Good Friends But Not Forgotten

Earlier this week, my phone rang and the name of one of my long lost tennis buddies was on the display.  I used to play tennis at least once a week with a group of moms from my son’s private school in the San Fernando Valley. We took group tennis instruction from another child’s mom, and we would also play doubles about once a week.

It was a great way to exercise, and to share the joys and exasperations of being parents. I loved my tennis pals, and working the tennis into my schedule as a free lance stage manager was pretty easy, since I didn’t have to go to the theatre most days until after noon or early evening. Win win.

However, when I became a production manager at a university,  my days became filled with work, and along with the commute, my tennis hours waned, my happy hours with “the girls” diminishing  until finally they ceased all together.  I just couldn’t seem to organize the time.

So many times in our lives, we form tribes of close friends based on our needs and availabilities, and the proximity of people whose needs and goals are similar to ours. This happens so frequently as parents. We are thrown together with others because of our children, and frequently find new friends as a result.

BeemanParkSignWhen our son was about four, we joined the Beeman Park Tribe, where assorted parents spent hours socializing on the hard concrete benches while our kids ran around the park like little maniacs and only reported back to us that Albert, the ice cream truck driver had arrived. Hint, hint.  My butt still bears the indentations of those benches and our family increased by one when we adopted a dog, whom we named Molly Dogg, from one of the other Beeman Park tribe members.

Later, when our son was about 10,  my tennis tribe was formed which provided so many hours of fun. Suzanne’s invitation to dinner on Saturday was well timed,  and it had been a long time since I had had a happy social occasion with them. Initially, when I saw Suzanne’s name on the phone, I went to the dark place – “Oh no! Something has happened to one of my friends.” And yet, the minute I answered the phone, Suzanne reassured me that all was well and she was organizing  a “Girls’ Night Out” at her home. This is 6 years out from the last time we played tennis – or maybe even 7 years out. I was so pleased to be invited.

Suzanne hadn’t told the others that she had invited me and that I had agreed to come, so when I rang the doorbell, and fellow tribe member Susie opened the door, she shrieked, and I shrieked, and we did a happy hug before going in to surprise Shelley, my doubles partner. It was truly joyous to see them. This is one strong group of women. In the past seven years each one has been through  life events that would bring the less strong  to their knees, and they remain so strong and so loyal to each other and, happily, I realized, even in my absence, to me.

It was exhilarating to know that though I had “left my tribe” that they had remained in tact and had continued on, and now welcomed me back to their loving midst. Two of their daughters were there, both accomplished young women in their own rights, and it was great to hear how their lives are shaping up. The others, whose children weren’t there, had happy tales to tell of their accomplishments and the table was littered with happy pictures of them on our phones.

So, join me in making a pledge to make someone’s day by picking up the phone as Suzanne did, and reminding someone of the tribe they once belonged to. Let them know how much they are missed.

GirlsNightOut

A Classic Teacher’s Nightmare – Vacation Must be over

Last night I had a classic teacher’s nightmare. I dreamt that we were at the theater and we were having orientation for new students and we had some tables set up in the lobby of the bing. We were doing some practicum games,whatever that is, and our students were performing in teams. Sitting with me at my table I had two students whose first language was French. One’s name was Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf  and the others ones name was Trente-huit.  I had one of those moments where they each told me their names twice and I leaned in to listen carefully, before I realized that they were saying large French numbers.

“Isn’t it interesting that you both have large French numbers for names?”

In addition they were both so eager to tell me how much they preferred French 18th-century drama to anything else, that by the end of the two minute conversation I was practically weeping with intimidation.

One of my colleagues and I were on our way out of the theatre at the end of the evening because the next morning we had class with all of these students at Eight AM.

Before turning away from the students for the evening, I said to the group, “Well, did you learn anything tonight?”

Two of the six students turned to me with bored expressions and said “No.”

My colleague and I were both rushing because I had not apparently finished the syllabus.

He went to turn off the lights, but there were still about 45 people in the theater. I had to say him, “Don’t you think we should leave those lights on?” This was very uncharacteristic of my colleague.

Right then one of the returning students walked in in a hospital gown, carrying a newborn baby in her arms. More accurately, the baby was kind of strapped to her chest. I remember being much more interested in seeing who the boy’s face with her was, presumably the dad, wearing a name tag which read Jose, then taking in the fact that this student of mine had a baby strapped to her chest. Human interest I guess.

“Ellen,” I said, “when did you have the baby?”

