August ends in Sitka . . .

August 26, 2015

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers for the families and friends of those lost in the mudslides as well as the search and rescue squads and recovery dogs.  The final victim was recovered this Tuesday evening and the lives of all three will be celebrated on Saturday. While a very sad time for all, I’m so glad that the families have some closure. Their grieving will begin and may take some time and it is comforting to know that their support systems here in Sitka are strong.  This community will surround them with support, comfort and prayers.

Only five weeks remain for my time here in Sitka.   I’m scheduled to depart on September 30.  Was thinking yesterday of all the things I want to see and do before I leave and starting to plan a calendar so I don’t miss anything. I know I have said it before time and time again but I must say it again . . . this is a wonderful place that I encourage all of you to see anyway you can. It’s scenic, understated, and pure calm. Maybe I would feel differently if I lived here year round, I don’t know. Seems like the permanent residents I see each day would be showing some of those “different” signs if it were true. This might just blow my 3-month theory of living somewhere in order to get to know the culture and surroundings. I think I might have to find a way to come back for a different season. Possibly April, May and June in 2017??? Will have to see if the park service asks me to return then.

Speaking of National Park Services, these folks are great.  I encourage you to visit and search for areas you might enjoy visiting.  Volunteer opportunities are all over and there might even be one in your back yard!  Or maybe one you could make a 3-month visit to a place of your choice just like me!

This week has been much less busy with the kids gone. Work is fast approaching end of month activities so I’ll be doing some monthly inventory next week. Also working to enhance the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for the gift area. You know how I love processes and procedures defined! (Okay, we all have faults you know!!!)

We have a new volunteer – – – Michael from San Diego arrived and will be staying until the end of October. He seems like a great guy and will be living in the “white” house alongside our British gentleman, James. Since James has been the social organizer for all our get-togethers he has some big shoes to fill on the social front. James will be leaving us mid-September. His lovely personality and energetic attitude will be sorely missed around here . . . plus his accent as he uses the public announcement system to welcome visitors to the park . . . spelled “p.a.wwww.k”, and invites them to view a “lovely” 12 minute video about Sitka and it’s history. I’ll miss seeing him out in the tide pools looking around for goodies. James is a “one-of-a-kind” and will make a great biologist one day.

I was hoping the Sitka black tail deer would return this week as they have for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, they did not. Guess they found their home team and decided humans weren’t the way to go. Evenings this week were spent catching up on some readings that have been awaiting my attention. I’m determined to finish at least 3 of these over the next couple weeks. There’s a couple local history books about the Tlingit and Russian people here in Sitka that look very interesting.

School has started for all the grandchildren. Grant’s a senior this year. I’m amazed at how fast that came along! Here are a few pictures of the kids as they prepare for a new year of school.

Grant 1st day of school
Grant’s first day of school as a Senior at McKinney Christian Academy in McKinney, Texas.
Grant Senior Year
Here’s one of his senior pictures that I love! He’s grown into such a fine young man. I’m so proud!


Reid 8th grade
Reid starts 8th grade. Amazing!
Jack & Luke - 3rd Grade
Jack and Luke start 3rd grade. Can you tell them apart?
Cam, Tom Mike.10_5_6th grade
I love this picture. Here’s Cameron (who starts 10th grade); Michaela (who is a 5th grader), and Thomas (who starts 6th grade.) They are sitting outside the bookstore reading their new books. My Aunt Jane was the one who started my passion for reading and I passed it along to my daughter Melissa who has clearly passed it along to her 3. This picture warms my heart! (The look on Cameron’s face is due to hormones. He’s 14 and is really having a good time!)
First day of school in Indiana
Here’s a picture of Cam, Tom & Mike on their first day of school. They are in the bus as Melissa was a little behind schedule getting their picture. She got the bus though! Their driver, Mrs. Johnson, is there with them. She’s a gift from above and watches out for all the kids.

My son-in-law Robert remains in Afghanistan. Remember him in your thoughts and prayers. He loves the work he is doing there and his team started to arrive this week.  He now shares his office with two co-workers and a few more are coming soon. Be well my friends and take good care of each other.

Blessings, Mara

Exploring Sitka with family . . .

