What's in her name?

What's in her name (Salish Aire)?

from her new home the Salish Sea

Aire as in a melody of song.

Salish + Aire = The melody of the Salish Sea.

Salish Sea:
In the late 1700's Captain George Vancouver wandered around the waters of what are now known as British Columbia, Canada and Washington State, USA. He did the usual 1700's explorer thing and put names he chose on everything he saw. The names stuck and are recognized and used to this day.

New lines were added to Captain Vancouver's charts in 1872 (after a near war with Great Britain over a pig) which made waters on one side of the line Canadian and those on the other side of the line American.

It wasn't until 1988 (officiated in 2009) that someone finally realized that fish and various critters, (to say nothing of the water itself) were never involved in the boundary treaties and really ignored them completely. (This is best illustrated by the problems that Homeland Security has with Canadian Canada Geese and American Canadian Geese - it seems they refuse to carry passports and have been known to poop on the head of any border patrol person who tries to challenge their right to cross the border when and where they choose!) In reality the waters from Olympia to the well up the East side of Vancouver Island are pretty much one ecosystem.

The Coast Salish are the indigenous peoples who live in southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington state along the Salish Sea and share a common linguistic and cultural origin. The Salish Sea is named in honor of the earliest recorded peoples who plied her waters and learned to live in harmony with her.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sitka after the cruise ships


That Sitka recognizes the value of cruise ship visits is very clear and the local folks seem to really enjoy showing off their town but now that the cruise ship season has ended there seems to be a collective sigh of relief and the town’s flavor has changed dramatically.

The official end of the cruise season is marked with an end of season festival where the local seafood companies and cruise ship companies donate food to be barbecued and everyone looks forward to the annual Running of the Boots.

The Running of the Boots is a tongue-in-cheek self-depreciation laugh at Sitka (and much of SE Alaska’s) culture of rubber boots.  Specifically XtraTuf brand of rubber boots.  Any day, any time you can see locals ready for the rain, mud, and fish mucking in their XtraTuf boots.  Once the rain falls (which is most of the time) then the boots are considered to be acceptable with any fashion.  Yes, even relatively formal wear may include rubber boots.  Boots in the grocery store don’t get a second look. Boots in church – of course.  In fact the first sign of really good weather is that the majority of people are celebrating by drying their boots at home and wearing other shoes just to remember how they feel. And yes, I have a pair of (ankle high) XtraTufs so I don’t feel left out.  Rubber boots are to SE Alaska what cowboy boots are to Texans except the Texans seem to take their boots far too seriously while Alaskan’s know when to recognize the humor of their habit.

The Running of the Boots is a costume festival and race where prizes are awarded.  The costume contest’ only rule is that the outfit includes rubber boots (preferably XtraTufs as they are a sponsor after all).  Our family entry was Jarvis as #14 who wore his boots (sorry not XtraTufs which only go down to children’s sizes), his rain slicker, and his bear bell.  He got a lot of attention and was clearly enjoying himself. He has even accepted the boots as keeping his pitty paws warm but he does sound like a miniature Clydesdale as he clippity clops along.  He didn’t win any prizes but lots of folks took his photo and told him they thought he should have won something.

Running of the Boots - In the rain, of course!

Food is incredibly inexpensive with sponsors providing the ingredients.
Jarvis really enjoyed himself with all of the attention he got.

The winning family for "Most Formal" (the dress looked pretty sad by the end of the wet day - but her feet were dry!)

This family included a kayak, a Sitka Spruce, a lighthouse, and an Eagle.

With the close of the cruise ship season many of the stores in town either shut down for the winter or go on to off-season hours.  Many of the stores in town are now open from 1 – 5 days a week rather than the 7 days a week they keeps their wares available in the summer.  Even the bears are getting ready for the winter with the Fortress of the Bears rescue center now only open weekends and announcing that as soon as the bears move to hibernating they will no longer have visiting hours. St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral Store is down to being open a few hours on Saturday only and the cathedral itself is getting draped in plastic for a much needed face lift.

With the slowdown in the general pace of life, Sitka folk have their own daily entertainment.  We often start our day with a walk through the trails of the Sitka National Park at the far end of town and find that we are not alone.  Along the trails we have the company of many other townsfolk walking dogs, jogging, taking the kids for stroller rides, and just enjoying the moss draped forest. 

Sitka National Historical Park is at the end of the main thoroughfare for Sitka

This bridge provides a shortcut for bikes and pedestrians downtown to the south end.  It also causes us to slow down and enjoy the forest and to stop and see how many fish are still running every time we go this way.

Looking down river. At this time of year the smell of rotting salmon carcasses can get a bit strong but it becomes just part of the forest ambiance. 

Park trail

Clarice exploring

The last of the current salmon run.

