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Happy Birthday to the Great Land of My Birth on Alaska Day

Updated on March 5, 2014

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 Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Grandma and Mom model their Alaskan furs.Skinning shed on rock base.Alaska Natives kayaking.Friend's pet fox.
Grandma and Mom model their Alaskan furs.
Grandma and Mom model their Alaskan furs.
Skinning shed on rock base.
Skinning shed on rock base.
Alaska Natives kayaking.
Alaska Natives kayaking.
Friend's pet fox.
Friend's pet fox.
The Complete Sea Kayakers Handbook, Second Edition (International Marine-RMP)
The Complete Sea Kayakers Handbook, Second Edition (International Marine-RMP)

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.

 
The Fur Farms of Alaska: Two Centuries of History and a Forgotten Stampede
The Fur Farms of Alaska: Two Centuries of History and a Forgotten Stampede

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

 
Fox Island, Art Poster by Marsden Hartley
Fox Island, Art Poster by Marsden Hartley

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

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    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @BrownEyedGirl69: That will be so exciting, if you are able to make the dream come true. I think you will be enthralled, whichever part of the state you visit.

    • BrownEyedGirl69 profile image

      BrownEyedGirl69 3 years ago

      My husband and I added Alaska to our Bucket List a while back. Your lens makes me want to visit even sooner. Loved your lens!

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @rob-hemphill: That reminds me of the first climb I made with my parents up the mountainside to the home of an elderly trapper. It was a itty bitty one room cabin hung with hides inside and out, waiting the fur rendezvous so he could sell them off.

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 3 years ago from Ireland

      Wow, this is fabulous, I'd love to experience the remoteness of Alaska. The nearest I'll ever get to it was when I met a trapper (in Yellowstone), who spent many hard years plying his trade in this amazingly wild part of the world - he had so many wonderful stories!

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 3 years ago

      Beautiful lens! Thanks for visiting me!

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Joebeducci: It sure is 'the place to go'. Hope you can make the trip sometime.

    • Joebeducci profile image

      Joebeducci 3 years ago

      Since I saw the movie ''Into the Wild'' I have always wanted to go to Alaska. Loved to read your lens about it! :)

      Greets,

      Joebeducci

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @favored: It's grandeur is forever imprinted on my mind. Appreciate your comment and hope you both get to make the trip.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      My husband has wanted to go to Alaska for years. It's such a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @grrbtn: The destination is sure (I was going to say 'worth') the journey, of a lifetime.

    • grrbtn profile image

      grrbtn 3 years ago

      Alaska is one place I definitely want to visit at least once in my lifetime. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Alaska with us.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Adventuretravels: That's sure a good beginning to take the google earth route, I'd say.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      That was such an interesting story to read. I've only been to Alaska once but it was a beautiful place to visit.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from London UK

      I would really love to go to Alaska. My son did a project about it last term and we 'visited' it on Google earth - it's a beautiful and fascinating part of the world. This lens is very interesting. Thanks.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @smine27: I feel so fortunate to have been there and am glad you, too, had the experience.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @ecogranny: Interesting how we can grow up knowing the family lore, yet still be unaware of how magnificent some of it was. Thanks.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      LOVE the stories of your mom's adventures with her family in Alaska. Looking forward to reading more about her on Alaskan Margie.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @CampingmanNW: So glad to have connected to your experience. If I could ever get in the condition to undertake this myself I'd do it in a flash.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 3 years ago

      Very cool. I always love a lens on someone's interest in kayaking and how it relates to their family. Whether it be winter kayaking or not. I have kayaked Alaska and it is exhilarating. Thanks for a fun read today. and being chosen as one of the Giant squid finishers!

    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @RinchenChodron: Wow, you have done such a wide variety of things in different places.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Diaper Bag Blog: Oh I do so hope you can realize that hope. It's spectacular!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 3 years ago

      I lived in AK for a few years and know this history. Yes, Happy Birthday Alaska!

    • Diaper Bag Blog profile image

      Stanley Green 3 years ago from Czech Republic

      Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on the Earth... I would love to visit Alaska once...

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @sybil watson: Thanks, Sybil. They had such amazing stories to tell.

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 3 years ago

      Nice. Congratulations on a nicely crafted lens

    • profile image

      sybil watson 3 years ago

      I loved reading about the history of your family, and Alaska. Congratulations on winning the daily prize.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Old Navy Guy: Thanks so much. It's always such a pleasure to revisit Alaska in photographs.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @getmoreinfo: Oh, I hope you get to go there. It's spectacular. At one point in our journeys we truly felt like we could see the North Pole and mountain tops in every direction.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Yes, it seems like it would have been the Yukon River. Mom and I drove along the Klondike River and Crossed the Yukon more than once, but I was never privileged to actually be on the water like the male members of my family were.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @SBPI Inc: Thanks. Bet you'd love it up there.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @takkhisa: Now that I read the last message I'm delighted because I hadn't known about the win. Alaska seems to have that kind of effect on people.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: Wow, I didn't know I won! Thanks for telling me. Yes, the whole state is remarkable and life changing for someone who's never encountered the real wilderness.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @ThreeQuarters2Day: Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Michelllle: Oh, I do hope you're able to do that. I haven't been back for so long myself, and intend to make a visit too.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: Thanks for the report; I sent in a bug report and edited and the photos showed up.

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      getmoreinfo 3 years ago

      What a great review, I have always wanted to visit Alaska, thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      I had a friend who biked from Missouri to the Yukon, and at some point floated down the river (Yukon river?) so I have always thought this would be an amazing place to visit. Her pictures were incredible.

    • SBPI Inc profile image

      SBPI Inc 3 years ago

      Real cool

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      Wow! I am amazed to see this lens! It is truly unique and great. However, Congratulations, I guess you are very happy now! :)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      Congrats on your win! Love the way you spun into your content with the headers. How I would love to experience sea kayaking in the land of your birth. Such a glorious place. I could live there, for sure.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image

      Dawn Romine 3 years ago from Nebraska

      What a wonderful story! Good job!

    • Michelllle profile image

      Michelllle 3 years ago

      Someday I will go and explore myself. Beautiful lens.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I wanted to see the photos, but they seem to have escaped. Maybe you can replace them

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @sousababy: That's sweet, neighbor! What's a continent when we share such a boundary.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 3 years ago

      Gorgeous . . it's so breathtaking to see the mountains along the horizon and the water seems so peaceful. Happy Birthday Alaska (Yukon gives you a kiss from Canada)!