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Monday, October 3, 2011


When I first saw the treeless island mountains of Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, all I could think of was the "terrible beauty" of Ireland. Unalaska is a magical place. Volcanic and covered in grasses and wildflowers, the islands rise straight up out of the Bering Sea. I caught my first sight of them at the end of the three hour flight from Anchorage. We came in with Pen Air, on a 30 passenger SAAB 340 twin engine where my head almost brushed the ceiling. When the plane started bucking on our approach, the only thing that kept me from yelling was not wanting to scare the little girl in the seat near me. (And keep in mind that Juneauites are used to "bumpy" approaches.)

I confess to ignorance about Unalaska. I hadn't known that Dutch Harbor is its international port. (And I don't understand why the airline destination is DUT for Dutch Harbor rather than an acronym for Unalaska.) As the sign below attests, Dutch Harbor is the #1 fishing port in the nation. Enormous amounts of fish are caught in the Bering Sea, processed in different ways and shipped out. Ever eat "krab?" Imitation crab is a form of surimi, a seafood product made in Dutch Harbor by workers from all over the world. While waiting for my return flight, I heard four other languages spoken besides English.

But Unalaska!  The hiking, fishing and birding opportunities there are world class. The community is lively, welcoming and engaging. I counted five beautifully equipped playgrounds for children - this for a population of 4,000. The Unalaska Junior/Senior High School just won the Blue Ribbon, a national achievement award! The hiking, fishing and birding opportunities are world class. Unalaska also has a rich and ancient history, as the Unangan (Aleut) people have lived there for at least 9,000 years. During World War II, during the Aleutian Islands Campaign, the battles with the Japanese over the Aleutian Islands, the US military evacuated the Unangan citizens to substandard camps, where many met with illness and for the most vulnerable, death.  Both the Museum of the Aleutians and the Aleutian World War II National Historic Site in Unalaska document this important history.

I love the way the houses nestle on the treeless hills.

I didn't take this photo, but this is what MY fox looked like!
The natural world is extraordinary. I was thrilled when I spotted a red fox one morning while it was still dark. When it ran in front of my car, I could see its plume of a tail so clearly. I had never seen one so close. When I told people about it in Unalaska, they were sanguine since it is a common sight there - and as winter approaches, the foxes start looking for garbage, like our black bears in Juneau. To me, seeing that fox was part of the magic of Unalaska - I felt so fortunate to have visited this remote part of Alaska.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Chilkoot River Brown Bears

Our family has been going to Haines for close to forty years to spend time in the summer near the Chilkoot River, about ten miles north of town. The lower corridor of the Chilkoot River was the site of the L'Koot (Tlingit) Village and is becoming an extremely popular bear watching area as it is on the road system. When I took my mother there, several weeks ago, we happened to arrive in the evening and within 20 minutes of driving off the ferry had seen nine bears. We saw a mother with three cubs, another mother with two cubs, and two other bears crossing at separate times in front of the car. As we drove along the road, we saw people strolling next to the river where the bears were catching fish twenty feet away from them, as if in a zoo with a plate glass window between them and the mother bears and their cubs. Unbelievable.

Look at the length of her claws! Photo taken by Amy Vlastelica
The next morning we saw even more bears - and many more people. I counted more than two hundred people who had arrived in large buses, in vans, on bicycles, in campers - all of them standing on the road along the river, holding cameras and grinning. You can't help grinning when brown bears are that close. It's a natural high. The viewers did maintain their distance, however, herded by the tour guides who cautioned them to avoid stressing the bears by getting too close.

How do the mother bears do it? For two to four years, they have to protect their cubs from the male bears who will kill and eat the cubs (somebody has to explain to me how that could possibly be a species survival strategy), feed them, teach them to fish and forage and survive. And keep them from drowning, falling off a cliff, starving, or getting shot - just plain keep them alive. 

Bear cubs like to play as much as any young creature. We watched as one of the the mothers fished in the swiftly flowing river, while her cubs played by the shore, tussling with each other, until they would get caught up in the current and float by us, their little bear heads held up high. It made me laugh. Apparently, it happened often enough that it was no cause for alarm to the mother, who didn't even look up.

Despite the crowds watching and the number of bears who show up every summer, there have been no incidents of injury to people. Although the bears seem oblivious, they also react by moving quickly when people get too close, a reminder that they can run up to 35 miles per hour. Their strength and speed and aggressiveness make them formidable inhabitants of the world we all share.

