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So Long to Sitka

August 19, 2012
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“I think I could stay in Sitka forever,” I say to my wife.
“You say that about every new place,” she says.
“But I mean it this time,” I say.
“And you always say that too,” she says.

How one could love a place so damp, gray and cold is beyond me. One week it rained constantly five out of seven days; I stayed in the cabin next to the heater and read Short’s THE CHEECHAKOES, McConnell’s HAND TROLLER, Caldwell’s PACIFIC TROLLER, and most of THE CURIOUS EAT THEMSELVES, a detective novel set in Sitka by local author John Straley. Now I can walk around town saying, “That’s where Cecil lived” or “That’s where he was stabbed” just like I do in Dashell Hammet’s San Francisco.

I’ve toured the local fish processing plant, watched a movie at the Coliseum where our church protested the movie *The Omen* many years ago. I’ve tried all the restaurants, and drunk local beer at each of the three bars. At the Pioneer, known locally as PBar, I’ve sat next to chain smoking fishermen drinking whisky and filling basket after basket with losing one-dollar scratchers.

My friend David, the only one of my circle to have remained in Sitka, has driven me to the edges of town where we’ve caught hiking trails up the mountains, like the one to Beaver Lake. Snow hangs from Verstovia even now and waterfalls roar.

I’ve become a regular at Harbor Books, which is not only the best book store I’ve encountered in the islands of the Pacific, it’s nearly the only one. And I’ve spent hours reading and writing at the public library, whose view of the bay and its anchored cruise ships rivals any view anywhere.

I’ve met cruiser after cruiser and gammed with many of the dock’s trollers.

And yet I don’t feel I know the place even now. It’s mystery remains. I’d like to stay the winter.

But then I said that about Tahiti, about Kauai.

Murre and I depart today. We’ll head up over Baranof via Peril Straight and down to Warm Springs Bay. Then under the southern tip of Admiralty and up to Tracy Arm for a look at a glacier. Then we head again south, south to Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchican. There’s plenty of south to make after that, but it’s pointless to look too far ahead.

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