The end of my 2016 took place in the stunning city of Sitka, Alaska. A charming, colorful seaport, engulfed with friendly citizens, beautiful landscapes, spunky houses and frigid air. Upon landing in Sitka, you are greeted with mountainous landscapes featuring Mount Edgecomb, a dormant volcano, and houses among the rocky speckles of the Gulf of Alaska where you literally have to take a boat to and from your house. Sitka is the only Southeast Alaskan city to face this gulf head on and there couldn’t have been a more beautiful blue-bird day to visit Sitka and peer at the gulf! Sitka means “People on the Outside of Baranof Island”. Housing only around 9,000 people and was originally settled over 10,000 years ago. I even love saying the name. Sitka. It’s beautiful.
Once we crossed the bridge taking us into the beautiful town of Sitka, a backdrop of mountains engulf the gorgeous town and set the precedent for a peaceful time to reside. Considering it to be New Year’s Eve and the fact that it was only 11 a.m. at landing, I was especially inspired to go out and explore. I am always drawn to water so of course I walked down to the marina. The marina consisted of all types of boats, sailboats, fishing boats, tug boats, house boats, etc. I began to romanticize about living in this marina, wishing I lived somewhere as remote as this lovely town.
After fantasizing about living on a boat in Sitka and coming to the realization that I was better off entertaining the idea more than anything, I began to walk alongside the marina waters taking me further on the edge line of the gulf. I was infatuated with the little houses, so unique and looked as though each house had a story to tell; they carried history. There weren’t new houses in Sitka. Only renovated and old. Mostly old. I loved it. I fell in love with one house in particular that reminds me much of the house I live in today, however, more amazing on the outside, with of course water view property. Sigh. Walking along the gulf’s edge I realized how quiet this town is. It is peaceful. Relaxing. The cold air seemed to even bring peace to the town, considering it was around fifteen degrees Fahrenheit weather, I’m sure people were in their house staying warm and not taking their chances of falling on their face with ice covered walkways. Then again, families still gathered at parks and loaded goods onto their boats. Young boys were running on iced walkways and seeing how far they could slide in competition. They were very familiar with this game considering not one time did they fall that I saw. Not to mention everyone wears rubber fishing boots. Even those that were homeless. Rubber boots were the telltale if you are a local or not.
Continuing on my lighthearted jaunt along the water, I passed a fish hatchery, a museum, a theater, a tiny middle school, and I reached a beautiful park about a mile total in circumference featuring various totem poles. These totem poles varied in height but were pretty consistent in width. Like most totem poles they varied in animals, faces, humans, and symbolic meaning. A few specifically I were drawn to. Apparently this park is open in normal business hours where you can rent a headset and learn more about the checkpoint stops along this short hike in the woods. Each totem pole was different. They were collected from around all of Alaska, replicated and original, representing the Tlingit and Haida villages. Showing historic meaning behind many of them, not all for their stories may have been lost with the passing of generations. One of the totems I found specifically interesting was with a white man on the top of the totem. He was carved into this totem to represent a warrant sign in many aspects. He represented an unpaid debt, being called a thief, stealing from the townspeople. An original pole to Sitka’s city. These various totems represented the invasion of the Russian people and stood for a sign to recognize the city of those shipping into town.
After exploring totem park, I walked my way back into the main part of town and chose to find myself a chai tea to help warm me up. I managed to return without falling on my face with the sidewalk being a sheet of ice, walking in the grass whenever it was available. Shortly after, I decided it was time to grub down. Originally I wanted seafood, considering my limited options and the fact that it was a holiday, I came to a quick realization I couldn’t afford the seafood in Sitka. So I settled, or so was happily drawn to some locally caught fish and chips at the pub overlooking the marina and landscapes of the gulf. Perfect. The sunset was settling in. I ordered my meal and expressed my desire to see the sunset with a friend of mine that joined me for dinner. I told her I was going to be back in a little bit, I jetted out of the pub and ran to the bridge. The same bridge we entered the town on, praying to not fall and crack open my skull, I made a dash for it. I just couldn’t miss the photo opportunity and to bask in the beauty of the colors to drape over this enriching town! I made it to the bridge, my lungs slightly burning from jogging in the cold air. It sure was worth it. The sunset casted a pink glow over the town and amongst the snow capped mountain tops in the background. It was stunning. Peering to the gulf region the sun melted into the horizon while hawks flew by and boats tugged along trailing lightly rippled water behind them. I was at sheer peace for a few moments and couldn’t believe the beauty this town had to offer. Feeling a little guilty that I ditched my friend (and my drink) and the sheer fact that I was incredibly hungry I walked my happy self back to the pub to finish gazing out at the last rich colors that were to fall along the uneven horizon. I arrived just in perfect timing for my food to arrive which was easily delicious.
Shortly after dinner I made my way back to the hotel considering there was plenty of time for a nap and maybe some celebration time for New Year’s toll. My nap was harshly unsuccessful, however, I did some great reflection time on my concluding year and began to set some values for my coming year. By the time it was locally time to celebrate . . . I fell asleep. Previously I had watched the ball drop in New York, classic. I just couldn’t manage to stay awake any longer considering I was up at 0330 hours that morning and had poor sleep the night before from some loud visitors in halls of the Fairbanks hotel.
The next morning went unwasted. I greeted my year of 2017 at the beginning of sunrise. Naturally the sunrise happens later in the morning, it was perfect timing. Of course, I dressed quickly and warmly and strutted my way back down to the water. Greeting in the new year with beauty and surrounding myself with luminous color and the serenity of the water, I embraced the happiness that glowed inside me.
Feeling full and enriched I decided to walk along the closed shops of Sitka and explore the Russian influence that had survived here. The Russians had invaded Sitka settling in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They were then forced out of Sitka and then later managed to return to completely take over. Sitka was originally the Capital of Russian America. You can see the various influences in architecture, Cathedrals, schoolhouses, and intimate cemeteries. Later Sitka was purchased by the United States from Russia and became the Capital of Alaska. Just in the early 1900s the Capital of Alaska became Juneau. One other fun fact about Sitka is the United States Navy’s first seaplane base was established in Sitka (for World War II) in 1937 just until 1944. Neat!
I can’t wait to return to Sitka and learn more about the heritage and culture. When the weather warms up I will be excited to go hiking and explore more of the surrounding lands. I was specifically drawn to Sitka over my other Alaskan adventures so far and I am eager to experience more of the beauty!
I can surely say, I left a piece of my heart in Sitka.