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Ojai Orange | The Column of Lasting Insignificance | Books | Wait-A-Minute

June 16, 2007
John Wilcock - June 16, 2007

 

  The column of lasting insignificance
     


also posted:



2011
November 26 2011
November 19, 2011
November 12, 2011
November 5, 2011
October 29, 2011
October 22, 2011
October 15, 2011
October 8, 2011
October 1, 2011
September 24, 2011
September 17, 2011
September 10, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 27, 2011
August 20, 2011
August 13, 2011
August 6, 2011
July 30, 2011
July 23, 2011
July 16, 2011
July 9, 2011
July 2, 2011
June 25, 2011
June 18, 2011
June 11, 2011
June 4, 2011
May 28, 2011
May 21, 2011
May 14, 2011
May 7, 2011
April 30, 2011
April 23, 2011
April 16, 2011
April 9, 2011
April 2, 2011
March 26, 2011
March 19, 2011
March 12, 2011
March 5, 2011
February 26, 2011
February 19, 2011
February 12, 2011
February 5, 2011
February 5, 2011
January 29, 2011
January 22, 2011
January 15, 2011
January 6, 2011

2010
December 25, 2010
December 18, 2010
December 11, 2010
December 4, 2010
November 27, 2010
November 20, 2010
November 13, 2010
November 6, 2010
October 30, 2010
October 23, 2010
October 16, 2010
October 9, 2010
October 2, 2010
September 25, 2010
September 18, 2010
September 11, 2010
September 4, 2010
August 28, 2010
August 21, 2010
August 14, 2010
August 7, 2010
July 31, 2010
July 24, 2010
July 17, 2010
July 10, 2010
July 3, 2010
June 26, 2010
June 19, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 5, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 22, 2010
May 15, 2010
May 8, 2010
May 1, 2010
April 24, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 10, 2010
April 3, 2010
March 27, 2010
March 20, 2010
March 13, 2010
March 6, 2010
February 27, 2010
February 20, 2010
February 13, 2010
February 6, 2010
January 30, 2010
January 23, 2010
January 16, 2010
January 9, 2010
January 2, 2010

2009
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 12, 2009
December 5, 2009
November 28, 2009
November 21, 2009
November 14, 2009
November 7, 2009
October 31, 2009
October 24, 2009
October 17, 2009
October 10, 2009
October 3, 2009
September 26, 2009
September 19, 2009
September 12, 2009
September 5, 2009
August 29, 2009
August 22, 2009
August 15, 2009
August 8, 2009
August 1, 2009
July 25, 2009
July 18, 2009
July 11, 2009
July 4, 2009
June 27, 2009
June 20, 2009
June 13, 2009
June 6, 2009
May 30, 2009
May 23, 2009
May 16, 2009
May 9, 2009
May 2, 2009
April 25, 2009
April 18, 2009
April 11, 2009
April 4, 2009
March 28, 2009
March 21, 2009
March 14, 2009
March 7, 2009
February 28, 2009
February 21, 2009
February 14, 2009
February 7, 2009
January 31, 2009
January 24, 2009
January 17, 2009
January 3, 2009

2008
December 27, 2008
December 20, 2008
December 13, 2008
December 6, 2008
November 29, 2008
November 22, 2008
November 15, 2008
November 8, 2008
November 5, 2008
November 1, 2008
October 25, 2008
October 18, 2008
October 11, 2008
October 4, 2008
September 27, 2008
September 20, 2008
September 13, 2008
September 6, 2008
August 30, 2008
August 23, 2008
August 16, 2008
August 9, 2008
August 2, 2008
July 26, 2008
July 19, 2008
July 12, 2008
July 5, 2008
June 28, 2008
June 21, 2008
June 14, 2008
June 7, 2008
May 31, 2008
May 24, 2008
May 17, 2008
May 10, 2008
May 3, 2008
April 26, 2008
April 19, 2008
April 12, 2008
April 5, 2008
March 29, 2008
March 22, 2008
March 15, 2008
March 8, 2008
March 1, 2008
February 23, 2008
February 16, 2008
February 9, 2008
February 2, 2008
January 26, 2008
January 19, 2008
January 12, 2008
January 5, 2008

