Appreciating Alaska

Beautiful and majestic, Alaska's glaciers.

By Gloria Joynt-Lang

As inhabitants of this wonderful planet, we get to enjoy a variety of dramatic and dynamic landscapes. Every nation and region has something magnificent to offer its citizens and those travelling through. And if the majestic mountains, lush vegetation, and plunging waterfalls, weren’t enough; mankind created amazing cities, monuments, and thrilling attractions. Traveling is an education on to its own, and having the world as a classroom is sure the heck more fun than listening to a long drawn out lecture.

As far back as I can remember I loved to travel. I set out on my first adventure even before I learnt to crawl. I was six months old when I left the European continent, and flew to my new home in North America. I don’t remember the voyage, but my parents told me I was not a happy camper, screaming my lungs out from the moment the plane left the tarmac. Since then, I have visited almost twenty countries without any further inflight hissy fits. Admittedly, I did shed plenty of tears on a flight from Toronto to Miami while watching Bridesmaids. There is absolutely no way I could keep the cries of laughter contained.

I’ve always enjoyed the adventure of travel. Work trips, vacations, and practically any opportunity to go to a new locale, and I’m in. Every aspect of a trip appeals to me. Just walking into an airport makes me grin. Try to wake me up before 7 AM, and I’m grumbling, but if I’m scheduled for an early flight at 4 AM, I’ll spring out of bed. Even if my departure is delayed, or my luggage is lost, I’m still cheery. For years, my motto has been a bad travel day is still better than a great day at work. My friends laugh at this, pointing out that my annoying positive attitude might have more to do with where I was working at, than being so Zen towards waiting in line to go through security. Admittedly, working in a federal prison for most of my career, could probably make even hell tolerable, but I truly love going on a quest where the scenery will be different. And it’s not only flying that I crave, it’s all modes of travel. What’s not to love about sailing along on a cruise liner headed toward various Caribbean Islands? But even without five-star treatment, I love being on the water. My favorite childhood memory is about a family trip across choppy seas off the coast of Newfoundland on an old icebreaker.

And then there are road trips. Hours spent going from one small town to the next, where you head off and discover something unique like a UFO landing pad, or a thirty-five foot replica of Tyrannosaurus Rex. But when my husband suggested we visit Alaska, I not only surprised him with my grumbling, I also surprised myself. I’m not sure what exactly happened to the girl who loved exploring unchartered territory, but I had this ridiculous notion that I’ve seen enough wilderness. After all, by the time I was twelve, I had experienced Canada from coast to coast and lived in some rather remote places.

Months of cold winters had me screaming for a beach vacation. Some little island where I could lounge away the hours, sipping drinks adorned with pretty paper umbrellas. So when my husband presented the idea of taking an Alaskan cruise, I thought he was out of his frigging mind. Alaska, what could this northern state offer me that I hadn’t already experienced? I’ve seen various mountain ranges, towering trees, and black bears in their natural habitats. If sand wasn’t going to be squishing between my toes, then I wanted Disneyland, or New York City – not some cold inhospitable terrain.

“We wouldn’t be going in the dead of winter,” my husband tried to reason with me. “We'll take a cruise ship in September.”

“Great, torrential rain,” I countered, even though I was somewhat relieved he didn’t want to camp. I continued to sulk for a bit longer, and just as my husband seemed willing to give in, I decided to say yes. Although the glossy brochure of the cruise line was impressive, my change in mind had more to do with payback. I owed my husband for a previous trip to Cuba. Not that he didn’t love Cuba; we both did, but the heat and humidity of a late May trip took its toll on him. And even though our swanky air-conditioned room in Varadero provided him with much relief, he ventured out and played tourist so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

Alaska was far from Cuba, not only geographically, but in so many other ways. However, what started out as a reluctant trip to the 49th state, turned into a lasting and fond memory. I loved absolutely everything about this Last Frontier. From treading lightly in the rain forest so as not to disturb a bear, to panning for gold, this place was truly remarkable. I didn’t need a five-star restaurant or the ship’s fancy dining room, for the best meal consisted of eating grilled salmon on a tree stump. And forget those decorated cocktails on board, for you couldn’t beat the taste of locally brewed beer within the confines of a rustic and historic saloon. And little did I know as a savored these moments, that the best was yet to come.

Prior to embarking on our seven-day voyage, I read about what we might see, including the glaciers. I even googled a few pictures of the ice formations. Yes, I noticed their beauty, but I also couldn’t help but think brrr! So naturally, the day we were to spend in Glacier Bay National Park, I was as hyped as a cat preparing for a bath. As I trudged behind my husband up the stairs to the top deck to get what he referred to as an optimum view, I wondered if I could dodge back inside under the rouse of needing a few more layers of clothing. Looking towards the sky I realized I couldn’t justify an escape. The sun was out in full force, the winds non-existence and although there were a few clouds, nothing which would warrant rain. As I reached the top stair, I gasped at what I saw. And although I felt a chill coming from these large glorious chunks of land ice, I found myself too immersed in my environment to care about an extra article of clothing.

I’m an eager tourist when it comes to sightseeing, and by eager, I mean I love to pack in as much as I can. I’m the type of person who ignores the exhibit captions in museums so I can move on to some other attraction. But standing in front of these massive icy walls, I wasn’t thinking about what else Alaska had to offer, or what I might be missing because the day would be spent in the bay. With my feet cemented on the observatory deck of the ship, I was in total awe. I’ve been flabbergasted by nature before, but this time it wasn’t for mere minutes, this lasted for hours. I’ve never experienced such a vivid array of colors before. Not only were there more shades of blues than I thought possible, but I was equally captivated by the grays. Cool monochromatic tones glittering in the sunlight. And as I absorbed the spectacle of glaciers, I heard the thunderous sounds of ice breaking apart as it calved and tumbled into the sea. I was part of a group of people oohing and ahhing as the calving continued every few minutes. And every once in a while, when a particularly large piece splashed into the ocean, we applauded as if the puck crossed the goal line.

What struck me most was the strange and peculiar feeling of being amongst hundreds of other people, yet being swept away by a sense of solitude and serenity. Dumbstruck I stood, as I gave unadulterated kudos to the majesty of Mother Nature. Don’t get me wrong, I adore cities. I love going to concerts, to sporting events, and even toss in a good Shakespeare play; but the moment I laid eyes on Alaska’s magnificent glaciers, I knew where my soul belonged. Of course there are places that are warmer and have more attractions, but Alaska is the type of place that wraps itself around your heart. It whispers encouragement in an often too abrasive world, and settles deep within you. It’s a place that stays with you even years later. A corner of the world I will return to one day. And when I do, I’ll rent a house overlooking the sea. I’ll get up early to see the sunrise. I’ll go for long walks in the crisp air. And should torrential rains pour down, I’ll head inside to write a new novel. I’ll add some suspense or mystery to the story, something befitting of this wonderful part of our planet.

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