Story last updated at 4/29/2009 - 10:44 am
There are so many interesting ways to mark the changing of the seasons in Southeast Alaska. I like to watch the snow line gradually retreat on mountaintops in the spring, then descend again towards town in the fall. It's fun to see the ice melt and spot migrating birds again. In the harbors, new boats appear everyday, and those that have been around all winter are shedding their plastic winter layers.
But perhaps the surest marks of summer in Southeast are the unfamiliar faces toting cameras, and the ships and buses that bring them here and get them around town.
I'm starting to see people stop outside our office windows and take photos - not of us (thankfully) or my plant (though I wish someone would identify it for me) - but of a sight so many of us take for granted: Mount Juneau rising above the streets of downtown.
One thing that makes it so easy to identify the visitors among us in the summer is their obvious awe at the beauty that surrounds us. They crane their necks up at mountains, point at every bald eagle, shriek with delight at whales.
Of course, locals also take their cameras out on sunny days, and enjoy watching birds and whales, but it's with a calmer sort of awe.
When you have never seen some magnificent thing before - whether a whale or a glacier - it's thrilling and sometimes overwhelming. Some might say the thrill wears off after a while. I think we gain a deeper appreciation and wisdom with repeated viewings. We can observe the changing faces of glacier, learn to recognize individual whales, feel the difference between winter and summer sun.
Living in a place like Southeast Alaska, it's hard to not to take an interest in the natural world. We talk about the weather not just for lack of more interesting topics but because meteorology is important to our lives here, and we observe weather patterns with interest.
We pay attention to signs of animals, whether eagles or bears or whales, because they're fascinating but also because our paths intersect - and if we don't pay attention, one of us could get hurt.
This weekend, two different men said to me in passing, "Another beautiful day in paradise." The first time, I thought the man must have missed winter - though sun does seem to cause short-term memory loss among many Southeast Alaskans - but for those of us who have been in Alaska all winter, summer can almost feel like a vacation in our own backyard.
In the summer we naturally get a new perspective on our home community as it warms up and we spend more time in the woods and on the water. It's also easier to visit other communities.
But we also get to see the streets we walk every day through the eyes visitors. Tourism is vital to the Southeast economy, but one fringe benefit we often overlook is that visitors can help us see our homes through new lenses.
To those reading this who are visiting Southeast Alaska, welcome! I'd be interested to hear what you think of our home.
Katie Spielberger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.