Bald Eagles

A city on the edge of North America

Downtown Sitka. (Roman Tigal/Shutterstock)

Whale watching couldn’t be better.

Driven by a yen to go out one morning in Sitka, Alaska, I took an easy 20-minute ride on a sunny bike path and quiet back roads to a coastal headland at the southeast end of town. Half a dozen humpback whales work the herring-rich waters of Silver Bay at Entry Point, their foams caught in the morning light and making the air as silvery as the shimmering Pacific.

Bald eagles soar from their perches in the old trees – the Sitka spruce, a West Coast monarch known for its affinity with salt water. Flocks of gulls congregate on the sea surface, marking Sitka Sound’s famous bounty of herring – the same breakfast buffet that humpback whales feast on. Steller Sea Lions beat the water playing and barking. No urban sound comes in at all.

I’m on a tidy viewing platform in Whale Park near town – here for visitors and residents, a few of whom climb up while I savor the scene.

“Ho hum, no more whales”, we say jokingly, with a broad smile.

“Too bad we live here,” adds his companion.

The proudly ironic tone of the second remark suggests the idea that this is no ordinary small town with mountains behind and the sea beside. While watching the whales, I am within Sitka’s city limits, a fact that perfectly illustrates its character. As resplendent as its surroundings may be, Alaska’s first capital is deeply dedicated to the quality of human life. Residents of Sitka enjoy unparalleled outward virtues, and they pay their dues, dues that give a uniquely vibrant community character.

Epoch Times Photo
A humpback whale bursting just offshore near Sitka.
(Edmund Lowe Photography/Shutterstock)

Located on the edge of North America, head straight west out of the harbor and your next stop is Kodiak Island 900 miles away; beyond that, Siberia – Sitka is not accessible by any road, like many towns and villages in Alaska. Its airfield is therefore the bridge to the outside world and is far more accessible than almost any other busy airport you can imagine. Several times I walked from the terminal to the best hotel in town (the Westmark), a 25-minute walk that offers sensational views of Sitka Harbor, the snow-capped mountains east of town, and the almost cone geometrically perfect Mount Edgecumbe volcano to the north.

Where else in the world would you find a first-class all-female Russian dance troupe? (When it formed in 1969, the townsmen weren’t interested in joining a dance troupe) Of course, Sitka had been the capital of Russian America until William Seward bought it. Alaska in 1867, but hey, American men don’t dance, Russian heritage or not. . After more than half a century, the all-female group performs the complex and fiercely athletic Cossack and Russian parts as deftly as Baryshnikov could. “Actually, better,” I am told. “We are more flexible, aren’t we? »

In Sitka, you can also:

• Visit a 179-year-old Russian Territorial Episcopal House whose massive beams are stronger today than ever. Part of the Sitka National Historical Park, it beautifully represents a little-known Alaskan history that lives on today.

• Walk a forest trail that is home to the finest collection of old and new totem poles on America’s Northwest Coast, reflecting the Tlingit and Haida cultures that have thrived in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A totem in Totem Park. (Joy Prescott/Shutterstock)

• Come face-to-face with eagles both outdoors and indoors, the latter at the Alaska Raptor Center east of town. It is one of the premier wildlife rehabilitation facilities in North America, and its eagles, hawks, owls and other residents offer visitors a chance to experience the steely gaze of these relentless predators.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
A bald eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center. (George Karelitsky/Unsplash)

• Dine at a gourmet restaurant, Ludvig’s Bistro, one of the best in Alaska. Named after founder Colette Nelson’s dog, Ludvig’s expertly blends Alaskan seafood into Mediterranean dishes such as paella and Tuscan-style scallops.

• Admire one of the largest collections of religious art in North America, the three dozen gold and silver icons in St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Not only are these priceless and deeply moving works of art – a truly world-class heritage exhibit – but the backstory is fascinating. The original 1845 church caught fire in 1966, and as alarm spread through the city, about 100 residents formed a human chain and carried the icons to safety as the building caught fire. Every piece was salvaged, including a 300-pound chandelier.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
The spiers of St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. (Ramunas Bruzas/Shutterstock)

The story reflects Sitka’s dedication not only to priceless art, but also to her Russian heritage.

“Everyone thinks the Russians are gone. Not quite,” St Michael’s pastor, Father Michael, tells me, laughing. “We’re still here, folks” – 100 or more active Russian Orthodox parishioners in Sitka, 1,000 in Alaska.

Today’s St Michael’s is an exact replica of the original, but constructed of concrete and steel rather than spruce and sailcloth.

Visitors can walk to all of these attractions, although the daily forecast for Sitka is partly sunny, chance of showers… showers are usually light and the rain-washed Pacific air is a 64 degrees crystal clear. So it’s during a day’s walk downtown that I have the quintessential Sitka experience.

“Your sandwiches look great,” I remark in a little tavern near St. Michael’s. “Do you have gluten-free bread?

The server considers this for a few seconds. “No, but they do it at the cafe across the street. Very good sandwiches there too.

Yes, she had just referred me to what, in other cities, would be a strong contender. But in Sitka, everyone is everyone’s neighbor, visitor and resident.