The Dross of Driftwood Town
John Muir memorably called Wrangell “a rough place” with a “lawless draggle of wooden huts and houses in crooked lines,” home to “hogs of a breed well calculated to deepen and complicate the mud of the streets.” Shaaxít.aan, driftwood town, has maybe always drawn passers-through, end-of-the-roaders, including, unmemorably, me and my wolfhound Farley, for 7 moderately profitable months in 1977.
Wrangell is also, timelessly, the no-brainer geographic hub of Delta Islands biogeographic province. The enclosed, southwest-facing harbor is just a quick scow-ride from Shtax’héen, water biting itself (Stikine River), which has conducted merchants for millennia. Cathy Connor, in Roadside Geology of Alaska (2nd ed, 2014) considered what this might have entailed in times of higher sea levels:
“As climate warmed and Cordilleran ice withdrew beginning ~13,000 BP, rising sea level flooded the lower Stikine, creating a fiord that extended upstream to Telegraph Creek. Canoe-paddling paleo-toolmakers who wished to take advantage of the obsidian outcrops available in summer near Mt Edziza had an easier paddle than fighting the river currents of today.”