Saturday, June 30, 2012

More Poles at Totem Bight

June 23rd - Our ferry didn’t leave today until 3:30 pm (1:30pm check in time), so we had time to drive just a few miles north of our campground to Totem Bight State park. This park, and its display of totem poles was developed in the 1938 by the CCC.


“By using CCC funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Natives, two things took place: young artisans learned the art of carving totem poles, and totems, which had been left in the woods to go back into the earth were either repaired or duplicated……The fragments of old poles were laid beside freshly cut cedar logs, and every attempt was made to copy them traditionally.” Hand-made carving tools were used and the paint colors were reproduced using traditional materials, then reproduced using modern paint.


The poles that resulted, and their placement in such a beautiful setting made this one of our favorite totem sites.




This is the view  out to the ocean…..just past the totem poles.


This totem  shows a bear sitting atop the pole….you can see his footprints where he climbed up.

Totem poles are often topped with a bear, or a watchman….or an eagle…..

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This eagle looks right at home perched on the top of this totem.

Also at Totem Bight was a traditionally styled clan house.


You enter though the portal totem……..


And find yourself inside a clan house with its raised sleeping platforms around the perimeter and a fire pit in the center. A clan house of this size would serve as living quarters for several families and could house from 30-50 people.


The roof was left with a raised open section so that the smoke from the fire pit could escape.

After enjoying Totem Bight State park, we decided to take a drive up to Brown Mountain to see a bit of the scenery. The day was beautiful…..65 degrees and sunny! A good day to enjoy the outdoors.  IMG_6550

OK…..maybe we just missed driving where the pavement ends.   ;- )   we drove up….and up……and around……this one lane, NARROW road……


The scenery was spectacular!


But……we didn’t quite make it to the top…..We stopped when we got to this! Snow still on the road! And NO idea where the next wide spot in the road would be where we could get turned around. So….down (very carefully) we went.

Lunchtime at the camper….and it was time to get lined up for the ferry to Petersburg. Oh – you should have seen Fred’s face when the ferry parking guy told him that they wanted him to BACK  the camper down the ramp to load on the ferry!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tlingit and Haida Cultures….

Pacific Northwest peoples have lived along the Inside Passage for 7,000-10,000 years. What attracted them to this area was the abundance of fish, berries, furs, marine mammals, shellfish, waterfowl, copper, wood and fresh water. With so much bounty easily at hand, the Northwest peoples could easily preserve foodstuffs for winter, allowing time for leisure, storytelling, celebrations and art.

It was this combination of resources and leisure that attracted and held the native populations in this coastal area.The Haida natives occupied the Queen Charlotte islands and the lower part of the Prince of Wales Island. The Tlingit natives occupied the largest territory, along the coast from Yakutat Bay to Cape Fox.

Not much is know of those ancient native cultures.Theirs was an oral tradition, they had no written language. Ceremony and storytelling were the ways that their history was passed down.

We had visited the historical village at ‘Ksan, in Hazelton, BC, but it was when we saw the displays at the Totem Heritage Center, that we had one of those ‘full circle’ moments and it all kind-of ‘clicked’. And….we could take pictures! Then, we visited the reproduction Clan House at Totem Bight, and were able to appreciate the ‘authenticity’ that had been achieved.


In this photo from the Heritage Center, Tlingit natives are dressed in ceremonial garb.


This is a photo of a ‘button blanket’. This style of ceremonial robe became popular with the arrival of the first Europeans and new materials and trade goods. The hat is a traditional woven hat; the shape was highly efficient at shedding water in a rain.


This is a wonderful display of ceremonial masks. At ‘Ksan, the masks were not in a display case, but were worn by their native dance group for their Friday evening dance performances which are held in July and August.


Both the Haida and the Tlingit lived in plank longhouses in the winter.


These were constructed of log timbers and cedar planks, with a sleeping platform along the sides and a fire pit in the center. Several families would share one house, as only the more wealthy people could afford to build a large longhouse. This is a photo of the reproduction Clan House built at Totem Bight.

