The Panhandle of southeast Alaska, a haven of inside waters. To the visitor, it’s a composition of forest and water, a maze of islands that borders the westernmost boundary of British Columbia, Canada. To its residents it is home and safe harbor for a multitude of communities dependent on its natural resources.
Southeast Alaska is beautiful place, rich and pristine, full of wilderness and fresh breezes, a land to explore and contemplate. It is also a land of change. Gone are the days of wallets filled with hundred dollar bills, money made to spend as fast as fish could fill the net or bite the hook. Gone are the days of clearcut logging – of virtually any logging, for that matter – as we take a serious look at our forests; not with the thought that they can’t renew, but with the realization of how long that process takes and the scars evident in the meantime.
With the surge of tourism, SE Alaska has seen vast numbers of visitors step onto its shores. Lifestyles based on natural resources have given way to habits dependent on the tourists’ dollars. Many would like to say there is a middle ground, but to those who’ve lived a life apart from the excesses of the 20th century, we find little ground left.
To make a living from the land requires a resource. There was a time when anyone could fish and feed a family, either by subsistence or sale. As with the majority of good things that are free, once the sign is hung out the offering seldom lasts. With the sport and commercial fishermen, Alaska has finally reached the limits of its renewable marine resources. It is no longer the land of plenty, but the Ellis Island for mainstream America to find its new start, and the accommodations are bursting at the seams.
Alaska is enormous, you say, with more land mass than any other state in the U.S. Raw land, yes; but livable? No, much of our land is inhospitable to the newcomer, to those who have not lived here or acquired a knowledge of the land through generations of heritage. In poverty, we rank right up there on the welfare registers. As far as jobs, the competition is tough and local preference is a mean fact. Accessibility? If you come without money to meet your expenses you’ll find yourself in dire straits – you’re surrounded by water, and boat or plane fare is probably more than you have in your pocket. Oh yes, we’ve heard it before – you’re hardly average, and you’ll keep coming regardless of what you’re told.
So, if you come, and you certainly won’t regret a visit, you will find some of the most beautiful country on the North American continent. The air is fresh and crisp, the colors are true and vibrant, the scenery is spectacular. There is nothing like standing on a remote shore with nothing before you but more wilderness. Eagles glide high above to tumble to the ground, talons tangled only to break away before certain death to soar once more into the bluest of skies. The scent of green water on rocky shore, of seaweed mingled with pebble and shell, and the sound of tide stumbling in to cover the lowliest of rocky footholds, only to lose ground as it slides away back into the depths. This is where we live.
If you speak with a true Alaskan, one who’s made the place home for the better part of a lifetime, and not one here for the payout, you find…
…folks who’ll make their livin’ from the land and sea, and hear tales of survival that you’ll wonder about. Be assured it’d all be true for livin’ apart from the rest of humanity hones strange skills required nowhere in the heart of civilization. If the weathered old fisher tells of the sea grabbin’ his partner, believe him. There are waves what come from nowhere to take what they may and sea monsters to haunt your darkest hours. It’s the hook that’ll take you into the depths where things prehistoric are buried in muck and deepest of waters which never gives back what she takes.
You’ll see ones so scarred from their journey you’d swear ‘twas pirates but, no, t’were a bruin who’d not taken a shine to sharin’, even if it weren’t his to share. Or the fella or miss with too many brews who could tell you of lovers they jilted for the sea or mountains’ valley beyond.
There are young folks, too, who run innocent on beaches, of communities with no plummin’, happy to be a satisfied with sameness. It’s the compatriot they welcome, not those aimin’ for change and if you’ve arrived on a boat to bring better dollars, take them back and don’t come again for we like our days and the workin’ they’re filled with. Don’t come again thinkin’ to change for we’ll roll up our sidewalks and not let ye in – that we’ll do with a promise and a shakin’ o’fist. Go away, and we turn our backs, glad for the riddance. We’d share of our catch if you’d sit and be humble, but we’re weary of those who would tell us we’re done, for those days are not numbered. Our lives are still rich and we’re happy you don’t see it for maybe you’ll go then and leave us alone.
It’s a way of life for us to live different, and you’d be kind to visit and save your advice for those who would take it. Please stay away if you’re comin’ en masse to our boardwalks and trails. Don’t peek in our windas or pick from our gardens, and take your garbage when you go. This from a small place which suffered your visit but once and that’s all it will be for we’ve made ourselves clear.
So you see, we’re not odd; we’re defendin’ what we have and we’d not be wantin’ what you’ve got fer yerselves. America’s wishin’ she had what she was, and escapin’ is hardly the answer, for ye’ve made yer bed and yer life and must find yer way in it for if you be runnin’ to us to solve all yer problems, you’ll find we can’t help you.
But if yer comin’ to visit, yer welcome to set a spell and listen, for we’ve tales to tell and we’re happy to share ~