"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, May 30, 2009

She flies through the air...

The spirit was not only willing, it was tantalized, bewitched, aroused and seduced. The body, however, took one look at the rock climbing wall that rose from the tenth deck of the cruise ship to tower two hundred feet above the sea and said, “The hell you say.”

All outfitted in soft leather climbing shoes, a helmet, and safety harness, I begged and pleaded and swore. I gritted my teeth. I locked my jaw in stubborn determination. I refused to admit I couldn’t do this. Nothing worked. The body said I should have asked first before I took on this latest challenge in a string of idiotic challenges. “I’ve had quite enough of your abuse,” it accused, then refused to allow my right shoulder to pull my bod up to the next red foothold fastened to the wall.

“Wimp,” I said.

“Sticks and stones,” it answered.

On a perfect late sunny afternoon, the massive cruise ship rolled gently as it crossed the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. This was my last chance. Early the next morning the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas would dock in Seattle, and this cruise would be over. My only challenge the next day would be wrestling my luggage off the ship, a strategy suggested for those of us with ground transportation reservations, because of rumors of a longshoreman’s strike. Scaling the rock wall was now or never.

The ironic thing was that the rock climbing wall is what sold me on this cruise. If not for that, and the writers’ workshop on board, I never would have gone on the cruise. I just have no interest in them, and thought I’d be bored silly.
“Use the red blocks,” said the young man holding the rope fastened through a pulley at the top of the wall, the rope that would belay me and keep me from crashing to the deck should I fall. That’s assuming I didn’t outweigh him, in which case I imagined him flying freeform over the wall in a most undignified manner as I plummeted down in front of the spectators at the aft end of the ship, including the guy who was recording this misadventure with my camera.

The red blocks, by the way, are for beginners, something that added insult to my failure to make it more than half way up the wall. A few minutes before I had watched a young girl—maybe eight years old—fail to make it even that far. It was a little consolation.

I knew my legs were strong enough, no doubt there. Where I had erred was in my failure to consider what would happen when my right leg and right arm were stretched to their max. That’s when I discovered another problem with being vertically challenged, pardon the pun. I mean, other than not being able to reach what’s on top of the refrigerator, or to see at parades, and always having to be in the front row when group photos are taken. What happened is that I was stuck when I reached the same point three times in a row.
I really did get higher than this, but I wasn't taking the pix, so I have no proof. I was two panels higher.
My right shoulder, worn out as it is, refused to pull my body up even an inch. I was stretched out so far I had no leeway to scootch down a bit and spring upwards, then scramble for any foothold within reach, regardless of color. I was stuck. I didn’t even consider using my left arm as that shoulder is a hundred times worse and has a nasty little habit of trying to slip out of its socket.

After the third time I was lowered to the deck, I gave up.

“Quitter,” I muttered. My left shoulder chimed in to let me know IT wasn't a quitter. It was going to be reminding me of this latest nonsense for some time to come.

“Don’t feel bad,” said a strapping, handsome attendant. “Out of more than two thousand passengers on this ship, only two hundred have tried. You’re one of the elite.”

Right behind me was that little girl who had failed a few minutes ago. I don’t know what she’d done in the intervening few minutes she’d been gone, but whatever it was I hoped they’d checked her ID for proof of age. This time she scampered up the rock wall, rang the bell, and floated to the deck with the greatest of ease, the daring young twit, I mean, girl on the Rhapsody of the Seas….

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Phenomenon quiz...

I never understood the truism that requires an exception to prove a rule.

Somewhere near Alaska's Inside Passage.

If it’s a rule, how can there be an exception?

Flying over Tacoma Narrows.

And how can that exception prove it? .

Creek Street, Ketchikan, AK.

Makes no sense to me at all—not logical or illogical.

Rock climbing wall, crossing Queen Charlotte Sound.

So, perhaps I should call upon the word “phenomenon” to describe what’s in these pictures.

Seattle, Washington, near Pioneer Square.

“Phenomenon” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an unusual…thing.”

Ketchikan, AK.

That one fits.

Downtown Skagway, AK.

In each of these pictures, the same phenomenon is recorded for posterity, otherwise I’d use the plural of the word, which is “phenomena.”

Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska.

It is a thing of such rare and unusual occurrence that it has the power to make believers out of nay-sayers, cause strong men to cry, businesses to close, and folks to quit their day jobs.

Mendendall Glacier, near Juneau, AK

Can you discover what it is?

Rhapsody of the Seas at Skagway.

Here’s a hint: Albert Hammond said this phenomenon is the norm in Southern California.

Humpback whales near Juneau.

Need another hint?

Sea lions near Juneau.

Google, my friends. Google.

Vancouver, British Columbia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All A-bo-o-o-ard!

Tired, aching, and discombobulated (euphemism for semi-ticked off) after standing for hours before boarding Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, I went in immediate search of my stateroom. I found it two decks down, and waiting for me there—the little cheaters—were my two pieces of luggage. We’d been told to take what we needed for the evening in a carry-on because our luggage might take a long time to be delivered to our rooms. It may have, but the passengers took even longer due to the massive screw-up on the pier.

My stateroom on Rhapsody of the Seas. Don't ask me why the photo's blurry. Sometimes my camera does what IT wants, regardewss of what I want it to do.

I was trying to give RCI the benefit of the doubt and remain cheerful, but right then all I wanted was to kick off my shoes, take an Aleve for my aching feet and back, and lie down. I did all three.

Then came the loudspeaker (and I do mean LOUD) announcement that the mandatory life boat drill would take place in fifteen minutes. Don your life vests and head for your assigned station, said the voice. From my prone position on the bed I could see the life vest on the shelf over the closet, right by the stateroom door.

Another view of my stateroom.

Closet, I said to myself. So, I got up and started to unpack. My first surprise came when I opened the closet door. Ye gods! There were enough hangers in there to outfit the largest motel I’d ever stayed in, and I had them all to myself. I was almost finished unpacking when I heard the lifeboat drill alarm, so I grabbed that thick orange thing off the shelf, plopped it over my head and headed up to deck five, station eleven.

Ready for business. Aren't these expressions priceless? I mean, talk about visions of threatening icebergs waiting in the dark!

Oh, this was too funny, all of us standing around with our heads stuck through things that looked like peculiar orange toilet seats. Required a picture, it did. Eventually the crew herded all the passengers to their stations and we were released to go about our business. (Sorry, “business” in this sense doesn’t have anything to do with the afore-mentioned toilet seats.)

Exterior view of the Viking Crown Lounge, which is the upper level.

I went back to my room and finished unpacking, set the safe opening code to something I was pretty sure I could remember, and tried the lying down thing again. That wasn’t going to work, so I went off exploring the ship. Up on deck eleven, I found the flight deck of Starship Enterprise, only it was called the Viking Crown Lounge. They served gin and tonic there, and all I had to do was produce that cute little plastic card that also opened the door to my stateroom.

City of Vancouver, British Columbia, in the background as another cruise ship leaves the harbor.

After watching the cruise ship pull away from the Vancouver, BC, dock, by six-thirty about thirty of the students and instructors for the writers’ workshop I had signed up for had converged on the flight deck. Seeking some privacy, and a place where we wouldn’t bother other people, we went up yet another deck and gathered round. Introductions were made, instructions on how to get to our meeting room the next day were given, and some general info on the workshop was offered. Later, most of us gathered in the main dining room, the Edelweiss, for a fancy, sit down dinner. We were assigned to the second seating, which was at eight-thirty.

From the interior of the Viking Crown lounge, looking down on the hot tubs and one of the swimming pools. City of Vancouver is in the background.

The others found the wonderful buffet dining room on deck nine at the fore end of the ship, which is where I ate almost all of my meals for the rest of the cruise. That’s the thing you hear most about cruises—the food, plenty of it and all the time. While the main dining room meals were very good, well presented and professionally served, I preferred the buffet. For buffet food, I thought it exceptional: dozens and dozens of entrĂ©e choices, fresh fruits and vegetables, Asian and Indian specialties, fresh baked pastries and breads, dozens of desserts and fresh fruit cocktail, and all presented with flair and imagination.

This is the Centrum, venue for many events on the ship.

Another view of my stateroom.

