Finding Home in Southeast Alaska

A move to southeast Alaska uncovers more than just a mythical land—rather an exciting family history.

| August 2013

  • Chasing Alaska
    Discover the wilds and wonders of Alaska through the eyes of two men a century apart in “Chasing Alaska.”
    Cover Courtesy Lyons Press
  • Alaska
    Alaska is still changing. Even when you can’t see it.
    Photo By Fotolia/ALCE

  • Chasing Alaska
  • Alaska

After trading the comforts of the Lower 48 for the vast, mythical Last Frontier, one man accidentally finds family history. Chasing Alaska (Lyons Press, 2013) follows author C.B. Bernard’s journey to Southeast Alaska, his discovery of a similar journey taken by an Arctic explorer ancestor, and his efforts to understand the ever-changing north and our relationship with the land. This excerpt was taken from chapter 1, “Change.” 

Tonight there is no wind . . . and we are moving steadily west. 

Southeast Alaskans call it a sucker hole when a patch of blue opens in the clouds and suckers you into thinking the sky is clearing. Tourists fall for them regularly. The locals know better, beaten down by the unrelenting rain that saturates these islands. There seems little chance of such false promises as I leave the harbor, no fragments of clarity, the sky resolutely overcast. Shadows paint the mountains with undertones of menace, though sun brightened the same snow-bitten peaks just yesterday, a rare cloudless winter day in Sitka. I’d hoped for two in a row. As my lazy wake spreads, other boats nod their assent of my wish—less modest here, perhaps, where you measure misery by the calendar and dodge raindrops 230 days a year. The two weeks of uninterrupted sunshine that greeted my arrival in town served as opening act for the downpours, deluges, and drenchers that headlined the next fifteen without reprieve.

My God, I thought. What have I done? 

Liquid sunshine, they call the rain here, an intentionally optimistic euphemism, but it’s more like a houseguest who won’t leave or paranoia you can’t shake. Want to survive Southeast Alaska? Learn to ignore rain, or embrace insanity. I’m no optimist, but I believe the mind’s instinct for survival resets certain counters each night out of psychological necessity—every day is a new one—and I awoke this morning looking for the sun. Maybe I’m still too new here, still in the habit of New England’s finicky forecasts, but I’m still susceptible to sucker holes. On the way to the harbor, a dull glow to the east gave me hope. Clouds bullied it into hiding before I even parked my truck. The sky and water over Sitka Sound are the same flat gray, without boundary or texture, erasing the horizon. It may be months before I see the sun again.

Under the bridge and into the channel. In the no-wake zone the boat’s gas engine rumbles and stutters beneath me, rattling floorboards, vibrating the cabin and dash, angry at being roused from its slumber, desperate for more throttle—and me on my second cup of coffee, commiserating.

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