Monday, July 22, 2013

Totem Poles and traditional arts

One of Ketchikan's many titles is Totem Pole Capitol of the World.   Saxman Native Village, Totem Bight State Park, the Totem Heritage Center, and totem poles throughout town remind us of the heritage of the original people, the Tlingits, as well as the later arrivals, the Haida and Tsimshians.  

The totem poles of Ketchikan include old poles, some now in controlled climate storage at the Heritage Center, others outside.  It includes poles made and erected recently, often to commemorate an event such as the opening of the Heritage Center, the college, or in front of private homes.

Poles traditionally were made to record events, as memorial poles for someone deceased, mortuary pole with a compartment for the ashes, or as shame poles for someone who had not repaid a debt.  One of the most famous shame pole  depicts Secretary of State William Seward.    His name is often remembered from the phrase, Seward's Folly but his push to purchase Alaska at $.07 an acre turned out to be anything but a folly.   However, a  visit to Alaska did include a diplomatic guffaw which resulted in the shame pole. He was  feted at a potlatch and given many valuable gifts of furs, artwork and other items.   Among the peoples of this region, such gifting requires a reciprocal event.   Seward accepted the gifts and enjoyed the gathering but never reciprocated.   Eventually a pole was erected to ridicule him for his failure.   Story has it that many years later, his descendants wished to rectify his error and get the pole removed.  When the value of the gifts had been tallied at current value,  the amount was so great they had to abandon their plan to reciprocate.  The pole still stands.

Poles also supported the clan houses.   The back wall of the houses, as well as totem poles, faced the waterways so that people traveling past in their canoes by would know which clan occupied the village.  The paintings on the walls are spectacular.

This blog is a photo essay of some of the many totems, three clan houses (although the Tsimshian usually refer to theirs as a long house while the Tlingit and Haida calls theirs clan houses).  Although each nation has a distinct language, have some differing lineage systems and customs, all three share similar art forms with distinctions obvious to those who are well versed in the fine basketry, the regalia, totems and clan house paintings.


Fred Trout is a Tlingit carver who spent part of the summer riding along on our
tours to Misty Fjords.  He worked as we traveled and gave a presentation to the guests on
carving and its traditions.  This photo is by Chris Nelson

This pole  in Metlakatla, honors veterans. 

Metlakatla, on Annette Island, is the only Native American Reserve in Alaska.
It is home to the Tsimshian nation. A group of 823 people plus the Scots missionary who had converted them, Farther Duncan, relocated here from near Ft Rupert, British Columbia in 1887.


Young Tsimshian, in regalia, stands by the long house.

Bent wood box and basketry on display at the Cape Fox Lodge

Vegetation has gained a spot to grow, helped by regular rains, atop an old pole.  

Totem Poles and Clan House at Saxman Village, about 2 miles south of


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Misty Fjords from the air and visits by friends

During Chris's visit we took a float plane trip over Misty Fjords.   One of the benefits for employees is a reciprocal arrangment between the various tour companies to take employees, on standby status, on their tours.  I was able to fly free so we only had one ticket to buy.

Areas of muskeg
Besides being an adventure, Chris loves all kinds of transportation equipment from trains to planes to antique and specialty cars.  He had fun photographing the planes and quizzing the pilot on models, modifications etc.   How he remembers all those details of kinds of equipment is way beyond me. 

It was great for me because I could see for myself the alpine environment and the amount of area covered in muskeg.  Although I had learned about the alpine lakes and the muskeg, reading and hearing about them is not the same as seeing them.  
Granite and snow, high in Misty Fjords National Monument

Inside the float plane
New Edystone Rock, volcanic plug in Behm Canal.   Thru the windows of the plane, on a grey day, its not very sharp and clear.   But the plug is 237 feet high and the rocky beach around it, making a semi-crescent shape varies depending on the tides.  It ranges from a few feet at the base of the spire at a very high tide to a much longer crescent at a minus tide.

