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Thursday, July 30, 2009


Not of "Ice Road Truckers". Of the sun!

We don't know what the record is, but we have now had two full days of sun. Someone mentioned that this time of year is typically the sunny season. We also suspect that the unseasonably warm weather in the northwestern 48 has some effect here. The proprietress of the inn commented yesterday, "It's going to be a really hot one." The temperature here topped at 68 degrees.

This morning it is 60 degrees, and another clear sunny day. Across the bay we just watched a seaplane take off. Yesterday as we trekked across the bridge, another plane circled over our head and then swooped down between the bridge pylons to land in the Channel. Mount Edgecumbe also appeared larger to us, but once again the setting sun inteferred with our photographs. We will make an earlier attempt today. We did manage one shot from further away:

While some local children played at fishing from the rocks, our wife stripped her aching feet and let the waves wash up her legs. We were content to dip our fingers in the chilly water, to rinse off a pretty shell.

Below we see what a parking lot in Sitka, Alaska looks like:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Unscratchables, by Cornelius Kane

A month in Alaska affords a book-fancier lots of time to read. The Unscratchables is a new July release from Scribner, published under the pseudonym of Anthony O'Neill, who has penned several other genre-crossing novels.

The tagline on the cover calls this a new breed of crime novel. The subtle wordplay is suggestive of what is to come. The characters live in Kathattan, their guns woof, and the North Siamese threaten a world already embroiled in the Afghan-Persian war. Like the Planet of the Apes, things are just as we recognise them, with one critical difference. This isn't meant to be a comedy, but there is amusement in the substitution of dogs and cats for humans.

We follow Max McNash, a bulldog detective who is called in on a murder case. Against his better instincts, he is teamed with Cassius Lap, an agent from the FBI (Feline Bureau of Investigation). McNash first has to learn to trust Lap, and by the end he develops a fondness for the Siamese cat. They form a partnership that will surely lead to further adventures.

A whole range of scents from popular culture can be detected in this novel, including television, film, government, and advertising. More than just a police procedural, murder mystery, or who-dun-it, McNash and Lap discover an underworld of conspiracy and societal conditioning whose lessons can be applied to our own times.

If you have an itch for a quick, uncomplicated novel, this novel will scratch it. The Unscratchables is simple entertainment that is well-written and published with only one apparent typo. You'll beg for more.

Sunny Days

By noon, the clouds had burned and blown away, and all that remained was clear skies and lots of sun. We set off for the three-mile hike to the hospital, and found lots of nice photo opportunities.

The lighthouse is across the Eastern Channel. And in the channel were two cruiseships, preparing to depart. The one in the distance is in the bay directly outside our inn. The one in the foreground was gone by the time we returned, and could be seen beyond the islands heading northwest.

Nothing to tell about a few of these photos, other than the view struck us. How beautiful to look out across the sound where ships are anchored, and a seaplane comes in for a landing, with snow-capped mountains in the background, and a ghostly half-moon above it all, clear skies and cool temperatures and the smell of the sea in the air.

Up the bridge we voyaged. For the first time in the distance we could see Mount Edgecumbe, the distinctive volcanoe. Even on this clear day, it was still ringed with low clouds.

Finally on Japonski Island we reached the hospital. Total elapsed time about fifty minutes. Half a block further and situated right along the edge of the channel is one of the high schools. Imagine canoeing to school every day. Or perhaps fishing during lunch period. From the top fifth floor of the hospital the view back across the Eastern Channel is beautiful. And the pace at the hospital is laid way back.

We begin the walk back to the inn. Most of the day tourists are gone, and the city center is quiet. We make a stop in the grocery for a few items, then finish the journey. After dinner the moon begins to shine brighter over the bay.

By 10:00pm, dusk had arrived. There is still over eighteen hours of daylight right now. According to charts, nearly two hours have been given back since the summer soltice. Not only are the daylight hours longer, but the day feels longer, or slower, here. It is late, night really, yet it feels like afternoon has just passed. The photograph gives a little bit of the sense of what the day looks and feels like at this hour.

