It occurs to me that my last post was sort of doom and gloom and that you may be wondering if I made it to Alaska and back. I did! Thanks a lot for asking. I also fell in love with the place, much like my taxi driver to the Juneau “International” Airport (they have service to Canada) who cashed in the return portion of a round trip ticket 25 years ago and never looked back. It must have been June when he did it, because the Alaskan summer has both snow-covered vistas and 80-degree days. You’re hiking up a mountain in a t-shirt while a glacier holds firm in the rocks below you, thinking “My armpit alone could melt down that glacier.” It’s actually really weird. I can’t explain it in terms of weather, temperature, global warming, chemistry, pop culture, anything. Maybe the ice is so full of bald eagle shit that it’s preserved year-round.
And I can speak about bald eagle shit from experience now. I feel like a true American. I took my cousin’s two young kids on a tram to the top of a mountain overlooking Juneau (these awesome kids were my free ticket to Alaska, god bless them) where we stomped around in the snow and then visited one of the state’s majestic bald eagles where it lived in a cage the size of a utility closet. The keeper said the bird was captive because she had been shot blind years ago, which I think is what the keeper says to tourists to make them feel better about seeing an animal suffer in captivity. But as I watched the creature and the kids gripped my arm (bald eagles are actually really big – and also intimidating when they rip into frozen salmon – and also scary when the babysitter is saying stuff like “Look out! The bird is going to eat you!”), the thing turned around, hiked its butt in the air, and tried to squirt me with white hot poop. Which of course made me cackle, but only because the bird missed. I’m pretty sure its brain is smaller than mine.
Other animals we saw included humpback whales (wedding whale sighting booze cruise!), sea lions (the one bloated male keeps a rookerie of 50 females at the ready in case he wants to play Bingo), ravens (they’re everywhere. Locals have to retrieve their mail as soon as it’s delivered, otherwise the ravens will open their mailboxes and cash their checks. They’re that smart. My cousin’s husband also pointed out that you shouldn’t look up when you walk through downtown Juneau because if you do you’ll see a dozen ravens staring at you and get freaked out), deer, squirrels, and dogs. I just remembered a joke my grandfather told during this Alaska wedding weekend: “Someone should make a toupee for bald eagles.” He has better delivery than I do. He has some comedic competition in Alaska though. A Juneau playhouse was putting on a show called “Salmon Chanted Evening.”
I don’t know if all Alaskan coastal towns are like this, but every day in the summer about five 3,000-person capacity, 10-story cruise ships dock in the Juneau harbor so their occupants can roam around buying gold nuggets and fur bikinis. There are more people in one of these cruise ships than in all of Alaska (I’m making up demographics, but this one sounds accurate). So each summer the town caters to these tourists by transforming itself into a quaint outdoor shopping mall where one can buy Eskimo-themed knickknacks and temporary orca tattoos. Meanwhile you get the feeling that in the winter it’s every man for himself and people walk around with either shotguns or fly fishing rods, out for blood. And this is why I was baffled that Alaska is home to Sarah Palin. Everything I’ve ever seen of that woman on TV suggests that she’s not fit for the Alaskan wilderness. Pantsuits? Blow-outs? Come on. The state is as laid-back as it gets. I wore long johns under my dress to the wedding and I still felt like royalty.
One fabulous thing about Alaska is its daylight hours. It seems like an excellent place for an alcoholic to pay taxes (oh wait – we pay taxes to Alaskans) because it’s sunny until like 10pm and you not only get a second wind but a third and a fourth when you’re drinking. Is it time to stop? Slow down? No, the sun is shining. There’s a reason the bride and groom both did ice luge vodka shots at the wedding: The climate builds liver stamina.
Was the plane ride awful? Yes, but I had modern medication on my side. I feel sorry for the people of the 17th century who had to fly in commuter jets without these helpful chemicals. Their helicopter pilots must have been nervous enough to wet their pantaloons.
Oh shit, Jeopardy’s on.