The last I wrote was two weeks ago and much has happened since then. The most important news, and the most tragic, is that of the declared state of emergency in Sitka due to landslides caused by heavy rains. It all happened this week when torrential rain came on Tuesday morning after several days of steady rains. The morning rains caused several mudslides, taking a few houses with them. Tragically, three persons are missing. We are blessed here to have the tremendous services of the Coast Guard and they are searching for them. We are all praying for them, their families and friends, and the Coast Guard search and rescue teams.  As of this morning (Friday), two of the three were found and they continue searching for the third man.  The two found were brothers who were doing drywall work in a home hit by the slide.  The third man is the local fire chief who was conducting a building inspection when it happened.  He was with several others at the time of the slide and they all ran in different directions.  Unfortunately the fire chief did not make it away from the slide.  Tragic times here.

Here are just a couple pictures of the Indian River as it continued to rise and closed a bridge on the park trail for a few hours.

Flooded Indian River 11
Indian River bridge that closed due to high water.
Flodded Indian River 3
Another part of the Indian River on a different trail. Bridge is higher here but it closed for a few hours due to falling trees.


Here is a before and after comparison of what the rain and flooding did to the river.  Fortunately, it was a temporary event and the river is slowly coming back to normal.  Sadly, some of the salmon eggs laid in the river were lost which will have an effect on the population.  However, it will be unknown to what degree as this year’s babies won’t return for a couple years.

Indian River
The Indian River before the flooding
Flooded Indian River 6
The Indian River during the height of the flooding


On a lighter note, it’s been a busy past couple weeks. One of our Rangers ran a half marathon here and I was invited to share in the prep (posting of signs along the marathon trail) and celebration (as he came in third in the race). Ranger Anne was the ringleader in making certain Ranger Ryan knew he was supported. She engaged several to post signs on the trail early that morning as well as staging us along the route to root for him on his run. I learned that laughing while running can affect your run time . . . so Ranger Ryan told us as he chuckled. You see, he won the race last year so I’m sure our humorous signs might have slowed him a bit. Getting up early and walking the trail to post the signs was another new experience. We left at 5:30 a.m. to post signs and I thought we might see a bear on the trail but we didn’t. They must sleep late on Saturdays! The whole experience was just one more showing of how the people here care and support each other. Really nice being included in this.  Here are a few of the signs we posted.

Aren’t these great signs!
Ryan sign 4
The t-shirt was a big hit!
Ryan sign 2
Neon colors really work on a dark trail.
Ryan sign 5
This one’s a bit dark but it says “Great Grey Owl ahead – HURRY! Ranger Ryan is a birder – – – Anne was worried he would take it seriously and be disappointed when he did not see the owl!
Ryan finishing race
And the finale, where else but at the waterfront! Congratulations to Ranger Ryan and big thanks to Ranger Anne! It was an honor to be a part of the cheering section.


After the race I was walking to work and saw them moving salmon between two tanks at the Science Center hatchery. There are so many fish here it was quite the eye-catching event. I stopped to take a couple pictures.

Salmon Switch 2
Redirecting the salmon by moving from one tank to another. The net was full with just one dip in the water. They are so so many of them!!!!


Another first for me, and many here, was the moving of a totem pole from the park into the carving shed.  Local Tlingit carver Tommy Joseph will be hard at work re-creating this pole in a new piece of red cedar. Moving the original pole was no small task as they carefully removed it and slowly worked their way up the trail to the carving shed.

Moving totem pole
They have slowed moved up the trail and are now at the turning point. Carver Tommy Joseph is carefully watching the process.
They are making progress.
And now working their way into the carving shed.
And here she rests. A new piece of red cedar will be brought in to the shed and the carver will begin. The pole is expected to complete in just a few months.
A close up of the raven that sits atop the Cormorant Pole


The day before the kids arrived I enjoyed another first for me and many here.  Three Sitka black tail deer came by the park. They walked at the ocean’s edge (during low tide) and seemed completely unbothered by the people so close by them. There were 3 of them. I couln’t resist a picture and was told that this was quite the rare occasion. These deer have not been seen this close for years.

Deer in park
Here they are. It’s low tide and they are just walking out on the beach. What a site they are against the background of the Westerdam Cruise Ship.