We were told that we couldn’t miss the “Monthly Grind”.  When we asked what it was the answers were very vague; “Well, it’s kind of a talent show or variety show or well you just have to see for yourself.” So we walked (it was just across the street) to the first of the season’s “grinds”.  After seeing the mixture of desert making contest, made-up-on-short-notice haikus, a local history movie, a recital by local kids studying ballet, local humor, and local musicians and being delightfully entertained for the evening as we met some of our established friends and made new friends, we would describe the Monthly Grind as; “Well, it’s kind of a talent show or variety show or well you just have to see for yourself.” We tried to find the source of the name “Monthly Grind” but since it goes back 23 seasons it seems to be obscured by time.  I was able to learn that the name was “borrowed” from Ketchikan and a Ketchikan visitor suggested that it was from the “coffee house beatnik era”.  Others suggest it is a break from the grind of winter’s daily routine in a gray and wet rainforest climate.  My version is that it like grinding coffee where you throw in a bunch of beans and then enjoy the smell as their true aromatics come out.  In any case we look forward to the November Monthly Grind.

A folk song at the Grind

Local kids all signing the Alaska state song.


Every chance we get we either take a bicycle ride or take the boat out. When the weather is clear the scenery is beautiful and magnificent.  I think about how many boaters go to the San Juan Islands of Washington and Desolation Sound in BC to see the scenery.  That scenery and number of islands doesn’t hold a candle to this area and yet the number of recreational boats is limited by the challenge of getting here.  Daily we see whale spouts, sea otters and sea lions outside of our window, eagles everywhere, Alaska brown bears, millions of salmon heading up stream, mountains covered with snow, the ever changing face of the Mount Edgecombe volcano, hot springs that we have all to ourselves, pristine mountain lakes, water falls, and the list goes on and on.

The biggest boating challenge is navigation with so many rocks going from 300 ft deep to 10 ft above tide water in very short distances.  A depth sounder is a good tool of navigation but it often gives notice too late of the approach of “hard water” (AKA rocks).  Charts are excellent but a rapidly becoming recognized issue of electronic charts is that detail disappears if the navigator pans out too far. A good example is a local rock that has a “35” on top of it in relatively short distance pan out which is easy to interpret as “35 ft of water”.  If the navigator pans in then the 35 moves next to a * symbol which means a drying rock.  I noticed this particular rock a few weeks ago and was concerned enough to put a more prominent manual mark on it to bring it to my attention in the future.  How big of a hazard is it – the 75 ft yacht Alaska Dream is currently sitting atop what may be that very rock. (Story at: https://www.kcaw.org/2017/10/09/yacht-runs-aground-weekend-high-tide/ ) From the scuttlebutt around town this rock has eaten a number of boats over the years.

Photo credit KCAW.org Don Kluting

Chart zoomed out

Chart zoomed in 

We've chosen to add an extra label just to bring our attention to the rock

With 3 days of predicted sun we decided to find Goddard Hot Springs which is reported to be a Sitka locals special place.  We had a bit of trouble finding the correct location but then Clarice saw the tub house on shore and we knew we had arrived. The grounds and the tub houses are owned and maintained by the City of Sitka. The day we were there we were the only one’s ashore and one fishing boat also anchored in the cove for the night.  The next morning we moved to Redoubt Bay and prepared for a big hike up the falls to Redoubt Lake.  It turns out that the lake is only about 30 ft above tide water so it was an easy stair climb and then we could see this gorgeous fresh water lake with its surrounding moss floored forest.  The guidebooks indicated that we should find a Forest Service owned aluminum boat for public use.  We found a boat and prepared to row out to picnic on an island in the lake.  Problem #1 was it didn’t have oars with it.  We ate our lunch on shore and then I went to the boat to get a paddle and fishing pole so I could try my luck at fresh water trout. When I got back and slid the stern of the boat into the water I noticed it leaked like a sieve – so much for the boat.  I then waded in over my boots and cast for that fish eager to bite my lure; instead “preserved beaver food” (AKA an old log) quickly ran off with my lure and ended my fishing outing.  I was just pleased to have had the chance to be in such a beautiful place so any angst about failing at fishing was quickly washed away.  We then headed to a planned visit to another bay when we got out where we were exposed to the wind and waves directly off of the Pacific Ocean.  The predicted winds of 4 knots somehow suddenly turned to 20 knots and the water was quite skunky (but not unsafe) and so we decided to head for our home dock.  Along the way we had been doing some radio testing with the Ham radio club I have joined.  During one of the calls I asked about winds back in town behind the barrier islands and was told it was “calm”.  I think the learning here is that we need to check both Sitka town wind predictions as well as off shore wind predictions as we plan our outings in the future.

Jarvis decided to enjoy the view once he was sure he was not expected to get wet.