Note the collar used for tracking her. Photo taken by Amy Vlastelica

A group in Haines has established an organization, The Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation, in reponse to the growing numbers of visitors to the bear viewing grounds. Check it out.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Wedding Reading for My Daughter

Wedding cake toppers used in our family for three generations.

Several people asked for a copy of what I had written for my daughter and son-in-law's wedding ceremony recently in Juneau. So I've posted it here on my blog.

Not much can make a parent happier than being asked to participate in a daughter’s wedding ceremony. Sarah and Mitch asked me to say a few words about marriage and I feel honored that they have widened their circle to allow us to be a part of this sacred ceremony. Because sacred it is. Marriage is a step that people take that declares their intention to create and enter into a safe harbor - one that allows them to continue to grow as human beings.   

A wise person once said that marriage is:
“A lifetime commitment to constantly provide emotional intimacy to your spouse, thereby uncovering your true self and, ultimately, your unique purpose for being created.”

I have learned many things in 36 years of marriage and I know (at least I hope) that I have much more learning ahead of me.  We’ve all seen or perhaps experienced some of the worst and the best of what marriage can offer.

At its best, it can be a place where we can be our most vulnerable and can learn to be our strongest, where we can be our most authentic self, where we can be most at home and where ultimately, within that sacred space, we can the manifest the purpose that we were born with.
I believe that Sarah and Mitch each have their own purposes.  When I see them together, taking their union seriously, I know that they each have the other’s best interests at heart, and that they will nurture and challenge, support and steady each other, helping to manifest what each of them was born to do here.

As parents, we not only want our children to be happy, we want them to take their place on the stage of life and share their unique gifts with the world. A good marriage, the kind of marriage I believe they will share, will facilitate this, to their benefit and to the delight and benefit of us all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Making a Movie about a Psychopath in Alaska

More than a year ago, I created this blog to reflect on the state where I live and what happens here. Most of what I write about is triggered by delight or curiosity or a sense of wonder. But what I'm writing about today was triggered by a rush of negative feelings a few days ago when I read in the Anchorage Daily News that there are plans to film a movie in Alaska about the Anchorage serial killer, Robert Christian Hansen, a baker who preyed on women as if they were game. Worse than game. You don't rape and torture game before killing it. He flew his victims in a small plane into the wilderness and then hunted them down. I was here when the Butcher Baker was active in the 70s and 80s and may even have crossed his path unknowingly. Alaska is a small state. And there are many people still here who bought doughnuts from him, and others who discovered that they knew his victims - he confessed to 17 murders. Some people think there were more. He was tried and convicted in 1984 and he may have been abducting, torturing, raping and killing women for 10 years by then.

OK, so back to those feelings about a movie being made: disgust, anger, and yes, fear. How can making a movie about a psychopathic killer who took pleasure in killing women improve the human condition at all? Would it be a cautionary tale? Don't trust anyone, especially someone with a plane who wants to fly you into a remote place? Don't become a prostitute or a stripper because that makes you a target? Sadly, as women, we already know that we are targets from the time we are very young.

And yet, I used to write murder mysteries myself and still enjoy occasionally reading one. So am I a hypocrite? I also believe in artistic freedom and abhor censorship. I am caught wondering what is the function of art anyway?

So could this film about a serial killer who killed with such an absence of humanity make a positive difference in the world? By reassuring us that killers are always caught? That good triumphs over evil? That some men protect women from other men who like to kill women? Or might we learn that men who are bullied by their fathers as Hansen was turn out badly? I could see that boys watching this film might identify with the Trooper. Boys do have wonderfully protective hearts that can be encouraged by good role modeling. But who could the girls identify with? The murder victims who were terrorized before they died? I don't even like to think about that.

The idea of this movie is troubling, not least because it sullies for me in such a vile way the beautiful wilderness of Alaska and the unique ways we get around it in small planes. I want to say that this is NOT who we are, this is not us.

This is who we are:

Like I said, a rush of feelings.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Googling in Juneau

OK, so who wouldn't be thrilled to see the Google Car driving toward you on your street with its space age camera?

The delivery guy and I were jockeying for position to take pictures of it. When we talked to the driver who was clearly used to the attention, he only asked that we not take pictures of him. He said he had been on too many Facebook pages. No problem, I said. I wasn't thinking of Facebook anyway. This is blog material!

