When someone mentions Alaska, everyone else invariably thinks of the movie “Into the Wild,” or of barren, snow-covered plains covered by darkness for half of the year. But in Sitka, AK, the small island town where I attended Sitka Fine Arts Camp, there are no wind-swept ice sheets or thirty days of night. The only snow I found was at the very top of Mount Verstovia, covering the last 300 feet of the trail that twisted its way through trees and over rocks to the crest, situated at around 2500 feet. Darkness fell every night, except on the Fourth of July, when explosions lit the night sky from dusk until dawn, and every morning the sun rose right on time, although you usually couldn’t see it because of the clouds.
What there is in Sitka is an explosion of green, almost continuous precipitation, an abundance of clean air and an amazing sense of community. Eagles and ravens populate the skies, and to the residents, they are as common as songbirds. The surrounding mountains glow in the occasional sunbeams that break through the cloud cover, and small islands dot the water.
Sitka Fine Arts Camp (SFAC), a two-week summer camp for high school students situated in an Air Force base turned boarding school, draws about 180 students every year. The camp focuses on all styles of art, from composition and photography to improvisation, choir, and acrobatics. Each of the campers, counselors, and teachers who attend camp is a unique person, and the level of acceptance and fun throughout the two weeks is phenomenal.
It has always seemed to me as if camp takes an entire school year and compresses it into two weeks, filtering out all of the grudges and drama. Relationships form and break, people laugh and cry, but there is always an air of relaxed friendliness, an acceptance of who you are at face value. The only way I can explain it is to declare that SFAC creates its own reality, a reality separate from the rest of your life, in which you can be who you are and no one will judge you. It is a place where you spend your time having impromptu sing-alongs to the Beatles while playing pool, as well as playing cards while eating candy and smoked salmon in the middle of your dorm hallway. A place where everyone dresses in their most outrageous costumes for the Independence Day parade; something that, anywhere else, they would probably be ridiculed for. A reality in which you can spend your days doing what you enjoy with people you love, and carry the memories of throughout the rest of your life.
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