“Oh, I just came from the hospital,” she said brightly.

“Ellen, I don’t think you’re supposed to take the baby out for the first 10 days.” (What do I know?)

“No, it’s fine,” she said in her ever present upbeat attitude. Very Ellen.

Then I woke up. Can you tell I am going back to work on Monday after three weeks off? Hmmm.

This too shall pass

I happened to come across something I wrote about two years ago about a difficult time in my son’s life, and hence in ours. It was really heartbreaking to read what he was going through at the time.

I was sending him some mail and tucked the three pages of pain into the envelope with his new car insurance cards and some bank statements that had come in the past few days.

I jotted down a note to him commenting on how far he/we had come in the past few years and how proud of him his Dad and I are. That’s it. Just a simple reminder that we are there to watch and support and love him, and how much we missed him right now.

He and I have been knocking around the idea of a book about his wild ride through life. I sent this to my co-writer today because it might well be important to that writing we are exploring together.

When I was younger, some of the adages I heard stuck with me. They were:

1) Blood is thicker than prune juice.

2) Keep a stiff upper lip (or as I liked to bastardize it, Keep a lip upper stiff)

3) This too shall pass.

Not too long ago, Chris remarked that the last one was one which had really stuck with him, and that regardless of how horrific things seemed at any given time (and they were pretty bad at times), he always returned to that phrase and took comfort from it.

As I read the painful account of this past time, I took comfort in the truth of that statement. This too shall pass. It has already and it will again.

I remember a time about 6 years ago when we decided to sell our house in the valley and move to downtown LA so that I could be closer to my work. At the same time, my husband got cast in the National tour of “Twelve Angry Men” and was slated to be gone on the road for 6 weeks. Our moving date was  May 1, and to top it all off, we like to joke at USC School of Dramatic Arts that “April is the cruelest month.” It is because we open 8 shows in the month of April. It is without a doubt, the busiest time of the year.

Chris was finishing high school and didn’t want to move down to downtown in the middle of the school year, so at the very generous offer from his friend’s parents, we allowed him to stay for that final month with his friend Justin and his family in the Valley so that he could continue at his high school.

With my husband out of town, a 17 year old teenager with many better things to do than help me pack boxes, and 8 shows opening in the month of April, things were a bit hectic. Plus, we were downsizing as well, from 2575 sq. ft. to 1193 in the new place. This meant yard sales and donations of boxes of books to the library, etc. It was really nutso.

But looking back on that time, I realize that it passed as well. No one died, and we got into our new house, Chris graduated from High School, and Jimmie finished his tour and returned to our new home where we were all reunited.

This too shall pass. It is my mantra. It works.

Alaska – Day 6 Beartrack Cove and Bartlett Cove

 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I parted the curtains this morning at 7:00, revealing torrential rain coming down in Beartrack Cove. They call it Alaskan liquid sunshine on the ship. Sounds a lot better than miserable, soul-sucking rain. The change from last night’s “dessert glacier” and the retreat from the glacier is striking.

IMG_3796Gone are the icy chunks, or growlers, and in their place, wide sandy gravel beaches, with small sedge grass meadows meeting the Sitka pine forest. The tide is out, and as our un-cruise interpreters like to say, “The table is set.”

I scratched my name off the sign up list for the 9:30 small boat tour this morning, opting instead to stay in the lounge in the dry warm comfort of my husband’s company for another half hour. Departure at 10:00AM.

I figured out that over the seven days of this trip, Jimmie will have done almost 1400 steps as in stairs, on the ship.

14 down from 300 level deck to Lounge x 4 daily x 7 days.

14 down from lounge to dining room x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from dining room level x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from lounge level x 4 daily x 7 days.

Total 1,372 steps. Not bad for 87 with no knees left.

At 87 (note to self) more attention needs to be paid to the construction of the ship and the conveyance from floor to floor for someone with limited mobility. It is Saturday, and Jimmie has slowed, but intrepidly climbs the stairs with his cane. We had them stow the walker when we boarded the Safari Endeavor because the cabins are small and there was nowhere to store it. He has been getting around with his cane and the use of the banisters on the ship.

Today is our second day in Glacier Bay, and our last day for “ops”, i.e. options, operations, and due to the rain we will go out in the small boat at 10:00. It will presumably be our last chance to see a bear or a moose, I figure, though  the weather doesn’t seem very hospitable for either. I don’t know – do bears like the rain? Does it keep them cool while they are fishing on the side of the banks?