So, this is not the first time that the Google car has been to Juneau because I remember seeing our house on Google Maps Street View back before almost any other place in Alaska had been mapped. It was a strange phenomenon then. And now? We almost expect it. We would feel affronted if all of our streets were not mapped. Yet, do you remember the privacy concerns then? I don't hear those anymore. But some people still find it an invasion of privacy and sort of creepy. For many of us, it has become just another tool. And we now expect more. They even mapped the tiniest roads in Haines, population 1,811 people. I suspect they haven't made it to the villages yet - prohibitive in terms of getting a car to a roadless place - but that is probably not far off. We live in a time of wonders that soon become commonplace.

Look at that camera. I can't even begin to imagine how it works to take photos up and down and all round to form a whole. And yet, it does. (And why couldn't someone just carry that on a small plane into a village? And attach it to a four wheeler and drive around. Just wondering.)

You get a better look at the amazing camera this way. And I only took a picture of the driver's arm, not his face. See, I kept my promise to him. And anyway, when you take a job like this one, you have to realize that you are a kind of rock star to the nerdiest among us and you have to accept that if you take pictures of us, we get to take pictures of you. Fair is fair.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stairway to Heaven?

One day recently I watched as two women with a clipboard examined the staircase across from our house. Being naturally curious (nosy), I wandered over and asked them what they were doing. Counting stairs, they said. What a great idea, I thought. We have so many stairs in Juneau. Why shouldn't someone count them?

Do you work for the city, I asked. No, they shook their heads. That silenced me. They didn't offer an explanation right then. Very friendly, they were. Well, I thought I should help them so pointed out stairs they might have missed. The one near the Youth Hostel that brings you up to another street right next to an astonishing rock garden? Yes, they found that one. The one at the top of Starr Hill that leads even FURTHER up the mountain? Yes, they got that one. After all, they had canvassed downtown three times now in their efforts to count them all. Three times??? What about the ones on South Franklin that the bears used to startle tourists? (Perhaps not on purpose.) Oh yes, they had found all of those. In fact, they said, now that they had counted all of the stairs, they had decided to start counting steps between stairs.

Wow, I love this kind of research. You get to be outside, explore, notice everything, and best of all, you can carry a clipboard! They were doing it for fun. FUN. So often we think about an extrinsic reward as a motivation. We work to get paid. We fix up a house to sell it. We make a speech so that people will praise us. The truth is that there is no motivation stronger than what is inside of us. Check out for what Daniel Pink has to say about what really motivates us. It isn't what we think.

Back to my counting friends. They looked so happy, having counted all of the stairs. It was obvious that their project had given them a great deal of pleasure and having completed that, were on to counting the steps between the stairs. Oh, and before I forget - they counted over 1,200 stairs on staircases in downtown Juneau.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We Have to Choose to be Kind

On Thursday morning this week, we left on the 6am Alaska Airlines Flight 62 from Fairbanks to Juneau, and we stopped in Anchorage. Normally, the same plane continues on to Juneau, but this time we needed to get on another plane with the same crew. We disembarked and then boarded the second plane and I reached into my backpack to discover that I had left my Bose earphones on the first plane in the seat pocket. Those earphones keep the noise of the engines at bay and I never travel without them. I panicked. They're expensive, but more than that, they make my frequent air travel more comfortable. 

People were still walking down the aisle, finding their seats and getting settled. I managed to work my way down the crowded aisle to a flight attendant and told her my story. She immediately started problem solving and said she would do what she could to get them for me. She called the attendant at the door of the plane to let her know about my problem. I sat in my seat, doing the "it could be worse" routine in my head. Five minutes later, she walked toward me, holding the earphones. She said the captain had run from our plane to the first plane, found my earphones and sprinted back in time to leave on schedule. 

Captain Marty didn't have to retrieve my earphones. I figure he had enough on his hands flying our jet. It wasn't his problem. If he had done nothing, I wouldn't have blamed him. He made a choice to be kind. So did both flight attendants.

And that is the crux of kindness, I think. We have to make a choice: to allow someone into our lane while driving, to say "thank you" with genuine feeling, to give up our seat on a crowded bus, to talk to a shy person at a party, to actually go out of our way, get out of our heads and away from the self-interest that can often drive our behavior. 

Thank you, Captain Marty! And I am saying that with genuine feeling.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Do You Honk Your Horn?

About once or twice a year or so, in Juneau, someone honks at me. It's a good thing that it happens so infrequently because I have a violent reaction to it. When a horn honks, it startles me (which is a form of fear) and then I get angry. I have fantasies of stopping my car in traffic and getting out and confronting the driver behind me. I know it would be stupid, but that's what I want to do. Horns are supposed to be used for emergencies only, not when someone behind you is impatient because you are letting pedestrians cross the street rather than run them over. Like the last time someone honked at me.  It was a "get moving" honk because I had stopped to let someone use the crosswalk...

