Photo Essay: Leaving Yakutat, Arriving in Skagway

First posted in November, 2004

I've been in Skagway about a week now, enough time to form some initial impressions of the place, and since there's been some confusion as to where I actually am and questions as to what the place is like, I figured I'd write down my initial thoughts and share a few photographs.

A week ago last Wednesday was my final full day in Yakutat. The movers completed their work in the early evening and I then had supper with Alyssa at the Yakutat Lodge, the last of the Yakutat restaurants to be open for the winter. They were soon to close; there were three specials on the menu, and, well, you had to have one of those three specials because that was all they had. It was good to relax with Alyssa one last time before leaving, though, as there's no telling when I'll see her next.

After that I should have returned to my house to clean, but I didn't think cleaning would be that hard and decided to relax a bit more. I drove towards the harbor, to the Blue Heron Inn, a bed and breakfast carefully chosen for its atmosphere, location, and view. I thought it was the best place to spend my last night in this place I've called home for the past five years.

I was correct on that count. The owners, Fran and John, and I sat in the living room drinking tea and eating delicate slices of banana bread, perhaps the best banana bread I've ever had. We discussed art (predominantly landscape painting and realistic wildlife carving, John has a rather substantial and impressive collection of both around the inn) and travel. They'd been to Africa last year and were gearing up to go again soon, and were interested in my winter plan to go to England.

I then retired to the room I'd picked specifically for this night, a room lined with glorious windows and a view of Monti Bay.


I read for a bit, but the bed was so comfortable that I gave it up and turned out the light to go to sleep at an extremely early hour, definitely before nine o'clock.

And thus I woke extremely early. I crept upstairs and poured a bath for myself about five the next morning, probably waking others in the process, but I really did try to be quiet. Starting the day that early afforded me a luxurious soak in the tub before what would be a very stressful day.

I came downstairs to find Fran making breakfast and John lighting the fire. I got a cup of coffee and went outside. It was surprisingly warm, and I sat out there with no coat, drinking coffee and listening to the ocean and watching the stars and the brightness of the near-full moon.

Breakfast was sourdough pancakes with sausage, coffee, orange juice, optional eggs which I declined, and conversation. I faffed around a bit, waiting for the sun to come up, but by that time the clouds had rolled in and I was afforded with, well, a nice enough view, but not the view that I know lies beyond the mist:

Let us try to forget the next several hours after that quickly, shall we? They were filled with scrubbing things I really shouldn't repeat here for consideration of the squeamish (read: grizzly, moose, and black bear blood) out of my now defrosted freezer, vacuuming, fixing the vacuum (three times, only twice successfully), mopping, windexing, mailing things, getting my truck on the barge for shipment, checking in at the airport, being flagged by TSA because I was on a one-way ticket and had a hand-gun, having the hand-gun be fine but having my coffee pot flagged because it tested positive for TNT and probably having something inserted about it in my FBI file, nearly forgetting Gren in security because I was so tired, etc.

And then I arrived in Juneau. Three good friends of mine were on the same jet from Yakutat, on their way to a meeting of the southeast Alaska Presbytery, and so I did what anyone would do with decent church going folk: I went out and drank margaritas with them. That was a pleasant way to round out the day.

Woke very early the next morning and got back over to the airport for an air taxi that was delayed a couple of hours due to intermittent snow squalls, but eventually made it to Skagway, where the air taxi's shuttle service dropped me right at the front door of park headquarters. By the end of the evening I'd met most of the park staff, been given my keys, been given my new laptop, signed up for a membership at the recreation center (I am required to stay in shape in this new job and actually receive three hours paid work out time a week, but I have to, um, actually stay in shape), been given my patrol vehicle (a no-frills but well-equipped LE package Tahoe), showed both my offices (they are making up for quality with quantity, a joke I said out loud to both the district and chief rangers, but I'm not complaining, as I think this will be a great job), my new house which I will not occupy until next spring, and my new apartment wherein I shall live until the close of the month. The apartment is the perfect size for one and is handsomely appointed with everything I really need. I had supper that very first evening with my new district and chief rangers and their wives. We're all going to get along just fine, just as I suspected.

A photo of my "new" house taken this summer.

Another photo of the house, with the
aforementioned patrol vehicle, which
I hope to make white again.

The past week has been a bit of a blur. Work has been very steady, with organizing to do, tasks already assigned, local jurisdiction issues to learn, and already some training (I recertified my CPR for the Professional Rescuer this week).

As for the town itself, Skagway has all the things I liked about Yakutat (people that are friendly and wave to you on the street, pleasantly mild winter weather by Alaskan standards, and beautiful scenery, among other things), though it does lack the swimming pool and open ocean surf and sandy beaches and twice daily jet service that spoil everyone in Yakutat. The town, just slightly larger (maybe) in population, attempts to make up for that, rather successfully, by having better infrastructure (cell phones, DSL, paved streets (with street signs! and street lights! wide enough for two-way traffic and parallel parking! on a grid system! fortunately, not a large one, but enough to feel like a town...), more frequent ferry service, several air taxi flights per day, and a road that takes you Outside).

