COMMENTARY

from the November 21, 2001 Skagway News

Soft Solitude: Winter in Skagway is the best time of all

I do hope it’s not too late to make the Thanksgiving issue of The Skagway News since it expresses my deepest thanks to all of you. A brief background: Donn and I arrived separately in Alaska in the spring of ‘99 – Donn to fly for Skagway Air and I to do land tours throughout Alaska and The Yukon for Holland America.
We quickly fell in love with Skagway, then with each other and both agreed we had never felt more “at home” in any of the places each had lived from coast to coast. We quickly decided to settle in Skagway and could have lived there blissfully forever! Alas, family duties on the East Coast required that we leave our adopted hometown for a bit, but rest assured we will return. By the way, I had previously “Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but I found my heart and my soul in Skagway. We’re both missing you folks like crazy!

Skagway, Sept. 27, 2001
With a final series of blasts the last ship sails slowly out the Taiya Inlet and overnight our town is returned to its rightful owners. I awaken to silent mountains swathed in soft layers of gauze as though they are dressing for the long winter ahead. How lovely the contrast. Yesterday the streets swarmed with the last of the tourists in search of the perfect souvenir or trinket in shops filled with markdowns – shops whose owners today are taking inventory and boarding their windows in preparation to take leave themselves for warmer climes – leaving our town to the locals once again.
Oh joy! The solitude of resettling into our close-knit family for six months of soft solitude where nothing much happens – and yet life happens – among friends. It’s not that we don’t welcome our visitors each summer. They come, as we once came, to see this land that defies description – this land that is larger and bolder than the mind can imagine – and we who came, but could not leave, are proud to share the magic with those who drop by for a few hours or a few days. How quickly we Cheechakos-turned-Sourdoughs adopt our new homeland and swell with pride when we speak of it. How readily we speak of the “Lower 48” or the “Outside” with a bit of disdain and how strongly we feel we have somehow been reunited with our roots. How cheeky of us! But God bless the real locals – those who have been here forever – they allow us to adopt them – they invite us into the family, and like most Alaskans, could care less from whence we came or what we did. It’s who we are that matters – not our credentials.
Perhaps we are all, as Robert Service wrote, “the men who don’t fit in.” We don’t like to be classified, categorized, buttonholed, or told what to do or how to do it. We are an odd assortment of laid-back humans – being. We look after our neighbors – and the newcomers – and we do enjoy the busyness of the summer tourist season – but most of all we relish the soft solitude of winter when we get our town back with only a handful of stores and a couple of restaurants for coffee and a sandwich with family and friends. The Elks and The Eagles take back their lodges and “The Wags” congregate once more.
No more cruise ships, trains or tourist buses – no more Skagway Taxis or horse and buggy rides – just the foghorn from the occasional ferry or the drone of a small plane that connects us to the Outside world. In between – lovely silence and soft solitude. The winter season is here at last.
Sara McGinnis