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,