May 21, 2010

ON THE FERRY TO ALASKA
I sit painting the glorious big sky,
The snow capped mountains,
The treed hills and islands that slide into the gray Pacific.
Around me, I inhale the conversations.
"I'm against these big grants to culture.
There's only so much money per community."
"Why would it go to an art gallery?"
"I moved here for the hunting and fishing.
Now they've cultured it all up.
It sucks."
"Last winter it was so easy to buy peppers.
I did them with fresh ginger and they were marvelous."
"Sunshine really fixes my allergies.
Nowadays, we cover up so much.
We don't get enough sun."
"I've been in Ketchekan for twenty years,
So for sure I'm an Alaskan."
(I particularily like this one because after thirty-eight years,
I'm still sometimes perceived as a come from away in Nova Scotia.)
Standing next to me on chairs,
Two workers plunge into the overhead space with screwdrivers.
"How do I know if it's dwawing a current?
The volt metre says nothin.
Does that mean it's not dwawing anything?"
I think that perhaps bed making
Might have been the preferred task
For the new custodian.
Jim is cornered by a stewart,
Who has just finished his first shift.
The chap's life story pours out.
His first wife and five kids baled out on him.
He tried to win her back
But then he trook his Grandfather's advice
And moved on.
The lord gave him a new wife with four kids.
Precious, Treasure and Spring are good kids.
Not the flaky kind with tatoos and piercings.
Jeb is living on his ownb back in Montana.
Jim says politely but firmly that we have to get some sleep.
I find that my well padded body
Still has bony bits that push
Into the hard plastic lounge chair.
By 2 AM, I am totally frozen.
I get up and put on my fleece and jacket
And my wonderful, wonky woolen  hat
That Laurie knit for me.
With my towel wrapped around me,
I wiggle back into my mummy bag
For a few more hours of sleep.
At 3:45 AM the ship's bell rings loudly.
"We will dock at Sitka in 30 minutes for a three hour stay."
I immediately return to sleep.
At 4:15, Jim wakes me.
We're docking.
I have to hurry,
I struggle out of my sleeping  bag
And stiffly get up.
Shoes on, hair and teeth brushed,
I'm ready to explore.
Jim and I arrange transport
To and from downtown Sitka.
The bus points out our pickup point,
And then drops us off at the Totem Park.
Sitka is in a rain forest.
The plants and trees are all enormous.
Salt water surrounds
The penninsula that is the century old park.
The totems are one of the giants.
Each one tells a story.
Whales, fish, beaver, brave hunters or lost souls.
Their over-sized faces stare down.
I lock eyes with a touquoise wooden raven on top of one pole.
Suddenly a real raven screeches raucously
And then softly chortles seductively.
The moment is magic.
I feel the totem sharing with me.
"Slow down, now is all you have."
I stop dashing around snapping photos
And breath in the moment.
Later our ship, The Taku,
Heads towards Juneau.
We weave around the green treed islands.
Beyond the sap and washed viridians,
Are soft mauve and blue mountains
With snow capped summits.
An undulating payne's gray sky
Hints at fair weather ahead.
Suddenly a whale crests in the distance.
It is joined by it's mother.
Both blow and breath
And then slide out of sight.
In a narrow channel leaving Sitka,
Jim bemoans the lack of eagles.
"Last time there were lots of eagles."
Suddenly we both start seeing the white heads.
One eagle, two eagles, dozens of eagles
Dot the short line trees.
As the channel widens
We no longer can pick out white heads.
Instead, we see schools of porpoises and dophins
Nosing up and down,
Skivering over the surface.
One dolphin heads right towards the boat.
I can see it's black body and white markings;
A spinning dolphin.
A hump[back whale, with it's distinct flat nose,
Appears nearby.
Several time we see
Sprays of water from blowholes.
Each time, I train the binoculars on the spouts.
Eureka, I see the back
And then the entire tail out of the water,
As the whale breaches.
Day and night the ship's engine's rumble.
It's tuba like horn bellows.
The bells ring.
Before and after each departure
The PA voice announces:
We aren't allowed to drink or smoke.
When we hear the emergency siren,
We should go to our muster stations.
Don't bring belongings.
Do bring medications.
Don't search for family members.
Suddenly after two days
We get a newsy annoucement;
There's an upcoming island with sea lions
And a pod of munching orcas!
All I see of the orcas are their fins.
I'm excited and dismayed.
I guess I have more in common with
The vegetarian humpbacks.
We continue to glide by snow capped mountains,
The rich green islands,
The reflections shimmering in the water,
And the occational excitement of whales.
The P.A, voice also announces the start of each movie.
I wonder how Sean Penn can compete with magesty.