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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