SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska




October 01, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- This is the time of year when people throughout Alaska start noticing signs of the oncoming winter.
jpg Dave Kiffer

Of course, in Our Fair Salmon City, we noticed winter was coming a while back.

July 4th to be exact, when forty-mile an hour winds and cold rain raked our 4th of July Parade!

That was a bit earlier than normal. Usually, we notice it starting to get colder and the leaves starting to fall in early August. That of course is the height of summer for most folks. In Ketchikan, we don’t have a height of summer. Ever.

But since we didn’t have August  this year (17 straight days of rain at one point), I guess Mother Nature started her alarm clock a wee bit early.

As usual, I digress.

In the more temperate parts of the state, like Fairbanks and the Brooks Range, you first get a hint of the coming of winter when “Termination Dust” arrives early in the fall. The first dustings of fresh snow make the higher mountains start to look like they could use a lather, rinse and repeat of zinc pyrithione.

Sure, we also get “Termination Dust” in Ketchikan, except that this year – as in most years – it will be hard to see it because the tops of the mountains have been smothered by rain clouds since late June.

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had any visible “Termination Dust” in Ketchikan though.

For more than a decade, the sudden disappearance of our summer visitors and economy has acted as a sort of “Termination Dust.” It is as if, we suddenly got up one morning and found that “winter” had arrived and were buried in six feet of snow.

It is a man-made Termination Dust. It consists primarily of strapping tape and packing popcorn and, fortunately, it does not cover our streets. It arrives in a frantic storm, is put to use in thousands of boxes, gets loaded into dozens of U-hauls and disappears completely. Usually in about 24 to 36 hours.

After years of doing this, the stores are remarkably efficient. It is not unusual to walk by a store that had been fully operational a few hours before and see than the only thing left is the dust on the floor. And the For Rent sign in the window.

As soon as the last ship leaves, a fleet of U-Hauls appears from nowhere and within a few hours they are packed up and waiting at the ferry terminal, only a few bits of packing “popcorn” and some strips of strapping tape lying about Downtown.

That, and, an awful lot of (or a lot of awful) plywood nailed up over most of the windows of Downtown Ketchikan as if we were bracing for Hurricane Carnival, rather than just the onset of the relentless slow drip of Winter, which will only be broken months hence when the plywood is peeled off and the curios, trinkets and gemstones flood back in as if carried down Ketchikan Creek by a spring cloudburst.

And so the Termination Dust of the pack up and go (The Caribbean or Bust!) has come once again and the summer – the visitor season – is over again, leaving us with only the memories of another hectic time and the stories of this year’s “wacky” visitors.

Such as this scenario, that occurred in early September on Ketchikan Creek.

It had been pouring for several days, and the creek was even higher and more boisterous than usual, seeming as if it was trying to sweep away everything in its path, including the Park Avenue bridge and Creek Street boardwalk.

Amidst the deluge there was a group of visitors peering off the bridge into the churning white water, in order to see the salmon that they had traveled thousands of miles to see.

“But why aren’t they there?” one woman asked aloud.

“There’s too much water,” a man replied.

“Then why don’t they just turn it off for a while?” she added.

We wish.  

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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