Monday, August 26, 2013

Cruising Out Of The Moment
By Michael

Our nephew Oliver, along with Windy's
brother, joined us aboard for the week
in Glacier Bay. (Uncle Paul Valente)
“I guess I was underwhelmed.” I said to Windy.

“You’re kidding?”

“No, I guess I expected more.”

She was speechless. Then she countered: “Glacier Bay was the high point of the past two years cruising.”

We tried to understand each other. I recounted for her some of the things we’d seen and done to-date, each one of which seemed to me more dramatic or poignant than anything that just happened in Glacier Bay.

“Those were all singular experiences,” she said, “Glacier Bay was a week-long feast; I never knew where to turn there was so much going on.” She went on to list all that came to mind.

That’s true, I thought, we did sit on the bow of Del Viento, fifty yards from two young brown bears—no other boat or human for miles—to watch them forage on the beach for nearly an hour. No, I’d never seen anything like it in person either.

And indeed, there was a loud crack and boom when the glaciers calved and the ice did seem to fall in slow motion. Yes, we saw acres of broken ice, black with harbor seals soaking in the sunlight. Yes, there were bald eagles and whales and sea otters. We did wade through cold, fast-moving streams of glacial melt.

One of the bizarre aspects of Glacier
Bay was that the scale makes it very
difficult to estimate distances. The face
of this glacier here, Margerie, is 275 feet
tall--above the water, it's another 100
feet deep below. We are much farther
from it than it looks in the picture or
seemed in person. What did give
perspective were birds we'd see fly
very near the glacier, looking like fleas
and making it clear how far away
it still was.
But I wasn’t feeling it like she was. “I don’t even want to write a blog post about it.”

That was nearly a month ago. We’ve since moved far away from Glacier Bay, on to other remarkable places (like fifteen nights on Baranof and Chichagof Islands).

And I’ve thought back on our time in the Park over and over. Each time it all seems more vivid. Today when I look at our Glacier Bay pictures, they evoke emotions that are more powerful and provocative then I remember feeling at the time.

Only now am I amazed that the sharp, hard rock scree we walked across in front of a retreating glacier was crushed and ground by a 300-foot tall wall of ice, still there when my grandmother was a kid. I can see the entire landscape more clearly, now surreal, a myriad of contrasting colors, textures, and shapes cast in Grand Canyon-like proportions. Each evening rouge and purple sunsets lingered for an hour, expanding across half the sky.

I can't believe how big my
girls look next to their
cousin; they're growing
big faster than I realized.
Here the gang is in Hoonah, AK.
(Uncle Paul Valente)
We started this new life more than two years ago in Mexico, a place I’d spent a lot of time since the 1980s. Mexico felt like returning home. And the experiences we had there our first year, the ones that really struck me, were isolated and easy to process and assimilate. Our 6-month bash north from Baja to Vancouver Island was the same, familiar ground with an even measure of stimulation.

But every northward mile since leaving Victoria three months ago has been increasingly…and here is where I don’t know what to say.

“Mind-blowing” and “profound” and other superlatives come to mind, but they don’t capture my experience. It’s almost like “disorienting” is a better word, but that’s not right either. It’s just been one stimuli after another, almost every day. Like I’m Lucy in front of that conveyor belt, and the chocolate candies just keep on coming, without time to digest, reflect, and adjust before there is more. I take it in, but it seems muted, like I’m failing to live in the moment.

I know we’re moving faster than either of us would like, our itinerary is season-bound. But Windy doesn’t react the same way to all of this. She is very much in the moment, almost desperate to soak in all she can while it’s in front of her.

Don't mess with us. (Uncle Paul Valente)
Interestingly, she doesn’t remember things like I do. She knows that 20 years from now, she’ll ask me if Glacier Bay is where her brother spent his week with us. And I know that I’ll tell her all about it, reminding her that Del Viento was often echoed in the mirror-like water of the coves and inlets. And the bronze-colored hairs in the summer coats of those bears we watched, they rippled over fat and muscle, catching the sun as the animals casually overturned 100-pound rocks looking for food. And I’ll recount how we smiled at each other across the cockpit each time the white thunder boomed from a calving glacier and we’d quickly turn our bow into the swell that followed.

Our first anchorage in Glacier Bay.