Then, just this past week, they came back and even closer to us. They walked around the water’s edge and then came right up to our picnic area in front of the visitor center.  They walked up the path from the ocean, down the trail to the street and into the woods. Amazing!

Deer in park 3
The overhang in this picture is our park porch. Amazing how close they are!
Deer in park 4
The third deer is coming but I didn’t get her in my picture. The 3 of them stuck together and kept watching to make certain the others were coming along.

Look how healthy they look too! This is really quite the place to see and appreciate our wildlife.

Melissa and the kids came to visit. They got here on Tuesday afternoon and left early Saturday. That gave us 3-1/2 days to pack in as much as we could . . . and we did just that!

Our first stop was “The End of the Road”

It’s the end of the road


Next stop was the National Park and Ranger led talks on the Battle Walk and the Salmon Talk.  They all loved Ranger Erin and Ranger Jon and thought the talks very informative.

Ranger Erin with kids
Ranger Erin with Thomas, Michaela and Cameron on the Salmon Talk.

Another National Park adventure was the Russian Bishop House tour with Ranger Bethany and the Russian Walking Tour with Ranger Kaity.  I failed to get pictures but you have to do these if you are in Sitka.  They are both educational and entertaining tours! Well worth your time.

We made a quick stop at “my” house so the kids could see where I lived.  There’s nothing like a hug from a grandchild!

Me and Mike
Michaela is getting so tall!

The first “planned” (and purchased) adventure was a half day of kayaking thanks to Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures that turned into more than we anticipated or expected.  Here we are as we prepare for a half day kayak adventure on a rainy wet day.

Tom prepping for Kayak
Tom and owner Alison as she gives us kayak training and suits us up in rain gear.
kayka guide chris
Chris, who will be our guide, and Cameron putting on his kayak skirt.
melissa kayak
Melissa getting her final information. She’s nervous but she is laughing as always! What a good sport she is!!!!
Guide Kayak
And finally, the best part when the cookies are brought out and everyone picks their favorite to tuck into their life vest where it will get warm for eating in a few hours. Yum!

As I mentioned, it was a rainy day and while there were hints of sun coming it just didn’t quite arrive.  In fact, the wind picked up and we learned that in a two-man kayak, a lightweight in the front keeps the nose up and makes it really difficult for the guy in the back to keep moving forward (something we didn’t learn until we made a change of course decision.)  Tom was with me and Mike was with Chris, our guide.  Mike contributed dangling hands in the water and made for little assistance to Chris in his rowing.  But he was skilled enough to overcome the drag and Mike continued to express joy as she “dangled” her way through the waters.  I, on the other hand, was not so skilled, and Tom and I were working hard.  Tom paddled with all his heart but it just didn’t make up for his lack of weight.  We were really working hard. After a couple hours we were at a decision point where we could continue in the difficult waters or change course and do something less difficult.  We were never in any danger but it could cease to be fun if we pushed too much harder.  So I said, “change course leader”.  And in that moment out pops owner Jon in a boat, ties us up, and tows (yes, I did say tow) us through the harbor to the opposite end of the island.

Guide Chris
As our guide Chris is taking a picture of us being towed, Melissa asks “have you done this before?” Her laughter is when he says, “nope, never!”
Towed in a Kayak
Here we are at full speed going through the harbor. You can see the bridge up ahead that runs from town to the airport.
Kayak tow
Mike in the Kayak, The paddle covers her “dangling fingers” in the ocean.
Kayak tow Tom
Tom’s in the yellow kayak. He dropped his paddle halfway through the harbor and we had to circle back to get it. Goodness, I’ve never laughed so hard!!!
Chris Kayak Guide
We all had such a great time. Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures – go try them out!!
The Causeway kayak
We ended up going to Fort Rousseau Causeway State Historical Park which gave us a look into Sitka’s WWII history. We explored the old bunkers that remain there. Quite interesting.
Melis Tom Causeway
Melissa and Tom exploring. He’s looking at the huge slugs.
kayak return
We were sad to see the time end. Jon and Chris fed us lunch and loaded our kayaks and we returned to town. Definitely a day of adventure and loads of fun.

