Saturday, 18 June 2016

Seattle and Home

We will be traveling all day today, so I thought that I would use the time to post one final time from this exquisite jaunt. Since we have been up since 3:00am in order to catch an early morning flight out of Seattle and a connection out of San Francisico home, and I am once again heavily medicated, I thought that I might write this missive as seen through the eyes of an eight year old, mostly because that is the extent of my brainpower at the moment.


Dear Diary,

This has been a really really really good vacation. Before we left Toronto, Barry promised me that I would see lots and lots of animals and mountains. He was right. We saw whales and seals and sea lions and sea otters and bald eagles and even a moose. Barry was sad because we didn't see any bears, even though Alaska is supposed to have lots of them. 

On Wednesday, we flew from Anchorage to Seattle. We would have gone to Vancouver, but there is only one flight a day from Anchorage to Vancouver and we wouldn't have had enough time, so we thought that Seattle looked like fun so we came here. Barry said that our flight had Wifi but we had to pay for it. I think that after paying all that money to fly, the Wifi should be free, but Barry says that's how airlines make their money. I think airlines are a ripoff. We didn't get to our hotel until really really late, so all we could do was sleep. 

The next day was Thursday. It was very sunny which was strange because I read on the interwebs that Seattle gets lots and lots of rain. We took the "link" which is kind of like a subway but lighter and faster. I remember our old Toronto mayor talking about how he didn't like these kind of trains because they would block cars. Barry says that these trains are cheaper than subways. Barry says that more people would get to use them. Barry says that they are faster. Barry says that our old mayor was a stupidhead who didn't know very much. Barry says that he died. That's sad, but I think that he was still wrong about subways. Seattle's fast trains on the roads are really fun and great. Lots of people use them every day. 

We got to ride to the top of the Space needle which is kind of like a baby CN Tower. We were really high and could see right across Puget Sound. We also got to go to a museum filled with glass art by a guy named Chihuly. It was pretty and it sparkled and it had lots of colours. I was worried that someone would trip and fall and break all the glass, but we were all very careful. I really like Mr. Chihuly's art. He really knows a lot about glass.

My favourite part of Thursday in Seattle was going to the EMP Museum and seeing all the guitars. I really like guitars. They had a Martin that was really old from the 1800's. I have a Martin guitar too but it isn't that old. I also liked the Martin guitar that used to be owed by one of my favourite folk singers, Woody Guthrie. He wrote lots of songs like "This Land is Your Land" and he carved a message into the back of his guitar that said "This machine fights fascism." I think Barry might be mad if I carved a message into the back of my Martin guitar because it cost a lot of money. 

We also saw a whole room that was all about an old rock star named Jimi Hendrix. He was a really good guitar player from a long time ago and he was born in Seattle. We also saw a whole room that was all about a rock group called Nirvana. They were also from Seattle. It was sort of interesting. I don't really like a lot of their music. Barry says it's 'cause I'm too old and their music is for younger kids. 

On Friday, we went to Pike's Place Market. Barry says that it is one of the oldest farmer's markets in the United States. There were so many people buying stuff. I almost got crushed. We saw some men throwing fish. It was silly. I  really liked the market. There were so many things to eat and see and it is all fresh. We also took a boat tour around the harbour. It was cold and wet because it was finally raining like the interwebs said. Anyway, I am tired of being on boats. I think I will stay off them for a little while. After lunch, Barry took me for a Frappucino at the very first Starbucks location. He took my picture there. He says it was meta, whatever that means. 

We went back to the hotel early because we had to get up really really early to go to the airport. I think early morning flights are stupid, but it was the only way for us to get home without arriving in the middle of the night. Barry says it's because of something called time zones. I think time zones are stupid. 

This was a really fun vacation. Barry says that we will take another one soon. I like to travel but I also like being at home. See you soon Toronto.

**Note:  The Husband is a really good sport about these blog posts. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Some Random Thoughts

We have been at sea since yesterday, so I thought that I'd use the time to reflect on some scattered thoughts about this wondrous trip so far. These are presented in no particular order, and if they seem somewhat incoherent it is because I am heavily medicated due to a slightly rocky ocean. No baseball caps have be thus far necessary, but I am keeping it close at hand. 

• As we sailed through the incredibly calm and majestic waters of Glacier Bay yesterday, I couldn't help but revel in the beauty and I yearned for a closer and more personal view. I have several friends who kayak as a hobby, and one in particular has been trying to get me into a boat for years. For a variety of reasons; cold, wet, potentially choppy waters, I have consistently found reasons to avoid the experience. Yesterday, as I saw kayakers smoothly paddle towards the mouth of the glaciers, I couldn't help but feel envious. I could only imagine the joy of coming face to face with a sea lion or sea otter, or even being in the near presence of an orca pod. If my friend is still willing to coach a rookie, I might have to give kayaking a try. (But only on clam flat water and not in near freezing temperatures. I'm still me after all.)

