Totems

It's been a great week in Ketchikan! School days went by smoothly, the kids worked hard, and I finished work early yesterday... It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon so the speech paraprofessional took me to one of her favorite hikes and we walked her dogs around a gorgeous lake. It was lovely! Image

It seems that many people in Alaska look down on Ketchikan, but I really enjoy it. It is full of beauty, history, and very nice people. Another reason it's cool-- it has the largest collection of totem poles in the world (at least per capita)! On my first visit here, I spent an afternoon at Totem Bight State Historic Park and I learned more than I thought there was to know about totem poles...

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Highly respected artists were commissioned to create these works of art and, in this area, selected tall, straight cedars for their works as they were typically strong and straight. The completed poles were hidden until it was time to raise them. At that time, they were positioned to face the sea and the new owner hosted a feast while telling stories about the meaning of the carved figures on the poles. Totem poles represented a tribe's stories, proclaimed wealth, or honored the dead but, contrary to popular belief, were not worshiped.

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Totem poles last for about 75 years in southeast Alaska, as this is a rainforest. When a pole falls, the tradition is to leave it where it lies and allow it to return to the earth. While reproduction is often viewed as a lesser form of art, this is not the case in totem pole creations; it is viewed as reintroducing something meaningful into the world by new hands. If I remember correctly, unemployed men were hired during the depression to find and replicate fallen poles for cultural and historic preservation. This state park continues with that mission of preservation and education regarding this interesting art-form.