So, at 9:45AM, Dad and Sally and I donned our life jackets and got into the zodiac, with Ken as our guide. We pulled away from the ship and went slowly and quietly- no talking!

Some very bedraggled bald eagles
Some very bedraggled bald eagles

We passed a few more bedraggled looking bald eagles- I am happy that even by today, the last day if the trip, I have not reached Alaska Judy’s anticipated “ho hum” phase of seeing too many bald eagles. They are thrilling each and every time I see one, either sitting, or winging along- truly majestic. What a good choice for a national symbol.

And to recap the day, here is the poem I wrote and read at the last dinner aboard the Safari Endeavor. What a wonderful week it was and I am so grateful to my Dad and his generosity in organizing this trip!

A Bear Tale

I warn you gentle listeners that we hail from

LA where imagineers often come.

But as I narrate this, my heart pounds still-

Today’s the day we had our fill

Of Alaska’s wildness felt firsthand

A tale we all can share again on land.

The rain was thick upon the bay,

And wispy fog trails crept up the piney slopes,

The tide was out, the table set,

And we were all so darned wet.

Our pontoon boat was filled with merriment,

Because we knew the bears were imminent.

Captain Shana pulled the cord,

And our boat glided slowly along the shore.

What’s that beside us? An Eagle or two,

And there a harbor seal and some loons.

Merganser ducks skip across the water

And we raise our binocs so that we can see farther.

The shoreline was still, no grasses bended,

Our arms grew tired as to the shore we wended.

Quite a distance we went, the rain still drenching,

Anticipation of the bears caused our teeth to be clenching.

To Beardsley islands we will go,

Spoke Ken in tones revered and low,

The motor revved, and off we sped

Liquid sunshine hitting us hard in the head.

We glided to a stop in a bay by a beach

The grasses near us almost within reach.

We cowered quaking in our boat,

Visions of bears crossing this little moat.

And then we waited

And waited some more

Keeping our eyes peeled on the shore.

Alas, it seems no bears appeared at all,

Intrepid Ken, giving an owl’s call.

No bushes parted as we waited there.

Fear began to wane as our gazes stared.

Disappointed, we turned to go in,

Shana giving the motor a spin.

But what was happening?

No motor was spinning.

And as we sat, the clouds suddenly cleared

And up on the beach, a sow and two cubs appeared.

And wait, behind them, the angry male

Standing to his full fearsome height, was wagging his tail?

Shana calmly radioed back to our captain,

That the boat was dead and we needed a tow.

Meanwhile on the shore, came a moose from the back

A pileated woodpecker sat up on his rack.

A rainbow emerged o’er the game-filled shore,

And everyone on the boat was so stunned that before

They could raise up their cameras to capture the thrill,

Shana started the boat and we puttered back through the krill.

It isn’t every day that the terrors are real

That expectations are high

And you see more than a seal.

But every once in a while on the Safari Endeavor

The game is so thick that in spite of the weather

You share something extraordinary with all your new friends

Often just as the voyage comes to an end.

Els Collins 7/12/14

The following clip is what didn’t happen to us and I think I’m feeling pretty happy about that!

Alaska – Day 6 – Glacier Bay

 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Cruising into Glacier Bay Day

This morning we cruised into Bartlett’s cove and the National Oark Headquarters today, it’s huge dock looming over the water.

The refueling dock at Bartlett Cove National Park Headquarters in Glacier Bay
The refueling dock at Bartlett Cove National Park Headquarters in Glacier Bay
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Wet, wet, wet. It was fantastic! We southern Californians appreciate all exposure to the weather we don’t have at home.

We disembarked after breakfast, and climbed the hill to start on the forest trail loop walk, a short 1k hike through beautiful ponds, filled with lily pads lush with yellow teacup-sized flowers.

IMG_3671The dense rainforest floor covered with mosses and lichens sports this tightly packed gravel path. When the watery zones encroach on the land, the trail becomes a boardwalk with easy waist height rails. The rain continued to come down throughout the hike, but so dense was the canopy of trees over our head, that we were barely wet when we finished the hike. Our guide, Ken O’Brien, had read us a beautiful poem during breakfast that he had written about this area, which is his home. When he isn’t guiding groups, he retreats to the small town of Gustavus, near the NP headquarters.