• We have had many discussions during our weekly Torah study as to the sentience of beings other than humans. And while science is still split on how various animals think and feel, I have always believed that there is real emotion and intellectual brilliance in that world, especially amongst higher order mammals. The whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and otters we have viewed in their natural homes throughout this trip have just reinforced that notion for me. These are socially advanced creatures with a strong need to nurture, maintain family bonds, and communicate. Watching an eagle carefully feed her young in a nest high above the confines of my earth, only further demonstrates to me that we are at our most arrogant when we pretend that animals are here for the sole purpose to serve us. Now, I am certainly not advocating for everybody to suddenly stop eating meat, but I am most definitely suggesting that a more mindful way of thinking about how we use animal products in our everyday existences would go a long way towards an environmentally sustainable way of life. We share this planet, we don't rule it. 

• If you have the opportunity, you must travel. It doesn't matter how you do it or where you choose to go, but staying home should never be the only option. There is a world outside your front door. Open it. Explore your neighbourhoods and then your cities or towns. Walk, hike, bike, bus, drive, boat...just get out there and greet the world. You can stay local or go exotic, rural or urban. It can be inexpensive or first class, it matters not. Just reach beyond the parochialism of your safety zone and see something new. All of our world views could use some expansion. This is a trip I honestly never thought we would take. The chilling temperatures up here are definitely not in my comfort zone of the tropics. How I would have missed out had I not ventured beyond the comfortable. 

• One final point...and it is an important piece of advice. Never ever ever get between cruising Americans and their path to the buffet. We have been elbowed, stepped on, crushed, and nearly trampled. I am trying not to assign national labels to such behaviour, but my anecdotal experience on this particular ship has been that this is an exclusively American issue. Be on the lookout for the Stars and Stripes while online for food. 

That's all for now. Tomorrow we are in Whittier and then we fly south from Anchorage to Seattle. See you again from Washington State. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Today in Skagway

If today was just another day from this magnificent vacation north, I might have written about our Jeep trip and off-roading adventure from Skagway, through White Pass, back over the Canadian border, and on up to Carcross Yukon following in the footsteps of those afflicted with gold fever as they headed towards the Klondike. 

If today was just another day, I would give a silly recounting of our numerous Jeep mishaps and how we had to leave one vehicle abandoned by the side of the road due to electrical issues, and how another leaked water through the roof and had the "check engine" light on for the entirety of the trip. (Insert Big Bang Theory joke here.)

If today was just another day, I might wax poetic about the craziness of our off-road drive up the side of a mountain and how my bony little butt is an ill-equipped shock absorber.

I might go on to regale you with stories from our time in Skagway; about the rich history of this sleepy little town, and how they have kept the legends of the gold miners alive with tales of booze, broads, and gambling. 

I would show you beautiful photographs taken by The Husband and me that, despite their perfection, still cannot adequately capture the glory of this land.


Today clearly wasn't  just another day. Today has been tainted by the horrific news out of Orlando and it feels somewhat off-putting to write frivolously. 

Today...I stood near the top of the world and realized how far away the hate felt from up there. I let the distance engulf me and I allowed myself to be swept up in its peace. Today...I remembered those lost as I let beauty wash away ugliness. And today...I desperately wished for a return to frivolity and silliness.

Zichronam Livracha...May their memories always be for blessing.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Our Disappearing Glaciers

The Talmud tells the story of The scholar Choni. As Choni is walking one day, he comes across an old man planting a carob tree.

"How long will it be until the tree bears fruit?" asks Choni.

"Seventy years or more," answers the old man.

"Are you so healthy and well that you expect to live long enough to see the fruits of your labours?" Choni asks.

"I found a world full of fruit because my ancestors planted it for me and so I am planting for my children." 

Psalm 24 tells us that "The earth is Adonai's and the fullness thereof." It should follow that needless and wanton destruction of that which God has created should be considered a grave offense. Judasim calls this concept bal tashchit meaning do not destroy. 

We are but caretakers of this earth and it is our responsibility to maintain a holy creation. So it pained me today to see a tangible symbol of how we have shirked our stewardship. 

We made our way from Juneau through the rain and fog to the Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is about 12 miles in length, a half mile wide, and anywhere from 300 to 1800 feet deep. The visuals of this massive blue/white ice field cascading down into the mouth of Mendenhall Lake is breathtaking and just a bit awe-inspiring. But, as we hiked the trails into the park to get a better vantage point, it struck me that this was incredibly sad. The rock on both sides of the ice field are clearly visible and it is obvious how much the glacier has receded in recent years. Several years ago when we travelled Newfoundland, I remember thinking that while the icebergs we saw were magnificent, there was something very disturbing about how prolific they were. Now I fully understand that discomfort.

I had a chat with one of the park rangers and she showed us a time lapse image of the glacier's recession in only the past 8 years. The results were frightening and heartbreaking. The field is shrinking by almost 650 feet per year and the estimates are that by the year 2100, sixty percent of the glacier will have melted. If that is not evidence of climate change, I'm not certain what is.

