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August 2018 Alaskan Dream

Ten days aboard the Alaskan Dream, cruising through Southeast Alaska, to Sitka, Glacier Bay, Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Tracy Arm, Petersburg, Wrangell, Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Metlakatla, Ketchikan
 The small boat Alaskan Dream cruises are beautifully situated between the giant cruise ship entertainment and rough-it exploration.  We could be as active as we were inclined to be.  Some of us life-jacketted up with a half dozen other guests on the DIB, the stable, motorized inflatable, and are rewarded by getting close to the wildlife.
Although the small size of the Alaskan Dream allows it to edge up close, too, where the the big cruise ships can't go. We can almost touch this waterfall from the foredeck, while keeping one hand on our drinks – such luxury!
Others explore by kayak, paddling as close to the shore as you want to, or skimming over shallow water to gaze at jellyfish and stones. Lucky me, going single on my two excursions, I am paired with energetic young crew members with stories of kayaking out to uninhabited lands to camp with their high school friends.

Saook Bay with Janae, our cultural naturalist; somewhere off Tracy Arm with Terry, a steward delighted to try kayaking again.

In Sitka many of us hike with Joy – aptly named – over and under tree roots she has climbed since she was 11. 
When she finishes at Searsey College (where she and her sister are 4th generation legacies), she will be back to Alaska to teach and raise a family. 

She and Alex lead us to Mosquito Cove (ha ha – no insects in sight, just two kinds of slugs. This is the invasive black one on a skunk cabbage leaf, just like the plants I remember from New England)

Up and down hills through the verdant arctic rainforest.
Surprise! It's Alaska, but green – Southeast is protected by the Alexander Archipelago of hundreds of islands; the temperature range is about 40 – 60 F and it's summer.
Mosquito Bay

It's not quite salmonberry season, which everyone eagerly awaits, and almost at the end of spruce tips.

Later in the trip, a couple of guys get to go fishing with locals Captain Eric knows, and bring back a giant halibut for our dinner. We all watch closely as Garrett, our chef, fileted. Yes, we ate very well, but were not stuffed as I have heard is common on the big ships. Local fish, fresh cookies in the evening in the lounge, chocolates on our pillows.
Captain Eric in the black cap
Imagine this space filled with chattering guests. With a choice of seating at meals, we get to meet and talk story with most of the other 30 or so passengers by the end of the trip. Mostly retired from a variety of jobs - molecular biology, telephone tech, a couple – a nurse and a veternarian.  Mostly American – Massachusetts, Idaho, California, a couple from Shropshire and another from Australia. Gardening, personal histories flowing easily into mutual interests. 
At most stops, there is time and space to wander at our own pace, or sit in a local restaurant, or check out a museum.

In Wrangell, we walk out to the Chief Shakes clan house, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s in the style of the old community houses. Wikipedia has an account of the Tlingit leader's history and lineage at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakes_(Tlingit_leaders).

In Sitka, we walk up to the Raptor Center, twice, where injured eagles, hawks, owls are healed and released back to the wild. Since most of the injuries are human-caused, this seems like payback. Some birds can't be released, and spend their lives at the Center, as guests and/or educators, like Snowy, and the still-spirited hawk, Spirit.

We were drawn to adopt Glaucus, the grumpy horned owl, who was not impressed.

Almost all of us go along on the guided hikes, with Alaskan Dream staff or local guides.
Muskeg Park outside Petersburg

Alex, our naturalist, enthusiast, and resource for everything, is so tender, putting that sedge back in the muskeg after she plucked it to show us the detail. We are having no trouble staying on the path – it's a sponge out there, even though stumpy trees are growing out of it.

Everywhere, whether we are  gazing across a flat bog, or strolling through Sitka, or cruising, there are those mountains patchy with summer snow.
Sometimes shrouded in fog and cloud, re-appearing and disappearing
St. Michael's Cathedral, Sitka
Haines at 4:10 p.m.
At 6:00 p.m.
We were welcomed as visitors at eight towns, each with distinct histories and character.  Our airport connections were in Ketchikan and Sitka – semi-urban with their fine museums, Mexican and Chinese restaurants – they each have around 8,000 permanent residents.

Almost half the permanent population of Alaska lives in Anchorage, a city of 292,000 people. Living in LA (4,000,000 of us) we perhaps have an exaggerated sense of what urban is, but Alaskans take care to characterize their state as something different than the dense lower 48.
Even in the capitol, Juneau (30,000 residents), we spent most of our time at the Mendenhall Glacier. Nugget Falls, also coming off the Juneau Ice Fields, puts it all in perspective. See the tiny guy taking a picture?
Mendenhall Glacier in back, Nugget Falls in foreground

At Kasaan, Metlakatla and Bartlett's Cove, our Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit guides spoke honestly to the range of feelings and responses to Alaska's history of race relations. On board, a young Huna Tlingit woman spoke from the heart, recounting the displacement of an old Tlingit community by the glacier's advance, only to be barred from returning after generations when the glacier retreated; their homeland is now Glacier National Park. When I come across her taking private time in one of my sequestered corners of the Dream singing homecoming to herself and her ancestors, and feel the bittersweetness, I silently moved to another place to watch the glacier approach. My family are wanderers, never in one place for more than a generation and today I feel sad; where would my homeland be?