IMG_3689There is a lovely lodge and the reconstruction of a much beloved  Humpback whale named Snow, who had returned to Bartlett’s Cove every year for 40 years, but in July 2001, was struck by a cruise ship going above the allowed speed. One of our guides, Lindsey, at the time was working for a fin whale Biologist back in Maine, who was hired with the proceeds of the settlement between the NP service and the cruise ship company to help reconstruct Snow’s bones to “bring her back to life” to teach guests to the NP Headquarters about the whales.

The bones were collected, and trucked across the country to Maine, where the team removed the heavy whale oil from the bones, bleached them and dried them in the sun over an 12 month period. Initially, Lindsey told us, there had been a debate about whether to display Snow as she was after the impact, where her jaw was damaged and shattered, or to present her as a whole skeleton. Each construction would, of course, elicit a different response from visitors, as well as teach a different story. It was decided that she should be remember in her whole state, which required a significant reconstruction of the left jaw, and the casting of the jaw bone, and covering of it with epoxy, and then clay, and then scenic painting to replicate the right jaw in color and texture. It was very successful.

This took the majority of the time spent on the project, Lindsey said, probably 75% of the time. The rib bones were very heavy – running to 80 pounds in the biggest ones. The jaw bones of the whale weighed over 400 pounds.

Lindsey explained how she and her professor Dan Dentin ? reconstructed Snow entirely and then carefully deconstructed her and packed her again, bringing her back across the country in the truck, arriving in Bartlett’s Cove to put her back together. They were in the midst of this phase of the project when an earthquake struck in Gustavus, rattling the rib cage of the nearly completed whale. They added structural steel posts to support the rib structure. It was extremely moving to here Lindsey speak about this process and then to see the display first hand.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/09/encounter-humpback-whale-out-water-glacier-bay-national-park-next-year23869

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The other reason for our stop at Bartlett Cove was to pick up a Park ranger who would escort us throughout our two day visit to Glacier Bay. Ranger Nicole and the rest of us re-boarded the Safari Endeavor and continued on our way, out of Bartlett cove and up through the fog into Glacier Bay. We passed South Marble Island, where there were about a hundred Stellars sea lions, and gulls and tufted puffins adorned the rocks and played in the waters around the island.

IMG_3710The deck was crowded with passengers, all with their binoculars, viewing the wildlife. Ranger Nicole from the US parks Service gave a lecture on the birds just as we were arriving at the island.

We had another charming lecture by Jackie Hedgepeth, which was interrupted as we passed Gloomy Knob, a high granite hillside, where the keen viewers with binoculars could see a mountain goat and her kid high on a grassy lawn perched precariously on the granite face. The kid and it’s mother moved easily over the grass, oblivious to the drop off only feet away.

IMG_3770After dinner, the ship had arrived at its destination, the John Hopkins Glacier, standing 260′ tall and a mile and a half wide, the glacier was surrounded by icy Berge bits, or growlers, and a floating field of ice where dozens of seal pups lay. Periodically, the glacier calved off house-sized chunks, with a resounding crack. It felt like you were standing in a freezer, but no one could bring himself to go back inside, nor to take her eyes off the face of the glacier.IMG_3730

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My brother, Larry viewing the glacier.

Finally, after everyone had had their pictures taken in front of the glacier, the ship turned away and as we turned to go, most of the passengers had returned to the lounge when the largest piece yet fell. It was astonishing.

Tonight as I peered out the window of our cabin as I prepared to go to sleep, there was a lone bald eagle perched on a floe in the inlet. As I fumbled for my camera, he gathered his wings up and flew off into the distance.

This has been an amazing trip.

 

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch

The American theatre lost a legend yesterday in Elaine Stritch. She was the quintessential American actor, showing huge personal courage throughout her life and in her artistry.
I  had the privilege of working with Ms. Stritch only once but she had a huge impact on me.  I stage managed a show in which she performed “Broadway Baby” at the Hollywood Bowl to 17,000 audience members and one very famous birthday celebrant at Stephen Sondheim’s 75th Birthday Concert. The evening featured the L.A. Philharmonic, and was directed by Paul Lazarus, and musical directed by longtime Sondheim collaborator, Paul Gemignani.

And believe me when I say that it truly was a privilege to work on this show.

We had been rehearsing for about two weeks at a small rehearsal studio on the border of North Hollywood and Burbank, and I was giddy with the daily rehearsals.  An hour here with Jason Alexander and Adam Wylie doing a number from “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,”  a half hour there listening to Barbara Cook singing “I Think About You” from “Follies.” You get the picture.

