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Full Circle

Day 7: Kodiak Island

Kodiak Island, Alaska, USA 
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Russian Orthodox tradition lives on in Kodiak.
Michael Palin - Full CircleI confess I've never heard of Kodiak and was chastened to learn that it's the second largest island in the USA (after the Big Island of Hawaii) and the country's second largest fishing port. It has a jagged squiggle of a coastline, slashed by sharp, steep cliffs and headlands which are green, thickly-wooded and dramatically beautiful in an Alpine sort of way. That we are now well and truly on the volatile Pacific Rim is grimly clear from the natural disasters that mark Kodiak's history. Nearby Mount Katmai blew in 1912 with a force greater than that of Krakatoa. Five cubic miles of material were blasted into the air and the ash that fell on Kodiak choked salmon in the streams and plunged the island into total darkness for three days. On Good Friday 1964, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in America created a tidal wave, which swept into Kodiak harbour at a height of 35 feet destroying the fishing fleet and flattening the downtown area.

This Sunday morning the town looks serene and neat and well-scrubbed and oddly un-American. I put this down to the dominating presence of the sky-blue domes and white clap-board walls of the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church. Kodiak was originally settled by Russians who, with the British, Spanish and French, were setting up trading posts on the Alaskan Pacific coast before the United States was even created. There is still a full congregation for this morning's Divine Liturgy, a service which lasts several hours. Most of it is sung, and very beautifully too. The cherubic anthem is hypnotic, gentle and compelling. Although the ritual, the priest's vestments and the architecture are thoroughly European, the Stars and Stripes hang against the iconostasis alongside likenesses of the saints, and in our prayers we are asked to remember not only 'all those suffering from the disease of alcoholism' but also 'our armed forces everywhere'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 7
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Kodiak - Alaska
  • Book page no: 21

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