Planet Alaska recently relocated from Sitka back to Juneau. When I got on the ferry I felt the slow pace of Sitka disappear and the fast pace of Juneau approach. As Southeast Alaskans, we know each town and village has its own spirit and rhythm. I’m not kidding myself, though, it’s going to be an adjustment moving from a smaller isolated community to Juneau, our capital city.
There are always unexpected adventures when moving around Southeast because the weather dictates our lives. When I stood in the sideways freezing rain with my dogs waiting to put them onboard the ferry, I remembered years ago when the ferry workers would’ve let me put my dogs on and go back to my car instead of standing in the storm. Instead, I received a lecture about policies and safety. I made a comment about common sense, kindness and the way Alaska used to be. Sigh. Our statements to each other were lost in the cold winter storm. Our personal rhythms out of place in a changing Alaska.
Some of us Alaskans migrate around the state. I was born and raised in Wrangell, but my clan comes from Hoonah. We have been in Glacier Bay for at least two ice ages. As a migratory Alaskan, I have lived in Wrangell, Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau, Hoonah, Haines, Gustavus, Anchorage and Palmer. I’ve loved every single place for different reasons, but I am a Southeast Alaskan — I can’t help it. I’m Tlingit. I’m an islander. I love that Juneau isn’t connected to the rest of the world by a road. I also love that it has a lot more roads to drive on than Sitka.
Despite being excited to move to Juneau, moving is stressful. And this move was quick and surprising. For the most part, the ferry service has been cut back to once a month sailings from Sitka to Juneau so I had one sailing choice to my destination. We made moving miracles happen in a matter of days. We sure do miss the way the ferries used to be in Alaska, with frequent sailings between communities. Ferries are so important in connecting us to all of the unique places in Southeast.
The ferry is a good choice for moving from town-to-town. As a traditional foods and medicine educator, I have quite a collection of each. The back of my vehicle was filled with freezer boxes: muktuk, caribou, deer, moose, herring eggs, salmon, halibut, black cod, rock fish, shrimp, beach asparagus, fiddle heads, berries and spruce tips. The front seat held the computer, clothes and dog food. A friend met me in Juneau to pick up the dogs and their crates. The teas and medicines came later on the barge with the rest of our belongings. It’s in the teen digits as we unpack into our tiny house, finding places for our books, keepsakes and harvesting supplies. Already we’re making plans for spring harvesting. We are hoping for lots of snow to feed the forests before spring comes, but the cold here is inspiring us to dream of warmer days.
Now, I wake up in a new place to a different rhythm, different weather, different sounds. The rhythm of Juneau is much faster than everywhere else in Southeast. It’s the hub for so many of us with less access to stuff. Like many Southeast Alaskans visiting Juneau, it means a trip to Costco and Fred Meyer. For a few moments, we stood in awe at the variety of choices. Then we had to practice restraint because we’ve chosen to move from a boat in Sitka to a tiny home and are now in the land of plenty. We only have so much room for giant packs of toilet paper and paper towels, which makes urban subsistence a fun sport in Juneau.
I’m excited for the new adventures that await. 2019 is going to be a fun year. We are going to be teaching plant classes this spring and summer. We’ll be making new friends to harvest with. Instead of harvesting in Sitka with more than one brown bear per square mile, we will be harvesting with black bears around every corner. Instead of climbing up steep mountains in Sitka to harvest, we’ll have access to plenty of flat areas. All winter, Sitka is usually a few degrees warmer than Juneau, but Juneau is normally a few degrees warmer than Sitka in the summer. And we get to harvest cottonwood again — I’m so excited. Juneau, unlike Sitka, is covered in beautiful cottonwood. The forests make each place smell distinctly different than the other. The forest speaks a different harvesting dialect here.
Planet Alaska will also be taking part in all sorts of Tlingit language activities. We’ll be joining projects and programs that a lot of people have created. We’ll also be dreaming up new ways to help perpetuate the Tlingit language. We love harvesting while immersed in the Tlingit language, too. It’s going to be a fun spring and summer full of culture, food, stories and beautiful scenery. And plenty of things to write about. Yes, I know there will be mosquitoes and rain, but I’m sure there will be laughter, too. Until then, we’ve hunkered in for the winter. We are unpacking, planning, visiting and dreaming. We are eating and sharing our traditional foods. We are writing poems and making art.
That said, we’re very thankful to all of our followers who’ve reached out to us via email, in person or on our Planet Alaska Facebook page this past year. We even had a Planet Alaska fan offer to help us move our belongings when our shipping container arrived. We get messages from people who relate to our stories. We get messages from people thanking us for all of our info on harvesting. We get messages from people with their own stories about their connections to people and place, stories about their grandparents, stories of harvesting and stories of Alaska.
We have more than 14,500 followers on Facebook and we’ve been growing our grass roots Alaska stories since December 31, 2012. We started Planet Alaska to celebrate the diversity of Alaska’s cultures, languages, foods, history, geography and more. We started Planet Alaska to let people know we’re like a different planet up here. There is nowhere like this in the world. We are truly lucky to be Alaskans. We are grateful to share this amazing place with others who love it.
Now that we’re here in Juneau, we can take a breath and unpack slowly and think about the coming year. Moving is easier when you can hang a carving created by a friend, when you pull the muktuk out of the freezer to share with visitors, and when we reconnect with the language learners and teacher’s we’ve missed, and when we can hug family and friends who live in Juneau.
• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly.