Thursday, June 15, 2006

Among My Souvenirs

In the event you are headed north to Alaska and were planning on buying some cheap, poorly crafted merchandise produced in third world countries by underpaid workers, you will be relieved to know there is now a Wal-Mart in Ketchikan! To make room for the giant footprint of this mega-store in the geographically narrow town, great hunks of the hillside had to be carved out and hauled away. As with towns in the Lower 48, local merchants bewail this development as they lose business and struggle to keep open. Other evidence of the Lower 48 can be found in the opening of a new Safeway and, of course, the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Stopping there in my travels, I marveled at the busy port. We have a working port here in Portland, and I lived near one in San Francisco for many years. But here and in The City, those are not so easily accessible, not so much a part of the town. Ketchikan’s main street is practically in the water. The steep hills put me in mind of Sausalito and I would say the traffic line of cars on the main drag is about the same as on Bridgeway. Just like home in Oregon, road repair work advances at a snail’s pace tying up access and frustrating drivers.

The main occupation in Ketchikan in June appears to be power washing the winter’s dirt and grime off every visible surface, buildings and boats. This provides full employment to that contingent of hourly workers that have a comparable crew back in Missouri mowing lawns and hauling hay. Traffic, road work, and lethal jet sprays made shopping a bit difficult.

Canada, on the other hand, has managed to avoid the encroachment of merchandise mania and tourist “improvements” and along the Inside Passage there are small towns with small local shops and galleries and museums that offer a variety of high quality, hand-crafted wares, many made by Natives. In Telegraph Cove and Alert Bay I visited several of these places, met Native artisans, and purchased small souvenirs. And to remember my trip, I invested in one art piece, a beautiful hand-carved wooden wall plaque of an eagle. Of all the wildlife I saw on my journey, eagles were the most abundant.

Whatever preconceived notions I had of Alaska, I found in British Columbia instead. Alaska itself (the part I saw) looked a lot like home and seemed caught up in tourism to the detriment of all else. Canada offered much more rustic scenery, more interesting lore, incredible wildlife, a sense of wonderment, and a chance to bring home some memorable souvenirs.


Post a Comment

<< Home