The near-extinction of these otters was one
factor that led the Russians to put Alaska
up for sale. (Uncle Paul Valente)
Probably not too many girls have lost a tooth
in Glacier Bay. (Uncle Paul Valente)
Sunset on our first night in Glacier Bay.

Two young brown bears we watched for
a while. (Uncle Paul Valente)

Me, poking my head out the companionway. (Uncle Paul Valente)

Oli and the Robertsons hiking towards a glacier.
Raging rivers of glacier melt kept us about a half-mile
away, even after we waded through a couple.
(Uncle Paul Valente)
All of us back in Juneau on our last night together.
(courtesy Uncle Paul Valente)

Monday, August 19, 2013

By Michael

Eleanor rejoicing in the mist, wind,
and noise before the base of the
Baranof falls. 
In this traveling life, I’m always a visitor, wherever I am. I’m transient, not of the place I was, the place I am, or the place I’m going. I maintain a visitor's mindset. I walk with my head up, noticing things. I greet everyone. I try not to offend.

Up here in Northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, there are lots of First Nations/Native American communities. The first one we visited was Bella Bella, BC, where we hopped off the waterbus and onto the docks of the Heiltsuk First Nation. The air was damp and humid and we ducked into the Thistalalh library/coffee shop/community center/gift shop where we sat down, opened some books, and soaked up the local culture.

The young gal behind the counter greeted every middle-aged-and-older guy as Uncle. A group of activists held a short meeting to develop a strategy for curtailing illegal bear hunts. Two residents worked out the details of a used smart phone purchase.

We left to walk north towards the town dump; we’d heard there was a free store next to it where we might be able to score a replacement for the jacket Eleanor lost days before. Trucks passed us on the winding road and the girls picked berries from along the shoulder. Three teens, all boys, headed our way, laughing and shoving each other.

I nodded and smiled at the first, “How’s it goin’.”

He nodded and smiled, “Moe-gee-oat-eh.”

“MOE-GEE-OAT-EH.” I repeated enthusiastically, carefully extending the greeting to all three of them with a big smile.

I waited until they were out of earshot.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Windy.

“Hear what?”

“Moe-gee-oat-eh, it’s a First Nations greeting. We need to remember that.”

Windy started laughing, snorting.

“What?! What’s so funny?”

“He said to you, ‘It’s muggy out, eh?’ and you repeated it back to him like a crazy man—ohmygod I’m gonna pee my pants.”

This is an old woody that anchored near us at
Baranof. This guy is at least 100 years old.
There are a lot of boats like this up here, some
private, many doing charters, micro-cruise ships.
They're all pretty.

These are natural hot springs at Baranof,
right next to this raging river of glacial
melt that drains from nearby Baranof Lake.
These springs are just a short hike from the falls
where Eleanor was rejoicing in the first pic.

Monday, August 12, 2013

By Michael

And they're learning improvisation too. Our
only instruction to Eleanor was to get this cold
beer to these kayakers we came across in
Glacier Bay (they'd paddled up here from
Ketchikan!). She grabbed her butterfly
net and made it happen. Tell me that's
not school.
“Well you get it, right? I mean, it would suck to be a boy named Sue.”
“Because it’s a girl’s name.”

“But why did that help him?”

“Because it made him tough, he had to fight people who teased him.” I watched Eleanor’s face for a flash of understanding. There was nothing.
“But why did he need to be tough?”

“Because the world is tough, because life is tough. His dad wanted his son to be tough and he knew he wouldn’t be around to help him get tough.”
I heard my own words and how they must sound to my nine-year-old. I was learning about her perspective at the same time I was trying to teach. She had no context. Maybe I should retract and start over, I didn’t want her to think people get tough or benefit for being bullied and teased.

She interrupted me before I could detour to explain that a real-life Sue may indeed have grown into a tough-looking man, but that beneath the muscles and tattoos he may not be tough in the ways that matter, in strength-of-character, in the strength to be vulnerable. “But the world’s not tough.” She said.
“Okay, no—I mean yes, it sure can be, you’ll see. But the point is that the song is meant to be a funny story, an oversimplification using ideas from another place and time.”

“Like the Old West?”

“It was written by Shel Silverstein.” Windy added. She was tucked in the corner with her iPad, now offering color commentary from her Offline Wiki app.
“Shel Silverstein wrote ‘A Boy Named Sue’?” I knew this would pique Eleanor’s interest.

“Can we hear it again?” Eleanor asked.
And we did hear it again, that song and the entire At San Quentin album.

