kETCHIKAN. It’s going to be difficult to beat yesterday canoeing up to the face of the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget waterfall. I took a shuttle bus to the Saxman Totem Park. Waiting for the shuttle to leave the dock in Ketchikan, I wandered into the old town along Ketchikan Creek. The cojo salmon were running and jumping out of the water. I must have seen almost five hundred salmon! Along the way to the Park, I saw a dolphin in the bay and two bald eagles sitting on limbs.

At the Saxman Park, the totem poles were very interesting. Before arriving at the park, we went up a creek and saw a black bear mother and cub fishing for salmon in the creek.

I went shopping this morning in Juneau for bedroom slippers. I found some lovely, extremely comfortable ones made of calf skin on the bottom and sides and lined with rabbit fur. They were only $55 and came with a lifetime guarantee against stitches failing. Exactly what I was looking for.  I also found a neat gift for David Rosenthal. A blue-grey tee shirt with an eagle on it saying Bald is Beautiful. He should love it.

It the afternoon I went on what would be the most rewarding, most beautiful time of my life since my trip to Macchu Pichu in 1985. I took a canoe, paddling along with ten other persons across Mendenhall Lake, between ice bergs up to the face of Mendenhall Glacier then on to the base of the Nugget Waterfall which is located just beside the Glacier.

Absolutely awesome! ! 

I am sure it is one of the finest memories of my lifetime. The paddling was tiring, but enervating. I took scores of photos. And the weather was perfect. Sunny, about 63 degrees. Yesterday, in Skagway, it reached 73 degrees with just some random showers in an otherwise sunny day. Up until last Thursday when I first arrived in Denali, it apparently was raining constantly on one of the coldest, wettest summers on record here in Alaska.  Much more than I could ever have hoped for.

We cruised to Skagway last night and I awoke early to catch a bus up the White Pass into Canada and the Yukon Territory. By serendipity, the driver was a carver of fossil mammoth tusk named Bruce Schindler. Very personable and together.  He graduated from the University of Washington and has lived in Skagway for sixteen years. We became fast friends. I may buy some of his work from his web site ( http://www.schindlercarvings.com ) later this Fall. The scenery going up was interesting; we were served a routine BBQ chicken lunch which I did not eat and we came back down in the 73 degree heat to Fraser where we caught the antique railroad down the White Pass. I saw several salmon in the creek near Skagway, three Dall sheep at two different places. Then high on the pass, I saw three Rocky Mountain Goats grazing.  A very interesting day. It culminated is a very profitable shopping trip in Skagway. I purchased an ammolite pendant for Abbe with an absolutely beautiful circular setting including three Canadian polar diamonds. For Christmas for her, I found pair of gold nugget earrings with small beads of mammoth ivory. For Claudia, I was able to find a lovely  necklace of trade beads from Africa and Russia, made in the Skagway area. And I bought an exquisite royal purple beaded bag for Abbe’s cell phone with a lavender cameo stone on it.

The morning began spectacularly as we cruised up Glacier Bay to the Marjorie Glacier. Along the way I saw three different humpback whales breech and many seals and sea otters. The glaciers were so beautiful. I think the most serene part of the scenery is the frozen covering of the sea by the debris from the calving on the glacier front. I was lucky enough to see two calvings from the Marjorie Glacier.

 

The chef sent a plate of strawberries dipped in white chocolate because I had complained Sunday morning about my eggs Benedict at breakfast which came out with baked on crust on the poached eggs. After I removed the white chocolate the strawberries were delicious. It was quite thoughtful of the chef to assuage my feelings with the gift.

The food has been quite good; not excellent, but very good. My table companions are very nice. Jim is a post office computer programmer from Atlanta, a Vietnam vet, but very enlightened and a pleasure to talk with. I have been drinking Pouilly Fuissee with every evening meal.

Wednesday night is the Captain’s Party for the Captain’s Gold Circle members which coincides with the formal night so I shall attend in my tuxedo with Abbe’s lovely African pin and the kente bow tie and cumberbund.

