Momma G’s Alaskan Adventure

Picture 098In the fall of 1978 I enlisted in VISTA- Volunteers In Service To America.  I was single, finished with college and wanted to make a difference in the world.  I loved my family and New England, but I craved adventure and a  new beginning, so after spending a few hours with a recruiter, I signed on the bottom line, and requested an assignment in the Pacific Northwest- preferably Alaska.

The first assignment I was offered was in East Harlem, New York City.  I turned it down and was offered an assignment in the Midwest.  I turned down that one as well, but knowing recruits could only refuse a limited number of options, agreed to the next offer, which put me in Boise, Idaho.  I never made it any further west, except for a week of training in Seattle.

It took thirty-five years, but I finally made it to Alaska.  Almost two weeks ago, I stepped aboard a vision class ship for a seven night Alaskan cruise.  I’m afraid I lost part of my heart in the Pacific Ocean.

I was not one who dreamed of cruising.  In fact, I had always considered it rather bourgeois.  Indeed, once I agreed to accompany my brother and his family on the Alaskan cruise, I found that many of my friends and family had at one time or another elected to sail the high seas for their vacations. Still, I was apprehensive.  Mass media loves to tell cruise ship horror stories, and I had no desire to spend my vacation stranded at sea or praying to the porcelain god.   However, I committed and on May 31, 2013, with virgin passport in hand, boarded the Rhapsody of the Seas.

I needn’t have worried.

Before we left port I was settled in a chaise lounge, drink in hand, wondering what the people at work were doing.  By the second day at sea, I had forgotten that I have a job. 

And then we reached Juneau. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI had seen mountains before.  I have skidded through snow in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch.  I have driven through the Painted Desert in Arizona and Utah’s Wasatch Range.  I have flown over Mount Rainier and camped in the high desert of New Mexico.  And although all these places are breathtakingly beautiful, they do not compare with the rugged beauty of Alaska’s mountains.

If the only thing I had done in Juneau was peer at mountains that extended past the clouds, it would have been enough.  But there was a whale watch and salmon bake to attend.  Whales are some of my favorite creatures, and I excitedly scanned the water’s surface for spouts that betrayed their location in Auk Bay.  We caught sight of a mother and baby humpback.  Seeing them glide effortlessly through the water caught my breath, and when they fluked, I nearly cried.

The following day we docked in Skagway and took a jeep tour through the mountain passes ofwolf 2 the Yukon Highway.  Our guides led us past black bears munching on spring grass, porcupines waddling across the road, and a lone grey wolf that regally eyed our passing jeeps and then calmly loped after the caravan as if to accompany us across the Canadian border.

After another day at sea, we rose at five in the morning to stand on a cold and rainy deck and watch our ship navigate its way through Tracy Arm Fjord to the Sawyer Glacier.  Its jagged edges of turquoise silently reminded me that our lives are but a drop in the continuum of time. 

And then, all too soon, the trip was over. 

As a writer, I struggle to translate my heart onto paper.  But just as photographs fall short of paying Alaska’s rugged beauty its due justice, so do my words.  If I revered God before, I do all the more now, for such artistry to create the vast expanses of pristine land, ocean and sky could only be accomplished by His hand.  I can only bow to His creativity and the majesty with which he touched that portion of the world. 

bear2Since my vacation I am calmer.  More centered.  Less edgy.  I’m not sure if it was the crisp clean Alaskan air, or the gentle rocking of the ship at night.  But I can guarantee you one thing- Momma G will not wait another thirty-five years for a vacation again.

How Momma G Gets Ready for Vacation

A few years ago, my brother Eric and his wife Colleen invited me to go on vacation with them.  I assured them that I would love such a venture, and maybe someday I would join them.

“Maybe someday.”  It is one of my most often used phrases.  Maybe someday I will buy the car of my dreams, with heated seats to warm my stiff back during  the chilly New Hampshire winters.  Maybe someday I will spring for real percale sheets that lie cool and soft against my skin at night.  Maybe someday I will have a real manicure and pedicure.  Maybe someday I will go away for a vacation and see places that I have only read about or watched on Discovery Channel.

The problem with “maybe someday” is that someday rarely comes.  There is always something more important that comes up- a dental procedure, a car repair, someone who needs my attention.  I don’t really mind, because life is full of unplanned realities and pipe dreams are just that- dreams that go up in smoke.

But last winter, after several discussions and lots of budget balancing, I decided to join Eric and Colleen on a cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage.  There is a new decade looming in front of my next birthday.  I’m not getting any younger.  The time is now. For months after I agreed to go, I thought of all the reasons why I should not, but I was committed and once the reservations were made, there was no backing out.  Strangely, the reasons for not alaskagoing began to fade, and my feelings of excitement began to grow.  I spoke to other people who had gone on Alaskan cruises.  Their enthusiasm was unfettered and contagious.  I began to dream of the whale watch and salmon bake we chose as an excursion.  I nestled into the idea of spending seven nights at sea with the choice of what to eat as my biggest decision.

My plans began to unfold.  I booked a hair appointment the Saturday before our departure, so I’d be sure the silver streaks that are beginning to take over my head would be well hidden.  I planned to splurge on a manicure so my cuticles would be well-trimmed and my nails smooth and even.  I would spend the long Memorial Day weekend leisurely packing and preparing, spend one last day at work on Tuesday, and depart on Wednesday.

But we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men.  I woke early Saturday morning, unable to sleep because my sinuses were throbbing and my head aching.  I swallowed a few ibuprofen and sipped coffee, grateful that I had plenty of time before my 9AM hair appointment.  After a shower and breakfast, it was still only a little after 8 so I decided to clean my wallet.  Coming across the appointment card at my hair salon, I glanced at the time and gasped.  It read “8AM.”

