Sunday, September 11, 2011

We flew to Oregon on Monday via three Alaska Airline flights from Petersburg to Juneau, then to Seattle and Portland.  The most spectacular sights were the great chain of volcanoes in the Northwest, which the pilot out of Seattle obligingly arranged to be on our side of the plane.  The most arresting sight, of course, was Mt. St. Helens, the immediate surrounding area of which has still not recovered from the devastation of its spectacular explosion.  Mounts Rainier, Adams, Hood and a few lesser volcanic cones were all in fine fettle and quite a sight from about 20000 feet.

The middle of last week was spent in Salem with my daughter, son in law and now 25 month old granddaughter.  She's a bundle of energy and very vocal. Her parents throw words at her all the time and she bonces them back almost perfectly.  They then give an explanation and keep the words in play.  Rhinoceros and architect were among the words this summer.  She is very like my daughter at the same age and I told Stephania that little Sasha may well be very good at foreign language study as there is virtually no difference between what they say and what she repeats.  She 's also getting to know her alphabet and numbers rather well.

On Thursday we drove up to Portland to spend the night before a morning flight to Las Vegas.  When we checked in at the Mark Spencer Hotel, the cute young man at the desk did all the paperwork and then said, "and we have had to upgrade you at no extra charge to an executive suite."  Sweet, indeed!

We have a number of blogger friends in Portland with whom we've had some great visits in the past and as I didn't want to have to choose, I proposed that we all get together at Clyde Commons, an excellent restaurant near our hotel.  It's noisy but the food is creative and excellent and the atmosphere wonderfully stimulating, including a number of real lookers among the wait staff.  Now when we moved into the suite,  Fritz suggested we get in some dessert and invite the guys up to the sweet after dinner, since there was a full kitchenette complete with refrigerator.  We went out to a local grocery and hit the ice cream case.  There were some of the usual brands, Breyers, etc., but I said that for this crowd, nothing less than Magnum would do, double entendre very much intended.

Fritz with the boys behind him: Rolfe and Stephen, Mark and Rodger, Blair and Arnie.  Thanks, guys for a delightful evening!

Friday was a travel day, two planes: Portland to LA, then on to Las Vegas for a big reunion of a very special class to which Fritz taught English and Drama, and whose members he directed in many productions in his first teaching position ever at Las Vegas High School (now Academy for the Arts).
Our connection at LAX was made tense by a shuttle bus for which we had to wait 45 minutes and which, when it came, circumnavigated virtually the entire perimeter of the vast airport to get us from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5.   But we made it and began a flight that looked down on vast areas of frighteningly dry and barren desert. 
The sudden end of the mountains and start of the dessert plain on which Las Vegas is built.

The opening event of the reunion was a reception dinner at a fine Mexican restaurant, with most if not all of Fritz's inner core group of actors and theater technicians.  Several of them have gone on to significant careers in the profession, especially . . .

. . . Ms Toni Basil.  Many of you will know her.  She is a dancer, and choreographer for Bette Midler, for Las Vegas shows and other special engagements.  Her videos on YouTube are delightful.  The hat is an original Elsa Schiaparelli from the 1950s.      

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


On Monday the 29th we put into port at the village on Baranoff Warm Springs Bay.  The community is tiny.  A waterfall tumbled into the bay to the left of the dock.  Several substantial homes clung to the steeply raked hillside on sturdy posts, but being down on the somewhat flatter land by the water’s edge was clearly no guarantee a house wouldn’t slide.

We began to ascend the hillside on beautifully constructed wooden steps through lush growths including the three foot long leaves of the giant skunk cabbage.  So far, so good. But the trail quickly became less wooden plank construction and more bare earth, large rocks and eventually steep climbs up and down on a tangle of tree roots, fallen trees, rocks and erosion.

We arrived at last at two natural rock pools right at the edge of where a highland lake’s water began its fall down to the Bay. 

The thermal spring’s water was up around 105 degrees as it flowed into the first pool, a bit lower after it had flowed into the second. 

There was a small unisex changing area but at least young man had decided to forego swimwear, just dropped trou and left it at that.  I was happy to discover that nobody in our group was at all uncomfortable with that. 

After soaking for twenty minutes, Fritz and I dressed; he stayed to talk with some of our shipmates while I took the five minute walk to the serene lake that was the waterfall’s source.

