Cross Trekkings – Weave your own tapestry | Columns
“What you leave behind is not what is carved into stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said to myself.
I was starting to think back to my decision to walk along the banks of the Ninilchik River before visiting a historic Russian Orthodox church that sits atop a cliff above Cook Inlet. The descent from the top of the cliff was a short and uneventful trip. It was just meant to be a short walk to interrupt my ride, but it looked like it was about to get much more.
It was a beautiful August morning and the smoke from the Swan Lake fire that had flooded Kenai town for weeks was nowhere to be found. It was the first time in a week that I had the opportunity to be outside without a thick cloud of smoke hanging in the air around me. I wanted to take advantage of the bright Alaskan summer sun and get a closer look at the salmon going up the Ninilchik River.
My heart skipped a beat as I emerged from the thick brush and made for the bank of the Ninilchik River. A huge Kenai brown bear was walking along the bank of the little river on the other side of me. I was in awe and watched the big brown bear in silence for a moment before realizing how fast the bear could cross the shallow waters of the river. The bear could be on top of me in seconds.
At that point, a moose meandered through an opening on my side of the creek. Moose rarely makes me nervous, but this particular moose made my heart beat because I was placed between the brown bear and the moose. My little walk by the river suddenly seemed like a terrible idea.
I slowly backed up as the brown bear turned to look at the moose over its shoulder. The bear did not seem interested in the moose at all and continued on his way without interrupting his pace. The magnificent creature quickly disappeared around a bend in the Ninilchik River.
Adrenaline was racing through my body and my senses were now on high alert. My eyes moved back and forth, scanning my surroundings for another brown bear descending towards the river. I quickly got off the adrenaline rush when I realized the bear was gone and the moose had come down the river away from me.
Just as I was about to turn away, I noticed an older man standing in the river below. He waved his hand and continued to fish as if he had nothing to worry about in the world. I laughed at the absurdity of the scene and started walking up the hill to the top of the cliff to take some pictures of the old church.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling on the road is stopping at the unique places I find along the way. Whether it’s Alaska, Kentucky, or somewhere in between, there are all kinds of interesting places that most people never think of visiting. Some of the best places I have visited in Alaska are places that are not listed by any cruise ship or tour operator.
The journey on the Sterling Highway to Homer, Alaska offers stunning views of the Kenai Mountain Range, lakes and rivers on one side of the road. Cook Inlet, Mount Redoubt, and Mount Iliamna in the Aleutian Mountain Range are right outside your window across the highway. The fact that the Redoubt and Iliamna are active volcanoes adds to the excitement of the trip. The road to Homer is considered one of the most beautiful roads in a condition full of beautiful roads.
Numerous scenic stops designed for travelers to stop for photos dot this stretch of the Sterling Highway. Most people go through the many small towns and villages along the highway because their focus is on the destination, not the trip. One of my favorite places to visit on Homer’s route is the ancient Russian village of Ninilchik and the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
The Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is a small chapel set back from Sterling Road overlooking the former Russian settlement of Ninilchik. The church sits on a cliff above Cook Inlet and the picturesque village. The magnificent views of mountains and volcanoes across the waters of Cook Inlet and the village below are worth taking the time to stop. An outstanding example of an ancient Russian Orthodox church, combined with the surrounding landscape, makes this a must-see stop.
The church was founded around 1846, at the same time as the Russian village of Ninilchik. The current chapel was built in 1901 and was designed by Alexi Oskolkoff. It is a small building (approximately 50 ‘X 20’) which is shaped like a crucifix. The church grounds are home to a rectory and cemetery with the iconic Russian Orthodox cross dotting the landscape. The brightly colored wildflowers during the summer months and the glow of the freshly fallen snow in the winter make just sitting on one of the benches around the chapel a lovely way to relax.
I approached the front of the shrine to take some photos of one of the last visible artifacts from Ninilchik’s Russian origins when I noticed the chapel door was open. A bearded old man in a long, dusty black robe was sweeping the floor just inside the entrance to the church. There was a wooden crucifix hanging from his neck and it had the weathered appearance of a man from a bygone era.
I took my first photo and he called me. He explained to me with a strong accent that he would soon be finished with his task and that he would get out of my way. His accent and an almost old-fashioned presence caught me off guard. I introduced myself and found out that he was Hieromonk Loasaph, the priest of the parish.
Hieromonk Ioasaph spoke with me for several minutes and invited me inside the chapel. I had stopped by the venerable church to take in the view several times over the years, but this was my first time entering the building. I had never even seen another person on the parish grounds.
Entering the chapel was like stepping back in time. I could almost smell the souls of the village who came here to worship over a century ago. The intimacy of the room must have fostered a strong sense of community. It was breathtaking to see the ancient tapestries and icons on display in the shrine.
Hieromonk Ioasaph explained to me the history of the church and told me that the Orthodox Church in America has 95 churches throughout Alaska. They are mostly tiny chapels serving a very small but dedicated population. The small size of the ward, coupled with the harsh realities of life in Alaska, should give church members a close relationship with the clergy who serve them.
I was struck by the depth of his sincerity as Hieromonk Ioasaph spoke. We talked about several topics including his travels, church, my family and the latest iPhone model. As I left Ninilchik that day, I thought about the ancient woven tapestries in the sanctuary and what Hieromonk Ioasaph must have woven in the lives of so many others. I marveled at the impact it had had on a passing visitor and vowed to make an effort to weave my own tapestry in this world.