Other than the Klok, Klok, Klok of the wily ravens, Sitka, Alaska, resonates with the heartbeat of our own River City, that lovely outpost we call Astoria.
In the early morning, the sharp protests of the black raptors blanket this historical city in the opposite way that snow flurries cover the spruce forests that inhabit the Alaskan archipelago.
A fine mist settles on the quiet streets of Old Town and then ebbs as regularly as ocean tides.
Today, the sun breaks through and tall mountainous peaks with thick evergreen timber illuminate the viridian landscape. And like Astoria and its river-front environs or Ilwaco with salmon fleet fishing, salmon is king.
Indeed, the finned ones are nearly as thick as evergreen trees in the forests that surround Baranof Island.
Before my chef job began, I fished a day with Herb Tennell aboard the Micah, one of several comfortable 32 foot sea boats owned and operated by Outbound Alaska Charters.
I fished alongside a Virginia couple. On a wooden dock just off Katlian Street, we unloaded a hoard of rockfish, three dazzling Chinook salmon, three halibut (we had to release two 42- and 44-inch beauties), and, finally, a nearly six foot dagger-mouthed ling cod that could make an infant wail.
Above, a huge mature eagle circled in glorious, graceful loops, its long, broad wings and piercing cry cutting through the sky like a Damascus blade.
Though a thousand miles away, this ocean is our same Pacific.
It doesn’t suffer as frequently the rough weather challenges like those of the Columbia River Bar, that seven-mile wide torrent of tide clashing like two knockdown prize fighters when big water meets big water, which seems constant.
Sitka, or the Native derivation Sheet’ka (or a later incarnation as the Russian enclave known as New Archangel), is the 900-year home of the proud Tlingit.
Like the high, piercing cry of the eagle, the spirit of these Native Alaskans suggests an ancient and spiritual presence over the island the Russians named Baranof Island.
Nearly four decades ago, Ivan Doig wrote a brilliant novel titled “The Sea Runners.” The story begins in Sitka, then under Russian rule, but ended in Willapa Bay near the time of the first pioneers, that being Espy and Clarke after their life-saving encounter with Chinook chief Nahcati in 1841.
Doig brought us an adventure of four indentured servants who escaped their masters in a stolen Haifa canoe and then pressed against unrelenting odds down the Northwest Coast to Willapa Bay.
I hope to stay in Sitka for several months and explore links between these two communities and all the gifts, historical legends, and the sublime landscapes that make both cities unique settlements.
Along the way, we will ride in our spirit canoes, remembering distant ancestors, First Nation Peoples, pioneers, fishermen and, lastly, a legacy that makes us who we are as Northwest individuals, and as an amalgamation of human forces paddling in the same boat.
As the Siouan people say, “Meta cuye oyasin.” We are one family.