Alaska: Sitka Symposium 2007

There’ve been no interim reports during my time in Sitka, Alaska. I kept having to decide whether to (1) take a quiet walk in Totem Park or by one of the harbors or (2) attempt to get a useful level of wireless signal. Guess which won, even though—or perhaps because—the weather was cool and often drizzly?


The Sitka Symposium is wonderful. I hadn’t attended in five years. It’s billed as "the best conversation you’ll have," and that’s true. There’s a central topic and a small group of resource people, plus a not-too-big gathering of participants.

This year’s topic was "On the Edge: The Necessity of Beauty." The resource folks were potter/weaver/writer/architect Rina Swentzell, writer/teacher Scott Russell Sanders, poet Barbara Ras, and sculptor/writer Tom Jay. The total group consists of between forty and sixty people, varied and fascinating. The participants read, talk, and think for a few days, as a whole group, in small groups, and as individuals. As usual, the subject wasn’t one we could talk through to completion, but we covered a lot of interesting territory as we explored it.

You don’t need an invitation to attend. You just need to be able to figure out how to register and get to Sitka and find housing there. This is all possible, as I’ve proven by doing it against all logic on several occasions.

The photo below, which I took when I was leaving, shows what Sitka looks like from the air. It’s on Baranof Island, which is in turn largely composed of parts of the Tongass National Forest (see the July 2007 issue of National Geographic). It’s rich in cultural as well as natural history, with Tlingit-, Russian-, Finnish-, and English-speaking background (and more). You can get there by water or air. That long, straight strip is the Sitka Airport runway. Yes, it’s surrounded by water. Ferry also works, if you have the time to travel that way (it’s on my wish list).  In past years, some participants have arrived by kayak. I think at least one sailed in this year.


What I read during the week was Scott Russell Sanders’ A Private History of Awe, which I recommend highly. Sometimes I’ve found that I like a writer in person better than his/her books, or vice versa. In Scott Sanders, the two match perfectly in integrity, intelligence, and humanity.

On the plane(s) home I read Martha Grimes’ The Old Wine Shades. Thanks to SueEllen Campbell for the loaner book. Mystery writers end up on a publication treadmill that often crushes the life out of their works; I frequently discover a writer I admire and then quit reading later works when the market-driven release schedule force the follow-up stories into flatness. Martha Grimes has been able to simultaneously produce new works and freshen the form. She does that in The Old Wine Shades, breaking the mold as she moves forward.

And here’s what I accomplished during the past week on my socks from ColorJoy! Lynn H‘s lovely yarn. I keep trying to take a photo that does the colors justice. This one is closer, but still misses the richness.


The variegated (predominantly purple) socks I finished just before I left were perfect for the cool, damp Sitka weather this past week. Wool socks and Teva sandals: the ideal footgear for Southeast Alaska in June.

Except for the times when you need rubber boots. The pre-trip wrapping of my old boots
in black duct-tape worked. They didn’t leak when I mucked about in
the intertidal zone. I learned a lot about the land and water and people of Sitka this time and on previous trips from Vivian Mork, Carolyn Servid, Greg Streveler and Kathleen Dean Moore.

This is about to turn into a list of wonderful folks (everyone at the symposium) and of their writings, which could get overwhelming, so I’ll stop. Links from the Island Institute pages will lead to more treasures for those who are interested. I’ve participated in 2000 ("Matters of Faith, Matters of Fact"), 2001 ("Gifts of Grace: Reconciliation, Restoration, and Forgiveness"), 2002 ("Creating a Geography of Hope"), and 2007 ("On the Edge: The Necessity of Beauty").


2 thoughts on “Alaska: Sitka Symposium 2007”

  1. This sounds so inspirational! I am not usually one to go to conferences, but this sounds like the kind of gathering I could really come to appreciate. At the moment, still grateful to be at home…while the poor professor packs for his next voyage.

  2. Yes, Sitka was a wonderful experience. So many wonderful people attended the conference-including you.

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