By the time dinner was over and I was back in my stateroom, I was ready for bed. In my absence, my room attendant had closed the drapes, left the ship’s daily newsletter on the foot of my bed where I would see it, and wrapped some towels into a cute bunny rabbit.

Okay, RCI. I’m starting to forgive you, I thought, as I drifted off to sleep while the Rhapsody of the Seas sailed gently through Canadian waters, heading north to Alaska. Yes, I had come all this way, only to turn around, board a cruise ship for a return to Alaska.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Git Along, Li'l Dogies

Royal Caribbean didn’t exactly make a good first impression on me, and probably not with the other six or seven thousand people who were trying to board the three cruise ships at the pier in Vancouver, British Columbia. By the time I actually got on my ship, I was muttering “never again” over and over and over and longing for a soft place to lie down.

A stiff drink with my name on it might have been waiting eight decks above, but I was too tired to care. I’d just wasted a perfectly good afternoon standing on concrete in a chilly, drafty parking garage to board a cruise ship that was tied up so near I could almost spit on it, except I can’t spit very well and I didn’t want it running down my chin in front of all the other people who were waiting with me.

One of the blogs I follow is Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, who writes about her life on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She frequently posts photos of her family working the cattle, and of the cattle being led into chutes for various reasons. I now know exactly how they feel, thanks to Royal Caribbean. I will say this: it wasn’t all RCI’s fault, nor was it the fault of the Holland America Line or the Norwegian Cruise Line ships that were tied up next to RCI’s Rhapsody of the Seas. It wasn’t the fault of the extra large ship that had tied up at another pier—the one previously reserved for Rhapsody—because it was too large to dock where the three ships were now.

It wasn’t even the fault of the Vancouver port authority, or the fact that it was opening day, with lots of new employees. Nor was it the fact that the gangway for RCI’s ship had thrown a tantrum earlier in the day, and wouldn’t allow seven hundred passengers to disembark, despite RCI’s cleverly crafted plans for rapid off-loading. It was all those things combined, plus some really bad luck, that had six or seven thousand tourists stuck in endless lines in a chilly parking garage, waiting for hours to board their appointed vessel.

Not a good beginning, as I said.

This is less than half of the first line, the one that went all the outside, up to street level, turned the corner and went past Starbucks.

The line that snaked through the parking garage, up the curved walkway to street level, then made a right turn and continued on down the sidewalk past Starbucks was the longest line. As far as I’m concerned any line that goes past any Starbucks is too long a line for me. While walking from where the shuttle bus from the hotel had dropped us off in the parking garage towards the general direction of the end of that line, a group of us were waylaid by a woman telling us to take the elevator up to street level rather than buck the flood of people coming down to this level. While waiting for the elevator, another woman told us to take the elevator down one story, where the RCI line was shorter.

The lower parking garage line--part of it shown here--was somewhat shorter.

We did. That line was substantially shorter, but it was still an hour and a half long. Once we reached the bottleneck for that line….well, I can’t even remember what we did there. Showed our ID, I think, as well as our reservation paper that showed we’d actually paid for the privilege of standing in long lines to take what was supposed to be a luxury cruise.

Maybe it was the line for customs because I recall showing my passport, but it seemed every time I turned around, I was showing my passport. No, customs was the next line, but that was only a half hour line. Somewhere along in there I think they took our pictures so the computers would recognize us later on when we got off the ship and then wanted back on. Right now, though, the problem was just getting on the darned thing in the first place.

The lines for the magic credit card--the boarding pass.

Anyway, we got through that gate and took the elevator upstairs to a large room and another long line, only this time we got to sit down to wait another hour or so, after we filled out a piece of paper attesting that we had not coughed or sneezed or had swine flu or been breathed on by someone who had it nor had any of our relatives or acquaintances for five generations back had it. Or something like that.

If you ‘fessed up, RCI offered you immediate medical treatment. I’m not sure what that entailed, maybe solitary confinement in the ship’s brig, but nobody was going to forfeit the big bucks they’d paid for this trip by fessing up, especially after making it this far through the lines. Besides, you’d probably have to stand in another line, and as a mutiny was already fomenting even before we got on the big boat, I’ll bet everyone filled out their form with “NOT ME,” even though we’d been standing for hours in a cold, drafty parking garage with hundreds of germ-carrying people from around the world.