Check out the other amazing performers who wished Sondheim happy birthday:

http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/stephen-sondheim039s-75th-concert/2005-07-08

The most memorable moments for me happened during  the last run through of the concert in the rehearsal room. The actors faced the rehearsal tables, with the mirrors behind them. I was sitting at the center edge of the stage management table, and right across a short gap (maybe 2 feet) began the table at which sat Stephen Sondheim and Paul, the director.

I could watch Sondheim’s face as these amazing performers, Barbara Cook, Marin Mazzie, Jason Daniely, Anne Hathaway, Jubilant Sykes, et al. paraded through, singing his songs to him, their backs to the mirrors, and the mirrors reflecting back at me the impact of his work on himself and all the other artists in the room. It was one of those pinch-me moments in the theatre that we have all the time, but not often to this extent.

Anyway, cut to the Orchestra Rehearsal at the Bowl, and Elaine Stritch, who had just arrived from New York – I don’t think she was with us in the rehearsal room is getting ready to run her number.  The LA Philharmonic Orchestra is in place, and out from stage right comes Elaine, wearing her microphone,  and carrying her very pointy-toed black shoes that she will wear that night in her left hand.

She walks to the center of the stage and taking Paul Gemignani’s arm at the conductor’s podium to balance herself, she extracts two crumpled pieces of tissue from the each of the toes of her shoes, then puts them on, one by one.
She  then crossed to down right from where she was going to be entering, and stepped into the wings,  her mic now live because we were about to run her number. Echoing through the empty Bowl bouncing off the 17,000 seats and benches we all hear her hock a loogie.

I’m sorry – I know this story is in extremely poor taste and I am breaking every rule of stage manager discretion, but I have to say, I kind of loved her for it.

Later that night, she was amazing – she completely leveled the house with “Broadway Baby” – the standing ovation she got when she came out was 35 seconds. She filled that entire bowl with her talent, her passion, her committment, and only hours before, her loogie.

I don’t know to this day if she did it to crack us all up, but she did. Yesterday, when I heard the sad news of our loss, I smiled because I remembered that moment when I got to see Elaine Stritch up close and personal.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 – Day 5 – Thomas Bay

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

This morning we had a late scheduled brunch at 10:30, so I allowed myself to sleep in past the yoga session with Nikki, and awoke to the fog which surrounded us as we steamed toward our destination, through Frederick Sound to the sheltered cove in the  inlet where we spent the morning relaxing.

IMG_3591
The inlet was chock full of eagles.

We spent a quiet day on the boat this morning. This afternoon there were more options available.

Red Bluff inlet - negotiating the entrance to this inlet was not an easy navigational task. Smooth sailing!
Red Bluff inlet – negotiating the entrance to this inlet was not an easy navigational task. Smooth sailing!

I  planned to go kayaking again this afternoon. Dad and Sally, Larry and Barbara were going on the small boat tour of the inlet, and without my usual kayaking pDSCN2845artner, I planned to just show up and get paired with someone.

I ended up getting paired with Jesse, from Washington, D.C. He and his wife Valerie are on the cruise to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, and Valerie had opted to paddle with Karen, from Brisbane, Australia, with whom she had paddled earlier in the week.

I was a bit intimidated to paddle with Jesse, who is a really skillful kayaker, but I was counting on my years of rowing crew to hold me in good stead.

The day was the most beautiful of all so far. We paddled out and again, I had no camera to capture the most astonishing waterfall of all, so here’s a picture provided by the Un-Cruise folks of my brother Larry and his wife Barbara in their small boat by the waterfall.

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Larry and Barbara in front of what is called “Megan’s Falls” because Megan, our kayaking guide told us so. Reliable narrator? You decide.

The water was a bit choppy due to the wind, but it was at our backs on the way out, and we paddled close to the shore on the way back to avoid the wind. Our guide, Megan showed us her “favorite place in the world,” these spectacular falls.

When we returned to the ship, we were just in time for the Polar Plunge. The timing of our landing at the dock was propitious for my avoiding participating in the plunge itself.  Jesse and I just made it into the easy dock before the first plungers appeared on the dock. My excuse was that I couldn’t make it up to change because of the spectators on the stairs…..

There were a lot of large  (12″-15″) white jellyfish visible in the water, and it wasn’t until I heard Jackie Hedgepeth’s lecture later that night that I learned that they didn’t really have the ability to propel themselves purposefully through the water, so as we watched from the rail of the 200 deck, I worried a bit not just for the plungers’ hypothermia, but also for their exposure to these monsters.

