Flying into Sitka, Alaska, I found my heart fluttering in anticipation. Breaking in between patches of clouds were tree-covered islands settled in vast channels of water. Houses were a scarcity – just wilderness and the occasional fishing boat in sight. Instantly, I knew I was landing in a place that would challenge my perspectives on community, nature and lifestyle. Sure enough, I was quickly greeted by my dear pal Kendall – a film and photo intern for the Sitka Conservation Society. She had packed two backpacks full of camping gear for us, and spontaneously decided that we were headed straight up the mountain to go camping.
As we hiked the foggy trail up the mountain ridge, Kendall explained the dynamics of the Alaska lifestyle. One of the most important factors was the landscape. As a small town consisting of fishermen, artists, natives, tour guides and local families – nature was a vital part of everyday living. Many people try to be as connected to the land as possible, whether it be through recreation or survival. Everyday life in Sitka can consist of fishing, trail running, kayaking, hunting, creating, carving, preserving, painting, camping – all based off of the local landscape.
As we set up camp on the mountaintop, I couldn’t imagine these surroundings as an everyday sight. Beautiful mountain giants dwarfed the little fishing town, the water lapping right up to the forests edge, and a smattering of islands scattered throughout the sea’s horizon. Yet this was the Sitka residents’ daily backdrop, and I immediately respected their ability to embrace the wilderness that engulfed them.
This type of natural living requires a high amount of intentionality, care and balance. The intensity of passion I saw toward nature infiltrated many of the other traits of the locals I had the privilege of meeting.
One of the most memorable moments was a brief morning interaction with Kendall’s family. It was the Fourth of July – an exciting day of celebration in the small town. Kendall’s cousins, five and nine years old, were getting ready for the day. Connor, the 9-year-old, was sighing as he told me that they had to go hiking before the festive town parade. Aunt Bridget responded saying that the kids needed “nature time” to balance their “town time” – not TV time, not screen time, not play time, but town time. I was immediately in awe of the way that nature played such a major part in maintaining a balanced family.
In America, many cities have a miraculous ability to starkly separate wilderness from society. Nature isn’t seen as a necessary staple for a balanced community, but instead a privilege. People flock to beaches, hikes and national parks just to get their weekly, monthly or even yearly dose. Yet here in Sitka, I got to experience firsthand how everyday interactions with the wild actually bring society together. Falling asleep each day to 10:30 p.m. sunsets and breathtaking mountains, I realized the Sitka example might be on the extreme side of the spectrum. Yet I found inspiration in the intentionality of everyday balance. While my time in Sitka was a literal breath of fresh air, I also fell in love with the way nature sustains community there. The Alaska experience helped me truly learn about connection – both to landscape and a local community.