roslyn, washington / cicely, alaska


I admit it. I’m a total “Northern Exposure” nut. I love the show, and after watching it for a year I was begging my boyfriend to move with me to Sitka, Alaska. I figured that Sitka was the REAL location of Cicely, and I wanted to live there.

I even wrote to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, asking for information on living in their no-doubt-fine community. They sent back a number of brochures, all relating to working in the fish-packing industry. “Don’t come to Sitka unless you already have a contract with a cannery!” warned one pamphlet. “Cannery work is hard, cold, back-breaking labor” bragged another, “The smell often stays with you the entire season.”

These leaflets did not convince Dan that Sitka was a happening place. I would point out the happy gay couple running a B&B in Cicely, Chris being intellectual on KBHR, and the friendly service at the Brick. Dan would either look sadly at me or start hunting around for the dart gun. “I’m perfectly willing to live in any city that contains a Library of Congress” he’d say. “But U/Alaska at Sitka and their well-known Forest Management curriculum doesn’t cut it.”

My passion led me to the town of Roslyn, here on the eastern slopes of the Cascade mountains. Driving into Roslyn was one of the strangest experiences of my life. Everywhere are scenes from life in Cicely… and the entire town is a living, breathing place. I peaked through the window of Minniefield Communications, and radio station KBHR. Across the street was the Brick, with its penis-shaped sign. Ruth-Ann’s store was there, too, with a 36 cubic foot can of SPAM in the window. (Roslyn has a SPAM festival of some sort, about the same time that they have their He-Man festival.)

My head was swimming. I wanted to meet Marilyn, and tell her how beautiful I thought she was. I wanted to hear Shelly sing.

I ate dinner at Roslyn’s Cafe (‘An Oasis’). The owner was a woman in her late 30’s, with a very friendly smile and twinkly eyes. She was the ur-waitress, with a deep, honest beauty and an easy laugh. I think she may have called me ‘hon’. Families would come in, and she would sit with them and gossip. Her son and husband worked in the kitchen. He husband would emerge occasionally to eat or talk to customers. Her son would pop out to sit at the counter, drink a coke, and brood.

The camel on the Roslyn’s Cafe sign came from the previous owner, incidentally. “He had thing thing about camels” said the new owner. “Couldn’t get enough of them.”

Down the street, a goth girl sat in front of the pizza parlor. Her face was pale, and her clothing and hair jet black. Around her heck was a large silver crucifix. She sat there, not eating, not smiling. A little boy in jeans and a bright yellow shirt ran around her, occasionally climbing into her lap. When she kissed him, she almost smiled.

On the Brick, there is a set of double doors. One door has a sign reading “Employees Only” and the other door has a sign reading “Brick Restaurant Entrance!”. Those two doors stopped me cold. I tentatively opened the ‘Entrance’ door, thinking maybe that the double doors really did go to different places. They didn’t. Beyond lay the kitchen and then a curtained doorway. I stepped back onto the sidewalk. A few seconds later, I went to open the door again, and a woman popped out. “Howdy!” she said. “Is this the entrance?” I asked. “Beats me!” she smiled, and walked down the street.

Walking down the sidewalk, three little kids on bikes swerved around me. “Howdy!” said the first boy, seriously. He gave me a Meaningful Look, or at least what looked like one. “‘ello, old chap!” said the second boy, grinning. I shot back a “Good morning, my fine fellow!” as he zoomed by, weaving down the sidewalk. Following the two boys was a girl, running with a pup on a leash. She didn’t say anything, but just laughed and ran with her dog, chasing the boys.

Cicely does exist, but not in Alaska. Roslyn has enough real stories and eccentric people to fill any television show. And it’s a lot closer for most of us.

Following my bliss,


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