We’ve always adored Alaska, but when our nephew visited from Florida for a change of pace, we were reminded of just how fortunate we are to call “The Land of the Midnight Sun” home.
It’s easy to take a home for granted. Somehow, after living in a place for so many years, its details simply become a backdrop. We don’t get many visitors up here, so we were delighted when our nephew Jason, a born-and-bred Floridian, decided to forgo the beach blanket bingo of his typical summer for some northern exposure with us in Ketchikan. By the time fall came, it was more than just Jason whose eyes had been opened to the incomparable beauty of the “last frontier.”
When Jason arrived in late May, we took him first to the Totem Heritage Center, where a collection of salvaged 19th century totem poles are on display. “It’s like their version of a history book,” Jason marveled. Staring at the totems for the umpteenth time, I realized I had never thought of them in this light before; as not just works of art, but hallmarks of living, breathing people passing down their story to me and countless others. This was the greatest part of Jason’s stay with us: his unique way of linking our town’s past to its present.
Creek Street is a wooden boardwalk lined with galleries along the banks of Ketchikan Creek, but years ago, Creek Street was lined with brothels and saloons. Our town has a museum devoted to this illustrious past, Dolly’s House, named for old-time Ketchikan’s most popular prostitute.
Another highlight of our unique main drag is Ray Troll’s gallery, SOHO COHO. Troll, a local painter, melds humor with his love of the outdoors into quirky works of art. Jason had to laugh at the irony of well-heeled art shoppers wandering in and out of galleries that, a century ago, housed the brothels between which carousers stumbled.
Nothing was quite as impressive to Jason as the Misty Fjords National Monument, a nearby nature preserve. Misty Fjords is acre after acre of sheer cliffs covered in petroglyphs; glaciers carving through canyons; and eagles, whales, sea lions and countless other species. Each hiking trail leads to some secret revelation in the form of a placid lake or panoramic vista. Jason simply gaped, unable to comprehend the austere and untouched beauty.
No visit to Ketchikan is complete without a dinner at Diaz Café, a much-beloved Filipino restaurant that has been run by the same family for over fifty years. “Who knew?” said Jason, as he finished eating the delicious chicken adobo, the café’s specialty. He was suprised to find an Asian restaurant in a far-flung Alaskan town.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, for, as Jason reminded me, our town truly is a place of continuous surprise. A town of bordellos turned art galleries, clapboard buildings and sheer rock cliffs, contemporary community and centuries-old history. Through Jason’s eyes, Ketchikan has sprung to new life, a vibrant collage of new and old, man and nature. My gratitude for the unique and overwhelming beauty of the town I call home has been rekindled, and this time, I won’t take it for granted.