W ith eyes ablaze and belching smoke, the Snow Dragon snaked its way through downtown Haines during the annual Christmas Parade on Dec. 10.
The dragon, about 30 feet long and brought to life by eight volunteers, is a work of art created in a town known for its performing arts.
Mark Sebens, who has starred in theater productions at the nearby Chilkat Center for the Arts, inhabited the head of the dragon for the sixth year in a row.
"Maybe I'm a little bit of a show-off but the kids love it," the head cheese said. "They jump up and down yelling, 'Here comes the Snow Dragon.'"
There's plenty of heat generated in the belly of the beast, which trots down Main Street like a bull running in Pamplona, Spain. Sebens leads the meandering dragon, occasionally targeting children who taunt it with sparklers.
"I tried chasing down (10-year-old) Forest Podsiki this year," he said. "He had victim written all over him."
The Snow Dragon is constructed of wood lath and chicken wire with 50-gallon plastic drums cut in half to form a spine and covered with closed-cell foam.
Volunteers fit in the drums while carrying a tape player to broadcast its roar and Christmas music, a car battery to power lights in its eyes and along its body, and a fire extinguisher to belch pressurized flour as smoke.
Heather Lende, whose voice can be heard on National Public Radio doing commentaries from Haines, resides in the throat of the dragon. She's in charge of the all-important smoke-spewing.
"I can get a good 90 blasts from the extinguisher," said Lende, who also writes a regular column for the Anchorage Daily News. "It comes out of the nostrils and mouth. If people get too close, they can get a lot of white on their faces and coats."
Her 10-year-old daughter, Joanna, was one of the sparkler-carrying runners this year.
"It's pretty much the only time of the year when kids are allowed to have fireworks," she said.
The Haines Chamber of Commerce sponsors the parade, the local volunteer fire department provides three fire trucks and an ambulance, and the Lynn Canal Community Players handle the dragon.
The parade, an event that predates the snow predator, was led this year by a patrol car and followed by everyone from Cub Scouts to residents mounted on horses.
Santa sat in a chair on top of one of the fire engines. Darkness set in by the time of the parade at 4 p.m., so the fireworks were easy to see.
"We had a big spotlight on Santa," said Al Badgley, fire department training officer. "And there were lots of lights and sirens."
The Haines Visitors Center and Sheldon Museum served candy and cookies. Residents also brought their model train sets to the museum.
People enjoyed Santa, the trains and the refreshments, but the Snow Dragon was once again a big hit.
Annette Smith, a longtime member of the local theater group, suggested putting it in the parade about 10 years ago. Smith, who worked for the chamber at the time, wanted to "jazz up" the event by giving it the flavor of a Chinese holiday celebration, complete with a dragon taunted by fireworks.
The Snow Dragon also appeared in a play written by her brother, Tresham Gregg. The multi-media artist, who has made other masks and characters for the winter parade, created the dragon that weaved its way through audiences attending his play at the Chilkat Center.
"Tresham made it come alive with his wizardry and sculpturing with closed-cell foam," Smith said.
Its debut in the parade was a great success.
"The kids went wild, swarming the dragon and helping out as runners with sparklers," Smith said.
Many have entered the dragon, including high school drama students who get extra credit for their sweat.
Eliza Lende, 17, labored last year in the tail section of the dragon. A few years earlier she held up the posterior of a moose. She sat out this year's parade, ending her ongoing roles at the end of some animal.
"I was tired of always having to be a butt in the parade," the high school senior said.
Mike Sica can be reached at email@example.com.
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