inspiring alaska

20130915-083304.jpg Last week, the Hubs and I cruised Alaska; Southeast Alaska, to be exact. It was fantabulous. Affinity for our beloved North Country notwithstanding, Alaska wins the U.S. beauty contest, hands down.

I will easily concede the Bavarian Alps, Mediterranean coast, Paris or Rome, perhaps a Caribbean island or two, have something on the No Co but … another state in the good ol’ U. S. of A.? Harrumph! This was a bit more difficult to accept.

Yet by week’s end I knew it to be true. I knew I’d (we’d!) be looking an opportunity to return — preferably with the grand-boys! The true test of an amazing destination is knowing before you leave that you will go back whenever you can.

Alaska is beautiful beyond belief. Even brief and casual visitors, such as we, are treated to unreplicable displays. Majestic peaks crowned with glorious blue glacial ice pack and shear rock face tower over glassy lakes cradled thousands of feet high, seemingly suspended above millions of conifers running the gamut of green. Icy streams tumble down massive granite slabs, spilling willy-nilly into blue-green rivers rich with glacial run-off, rolling boulders and stones into pebbles and silt in the race toward the sea. Islands and inlets, channels and fjords lace the coastline, just daring your Inner Explorer to enter in, to take the plunge.

20130915-092941.jpgAlaska is wilderness unleashed. We enjoyed expansive views flightseeing the Misty Fjords National Monument: quiet natural harbors protected by steep granite bays, deep saltwater fjords, isolated freshwater lakes ringed by forest so thick you might never see the light of day, miles and miles of remote bush punctuated by marshy bogs, small streams, rushing rivers, and always, everywhere, hanging clouds of mist.

It was No Man’s Land; no sign of human life. Aside from the sea lions hauled up on New Eddystone Rock, we might have been alone. Yet this (relatively) small area of Alaskan wilderness (nearly quadruple the size of New York State’s Adirondack Park) is home to mountain goats, moose, bears, wolverines, marmots and other mammals, sea lions and harbor seals, Dall porpoises, sea otters, plus gray, humpback, Orca and minke whales, also bald eagles and thousands of seabirds and fish, including all five species of northeastern Pacific salmon! We were none the wiser, this day. Apparently Alaska protects her own. (More on that adventure here.)

20130915-090431.jpg In the Tracy Arm Fjord, we were startled by the ca-BOOM! of Sawyer Glacier calving an iceberg at daybreak, thrilled to sail near harbor seals on ice floes and mesmerized by the close approach of humpback whales tanking up for the long journey to warmer seas. (More, here.) And in Ketchikan, self-proclaimed salmon capital of the world, fish swam upriver so thick we might have stepped across on their slippery backs.

Still, we saw only a smattering of wildlife, in large part because of the vast space in which they may hide. Alaska is big. Really, really big. Her coastline exceeds that of all other states combined! Our journey didn’t scratch the surface of her her vast grandeur. The size and scale of what we encountered completely overwhelmed us.

20130915-094537.jpg Alaska defines remote. Who ever heard of a U.S. capital city inaccessible by road? Indeed, this is Juneau! You will come and go by boat or plane; all four roads leading out of Juneau dead-end.

Our tour guide in Skagway regaled us with tales of hardships in this harsh and isolated region. You must be certain your household is represented on Tuesday evenings after the food barge arrives, he admonished, when the one and only grocery store in town has restocked perishables. In winter, this critical activity occurs only once a month. As the last stop on the delivery route, “Skagway gets the greenest meats and brownest vegetables” all year ’round.

Milk costs $7 or more a half-gallon; gasoline $7 or more a gallon. Pay up or go without. Any alternative is costly at 150 miles away, in White Horse, Yukon Territory. This is also your destination for a date night of dinner and a movie — a three-hour round trip in good weather, completed by stocking up at Costco.

Everything is expensive, with the exception of fresh seafood. Monthly rent for a mere tent site is $350, add $100 for basic utilities. Modest fixer-uppers, even ramshackle homes, may sell for hundreds of thousands. Yet each anecdote wrapped up with grateful acceptance, “Just part of the trade off to live here.”

Oh, the spirit of humility that Alaska inspires.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens. …
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority,
the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

Psalm 8

~ René Morley

Photos, top to bottom: (1) Misty Fjords National Monument; (2) White Pass & Yukon Railway view; Tracy Arm – Fords Terror Wilderness: (3) Sawyer Glacier calving and (4) fjord granite outcrop.

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