In the “olden days” (that is, in my own youth…) there were these things called watches, devices one wore on the wrist so as to keep track of the time. These needed care, which means they needed to be wound up (usually daily), since their inner workings consisted of springs that gradually unwound. That chore was eventually eliminated when crystal inner workings came along, and later, solar power.
It is said that you cannot step into the same river twice. This is true. In July, 2009, I joined a group of strangers to descend the Alsek River—a remote river at the upper end of Alaska’s southeastern panhandle. In summer, 2017, the opportunity rose up: do it again? Sure thing!
I was walking my beautiful, sweet German shepherd dog recently, pondering our five years together. Mayzie (properly: Amazing Grace) is a petite girl who still has a lot of puppy in her: eager eyes, bouncy attitude, excitable (especially when it involves a stick or a ball).
The first time I saw Denali up close, it snuck up on me. In 2009, I had done some fancy four-wheel maneuvering with my cousin Mike and a group of new friends to his gold-panning acreage 17 miles or so beyond the pavement. We were way out on Petersville Road, hilly, willow-covered, difficult country off the Parks Highway by the Trapper Creek turnoff. The town of Talkeetna is due east, but the Susitna River slices a dose of no-access-thataway between the two places, so the turn to Talkeetna off the Parks Highway is well to the south.
The vastness of Alaska is practically impossible to grasp, even when it’s right in front of you. One way I like to help describe it is that the drive I’ve done now a couple of times from Anchorage to Anchorage (via Denali, Fairbanks, and Tok) makes a 1,300 mile circle. Yet it looks downright insignificant when superimposed on a map of the entire state. The place is just…immense, no matter where you are: on the rivers, in the mountains, or in the interior. No wonder Alaska holds such a mystical, far-away reputation.
In June and July, I spent another month of my life in that great state, doing a reprise of earlier trips with my cousin, Mike. With a friend, we first drove those 1,300 miles, and then we spent 16 happy (if cold) days on the Alsek River, crossing in and out of Alaska and British Columbia along the way. On several occasions, I got to witness the land slipping by under the wings of an airplane. This blog is dedicated to those varied and artful aerial views. Enjoy.
The first batch of photos is from the flight between Anchorage and Juneau, along the southeastern coast overlooking the mountains, icefields and glacial rivers of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.
Who is this “Miss Roth?” She is both petite and diminutive in stature – barely more than five feet tall, and somewhat gnarled now, at the age of 93. Her eyes are bright and intelligent, with an underlying glimmer of mirth and goodwill. She speaks with an authority that belies her size, and she’s always ready to talk about the latest book just added to a prodigious reading list (she has concentrated heavily, over the years, on her favorite historical figure: Winston Churchill).
Before our group formally came together in Palau last March, I joined a pre-trip day-long visit to Palau’s southernmost island of Peleliu. My original interest in visiting the tiny Pacific nation was driven in large part by curiosity about my father’s service in WWII. He was a naval aviator in the Pacific theater, flying kingfisher float planes on reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. Much was written about the war, and in particular Peleliu, in the history books I had been reading to prepare for the trip, but somehow it had escaped me that it was part of Palau. I was excited to see it.
What does it take to sail in a fragile outrigger canoe beyond sight of land in search of what lies over the horizon? Impressive motivation and a hefty dose of “intrepid,” I’d say. The Austronesians who headed east from southeast Asia via Taiwan and, later, the Philippines had to have just that! The first people to find their way to Palau arrived about 4500 years ago. It is just one of many island nations in the western Pacific where people landed and, over time and due to the oceanic isolation, developed distinct cultures.
While in Palau, I added to my lifetime hours of snorkeling by factors of ten. As a novice, I was in that delicious “beginner’s mind” world where everything seemed wondrous. Our guide, Ron Leidich, is a lifelong biologist/naturalist and knows every fish and coral and grass and mammal (yes, we saw one) that we saw under the surface of that azure water. Although I don’t remember most of the names, I do remember his utter enthusiasm about the underwater world of Palau, and his joy in sharing it with us as if for the first time.
Imagine visiting a completely new world, something of which you have zero experience, and add the luxury of being guided by someone who knows it inside and out. Now travel by air about 8,000 miles west and south for about 22+ hours, to a dot on the ocean a few degrees north of the equator: the Republic of Palau! This Pacific archipelago nation of 386 islands is world-famous for its underwater world of marine beauty and diversity. Those in the know will tell you: Palau has some of the best snorkeling on the planet.