Alaskan Wilderness

                                                                        In preparation for our Alaskan adventure, our delayed honeymoon during the late summer of 1972, we purchased an old yellow International Harvester panel van. Later that evening we decided to take the truck for a trial run on the highway and realized the tires needed replacement. We bought four new tires and took off for Lake Tahoe. No sooner than ten minutes on the road the smell of smoke alarmed me. Flames were coming up through the floorboard! At a gas station I poured water on the fire and found the exhaust pipe angle made hot contact with the wooden floorboards. Had the sellers planned a prank? My insurance company reimbursed us for the repairs. Bill Ruck, a friend from Cal State Long Beach, had joined a commune in Northern California, learned carpentry, and asked if he could help turn our truck into our “Yellow Submarine” for our trip. He made storage cabinets for our stereo, speakers, suitcases, and a hanging closet for clothes. We installed a stereo with speakers and stored tapes of our favorite music for our 3300-mile odyssey. Joan and I stored our belongings and food in the cabinets, clothes in the closet, and picked up road guides from AAA. At an Army Navy store we purchased green down jackets and sleeping bags that warranted comfort at 40 degrees below zero, and put a mattress over the cabinets with bedding and pillows. Storing my corvette in a garage for $10 a month, I placed it on bricks, took off the tires, and disconnected the battery.   Our course to Anchorage would take us to campsites we planned to roam with Shiva in British Columbia, past lakes, glaciers, towns, and cities we could only imagine. Booking a ferry from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Haines on the Alaskan Inland Passage, we embarked early on July first listening to Dylan’s “Like a Rollin’ Stone.” Berkeley behind us, we sang and joyfully anticipated an Alaskan adventure. “Don’t exceed the limit, Dan; you don’t need an arrest before your first law job.” The first night we stopped at a beautiful lakeside campsite just across the Canadian border. After parking our camper at the top of a hill overlooking the expansive lake surrounded by pines, and conifers, we walked out with Shiva on a leash  attached to her red collar as California Law required, gold name tag dangling,  her black coat shimmering in the sunlight, and she whined and tugged. A couple next to us walked over, “Let that dog go!" the burly husband said with a smile,“You're in British Columbia."                                                                                                       After unleashing Shiva she dashed down the hill, disappeared through pine trees, and plunged in the lake with a glorious SPLASH. I thought she would run away but she was after a flock of Canadian Geese that scattered honking and cackling. Each black head and neck, white chinstrap, light tan breast, and brown back rose in the sunset transforming the spectacle from tranquil to cacophonous, yet picturesque. Shiva swam around, lunged out, and raced back to me panting with her pink tongue hanging out. “Good girl, Shiva,” I said, scratching her neck and petting her black shiny head. She looked up in gratitude and shook water all over me. Joan and our new camp friends laughed and then made a fire for a BBQ. A feeling of freedom, fresh air, and the smell of pine trees, filled us with vigor. A crackling fire, basted chicken breasts, and corn on the cob, put us in the mood for sky watching. The twinkling stars we barely saw in California cities burst forth in the Milky Way galaxy. The “Tea Pot” in Sagittarius and Scorpio’s tail sparkled and shimmered. An hour later we were in sleeping bags with Shiva at our feet.   We drove through the pristine roads of British Columbia dotted with pines, oaks, and maples on our way to Prince Rupert. A Tlingit village that featured tall totem poles was celebrating a holiday and offered a canoe trip with a guide who told us their version of the creation story known as the Raven Cycle:   “Raven steals the stars, the moon, and the sun from Naas-sháki Shaan, the Old Man at the Head of the Nass River who kept them in three boxes. Raven transforms himself into a hemlock needle and drops into a water cup belonging to the Old Man's daughter. She becomes pregnant with him and gives birth to him as a baby boy. Raven cries until the Old Man hands him the Box of Stars, another with the moon, and a third with the sun. Raven opens the lid and the stars escape into outer space. He rolls the box with the moon in it out the door where it flees to the heavens. Raven waits until everyone is asleep, changes into his bird form, grasps the sun in his beak, opens the box, and the sun breaks free into the blue sky.” “That’s a beautiful and interesting myth,” I said. “It is no myth, it is our truth our ancestors shared with us. Never call the Raven Cycle a myth,” she reprimanded me angrily. Realizing I had put my foot in my mouth while seeking to learn about their culture, it occurred to me in awhile my clients in Alaska had their traditions and stories, which I would respect, and apologized to our Indian guide for using the word myth; but I had caused some damage. You can’t un-ring a bell. Once we reached Prince Rupert, we boarded a ferry for the Inland Passage to Haines. We slept on deck chairs outside when the crew secured our yellow truck alongside other vehicles. After ninety miles we arrived at Ketchikan, known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” home of all five species of salmon who inhabit the streams and waters of the Tongass for spawning, leaving their roe on the gravel. We took Shiva out for a walk along Ketchikan Creek, which flows through the town.               When she saw salmon leaping up the “fish ladder” they climb to spawn at the top, she barked and raced to the edge filled with an electric charge of energy. I feared she would jump in and directed her back on the path that followed the creek through the primeval forest. The gravel beds are the end of the salmon’s struggle and are so thick with numbers the shallow streams were black with fins and twisting fish. Shiva smelled the dying salmon that had spawned, hurtled over logs, and bolted through underbrush in a frenzy searching for wildlife. Sand hill cranes, trumpeter swans, black-tail deer, porcupines, and wolves roamed the area. Red cedar, yellow-cedar, mountain hemlock, spruce, and shore pine were everywhere. Nature had aroused Shiva and us with such energy, we chased our black bouncing streak laughing with joy. We rested under hemlock and spruce and gave our Lab food and water next to an alpine meadow covered with pink fireweed, blue lupine and yellow poppies. A Ferry whistle brought us back to reality. After we got underway we saw killer whales and porpoises jumping and playing alongside the ferry. Bald eagles soared on thermals. Dall porpoises have black backs and white bellies resembling killer whales, but are much smaller, and generated a “rooster tail” spray visible for twenty feet. They were “bow riding”—a pressure wave like the blast of wind that follows a passing truck—they sidled up under the surface and rode inside the pressure wave.             At our next stop we left the ferry to see the capital of Alaska, Juneau. The mountains sloped down to the water where it rests along the shoreline. The Tlingit Indians have used the adjacent Gastineau Channel as one of their favorite fishing grounds for thousands of years. The native culture, rich with artistic traditions, included carving, weaving, orating, singing, and dancing.                                                               We saw the Mendenhall Glacier at the Juneau visitor center--a massive mountain of ice with cracks and fissures that revealed tints of blue and gray. The sound of ice chunks tumbling into the water below roared as the waves caused from violent forces shook floating icebergs sending ripples in the surface. The Mendenhall reached its point of maximum advance in the mid-1700s, while its terminus rested almost two and a half miles down the valley from its present position. The mighty glacier started retreating as its annual rate of melt began to exceed its yearly total accumulation. Its bulk now retreats at a rate of one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet a year. Global warming has accelerated the process so the glacier will disappear in several centuries.

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