Our week-long cruise on Wilderness Discoverer ended in Sitka, a city I had missed on previous trips to Alaska. Yes, we had rain. Then the sun came out until the rain began again. Alaska had an exceptionally wet spring and summer. That’s what a friend who paints houses in Juneau said.
I’ll remember Sitka for gorgeous flowers blooming everywhere a flower might grow. I thank the drivers for not taking aim at tourists. They were easy-going, patient people who slowed down to let wayward pedestrians cross the street. Next best – the dogs. In Sitka people walk the nicest, friendliest dogs, and I missed my Abby. Most of all, I will be grateful for Ana Dittmar, the heritage museum curator at St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Ana agreed to accept my mother’s prayer book. (See WP post Sept. 2, 2017.)
Even though I had a map, the entrance to the Russian Orthodox cemetery was hard to find. Eventually, I met a tourist who had visited the cemetery, and she gave a simple direction – walk straight up Observatory Hill. Pass the houses and go to the end of the road. At the end, a dirt path snakes into a forest with topsy-turvy graves, triple-bar Orthodox crosses, headstones, and flowers. Visitors like me stepped into a eerie place of lush plants, moss, and slipper slopes that were magical and spooky.
On to explore Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures, a small-ship company that stamps a capital A on activities. Wilderness Discoverer left Juneau on a rainy August afternoon and docked in Sitka one week later. Except for a stop at Glacier Bay National Park, we were out there beyond towns, people, and wifi service. On rainy days, and that meant most days, the A’s put on their REI rain gear and took off to kayak, bushwhack, paddle board, explore, and skiff the shorelines. On the last day, 18 passengers put on bathing suits and took the Polar Plunge into dark, cold water.
Excursions took us to desolate islands and inlets. We watched brown bears catch salmon and whales take a breath of air. Mussels, barnacles, crabs, and all sorts of sea creatures met us on shore walks. Our one fun salty, edible was pickle grass that grew above the high tide mark. (I’ve since learned that pickle grass also grows in Death Valley.) Into the forest primeval of Emmons Island we walked – a thicket where trees, moss, vines, insects, and pesky mosquitoes live in harmony.
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The last days of an Alaskan vacation ended in Sitka. On a Saturday I visited St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral as a tourist, but one familiar with the history and traditions of Orthodoxy. Sunday I stood with others during the two hour liturgy. Childhood memories unfolded among the icons, incense, candles, and choir voices. I remembered the words. I knew the drill.
In the Cathedral, I began to think about my mother’s prayer book – again. The question I have often asked myself, who might want Our Daily Bread? The first edition book with 655 delicate pages, published in 1938, belongs in a special place. Certainly not on an eBay auction block. Through the digital world I reached a priest at St. Michael’s. Ana Dittmar, the Cathedral’s heritage museum curator became my go-to person. Although the prayer book is not related to the history of the Cathedral, Ana accepts ” . . . Orthodox items that are of sentimental significance . . . .”
About the prayer book – The book begins with 49 pages of morning and other prayers, followed by the Divine Liturgy. Evening prayers, prayers and devotions before and after Confession and Holy Communion come next. Psalms. Prayers for special intentions. Prayers and liturgies for the dying and the dead. Child’s manual of prayer. Fast days. Pages on the left were printed in church Slavonic. Pages on the right were printed in English. Ten years ago a Tucson bookbinder repaired and restored the cover.
Mary Lissik Lulic never traveled beyond Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. What a joy to know that her prayer book found a home at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka.
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