Our second planned adventure was a private boat charter on the Esther G with Davey Lubins. The sun came out on Thursday morning and we boarded our boat at 11:30 for what would become the trip of a lifetime. I had hoped to see a whale! Well, it was like Davey had called ahead to his underwater friends and arranged a meeting. We saw whales, and more whales and more whales. In fact, we were so close that we felt the spray from the whale and smelled his fishy breath. Smelling whale’s breath . . . now that’s a one of a kind experience for sure. We saw rafts of sea otters. So cute floating around in the ocean on their backs. And we saw birds of all kinds . . . puffins and cormorants and eagles and ..and..and.. so many birds. We learned about the ocean and we talked and talked and talked. This captain was the real deal and worth so much more than we paid. I can’t say enough good about him. In fact, I can’t say enough good things about everyone I have met here. They are such good people and so willing to do what it takes to make your experience a great one.  I didn’t take near the pictures I should have but here are a few to enjoy.

plane arrives
We started our journey with Davey as the Coast Guard came in for a landing. Awesome to be right under him as he landed. This is the beginning of the runway.


See the whale?
And another whale.
And a puffin.
St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge is a clump of volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean and home to nesting puffins, murres, cormorants, and peregrine falcons.  Lizzy, my bunk mate, also came along.  This was her last few days here and it was so great having her along with us.
bird sanctuary 2
The dark hole in the rock is home for many.


Otter Raft
And the otters . . . rafts of them.


We saw Russian dancers.

Russian dancers
The Russian dancers were fun to watch!
Russian Dancers 2
What a routine!
Melissa _ Tom_sitka
Melissa and Tom at the Russian Dancers.


Grandma and kids Russian dance
Grandma and the best travelers I know. Love them!

It was great having family here and I loved every minute of our time together. We walked everywhere, had great visits, and laughed ourselves to sleep each night. It definitely ranks up there as one of the best vacations with them ever.

We even stopped at the grocery store and Cameron was fascinated by this gumball machine.  I’d never noticed it before!

Grocery Store Machine
Gum ball machine in grocery store


Last time I wrote I promised to share a picture of the grand piano after it was placed in the church. Pretty amazing don’t you think!

The grand piano arrives at St. Peters.
St.Peters altar
Love the altar linen (not sure what the correct name for this is?)

Lizzy, my last bunk mate, left Sitka on Saturday morning. She was actually on the same flight as Melissa and the kids. She’s off to Seattle to complete her master’s degree. It’s been odd this week being in the bunk house all by myself. In fact, it has been downright lonely.  I’ve decided I need to start some type of local craft so that I can keep myself busy. Melissa also left me with a stack of movies to watch which has been nice. However, I must do more than read and watch movies in the evening. Need to get out there and socialize or work on some type of craft from this area. Melissa thought woodcarving might be a bit dangerous for the klutz in me (might end up with some stitches) but I think I can handle it. Might be that or knitting and we all know I can’t knit! More to come on this endeavor later.

More of the young interns and students leave this week as Rangers Kaity, Kaylin, Amanda, and Bethany start heading back to school. Amanda and Bethany will be doings master’s degree programs in NY and Denver, Kaity heads back to Montana to finish her last year of undergraduate work, and Kaylin goes to Fairbanks to continue her undergraduate work. I’ll miss them.  They are great people and have bright futures ahead of them.

News from Melissa’s husband, Robert, who is in Afghanistan, comes every few days. He seems well and is enjoying his work there. Please continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he continues his service duties there.  We want a safe return for him once his work is done.

A light rain began late Wednesday evening and continues into Thursday morning.  The sun came out around noon and continues today (Friday) as I write this blog.  Listening to the radio and hearing about all the community efforts to come together to solve the problems created by the mudslides as well as to support those who have been affected by these events. The positive attitude that prevails here is something to behold and a lesson for me about the power positivity has on our lives.   I’ve watched so many not just come together to help, but come together in a way that is so powerful. The people of Sitka have joined hands and hearts in their efforts to provide for all affected by this tragic event. Hope, love and support stands tall in Sitka.  Please continue to keep them in your prayers.

Well, I’ve been long-winded this time.  I came to the local coffee shop at 7:30 this morning and it’s now almost noon.  I’m on my third purchase (one purchase equals 90 minutes of internet time)  so best finish up.  I wish you all the best and great weeks ahead.

