I’m writing you to catch you up on places I’ve been,
and you have this letter–probably got excited,
but there’s nothing else inside it.
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time,
hoping I would see the world through both my eyes.
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.
That was a roundabout way of admitting that I don’t have many photos yet. I left my camera’s USB cord in Florida. As soon as it makes its way to my doorstep, I promise that you, too, will see Russia from my house. Till then, thank goodness for the iPhone camera.
So…life. My trip started with a week in LA: the land of beaches, malls, Priuses, and actors. I watched the Bachelorette finale just minutes away from the Hollywood sign, y’all. It doesn’t get any classier. I asked Kelsey (my host, fellow BC grad, and an all-around spectacular human being) to show me her favorite things about LA, so we didn’t really hit up most of the touristy things like Grauman’s Chinese Theater. We mostly just ate tasty food, which is how I like it. We also saw Crazy Stupid Love (amazing; see it now) and then we hit up Hairspray at the Hollywood Bowl. That was my big celebrity encounter; the cast included John Stamos (UNCLE JESSE!), Drew Carey, and a Jonas Brother (proudly, I cannot tell you which one, though I think he’s the youngest), along with originals like Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein (hi, I’m a theater nerd). Another JoBro was in the audience a few rows in front of us (which one? I don’t know; not the one onstage) and we were like two seats away from John Waters (who WROTE Hairspray). I’m not sure I stopped smiling the whole night.
From LA, I went on to Portland for a week of orientation with my volunteer program, JVC Northwest. You probably don’t care much about that week, so let me say only that BC dominates this program—there were 16 of us this year, and that’s not even including the two staff members. I haven’t been this proud of my school since the Senior Week dodgeball tournament. Basically, Boston College is where it’s at. Men and women for others indeed. I MISS THE HEIGHTS. Let me also say that this retreat was held on camp property, which made me think of MY beautiful, Parent-Trap-esque Camp Illahee. I wouldn’t be here if not for BC, but I wouldn’t know HOW to be here if not for Illahee.
So we oriented, and I met my four housemates—all of whom are other JVs (Jesuit Volunteers) working at various placements around town. (Side note: everyone here thinks all JVs are Jesuit, so let me clear that up for you. No. Jesuits are priests. They’re very cool people, but I am neither Catholic nor a male, so I am not one of them). Anyway, as far as my group is concerned, I love them already. We spent the week planning the ridiculous things we’ll do this year on our limited budget (highlights include building a fort out of sheets and making a “Days without Bear Attacks” sign). Sitka is tiny, people, and we have a long, dark, rainy winter ahead of us. You have to get creative to keep yourself entertained.
And that brings us to ALASKA. This is the kind of place where people fillet their salmon on a rock in the middle of the ocean. The kind of place where a bow and arrow on the wall constitutes a security system. The kind of place where you can shoot guns in residential areas. Amurrica.
We flew into Sitka on one of the sunniest, clearest, most beautiful days they’ve seen in a long time. Sitka is a small seaside town (I think it has fewer people than BC has students) tucked in between crowded harbors and towering mountains. It’s pretty all the time (rain makes the town quaint and shrouds the mountains in a kind of cozy mist), but when the sun comes out, Sitka is downright dangerous. It’s contagiously beautiful. The sky is brilliant, the mountains are capped in snow, and the rocky shore is lined with exactly the right mix of luxury yachts and gritty fishing boats. I’d only been here for a few minutes before I started wondering how I’d ever be able to force myself to leave.
And we were picked up at the airport by some FJVs (former Jesuit Volunteers…so many acronyms!) who’ve done exactly that. They’ve stuck around—some just for a few weeks, others indefinitely. When we reached our new home, we found that the FJVs had cooked us dinner, which was just the start of the outpouring of hospitality we’ve experienced in the past week. My roommate, Anne, met a woman from Orange County on the plane. She runs a B&B in Sitka now, and she gave Anne her number in case we ever wanted some free fish. We haven’t even needed to call her yet. The local priest gave us a giant bag of salmon on our first day, and we caught some this week (more on that later), so the freezer is stocked. The FJVs keep showing up with ice cream and taking us out on the town. A local Search and Rescue guy has taken us fishing and hiking. On Friday, we got free tickets to a wildlife cruise.
Things I learned on the wildlife cruise:
- Sea otters are great.
- Locals make fun of seals by calling them “rock sausages.”
- I want a house with a great view. Seriously, while everyone else was scanning the water for whales, I could not keep my eyes off of the mountains. The clouds were low, making the mountains look kind of eerie and austere. It was a little bit otherworldly, like The Island from Lost. Actually, some people here live on their own individual islands and boat to work every day. I want an island! When I wasn’t looking at the mountains, I was looking at those houses: the ones perched on tiny, rocky islands, surrounded by evergreen trees. These people don’t have driveways. They have docks. They have water and mountains outside their windows.
Then again, I do too. Sometimes I also have cruise ships outside my window.
You know you’re a pseudo-local in Sitka when you find yourself getting annoyed by the cruise tourists. They slow me down on my walk to work. Sometimes, thanks to them, it takes me as many as FIVE WHOLE MINUTES to get to my office at the Boys and Girls Club. Come on, tourists!
A few nights ago, an FJV stopped by with a friend and a tub of ice cream. She mentioned a car that had splashed her as it drove through a puddle. Her friend jumped in, “Which puddle? Because there are some good ones.” You know you live in Sitka when you can refer to a SPECIFIC PUDDLE. Also, Anne’s family has a connection to some people in Sitka, and all she knew of them was that they ran “the reindeer hotdog stand by the light.” Yes, the ONE traffic light does indeed have a reindeer hotdog stand, and yes, reindeer hotdogs are exactly what you fear that they are.
And that’s just the start of it. Sitka has a quirky side. One of the FJVs told us on our first day, “There are a lot of men in Alaska. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” TRUE FACTS. There’s a veterinarian here who hates cats so much that he makes their owners bring them to him in pillowcases. He promptly sedates them THROUGH THE PILLOWCASE before continuing his work. I think he’s my hero?
And I haven’t even told you about the fishing trip, or the tree named after Sarah Palin, or the bears (and bearsharks) or the time I held a shotgun. This should all wait until I have the rest of my pictures. Till then, I’m off to bake cookies, watch Alias with the roomies (may or may not have gotten them into it) and read the fifth book of Harry Potter. Because that’s finally happening.
And yes, it’s still raining.