At Bartlett's Cove, the Tlingit guide who talks to us in the all-clan house has to stop for a moment to gather herself, recounting how she is re-learning her culture and language from her daughters. Her generation call themselves the lost generation –  sent away to boarding schools which did not teach their history, punished for speaking their own language.

Here in Haida territory, Fred keeps his distance; and his oh-so-genial sarcasm keeps me at a distance, too, and I'm mad that he's using his power over us polite tourists to keep me in this drafty longhouse, when I have a cold coming on, as fair as the payback may be.
But I am moved to learn that the Civilian Conservation Corps reconstructed the Naay I'waans Whale House, in the 30s, and created the totem park with poles from Old Kasaan.

Coming in to Kasaan, we see a tiny boat riding the waves paddled by a young man, with his wife and 2 month old baby, and small energetic white dog. Both the baby and the canoe are on their first trip on the water. What a privilege to be welcomed to witness that!

Stormy, the carver, has already made this smaller canoe, which we passed as we disembarked.

 Captain Eric was off the boat before us, greeting his friends. I know we'll be long returned to our usual lives, but I'll still want to know if Eric does crew on the planned 18 footer on a voyage to Hawaii!

The bit of Stormy's explanation that catches my attention is how fire and water and steam are used to shape a canoe – char and scrape out a cypress log to hollow it, then fill it with water and hot stones to soften the sides enough to push them into that distinctive flared shape.

Stormy is also completing a totem pole for the village, in a communally discerned design that tells its history, incorporating past, present and future and all the groups living in the community. We had a snack in the Totem Trail Cafe, which also serves as the community center. The Organized Village of Kasaan is a federally recognized tribe, a lively Alaskan community of some 50 people.

At Metlakatla, Sitka and Juneau, Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit Alaskans fill the community clan houses with drums and dance, at which we are welcomed - at Metlatka even invited to join our Tsimshian hosts, all levels of grace okay.
In the Norwegian fishing community at Petersburg, in the Sons of Norway Hall, young dancers in the Mitkof Dance Troupe, wearing the highly valued dresses and suits that are passed down and re-fitted to each new dancer, perform their European line and square dances with skill and joy, and feed us traditional Norwegian pastries, too.

If you yearn for details of the bunad costumes, www.runnstitch.blogspot.com has lots from an annual bunad festival. Online searching revealed that the dance troupe does disco, too.
Outside the Sons of Norway Hall, as we slowly read a hundred or so names of fishermen lost at sea, we are reminded of the harsh, proud, realities of fishing life.

I feel comfortable hanging out in the working town Wrangell, detouring for a half hour to admire the giant cranes and forklifts in the shipyard.
 We get three tickets for the annual raffle that raises money for a lavish Fourth of July celebration (we did not win, but I'd love to come back for the event). We get our tickets by supporting one of the contestants for King by ordering a haystack (Fritos, beans, and cheese – yum), cheesburger and root beer float from their stand downtown,

In Thorne Bay, we get a tour of the library, now housed in a trailer, and chat with the mayor, out walking his son's amiable beagle.  The community was towed here from its first site in 1961. Yes, really.  Logging camps were built on spruce floats, and towed to each new site. We passed some individual floating camps, though the logging boom is past and Thorne Bay is mostly retired folks.
Skagway is cold and touristy, and we wonder if we are doomed to sitting out of the wind in a coffee shop before our train ride.

The Arctic Brotherhood Hall, 1899
But another passenger joins us in a quilting shop bursting with fabrics that range from traditional raven and bear designs to cute moose patterns. Now what am I going to do with the Raven pattern, suitable for applique, which I do not do?

Artistry is everywhere on this trip. At the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, I chat for a long time with the visiting artist, Chloe French, Tlingit/Danish/Irish, of the Eagle moiety and Tsaagweidi clan. I've now heard several versions of Raven Stealing the Sun, and love seeing and hearing Chloe's. In words and fabric she tells the moment people are half way between animal and human. After they refuse three times to ferry him across a river, hot-tempered Raven opens the bag in which he is carrying the stolen sun and flings it into the sky, and turns all the selfish, foolish people into the animals whose skins they were wearing.

At the dock in Thorne Bay, I chat with two artisans as I choose earrings and a pendant; one had come from across Prince of Wales Island for the day with her earrings and pins made with soft leather and beads, the other lives with her husband on the Lillian Rose – which is outfitted with all her equipment for shaping and making jewelry from ancient fossil coral and silver. One woman has a website, and was surprised that I did not; the other not even a business card.