Until she was eventually distracted, we’d talked about how Cash’s practiced dialogue between songs appealed to his uniquely homogeneous audience, about how politicians and others pander, about Cash’s prison tour, and about June Carter Cash and the Carter Family.

The biggest question from folks contemplating cruising is How much does it cost?

I’ve addressed that question here before: Cruising doesn’t cost anything in particular, there is no price tag on the lifestyle. I can tell you what we spend, but that information will only inform your own estimation.
But I haven’t addressed the biggest question for families contemplating cruising. They all want to know How will schooling happen?

Here is the answer: It won’t, there is no school in this lifestyle. I can tell you how our kids are learning, but that information will appeal only to like-minded parents.
In the past couple years, we’ve seen almost as many approaches to learning aboard as the number of cruising families we’ve met. I have no basis for qualitatively comparing or assessing them. Who can? All of the approaches look very different from a traditional, institutionalized education model, and that’s a point worth emphasizing.

Our steady travel prohibits our kids from regularly attending school. They are denied access to many rich aspects of that experience: the long-term teacher relationships, the sports teams, the clubs, the labs, the other students and the classroom interplay, and the millions of incidentals that are a product of that environment.
We’re okay with that. You have to be if you plan to do this long-term.

Currently, our approach to education is little more than active, involved parenting. It’s the same thing millions of folks do every evening when the whole family is together, we just do it at all hours—and in some pretty interesting environments. At most, the girls spend 10-20 minutes a day on formal “schoolwork,” stuff like math apps on the iPad or handwriting workbooks. The bulk of their education comes from their reading, their pursuing their interests in their unique, ever-changing world, and many, many seemingly insignificant—sometimes trivial—engagements with us, like the above.
But we’re done with San Quentin and the Man In Black. I think that after breakfast tomorrow, while Frances clears the table and Eleanor does the dishes, we’re all gonna take a loud ride on the Crazy Train with Ozzy and see where that takes us. All aboard girls…ha, ha, ha, ha.

Eleanor watching these young grizzlies forage. They stayed
right in front of us for nearly two hours.
The girls walking towards the base of this glacier. Their
heads aren't down because they're angry or bored, they're
watching the ground to avoid bird eggs they'd read would
be in this landscape.
Frances reading to her cousin, Oliver. He and Windy's
brother visited us for the week we were in Glacier Bay.
I don't think their education is compromised by this
lifestyle, but their connections to extended family
and friends are.
This picture is a perfect example of the serendipitous nature
of the learning that does happen. I walked past these two
twenty-somethings on the way to Del Viento one afternoon.
They were lying on the dock about ten feet apart with their
heads and arms hanging over the edge. I interrupted them:
"Are you guys marine biologists, by chance?" They told me
they were and wondered how I guessed. I told them I have
two girls who would spend all day in the same position if
we let them. I introduced Eleanor and Frances to them
and the four of them looked at the water and talked about
stuff in the water for two hours. The girls love that stuff and know
a lot. Oh, and if you've read this far, see me in the distance?
I'm guiding Athena in to her berth, really.
See, here I am with the first of two stern lines. These things
weigh about as much as our anchor chain. They tossed me
a lead line and monkey fist first. I actually tied a bowline in
one of the bow lines. It was fun to help, but it didn't earn
us a visit aboard or anything.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In Pictures, Part 3
By Michael

Since leaving Victoria two months ago, we've been overwhelmed by all we've seen and experienced. Now that we've reached our northern-most point at 59 degrees latitude, we're going to head south, back to Mexico. I thought this was a good time to pause and reflect the past two months chronologically, in the skads of pictures that never made it on to the blog. Back to our regular programming next week. Enjoy!

Elevated homes in Petersburg, Alaska.

This native-inspired art was embedded in the sidewalks
throughout Petersburg, AK.

The main street, downtown Petersburg, AK. Unlike the
towns that cruise ships visit, here there were no jewelry
or souvenir shops, just a drug store, a laundromat,
a grocery store, hardware stores, and a bar--everything
a cruiser needs and all within walking distance.

The food at Inga's Galley in Petersburg, AK was
excellent, every bit of it made from scratch
--and their beer selection was great.

Check out the clouds these little islands were making--between
Petersburg and Juneau, AK.