Whereas the last restaurant in Yakutat is probably closed for the winter, this place still has a few cafes open; whereas Yakutat has four restaurants open during the summer, this place has twenty one.

There's even a Starschmucks! Though presently, it is closed.
There's also a Harley Davidson. And a Well's Fargo.
Thankfully, no real fast food joints, though I'm sure
the restaurants we do have could kill me with
equal stealth and speed.

For there's a nice home grown coffee shop as well,
and it stays open year-round. I had corn chowder
there today. Mmmmmmm. Soup.

There's a larger than in Yakutat grocery, and a smaller whole foods/organic/vegetarian grocery. There's a library, a legitimate newspaper, and a book store that doesn't just sell Alaskana titles. There's a huge recreation center with lots of great equipment and tons of yoga classes (presently offered five days (10 classes) per week). With respect to yoga, they're interested in trying to get me to teach, and I probably will, eventually, but for this month prior to my furlough/vacation, I'm content with being a student, and the classes are wonderful and some of them are on my level. The beginner classes are also great, and even those contain a new move or two.

All of this is a welcome change. Not that Yakutat was bad - not at all, for I could have easily continued living there quite happily - but this place has all that remote-small-Alaskan-wilderness-town goodness with a slightly more civilized edge, and the people here have welcomed me thus far with very open arms.

Like Yakutat, the place is near mountains, but unlike Yakutat, it's not situated on a flat glacial outwash plain. I'm in the mountains. In that respect, it's more like Tennessee, which pleases me greatly. I always felt sort of exposed on the flat foreland of Yakutat; that will not be an issue here.

And then there's the fact that I have, well, coworkers. Plural. Present, and generally within speaking distance. This is a new experience for me, and I am trying to break the habit of picking up the phone and dialing long distance to speak to my supervisor; I'm trying to get my brain around the idea that he's (a) a local call and (b) right across the street... within walking distance.

I work in that little (horrid color of)
blue building across the way and my boss works
upstairs in the building in the foreground.

My second office is in this tiny ranger station,
near the campground over which I shall watch,
near my home in Dyea, which is about ten
miles or so away from Skagway.
(Building on the right)

The new superintendent threw a welcome to Skagway bash for me last night, too. It was sort of spooky, like he'd phoned around checking up on me and inquiring as to how I would best be welcomed (read: he threw a margarita party with nummy tortilla soup and I brought my famous chilicheese tortilla chip dip). Most of the park staff and their spouses/partners were there, and it was nice to be around so many like-minded people.

But enough about how the next four years will be an unfortunate chore politically! There's more, um, good/bad news, because I also learned this week that I switched jobs just in time. Everyone in the equivalent type of employment to my own at my last park was rather unexpectedly laid off a full six months. So while I have a big "vacation" coming up at the end of the month, I've planned for it, and it's not as long as I could have had had I remained in Yakutat. Silver linings for me are abundant these days, it would seem. This new park isn't in fantastic shape, financially, but it seems I'll have the basic resources to do my job and will receive lots of good, solid training. By the start of next season I will have had a review of wildland firefighting and helicopter slingload operations, a forty hour law enforcement refresher, as well as a bunch of new training, including rough terrain rescue and avalanche safety & rescue.

Speaking of training, I leave tomorrow morning for Haines to recertify my EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) status. I'm recerting with the same woman who's taught my last two recerts, but this is the first time I'll have actually been to Haines, so I'm looking forward to that (also, Lucy is one of the bestest instructors ever, a very fun woman). I will probably be out of contact until Wednesday, I suspect. Gren is settled in, I brought her tank and everything, and the chief ranger has agreed to come feed her while I'm away as he walks by my apartment on his way to work.

A honh honh honh!
Je suis une grenouille camouflée secrète!
Hooray que j'ai toujours ma petite caverne, même dans Skagway!
Observez-moi émerger de la caverne en tant que monstre très minuscule de mer!

Translation for the above caption: [Horribly stereotypical French laughter!] I am a sekrit camouflaged frog! Hooray that I still have my little cave, even in Skagway! Watch me emerge from the cave like a very tiny sea monster! Raaaaarrrrrrr!

Anyway, later this month I go to Whitehorse to meet with staff at Parks Canada, with whom I shall be working very closely in my new job. Some of them I already know and it will be good to see those wardens again, others will be new to me, and I've never been to Whitehorse, so I'm looking forward to scoping out the "metropolis" in which I shall find a movie theatre and several Chinese restaurants (on my own time, later in the spring that is; right now I haven't a personal vehicle, and this business trip is only for the day).

So, I'm here until November 28th, at which time I fly/boat to Juneau, where I will spend the night with Amanda (my former employee of three years - man it will be nice to be just her friend now, though I will miss working with her), then I fly to the UK. Gren and I should be there December 1.