I have heard that accidents occur more frequently in places where people honk more. Is it because it's terrible drivers who frequently resort to the horn or does the honking itself create an atmosphere that leads to accidents?

You may wonder why honking happens so rarely in Juneau. Are we better drivers? Are we more patient drivers? Do we prefer to live at a slower pace?

I don't think it's any of those; perhaps it's the absence of anonymity. With 32,000 people and no roads in or out, it's not easy to be anonymous. You could find yourself honking at your child's teacher, your minister, your client, your neighbor. Now that could be embarrassing. Are we more likely to be well-mannered in the presence of people we know?

But here is something interesting: During a recent trip, my husband and I drove in Washington DC and in Montreal where, in both, anonymity is the norm. Yet in DC, drivers honked continually, but we heard hardly any at all in Montreal, another large city. That was surprising.

What I have noticed is that honking is a form of judgment. It is used for scolding, not for emergencies. There is no compassion in it. And I sure don't have compassionate thoughts when I am being honked at. I don't have compassionate thoughts when someone else is being honked at either. I immediately sink to a lower spiritual level. Loud noises destroy public peace - and my peace. I would vote for it to be outlawed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Important Story of Vitamin D and Alaskans

Vitamin D. Most of us who live in Alaska don't get enough of it - unless we take adequate supplements and/or get near the equator in the winter. But I am getting ahead of myself. I had the good fortune to meet state legislator Rep. Paul Seaton from Homer recently. His awareness resolution about Vitamin D was passed during this session by the Alaska State Legislature. Seaton wants everyone in Alaska to have adequate levels of Vitamin D as a prevention measure leading to a lower incidence of disease which would then equal better health for all of us. Here is the link to read all about it:

We make Vitamin D in our bodies when we expose our skin to the sun as you can see from the graphic below. The sun needs to be at the proper angle, unfettered by clouds. Folks, not only is this one chariot we can't harness, we also can't change our position on the planet.

This simple fact - the necessity for sun exposure - poses a huge problem for us. For most of the year, because of our northern latitude, the sun's rays fall on us at an angle that is far too low to provide adequate ultraviolet B exposure. The angle is wrong for SEVEN months. As a matter of fact, everyone who lives above the 37th parallel is at risk during the winter months. And we are way north of the 37th parallel. In Juneau, we are at the 58th parallel which is not even on this map below; not only that, the rest of Alaska is way north of the 58th parallel. Take a look at the map below to see which parts of the US have adequate sun during the whole year.

Can you see the scope of our problem? And here is another problem that can't be solved. Even though Juneau is in the southern part of Alaska, it is one of the cloudiest places in the entire country - #6, in fact. So even when the angle of the sun is high enough to allow proper exposure, cloud cover often prevents it for those of us who live in the rain forest. (According to weather research, Juneau is cloudy 88% of the year.)

It was disheartening to discover that Vitamin D deficiency is related to all kinds of diseases: cancers of the breast, colon and prostate; rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, periodontal disease, SAD, and more. The long list takes my breath away. Just by living year round in Alaska, we are at risk. Wow. How can this incredible environment not support human health? A traditional diet did, but few eat that way anymore. 

It is a wonder that we are all not falling down, one after the other, from lack of Vitamin D. But I think it happens without our being really aware of it. It happens every time someone is diagnosed with cancer, with MS, with arthritis...  According to Seaton's resolution, our state has "a high incidence of preventable diseases that numerous studies indicate may be correlated with insufficient blood serum levels of Vitamin D."

I tell myself I would be bored silly living in a tropical paradise, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about Vitamin D. Until I find myself lolling about on a beach, I need to remember to take my supplements every day!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dillingham in Western Alaska

I was in Dillingham in Western Alaska recently for a conference. Like most places in the state, Dillingham can only be reached by air or water. Pen Air flies a SAAB 340 there from Anchorage. The flight attendant hands passengers a package of ear plugs upon boarding. They are called "Softies." I think it's a nice gesture.

The plane carries 30 people and on this flight, every seat was full. I think most of the people were attending the same conference I was attending. It was a little tight, especially for tall people, but the flight isn't even an hour long. It's just loud.

