Tuesday, August 26, 2008

SEWARD'S ICEBOX

I find myself in imminent danger of sounding like PBS travel special. This is perhaps understandable, since I have just returned from a 10-day cruise to Alaska. Of the beauty, the majesty, the crisp, clear air - it's all been said. My own vocabulary ran out of superlatives by the time we docked in Juneau and disintregated into your basic "wow". Until new adjectives come upon the scene, I'm not even going to try to describe the glories of our 50th state.

Still, while the tourist in me was taking it all in, the writer part was seeing stories everywhere the tourist went. In Ketichican, I watched seaplanes launch and land constantly as they go about their daily business. Where were they all going, and what were they doing there?

In the carefully perserved home of the most famous local madam, open for tours, there is a poignant portrait of a baby hung over the sink in the ornate bathroom. How, in this "house of ill-repute", did this come to be there?

As the excursion train wends its way upwards though the mountains high above Sitka, I see flannel-shirted men from a hundred years ago gain each foot of track at the expense of brutal labor and sheer will. Later, they are all gathered around the campfire, grateful for the warmth and company and coffee; thinking about home.

Even before, there are gold miners risking life and limb as they make their way back to town along the now almost indecipherable path hewn out of the mountain side. They are carrying their treasures on the back of often ill-fed and overworked horses. There is a span of trail known as Dead Horse Pass, and it is painful to watch them stumble and fall into the ravine, sometimes taking their oewners with them. It is a huge price to pay to get rick quick.

But not all stories belong in the past. It seems nobody was actually born in Alaska. They come for many reasons. Some are running away from something or someone; others are running to. Many readily volunteer their tales. Either way, it's pretty clear that they are there because they want to be.

And lastly, there are my fellow cruisers. What a diverse group they are! The crew comes from all over the world.

Our chief waiter dreams of taking some schooling that will some day allow him to open his own restaurant. The Maitre d' was born in Jordan, but now lives in Poland.

Ages of the guests range from very old to stroller-bound. Some appear well-to-do; others make you wonder how they scraped together the money for even the cheapest stateroom.

One lady, elegant and beautiful,sits in her wheelchair awaiting her companion to take her off ship on an excursion. The is wearing a white,gauzy dress with a straw hat covering her matching snowy hair. I comment to her that she looks like she is on her way to tea. And indeed she is - at an elegant old hotel in Victoria, B.C.

Our tablemates are a mother and son from California. This is a repeat trip for the mother: her first trip was with her husband, who died two years ago.

A rather shapeless woman of indeterminate age sways alone to the music at the disembarkation from our last port,but with great abandon.

And me? This trip is to commemorate my 40th anniversary. My husband and I, remembering the early days when a big day was charging the gas, driving to a free-to-the-public historical museum and splitting a hamburger, smile at the good fortune that has brought us on this wonderful journey.

But there is yet another story waiting to be explored. I have an early memory of my parents sitting in matching armchairs by the fireplace in the chilly Ohio evening. They are each reading books from the library about a place they have always wanted to go: Alaska.

2 comments:

Sheryl Tuttle said...

Happy 40th anniversary and thanks for sharing your cruise. It sounds lovely.

T.C. said...

Sue:

It sounds like you had a wonderful time, and the stories you describe need to be written. I hope you have lots of pictures to remind you of that wonderful trip.

It is nice to look back and be grateful for all that you have now compared to the lean times, isn't it?

Now, here's something else for you to do. Won't take long and it will be fun.

List 6 unspectacular things about yourself. Then, tag 6 other bloggers and get them to do the same. It's a game to play to get people over to the blogs and reading all the wonderful things we wrote!

Theresa