You all know how much I love fishing and the great outdoors from my previous posts, and of course, how much I love my home state of Alaska. But one of my other favorite hobbies goes hand in hand with all of these other adventures—photography. Now I’m no professional, but I do take pride in a lot of the photos I’ve taken from my various adventures. But the more time I spend exploring Alaska’s endless acreage (not quite endless, but there are 663,300 square miles), the more I realize that my photography skills themselves have a lot of leeway because Alaska gives me such beautiful things to photograph.
These are some of my favorite things to photograph (with my own pictures providing visual support):
Mountains are a favorite subject of many photographers, and Alaska is a perfect place to look for mountains. The state is comprised of 14 major mountain ranges, with hundreds of peaks. In fact, Alaska has 60 different mountains that surpass 10,000 ft. above sea level. There are mountains everywhere you turn. The great part about photographing mountains is the how striking they are against the sky. Speaking of which…
The Big Sky
At a glance, this photo features a lot of boats in a marina. But the reason I love this photo is not because of the things in the foreground, but rather, it’s all about what’s in the background. The bright blue sky with puffy clouds framed against the jagged snow-capped mountains looks too good to be true—it looks like it came straight out of a Bob Ross painting, doesn’t it? Even our state flag, which features the Big Dipper and the North Star, can’t help but acknowledge the vastness of the sky in Alaska.
Thousands of miles of undeveloped land means thousands of miles of wild plants. These mountain wildflowers and their bright purple make for a striking photo as they pop out with the water and snow capped mountain backdrop.
It’s not always easy to capture them on camera, but Alaska’s coastline and mountains are full of beautiful animals of all shapes and sizes. I was lucky enough to spot an American Bald Eagle in a tree as I was exploring one day. I know there are a few branches in the way, but I can’t deny that photographing the national bird in its native habitat is one of the coolest experiences from all of my explorations.
I’ve spent a large portion of my life on a boat, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the simple elegance of a fishing boat in the harbor. With 6,640 miles of coastline, there are unlimited opportunities to snap a photo of a boat or a fisherman in Alaska.
Alaska’s road system is far from comprehensive—in fact, many of its towns can only be reached by aircraft. But the roads that do exist are interesting. Winding along shorelines, carved into the side of mountains, and often surrounded with trees and wildlife, Alaska’s roads provide an interesting piece of the narrative about the efforts of humans to tame the Alaskan frontier.
Alaska has a fascinating cultural history, with its connections to Native Americans, Russians, and Americans from various walks of life and time periods. This photo, commemorating the Yukon gold rush tells the story of some of the early Americans to explore “The Last Frontier.”
Do you have any photos from your adventures that you’d like to add? I’d love to see them. Share them by posting on our Facebook page.
Until the next adventure,
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from Alaska!
Around this time of year, I get a lot of messages from my friends around the country asking about Alaska’ special holiday traditions. The truth is, although Alaska has been part of the United States since its purchase in 1867, and it has taken on many of the bits and pieces of American culture, our rich heritage also has given Alaska a few unique holiday traditions of our own.
One of the coolest traditions, to me, is the singing of Alutiiq holiday carols. Of course we know the words to the standard songs that everyone else knows and loves, but it’s a cool nod to our state’s native people to sing some of their songs as well. Two of the most popular tunes that we sing are “Sledding” and “Snowman,” both of which are Alutiiq originals. We also sing some Alutiiq translations of traditional carols, like “Nepainani Unuk” (“Silent Night”).
In Alaska, we don’t stop at just singing the tunes though. As is our custom, groups of us brave the cold and go caroling door to door with a colored star at the end of a long pole. One of the theories is that this tradition was adapted from a Scandinavians tradition called “Stjernespill,” as Alaska is home to 61,000 Scandinavians, roughly 9% of our population. Whatever the reason, it is not uncommon to see numerous groups of kids and adults going door to door with the brightly colored star on a stick, singing carols and spreading holiday joy.
When we’re finished caroling, everyone is ready to warm up inside with some good local food. One of our favorite holiday treats include maple-frosted doughnuts, made with maple syrup from our bountiful forests. Another local favorite is a savory fish pie called piruk. And no holiday at our home is complete without smoked salmon to snack on.
Of course, aside from the statewide traditions, our family has some traditions of our own. During my travels over the years, I have amassed a collection of ornaments for our tree, each of which has a story about someplace that I’ve visited. My pewter fleur-de-lis comes from the French Quarter of New Orleans; my little wooden nesting matryoshka doll is a souvenir from a trip to Russia; and my most prized ornament of all is my Murano Glass bauble from Venice. But no ornament or tradition is more important to me than spending time with my family. And I hope you have a chance to do the same.