2007
December 29, 2007
December 22, 2007
December 15, 2007
December 8, 2007
December 1, 2007
November 24, 2007
November 17, 2007
November 10, 2007
November 3, 2007
October 27, 2007
October 20, 2007
October 13, 2007
October 6, 2007
September 29, 2007
September 22, 2007
September 15, 2007
September 8, 2007
September 1, 2007
August 25, 2007
August 18, 2007
August 11, 2007
August 4, 2007
July 28, 2007
July 21, 2007
July 14, 2007
July 7, 2007
June 30, 2007
June 23, 2007
June 16, 2007
June 9, 2007
June 2, 2007
May 19, 2007
May 12, 2007
May 5, 2007
April 28, 2007
April 21, 2007
April 14, 2007
April 7, 2007
March 31, 2007
March 24, 2007
March 17, 2007
March 10, 2007
March 3, 2007
February 24, 2007
February 17, 2007
February 10, 2007
February 3, 2007
January 20, 2007
January 13, 2007
January 6, 2007

2006
December 30, 2006
December 23, 2006
December 16, 2006
December 9, 2006
December 2, 2006
November 25, 2006
November 18, 2006
November 11, 2006
November 4, 2006
October 28, 2006
October 21, 2006
October 14, 2006
October 7, 2006
September 30, 2006
September 23, 2006
September 16, 2006
September 9, 2006
September 2, 2006
August 26, 2006
August 19, 2006
August 12, 2006
August 5, 2006
July 29, 2006
July 22, 2006
July 15, 2006

 

 


June 16, 2007

Alaska Diary

Sunday: Dancing on deck, as stewards circled with trays of multi-colored drinks: a pleasant start to a cruise aboard the Diamond Princess up Alaska’s Inside Passage. We’ll see, of course, only a tiny coastal fringe of America’s largest state which still contains more than half a million square miles of wilderness, but at least we’re more sophisticated tourists these days than earlier visitors who were convinced that everybody here lived in igloos and ate seal blubber. (After being bought (“Seward’s Folly”) from the Russians a century ago, Alaska wasn’t even developed until WW2 when the Federal government moved in troops to ensure against a Japanese invasion, and even today its population is less than that of New Orleans.)

    Nevertheless, we’ll travel 1,627 nautical miles on this huge ship along with 3,000 other passengers, a crew of more than 1,000, thirty musicians, ten entertainers and a captain who—according to the coyly-named daily newsletter Princess Patter—told his childhood teacher that what he most liked doing was “looking out of the window”. He’ll surely do plenty of that.

    Cabins are comfortable ‘staterooms’ with a dozen television channels available,  most restaurants are free, swimming pools and hot tubs abound and activities range from line dancing and group games to classes on ceramics, acupuncture and creating scrapbooks. There’s something for almost every active person and a library and innumerable bars for the rest.

MONDAY: For most cruise visitors, including ours, the first stop is Ketchikan, known as Gateway to Alaska because it’s at the beginning of the Inside Passage. Most of the stores listed on the Port & Shopping Map, cached by everybody’s cabin, sell jewelry and precious gems and it soon becomes clear that shopping is many peoples’ primary reason for cruising. Other stores sell handmade native drums, masks, totems but many of us choose to visit the state park with its fullsize totem poles.

     In the bus, Chad, a student up from Chicago for his second season as a guide, passed around his cell phone with a picture of the girl he’d just met in the supermarket (and was dating that night).  Something of a joker, he also pointed out a church with an eagle on top. Why did it belong there?  “Because it’s a bird of prey”.

