I’m back from our intense week in Alaska. There are so many different angles from which to approach writing about the experience, so I’m guessing that it’s going to take a couple of postings to work through it all.

Let me begin briefly at the very end. I had what I thought was a good old-fashioned cold shipboard but testing on our return indicated that Rosellen and I had very mild COVID. I’m already testing negative on the second day. Nonetheless, I’m mentioning this as a reminder to all of us that COVID numbers are up again. Very few people on our flights or on the ship were masked, including us. Certainly, in retrospect, we should have been more cautious, but wearing a mask for the duration of a five-hour flight is a challenge, as is socializing with the people you’re going to be eating, hiking and boating with all day, every day while masked. If you still have travel plans for what’s left of the summer, don’t ignore the risks that are still out there.

When we began dreaming about an Alaska trip, we put out an email call to friends about suggestions. Our friend Leah responded almost immediately with a report about her experience with a company called Uncruise which, true to its name, ran small boats of 70-80 passengers through the islands and bays north and south of Juneau. For those of us familiar with the essay by David Foster Wallace called “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” about his experiences aboard a cruise ship, you’ll understand immediately why this far more modest option resonated with us.

Sure enough, after dropping our bags at the headquarters of Uncruise, we went for a stroll along the Juneau waterfront which is dominated by ships of such a grand scale that we were reduced to the size of Lilliputians in the land of the giants. The Carnival Lines behemoth that dominated the territory was six or eight stories high and the length of multiple football fields. When we looked up at the topmost deck, we could see passengers engaged in a basketball game which occupied only a small portion of that upper region. When we chatted with another traveler in an ice cream shop near the docks, she described her ship as one of the smaller ones – only 2,000 passengers!  We could only guess how many were on that moving Carnival city enjoying its Canadian online casinos, multiple dining rooms, and the opportunity to shop. Furthermore, for those interested, you can click for info about online casino games to avoid fraud or clickbait. For more info about where to play the best games in Grand Mordial Casino, check out this resource.

We had been in Juneau 35 or 40 years ago for reasons that would sidetrack us in this telling, but we were not exposed to the cruise ship culture then. We did see the Mendenhall Glacier, the city’s major attraction, which we didn’t have time to visit this time around. I’m sure its diminished state would have been depressing to see, but I’ll have a lot more to say about glaciers further on.

During the 6 or 7 hours we had in town before boarding, we strolled through the several blocks-long shopping district which must have the heaviest concentration of diamond stores of any city in the world. Rumor has it that the cruise lines own a number of them on the assumption that people who can afford cruises have a lot of excess capital in search of places to absorb it. Interspersed were shops with signs that said, desperately, “Locally owned.” They were meant for a different crowd than us UnCruisers.

We visited a small museum devoted to the Tlingit culture, the indigenous tribe that inhabited the area. There is a larger municipal museum in town, but we didn’t have time to visit it. This one had only two major exhibitions, the perfect size for my limited attention span. The first was a Tlingit lodge. I can’t find a better noun to describe this space which, at its various levels, housed as many as forty members of a clan (there were eagle and raven clans) who also cooked and worked in this dwelling made of the abundant local Sitka Spruce.

The other exhibit, which included an array of videos, documented the fishing culture of the Tlingit, which was centered on salmon and halibut. It was the latter that was particularly intriguing because the tribe had invented an ingenious fishing hook intended to ensure the sustainability of this line by allowing fish still growing to avoid being ensnared and to also allow females loaded with eggs to swim free. There’ll be a lot more to be said about salmon once we get onboard, but I will add here that the one meal of halibut we had on the ship was one of the best fish dinners I’ve ever eaten. Jumping way ahead to the end of our trip, while waiting for our flight out of Juneau we were surrounded by returning fishermen carting fifty-pound cartons of their catch labeled salmon/halibut. I hope they have large freezers awaiting them at home, and I wish them a hearty appetite.

I’ll mention one more diversion that’s worth your time if you have a few hours to kill in Juneau. There is a tram that runs from the port up the very steep palisades that overlook it which offer a panoramic view of the inlet and the gigantic boats docked along it; at this height the ships are reduced to their proper size. Those more intrepid than we could actually hike up or down these cliffs, but we were content with the more passive option.

We’ve often regretted not having reading that matches our destinations, but we hit the jackpot this time. Even before we dreamed of making this trip, I’ve wished for the opportunity to read John McPhee’s Coming into the Country. This classic about Alaska was written in the 70s but it remains relevant nonetheless because it introduces us to some of the most critical factors that have created the state’s current character – the achievement of statehood in 1958, the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay and the passage of legislation that apportioned land to the native populations and to the state, which has created the current vast national park system in Alaska. The land and cash distribution to the indigenous populations was seen by many at the time as enlightened, but it forced these groups to accept, with justifiable bitterness, the Western concept of land ownership which was totally alien to their culture.

Much of the book is about parts of Alaska remote from the area we were visiting, but McPhee’s account of the odd lots and broken sizes of settlers who were “coming into the country” shaped the culture of the entire state. I had brought a copy from our local library and Rosellen found one in the ship’s library, so we spent a good part of the week doing tandem reading which became as rich a part of our week as the amazing things we saw and learned.

I haven’t even gotten you onboard the Wilderness Legacy yet, but you’re going to have to wait till next week for that part of the story.

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Marv Hoffman

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