North To Alaska, Part the Second

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24 May: And then there were three. Last night we put our 19 year old on a plane in Anchorage, and this morning he is home in Franklin. Meanwhile, Mike, Josh and I begin the drive to Seward. Astonishing vistas meet us round every turn in the road, and I am enchanted by mountains straddling sea and sky.

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A pallet of blues and grays prevails with only the occasional intrusion.  A world where shadows are blue. Some conspiracy of sky and snow. We pass Dall sheep grazing, snowmobilers plying the high passes still drenched in snow, and mountain lakes of icy green. Finally, we plunge seaward to meet our ship in Seward.

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25 May: How is it that I never knew a glacier is blue? The ice and snow are compressed so densely that they only reflect blue light. It is like a great wall of topaz with millions of dazzling facets. We grip cameras and binoculars in gloved hands, crowding the railings. This place palpitates with glory and we all feel the need to be near it.

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Hubbard Glacier (on the right) extends about 76 miles from its source. The ice at its base is approximately 400 years old. It regularly “calves”, dropping icebergs into the sea that can be as large as a building. It’s smaller neighbor on the left is Turner  Glacier. I love how the feathery clouds have arranged themselves as if to  say, “Tah dah!”

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A final look back as we pull away from the glacier. Icebergs, cottony clouds, and jagged clots of snow appear to be cut of the same cloth, scattered indiscriminately across a gray/blue ground.

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26 May: We gather to pray with believers in Juneau. The prayers and hymns are familiar. And it is good to be so far away and so at home. We stay for coffee and swap stories with dear brothers and sisters.

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After church, we board a small boat to go see us some whales. We watch a mother humpback teaching her baby to “spy hop” (lifting the head out of the water to have a look around). She demos, then he practices. We watch the graceful curve of their backs as they dive for food. Flip of the tail, sometimes for propulsion, sometimes for fun. 🙂 We also visit a colony of sea lions sunning themselves on rocks. My, how I wish you could hear them! There must have been a hundred of them. I don’t have great pictures of either, (or of the porpoises), but here are a few sea lions who came out to play with us.

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27 May: Skagway was a departure point for many starry-eyed dreamers looking for gold. Today we follow their treacherous path on the White Pass Yukon Route Railway. I feel a little like I’m in an old Western film. Keeping an eye out for train robbers. 🙂

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We pass waterfalls, deep ravines, rickety old bridges that look like they belong in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and the tragic “dead horse gulch” (named for the many horses who died while attempting to carry prospectors’ supplies up over the pass).

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There is a glacial lake at the top of the pass, mostly frozen still. Sometimes we travel through a great corridor of snow, tall as the cars in places, carved out for our sakes.

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I spend most of the return trip out on the porch of the car breathing the clean scent of evergreen and snow, catching the spray of waterfalls in my hands and on my face, and trying, once again, to get inside this landscape. To get it inside me.

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We spend the afternoon doing what most of our friends at home are doing on this Memorial Day, sitting out by the pool. It is 70 degrees, after all. The view from my deck chair….

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28 May: If I lived in Alaska my whole life, I would never get over seeing a bald eagle in flight. We see them every day of the cruise; sitting on buildings, in the woods, or in their tree top nest in Hoonah. But the best is to see them soaring overhead. And I have to stop and watch. My eyes fill with tears, and my heart pounds from the sheer majesty of it. (In fact I couldn’t write this without tears.) My gratitude is so deep.

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In Hoonah, we sit for a long time with a store owner who talks to us about her life in Alaska. This is an unexpected gift. She tells us about a group of Tlingit artists who are crafting totem poles and panels for the new visitor center for Glacier Bay National Park using traditional tools and stories. They welcome us into their workshop and tell us about their work. We are honored to be drawn into this tradition.

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29 May: We are only ever rained on twice in Alaska. One of these days, appropriately, is in Ketchikan–purportedly  the rainiest city in North America, as well as the king salmon capital of the world.

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Creek Street is the former red light district. (Prostitution was legal here until 1953.) It is a charming clutter of buildings sitting on stilts which today house galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops.

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30 May: Our last day on the ship is spent entirely at sea. It is the coldest day of the trip with intermittent rain, but the rain brings gifts of its own. Shafts of light stab through gray clouds, while slender columns of steam rise tenuously skyward to rejoin their fellows.

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And then this. I take it all in in greedy, grateful gulps.

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Tomorrow, we will wake in Vancouver, and all around will be city, and noise, and hurry. But tonight, during dinner, this is outside our window. This is Alaska as I will remember her. Wild. Unfettered. Unpredictable. And utterly wondrous…