Mara on boat cruise
A trip of a lifetime!

My very best to all,

























August begins in Sitka . . .

August in Sitka:

After almost 10 days of rain, July ended with a beautiful sunny day and the first days of August has been sunny and beautiful. Overcast skys returned on Wednesday this week (August 5) and spotty light rain came in on Thursday. Heavier rains are predicted but no real hard rain yet. Here are a few sunny Sitka pictures.

It’s a sunny day in Sitka!


Sunny sitka 2


We had a special dinner last week for the volunteers who are leaving in the next week (Laura, Shelby) and those leaving in just two weeks (Amanda, Kaitlin, Lizzie, Kaity, Bethany). Cappie and I fixed dinner and we all watched “New in Town”. If you haven’t seen this “chick” flight, you should. It is delightfully funny and will definitely leave you with a smile.

SNHP Volunteers 2015
All the volunteers for a going away party at the Pub.
SNHP Party
A little get together at our place.
Sitka SNHP Volunteer dinner
We added James’ parents (Bob & Sarah) to our party for an international flair. They were visiting their son for a couple weeks.
Sitka Party
Here’s Sarah using her selfie stick. I want one!


Goodbye Dinner_Volunteers
Getting ready to watch New in Town movie.


Our “young man from England”,  James, had his 21st birthday party this past Saturday. His parents, Bob and Sarah, were here to celebrate with him.  It was a mad-hatter theme potluck. Of all things I forgot my camera so I did not get lots of pictures but volunteer ranger Kaity sent me a couple for your enjoyment.

James 21st birth_Ranger Kaity
Ranger Kaity with her Xtra Tuffs and fancy dress.
Kaity, Bethany, and Erin. All came dressed for a Mad Hatter Party!



James’ party was not without lasting effects thanks to an attack of the “noseeums”. I woke up Sunday morning with my neck and arms covered in bites. Never saw or heard any mosquitos but the bites look (and itch) like mosquitos. Evidently the warm sun brought out these tiny little mosquito like creatures (who just love a sunny day at dawn) and they can fit through the screens as they are so small you don’t see them . . . which is why they are called “no-see-ums”. Nasty little buggers!  Fortunately a trip to the local pharmacy found a remedy which is made here in the pharmacy. It’s Red Bug with Lidocaine and the best $15 I ever spent.  That was a lasting experience for sure.

Work for me this past week was focused on inventory counts and a few procedures for clearing out inventory items declared obsolete. Amazing how much I have learned about retail selling. It’s really been enjoyable. I love learning new things and finding new ways to make processes easier. In that regard, it’s been a very productive week for me.   Here’s a picture of our visitor center and my little sales area. Thought you might like to see it.

Sitka Gift Center
Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center “gift shop”

As I teased you last week, the salmon have arrived. You have to look closely at the pictures to see them. The black things that look like rocks are actually salmon. Actually a few were here the previous week but I thought they were rocks and kept saying they had not arrived. Then visitors would go to the bridge in the park and come back telling me they were here. I’d go out the next morning and see nothing again. After several days of this I asked Ranger Kaity if she had seen them. “Why yes” she says. “They look like rocks in the bottom of the river as they don’t move too much as they adjust from the salt water and a long swim, but wiggle just a little with the current” she continued. “Are they black?” I asked. “Um, yes” she says looking at me a little oddly. She covers for me at the desk and I go back out and lo and behold, they are here! See if you can see them.

See the salmon Salmon River 2


This past Tuesday I heard there was a bear sighting at dusk the evening before at the Indian River bridge in the park. I walked the park that evening with the church group on our weekly spiritual walk but we ended around 6:30. Dusk here comes around 9ish. Apparently, some folks had seen a rather large older bear in the river for some salmon. He came back the next morning along with a younger friend. I came down to the bridge about 7:30 a.m. that morning to see the salmon and take pictures. About 8:30 security came to say they’d found a large pile of “skat” (bear poop) just off the bridge and it was very fresh. While I haven’t seen a bear yet it sounds like our paths were pretty close. So, yesterday I traveled to the Fortress of the Bear as I thought I should maybe learn just a little bit more about these guys just in case our paths crossed ‘more timely’ in the future.