With thanks for photos taken by Ken O’Brien of the Un-Cruise crew.

Connor clears the way of the jellyfish  for the polar plungers with a paddle.
Connor clears the way  for the polar plungers with a paddle.
The first plungers looked skeptical but then got bold. The others followed enthusiastically.
The first plungers looked skeptical but then got bold. The others followed enthusiastically.
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All in all there were about 15 foolhardy souls who took to the water, in all forms of graceful surrender to the frigid water.

 

The back deck of the ship was filled with spectators, all with cameras and all cheering the participants on enthusiastically. It was great fun.

After the plungers were finished, (and some of them, unbelievably, went two or three times into the water) came the race of the day.

During the cruise, we had watched a good natured rivalry develop between Claudia, “the evil American lawyer”, who hailed from Denver, Colorado, and Brian, the Aussie Doctor. Brian had wagered days before that Claudia would fall off her paddle board. If she did, he bet that she would have to write a poetic paean to Brian. If she did not fall from her board, Brian would have to do the same for her.

The night before, we had listened, at dinner, as Brian delivered his good natured ribbing poem about Claudia.  Claudia provided a spirited rejoinder to Brian, and their rapt audience (us) awaited further games. DSCN3117

Today’s was the paddle board race around the Safari Endeavor. And they were off, Claudia quickly pulling into the lead. The spectators cheered, led by the spirited Vivien, who had prepared for the event earlier in the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’d seen her working with some green painters tape and some paper, and had asked her at the time what she was making.
“You’ll see!” She said with a twinkle in her eye.

DSCN3140Claudia’s lead did not hold, unfortunately, and Brian won by about 4 paddle board lengths. Ever gracious, Brian did a mock fall from his board at the finish line. Back into the polar water……DSCN3156 DSCN3157

 

All in all, a spirited day in Thomas Bay.

 

 

Alaska – Day 4 – Where am I, in summer camp?

NB: Again, this post was delayed by the connectivity issues presented by being in the wilderness!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yoga again this morning, my body cooperating to the extent that it is able.

IMG_3534

Again, it is cold enough to see my breath in the air, and we are moored in a pine-fringed inlet called St. Thomas Bay, where the steep cliffs surround our ship. Activities today include several hiking options. I have opted to do the fast 3-4 mile Patterson River hike, along with 17 others.

The other hikes were described as a 5 hour strenuous hike – with a guide throwing his foot up onto the back of one of the dining chairs and saying – “we will be doing this kind of hiking.” Faces blanched around the dining room, and only about 8 people signed up for that. Or you could take the meandering Patterson River hike, which sounded too tame for me.

Led by Lindsey, we boarded one of the small boats and motored over to the banks adjacent to a rushing river. It is prime fishing territory and Jim, the retired soil engineer from Bozeman, MT, whose tanned weathered face belies his passion for outdoor pursuits, sits at the end of the boat salivating about lost fishing opportunities. We all are sporting our rubber boots, rain pants and rain slickers, as the day has already seen its first downpour.

Currently, the sun has broken out, but we are not sure what awaits us in the deep lush rainforest of Southeastern Alaska. We pull up to the shore, and the very competent staff helps us out of the boat onto the mucky grass, which sucks aggressively at our boots.

We gather on the banks, helping hold each other up while we exchange boots for hiking boots, I am ever so grateful for having picked up a hiking pole to carry on the hike, as it supports me during my change into the shoes.

IMG_3539
Wendy and Jennifer on the Patterson River hike

We leave our PFDs and boots in the shore, and begin hiking into the woods along a very wet rutted path that speaks of some kind of vehicle having traveled there. Happily, there are gnats but not too many mosquitoes. I had heard that the mosquitoes would be formidable and am happy that they are not so far.

About twenty feet along the path, the group stops to look at something on the ground- the first, but most dramatic viewing, a baby moose carcass lies across the path, picked clean of any flesh, it’s whitish bones tinged green with the algae from lying in the water. It is about 3 feet long, looking almost  like the skeleton of a four year old child. Chris, the droll Englishman behind me remarks, “well, isn’t that reassuring that someone much more familiar with this place didn’t make it out.”

We laugh and then continue up the trail. The great thing about today’s hike is the necklace of shared intimacies by the people along the hike, as we get to know each other.

