Column - Commentary - Humor
WELCOME TO THE TONGASS ZOO!By DAVE KIFFER
September 21, 2019
The other day, I was walking along Park Avenue. In Ketchikan we like to be as obvious as possible. Therefore, we call the road that goes to City Park "Park Avenue." No confusion there.
Back when we had actual docks and not just tourist disembarkation points, we called one of the first streets that went perpendicular to the docks, "Dock Street."
The street that went by St. Agnes Mission was indeed "Mission Street."
The section of Tongass Avenue that passed by the Spruce Mill was "Mill Street." Then we - well not actually me, I wasn't around then - started naming things after people or places and it became a little more confusing, Especially Tongass Avenue which went from Tongass to Water to Front to Mill to Stedman before going back to Tongass again. Bet that really ticks off the Transit Trolls at Google Maps.
And how come Water Street doesn't actually go to the "water?" As a trestle, it does go over the water but not to the water. I suppose it should be called "Overwater Street." Or maybe just call it Trestle Street or just make it a continuation of Front Street. Go figure.
But I digress.
Anyway, we are missing out. Totally.
I am so glad you asked.
I was walking along Park Avenue and in the distance I heard some pretty enthusiastic applauce. No, it wasn't coming from the Logging Show. I was too far for even the chain saw buzz to carry.
Which reminds me of the time, a visitor - obviously not at the Logging Show - asked me what that incessant buzzing noise was Downtown.
"Mosquitos," I answered.
She looked kinda nervous as she skedaddled back to her ship, the "Insanguination of the Seas."
But I digress, again.
Back to the applause. It wasn't even that general applause that you hear from the shops when a credit card is successfully deployed (See "I hold in My Hand.... SITNEWS, April 28, 2014). No, it was coming from the bridge where the Ketchikan Creek "falls" are. I heard the applause happen a couple more times as I approached. When I got there, there were a bunch of folks peering off the bridge at the "cataract" underneath.
Note that I put quotes around "falls" and "cataract."
A few years back, I had a dispute with a visitor over whether the Ketchikan Creek "falls" were really "falls." To be honest, he had a point. Especially when you compare them to Niagara, or Yosemite or Victoria. But since he was fussing that he had walked "all the way up to that cute little park and hadn't seen the 'falls' they told him about on the ship," I had to argue just to hold up the honor of the Ketchikan Creek Falls. Especially in light of the fact that you sure as heck don't see any salmon going up Niagara Falls.
Which leads us right back to the applause.
The visitors were clapping, hooting and whistling each time a salmon launched itself skyward in an attempt to summit the rapids and get up to the spawning grounds.
Talk about positive reinforcement!
It must be completely life affirming for the salmon to hear that level of encouragement. As soon as they break through the surface of the water, all that cheering and whooping. Must make them want to keep jumping over and over again. Totally awesome.
I was also happy for the visitors who were so enjoying the show.
For the first couple of months of Visitor Season there are very few fish in the Creek. Which makes the visitors those months a little cheesed. Prior to the arrival, they have heard about the million plus salmon that return to Ketchikan Creek to spawn and they are looking forward to being up close and personal with nature. Only in May and June (and some of July) there ain't a whole lot of shaking and baking going on in the creek bed.
I know this peeves the visitors because they come into our store near the creek and ask "where the fish are." When we tell them they are too early and the only fish in town are the fish are in the freezer, they are not amused.
Fortunately, this time of year, there are fish in the creek and that makes everyone happy, at least until the fish spawn and die and start smelling. Then the visitors ask about the "die off," make incorrect allusions to global warming, and then grumble that we don't do something about the awful smell.
I once had a long interaction with a woman from Switzerland who couldn't seem to grasp that salmon spawing and dying was part of the natural cycle. And she really didn't understand why we didn't take giant hoses and wash the salmon carcasses out to sea because the smeel was "really bothering" her.
I get that animals don't die off by the millions in Switzerland and therefore nothing smells bad. Except the cheese, of course-
So what are we missing out on?
The springing salmon are creating a show. One that is obviously pleasing to the visitors. Maybe it is finally time to start corralling the other wildlife in the community and turn Our Fair Salmon City into a living, visitor friendly "zoo."
You laugh, but it makes some sense. In Sitka, the Fortress of the Bear has bears in some of the old pulp mill clarifying tanks. Maybe the folks at Ward Cove can do something similar with their old pulp mill clarifying tanks.
But in the meantime, we can do something Downtown. We already know that black bears have been known to roam the Creek Street boardwalk. Perhaps it is time to make them a permanent exhibit. Or at the very least figure out a way to get them to roam the Creek during visitors availability hours like they sometimes do at Herring Cove.
This would probably involve the installation of food "dumpsters" on the Creek. Not an optimal situation, for certain, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few rotten eggs.
Another possibility would be to standardize the whale sightings in the harbor.
To be honest, this first occurred to me a few years ago, when a visitor asked me when the "whale shows" were. Of course, I snarkily replied "at 10 am and 2 pm."
But why the heck not?
Yes, I get that it is somewhat difficult to get a whale to begin breeching at specific times of the day. We are not SeaWorld, for the Grandson of Shamu's sake.
But maybe there is a way to encourage the behavior to our benefit. First we need to restrain the whales in Tongass Narrows. I'm thinking we could buy a whole bunch of surplus submarine netting from the US Navy.
And with the whales as permanent residents of the harbor - at least from April to October - then we need to think of ways to encourage them to "show" at the proper times.
Maybe they need some positive reinforcement like the salmon in the Creek. Frankly, despite their size whales have always been a lot more "cuddly" than salmon. A salmon is more like a halibut. Just a mouth and an appetite with a tail. Whales can be playful, just look at all those cool You Tube videos of them bubble feeding underneath kayaks and causing all sorts of jolly mayhem.
All we have to do pump thousands of gallons of plankton onto the surface of the Narrows at, say, 10 am and 2 pm and the cetaceans will go wild. Throw in the endless applause - because after all, applauding for giant whales crashing into the ocean is far more satisfying than clapping for a nearly spawned out salmon under a bridge - will keep them feeding and jumping and feeding and jumping and feeding and jumping until they are lost in a krilltastic coma.
And there you have it. The final (at least for now) frontier in terms of First City visitor amenities. We've lacked a real zoo component ever since they shoed most of the wildlife away from the Landfill.
All we need now is for our furry, feathered and finned friends to cooperate!
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Contact Dave at email@example.com
Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.