Then, little by little, our numbers were called and we walked across this huge room to stand in another line. This was the line for our actual boarding passes, a credit card sized piece of plastic that was the be all and end all for our cruise. Put away your money and your ID and passport, but don’t lose that little plastic card because not only was it your room key, but it opened the gates of cruising Nirvana for you. It was the multi-purpose card of multi-purpose cards.

Then we stood in another line, the gangway, only this one was actually moving faster than evolution and leading us right up onto Deck 5 of the Rhapsody of the Seas.

Finally, the gangway.

This whole fiasco took so long that RCI had to reschedule the mandatory life boat drill for later in the day and assure everybody the boat wouldn’t leave without them. Throughout this whole process, I kept thinking that only a week before I’d been sent to the emergency room in an Anchorage hospital to have an MRI of my head. The scan showed nothing was wrong physically, but after four hours of lines I was wondering if maybe that doctor wasn’t on to something.

So, yeah, I know what cattle in chutes feel like

If One Noise Is Bad, Can Two Noises be Better?

Alaska Airlines dropped me off in Walla Walla, Washington, for only twenty-five thousand frequent flier miles and ten bucks, including return passage. We made a stop in Seattle to downsize from a Boeing 737 to a Bombardier Q400 for the one hour cross-state hop. Something was tickling my memory about Bombardier 400s. I kept picturing a stormy night three months ago in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, and a scene of fire and unspeakable tragedy.

Other than a few bumps while climbing through the clouds above Seattle, Horizon Air delivered me safely to Walla Walla, which lies near the Oregon border in southeastern Washington state. The in-flight info in the seat pocket had information on all the benefits of Horizon switching its fleet to these turboprop aircraft, including substantially less fuel consumption and a “revolutionary Noise and Vibration Suppression (NVS) system, which makes this aircraft the quietest, most vibration-free turboprop in the sky.”

Coulda fooled me.

If I’m interpreting the data correctly, the pressure pulses from the spinning props pound against the fuselage, causing noise and vibration. Concealed microphones send noise info to the onboard computer, which sends the info on to another system called Active Tuned Vibration Absorbers. Then those critters produce their own counter-vibrations, theoretically canceling out the original vibrations, hence quieter airplanes.

Well, either somebody forgot to put a microphone in the fuselage above my seat, or forgot to fasten something down, because not too long into the flight I got out a pair of bright red soft foam earplugs and stuck them in my ears.

In all fairness, I have to admit my flight back to Seattle a few days later, at god-awful-thirty in the morning, was a lot quieter. So a word to Horizon air: you’ve got a rogue airplane out there, the one that flew flight 2086 on May 4.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited

So what do you suppose an Alaskan would do after retiring from his second career and moving from Washington, D.C., to Washington state? If you guessed “start a third career,” you got it right. That’s what my brother Jim along with his Alaskan wife Karen have done.

They have joined into a partnership with their elder son Joel, who was born in Alaska, and are now making wine in the Walla Walla area. Their second son Jason is off in some god-forsaken part of Alaska called Fairbanks, pursuing his doctorate AND his second master’s degrees. Daughter Marissa is taking a break from her pursuit of dentistry to care for her newborn daughter.

But this story is all about wine, not my relatives. Okay, it’s a little about my relatives, because if not for them, I wouldn’t be telling you about the wine they make.

Historically, Walla Walla was a stopping place for wagon trains heading to Oregon. Today it’s famous for the sweet onions that grow there, and that onion is the official state vegetable. It’s also known for wheat and other crops. The thing about growing wheat is that it leeches nitrogen from the soil, and that’s what grape vines love—poor soil. Those little round orbs also love Walla Walla’s warm, dry climate and the extra hours of daylight it receives in the summer—two hours more than California’s Napa Valley. And like most of us, grapes love sunshine.

So with all those things going for growing grapes, what do you suppose Walla Walla did? No, not this time, you cynic. This time government got on board the grapetrain. The Walla Walla Community College offers a two year associates program in enology and viticulture, with hands on experience in winemaking, viticulture, and wine sales. That’s the reason nephew Joel moved from DC to Walla Walla.

