For Sitka locals, it’s no surprise to walk through Totem Park in late July and see evidence of salmon. From the flopping in the river, to the eagles snacking on the banks, to the smell of rotting fish which permeates the air, the salmon cycle is a constant for summer in Sitka.
On June 19th, visitors to the park also got a taste of how important salmon are to the forest. Instead of finding salmon in the river, they walked through the park to find fish hanging decorated in the trees – quilted salmon, copper-colored salmon adorned with pennies, salmon covered in poems – and instead of an olfactory reminder, there was an auditory one: the sound of strings from the Sitka Summer Music Festival, playing a concert on the old battlefield where Tlingit warriors defended their lands from Russian traders. “It’s a natural amphitheater,” said musician Tali Goldberg. “The acoustics are great. It sounds like a concert hall.”
From celebrating our unique artistic and environmental history, or simply getting out in the woods to enjoy some music and Vitamin D, the 2nd Annual Salmon in the Trees event offered an interdisciplinary glimpse into how important salmon are to the people of Sitka. Drawing on the region’s history of mixing art and environment, community members decorated 30 wooden salmon that were hung by volunteers (many of them from the Forest Service), giving a modern day twist to the long-standing celebration of salmon culture. Adding world famous musicians into the mix highlights just how much Indian River, named Katzdaheen in Tlingit, means to the people of Sitka. “People listen with their hearts and really absorb [the music],” said Joachim Eylander, one of the cellists.
And it’s not just the music they’re hearing: it’s the raven calls between the movements, and the sounds of the river, which flows through the middle of the park. It has had salmon returning for thousands of years to spawn in the waters, from the estuary in what is now the Sitka National Historic park to the river’s upper reaches deep in the Tongass National Forest. Salmon in the Trees is a chance to share with visitors how strong the cultural forces of salmon and the Tongass are to Southeast Alaskans, an opportunity to use art and music to celebrate the important relationship between forest and fish. It’s a way to illustrate how that relationship, which begins in the rivers throughout Southeast Alaska can flow out to affect the entire community – just like the music in the trees.