    Back in town, lumberjacks were performing a colorful show (chopping, sawing, log rolling, a 50ft speed climb) but as filming or videotaping was barred I gave it a miss, and wandering around the tiny town. I was able to buy my first paper for days, The Ketchikan Daily News, which reminded local drivers that the season to slow down had begun. “Oftentimes, our visitors are so entranced by the sights we take for granted that they just can’t help stopping”, it cautioned ”usually in the middle of the busiest street in town—to take a second look, or maybe a picture”. Good advice. It’s said that you know you’ve become an Alaskan when you quit slowing down to look at a moose.

     Postal increases went into effect today and the paper predicted that rural Alaska towns would suffer because most basic supplies came in by air. Listed as an example was the Athabascan Indian village of Tanana, 130m west of Fairbanks, where milk already cost $7 a gallon, box of cereal $8.

       By the mid-1930s when seven canneries were shipping a total of 1.5 million cases of salmon a year Ketchikan was calling itself “the salmon capital of the world. The creeks used to be so filled with salmon that people joked about walking across on the backs of the fish—but not women (joked the bus driver) because they don’t like to step on scales.

TUESDAY: In the 13 hours spent in Juneau, there was time to travel 25 miles out of town to visit the Rainforest Garden,  take a cable car to the top of 1,800ft Mount Roberts via the tramway and wander the downtown area whose frontier flavor is best seen in the garish Red Dog Saloon where a gonzo pianist worked tirelessly to be heard above the turmoil.

    Today’s Juneau Empire ran an editorial claiming that Alaska could do more to promote tourism. The state took the cruise lead from the Caribbean some time ago but, said the paper, wouldn’t necessarily be able to keep it because it was spending 75% less in marketing (only $5m) than 20 years ago, compared with many states spending four times as much. Every day between May 7 and Sept 30 brings at least one cruise ship to Juneau, with 853,654 passengers expected to visit the town this year.

    Governor Sarah Palin came under editorial fire for her deal to negotiate away natural gas rights pipeline --“but a single-industry state is a vulnerable one”. A current scandal in the media has implicated some of the state’s top politicians over bribes connected with the oil industry and a petition has surfaced to recall one lawmaker. More than three quarters of Alaska’s revenue came from the oil but it’s always been a mystery to me why citizens of Alaska each receive an annual payment for oil that surely belongs to everybody in the U.S. When I asked somebody about this, their only explanation was that “a smart governor arranged it long ago”.

     Since statehood in 1954, Gov. Palin became the tenth to live in the 35-room Governor’s House (1912), two blocks from the Alaska Capitol which is replete with historical paintings and photographs. Six years before it was built, with its marble columns and reproduction of the Liberty Bell, the district government of Alaska had been transferred here in 1906 from Sitka. Juneau (pop: 30,000),, which has remained the capital, now employs half the city’s workforce.

     Accessible only by plane or boat, the city registers each year an average 150 inches of “precipitation” (rain and snow) which it light-heartedly terms “liquid sunshine”. Umbrellas are rarely seen because strong winds often accompany the rain and  locals wear drip dry clothes, usually in layers . In February they make fun of the whole thing, staging the Wearable Art Extravaganza.

WEDNESDAY: Early to rise today, not long after the ship—one of whose TV channels is permanently focused on what’s ahead—took aboard the mandatory local pilot to assist navigating the narrow coastal passage. By 8am everybody was quayside awaiting buses or trains to take them up into the Yukon.  It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder wrote British-born Robert Service in one of his Yukon poems

                      It’s the forests where silence has lease;
                      It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
                     
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace

      Service (1874-1958), who worked as reporter for the Toronto Star and in WW1 as an ambulance driver, became famous for his Songs of a Sourdough (1907) which carried his poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew.

       Passports are needed for this excursion because the Canadian border is crossed before entering the Yukon near Carcross, a not-quite-a-ghost town between twin lakes, with its abandoned railroad tracks tourist office and venerable general store. The town’s name is an abbreviation of Caribou Crossing—mandated by the post office because there’s another Caribou Crossing nearby, a bustling community that serves everybody barbecue lunches (plus all the donuts you can eat) and offers $30 dogsled rides.