Then, the Port of WW built five winery incubators, as they’re called. Basically, the five buildings are bare-bones set-ups for new wineries. Located in the WW Regional Airport Industrial Park, each building is 1600 square feet of production, office, and tasting room. They aren’t meant for long-term lease, and each tenant must move out after six years, or before.

An initial low monthly lease increases annually, and tenants have to buy their own equipment. Joel showed me around his building, the gigantic stainless steel tanks for intial fermentation, the expensive computerized control system for glycol-chilling the tanks, the racks of oak barrels for aging, and the various declorinators and other equipment necessary for the winery’s operation. And, the lovely Toyota forklift that not only hoists stuff up and down, but can take a huge tote of grapes and turn it upside down to empty it into a crusher. Mega bucks for all the equipment. Starting a winery is not for the feint of heart.

He also explained the operation of the mobile bottling plant they hire when the time comes, and how efficiently they are able to bottle, cork, label, and case their wines.

CAVU Cellars is the name of their label, CAVU being an aeronautical acronym for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.” It’s a nod to my brother’s first career—a military pilot. The blue and gold label colors are another nod to their Alaskan heritage, those being the colors of the Alaska flag. I didn’t ask, but I also suspect their address of 602 Piper Street had something to do with the name choice, because the Piper Super Cub is the most loved small airplane in Alaska.

But catchy names and classy labels do not a good wine make. It takes someone like Joel, a gourmet chef who worked in some of the finest restaurants in DC and had his own high-end catering business for private clients for many years, to make a good wine. Joel wowed the hundreds of tasters and buyers that descended on Walla Walla wine country the first weekend in May for the spring release of new wines. For wine aficionados, it’s a really big event.

CAVU Cellars immediately sold out of its limited inventory of Barbera Rose´, and I know why. I tend to prefer the slightly sweeter wines, and this beautifully-hued wine was perfect for me. Even though it is sold out, I was able to sample some because I knew someone, as the saying goes. Also available were Sauvignon Blanc and Horizon Red. Soon he’ll be bottling his Barbera, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

So that’s what my brother and his wife are doing these days instead of driving around the country in a big ol’ honking motorhome, the one that was on their bucket list before they retired. They’re working their tails off at CAVU Cellars, following the lead of their winemaker son Joel, the one whose experiments with varietals is already showing his genius and discerning palate.

CAVU's spring release wines

There are some mountains around Walla Walla—the Blue Mountains—but nothing like what we have in Alaska. For the most part, Walla Walla reminds me wide open spaces…where the ceiling and visibility are unlimited.

CAVU Cellars, 602 Piper Street, Walla Walla, Washington 99362

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Slowing Things Down by Speeding Things Up

Recently my friend Bob said that time seemed to pass slowly during his youth, but now that he’s in his seventies, he blinks and a month has gone by. I know what he means. I’ve been looking for the antidote to that, and I think I might have a lead on it.

I remember vividly how long it took to graduate from twelve years of public school. And the three years that followed, until I turned twenty-one, seemed to take as long as all the previous years. There is something magical about twenty-one apparently, because time then speeds up, increasing incrementally throughout the years until one day you wake up and find yourself eligible for Social Security and Medicare and you ask, “How the blazes did this happen?”

Forty-four years ago (gasp!), when I was twenty-three, I quit my white-collar work in Anchorage and moved thirty-six road miles south along Turnagain Arm to a small village called Girdwood. Once a bustling placer mining settlement, Girdwood in 1965 was then the site of a fledgling ski resort called Alyeska. At that time, the permanent population of Girdwood was about a hundred people, with almost as many dogs.

A part-time weekend job working for Werner, who held the only food concession available at the lodge, expanded into full time work, and very soon I found myself his breakfast cook. While happy to be out of the “big city” (Anchorage, pop. about 102,000), I was also very worried about being able to support myself. Included in my luggage in the move to Girdwood were a number of unpaid bills, most of which had to do with my inability to stay out of book stores and the discovery that I could buy books by mail. I began a concerted effort to pay off those bills as quickly as possible, and took on another job as part of that effort.