Of course, these also appealed to me!
Yeltatzie Salmon, made by Terry Pyles in honor of the Native carver whose wooden salmon was here in Ketchikan for years

Greeter at Alaskan Dream Visitors Center, Ketchikan
At Sealaska and the Sheldon Jackson Museum, in and on the clan houses, and outdoors in every community we revel in the beauty and skill of tribal artistry, as we are introduced to its place in clan and tribal life.


Bartlett's Cove tribal house, constructed in 2016, joins all four Huna Tlingit clans.  At www.nps.gov, look for "Huna Tribal House" for an account of this reconciliation project.

Skagway shows us another face of Alaska's past from the comfort of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad car.

We look down at the narrow trail where thousands of hopeful miners lugged their ton of supplies and equipment on the way to the Klondike gold fields, still hundreds of miles away.

 The spiky, elegant upper elevation pines look more able to withstand the snow and cold than the gold-seekers. Even when they put in a railroad, this is what they needed to clear the tracks!
As we motor gently from town to town - Lynn Canal, Icy Strait, Frederick Sound, Clarence and Chatham Straits, Stephens Passage, Tracy Arm

under us an unseen community cruises as well.

When the captain somehow intuits, or is passing familiar whale locations, he slows the Dream and guests hustle out to the fore deck, cameras at hand.
 The reward is often the stately passing of humpbacks, rising to blow and gently diving again with a flip of their tails – each tail as distinctive as a signature.

 Very cool, of course, is a dramatic flip completely into the air, which we get to see once to the collective gasps of everyone on board

or the co-operative “bubble netting”. Mama humpback circles a school of krill with a spiraling ring of bubbles until her companions surge up through the compressed mass of food, scooping up mouthfulls – and those are Some Mouths!
In the quiet coves and harbors, otters often float improbably on their backs. Out on the wilder waters, a couple of killer whales skim alongside us one day, and Alex catches this amazing photo.
 We slow by Russell Island, too, to watch the sea lions lounging and arguing and humping gracelessly over the rocks toward the ocean, where they are transformed into sleek smooth water beings.


At Orca Point Lodge, near Juneau, Sam, an enthusiastic marine biologist, gathers sea creatures every day to inhabit a tide pool touch tank, and we can get in close to the complex, beautiful community under the sea surface. She loves chitons the most – the oldest living creature on earth.
So long, thanks for sharing your water world with us

Cameras at the alert, guests caught these photos of other Alaskan life: a porcupine at Bartlett's Cove, who waddled across the path behind us and up a tree before he looked back

Showy puffins
Gulls and cormorants are too familiar for us to document in pictures. Eagles are everywhere, perched in towns and in the wild with a kind of arrogant indifference.
By the way, moose don't come down to the tourist areas in Southeast – this was as close as we got

Janae slowed down to meet and cuddle Arcticat as we strolled toward a beach of ancient petroglyphs, including this one of a very recognizable whale.


The Alaska State Library lists hundreds of named glaciers in Alaska, and the US Geological Survey guesses that there are 100,000 altogether - ice rivers constantly advancing and retreating.

Here we are, calmly motoring up to an unmelted mountain of ice - Margerie Glacier. It looks so still from a distance, epochal.
You want to know how big they are?
This is one single cruise ship that we saw in Ketchikan; if you look closely, our Alaskan Dream is the little white ship under the line of orange lifeboats:

And here is a cruise ship next to Marjorie Glacier. OK, it's not one of the most hugest cruise ships – 7 or 8 decks, but maybe not as long as the Holland Lines one above.
Yes, I wanted to see a glacier “calving”, breaking off and thundering into the melted water at its edge. But it's satisfying enough to learn that the light is refracted through the ice into intense blues,


and to witness the inexorable, geologically slow power that scrapes solid rock up to a mile high

wherever you see a rounded island, a glacier has passed - over it

Southeast Alaska is water in all its forms.
 Hard as fractured ice,

soft as snow and rain,

light as fog and cloud,

racing in rivers, still in bogs,

filling moss with moisture, drunk up by trees and plants,
floating boats, making way for whales. 

I am so contented here hanging over the rail or sitting back in a chair in a quiet corner on the middle deck on the Dream, lost in the patterns of living water, the land moving by, rocks and trees, the clouds/fog/mist; images I will take home in my head to mine for serenity, as well in photographs to share.

On the ship, I can be social, too, sharing the top deck with other guests, a good place to take in the variety of Alaskan human life as we approach another town.

Or hide out in our cabin, glad to have held out for the luxury of the Vista View above the foredeck. Waking up in the night or early morning to indistinct shapes of islands and horizon. Front row seat for whale watching.


Ten days of restoring, energizing, enlarging.
 All made possible by these hard working, cheerful folks always ready to answer a question, adjust a heater, or make a drink (that's Amy, the barista, next to Janae, who tries mightily to cure our colds, which we picked up on the airplane, with massive Vitamin C concoctions).

Capt. Eric, Janae, Amy, Shannon


Brent, Jonathan F, Lee, Vincent, Jonathan N, Billy, Nick 
And these lovely, easy-going, fellow guests, gathered here in the official group photograph, under the giant industrial claw at Thorne Bay.