Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Settling in to Sitka

We have officially been back in Alaska for over two months now.  Our past year has been such a whirlwind that it sometimes feels like we never left.  When we were leaving Homer, headed for California, it was really difficult to go. But we also thought that maybe we were ready for a break from small-town life, isolation, and high cost of living.  Once the shiny surface wore off life in the Bay Area, one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the country, we realized once and for all that we were not meant to be city people.  We need trees, mountains, open spaces, clean air and water, and neighbors who look out for each other.

Sitka by the Sea

Moving back to Alaska has been like going home.  We may be in a different town, full of friends yet to be made and places yet to be explored, but the Alaska state of mind has become part of us.  As of last week, we have even officially changed our state of residency, after holding onto our Floridian status for so long.  Attaching Alaska license plates on our vehicles was a big cause for celebration.  After waiting at the DMV for about 3 hours to get them, champagne was definitely in order.

After moving so many times (this was number six in the past 10 years), I have learned to jump right in and get involved in things the "locals" do.  For such a small, isolated place, Sitka offers an amazing amount of opportunities.  The kids have more activities to choose from than we can reasonably fit into our schedules.  Ava is taking ballet from the Sitka Studio of Dance.  The studio is very professional, and Ava just loves it.  The instructor was even able to get her up to speed for the spring recital.  Both kids started swim lessons at the Baranof Barracuda Swim Club, and although they had to start from the beginning yet again, I am confident that this is the place they will finally learn to swim independently.  Emerson even put his head underwater for the first time today, excitedly and all on his own.  The Sitka Conservation Society runs a chapter of 4-H called "Alaska Way of Life."  It focuses on just that--living in harmony with the state's resources, and learning to take advantage of them.  We have already learned a great deal by attending their programs, about things like local birds and the herring sac roe fishery.  Ava's new favorite food is herring eggs, and both she and the dogs try to gather them off the seaweed on the beach and eat them on the spot.  Luckily, Ava (mostly) listens when I tell her that they aren't really fresh enough by the time they have washed ashore.  Emerson joined the Sitka Little League, and we will soon be knee-deep in practices and games.  We attended opening ceremonies on Saturday, and we were amazed by how many kids participate.  The high school has a beautiful turf field, with Mt. Edgecumbe as a backdrop.

Settling the adults in usually comes after the kids are situated, but this time around I feel like I have met quite a few friends already.  I signed myself up for a booth at a bazaar last weekend, and my handmde goods were a big hit.  I'm hoping to have a table at the farmers market a couple of times this summer, while the cruise ships are in town, and I'm looking into getting some of my items into a couple of local shops and galleries.  I've been taking classes at a couple of different fitness places (re:fresh and the Hames Center).  I'm volunteering in kindergarten every week, and going on lots of field trips.

Aside from organized activities, we are really just enjoying life.  Our house is in a great spot for walking, running, and biking.  We can walk to the harbor in about 5 minutes, and continue on through downtown.  I love walking the dogs up to the coffee drive-thru window, and strolling back home by the fishing boats and totem poles.  We have a couple of favorite beaches, where we go instead of playgrounds, because the kids would much rather build driftwood bridges and dig sandy trenches than climb on slides.  They always come home with sea glass, favorite sticks, and rocks.  We have even had a dead crab in a jacket pocket, and a fishy-smelling barnacle-covered rock that ended up on someone's dresser.  We have a large, terraced garden that we have been prepping for planting season.  It hasn't been used in a couple of years, so it took some muscle to get it ready to go.  We even uncovered a rhubarb plant under the overgrowth.  Now that the leaves are starting to peek out of the branches surrounding the house, we are realizing that we have quite a few berry bushes as well-salmonberry, huckleberry, blueberry, and maybe even raspberry.

We have also found bear scat a little too close for comfort to the garden.  The bears are out and about, looking for trash to eat until the plants grow and the salmon swim upstream.  One day last week when I picked up Ava from school, the police were patrolling the back of the parking lot that is adjacent to the forest, as a bear had been seen nearby.  We were giggling at the contrast to the last time we had seen police at school, in Alameda, when they were there due to vandalism and parking violations. We'll take bears any day.  But we'll keep our trash can in our garage so we don't see them in our driveway.

In true Coast Guard fashion, we were all together in Sitka for about two weeks, and then it was time for the ship to head to dry dock.  If you're at all familiar with what that means (pulling the ship out of the water for major maintenance and repairs), you probably also know that it's a lengthy process.  At this point, we're just hoping that they get back not too long after school is out for the summer.  We have seen Mike for a total of about 4 weeks so far this year, due to the crazy circumstances of his job change.  He was home on leave last week, which was the first time he saw our new house with our own stuff in it.  It was also his first time in his own bed since January.  The kids have eased right back into having him gone, and it helps that they are busy with school and activities.  At least we have been able to talk on the phone and via FaceTime.  Once the ship gets back home, we should see much more of each other.  As an added bonus, Mike found us a fishing boat down in Seattle.  We can't wait to get it up here and fish for king salmon and halibut, as well as go explore more of the area.  There are quite a few forestry service cabins and even a couple of hot springs that we can reach by boat.

We're already gearing up for a fun summer of long, hopefully sunny days with not enough sleep and plenty of visitors.  In Alaska, you learn that if the sun is shining, you go out and enjoy it.  The sun is still up until around 8:30pm right now, and I already feel the itch to be outside if it's not raining, even if it's just to read the evening paper on the front porch.  I think we will have lots of company while we live in Sitka.  It's hands-down the most beautiful place we have lived, and it has pretty much all of the best parts of Alaska at your fingertips (after paying the $1000/person round trip price it costs to get here, of course).  Hiking, kayaking, fishing, boating, and exploring are all accessible right from the 14 miles of road on the island.  If we run out of room in the house for visitors, we can always pitch a tent in the backyard--just watch out for bears!

Humpback whales viewed right from the beach

Eagle fights during herring spawning season


The muscle needed to prep the garden

Mini muscle, amazingly effective at garden prep as well

We'll just call her the garden manger