cheechako (c̸hē c̸hä′kō, -c̸hak′ō) noun pl. cheechakos -·kos
in N Canada (esp. the Yukon) and Alaska, a newcomer; tenderfoot
Yesterday was Alaska Day. It’s nice to have holidays specifically associated with your region, isn’t it? It gave me a kind of sense of solidarity with my fellow Alaskans, and of course even more of a reason to look out at this incredible landscape and celebrate it’s beauty. We also used it as an opportunity to learn more about our state… and I use any holiday as an excuse to cook good food, of course.
I remember learning a little about the Alaska Purchase in grade school (in Arizona), and of course it was all about “Seward’s Folly” and ultimately the gold rush that justified then Secretary of State William Seward’s purchase. I imagine Seward would have peed in his pants when they struck gold! Did you know that, in an attempt to overthrow the Union, Seward was also nearly murdered on the night of Lincoln’s assassination? To think if he would have died, the implications it might have had for America in many areas from oil, timber, mining, jobs… etc (I took out my snotty Sarah Palin remark… as much as I’d like to go off, I don’t want to use this space for political rants). We have a holiday just for him now: Seward’s Day in March, signifying the signing of the Alaska Purchase Treaty.
I have to admit, I never really thought of Alaska Day as having any significance other than a day off work. As it turns out, October 18, 1867, was the day that the Territory of Alaska was officially handed over to the United States from Russia. Russia sold Alaska only because they feared a hostile British takeover of the territory with no monetary gain. It was sold for about seven million US dollars before that could happen. What a steal. So we celebrate Alaska Day to mark the patriotic occasion of the US flag being flown over Fort Sitka, the former Alaska capital city.
Alaska didn’t become the 49th official state of the Union until 1959. Its flag was designed by a middle school student who won a contest. I love that our state is so grassroots!
Ok, I am done getting all geeky on you! I might get a little carried away about things from time to time. (But I do have to also add a political note here: I’m voting YES on Bonding Prop B in November! I think building the new Alaska State Library, Museum and Archives center will help keep the capital in Juneau! Not to mention, the idea is totally awesome and completely necessary for preserving our state archives and culture. If you want to know more, check out the project’s blog.)
To celebrate Alaska Day in our house, I thought about making sourdough pancakes but my starter was seriously ignored (oops), so we made the pumpkin pancakes from Good to the Grain. These pancakes are made with kamut flour, which is my new favorite baking friend. So yum. We also had Brian’s delicious smoked salmon, drank orange juice in fancy glasses and talked about what we love about Alaska. I think the top mentionables were fishing and hiking (big surprise) but also we discussed how our Great Outdoors gives us such a sense of peace. Even the worst, most chaotic days can find redemption on a beach outing or a walk in the woods.
Happy belated Alaska Day! I leave you with my favorite poem by the North Country’s beloved sourdough/banker, Robert Service. I read this often during our five year absence from Alaska, when I wanted to cry about being away from home.
l’Envoi (from Ballads of a Cheechako, 1909)
We talked of yesteryears, of trails and treasure,
Of men who played the game and lost or won;
Of mad stampedes, of toil beyond all measure,
Of camp-fire comfort when the day was done.
We talked of sullen nights by moon-dogs haunted,
Of bird and beast and tree, of rod and gun;
Of boat and tent, of hunting-trip enchanted
Beneath the wonder of the midnight sun;
Of bloody-footed dogs that gnawed the traces,
Of prisoned seas, wind-lashed and winter-locked;
The ice-gray dawn was pale upon our faces,
Yet still we filled the cup and still we talked.
The city street was dimmed. We saw the glitter
Of moon-picked brilliants on the virgin snow,
And down the drifted canyon heard the bitter,
Relentless slogan of the winds of woe.
The city was forgot, and, parka-skirted,
We trod that leagueless land that once we knew;
We saw stream past, down valleys glacier-girted,
The wolf-worn legions of the caribou.
We smoked our pipes, o’er scenes of triumph dwelling;
Of deeds of daring, dire defeats, we talked;
And other tales that lost not in the telling,
Ere to our beds uncertainly we walked.
And so, dear friends, in gentler valleys roaming,
Perhaps, when on my printed page you look,
Your fancies by the firelight may go homing
To that lone land that haply you forsook.
And if perchance you hear the silence calling,
The frozen music of star-yearning heights,
Or, dreaming, see the seines of silver trawling
Across the sky’s abyss on vasty nights,
You may recall that sweep of savage splendor,
That land that measures each man at his worth,
And feel in memory, half fierce, half tender,
The brotherhood of men that know the North.
For a whole bunch of great Alaska photos, check out the Alaska! pool on flickr.