Dillingham is tucked up into the confluence of two rivers, the Nushagak and the Wood, that run out to Bristol Bay. And Bristol Bay is where the largest wild salmon fishery in the world is. When I arrived there over a week ago, people told me about the first king salmon being caught on the beach in a net. They were smacking their lips.

Salmon are the lifeblood of this region. These boats will be going out soon. The value of the wild salmon commercial fishing industry totals about $100 million a year here and anything that threatens it, like the Pebble Mine proposal, has strong opposition. 

I was struck by the contrasts in Dillingham. Right across the dirt street from these containers is an old graveyard.

A sense of eternity does pervade Dillingham, indeed most of Alaska. People have lived here for 10,000 years. And they are still here. That's something. 

The Rural Providers Conference (sponsored by RuralCAP and the Bristol Bay Native Association) brings all ages together from all over Alaska. During the evenings, we had a Talent Share, a Traditional Foods Potluck, an All Ages Dance. I took the photos below of the Kuspuk Contest during the dance. Although kuspuks are similar, different regions of Alaska may have different pockets or skirts (or no skirts) or trim. Men wear them too but theirs are solid instead of flowered fabric, and have a different name. That night, they gave prizes for most traditional, for most colorful, for family groups. We all clapped loudly for everyone who paraded around the elementary school gym. It made me wish that I had brought my kuspuk. At the hospital in Dillingham, every Friday is Kuspuk Day. 

Before and during every event I attended during this conference, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY received a ticket for the chance to win a door prize. In fact, women with huge rolls of tickets walked through the groups, making sure that everyone had a ticket, even those who walked in late. The emphasis on inclusivity was so appealing. No one was left out. No one. We all were handed an equal chance to win the door prizes: some small, some big, all unexpected. We all waited breathlessly as they picked the tickets out of the bucket. And then we clapped for the person who won. 

You walk in the door, you get a ticket. Wouldn't it be something if life were like that?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Avalanche Watching on a Sunday Afternoon

How many people can sit on their front deck and watch avalanches come down a chute? My neighbor and I did just that on Sunday afternoon. It has been a warm day with lots of sun - which is when the avalanches let loose every spring. When I went outside, my neighbor said she had been hearing them as she worked in her garden. So as we sat on the deck, watching the world go by, we heard one. The sound is like the surf crashing on the Oregon beach. We looked up at Mount Juneau, and sure enough, one was coming down. It looked tiny from where we sat and we figured that it was at least a mile away. I looked it up and Mount Juneau is 3576 feet high. It is the dramatic backdrop for our town as you can see in the photo above. Right now, the top is snow-covered with tracks where the snow has rolled down toward the chute. The mountain has folds and in the inner folds are the chutes.

After we had been watching for awhile and talking about how nice it would be to have binoculars, I realized I had a very good pair in the entry way a few feet from us. We started using them and could really see how the snow gave way to a combination of snow and rocks and then eventually water. The pattern seemed the same for each one. Every few minutes, another one would start in the snow field at the top and then tumble down the steep mountain.

So, as you can see from the photo above, we could watch them go halfway down the mountain, and although we could still hear them roaring, we couldn't see them get to the base of the Mount Juneau. 

The best part of watching avalanches from a deck is that they are far enough away. The excitement of watching an avalanche turns into a very different feeling indeed the closer you come to it. Sometime, when we walk on Basin Road in the spring and hear a roar, we go on hyper alert. But when you can sip Good Earth tea with your neighbor and take turns using the binoculars on a sunny Sunday, it is a very happy feeling.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Continental or Contiguous?

Quick! Is Alaska part of the North American Continent and thus the continental United States?

Yes, it is! If you look at the map of the North American Continent above, you will see that the United States is in green. Way up north next to Canada is Alaska, in green, still part of the continent. 

So, here's a shout out to all of you shippers and businesses out there: Alaska is part of the "continental United States." Yes, we are. Every Alaskan has had the experience of ordering something through a catalogue or online and found that the shipping rate charged, i.e. the rate for the "continental United States," does not include Alaska. Having embarked on many a geographical conversation with people in other parts of the US about what constitutes a continent, I can tell you that there are many murky ideas out there about basic geography in our part of the world. (OK, I admit it - who knew that Greenland is also part of the North American Continent, but come on - Alaska is obvious.)

OK, now let's look at "contiguous," a beautiful word that I should like to use at least once a day. It means the "adjoining 48 states and the District of Columbia."  The map below is the contiguous United States. Obviously, Alaska and Hawaii are not included because they are not connected geographically to the rest. 

