Learning and experiencing

Hello from Oklahoma City, where twenty one days have passed since I left the Sitka Arts & Science Festival which was held on the historic Sheldon Jackson Campus in Sitka, Alaska, put on by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Prior to visiting the town, I heard several mentions of Sitka being the town in which parts of the movie The Proposal was filmed. Now that I’ve come and gone, ha-hoooo boyyyy, is it so much more than that.

On departure day, I got up before 4am to leave for the airport with the other early-morning flight catchers. Hesitant, confused, and not ready to leave, I spent the night in a sort of half-sleep. I think part of me wanted to stay awake to experience every last minute I had left. I flicked on the small lamp that sat on the edge of my bedside table and noticed someone had slipped a note under my door. It was from Lisa, a woman from California who was in the Craft of Memoir class, the class that took me to Sitka, taught by Molly Wizenberg — a writer whose voice shapes me…and helps me understand feelings for which I don’t always have the words. I ran into Lisa on arrival day and felt an instant liking for her. A week or so ago, I discovered her Instagram profile and the reason for my inner liking. Her bio read WWLGD: What would Lorelei Gilmore Do? (One more!) Ha-hooo boyyyy Lisa, were we were supposed to meet.

I arrived in Sitka on July 16, the shared birthday of my husband and cousin Reed. There was only a handful of us at the airport and our luggage rode the carousel out quickly. I was taken to the campus in a long, dusty, black suburban, owned by a volunteer named Jennifer — the check engine light was on.

Sitka is located on Baranof Island, a collection of, among other things, rocks made up of mostly grey wacke (pronounced wacky). “Loooots of grey wacke”, Yvonne of Sitka told me over lunch on the last day of camp. Her hair is dyed a shiny, vibrant purple, and she bought the kit to make it that way at Harry Race Pharmacy, she told me (which is a pharmacy I visited a few times during my stay in Sitka for my standard ice-cream/chocolate fix). “If it’s not called Very Berry, it’s something like that. I just picked the deepest purple I could find. They’ve got all kinds of wacky colors!” She spent the week learning about the forces that have shaped the island with Stanford’s Rob Dunbar, a man who spends a lot of time en route to and in Antarctica, among other places, on a boat that costs $200,000 a day to run (did I hear that right, SASF friends?!). He knows a lot about the place in which we gathered, shared it willingly, and frequently brought out his drone to capture all of our adventures.

When we got to Sheldon Jackson, we were met inside the entrance of North Pacific Hall by two volunteers named Marvin and Claudia; two people I had the pleasure of seeing each day of camp. Claudia wore her hair the same way throughout the week: in pig tails, the right pony tail often a liiiittle higher than the left. Her hair is white with pale-gold undertones that were especially prominent when we crossed paths between places, which seemed to happen a lot. It was colder in Sitka — colder than the summer months I knew from growing up in Anchorage — and while I had read about this in preparation for my trip, I still didn’t have enough clothing. Early in the week, I decided to make a trip to the local thrift shop for a hoodie (aka my new writing jacket). With the help of Taylor, a camp intern who was also in my class, I found Sitka White Elephant Shop and purchased a hot pink Faded Glory hoodie for $4.00. It was Claudia who showed me to the washing machines which were located in the dark, damp basement of North Pacific Hall. It was also Claudia who sneaked my new pink hoodie into the load of towels she was washing after we failed to find the lights in said basement. “It’s probably been washed a few times, so it probably won’t stain the towels pink.” Thanks for that, Claudia.

I was up most days before 5am, charged with excitement and new thoughts and words and sentences; and also an odd familiarity. We spent our mornings exploring the craft that had attracted us there: paper cutting with Nikki McClure, who inspired me when she didn’t mean to; photography with Clark Mishear; geography/geology with Rob; and Molly’s class. The afternoons were a time for exploring, noticing, and learning the names of things. At night, most of us had dinner together in Sweetland Hall, then heard presentations from the visiting faculty members. After the day’s schedule was complete, some would gather on the front porch of North Pacific Hall, reading, talking, and half-watching Nikki’s son and his friend goof around (not on their phones!). Others would head upstairs to the common room, for reading, more watching, picture taking, or, as the more ambitious and attentive of the group undertook, color-coordinating the bookshelves. I mostly lavished the evenings in my room — full from a day of memories, unreserved expression, and chocolate-peanut butter milkshakes. The Sitka Music Festival took place at the same time as our camp, so the sound of students practicing their instruments was the official soundtrack of my evenings.

People keep asking me about my trip and all I can do, at this point, is stumble through generic descriptions like lovely, fantastic, and special. A true description would likely be more than one is looking for because do you really want to know? Besides, I likely lost most of you at chocolate-peanut butter milkshake which is equally important, and, in my opinion, something about which you most definitely want to know.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Milkshake
On our second day of camp we spent the afternoon on a short hike that started at the Indian River Trail Head, learning about the plants and rocks and trees and such. A small group of us decided to head back at an early turnaround point, and it was then that I learned of the soda shop, which is right inside the entrance of Harry Race Pharmacy in downtown Sitka, that serves up classic milkshakes. If you know me, you know that I was 100% not opposed to hiking right past the campus and straight to said pharmacy, where I promptly ordered a small chocolate-peanut butter milkshake (and a medium one a couple of days later). When I got home, I set my sights on recreating the milkshake as quickly as possible, for another taste of all I’d had the pleasure of learning and experiencing.

The recipe that follows hardly needs explaining: Put a couple of cups of chocolate ice cream in a blender — or stainless steel container, if you’re using an immersion blender — with a small splash of milk, and a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter. If you want more peanut butter flavor, add more peanut butter. If you want a thicker shake, add more ice cream and a little less milk. On my first attempt at making this shake, I used a Vitamix blender and will not do that again. It has a bit too much power and gave me a shake that was too thin for my liking. Next time, I’ll try making it using an immersion blender. Also, regarding peanut butter: You can use crunchy or creamy peanut butter, whichever your heart desires. I used lightly roasted, crunchy peanut butter, because we had it, and enjoyed the little pieces of peanuts.

  • 2 cups of chocolate ice cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Serves one, 2-cup shake, or two, 1-cup shakes.