Written by Bryna R. Campbell
Hello June! And hello summer, the growing season, the time of sunshine and heat….and the time for excursions and adventures for my household. Tomorrow I leave with my family for Juneau, Alaska (by plane, not cruise ship…) where I’ll be spending time relaxing, sightseeing, and attending part of Celebration, a biennial festival for Southeast Alaska Native peoples organized by Sealaska Heritage. This trip marks my first excursion to this part of the world and one that I look forward to writing about more later this month on Un/Settled.
Here’s a sample of what’s I looking forward to exploring and thinking about while in Juneau:
- First and foremost, I’m excited to experience the Southeast Alaska Native peoples Celebration with my husband, who had the opportunity to attend the festival 2 years earlier, and our six-year old son. The event, which celebrates Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures, is among the largest gatherings of Alaska native peoples in the state, drawing about 5,000 people. I’m looking forward to visiting with my son, especially, for whom art, music, and especially story-telling tend to stir the imagination in ways that almost always surprise me (in a good way).
- I am looking forward to seeing what I suspect photographs have trouble capturing: the incredible scenery of the wilderness of the Inner Passage. I am hopeful that the weather cooperates enough to allow us views of the mountains, but I also know from my own experiences in the Pacific Northwest that rainy days offer their own distinct beauty.
- We have rented a car but won’t be driving very far because all of the roads from Juneau dead-end within 30 miles from town. As someone who grew up “landlocked” I’m fascinated by places that depend on other means of travel. Along these lines, I’m also looking forward to spending time in a place with greater extremes in nature than in Oregon.
In addition, I’ll also be thinking about my grandpa, John L., whose life I’ve been researching for a writing project. In 1942, John boarded a ship in San Francisco that would take him to the Aleutian Islands, where he would serve in an anti-aircraft unit for the U.S. military for more than two years. John experienced no combat action during this part of his time in the war (that would come later when he would lose his eye during a skirmish in Germany). But nonetheless, his time in Alaska left a lasting impression on him. In a set of cassette tapes he recorded about his life, he speaks of this region as though it was at the far ends of the earth.
Part of John’s time in the Aleutian Islands was spent at Cold Bay, a place he remembers encountering for the first time through an ominous shroud of fog that made him feel especially vulnerable to the specter of attack. After spending about eight months there, his unit was relocated to the remote Amchitka Island. His discussions of these places shift between wonderment and a unnerving sense of isolation. He talks about geysers, seeing bears and caribou, and salmon so plentiful that he could catch them with his bare hands. He talks of a cold, dark, and wet climate where at their most desperate, men committed suicide out of sense of complete despair.
I know that the Inside Passage is not the Aleutian Islands. Not even close. Still, this trip brings me closer to that climate and landscape than I’ve been before. Thus, in a small way, I also see this trip as a journey of connection with someone from my past.
Feature Photo Credit: Andrei from New York City/Juneau, U.S.A., “Cruise ship: Grand Princess at Juneau, Alaska”