More Village than State Capitol


On this gray morning, downtown Juneau looks more like a sleepy village than the state capital. Aki and I drop down Gold Street from our home on Chicken Ridge. Only one car passes us. During heavy snow storms, local kids ski down Gold, racing to get in some runs before city snow plows can clear it for the cars. Today, no snow slows our decent to Fourth Street where Gold, now called Gasteneau, starts climbing up along steep slopes scarred with the ruins of the A.J. Gold Mine.

Without the modern cars parked along Gasteneau, it could be 1935. The houses, some original, and others built in the old craftsmen style, cling to the hillside above the bars of South Franklin Street. Strings of Tibet prayer flags run between bare alder trees and over garbage sacks torn open by our ill mannered bears. Stairs serve as streets and sidewalks, some providing the only access to homes. No cars drive on Gasteneau. No one uses the stairs.

As an ambulance siren sounds near the homeless shelter on South Franklin. It’s  the only sound except for raven croaks. Aki and I follow a bold raven along the wet pavement of Gasteneau Street. Rather than fly above the prayer flags to safety, Raven dances up the street with a rolling gait, throwing in the occasional vertical leap. Ending his performance, he flies over our heads and lands at the spot where we first saw him to wait for another audience.

At the end of Gasteneau, we take a stairway street to a strip of South Franklin Street lined with shuttered curio shops. Brightly colored banners promise great bargains on Alaska theme tee shirts and foreign diamonds but there is no around to sell or buy the amazing merchandise. Aki pees here, then poops—for her a double benediction—more honor than the street deserves.  I carry a black bag of her scat along the old Alaska Steamship Dock all the way back to town before finding a functioning garbage can.  We pass the statute commemorating  Patsy Ann, a punctual bull terrier who in the 1930‘s, greeted every passenger ship that tied up at the Steamship Dock. Today her statute stares down an  channel as rain water drips off her turned down ears. When a puppy, Aki would bark at this big bronze dog. Now she ignores the statute and two gulls that strike iconic poses on nearby dock dolphins.


If three cars waiting at a traffic light constitutes traffic, we experience it for the first time on our walk.  Only a few pedestrians share the Main Street sidewalk with us as we enter the downtown business district and climb past the Alaska Capital Building to Chicken Ridge. Inside the Capital, the Alaska Legislators  have gaveled open their annual session. The lobbyists, with their expensive haircuts and suits, must already be inside, following the money.

P1130231The town was built by people following the money. Our drinking water flows through old mine tunnels. Miners built our house and most of the others in Downtown. A huge fish cold storage plant once dominated South Franklin Street, where fisherman sold their halibut, black cod and salmon. Now the street businesses only process the money of cruise ship passengers. Aki and I avoid South Franklin when the Cruise Ships are tied up along its docks, like we would avoid Gasteneau Street if the ruined gold stamp mills still pounded ore. Now in winter, with the mines closed and the ships serving warm weather towns, we can enjoy the solitude of deep woods on our city’s streets until the tourists arrive in May.


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