It is incumbent upon all of us to accept the responsibility of care for this planet. We must all be like the old man from whom Choni learned. We must be the solution, not part of the problem. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Eagle Has Landed

"I am the eagle, I live in high country. In rocky cathedrals, that reach to the sky. I am the hawk and there's blood on my feathers, but time is still turning they soon will be dry. And all those who see me and all who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly."~John Denver The Eagle and The Hawk

I have been to some of the finest galleries and museums in the world. I have been incredibly privileged to see works of art by Da Vinci, Monet, Michelangelo, and Picasso up close and personal, and I have reveled in the beauty and the artistry. But all of it pales in comparison for me to seeing wildlife in their natural habitats. The photos, paintings, and poetic descriptions simply cannot adequately do justice to the sight of a bald eagle in flight or a sea lion basking on the rocks with her pups. 

Those were just a few of the spectacular visions we were privy to today in Ketchikan, our first port in Alaska. Once again blessed with outstanding weather, we boarded a small vessel in order to fully capture the natural beauty of the southern part of the state. Armed with my fleece, earmuffs, scarf, and gloves, we were almost immediately treated to eagles, immature and mature, as well as eaglets high up still nesting. My emotions swelled to the point that I just could not help myself from humming a John Denver melody. I am fairly certain that I understand him and his music much better today. I could have gone to sleep happy right then and there, but more was still to come.

As we came around the back side of the Ward lighthouse, we were gifted with the joyous sight of sea lions fishing and several pups sunning themselves on the rocky islands. According to our guide, Captain Obvious, (dressed exactly for the part) there are humpback whales in these parts, but even my begging and pleading couldn't coax them to the surface. But that is the unpredictability of nature and I will accept the flakiness of that whale any day, if I could once again experience the loftiness I felt when witnessing that eagle take flight. I almost didn't mind the cold.

**Photo credit to my heart, Barry Bernstein

Thursday, 9 June 2016

On the Waters to Alaska

We have been on several cruises but never one that has seen the water as clear and smooth as glass as this one has been so far. I almost hesitated writing that sentence for fear that the motion-sickness gods would be angered and strike me down with a raging case of heaving and vertigo without offering me a hat for a remedy. (My closest friends will understand the reference.) But, the northern waters of British Columbia have offered some stunning vistas and the weather, while appropriately chilling, has been clear and given us some sparkling views.

It is unusual that I would write about a sea day. Usually these are down times limited to reading and over eating, but there is much to observe from the ship today and I must say that if one is thinking about traveling in this direction, seeing it from the balcony of a boat might just offer some of nature's finest spectacles. As we pass through Alert Bay, Johnstone Straight, and Robson Bight, we may just spit some Orca pods and view some eagles circling. This area has been dubbed the Orca Highway and is key on their migration path.

But here's the thing. While I am hopeful of experiencing that childish giddiness that I felt a few days ago, I am not in the least bit greedy. If they seem to grace us with their presence, I will happily spend hours, minutes, or even seconds watching and wishing them well. If not, well....I can honestly thank them for the gift bequeathed me. Keep you all posted. 

One last thing for this lazy day. Happy Anniveraary to us. Like Baskin and Robbins we are celebrating 31'derful years, flavours, and adventures. Here's to the next 31 and beyond to my heart, my touchstone, my source of aggravation, my smartest critic, and my biggest fan. A'int nothing like the real thing, baby. 

** The interweb is quite hinky here. I will try and add a photo later. So sorry. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Gift of Grace

Sometimes one finds grace in the unlikeliest of locales.

As we made our way down Robson Street toward the glorious urban oasis that is Stanley Park, I spent several minutes thanking the Divine Spirit for the glorious weather with which we have been blessed. You know a city gets a great deal of rain in a year when even the local Starbucks has an umbrella basket at the front of the shop. But, not this week. This week Vancouver has been gifted with mid-summer temperatures and radiant sunshine. And while I won't read too much into the fact that we are experiencing the best that this city has to offer in terms of its climate, I might just have to make good on one of my many vows and prayers directed towards the heavens. (I swear it has nothing to do with the selling of my offspring or theirs, but I can't in true sincerity promise that renouncing a vice or two might not be in the picture. I'll really miss my chocolate.) But I digress.

We decided to walk the seawall at Stanley and we were struck by the magnificent views of the skyline and Vancouver harbour. We knew that we would eventually come across the lighthouse and the totem poles that adorn the park, but I was captivated by the benches that dotted our path. Each bench is donated by a citizen and many are memory markers in honour of lost loved ones. Most are generic in their inscriptions, but one in particular caught my eye.

I have absolutely no idea who Bill Orr was or what kind of life he led, but he obviously left a lasting impression on whoever dedicated this bench. Isn't that what we all hope for? To be remembered for our spirit and our strength? I can think of no finer legacy.

In honour of Bill, I sat on his bench and looked out onto the water. As I sat, reflected, and rested two sea otters lazily swam in the distance. Another gift of grace bequeathed from this beautiful city on the left.
Vancouver Skyline
Lighthouse at Stanley Park
Totem Poles at Stanley Park
**Tomorrow we board ship headed north to Alaska. (That sounds like a ridiculous Hope/Crosby road picture.) There may be a gap of a day or two in these blogs. I will try and keep up. Thanks for following.