How Ketchikan Weather Makes Us Pretty

How Ketchikan Weather Makes Us Pretty by Valerie Hendel

Blog sitting for A.E. LaSage, September 8, 2011

If Ketchikan were subtropical, the weatherperson on the tellie with perfect hair and teeth would report a storm and give it the respect of a name: Hurricane Melba. But in Ketchikan, 55°21’N of the equator, our storms get no such respect. That’s okay though; we have our own names for days like that. We mildly refer to such storms as weather, or more affectionately crap weather. “Well, another day of crap weather,” we observe gently, but inside carry with us a sort of superiority about the quality of our weather as compared to little weather in the Lower 48. Then we slog on our XTra-tuf boots, smelly from years of weather, and carry on. But there’s something else we do to rally–we  do art. We simply must.

What isn’t commonly known is that Ketchikan records the number of purple houses per capita higher than the national average.  And when I say purple, I mean to include all shades of lavender with or without yellow undertones. Perhaps not considered high art, the purple house is but one version of “culture and anarchy.” It’s an expression. The owner, buckets of carefully chosen Madison’s 38B6 Provocative Purple at his feet, brandishes his paintbrush skyward and epresses to the gods, “To hell with this crap weather!”

Ketchikan is a strange love affair, and it’s commonly understood that love inspires art. While the love begins for some with the pathos of the dark and gray, eventually summer meanders up the Narrows and new praises are sung to the beloved. For such is her beauty. In fine weather (gales of less than 30mph), Ketchikan folk are out like ravens collecting sea glass and all kinds of shiny things. These found things become art: jewelry, mosaic, garden embellishments.   These works are often displayed at the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council gallery on Main Street—the white building trimmed out in 38B6.

In Ketchikan, we keep our finest artists in garages, attics, and basements. And we have many very fine garages and even more accomplished artists. Our artists tend to be an extremely unassuming and generous lot.  And since X-Tratufs smell pretty much the same on everyone, you can’t know who’s Julliard-trained or who grew up on some island collecting mussels for breakfast. Consequently, a liberal collaborative spirit is nurtured. Techniques are shared, traditions are trifled with, and voila!—A healthy, evolving art community.

So the love affair moves through the seasons. And in the dead of winter when we are sick of the gloom, we paint, knit, carve, bead, make music and dance together. And as we twirl around, warm from the company, we are amazed at how many talented people are in our soggy glorious midst.

Note: All of Ketchikan’s residents can access and enjoy the wealth of creativity at 55°21”N. I’m sure Noodle is trying to get his mind around Terry Pyle’s Pyling Caps at Thomas Basin. Down at Ketchikan Coffee Company, I heard that Egghead was tagged in a tourist photo posing with one of Dave Rubin’s life-sized bronzes called The Rock. Nutmeg, one of Ketchikan’s venerable doggy members, visited The Rock as well. I hope that you too have the opportunity to experience the art of Ketchikan.


Fall Has Landed in Ketchikan, by Valerie Hendel

October, 2011

The clear golden light of the morning is a pleasant ruse for the temperature which is somewhere between brisk and snappy. I dash back inside and put on my jacket. Fall has landed.

The steam curls from the wooden steps of the boardwalk street I call home. At the top of the sixty-seventh step, I turn around for the view looking over the tops of the downtown buildings and on east down the Narrows. Steam is also rising from the roofs, but otherwise the air is perfectly clear. To the west—what we call out north—a little pouf of smoke hangs over someone’s fire as they burn salmonberries.

I collect my mail and move on. As I walk, a decided stink in the air snaps me out of my reverie and announces that I am approaching The Creek. I say The Creek because it is a physically and socially defining feature of Ketchikan. It is the creek that lent Ketchikan its name, from the Tlingit word Kichx̱áan, which means The Creek. The gulls ecstatically disagree with the attitude behind my wrinkled nose. It’s raucous down in The Creek. To the birds, The Creek smells deliciously of free salmon—salmon with no fight: the ones who couldn’t. And hey, who doesn’t like free salmon?

Some guy I’ve never met falls in step beside me. He tells me about how he had been laid off of work. “So I set up out north and caught fish. I smoked two hundred pounds of salmon and sold it.” He moved on with the easy comfortable air of a man with a full freezer.

Yes, fall is here. And if there is a need for more proof, the calendar hurdles toward the second Monthly Grind of the season. The second. Monthly Grind—for those who don’t know—is the means by which two hundred and fifty plus locals scooch together tightly in the Saxman long house to keep warm. We sing and make merry. It’s a sort of organized open mic with dessert. Five dollars or a dessert donation gain admittance. It’s down home, it’s local, it’s grand. The gist of Monthly Grind is to seat oneself strategically so that, when intermission is called, a quick and effective lunge to the dessert line is achieved. Twelve-year-old boys are experts at the dessert table strategy. I’ve seen it time and again and have tried to get it down.

The last proof to offer for those who still wonder when fall is coming is how the appetites are sharpening. Fall signals the necessity to put on a good winter layer. The bears do it. They’ve polished off the berries and salmon and are heading off for the winter sleep. I’ve got my winter pop tart stash but could use some more smoked salmon.

© Copyright 2011 (October 5, 2011),