A very relaxing day; gathering my strength after the exertions of the land tours in Denali Park. Dinner last night was enjoyable. I am meeting a lot of interesting people. Definitely a wrinklies convention. This morning I spent some time talking with a retired tool and die machine programmer from Chicago named John. He rides his Harley motorcycle with a group called the Road Patriots, but is an interesting man. I gave him my African earring which looked great on him. He was quite touched. Tonight is the Captain’s Cocktail party which I will attend in my tuxedo because this is the first of the two formal nights on board. I have chosen to have dinner at 8:00 every night in the traditional dining room thereby establishing a continuing circle of dinner companions. The food all comes from the same kitchen so the only difference in dining rooms is the service and the companionship. I ordered a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse wine last night, drank half, after a pina collada and before a Courvousier VSOP brandy for dessert. The remaining half-bottle is waiting for me at dinner tonight.

Friday was a marvelous day. I left the Princess Lodge Mt. Denali National Park at 6:00 AM to meet the shuttle bus to Wonder Lake with the promise of lots of wild life and a great view of Mt. Denali, if the mountain is out. It had been raining for the past four days in south central Alaska, so there were little prospects of seeing the  Mountain. The wild life that we saw in their natural setting as the tour progressed were spectacular. We saw about ninety animals; including 23 caribou, 11 grizzly bears, a grey wolf, 2 red foxes, 3 Dall sheep, 4 golden eagles, 8 pairs of trumpeter swans;  14 beavers, 2 loons, 7 snowshoe hares, and 22 Ptarmigan. One of the grizzly bears came up to the shuttle bus and walked alongside. The last caribou we saw was a magnificent bull with what must have been record size horns – at least 8 feet long. One of the larger caribou came leaping out of the underbrush and ran straight toward to shuttle bus. Only excellent driving by Barr, our driver, saved us from a major accident. The animals only appeared one or two at a time about every fifteen minutes so the large numbers above are rather misleading. There were never more than two grizzlies together and most were solitary.  The Mountain (Denali) is over 20,000 feet high but is often cloud-covered. When we pulled into Eielson Camp, the next to the last stop before Wonder Lake, about 10:30, the clouds suddenly parted and the brilliantly-white, snow covered Mountain was exposed, in all its sunlit glory, down to the base. There are two major peaks, many glaciers and a nearby secondary but large mountain, Mt. Brooke. I took many, many photos before the clouds enveloped Mt. Denali, just as quickly as they had opened up earlier, about 11:30. I will post some of the best photos on my FLICKR site which you can access by clicking on the link on the left hand menu and many of them on the Alaska Cruise page of this blog. The Mountain is awesome; as imposing as Mt. Rainier. It rises out of the Alaska Mountain Range, hundreds of miles long. We drove alongside a large glacier, covered with sod and trees; but with large areas of grey ice exposed. I thought about going hiking on the Taiga Trail around a subarctic ecosystem forest —  Over the river and through the Taiga Woods.

Later, as the train wove its way on its ten hour journey from Mt. Denali to the port of Whittier, south of Anchorage, where I embark on the cruise phase of my trip tonight, the train slowed down. All of the grizzlies that I saw yesterday were in meadows, eating berries. Alongside and beneath the train was a rushing, shallow river where a grizzly bear was busy grabbing and eating as many salmon as he could handle. Out of Sight !!

At the end of the ten hour train trip to the port at Whittier down from Denali, there is a long stretch of track, before the two tunnels, surrounded on both sides by mountains with glaciers. After the 1964 earthquake that devastated southern Alaska, many regions experienced a precipitous fall in sea level. Often that fall of about twelve feet, would rip the underlying root structure from a forest, leaving a large forest of dead, but standing trees – called a “Ghost Forest.” As the train pulled into the peninsula leading to Whittier, there was a single, huge bald eagle perched on the top of one of those dead trees. A fantastic image!

Good news this morning. As always, I telephoned Abbe back on Long Island when I woke up  to find out how here recovery from her broken leg was going. The pain is much less; her good friend, Claudia, is on hand nursing; her daughter, Elora, is on a road trip to Tennessee with friends and her prospects are much brighter. It seemed more serious when the surgeon found five bones broken (shattered actually) in her lower leg, but the prospects for a full recovery seem good. I hope there will not be any lingering foot or ankle problems or the necessity of another operation. There must be one more operation  in about six weeks to remove the surgical screws and maybe the plate; hopefully, that will be the end of Abbe’s leg and ankle problems. I miss Abbe very much on this trip. Abbe is a truly wonderful Lady and doesn’t deserve the pain that this skydiving accident brought on her.

