My heart is at home

Amid the glaciers and peaks,

I want for nothing.

As we enter the holiday roller coaster of parties, desserts, dresses, and decorations, I am happy that we start our winter festivities with Alaska Day. I’m sure that many states – if not all – have a day to recognize the day they became an outline on the United States map. But for Alaska, we kind of got around a bit before ending up where we are now. Contrary to some firmly held tourist beliefs, we were never actually part of our friendly Canuck neighbors just a hop and a skip away. Spain tried, sent some boats over, got in a few scuffles with the Brits who were also trying, but never really settled in as the Russians were already busy trapping their way along our coasts and playing Monopoly. But with less than 1,000ish Russians, it was pretty hard to get Park Place and Boardwalk, let alone put up any hotels. Luckily the Tlingit were able to stand their ground and keep doing their thing – because let’s face it, Vitus Bering did not ‘discover’ Alyeska, (‘the mainland’ or ‘the land the water breaks against’), people were already here for thousands of years. But I am so glad Seward took one for the team and endured some serious grief for buying this frigid wasteland full of nothing but snow and ice including gold, glaciers, salmon, bears, mountains, lakes, berries, trees, birds, seals, whales, dolphins, and everything that makes my heart happy. The United States flag was hoisted in the beautiful town of Sitka on Friday, October 18th, 1867.

Many of our amazing  towns have celebrations they are well known for: Fairbanks kicks off the calendar year with the internarial Ice Festival in February, Anchorage parties Alaskan style with Fur Rondy in late February to early March, Juneau sings and dances it’s heart out with Folk Festival in April, Petersburg embraces Norwegian fishing culture with May Fest, the hops flow at Brew Fest in Haines in late May, people pack the streets of Seward on 4th of July, Girdwood plays music in the tress during Forest Fair in early July, Wrangell hosts the Bear Festival in late July, Ketchikan races slugs and bakes with berries in their  Blueberry Festival in late July to early August, and finally everyone flocks to Haines for the Bald Eagle Festival in November. But something a lot of people don’t realize is that without Alaska Day in Sitka, our celebrations and state pride would look incredibly different here in 2015. And though this list of celebrations is a good way to plan an amazing year, it’s not just our formal celebrations that should make us thankful for Alaska Day, but actually EVERY DAY; because Alaska is pretty amazing, 365 days a year. Except for that whole Good Friday fiasco, I don’t think that was a good day in Alaska’s diary.

I have been asked more times than I can count why I still live here, and why I haven’t moved down to the land of roads, malls, and fast food chains. And I simply reply, “If you can find me a state with everything I have here, I will consider it.” And I have yet to find a truly comparable city anywhere else. There are several states with breathtaking mountain ranges, with beautiful beaches, and states with wildlife around every corner. But I don’t just want these individual things; I unabashedly want them all together. I want to hike from the ocean to a mountain peak and gaze for miles across inlets and alpine lakes. I want to go hang out at a glacier watching bears and then go watch some whales from an evening beach bon fire. I want to drive a few minutes to hit some solid trail running with my dog chasing the furry-woodland-creatures-we-do-not-name, not drive a few hours. And aside from all the natural beauty, I want people that are as caring and genuine as Alaskan’s are. Is this too much to ask of life? No. No it’s not. I have found all of this and more.

And Alaska Day I celebrate not just for the experiences I am lucky enough to have in this great state, but all those I have yet to make. Because Alaska’s kind of a big deal.

Courtney Wendel has lived in Juneau since she was a year old. She has a twin brother and an older brother, and learned to enjoy the outdoors at a young age by following the boys into mischief. Graduating from JDHS in 2006, she attended UAS to receive her Literature of the Environment, BA English degree. When not at work she spends most of her time on the diverse trail system hiking, running, or camping with her spotted pooch and adventure buddies.