The Tlingit and the Haida are matrilineal societies; that is, they trace their lineage through the mother’s side of the family. They Tlingit peoples are divided into two basic matrilineal groups (or moieties), which have the totems of the Raven and the Eagle (or the Wolf, depending on the time period). The Haida are also divided into two basic groups, with the Raven and the Eagle totems. Each individual has a moietie totem and a family totem. These would be displayed on posts in the house, or on a totem pole erected in front of the house.


This photo shows the inside of a chief’s house, circa 1800’s. Note the mix of native and European furnishings. A wood stove has replaced the fire pit.

The red cedar was considered to be the native ‘life tree’ as it gave the people the materials for building, carving, artwork, tools, canoes for transportation, planks for making bent wood boxes, and strips of bark for weaving.


The bent wood box on the left was fashioned from a single cedar plank which had been soaked in water and heated and softened until it could be ‘bent’ into a box shape. These boxes were used to store food or belongings, and undecorated ones would be used for cooking (by filling with water and dropping heated rocks into them).

Weaving was an art form as well as a necessity. It was, literally, a ‘cradle to grave’ association. Infants were birthed on a woven mat, placed in a woven basket, and, when a person died, he/she was placed on a woven mat an cremated. In between, woven baskets and mats were used for storage, carrying, cooking, and trade goods. A person’s life could be woven in the designs…….


A mostly peaceful people, the Haida and the Tlingit groups lived in relative isolation from the rest of the world, except for the occasional inter-tribal raids and, of course, trading. Trade goods were transported along the Inside Passage in these amazing canoes. This canoe was constructed using traditional methods from a single tree, hollowed out then stretched open to the familiar canoe shape.

The artwork depicts the myth of the Raven stealing the Sun. The Sun is crafted from a sheet of copper, which was used to denote value. An elaborate piece of artwork such as this might be created and gifted in a ‘potlatch’, a ceremonial gift giving celebration that was held to mark an important event. Wealth was amassed to be able to give more away, thereby increasing one’s social standing.

The Haida and the Tlingit peoples lived in this way until the early 1900’s, when they abandoned their subsistence way of life and move to more centrally located cities for employment. There is a movement, began in the 1970’s to help the native peoples rediscover and renew their culture through those crafts such as carving and weaving and ceremonial celebrations. The Totem Heritage Center has been a part of this, holding regular classes for aspiring artists.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Totem Heritage Center

Friday, June 22nd- We decided to spend today seeing what Ketchikan is most noted for, their collection of Totem Poles. Our first stop was the Totem Heritage Center, which houses a collection of 19th century totem poles and other carvings.


We were surprised to find that the totem poles were displayed in an indoor exhibit, and that these were among the few that were standing upright, with others laying down, and inside a glass case.

These totem poles are the original totems (some as old as 150 years) that were retrieved  in the 1970’s from the Tlingit villages  on Tongass Island and Village Island, and the Haida village of Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. The villages were being deserted, as the inhabitants moved to Ketchikan and other towns at the beginning of the 20th century to  be closer to schools and employment.

The average ‘lifespan’ of a totem pole is about 75 years before it will fall over and be left by the natives to rot and return to the earth. These totem poles were retrieved with the permission of native elders and preserved as they were found at the old village sites. Master carvers have studied them and carved reproductions which stand at other sites.


The display at the Heritage Center was accompanied by vey good explanations of the use of totem poles and the figures depicted. The totems, above show a beaver with a baby beaver in front (with the adult beaver’s tail partially covering it, and a bear that sits atop a totem pole.

Traditionally, totem poles were carved out of a red cedar tree, to honor important individuals, commemorate significant events, and to proclaim the linage and social standing of their owners. They have been used to memorialize as well as sometimes serving as a place for cremated ashes for an important tribal member.

The figures used will depict a ‘totem’ that represents the particular clan or ‘house’ ’of an individual, or will tell a story, sometimes mythical, that has significance.  The actual meaning of an individual totem pole can only be known in the context of when it was carved, by whom, and for what occasion. Totem poles have great cultural significance, but have never been worshipped or used as religious objects by the native populations.


This part of the totem pole represents a fable of ‘stone ribs’, a fisherman who fell in the water and was rescued by the orcas and brought to live with them. When ‘stone ribs’ started to miss his family, he had to wrap himself in a sea otter to be able to swim the cold waters to return home.