So when shippers say that shipping charges are free for the continental US, that gets our hopes up. And then our hopes are dashed when they say that doesn't include Alaska. (It also makes us wild because geography is a pretty straightforward subject and every US citizen should know where all 50 states are...) However, shippers can be geographically pure and even get back in our good graces if they stipulate "free shipping in the contiguous United States," and then we wouldn't get all excited because we would know exactly who gets free shipping and - sigh - who doesn't.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Anchorage Delight

This comes under the category of "you never know what delight will be waiting for you." A colleague and I had just finished presenting a workshop to artists and teachers - always such a pleasure to be with creative people - and emerged after two days to see this on the Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage. Even though we felt tired, we were also curious, and so walked over the still frozen grass and joined in.

Everything about it was irresistible. The color against the sky and the way it billowed and changed and the glimpses of people underneath all propelled us closer.

Even though the breeze was slight, it pulled the yellow nylon out of our fingers. And then as the pressure from underneath grew stronger, it started pulling apart the sections of the huge piece of nylon that were held together by Velcro. Instead of marveling at how it all looked, we went into repair mode and started working together to press the Velcro seams back together. You can see in the picture below how it is ripping apart. Once one seam went, it weakened the other in a chain reaction. A good metaphor for what can happen in a community.

Once we had gotten it back together, I had to get inside to feel it. I was surprised by the amount of pressure it exerted on my head - the flimsy light nylon felt very heavy.

We could have dallied there for a long time, but we had to get to the airport. As we were leaving, I took a photo of the people in the cherry picker far above who were filming it all. By the way, I asked several people what was happening. "Don't know - some art project, I guess," someone said. 

Since our workshop had been on community engagement, seeing this event reminded us that people want to do things together, that real community is built through shared experience, and that all ages having fun with each other is good for everyone, and that the world is full of beauty and delight.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Arts In Juneau

We breathe the arts in Juneau. Where else in a town of 32,000 would you find two symphony orchestras, a big band, two opera companies, two professional theaters, a community theater, Tlingit dance groups, more authors and painters than you can shake a stick at, a dance company, an annual weeklong folk music festival, and an annual jazz and classics festival? And there is more. I wonder how it can all happen. Just last weekend, I attended some of the monthly First Friday events - galleries and cafes and shops exhibit photography and paintings and jewelry by local artists and book signings by local authors while the city and state museums hosted new exhibits. The mood was playful and curious and happy. In Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, I want to a reception for the installation of paintings that had been sent away to be cleaned right before the church burned to the ground. Now in the newly rebuilt church, they have been brought back, the only things left - it felt quite miraculous to see the very old paintings, restored and evoking the spirit of the venerable old church.

Afterwards, I walked down the street to witness four actors doing a short play in the display window of The Canvas, a community art studio. It was the first time anyone had ever tried it. And for the most part, it worked - except that the windows kept steaming up. The crowd loved it - art flourishes in an encouraging environment.

Lest you think that Alaska fosters only certain kinds of art, think again. We are very big into stuffed and mounted trophies too. I think we go a long way to welcome personal expression. It makes for a very lively place to live.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alaskans Choose Respect

I attended the Alaskans Choose Respect Rally at the Capitol on Thursday, March 31. Usually, I attend political rallies there. This time, it wasn't a political rally. It was instead a cultural rally, a rally to change the culture in our state around domestic violence and sexual abuse. We have extremely high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska and from the start, Governor Parnell has made it a priority in his administration.

At the rally, Dr. Walter Soboleff spoke from his wheelchair. One hundred and three years old, a Presbyterian minister and Tlingit Elder, he spoke briefly about how respect has always been a part of Tlingit cultute, not only respect for people but for creatures, land and water. It made me think of the current tragedy playing out in Japan where the water is being poisoned by radiation, and how that is not only disrespectful to the water, but also to the air, the fish, and the people affected by it.

His grandson, Sgt. Chris Burke, also spoke from the perspective of his work as a 15-year veteran as a Juneau Police Officer and, one would assume, many calls of distress. I liked what he said about the police not causing trouble, but "creating peace."

Although it was cold and wet, the group marched down Main Street to Marine Park to finish the rally. Lots of umbrellas out that day.

Although Alaskans are a diverse group of people, ethnically and politically and every other way, I'd venture to say that we share an appreciation, maybe even reverence for this land and for the animals, and now we have the potential to share something else: feelings of respect that could become reverence for all that surrounds us.