too, but we missed them also!

Russian colonists buried these metal plates, which say "Russia owns this land" up and down the Alaska islands.

We attended services at the Russian Orthodox church that is still in Sitka. The thing that amazed me about the church services there was that people stand for the whole service, which is over an hour long! I liked seeing how people sung instead of spoke the scriptures, and I enjoyed seeing the priest in his beautiful robes shake incense around the chapel. Here's a photo of St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church, which sits in the middle of downtown Sitka.

The first Russian Bishop who came to Sitka was a good and kind man, and had an amazing variety of skills. When we toured his house, I was interested to learn that some of the books he had there were extremely rare, because most of the Russian Orthodox materials that had been in Russia itself were destroyed by the Communists, who were atheists. How interesting that Sitka, which was once a distant outpost, had been able to help the central Russian Orthodox church preserve its heritage.

(Which reminds me that as I discussed this with another tourist, he mentioned that while traveling in Russia, he saw an ornate Russian Orthodox church that had been hidden from the authorities inside of a plain-looking Quonset hut).

Lastly, I liked seeing the Bishop's China and his tea stuff on the tour of his house.

We visited Castle Hill, which is a high fortress where Alaska was transferred to the U.S. from Russia in a ceremony in 1867 (after Lincoln's Secretary of State-Sheward, purchased it).

One evening we decided to walk to the Russian Cemetery, which was near our hotel. We got a little lost, and so we stopped to ask directions of a fisherman who was out in front of his house, pictured below:

He said "If you cut through my backyard, you'll save 15 minutes...go ahead and go back there, and just follow the path." So we went back and were surprised to find that his back yard was a giant rain forest! We started making our way through it, but since the trees were taller than we were, and we weren't totally sure which way we were going, we did get a little lost. So we ended up spending the 15 minutes we saved trying to find our way out of his backyard. Fortunately, there were lots of berries back there, so we knew we'd be okay and would have a great story to tell! Here we are, lost:

Once we made our way through, we were rewarded by the sight of the beautiful Russian cemetery.

The cross with the bar across it at the bottom is a Russian Orthodox symbol

Some of the graves were even inscribed in the Cyrillic script:

We enjoyed seeing the beautiful sunset from there:

Sitka is a beautiful place, covered with flowers. They even creatively plant flowers in the cracks of the sidewalks!

Sitka Sound is beautiful and has this lovely lighthouse, which I understand can be rented.

What would it be like to live on a little island, like this?

Another wonderful thing about Sitka is that they have a hospital for injured birds of prey. Here's an image I captured of one of the Bald Eagles who lives at the Alaska Raptor Center, because his injuries prevent him from living in the wild:

On our last day in town, we took a boat to St. Lazaria island, which is a refuge for birds. Along the way, we got to see these fun sea otters among the kelp:

This is where we also caught our first glimpse of the enormous, awe-inspiring humpback whales:

We were fortunate to see many more of them, which I will write about in an upcoming post.

If you ever get a chance to visit Sitka (even if you are not destitute and needing a place where you can live off the land), it's a beautiful, interesting place well worth a visit.

1 comment:

Nomadman said...

Very Nice:),

I love your photos.
I have lived all over Alaska in the past ten years, mostly in south east and you have done a nice job of capturing it's essence. I moved back to Denver Colorado this summer and I am considering moving to Sitka so your post was very helpful. If only I could find a lovely talented woman such as you there. It would be a no- brainer then.
To anyone thinking of visiting or moving to south east AK. It is beautiful. It rains a lot and it is isolated but... It's definitely worth a visit:)
Thank you Cindy for sharing:).