The view west from the homestead

The view west from the homestead

Sweet Chance

Sweet Chance

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Alaska Marine Highway

September 14th, 2007
On the Alaska Marine Highway

UNBELIEVABLE!!! Our weather has held and we continue to experience jaw-dropping scenery. Chris has been in need of a primal scream now since we left Sitka at 7:30 this morning. It’s just too much beauty to take. He wants to live on a stretch of island out here where every morning he could come out and do a primal scream on the banks. I think he’d attract some moose in rut…maybe swerve the caribou off their migration. The channel out of Sitka was very narrow…amazing they can navigate a boat this size through it. At one point, we passed through a rip with 2-foot standing waves in a passage that looked far too thin for this massive boat. Very exciting. Pristine wilderness…. occasional small streams running down from the hills with a lot of bird activity where the streams meet the river (probably salmon there as well). Bald eagles are beginning to amass out here---more than 3,500 of them will be up in the Haines area by late October for the late spawning of Coho and chum. It is the biggest gathering of bald eagles in the world and a good excuse for a festival in November in Haines.

We are on the Matanuska, the biggest of the ferries that we have seen. Our cabin is up in the bow, 1A, and is much bigger than we expected. Two bunk beds, nice size, a table, 4 chairs, a desk, and a tiny bathroom with shower sink and toilet. We feel like we are in the Marriot! It’s amazing. Right now Chris and I are sitting in the observation room in the bow. Comfy chairs that swivel around and face the 5-foot windows that wrap around the entire bow section (180 degree vista). Now the channel has opened up and is about a ¼ mile wide. We passed some glaciers yesterday, but today have just seen snow on mountaintops.

The boat has a large cafeteria in the stern, fairly good food, 2 movies a day upstairs in the lounge area, and lots of deck space. A few folks have pitched their tents on the top deck, a pretty cheap way to take this glorious route. I guess in season, this boat is packed…now it is quiet, except for an Elderhostel group of 30 who is getting off today in Petersberg. There are 2 other families with kids on board, so Cassidy and Teslin are in heaven. One family has just left Tanzania where they lived for 7 years and is taking 6 months off to travel before they pick up life in Uganda. The father is from Holland and works for an NGO sponsored by the Dutch government. Great family. The other family has one son and they are taking 2 weeks off to travel to Alaska. The kids are playing tag, various other games, and mostly spying on the rest of us. Cassidy doesn’t seem very interested in birds right now!

Well….I’m going to turn it over to Chris….ta ta for now.

What to add… blah, blah, blah, bald eagles, blah blah, blah, pristine mountains, blah, blah, drop dead gorgeous islands, coves, beaches. I’ve spent 90% of the time on the bow of the ferry, normally alone or with one person, quiet on all sides as we float through this unbelievable country. We’ve really come to appreciate the serenity, the wildness of this land and have started talking about what it would be like to live here. Suddenly, the mountain West seems crowded and overrun!!! It’s all about perspective I guess. The wildness comes at a price- it’s isolated, hard to get to, far from relatives and friends- this Southwest stretch of waterfront communities more than the Anchorage area. They are in need of nurses, jobs wouldn’t be an issue. Our brains are definitely churning- we are thinking of returning after our visit with Anny’s folks around Vancouver the next 2 weeks and spending more time from Sitka to Haines- any excuse to get back on this ferry perhaps. There is a Native peoples’ clinic system with clinics in Sitka, Juneau, Haines, and some other smaller communities and islands we would like to check out. This system was one of the first to break away from the IHS back in the 70’s I believe and sounds very interesting.

We’ve gotten a good taste of what living Alaska could be. Stocking up on Salmon and wild game, spending a lot of time out of doors, looking at the Weather and length of days as a much larger part of your life-how it affects your daily existence, more time turned inward-to family and self- as a natural consequence of the geographic isolation here. Our discussions now are really about whether this narrowing of focus on a personal level is a positive or negative. There really is no debate about the physical richness of this area- it is just so…ALIVE…in ways that fill your senses, replenish your soul, make you sit back and think.

We are looking forward to much more camping and fishing on return trips here or if living in Alaska. Most of the hiking here is without benefit or hindrance of trails. One must develop skills around planning of hikes, reading of topo maps, and understanding of being just another piece of the puzzle that the wilds of Alaska are made of—how to deal with encounters with Bear, Moose, and weather changes. River floats will have to happen, there are too many options to mention- Yukon, Forty-mile River, kayaking around the many Fjords that make up the Kenai Peninsula, visiting the spawning grounds of all the different Pacific Salmon that fight their way upstream to spawn and die-Silvers, Red, Coho, Pink. So much to explore- we may have to live here just to save the money we would need to spend on gas to return here as often as we would need to do all of these things!!!!

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