Four humpback tails are visible in this picture, but on
this day, here where Frederick Sound meets
Stephens Passage, there were at least 60 whales
around us, within an 8-mile radius--dozens of
blow clouds at a time.

It's going to get hard to get used to rolly anchorages again
when we head south. Every night on this passage the boat
has been perfectly still, like sleeping on land.

And this is the downside of Alaska summertime cruising,
where they joke the state bird is the mosquito. Mosquitos
haven't actually been a problem, but a couple anchorages
have had gnat problems--sometimes little biting gnats.
Oh, horseflies too, as big as winches. These things
here on the Pudgy are neither, just small, common flies.
But overall, bugs haven't been as big a problem
as we feared--we haven't even put on
bug repellent.

Eleanor on supervised watch, leaving a channel.
Note the tongue. Kids are allowed in bars here
in Alaska, so long as they are accompanied by
a parent. As a result, we have used teaching the girls
to play pool as an excuse to go to bars. Eleanor's
tongue does the same thing when she concentrates
on a pool shot. 

My girl.

Hide and seek in Tracy Arm, AK.

My girls drinking apple juice with glacier
ice, Tracy Arm, AK.
A seal on ice in Tracy Arm, AK.

A small, sculpted berg in Tracy Arm, AK.

The water in the rapids leading into Ford's Terror in Endicott Arm, AK.

My future marine biologists.

Pilings left from an abandoned cannery in
Taku Harbor, AK.

The marina at Auke Bay, AK, just above Juneau.

Windy took this, in Taku Harbor--my favorite picture from the trip so far.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In Pictures, Part 2
By Michael

Since leaving Victoria two months ago, we've been overwhelmed by all we've seen and experienced. Now that we've reached our northern-most point at 59 degrees latitude, we're going to head south, back to Mexico. I thought this was a good time to pause and reflect the past two months chronologically, in the skads of pictures that never made it on to the blog. Check back tomorrow for the last group. Enjoy!

Continuing a theme of our trip, the Gorge Harbour resort was
empty when we arrived. It is just outside Desolation Sound and
would require reservations just a couple weeks after we were there.

This table in the laundry room at the Shearwater Marina shows how
much wood is available to folks up here, for cheap. Granted, it has a
crack, but the word is that in Southeast Alaska, quality lumber can be
had for just the milling cost. (Near Bella Bella, BC)

This bald eagle was in the tree outside the laundry room
pictured above. Bald eagles are everywhere, really. In our
family, we say, "eagles like seagulls" when we spot one.

This juvenile bald eagle swooped onto the dock in front of us
to claim a piece of fish thrown there by a fisherman. There were
several adults nearby, carrying on and hassling him, but they
wouldn't come down. The juveniles are much more bold.

Surprisingly, bald eagles don't sound tough. Their calls
are timid and sing-song.

This is a seabus. They are all over and are the cheap
way that people get from island to island. Kids take them
to school and people take them to get groceries.

Here we're waiting to board another seabus, this one in
in Bella Bella to return to Del Viento at anchor near
the Shearwater Marina.

This could have been a blog post, but never was. We met a
fascinating guy near Shearwater, Jean-Marc. He is a researcher
and jack-of-everything who lives on the 70-foot aluminum
sailboat he built himself on the dock in front of the houses
he built himself. They are amazing places, currently inhabited
by student volunteers, biologists. This is about half the greenhouse
area he has woven into his houses, where indoors and
outdoors blend and where fruit trees and every kind of
vegetable (and even cactus!) thrives in this low-light,
cold, wet place.

Windy in typical passage mode, looking for logs in the drizzle.
Though since reaching Alaska, the weather has been
great and we even did a lot more sailing.

Northward through narrow passes. Tides are extreme up here
and we consider currents to time every passage. A 15-knot
current is tough for a boat that does 6.5 knots on a good day.

Play time at anchorage, though this would be more fun in
warmer waters, when it could be coupled with jumping and

Logs in the rain. Hit one and it might be the end of
our uninsured boat. Fortunately, once reaching
Alaska, the number of logs in the water decreased
dramatically--now we have ice to worry about.
Navigating underway.

I made eggs Florentine to enjoy a
sunny morning at anchor. More
days than we expected have been
like this since leaving Victoria.

Most of the towns and cities we've visited on this trip
are on islands. Here a barge makes it's way up the
Wrangell Narrows on the way to Petersburg, on
Mitkof Island, AK.

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