There are such interesting people on the cruise. There are a group of folks from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but as you would expect on a wilderness luxury adventure cruise, everyone has some interest in the outdoors, and inquisitiveness about places other than those where they have lived and worked.

Jimmie and I had been sitting with Montana Jim and his wife Kathy last night at dinner, along with Bernie, the French born professor of Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and his Vietnamese wife, Huong, a French interpreter at the UN. As they talked about their various trips, I said, “Are you all retired that you can take the time for these trips?” I picked up my knife and began mock slashing of my wrists.

Back on the trail, we proceeded, surrounded on both sides by the high Sitka spruces, Western Hemlock and Aspen tress, and on the side of the trail, low foot-high blue berry bushes, wild anemone plants, similar to trillium, and an astonishing array of different types of scat.

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Lindsey informed us that the wolf will go right next to the bear to let them know they are nearby. Downright neighborly, I’d say.

Bear, moose, coyote or wolf, all in various stages of freshness, ranging from some that was “this morning’s” from a Moose, that had bedded down to the side of the trail before leaving his morning deposit to several day old bear scat, with wolf scat right beside it.

We spotted a large moose track in the center of the trail- about 7″ from tip of hoof to end. Having been warned about the craziness of moose, I was prepared to run should he be just up the trail.

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We hiked for about 2 and a half hours delicately skirting the large puddles that obliterated the trail in front of us several times, until my tennis shoes were soaked and the rest of my body was wet with perspiration, my glasses fogging up. We returned to the grassy muck to reverse the boot/shoe process before re-embarking on the boat.

Lunch was followed by my second kayaking adventure with Dad, which went much better because our rudder was working and I was working it. This view afforded me the privilege of knowing that my contribution was impactful, noting that my dad was paddling about 45% of the time during our paddle. Hey, give the guy a break, Els – he’s 83! However our steering went better today, leading to a less curse-filled expedition. We saw a bald eagle soaring above us, and watched as other paddlers worked out the system of paddling together. I joked with Wendy, the retired family and marriage social worker from Tucson that her services could be used by Vivian and David in the kayak bring up the rear. Everyone has gifts that are useful, and I would be quite happy to be stranded with this group. We would do just fine and it would be entertaining as well.

Back at the ship and a hot shower later, after drying my shoes with the hair dryer, Jimmie and I took a private moment far from the crowds to chat about the trip and enjoy our surroundings. With a yoga session, strenuous hike and 2.5 hour kayak ride behind me, I was pretty pooped.

At 5:15, I took an engine room tour, which was fascinating and very loud in spite of the headphones Engineer Jeff gave us to use.

Dinner was delicious as usual, and after dinner at 9:30, we were feted with stories from one of the guides, Ken O’Brien who told us about the ABC islands we would be seeing in the next few days, Admiralty, Baranof and Chi….. Oh well, I’m on vacation.

 

Alaska – Day 3 – Kayaking with my Dad

NB: This post was delayed by lack of connectivity while in Alaska. Hope you enjoy!

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This shows me in my extremely fashionable Un-Cruise beanie and the lovely lounge aboard the Safari Endeavor

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I awoke this morning when Jimmie suddenly announced that it was 7:30, and we were late for breakfast. Sure enough the speaker bar under the TV said 7:35 and I leapt out of bed to check why my alarm had not gone off. I opened the desk drawer, touched the home button and read 4:10. I quickly informed Jimmie the actual time and then rolled over, relieved, to go back to sleep for another two hours.

Today’s activities included a wonderful hour long massage by Nikki (included) and a leisurely morning in the lounge watching as the various activities unfolded out the window.

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There were the “bushwackers” who went off in the zodiac to their hike, the “beach combers”, who were gathered on the far shore, IMG_3498

the SUPs, six of them magestically stroking their way across the inlet,

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the first group of kayakers paddling across to the point near Roberts Islands.

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Lunchwas followed by the Kayaking 101 session where my father and I, two related-by-birth Type As got into a kayak and were shoved off into the 48 degree Alaskan water together, father in the stern with what proved to be extremely inaccurate steering peddles, daughter in the prow, paddling her brains out to try to point the kayak in the direction she wanted to go. Classic struggles. We had a blast.

Sadly, I have no pix because I didn’t take my camera in the kayak. Drat!

However, on our kayaking venture, we were fortunate to be in the company of our guide, Jackie Hedgepeth. We saw a fully grown female King salmon jumping in the water near the mouth of the river, slamming down on her side to loosen her roe prior to swimming up to spawn.