Glacial lakes dot the inland areas

Pennock Island from the air

Weather was quite grey that day so photos don't "pop", but here are a few to give you an idea of the planes, the view from them, and some bald eagles we photographed since we had time to kill before hand.  As usual, I hate being late.  We were given a time which I figured was the boarding time and thought we should plan to be there at least a half hour in advance.  Turned out we were given the arrival time.  So, we were about 40 minutes early.   It was a bit of a repeat of my childhood.  I was rushing Chris to get ready just as my dad used to rush my mom....and then we were so early we had to amuse ourselves with another activity.   In our case, that meant walking to a nearby salmon processing plant.   Since the entrails and heads get thrown out into the water, this is a favorite spot for eagles.   I have included a few photos.  All of them are bald eagles; the white heads and tails and gold eyes come with maturity.  The dark, motled birds are immature bald eagles but not this years.  This years are still downy chicks, not yet ready to fly.   The birds do not mature until they are 4-5 years old when they will take on the distinctive white head and tail. 

Bald Eagle coming in for landing


Immature Bald Eagle on tied logs and mature about to land

Bald Eagle sits along the shoreline

Besides the visit from Chris, I have had several other visitors.  One morning as we were loading the smaller boat for the trip up George Inlet to the old, now defunct salmon cannery, who should walk down the dock but Daryce and Kim Walton.   These are old friends from my days working in Antioch.  Lee, Daryce's husband was the City Manager there and hired me.   Lee had skipped the tour but we made arrangments to meet back at the dock when I finished my work day and we enjoyed a beer together.   After leaving Antioch, Lee and Daryce moved to Bainbridge Island in WA and Lin and I visited there a couple of times and I visited on my own later.   It was fun to see them.
Then my cousin Bonnie wrote to say her good friend Kathie and her husband would be coming in by cruise ship.  Although that was a work day for me, I had a late shift.  Kathie and I met for coffee in the early morning.  Although we had met at various functions with Bonnie, we had never had much time to get acquainted.  The idea was to meet and I would give her info on things to see and do in Ketchikan.  We ended up having a couple cups of coffee and lots of conversation.   We plan to get together when I get back to the Bay Area.
That same day Mary and Elaine were due in on their cruise.  They have been to Ketchikan several times and didn't need any local sightseeing info.  I left Kathie to explore on her own and headed to the little bakery\coffee shop where I told Mary and Elaine I would meet them.  These are RV friends who I see at various places around the west and whose wedding I attended in 2008.   We had about an hour and a half to visit, starting with more coffee (I was wired for work that day) and then they walked me to my dock and we took our time and visited along the way and on the deck overlooking the dock. 

Exploring Revillegigedo Island

My first two months in Ketchikan centered on the marine aspects and a bit of local history afforded by trips as far as the bus runs north and south, and by the tours by Allen Marine.  But In July, during Chris's visit, we rented a car and drove the full length of the Tongass Highway. First we went south to where the pavement ends--12 miles), then continued the few miles of dirt road to the locked gate that goes to the George Inlet Cannery.  This is the same cannery that I go to once a week on a tour from the water side. (see previous entry).  The facility is only accessible on guided tours but I hoped to catch the employee, one of my fellow crew members, to allow Chris to take a peak.   He missed out on that tour because he was going as a "comp" and there was no space available.

We missed Kaile, and a chance toget in,  but were rewarded with some berry picking, a great waterfall, and a black bear.  We got photos of the waterfall, the fireweed that is now blooming, but missed the bear as we were in the car as the bear headed across the dirt road.  We did find lots of eagles at Herring Cove and watched some King Salmon begin their migration up-stream. The numbers were small, but are increasing rapidly now that there has been some rain and the season is well underway. We had hoped for black bears fishiing for the salmon but were not that fortunate. I hope to get back out there before long and try again.


Chris getting close to the waterfall
Then we drove to the turnaround that ends of Tongass Highway about 20 miles north of downtown.  A co-worker\resident in my same building told me about a great waterfall there.  We spent a couple of hours walking through the lush rainforest, viewing and photographing the waterfall, and going down to the beach.  My knees were screaming by the time we finished.  Steep downhill trails and steps are hard.   But we had a great time.



The lush rainforest is similar to the Redwoods in Humboldt County on the northcoast of California where I used to live.  But here it is even more damp

My knees, particularly after a good bit of downhill walking
were ready to relax in the car as we drove inland.

Lunch Creek Falls

Beach below Lunch Creek Falls

Then we headed to Ward Cove and took the only inland road for a look at the higher country and a bit of Revilligigedo Island's interior.  We went to Ward, Connell and Talbot Lakes and then took the road to Brown Mountain, an old logging road.  It deadends with some beautiful vistas.  By then it was getting well after dinner time and we passed on hiking along the trail.  

The muskeg is filled with its own unique niche of plants

View from Brown Mountain.  Old logging roads carried us inland and upwards.