      Back in Skagway we learn the sad tale of Capt. William Moore who settled here in 1887 after discovering the White Pass route into the Yukon. Foresightedly staking out a claim for 160 acres in anticipation of an eventual gold rush, he was evicted from his cabin nine years later when the unruly flood of prospectors seized his land, dismantled his cabin and hired a surveyor to lay out a new town. By October 1887, Skagway’s 20,000 population made it the largest city in Alaska with stores, saloons, dance halls and gambling houses. Most prospectors lived in tents or shacks and visitors called it “hell on earth”. The boom died quickly, along with the town, which now has a population of 800, although it still has an intriguingly frontier look.

   The front page of the Skagway News noted that Governor Sarah Palin was visiting the town in which she spent the first five years of her life, and a terse letter inside the paper accused the city government of being “too large, too expensive, woefully inefficient, arrogant, intrusive and downright dangerous”.

THURSDAY: On board all day but even busier than usual, attending a lecture about glaciers, a demonstration of ice carving,  and a line-dancing session followed by afternoon tea (scones, sandwiches and old ladies). I even caught up on some of my reading. Here’s what I now know about glaciers: They are formed by constant layers of snow falling year after year and compacting until all the air is forced out and solid ice remains. The pressure and gravity moves the lower levels downwards smoothing the sides of mountains, carving out valleys, eventually breaking off in chunks as large as houses and falling into the water (“calving’) Sometimes seals can be seen basking on these temporary islands and other short term guests of icebergs can include bald eagles, cormorants and gulls.

    Tonight was the last of two “formal nights” in which most of the restaurants are restricted to the hundreds who choose cocktail dresses or tuxedoes. Two events in the Empress Theater filled the evening, first a screening of A Night at the Museum, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and then a show put on by members of the international crew—magicians, singers, jugglers, all of them first-rate.

    It seems that here in the far north, renewable energy in the form of wind farms and tidal currents are getting increased attention. ”Alaska is the most advanced in the world in this area” says British Columbia’s Nigel Protter whose Sync Wave Energy company is experimenting with a coastal wave-energy project near Yakutat in the Tongas National Forest.  It is powered by the up and down movements of small buoys clustered around a generator.

      The Alaska Journal reports that with fuel prices so high, rural communities in Alaska are now paying 10% of their income for fuel and power-about five times as much as urban communities. A gallon of diesel fetches as much as $9.

FRIDAY: Today as the ship cruised up Glacier Bay, flanked at each side by mile after unbroken mile of ice-covered mountains or glaciers—it was hard to tell the difference—seemed the time to learn about whales, especially the acrobatic 40ft long humpback variety that leap out of the water in the lower part of the bay. I always seem to miss their emergence, even when tipped off to look for the cloud of water vapor, but excited shouts continually confirm sightings.      

     Hereabouts they live off cod and Pollock but their diet is usually krill and small fish, filtered through scores of baleen plates in their upper jaw. Somehow they manage to ingest a ton of food per day as they bask in the cooler waters to which they have emigrated from Hawaii, two thousand miles away. Alert viewers, many of whom stay on deck all day to scan the shoreline, can also spot sea otters, bears, wolves, moose or mountain goats. A temporary table was set up to serve hot chowder with beans and rice.

    By 4pm we’re abeam Gustavus (pop 400), the tiny fishing port where the Bay begins, and on the way up the mountainous coast to Prince William Sound and Whittier where tomorrow we’ll disembark for a bus to the airport at Anchorage, home to half the state’s population. You’ve heard about Prince William Sound before because it’s where, at Valdez in its northeast corner, the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay terminates. Crossing three mountain ranges and built to withstand 8.5 earthquakes and temperatures of –80F, it’s an impressive feat but not immune the carelessness of tanker captains who use it. And, at the risk of being repetitive, why do only Alaskans own Alaskan oil?

June 9/07

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