Happy 2017, Juneau.
We’ve officially passed the solstice, which means that although the days are infinitesimally longer, we’ve passed that subtle barrier between “What a winter …” and “What a winter!” Sure, the change is mostly psychological, at least for about a month, but wow! What a wonderful thought: we have officially crested the hill of cold wet lethargy and we now have another reason to look up, other than skiing, Christmas and errant experimental weather balloons. Yet solstice is like that turning point in the Return of the King where the armies of Mordor have been routed and the ring has been destroyed (oops, I should have said “spoiler alert”). Essentially, the worst of it is over, but you just know it’s still gonna be a long way home.
But no worries, the days really are getting shorter now and we’re used to this. Patience is a virtue grown with a lot of water and only a little sunshine as we well know here. But there’s no mistaking it, sometimes we just crave a little blue sky. And if often feels like you’re not going to be able to take another minute of this freezing rain, just know you’re not alone. I too have considered selling my car for a few week’s hotel stay in literally anywhere under the 40th parallel. But just do what I do, and remember what you’d be missing if you left! Like, medians filled with slushy ice water, and plane tickets that cost as much as ... wait, let me try again. Just do what I do and remember what you’d be missing if you left! Like, how much you’d miss your trash getting torn apart by ravens, or encountering incapacitating avalanches on literally the only road between your house and work, or, or …
Man, I’m bad at this. But seriously, there are some things in Juneau that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else that are actually worth staying for. And no, I’m not going to say “the glacier,” “the wildlife” or “Kookamunga’s donuts,” which absolutely everyone already knows about (wait — you know about Kookamungas, right?). I mean the lesser knowns, the little differences that you might feel if you managed to make it to the Outside.
For example, in how many places could you go to a potluck/potlatch and find crab, salmon or halibut? Oh, a restaurant, sure, and you could pay anywhere between $20 and $80 for a single saltwater organism. But have you noticed that in our region of the world, rich fresh-smoked salmon dip and crab legs are standard share-with-friends fare, like dinner rolls or cheese balls. For much of the continent, that’s like going to a neighborhood wine tasting and being handed Dom Perignon ‘75. It helps if your friends are fishermen, of course, so to any fishermen reading this: you can be my friend and invite me to your bountiful, bountiful parties.
You’d also miss our typical, small-town charm. Our nonverbal communication: the Juneau “I don’t know your name but I recognize you” nod, the polite “hello” car horn. You’d miss our uncivilized outdoors; no need here to pay to hike, bike or walk. No uniforms walking down the trail chastising you for picking up rocks or stepping off the trail. You’d miss our Saturday Costco meet-and-greets.
And that’s not all. In my time, both as a person but also as a Guy About Town, I take it upon myself to find the lesser-known or lesser-appreciated experiences in Juneau. The list of things to miss about Juneau becomes infinitely longer when edited to include those items which are off the beaten path or un-postcard-able. I know that if you’re observant enough, just about anywhere is beautiful, unique and memorable. But I choose to find those things about Juneau and I love it.
First rule of observing Juneau: where a road ends, anything begins. Whether it’s the Point DuPont trail at the end of Thane, or the idyllic, winding path from the end of Montana Creek Road, our roads connect us to the fringes of an incomprehensible wilderness, rather than other towns or highways. Use that to your advantage. Also, docks: they’re not just departure points, they’re like miniature neighborhoods and fish markets. On a sunny day, dip your feet in and have a picnic on the outermost rafts, as far out on the ocean as one can get while still being connected to land. Look out for seals and otters.
Enough of all this nature stuff, what about something indoors? Have you ever wondered what all those buildings downtown are really for? Well, although it’s not necessarily true for all of them, most of the buildings downtown are rented out by individual businesses and offices, and they’re all really fun to explore. A lot of our architecture dates back almost a hundred years, so feel free to take a peek and be impressed. Of course, the interior design is only half of the fun. Find your way to a top floor and get incredible views of the channel and downtown.
If I could only make one more recommendation it would be this: bring a camera. Many people love taking almost constant photos of their life, others worry that a camera will take away from their daily experience. But if you set aside some time to observe the world with the intention of capturing a frame of your view, you’ll find there is so much to be appreciated about all the little things in this town. And so much to be missed should you ever leave.
• Guy About Town appears the first and third Sunday of every month and includes seasonal musings on what changes and what doesn’t in a small town. Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.