Happy Birthday to the Great Land of My Birth on Alaska Day
The thrill of kayakers skirting Fox Island via a stunning poster
was the impetus for this article because it was available for sale. It sold out so here's another one. The picture of sea kayakers in Alaska stirs all sorts of reminiscences in me, so when I saw this poster that could be of the waters off Fox Island I knew I wanted to feature it in a writing contest, and won the prize.
Alaska's birth date is marked as March 30, 1867, but that was only the date of puchase. Posession date is October 18, 1867.
On that day Russia sold the land to the U.S. for a cool 7 million dollars. The event was marked that October 18th when officials from Russia lowered their flag that hung over the town of Sitka, and Americans raised the first version of the Alaska flag. The event is recognized and celebrated as Alaska Day.
Sometimes I think there wasn't any part of Alaska
my mom didn't get to experience. My grandfather, my mom's father, took his young wife and three little kids with him for a Summer on Sumdum Island back in the mid 1920s. They also called it Fox Island.
Grandpa was a pioneer, prospector and miner,
school teacher, railway police officer, Veteran remobilized for civilian duties later on in Alaska during WWII. Mom was born on the shores of the Bering Sea and lived through adventures children in the lower states can only hope to imagine.
That Summer on Sumdum was a fantasy come true.
Especially in Alaska and Canada, and other countries rimming the Arctic Ocean, men and women commonly wore furs, out of necessity, during the icy Winters. That practice resulted in the practice of fox farming, and Native Alaskans often turned entire islands into natural fox producing factories. Mom enjoyed telling stories of how the foxes ran free due to the fact that their home ground was surrounded by water.
She wasn't certain if Grandpa owned the island, or if he managed it for an indigenous owner, but my grandmother and the children had a fantastic experience. Still, it was a little more civilized than their earliest years. You can read about my mom, Alaskan Margie, here Margaret Culver.
A lovely memory my mom created
was her recounting of the preparations for their Summer on the island without the least comforts of home. She was limited to taking only necessary clothing along, no toys, no dolls. But they did have a dog that was both a family pal and a working dog. Grandpa did all the work afoot and Grandma did all the work by hand, without the least little gadget to her name.
She talked about the anticipation
of leaving Anchorage for a strange place, and about the boat trip to the camp. It was home to only her family, with her dog and the foxes. She was fascinated and thought it was marvelous to be around so many of those red doggies. Mom had her two brothers for kid company and there was no boredom to be found in that place.
Back in the first half of the 20th Century
women like my mom and grandma wore fur garments made by their native friends. After they moved south to Washington State they both brought stoles that consisted of the whole fox skin, scraped, tanned and shaped into a collar like shawl. Depending on the size of the animals, a stole took two or three skins.
Mom used to laugh riotously
every time she told a friend about one of the last times my mother wore her own fox stole. She and a lady friend sat in a church pew listening to the sermon. A woman in the row directly in front of them adjusted her own foxes in such a way that they settled back staring the two ladies right in the eye. Not spiritual, certainly not religious - either one of them - their concentration easily broke, and in this case, it split wide open.
Their laughter sounded like an air raid siren
and since they couldn't quiet themselves they had to get up and flee the church service. Humiliation wasn't such a companion as laughter at the spontaneous predicament they got themselves into. I was being a good girl in my Sunday School class so I missed out on the merriment and scandal (whichever you choose depends on your identification with the two goofy woman or the rest of the sedate worshipers).
Below is a video taken on the waters off Fox Island
near SumDum Island. It's a graceful video of a kayaking visitor's wonder at experiencing the grandeur of what he described as like being in another world.
Then I found the original photos of my family at SumDum Island.
Please see two photographs below. Click on them to see the full size shots. #1: Grandma and Mom modeling their Alaskan fur garments at my great-grandparents' home in McMinneville, Oregon, on one of their regular trips back home to see the folks. #2: the island with Grandpa's work shed skinning shop on the huge rock outcropping. #3: Alaskans paddling kayaks. #4: Mom's friend Mickie's pet fox keeps her dad company, investing his movie camera.
Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
First I saw the picture - it matches the video and the opening photo. Sea kayaking is native to the indigenous peoples of Alaska.
Newcomers, like my grandpa, and my dad, and even my teen brothers, took to it like the Sourdoughs they were.
Shelley Johnson narrates a beautiful tale of her enthusiasm for the sport and her practice as an accomplished guide and instructor. For an introduction to the sport this book is rated 5 Stars in Reviews.
Whatever your position on fur farming is, this book exposes the reasons behind the practice's boom years in Alaska, and explains the process and the attraction for the farmers.
During the 1920s, when my Grandpa had his Fox Island, many others ran similar properties on other islands. It was such a lucrative undertaking that it was nicknamed soft gold
Here's a combination too good to be true. Marsden Harley was an early 20th Century American painter who spent time at another Fox Island. It was off the coast of Georgetown, Maine. But if you don't tell - I won't either.
Float Along With Hero 2006 on His July 2013 Kayak Journey Around Fox Island, Alaska