Ketchikan: A Leap of Faith

Prompt Word: Zing

1280px-Cartel_de_bienvenida,_Ketchikan,_Alaska,_Estados_Unidos,_2017-08-16,_DD_55
photographer: Diego Delso

It is that blueberry time of year.  Blueberry picking, blueberry baking and blueberry festivaling.  The festival, held the first weekend in August holds a special place in the hearts of our family.  It was on a Blueberry Weekend twenty-five years ago that we flew into Southeast Alaska for the first time, flying over miles of coastline, over a vast ocean dotted with hundreds of small islands and over the tallest, lushest, greenest trees we had ever seen.

We were on our way to a job interview there. Scott had made the “short list” for the Borough Attorney position. Gracie was with us, 6 weeks old, I had a pretty fresh teaching certificate in hand and Scott looked about as baby-faced as possible.  I wasn’t entirely sure he would be taken seriously, but he didn’t worry, he can talk the talk and he knows his shit.

It was a glorious sunny day, we checked into a mediocre hotel and soon the three of us were on a shuttle headed downtown, on our way to a reception held for the three candidates. The bus rumbled past some questionable and downright sketchy looking buildings, canneries with workers in rubber boots and overalls standing in clusters cigarettes in hand, past storehouses long ago abandoned, listing, mossy and slightly scary.  The buildings started to improve a bit, we rounded a corner and *boom* there we were!  Downtown Ketchikan.

800px-Ketchikan,_Alaska_-_panoramio_(28)
Photographer: MARELBU

The very first thing that caught my eye was the eagle.  We stood on the opposite sidewalk and looked at it.  Huge, carved and formidable, perched on a bit of grass with benches and the ocean behind it.  There was the tunnel, the quaint old houses, historic looking storefronts.  Downtown was charming.

We entered the reception, held at Annabelles, a restaurant thick with history, atmosphere and people.  The crowd was milling in the back and sort of semi circled around us as we walked in.  Scott stood talking easily, answering questions, introducing me.  I smiled and nodded, but found the whole thing slightly uncomfortable.  Gracie and I melted to the back of the crowd and I nested her on a bench where she slept easily.  Sitting there, a couple people came up and talked to me.   Both of them would later become friends and teaching colleagues.  We talked about school.  We talked about educational philosophy.  We talked about raising kids here.  We talked.  Heart to heart.

And when the reception was over and the last of the crowd moved out into the twilight, that pale pink sun reflecting on the ocean and silhouetting the islands beyond, I turned to Scott and said, “We will be lucky if you get a job here.”  You see, we had just sort of been following up on a whim.  In that minute though, we fell in love and made up our minds.

The next day was a rigorous process for Scott.  The shuttle once again dropped us off downtown and Scott headed left for the interviews and I headed up the hill to the Blueberry festival.  As I wound my way through booth after booth I was impressed with the content of the fair and sense of community I found.  People chatted easily, everyone seemed to know everyone.

I made my way to the top and that was where the fun stuff was happening.  Bands, more booths, food vendors and the world famous Slug Race.  I am not sure how Scott and I connected up in those days before cell phones, but that is where he found me, watching the race with fascination.  Scott had to go back to the assembly chambers later that day, but we had a couple hours and we spent them looking at booths, buying things for the girls back home.  My favorite purchase though was what we called the “Eggplant hat.” A little knit hat that looked like the top of an eggplant for tiny little Gracie.  We still have that hat in her baby box and when I see it, I am transported right back to that day.

That afternoon, after eating a Fireman’s lunch of steak and chicken kebab we headed back to the hotel.  Gracie napped and Scott returned to the Assembly Chambers where he was offered the job.

Sunday morning we woke up to pouring rain.  We sat in that cafe booth eating our breakfast and chatting with the waitress about the rain.  Yes, it was normally like this, yes, the past few sunny days were unusual, yes, Ketchikan was a great place to raise your kids. No, she wouldn’t live anywhere else.

 

Before we left, one final fortuitous thing happened. As active members of an Episcopal Church in Anchorage we decided to attend the Episcopal Church in Ketchikan that morning.  We walked into that beautiful historic building which would later become our church home.  Over a hundred year the walls had warmed to the richest red, they smelled of cedar and incense. Stunning stained glass was in every window, casting  jeweled light across the floor. It was elegant and simple at the same time.

A very familiar and comforting church service took place, and when Father Gary began his sermon, it was like he was talking right to us.  The theme, or message of his sermon was to “Take the Leap of Faith.”  When it was time to welcome visitors, we stood and said confidently that we (had indeed taken the leap of faith) would be moving to Ketchikan next month and we couldn’t wait.

1024px-Calle_histórica_Creek,_Ketchikan,_Alaska,_Estados_Unidos,_2017-08-16,_DD_52
Photographer: Diego Delso

This is a photo of “Creek Street,” another historical stop on our initial tour of Ketchikan.  Later, when the salmon have come and spawned, the scent of dead and dying salmon fills the air with a certain zing.

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