A great way to end the day, the last cruise ship slipping behind the islands out to sea, and the moon shining brightly across the bay.

PS. In case you don't know, you can click on any image to see it enlarged. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inside a Cloud

After dropping off our nurse at the hospital, this is the walk we face, back "off the rock" as they say. The O'Connell Bridge is the only ground link between the main city center on Baranof Island and the hospital, university, and airport on Japonski Island. We are walking and talking, and when we pause to take this photo, we drop our phone. So when we reach the top of the bridge, and want to take another picture, we worry about dropping our phone again, because this time it will fall far down, irretrievable in the water.

Carefully, this is the view of Sitka Channel, looking northwest from the bridge. In the opposite direction, we can see the cruise ship that is docked in the sound across from our inn. Consulting a map, we can see that the most direct route to the hospital from our inn would be by boat. But we walk, and at least ten people pass either also walking or biking the bridge. This is a berry foot- and bike-friendly town.

The town also wakes slowly, or more accurately, according to the cruise ship schedules. Without the tourists, there is little reason for most of the shops to open early. Our ultimate destination -- the local library -- doesn't open until 10am, so we have ninety minutes to pass in town. After a short trek, we can take another picture looking back across Sitka Channel at the bridge we just crossed.

A mist rolled into the city while we waited. Nothing seemed to get wet, yet the droplets could be seen floating through the air. Later in the day, the mist came a little heavier. The weather condition was not really rain as much as it was wet. The driver of the public transit called it being inside a cloud. And so it is. When we returned to the inn, we couldn't even see the water in the sound, for all of the cloudy mist.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sitka National Park

This 113-acre park is the smallest national park in the state. But it is the site of some of the most important events in Alaskan history. And the back entrance is only about one block from our inn, so it is a convenient place to visit.

To the locals, the site is known as Totem Park, because there are many totem poles along the trails in the northern side of the park. Along the bay is a clearing and a grand pole that marks the spot where stood the fort of the native Sheey At'ik√° tribe of Tlingit who fought and eventually gave way to the Russians in 1804.

We next visited the hatchery and saw numerous indigenous invertebrates, including the sunburst fish and octopus. And just offshore the fish were jumping! Down on the rocks people were casting their lines. Even though our home town is surrounded by a cornfield, we had the distinct feeling that life here was lived more in line with nature.

On we ventured toward the other side of the city. Stopped to look at some bicycles for sale. That may be a purchase we make soon. The walk from our inn was about three miles, and back about two miles. The road along the harbor was noticeably cooler than the more inland roads. And the crows were the size of small bear cubs. Along the way we paused to rest and admire Swan Lake, where we saw four ducks but no swans.

The Tide Is Turning

Once again, the sun came out from the clouds around 7:00pm last night. This is just about the best view of the mountains across the bay that we have seen. And the snow-capped mountains to our immediate south revealed their summits as well.

For this white suburban boy, the secrets of the tides were a mystery. We knew of their existence, but never directly experienced them. Last night we stepped out to the bay to view the high tide. Our initial reaction was amazement. Because the area that we had walked along the night before was gone, all under water. Intrigued, we checked the tide tables and set out this morning to view the low tide. Our findings are displayed below, both images taken from the same location.

If you don't know, the tides come basically twice a day. From the charts, it appears that the levels of high and low tide fluctuate over days in a gentle wave of higher and lower depths. And from unscientific observation, the eagles seem to prefer low tide, probably when whatever goodies the tide brings in are left exposed, and easy pickings. The fishermen are out at all hours, and seem not to have any preference at all. And the fish we have seen that are caught are big, twelve to sixteen inches at least. Must be what makes the eagles and other birds so big, too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sights of Sitka

Our first full day in Alaska was spent exploring the city. And this was the first thing we saw out the door: the cruise ship. The walk into town was about two miles. The first place we located (and visited most throughout the day) was the public bathroom. The visitor center did not offer the information we sought about public transportation. Every Community Ride vehicle we saw was going the other direction. Across the street we found the bike rental shop. We decided $20 for two hours per person was too expensive.