We don’t have much daylight this time of year up in Sitka—the sun is up for less than a full work shift this time of year, rising at 8 and setting at 3:30. But in spit of the days growing ever shorter, many of us, my family in particular, are eagerly awaiting the traditions and the family time that come with Thanksgiving. These are some of my favorite traditions:
Everyone thinks of one thing when they think of Thanksgiving—food–and we’re no different in my family. Since Thanksgiving even often consists of late nights catching up with friends at local bars, there’s a pretty sure bet that at least one person will wake up with a bit of a headache on Thanksgiving morning. Our tradition accounts for that. Thanksgiving breakfast consists of some raw Alaskan oysters and champagne. Oysters and champagne help fill the grumbling stomachs and quell any lingering effects of the night before. Plus, I douse the oysters in my traditional tarragon and shallot vinegar mignonette. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.
Off in our kitchen, everybody pitches in to prepare the meal—another of our traditions. My daughter prepares her three delicious types of pie: apple, pumpkin, and chocolate. My son and his wife handle the gravy and the stuffing. Even my grandkids pitch in, peeling the potatoes for whipping and mashing. And the dynamic duo of my wife and I tackle the most important part of the meal: the bird.
I know Thanksgiving and turkey go together like birds of a feather, but in our family, we make use of the local wildlife to put a unique spin on the bird—instead of the turkey, we cook a few fresh Alaskan Ptarmigan, a gamebird that is indigenous to Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It’s not that we have anything against turkey, though! We just like to make use of the local wildlife. And we prepare the Ptarmigan in a similar way to preparing the turkey, which makes it juicy and flavorful just like a turkey.
There are a few other uniquely Alaskan spins that we put on the Thanksgiving meal. For one thing, I don’t mean to boast, but our cranberry sauce is almost assuredly better than yours. The reason, of course, is the wild cranberry bushes in Alaska mean that we don’t have to rely on canned sauce from the store. My wife diligently picks cranberries in the late summer and makes them into her homemade sauce that she brings out on Thanksgiving Day. Another traditional Alaskan side dish that we’ve included in our meal ever since I learned the recipe from a fisherman in Juneau is delicious herring egg salad, made from the delicious eggs of our indigenous friend, the Pacific Herring.
You had to know that Thanksgiving couldn’t possibly squeak by without the appearance of my favorite food, and the source of my livelihood—the salmon. I save the salmon fillets for the day after Thanksgiving so as not to upstage the Ptarmigan (what kind of fisherman would I be if I didn’t prefer fish to meat from land?), but I work the salmon in in a few other ways. In the hungry hours between breakfast and supper, I put together a tray of smoked salmon to tide us over. But with the meal, along with all the rich foods from land, everyone is treated to my salmon pate, made with smoked salmon, cream cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, dill, and green onion. I serve it on crackers.
Of course, there’s more to our family’s tradition than just food. We spend a lot of time telling stories and relaxing by the fire. We love to reminisce about Thanksgivings past, and we try to enjoy each other’s company as best we can. And that’s the advice I have for you too—you never know what the next year may bring, so make as much of the quality family time as you can during the family holiday season.
Have you started thinking about your Halloween costume yet? I always begin my Halloween costume preparations early, because I take great pride in my costume looking really awesome. The internet has definitely revolutionized the costume preparation process, both in the ideas and inspiration that is out there (hello Pinterest), and the ease of finding and ordering literally any item you could possibly imagine on the likes of Amazon and eBay. I’ll admit that I use the internet to supplement my costumes sometimes, but I really love the tradition of scouring local shops for costumes and accessories. It almost feels like a riddle to solve—I know exactly what I’m looking for, and I just have to figure out where I could possibly find it while not spending a fortune.
I’ve dressed up as many things over the years—some of the highlights have included Ernest Hemmingway (beard, corn cob pipe, and a fisherman sweater,), James Bond (white tux, martini glass, and a toy gun with a shoulder holster), and “The Most Interesting Man” (beard, black suit, unbuttoned dress shirt with no tie, six-pack of beer, and a jai alai stick). My all-time favorite getup, though, was the time I dressed up as a swashbuckling pirate. I already spend my life out on the seven seas, catching wild salmon and cod for you and your family. But it was funny to me to channel the sea theme into a buccaneer, complete with three-cornered hat, red bandanna, high socks, plastic cutlass, and a puffy shirt. For good measure, I threw in some fake gold teeth and drew some nautical tattoos onto my forearms.
In my years of observing as my friends compile their Halloween costumes, I’ve noticed three major personality types.
- First of all, there are the people who go all out, like me (and some people who even go beyond my level, sparing no expense to make the perfect costume. These people often keep their costume a secret until the last minute, and they can hardly contain the excitement of walking into a Halloween party and debuting the results of their hard work.
- The second personality is the pre-packaged store-bought costume type. These people are perfectionists about the appearance of their costumes, but they are a little less confident that they could create a costume that would live up to their vision for the costume. Don’t mistake their lack of skills with spray paint and sewing machines as laziness, though. These people search high and low to find the perfect costume (although they do spend the night in fear that a costume twin will walk into their party).
