Sitka Day 1: Arrival

For me, Alaska always begins at the departure gate. This trip, I fly Tri-Cities, TN to Atlanta to Seattle. Waiting in the Alaska Airlines concourse for the final leg of my flight, signs of life in The Last Frontier are readily apparent:

First, I notice the broad-shouldered father wearing an Alaska fisheries hoodie and hand-stitched sandals made of tire and webbing. He’s traveling with two young daughters and together they sleep on the floor at Gate C9. The girls are draped across his chest like cubs, his head propped up on a canvas duffel. The three of them breathe together in a little cave of sleep, airport buzz all around.

Of course there’s also the prevalence of Xtra Tufs, those indispensable all-weather waterproof boots that any good Alaskan knows how to make look sexy. They’re mid-calf, skin-tight, duck-brown, and all rubber. Add in the fact that 8 out of 10 males at Gate C9 have beards (yes, I counted), there’s a passenger named McKinley waiting on standby, and not a dress suit or coat can be spotted and, well, I know I’m in the right place.

When I board the plane, it feels a little like showing up at a reunion. I squeeze down the aisle and load my luggage into an overhead bin, while all around me folks chat and call each other’s names, glad for the chance meeting. You know you’re on an Alaska Airlines flight when a) you’re stopping at least once (but probably two or three times) before you get to your final destination, and b) even though you’re a stranger flying to a strange land, as soon as the person sitting next to you asks what you’re doing, they’ve either heard of you or knew you were coming or know somebody who knew about you or all of the above. You can’t sneak onto a sparsely populated island in the middle of winter. Not this one, anyway, and not by flying in.

It’s twilight by 3:30 and we bank toward Ketchikan. All I can see are deep, green islands and white-fluffed peaks etched out of the dark sea. Very shortly afterwards, it’s as dark as night and I wonder about kids getting out of school, walking home in the dark. When I de-plane in Sitka, I’m greeted warmly by The Island Institute staff and the arrival gate, too, seems to be a place where neighbors catch up on news. I meet ten people before I’ve picked up my bags. In less than an hour I’ve showered in my sweet little apartment and the Directors take me to a New Year’s Eve dinner party. I might be jet-lagged, but I’m stoked. There’s salmon on the table and venison sausage and, well, it all seems just about right. My favorite part? Trying to get in the door…

  • Mendy (Hillpoet)

    Zowie! Alaska in winter. You are brave and crazy writer! Want to read all these posts so don't get frostbit fingers. Happy New Year in your new for-the-time-being home! Mendy

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