That part time job was at a restaurant-bar called the Double Musky, located across the valley from the ski resort. Every Wednesday and Saturday nights, I cooked sirloin steaks over charcoal in the fireplace, and on Sunday afternoons, I helped prepare a buffet. At that time the owners were Julian and Catherine . Living in an eight by twelve foot shack with no water or plumbing and allowing myself only twenty or thirty dollars to live on a month, my bills were soon paid off.

L-R: Carlene, Julian, Gullible

A week ago I was in Tacoma visiting with a girlfriend from those long ago days. We hopped on a public transit bus for Snohomish, Washington, which is about an hour north of Seattle. A phone call and a short ride later, we were on the deck of Julian’s home to celebrate his eightieth birthday. Now remarried to a lady named Ruth, he lives in a semi-rural area with three goats for lawn mowers.

As with most of my friends from those days, he has opted for the same hair color as the rest of us, but little else has changed with Julian. He has the same happy-go-lucky sense of humor, booming voice, and never-met-a-stranger attitude. One of the guests, in fact, was a young man working in communications that Julian had just met and dragged to his party.

Polka Dan and the antique concertina

Some other Alaskans were there, too. Polka Dan, who long-ago had kept us all dancing polkas and waltzes and Schottisches at the Musky, as we called it, sat in the gentle sunshine of early evening, played an antique concertina and swept us back in time more than forty years.

Mike's cioppino with an Alaskan flavor

Mike from Alaska brewed up a huge pot of cioppino, a fish stew derived from Italian cuisine, but added an Alaskan flavor with halibut, spot shrimp, steamer clams, and red king crab. Served with slices of garlic bread topped with Parmesan cheese, we ate while seated on a warm sunny deck as the goats mowed the lawn or dozed on a shed roof. Surrounded by Julian’s old and new friends, and listening to his outright, bald-faced, shameless lies about me when I worked for him, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his milestone birthday.

One of the lawn mowers taking a break

Those lies? It was my mission, back in those days of cooking sirloin steaks over charcoal in the Double Musky’s fireplace, to wean my friends off of “well done” and closer to “medium rare.” One night, claims Julian, someone ordered a well done steak. As the story goes, I stood up, handed the cooking fork to the customer, and told him to cook it himself if he wanted it well done. That’s Julian’s version of the story, and he loves it.

I have my doubts about its veracity, thinking it must have been said to a good friend IF I said it at all, but in honor of a long-time friend who just turned eighty, I’ll let him tell it his way.

Three days after Julian’s party it was time for me to head to Sea-Tac for the flight back to Alaska. The fifteen days I had been away seemed like months, and it took a while to realize why. In those fifteen days, I had crammed in so many adventures and activities that time had slowed way, way down—crept along like a snail on Prozac as a writing instructor of mine once said. It’s a clue, a lead, as the detectives say, to this mystery of time.

First bottlings from CAVU Cellars

In two short weeks, I had visited with my brother and his family, met my new grand-niece, learned from my nephew about making wines in Walla Walla, sipped the finest rose´ I have ever had and not only because it was from my nephew's new winery...

My brother's John Deere tractor mower in Walla Walla

...mowed my brother’s lawn with his John Deere tractor mower, visited Vancouver, B.C., spent most of an afternoon in a chilly, drafty parking garage trying—with seven thousand other people—to board one of three cruise ships tied up next to each other.....

The endless lines in the Vancouver cruise ship pier's parking garage

...attended a week long writers’ workshop, bared a secret to an audience of thirty, gone on a photo safari by land and water in Juneau, seen Mendenhall glacier, flunked rock climbing, hiked part of the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway and then river rafted back to the beginning...

One of the steeper parts of the historic Chilkoot Trail out of Skagway

...photographed historic buildings in that old gold rush town...

the driftwood-covered front of the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, 1899

...and gasped as a huge sea lion surfaced next to the small boat I was on, apparently as startled as we were.

Ziplining in Ketchikan's rainforest

I’m not done yet.

To the writers' workshop, I read portions of Robert Service poems that were included in a story about a moose-hunting camp, rode up a steep hill in a Unimog...

