Contemplating Alaska Day

18 10 2011

Today is Alaska Day, and, I have to admit, I have mixed feelings.

On October 18, 1867, Russia formally transferred control of the Territory of Alaska to the U.S. Commemorated as a  statewide holiday, Alaska Day is a really big deal in Sitka, where the actual transfer took place.  Festivities begin in early October, all building up to this day. Schools close. People get gussied up. The Lutheran Church hosts a pie sale like you wouldn’t believe. And a giant parade rolls through downtown, kicked off when the Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopters buzz Lincoln Street. Sitkans love an excuse for a parade.

Immediately following the parade, folks climb the stone steps up Castle Hill for a re-enactment of the transfer.  People in period costumes lower the Russian flag and raise the Stars & Stripes. The 9th Army Band provides accompanying music. It’s all very ceremonial.

Re-enactments of all kinds make me uneasy. I wonder about the groups not represented, the stories that aren’t included in the re-telling.  Those silences echo through this ceremony. Originally known as Noow Tlein, the land honored for its transition from Russian ownership to American is the same ground where, after the Battle of 1804, Tlingit people ceded their home.

(This summer, I asked a Tlingit elder about this. “Alaska Day must not be much of a celebration for you.”

“No,” she replied flatly. “But I’d rather be American than Russian.”)

I don’t have answers for these conflicted feelings, and I’m not in Sitka to experience Alaska Day first-hand this year.  Instead, I’m watching the Bellingham sun slowly creep up outside my writing window, Stellar’s Jays and squirrels rushing up to say good morning and ask where the peanuts are today.

Without any helicopter escorts or brass bands, I’ll mark Alaska Day in my own quieter way, recalling one of the last sunrises of our fishing season – a sunrise so spectacular that Bear the Boat Cat had to be on wheel watch, while Cap’n J and I were both fixated on capturing the moment. (No obscenity-laced whale interaction here, friends – this one’s safe for all viewers.)

There have been times when we’ve chosen to simply enjoy something beautiful, pausing to be present with ourselves and our surroundings, rather than distancing ourselves with the flurry of documentation. Probably not as many of those times as would be good for us.  But I’m glad this one made it onto film, so you can enjoy it, too.  Whatever stories you carry, may your Alaska Day include moments of beauty.

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10 responses

18 10 2011
pierrmorgan

Lovely reflections – on the sea and in your mind. Thank you.

18 10 2011
Tele

Thanks for coming by, Pierr! I’m glad that Nagoonberry brought our paths together.

18 10 2011
Beverly Diehl

Truly stunning sunrise – and I am so impressed with the camera work, nice slow pan that doesn’t invoke motion sickness – despite being shot on a moving boat!

Re-enacters – in SoCal we even have Civil War re-enacters. Kinda cool, kinda creepy, IMO. And yes, so many voices left out of the mix.

18 10 2011
Tele

So brave of you to click on that link, Beverly! You know I’m going to be thinking about you with every potential future video, asking myself, “Now, would this drive Beverly away from Hooked?” Very glad that this one worked for you.

I haven’t had exposure to re-enacters other than the Alaska Day flag raising, and I don’t mean this as an overall indictment. The truth is I’m just as much of a sucker for a parade as the rest of Sitka, and I loved being there for Alaska Day. We tend to be so far removed from history – everyone’s history – that recognition of any group’s past could be an improvement. I just wish our recollections of the past veered more towards inclusion. Though how to do that when one group’s celebration is another’s tragedy, I don’t know…

18 10 2011
rosseliot

Historical re-inactment have always creeped me out. Less now that I’m aware how many different societies have done such things, from ancient Roman to various tribal groups. They certainly all recount their own versions of the past. I wonder, in Sitka do they use modern flags for the transfer re-inactment or period Imperial Russian and 19th century American?

18 10 2011
Tele

Good question about the flags, Ross. I’d be willing to bet they have period flags… but I don’t know. Further investigation required!

18 10 2011
Annie

Happy Alaska Day, Tele. I could melt into that sunrise. I think I would have a hard time removing myself from that view. So glad you caught it on camera and shared it with all of us.

18 10 2011
anopisthographiste

So beautiful, that sunrise. You inspire me to educate myself a bit about Alaskan history… not only post statehood, but well before that.

18 10 2011
Tele

Thanks, Annie and Tracey. I’m glad that you both came by today – had suspected that you two would appreciate that scene!

Tracey, if there was one bit of Alaska history that you looked into, I’m sure you’d like the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich. She’s on my list to write about someday, but that’s quite a ways down the road. Talk about inspiring…

19 10 2011
Cami Ostman

What a treat to experience an Alaskan sunrise.




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