Days Like This

IMG_4331How did it happen? The month has disappeared! Someone stole a week out of it somewhere. I have but two days left and many more things I’d like to do. Carol, who flies out a day later than me, is combing Sitka for a husband of convenience, and failing that, planning to go AWOL come Thursday. She has discovered her inner Alaskan and will never be the same.

Spring seems to be well and truly arriving in Sitka. Bushes IMG2_4609are budding, chickadees are chirping and yes, the bears are awake. We heard FIRST HAND from someone who saw a bear at the beach we visited by boat the other week. Yesterday our new best friend Blossom took us for a hike in the rain up to Heart Lake. Once we arrived at the lake she picked up a branch and started pulling the twigs off it. Yes, it was a bear weapon, she explained. You can wave it in the air to make yourself look bigger, or poke a charging bear in the eye with it when it gets close enough. Bears stink, she elaborated, and both she and Carol had noticed a strong smell at one point on the trail. We sang everything we could remember from The Sound of Music on the way IMG_4607back down, while I tried to get into the right frame of mind for poking a stick into the eye of a charging bear once it got close enough.

We’ve packed plenty of adventures into our final week (and a bit of writing too). At short notice we had the chance to go out on a marine debris clean up boat trip with Sitka Sound Science Centre. After a pretty hilarious time navigating the long, steep, IMG_4364frosty gangway to the dock (I went down by sitting on my arse and sliding and still could have ended up in the water), we motored out into glassy reflective seas and watched the volcano slowly turn pink as the sun rose. Cue the sea otters, sea lions, and humpback whales. We spent the day in a little cluster of wild islands dropping onto small beaches and blitzing them for litter.

IMG_4366It was beautiful and tragic at the same time. Snaring big pieces of debris is great, but many plastics in the ocean just break down and down until they turn into a soup of tiny tiny pieces. So when we started on those beaches, scrambling around the rocks and sea logs, we were confronted with ever smaller scraps of plastic and Styrofoam. You have to decide how small you want to go – you can’t get it all. I thought I was IMG_4368reasonably aware about not using too much plastic, but I realised there is so much more I can do – and having scraped up all those plastic fragments off the stunning wild beaches of Sitka Sound, I’m pretty damned inspired to try harder. Andi, I’ll never complain about you washing and reusing plastic bags ever again.

I tell you though, it felt great to clean up those beaches. Five of us managed to do about eight or IMG_4569nine beaches during the day, interspersed with laughter, great conversation, food and moments of utter awe of the landscape around us. In winter the water is so clear you can look down and see clams and kelp forests below the boat. It was sunny, and warm. When we finally headed for home in the afternoon, the boat stuffed with collection bags and bits of debris too big to bag (an inflatable boat, remnants of buoys and fishing nets, pipes, the base of a shower), Davey the skipper put on Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” and it truly was a day like this.

IMG_2441What else? Another visit to the kids of Sitka Tribes culture classes – they made us thank you cards and wrote stories about Stay, Dexter and Paruku – once I was able to explain that Stay was a fibreglass seeing eye collection dog who lived in Antarctica. A visit to the Science Centre to learn about marine debris and check out the ‘touch tanks’ where you can (gently) poke and prod local sea life – the robust ones that live in the intertidal zone and used to being tossed around. Improvised folk music at the Larkspur Café. Giggling in the back row of “50 Shades of Grey”. Throwing a dinner party with an Aussie roast (a few bad IMG_2467moments when the chook turned out to still be frozen just before it went into the oven). A night at Mount Edgecumbe High School watching the kids from different tribes perform their traditional dances on the basketball court. Last catchups with old friends and new.

Tonight we’re giving a reading – but we plan to make it more than that. With words and
images, it will be a reflection on our time here and what it’s been about for each of us. What we’ll take away and how it will touch our lives. I hope we can do it justice.

We’re planning to come back. It may even become an annual pilgrimage.

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About Jesse Blackadder

Living at the easternmost tip of Australia on the caldera of an extinct volcano, Jesse Blackadder is a novelist, freelance writer and Doctor of Creative Arts. She is fascinated by landscapes, adventurous women and very cold places and has published three adult novels and three novels for children.
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