The ancient totems are weathered, but much of the carving is intact, along with traces of the original paint, which was typically mixed from a base of chewed and spit out salmon eggs mixed with natural minerals to create a blue/green or a red/brown, or a black pigment. As you can imagine, the paint was used sparingly to highlight the significant details.


We much preferred those more natural looking totem poles such as found at the Heritage Center, or these which were located atop a hill at Cape Fox Lodge…….

To those that we saw when we drove just a bit south of town to Saxman Totem Site.




Which were more recent reproductions of some of the same totem poles found at the Heritage Center.


More modern and more vivid paints were used, and the ‘ancient’ feeling is lost, but the craftsmanship is still amazing. On the left, is the raven who stole the sun….and I am standing by the figure of a wolf.


On left, is an eagle…and at right, Fred stand in a portal pole….one that would have been used at the doorway of a lodge.

And….speaking of eagles…….

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While driving about, we spotted these guys. Knowing that eagles are monogamous and mate for life, and that the young eagles spend the first 2 years of their life with brown and white mottled plumage…..We just would have to guess that this is a momma and daddy eagle with their youngster.

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Besides….don’t they just look like proud parents?

The Totem Heritage Center, lunch at Cape Fox Lodge, another jaunt downtown, then out to Saxman for the totem poles there, then a drive about to a cove south of town where we saw the eagles (it was an area that we were told about when we stopped and visited with a couple of nice ladies at the church we visited). Quite enough for one day!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ketchikan, Alaska


June 21st – We arrived in Ketchikan about 11:30am Alaskan time (That is 1 hour earlier than Pacific time).


Ketchikan is a medium sized Alaskan community of about 8,000 year round residents, sitting in the middle of 500 miles of the Tongass National Forest, and is accessible only by air or by boat.


Cruise ships make this a regular stop………Ketchikan may get as many as 4 or 5 cruise ships in a day during the summer.


and ferries provide easy access for both tourists and locals.


Float planes fly between the islands of the Inside Passage, and Ketchikan does have an international airport, too, but you have to take a small ferry across the Tongass Narrows to get to it.


Ketchikan’s climate is a temperate rainforest, and Ketchikan is known as the ‘rain capital of Alaska’ with 160 inches of rain a year! The average temperatures do not get that cold in winter. Lows of about 35 degrees is about normal. In June, the average high is about 60 degrees.

We were very fortunate; our days here were warmish (about 62-65 degrees) and sunny to partly cloudy. Everyone said “ Enjoy the outdoors. It is beautiful weather, which is rare.” Which we did…..


We stayed at Signal Creek Campground, a Forest Service campground just about 8 miles north of town. The campground was nice, but the campsites were a little tight. No hook-ups….didn’t expect or need them.


The scenery was beautiful….right on a little lake, with a nice 1.3 mile nature trail around it. (Good for walking Jade)

After getting off the ferry, we set up the camper and headed into town for a bit of sightseeing. Ketchikan’s most popular downtown area is Creek Street.


Creek Street became home to Ketchikan’s red-light district in 1903, when Ketchikan ordered all bordellos to move across the creek from the town site.


More than 30 ‘sporting’ houses lined Creek Street, most with one or two ‘working girls’. During Prohibition, some of the Creek Street houses became ‘speakeasies’, with bootlegged liquor being rowed in on night time high tides.IMG_6407

When the city council outlawed prostitution in 1953, Creek Street became a mixed residential and commercial area, though a few of the girls remained in their homes and still did a little ‘business’ on the side.

Today, Creek Street, with its boardwalks and  historic houses has been turned into the center for Alaskan arts and gift items and a number of cute little cafes.

After wandering downtown Ketchikan and Creek Street for the afternoon, we were ready for an early dinner and to call it a night. We had dinner at the Bar Harbor Restaurant, a small place at a marina, located between town and our campground.


The Bar Harbor caters more to the locals and the marina folks than to the cruise ships and the atmosphere was just right for us at the end of a very long day. We sat outside on the deck, ate some very good fish tacos and polished it off with the most delectable banana bread pudding topped with cinnamon ice cream. It was a very good end to a very nice day.