The Mercedes Benz manufactured Unimog

...fastened myself into a harness and ziplined through a sunlit rainforest in Ketchikan, watched sunsets from the dining room of a luxurious cruise ship...
Ahhh...pairs perfectly with a whiskey sour....

...enjoyed the antics of bald eagles flying overhead, learned where the sore spots would be from my new hiking boots, slid hell-bent down a four hundred foot long plastic slide with my feet in a burlap bag while sitting on another gunny sack, spent some time in the infamous Red Dog Saloon in Juneau...
Juneau's Red Dog Saloon
(Miller Brewing company can't sell Red Dog beer in Alaska because this saloon has the name registered.)

...rappelled off a platform fifty feet high in a gigantic cedar tree, gaped in awe as our massive cruise ship turned on a dime at the frozen end of narrow Tracy Arm fjord...

The 915 foot long Rhapsody of the Seas using bow and stern thrusters to turn in place in Tracy Arm Fjord

...walked laps that turned to miles around the top deck of the cruise ship, visited the notorious Creek Street in Ketchikan where tourist traps have replaced the cribs of good time girls...
Creek Street, once a man trap, now a tourist trap in Ketchikan.

... tried that rock climbing wall three times before I gave up and consoled myself with Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream... (HEY! No pun intended there!)

Flunking Rock Climbing. Legs too short, shoulders too worn out, I could only get little more than half-way up. Oh, yeah, maybe butt too big had something to do with it too.

..listened to an editor from a well-known publishing house kindly critique a partial manuscript of mine and have him tell me I knew more than I was giving myself credit for.

I visited the old underground city of Seattle, ate Thai and Indian cuisine for the first time, visited the Almond Roca outlet store, ate and fell in love with naan, visited with several friends from long ago who remain close friends today, sat with my brother drinking Stella beer and eating hummus on pita chips as my nephew poured samples of his new wines in a picturesque bar in downtown Walla Walla, had a writing instructor tell me my essay was “dynamite,” discovered my traveling laptop was the slowest thing in all creation, enjoyed an afternoon’s drive along the coast of Tacoma...

Coastal areas around Tacoma

...wandered around the Olympia Farmer’s Market and learned the “Fresh Washington Apples” had been in storage for seven months, ate fish tacos, photographed breeching humpback whales...
Migrating humpback whale near Juneau

...ate ice cream at a drive-in coffee house while listening to an all female group play Celtic music, discovered Elvis is alive and well and had my picture taken with him...

...and found out how I stacked up against a group of other writers.

And more. I missed Nancy, another friend from those days. She hadn't yet returned from three weeks of hiking in Utah.

But probably the most important thing I did was to tell my friend Carlene that she had saved my life by keeping a box of letters I had written to her in 1965 while she was attending college in Colorado. Those letters documented all the things I was going through—good and bad—before and after that move to Girdwood. She had given them back to me afteralmost forty years. Remembering some of my emotional woes from those days, I could never read them. Then, three years ago, when life had body-slammed me to the canvas and I was slipping into a dark abyss, I took that box of letters from the bottom drawer of my desk and began to read them. I stayed up all night reading those sixty-some letters.

When I was finished reading, I thought about what was between the lines, those things unspoken but now apparent, and my life changed forever. She saved my life, not only that night, but my whole life. She made it possible for me to change my perception of my life as it had been from the beginning, and to appreciate it for the adventure it has been and continues to be.

She said she often wondered if her life had made a difference to anyone. She had never found a cure for cancer, for example, she said. But when I told her in detail how she had saved my life, how all of my writing these past few years would never have happened but for her saving those letters, and what a difference she had made to me, she said, “Thank you.”

The letters.

Perhaps that’s the way to slow down time as we get older. Reconnect with old friends and tell them how much they mean to you. Make your bucket list as long as you can and strive to do everything on it, like the effort I made long ago to pay off those unpaid book bills. And, just so you know, those two flat rate boxes stuffed with new books that I had to mail home because they put my luggage way over the weight limit, as well as the other four books I lugged in my travel tote? I paid cash for them.

The famous rhododendrons of Washington state.