The view out the window from the hot springs tub.

Redoubt Lake 
Redoubt lake shore

Looking down the falls from fresh water Redoubt Lake to salt water Redoubt Bay

Last look at Redoubt Lake


Alaska Sesquicentennial Celebration

Alaska Day is coming on October 18th and is clearly a big annual event.  This year happens to be to 150th anniversary of the passing of Alaska from Russian ownership to American ownership. This week is full of planned events in celebration.  I will ask Clarice to give her impressions of the first event we attended with the New Archangel Dancers.

I can certainly see how these women stay so fit. The troupe is all women…they dance both the men’s and women’s parts, including the one that you have all seen:  the men are squatting down on their toes and then bouncing up in one movement. They are also squatting and kicking out in front …think of those quads!!  Besides all that, the costuming is very fun, colorful and some are quite exquisite. What I found impressive is the age range of the dancers: 21 to 47. At 47 it seems you “graduate” however there were older women performing in a less strenuous, but very pretty pattern dance. What great role modeling for the younger women of the troupe by the older women. One woman was “graduating” last night and it was very obvious that after 20 years and over 1900 performances with the group she was well loved and respected by all. [ed note: The story was told of the woman graduating that she had been visiting Moscow and wanted to by black Cossack boots as she often dances the men’s roles.  The Russian boot salesman would have nothing of it until she did some traditional dancing and kicking for him – she walked out with five pairs of boots and no further questions about the ability of a woman to dance the part of a Russian man.)
I continue to be amazed by the options available to everyone in such a small town, be it recreational, education or socially responsible offerings. And the participation is amazing. I guess being in the “big city” for the past few years I’ve forgotten how involved and involving a small community can be.

Barn Dance:

I couldn’t coerce Clarice to go but with the price of “free” I figured I would go watch the barn dance.  Since I have 2 left feet I figured I could stand back and watch and see if I learned something and maybe enjoy the live local music.  Much to my pleasant surprise the whole event assumed that everyone in the room was clueless and each of the pattern dances was proceeded with an instruction run. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and I got to experience pattern dancing myself with little reason to be self-conscious. 

Not a lot of photos of the dance as I was having too much fun to stop and take pictures.

I have been looking for someone willing to model my previous comments about XtraTuf boots being appropriate to wear with anything and finally decided to fake it for the camera.  A young woman showed up in her period costume that she had made with hoop skirts and all.  I asked to take her photo for the blog and she agreed.  Then I told her I wanted to borrow a pair of XtraTufs to make my point – she laughed and lifted the hem of her skirt and explained there was no need to borrow a pair as she was already wearing hers. 

Another period costume.... 
.....with a special "Sitka touch".

There was also a formal ball but neither of us attended.


Variety Show:

The variety show was a bit disorganized but there were some real highlights including a quartet from Anchorage singing Russian folk songs and a preview of the upcoming Sitka version of the Nutcracker Ballet.  The Sitka version of the Nutcracker includes dancing Alaskan bears, dancing crabs, a fireweed flower, and finally a slime line (AKA a fish processing line) dance which, needless to say, is danced in XtraTuf boots.

The Ketchikan Can-Can to Tchaikovsky 
Dance of the fireweed

Crab dance

Slime Line dance

Russian folk quartet

I rode my bicycle in the dark and pouring rain and after getting lost finally found the Sitka Performing Arts Center which is a state of the art concert facility which was hosting the Alaskan US Army Band.  For all of the trouble I had getting to the concert it was well worth the effort as the music was great.

US Army Band

Alaska Day 2017:

The day started with a cool wind off of the mountains where the snow level had dropped noticeably from yesterday but the rain held off for the entire day and the sun even made an appearance.

A part of my day was spent helping try to advertise the Sitka Ham Amateur Radio Klub (SHARK) which I am a member of.  Our goal was to show folks what Ham radio entails by seeing if we could make some long distance contacts.  At the end of the day we had made about 20 random contacts including one from Japan.

SHARK Ham radio "shack"

Trying to reach other hams around the world (I was able to reach a chap in Salem Oregon)
I was surprised at how long the parade lasted but I think every major business in town was represented in one way or another. Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants Drill Team was included, as was the Sitka High marching band.  No silly “bear” skin hats and silly mock military uniforms for these kids – they were proud to wear blue rain coats and …….. yes …. wait for it….. XtraTuf boots!

The Russian Orthodox bishop was in town

One of the Native groups in the parade

Re-enactment soldiers

Period costumes

Sitka High Marching Band

The only challenge was getting to and from the ramp to the dock where we are moored as the parking lot for our host hotel was fenced off as a beer garden.

So Alaska Day 2017 is over and it’s time to get this posted.

Final Photos:

Norman's big yellow eye catch 

Volcano sunset 

Newly dedicated canoe