- The final type is the last-minute costume extraordinaire. Whether this person decided, at the last minute, to come to the party, or they procrastinated, it’s often pretty creative what these people are able to come up with. These costumes are made exclusively from items found in this person’s house or garage. Some of the most awesome costumes I’ve ever seen have come from last minute ideas, but I’ve also seen my fair share of super lame last-minute costumes too…like a toga made out of a Power Rangers bed sheet. Moral of the story: either plan ahead, or be prepared to laugh at yourself.
The good news for this year’s Alaskan Jack’s Halloween Photo Contest is that we don’t care whether you’ve been planning your costume since last January, whether you bought it at your local party store, or whether you whipped it together thirty seconds before submitting (although we are judging based on creativity). Just submit your photos to us on Facebook, and I’ll pick out the ones I like best. With your photo you will be entered to win Alaskan Jack’s meals, and one lucky grand prize winner will get a Weber charcoal grill, grilling utensils, and Alaskan Jack’s products ($200 value). Two runners up will get an Alaskan Jack’s Product Prize Pack ($35 value). Click here for official rules and entry instructions.
Wherever I have lived over the years, I am always excited when football season rolls around again. Aside from the games themselves, which are a favorite Sunday afternoon pastime, there are a few things about football season that go hand-in-hand, and one in particular stands out: grilling and tailgating.
Even though we have no NFL or NCAA football teams, Alaskans have a passion for football, and I still love to get together with friends and family for football games. And where there are people gathered to watch football, there has to be grilling. While we don’t have NFL football stadium parking lots to gather in, I’ve created an annual tradition among some of the guys from the fishing fleet and some other pals and family members come over to my house for what we’ve dubbed the “Home Tailgate.”
September is a beautiful time of year in Alaska, so we set up a projector to broadcast the game on the whole side of my garage outside. We set up tables and chairs for food, and we have a barbecue pit set to grill up delicious wild-caught fish from the Alaskan Jack’s fleet. Everyone is always looking forward to dipping some tortilla chips in my wife’s Blueberry, Strawberry and Jicama Salsa, which is a favorite of all the guests. For those less interested in the games, there’s always a game of horseshoe going, and plenty of Adirondack chairs, blankets and green grass for relaxing.
This year we gathered for the first game of the NFL season for the Seattle Seahawks, who took on the Miami Dolphins. The Seahawks are the closest team to Sitka, so many people in the area are Seahawks fans. Our time zone is an hour behind Seattle’s so the game was set to kick off at noon local time for us. Some of my friends who were most interested in actually watching the game began gathering to start cooking and hanging out as early as 10 am, and I was prepared with enough salmon, cod, and other snacks and drinks to get the party started and to keep the grill going even beyond the end of the Seahawks game, and into the late nationally televised game between the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals.
Both games had exciting finishes, and people stuck around well into the evening. Once it started getting dusk, I started a fire in the fire pit and we toasted some marshmallows and swapped stories of our summer adventures and our fall and winter plans and goals. In Alaska, the fall always feels like it’s over before we know it, so it’s great for us to get out there and enjoy the sun and the warm air while it lasts.
Until the next adventure,
During our fishing excursions, we get to see some of the beautiful towns along the Alaskan coastline. Most of these cities have great things to explore, but I don’t always have a chance to stop and admire the cities. This month, I spent some time in my home, Sitka, Alaska and I decided that while I was there, I should explore some of the wonders of this town I call home.
In spite of its modest population of about 9,000 people, it is the largest city-borough in the United States, in terms of land area. This land is made up of beautiful coastlines, mountains and valleys, and a great town. One of the reasons Sitka is so interesting to me is that it was settled by three different people groups at different times in history, and the heritage of each group of settlers has helped to make the town so unique. Plus, Sitka was where the United States formally purchased Alaska from Russia. Sitka was first settled by the Tlingit people tens of thousands of years ago. In more recent history, 1799 to be exact, Russians settled it, and named it New Arkhangelsk (“New Archangel”) after a city in Russia, and the Archangel Michael. When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 (for only $7.2 million!) the city took on its current identity. Sitka even served as the capital of the Alaskan Territory until 1906, and every October 18, it is home to the Alaskan Day festival that commemorates the Alaskan purchase.
Because of the rich history or Sitka, it has some very diverse architecture. My favorite building in town is Saint Michael’s Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Even though the original cathedral burned down in the 1960s, it was rebuilt in the Russian style as a nod to its heritage.
Walking along the streets of Sitka, I encountered a statue tribute to another part of Alaska’s rich history: gold. Gold was discovered in Sitka around the same time it was discovered in California, and it was this gold, along with fish canning, that helped the town establish Sitka as a thriving town. The statue, a prospector, captured the essence of adventure and the excitement about the potential for success.
After a long day of walking the streets of Sitka and the exploring the trails of Sitka National Historical Park, I settled in for dinner and drinks at a pub with a view out over Crescent Bay. In the distance, beyond the boats, I could see several tiny islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago.
I love the fishing off of Sitka, and sharing the catch with you, I always treasure the opportunities I get to take advantage of the mild summer weather and take in Alaska’s beauty. I’ll give you an update on Sitka after this year’s Alaskan Day Festival.
Until the next adventure,