A quick call to my stylist ensued, and she agreed to fit me in at 9:30.  By the time I left the salon, my face and head were pounding like a bass drum, so I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment.  I was less than a mile from home, when I noticed steam billowing from under the hood of my car, and by the time I reached my parking lot, it was clear there was a leak in my coolant system.

carMy mechanic was closed so I called a dealership.  “Yes,” they said, “We can look at  the car but not until Monday.”  I hung up the phone, seeing dollar signs drifting from my wallet into the air.

After seeing the doctor, I filled my prescription and settled on the couch and thought about the directions.  Take two hours after eating and one hour before eating.  Or is it two hours before eating and one hour after eating?  I swallowed a pill and hoping for the best, got up from the couch to retrieve something and tripped on the cord to my laptop, sprawling on the livingroom floor in front of my son.

“I’m fine,” I assured him as he helped me up, and urged him to go out as planned.  After the door shut, I rubbed my stiffening shoulder, hip and knee.  “No way am I going to be a baby about a little fall,” I thought to myself, and decided to clean the bathroom.

As I scrubbed my stomach began to rumble, protesting the assault the antibiotics had waged.  My face ached.  My muscles were sore. My stomach churned.  And yet, I was scouring the tub.  “Why am I doing this?”  I asked aloud.headache

“What if you get attacked by a grizzly bear and die in Alaska?  People will come to your funeral and then they will come back to your apartment to have food and conversation afterward, and they will see how dirty your bathroom is.”

Really.  I kid you not.  That was my thought process.  And that is when it dawned on me.  Vacation is supposed to be fun.  And relaxing.  They are for enjoyment.  Who cares if people can see your gray hair?  What matter is it that your nails do not look like a model’s?  And if you get eaten by a grizzly, people will not be looking for soap scum in the bathroom.

I put the sponge away and sat down on the couch.  I’ll figure out the car before it is time to drive to the airport.  I’ll pack tomorrow, after I’ve slept in.  Late. Like 7 o’clock.  When my stomach calms down, I’ll take some more ibuprofen and go to bed.  I’ll dream about whale watches and glaciers.  And come hell or high water, in a few days I’ll be on vacation. Because someday is now.

Spring- Time for a Change!

crocus snowIt is the end of April and although the temperature at sunrise was only a few degrees above freezing, in New Hampshire we have spring on our minds.  I love winter with its frigid winds that blow drifts of alabaster frost against my window panes.  But in April, I am ready for a change.  And spring is a season of change- crocuses that peek out from under the flakes of a rogue snowstorm, the explosion of yellow forsythia, the promise of buds on the barren tree branches.

Where I work there is a ditch that separates the parking lot and a small field.  When the snow melts, the ditch fills with water that ices up at night and melts during the day.  A couple of weeks ago, I got into my car at the end of a long day of work and sat back, relishing the warmth left by the afternoon sun.  In silence, I watched the wind ripple the water in the ditch, and my mind flew back to the days when I was a child. 

Bodies of water hypnotize children, drawing them near, begging them to forage around the frozen earth until they find something that will float.   A dried oak leaf left behind by last October’s winds makes the perfect canoe, and a blade of new grass its navigator, and before long, an adventure ensues.  At the house on 30 Green Street, I had many such adventures.  On Saturday mornings, it was not unusual to hear my mother admonish us with “Shut off that idiot box and go outside and play!”  It didn’t take long to learn that dawdling inside resulted in being assigned a household chore, so as soon as Roy Rogers and Trigger headed for the sunset, I bolted out the door and headed across the street to play down by the river.

In April, down by the river was alive with the promise of spring.  Under the dark umbrella oftarzan fir trees, a small rivulet bubbled between frozen banks, creating the perfect opportunity to race leaf boats or splash chunks of ice under the surface to see how quickly they would melt.   Tiny sprigs of green peeked from under tufts of grass bleached dry by last summer’s heat.  And in the shaded areas never kissed by the pale winter sun, granular snow formed fields of ice crystals.   I had spent the winter watching Tarzan movies on our black and white television, and imagined the ice crystals were real diamonds, waiting to be scooped up and smuggled out of the African wild.  My fat, Persian cat, Perfidia, who loved to hunt down by the river, became a wild lion.  I faced him down like Tarzan did, yelling “Ungawa!” Undaunted, he sleepily blinked at me, and rolled over to let me scratch his belly.  When I had finished, my lion, purring contentedly, trotted off in search of a field mouse or a mole. 

We repeated this game for years, until I traded fashion magazines and lipstick for woodland adventures and Perfidia grew so old that one day he went down by the river and never came home.

As I sat in my car watching the ditch, I thought about change.  How curious that although I welcome the change of each New England season, I fight the changes that threaten to upset the delicate state of my life’s sameness.  I follow the same routines during most of my days.  I rise at five, shuffle from the bedroom to the kitchen to pour my coffee, and shuffle back to my bed where I sip and watch the news.  I always make my bed before work.  I always check the mailbox when I get home from work.  I always lock the door and turn down the heat before crawling between the covers at the end of a day. 

cruiseAnd yet, like the way spring sweeps away the cobwebs left behind by winter’s dry breath, the spring of my life is upon me.  I’ve packed away my winter coat and rearranged my closet to make room for summer clothes.  I’ve taken on a new and challenging project at work.  And I, who have not taken a vacation in over thirty years, have bought and paid for a cruise to Alaska’s Inner Passage, to be taken at the end of May.  It’s not exactly down by the river, but there will be water and adventure, and excitement. Besides, it’s spring- time for a change.

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