Monday, September 13, 2010
Twelve-hour days everyday. I was the only steward left on the boat and I was working EVERY DAY. I would ready the boat in the morning and close it in the evening. I would serve people all day, EVERY day. I was numb to the sights out the windows. I would only look if there were 18 bears fighting on the beach or hotel-sized chunks of ice falling off the glacier, and that is why the most memorable day of my life took me by surprise.
September 6th and I was working the last day cruise of the summer. The sky was so sunny and blue that you'd forgotten you lived in a rainforest. Out of nowhere, like a punch to the stomach, I realized I was saying goodbye to this place. I was saying goodbye to the most magical place I had ever known, and I didn't realize that I wasn't ready.
My camera was snapping every moment I could steal away from rolling sandwiches or brewing coffee. In fact, I might as well have put a sign on the galley counter saying "help yourself" because I was running around the outer deck gawking, smiling, laughing and crying all at once. The bay was unbelievably clear and I couldn't stop taking pictures. The sun was warm on my face, the fresh air blew from the mountains, and the bay showed every sign that the season was ending. Once green trees now dressed their leaves in yellow as the autumn weather creeped in. The birds that would cover South Marble Island had left and flown south. The pods of humpback whales were now seldom and singly, and I was on the final tour saying goodbye.
Like Glacier Bay, the day was magical. Every passenger was beaming with both amazement and excitement. Nobody was bothering me with questions of where the hot water was or why the binoculars wouldn't focus or what time lunch would be. The sun was shining, the wildlife that remained was abundant, and life couldn't be more perfect. If I could have transformed into a beam of light, I would have. I probably would have shot off that boat and into the sky from the intense emotions bubbling inside me. I swear it was the first time I saw Glacier Bay, but it wasn't.
Self-procalimed "The Famous One," the captain famously steered the boat into every crevice and corner of the bay. Usually the tour sits in front of one tidewater glacier, but on this day we did two. I even talked guests into postponing their flights so we could go where the tour never goes: North Sandy Cove.
No this gem of a cove is not some dangerous quest, but simply a spot largely unavailable because of the timing of the tour. Because "The Famous One" chose to do the tour in reverse this day, it just so happened that the geographic location of the cove was close to our route. After convincing passengers the sight would be worthwhile, I ran to the wheelhouse to report the news, and then abandoned the galley to stand on the outer deck with camera in hand.
Although I kayaked most of Glacier Bay in the 3 summers I lived there, I recently saw North Sandy Cove for the first time on my solo adventure and fell madly in love (see: "Alone in the East Arm" blog below). The lush green and steep pitch of the mountainsides that formed the backdrop to the downstage show of plump islands and green green vegetation, evokes an indescribable wonderous awe. Pure reverence for nature.
It was in this moment, after experiencing the sunshine, the endless layers of mountains, TWO tidewater glaciers, and the energy of everybody on board, that tears streamed down my face. The boat left North Sandy Cove, and I felt a piece of myself being left behind. I was in tears from the beauty of the cove. I was in tears from the beauty of the day. And I was in tears because this was my last tour upbay and I already missed Glacier Bay more than I thought imaginable. In fact, tears are an understatement. I was sobbing.
September 6th was the most memorable day and it took me by surprise. Glacier Bay is the most magical place I have ever been and it is forever in my blood. I will be back someday, and so will my ashes.
Until next time...
Alaska, Alaska, Alaska. What a summer and what a crew.
There was the girl who escaped death and woke up from a coma with images of Alaska flooding through her head. Her cousin died months before and he always talked of Alaska, and so she went to feel closer to him.
There was the hefty guy, and I don't really know why he went to Alaska. Perhaps to escape some aspect of his life? A bit of a loner, he was socially awkward and left Glacier Bay without a job, just heading to Sitka with a bag and hoping for the best. Similarly, he would go camping with a backpack filled with firewood, a blanket, and cotton clothes. Mind you, we lived in a rainforest. I always had this sense to reach out to him, like he was unhappy and contemplating suicide.
Then there was the hilarious girl who spent every night making arts and crafts on the other side of my bedroom wall. Her creations were incredible and brought out the child in me. I would go over and paper mache lampshades and make decorations for my room out of beer labels and markers. She took 2 months off from her job at a bookstore in Boulder to be in Alaska.
There were the couples that met in Glacier Bay and fell madly in love. Glacier Bay is a magical place, and people come from all over the globe and convene in a small area we call "Brown Town." Out of place from regular habits, routines, and circumstances, people are easily swept away by the magic, the moment, and fall into each others arms. By the time couples leave to the reality of the lower 48, often the magic and connection disappear and they go their separate ways. I wish these couples the best in their southern journeys and hope the magic continues.
Then you have the ex-meth addicts, the alcoholics, the church-goers, the chaplins and ministers, the school kids, the school drop-outs, the odd ones, the dog mushers, the mother and daughter team, the farm boys, the season to season parkies, the locals, and the city folk.
Glacier Bay is always filled with a mish-mosh of characters. Coming to the park straight from West Hollywood, the most superficial, extravagant place I know, I was overwhelmed stepping foot onto the soil of the complete antithesis of what I had known. Just as all arrivees to Glacier Bay judge and label, I saw my coworkers and wondered what I was doing here and who the hell I would hang out with over the summer. There wasn't one person that I could picture in my circle of friends in Los Angeles. In such a living situation you become friends with people that you never thought imaginable, and it opens your mind. It exposes you to fresh thought and perspective and it changes you.
All these friends and friendships I made over the summer I will miss. I met some outstanding people with unbelievable souls, and I hope to see them again in my lifetime. If not, I hope they know that they helped me along my path. They gave me a shoulder during the transition from my stable lifestyle to the unstable, uncertain life of a traveler. They shared their thoughts, their stories, and their hearts, and I thank them all. I look forward to watching our friendships grow and evolve.
Until next time...