Salmon jumping
King Salmon slapping on her side to dislodge the roe prior to swimming up stream

Marbled murrelet
Marbled murrelet getting up in the air

We saw adorable marble murrelets who literally bounced across the top of the water, looking for traction to get their full bellies airborn,  pigeon guillemots, and a drenched bald eagle, huddling miserably in the top of the Sitka spruce tree.

Pigeon Guillemot with bring red feet
Pigeon Guillemot with bring red feet
Wet bald eagle
This is not my picture because I didn’t have my camera with me, but this eagle is doing just what the one we saw did, holding his wet wings behind himself to try to dry off.

The crew members of the Safari Endeavor are lovely. 34 in number, they think of all that you could need to be comfortable. Returning from the kayaking, we were greeted with the welcoming lounge, where hot water, decaf coffee and coffee are always available, hot chocolate and hot apple cider are only a packet away.

The bar is open, which is not my dealio, but a lovely thing for those who wanted a hot toddy after a kayaking outing.

All three meals are served at the table in the dining room, which is bordered by huge picture windows overlooking the water.

And every night, we’d have another interesting lecture about the glaciers, or the marine mammals, or the fauna we had seen that day. Spectacular!

 

 

Day 2 – Endicott Arm, Fords Terror, Dawes Glacier

Monday, July 7, 2014

NB: This post was delayed by lack of connectivity while in Alaska. Hope you enjoy!

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Everything about this un-cruise is extraordinary. This morning, I took a yoga class, on the 300 deck aft, looking out over the water where we were floating just north of the Dawes Glacier, a 200 FT high edifice of ice. I am a long time stranger to yoga, having taken a semester in college, but only once class in the ensuing thirty plus years. Nikki, our yoga instructor was inclusive and helpful, making me feel like I had good form when I know I did not. It felt good to stretch my work weary joints, and I giggled to myself when she urged us to set our goals for the session and the first words flashing through my brain were “to not throw out my hip.”
At one point we stopped the class to peer over the ships railing at a curious harbor seal as he slipped by in the morning light.

We were parked about a half mile away from The Dawes Glacier, and throughout the morning, could heard occasional loud dynamite sounding bursts, following the calving events of ice falling from the glacier’s face by about five to ten seconds due to the distance between the ship and the glacier.

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We were in the morning group, who rode the zodiac boats to within about a 1/4 mile of the glacier, maneuvering between the icy growls sloughing away from the face of the glacier on the currents from the under glacier rivers. The front of the glacier is marked by large brown lines, three in total, which show the junctures of several adjoining glaciers coming down from different directions, shoving their dirt and boulder acquisitions in front of them on their way to the waters edge.

Dawes Glacier

 

There were about 12 of us in the zodiac, all dressed in the suggested layers. I had on my long underwear, a long sleeved T-shirt, a cardigan, a windbreaker, and then the added cruise-provided black rubber windbreaker and pants, my hot pink hat and a pair of socks that I was glad I had brought to keep my hands warm.

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The guide, Jackie Hedgepeth, a geologist and marine biologist, was along to tell us about the dramatic rock cliffs surrounding us, and large populations of arctic terms and harbor seals populating the small ice floes, or ‘growls’ around the boat.

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Captain Shana powered the skiff, skillfully avoiding the ice, and cueing us to listen for the Rice Krispie sound as we passed close by the pieces, fallen from the glacier, as they released their centuries-old pockets of air into the atmosphere.

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Of course it got much colder as we got closer to the glacier, and after parking to observe the glacier from this closer vantage point, Jackie cheerfully said, “who wants some hot chocolate?” I thought she was joking, but no, unbelievably, she passed out white paper cups and she handed around a bottle of peppermint schnapps followed by the steamy cocoa fom her green thermos. What a great idea it was, and so restorative. There is no misery associated with this cruise.

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A lunch of arugula salad with whitefish and a yogurt chick pea dill dressing, and some spaghetti with a veggie sauce made of tomatoes and beets. For the meat eaters, the spaghetti was dressed with an elk sugo. Afterwards, we had a key lime tart which was yummy. Back to the cabin for a nap while the afternoon team got ready to go on the zodiacs. The Morning boat group will in turn have a lesson in how to kayak for tomorrow’s expedition. This is an extremely organized tour.

Tonight at 5 we will see Jackie’s slides how and geology talk.
I am love love loving this experience.