The shop owner talked to us about hiking trails. From him we learned that one of the trail heads had been closed, because a bear had just killed a deer and cached it nearby. With the bear guarding his kill, the area was considered especially dangerous. There were three other areas higher in the mountains where he said bears had recently been spotted.

All we saw today were berries. Along the road and throughout the state park we found wild salmon berries. We were told they are especially abundant this season. The one we ate was slightly tart. We also sampled a chocolate chip cookie from two local children who had a dockside table displaying their goods.

After an expensive lunch in one of the two downtown hotels, we strolled the main streets and visited a few shops. Though Sitka has only about twenty miles of roads, and a single traffic light, it has the second largest total area of any incorporated area in the United States, nearly six times the size of the largest city in the lower states, Jacksonville, Florida.

Of course, a book fancier can not resist a visit to the local bookshop. This one offered a small assortment of new books, including a lovely selection of local interest, as well as a small cafe in the rear.

We ventured next down to the docks. All the bays are fully stocked with boats. Here we saw the cruise ship shuttle loading and unloading tourists. Also a family bringing their groceries down from town to their docked houseboat. A different route home led us into the national park. We followed the trails and found lots of berries, dense forest, and a memorial to Russian soldiers who died fighting natives in the early 1800s.
Now, at 7:00pm, the sun has finally emerged from the clouds. We are headed out to the bay again to look for bald eagles.

They are everywhere. Four of them in the trees above our head. Three of them across the bay on the tree tops. A man in the bay caught a fish about fourteen inches long. The eagles are huge and amazing.

Until tomorrow, goodnight from Alaska!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

North of Expectations

The trip begins with eight hours of air travel.

Alaska Air makes it all easy. The website is quick and simple. From there, we made reservations, checked our bags, and selected our seats. At the airport, all we had to do was get our bags tagged. And all this at the best price we could find.

North of expectations is the newest marketing tagline for Alaska Air. The flight and service was as expected for us, but did not exceed our expectations. Neither did it disappoint. And the plane we had for the first leg of the trip was one of their newest. Drinks and a cookie were complimentary; everything else (from snacks to personal digEplayers) cost $6, credit or debit only.

Our ninety minute layover was in Seattle. It might well have been any metropolitan city for all we knew. One major airport looks like another. The terminal in Sitka, however, was strictly a single building the size of a small primary school.

Our lodgings are brand new, and don't have a complimentary shuttle. We had to call a local taxi. The woman who picked us up was the owner of the business, and wonderfully kind. She gave us lots of information while taking us to our inn. Since we don't have a car, she will likely get more of our business.

Our room has a small refrigerator and microwave. After settling in, we decided our first order of business was to go hunting. Thank goodness for Google, whose maps we used to find our location and directions to the nearest grocery. So we packed our umbrella and reusable bags and set off for food.

Weather at landing was cool, in the sixties, with rain. The rain quickly ended, but the clouds have stayed. We strolled the one mile to the small grocery, past the post office, trailer park, raptor center, national park, and rows of homes. Prices were expensive, and we had to lug everything, so we purchased only the basics.

But we are in Alaska! So far, we have seen a lot of trees, a lot of people on bicycles, and a lot of water. Tomorrow after a good night's rest we intend to check out some of the city, including the public transit, and investigate bicycle and car rental options. Probably four or more hours of daylight remain today, but we are going to rest and read up on some of the local activites. A full day of travel and brand new experiences have left us weary.

But we are in Alaska!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Turning the Page

We had a great four years, but the time had come to sell the bookshop. Thankfully, we found a buyer. And what is even better, even though he is from out of town, he will be keeping the shop open in our community. That is a big win for local lovers of books.

What new adventures await this book fancier? We will be using this blog to do some feature writing that goes beyond the cover of a book. A big part of the reason for selling the bookshop was to enable us to do some traveling. So we are proud to announce our first trip begins Wednesday.

Destination: Sitka, Alaska.

We have never been to Alaska, so this will be an exciting new chapter in our life. We hope you will come back to join us as we recount our experience. Bon voyage!