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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.