After a short overnight stay in Anchorage, I took the OBSERVATION train to Talkaneeta, then a bus on to the MckInley Princess Lodge. A nice train ride, but very few wild life. After an evening at the Lodge, I took the bur then the train from Talkaneeta to Denail Park. The wild life again was sparse, but I did see several pairs if trumpeter swans. Actually, the wild life that was most interesting was the “Power of One,” solar powered car which was running on the Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway as I left the ticket center to buy my ticket for the 11 hour bus tour to Wonder Lake, on Friday morning looking for Bear and moose and wolves.

OMENS

Well, there have certainly been enough of them. First, Abbe had to cancel coming on the cruise with me because her new job did not have vacation time available during her first six months probationary period. This cancelation became moot when Abbe broke her leg while we were skydiving a couple of weekends ago in South New Jersey. She is undergoing surgery today to insert a screw and a plate to stabilize her healing bones. I am SOOOOOOrry that all this happened. Mostly because of the pain Abbe so bravely endured. But we are both adults and she has often said that she went into the sky diving adventure with her eyes open.
Then, Mt. Katmaiin Alaska has been erupting. This has caused cancelations of flights of Alaska Airlines, although it is impossible to tell if that is due to the volcanic ash or the cost of fuel and Alaska Airlines near bankruptcy. In 1912, nearby Mt. Novarupta, erupted in an eruption twice the size of the famous eruption of Krakatoa in Java which killed 35,000 people. If the volcanic ash causes any delays they will be absorbed in the days I will be spending at Denali Park.
Last Friday, I was feeling pains in my chest as I had been all week. Abbe, as a good nurse, said, “Call the doctor.” I called Dr. Marc Weinberg and he had me come immediately to his office in Huntington from Abbe’s house in West Hempstead. Happily, the pain was muscular, not cardiac-related. Probably a bruise from the parachute strap opening with a jolt while I was skydiving on the 2nd. At least I got a cardiac physical exam in before the cruise.

Abbe and I just returned from sky diving. It was awesome! Absoultely AMAZING!
Just one hiccup which I will explain in a moment. After about 8,000 feet of free fall, I got to float on the parachute for what seemed like twenty minutes although it probably was only about five. One of the best experiences in my life!
Abbe really enjoyed her Sky Dive, until her landing when she hooked her foot on the sod and broke her leg in five places. Lots of pain and an operation after ten days to insert a rod, a screw and a plate, then about six weeks on crutches. The doctors and nurses at Kennedey Hospital in Turnersville, NJ were fantastic – kind, expert and caring.

The serenity that you feel while floating, once the parachute has unfurled, is lovely.

 

With the news that Abbe had hurt her leg on landing, the enthusiasm for the idea quickly waned to be replaced with a complete determination to make things as comfortable and stress-free for her as possible. We needed to get her back to her Long Island home from the airport and the emergency room in south New Jersey and tend to the multitude of logistics that her leg-break has occasioned – pre-surgical clearances and surgery; time off from work; groceries; the dog and the cats; locate a walker (much easier to use than crutches) and bedside commode chair, etc.  Abbe’s daughter, Elora, has been doing exemplary nursing duty for her mother. The video and still photos of Abbe’s jump that came back from Free Fall Adventures were less than what we had hoped for, so that just compounded the disappointment.

 

 

Ripple  [Click on song title to hear Jerry sing it.]

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care.
Let there be songs to fill the air.
Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand, if your cup be empty;
If your cup is full, may it be again.
Let it be known, there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.
There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go, no one may follow;
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow.

But if you fall, you fall alone,
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.


La dee da da da, la da da da da, da da da, da da, da da da da da
La da da da, la da da, da da, la da da da, la da, da da.

 

Music by Jerry Garcia.

Lyrics by Robert Hunter.

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