BearFortress_Bandit 2015
Black bears do not reside here in Sitka. However, 3 baby black bear cubs who were separated from their mom were brought here to be cared for. They love posing for us!
Bear Fortress 4
Here’s another one of them posing again.
Bear Fortress
Brown bears are what we have here in Sitka. These two are adult males who were play fighting in the water. I learned they only make noise when they are serious about fighting. Otherwise they rarely speak. They are definitely big!!


Church news this week included temporary custody of a grand piano. Centennial Hall is closed for renovation now and activities have been moved to new locations. The Russian dancers, which normally perform there, have moved to the Sheldon Jackson campus. However, there was no place for the grand piano. After much searching, and possible some begging, St. Peters agreed to take custody until the new hall is complete (projected sometime in 2018). It’s a wonderful benefit to the parrishoners.  Rev. Julia ends every homily with the lyrics of a song and then plays it on the piano. Those of you who know me know that I love listening to the piano so it’s like a slice of heaven for me every week. Here’s a view of the church pre-arrival. Will get another one for you after the piano is moved in.

St. Peters by the Sea
St. Peters by the Sea. Just beautiful.

Cappie and I rented a car on Thursday so we could investigate the island’s 14 miles of road more comfortably than on a bicycle. We went to the “end of the road” at both ends of the island.

Sitka End of the Road_Halibut Point Rd
The end of the road on Halibut Point Road (near where the Ferry arrives.)
Sitka_Sawmill Creek end of the road
The end of the road on Sawmill Creek Road (near the Bear Fortress.)


We visited the Raptor Center which was just awesome!  The Eagles were absolutely amazing along with a variety of others.  Here are some pictures to drool over.

Sitka Raptor Center Eagle
I sat in the front row and he was awesome!
Aren’t they beautiful!
Raptor Center Horned Owl
A spotted owl
Raptor Center Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle. I’d never seen one before.


And we went to Castle Hill,  now formally known as the Baranof Castle State Historic Site.  This is a National Historic Landmark  which provides a commanding view over the city.  It is the historical site of Tlingit and Russian forts, and the location where Russian Alaska was formally handed over to the United States in 1867. It is also where the 49-star United States flag was first flown after Alaska became a state in 1959.

Castle Hill Flags
Flags on Castle Hill
Castle Hill View 4
Beautiful view from the hill. The clouds are interesting as the mountains peek above them.
Castle Hill View 5
View from Castle Hill.


We enjoyed the island beauty and got some pictures from different viewpoints.

Sitka Whale Park
Whale Park – just a viewing site
Sitka Whale Park View 2
View from Whale Park
Sitka Rocky waterfront
A rocky coast line
Climbing sitka steps
The steps coming up from that rocky coast line!
Sitka Rose
It’s called a Sitka Rose
Thimbleberry tree
I believe these are called Thimbleberry Trees.




Waterfall So Sitka_Sawmill Creek Road
Can you see the waterfall just to the left of center in this picture?


On a more serious note, Cappie decided she needed to go home and left this morning. She’s had a wonderful time I know but it was time for her to focus a bit more on her personal health and get home to do a bit of rest and recouperation. We will all miss her, me especially. However, our friendship will continue and I look forward to a time when our paths will cross again on this volunteer journey.

Also, Melissa’s husband Robert deployed to Afghanistan this past week. As most of you know, he is a colonel in the US Army. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he stands in harms way to protect our country. We look forward to his safe return.

Enough of the serious stuff . . . I’ve also been thinking about what’s next for me. No plans yet but I definitely want to do this type of work again and again. I’ve met new people, experienced new places, learned new things, and my heart has grown. I’m hoping that once this journey ends, I will have left a mark of quality that will be good enough to carry me forward into the next place. For those of you interested in national park volunteering, be sure to go to and check out the many opportunities.

Melissa, Cameron, Tom & Mike are coming on Tuesday. I am so excited! I have a kayak adventure planned as well as a wildlife boat tour. I should have some great pictures next week . . . keep watching.

And finally, to my friends at First Friend K9, take good care of Gus for us. Give him special “hugs” and a little extra Bil-Jac for me. He’ll be with you while the kids are here with me. It’s so nice to have you there to provide such quality care for our 4-legged kids! You are the best!!!

Blessings to all and much love,