 On Tuesday the 30th we sailed north and began to see humpback whales with some frequency.  We were headed first to a particular junction among the island where whales were known to feed and when we arrived, several other boats were standing by for the communal feeding that pods of a dozen or so humpbacks do.  The feeding cycle goes like this:

Whales gather, their locations marked by the spouts from their blow holes.  When a sufficient number are present, they dive down to encircle a school of fish and krill, and drive them closer to the surface.  At this point, the action underwater and the arrival at the surface of the krill which are tiny crustaceans attracts gulls and other birds who circle the scene to get what they can snatch. 

The whales suddenly breach the surface, their mouths full of fish and krill, beating their flukes on the surface and sometimes trumpeting a long and deep feeding call.  After they’ve scattered to force the excess water out of their mouths and swallow their catch, the next round begins.

After lunch, we sailed to Tenakee Springs, a village with a population of 98 and something of an artist colony.  Several of the houses had a handmade look and gardens were plentiful.  The houses were spread along both sides of one long street that ran along the shore and were built surprisingly close together as if placed to create a tight community between the rainforest and the sea. 

The “center” of town was actually at one end of the main (only) street, dominated by the late 19TH Mercantile that maintained it’s original fixtures, hand-crank cash register and proudly featured in the window a 1940s box of Oxydol detergent in its distinctive blue and orange concentric circle box with the product name and nothing else.  It stood out on the grocery store shelf in its day and would do so again because of its bold geometric simplicity were it to be picked up again by one of Oxydol’s contemporary descendents.  The post office and a café that served as the town’s art gallery for works in watercolor, wool and other media completed the commercial zone.

The activity here was a roughly two mile hike through rain forest to a suspension bridge over the shallow, fast-moving Indian River -- perfect for salmon spawning.  The trail was easy enough to navigate, the forest filled with caves in the rock, trees growing or dying and rotting in all the bizarre they do in rain forests, and observation of wildlife.

After lunch we sailed to Pavlov’s Bay, where I took one of the boat’s kayak’s to a waterfall frequented by bears, the attraction for them being the fish ladder next to the falls. At happy hour the featured hors d’oeuvres were chicken and cheese quesedillas, which inspired me to shed my margarita virginity to very happy effect. We retired around 10pm, read in bed a bit and turned off the lights soon after.

I was awakened by a tumult of activity just before 11pm, particularly by a loud voice shouting “You’re going to hit our boat!” I looked out our cabin window to see a big white vessel about two feet from me, it’s bridge searchlight shining down on its bow, one of our crew standing inches from me on a six inch ledge along the hull, fending the other boat off, some of their crew scrambling fast to get bumpers hung along their hull to prevent impact.

From calls back and forth between the two vessels I pieced together that the white boat had anchored too close to ours, and that they’d been asleep with no watch posted for the night. Kayaks were launched to check for damage and to see if the anchor chains were fouled with each other while the other boat was cautiously backed away from ours. All this happened in a loud and exciting quarter of an hour.

Fritz slept soundly through the whole thing.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We gathered at 2pm Sunday afternoon at Sitka’s Totem Pole Square (which actually has no totem pole as it’s currently out to be repaired and restored by native Tinglit artists) for a tour to the Raptor Center, The Historical Park, the Museum and Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Cathedral, is actually a close replica of the original that dated to 1849 but was destroyed in 1966 by a fast-moving fire that started down the street and burned out a good amount of the city center.

As the rear of the Cathedral caught fire, parishioners broke down the locked doors and made a hand-to-hand lines to get all the icons, precious liturgical vestments and vessels, and the great chandelier to safety.   Aside from the building itself, only the bells and one painting were lost, a remarkable feat given that the structure was fully engaged in a mere 15 minutes.

Sitka is very aware and appreciative of its Russian cultural heritage.  The day before, we had visited the Russian Bishop’s House, it’s most famous inhabitant being a man who had come to New Archangel, as Sitka was then named, as a young missionary in 1834 and soon distinguished himself as a unique and enlightened figure interacting with the native population. 

Fr. Ivan Veniaminov believed that the Tlingit and other native peoples were godless but never considered them inferior, uncultured or in any way worthy of less than full respect and dignity.  He learned at least two of the native languages, translating the Bible into them, educating native children in their own languages, and welcoming native men into study for the priesthood.  He did not confuse the totem poles, which chronicle family history and Tlingit legends, with idolatry as did the later Protestant missionaries who introduced prejudice and oppression of native culture and language.

Fr. Veniaminov   became Bishop Innocent in 1841 moving into the newly completed Bishop's House in 1843.   He went on in 1867 to be named Metropolitan of Moscow, an enormous honor.  After his death in 1879, the Russian Orthodox Church in America petitioned the mother church in Russia to declare him Saint Innocent, which request was granted.

The Bishop’s House was built of heavy squared timbers with sophisticated insulation techniques to be the administrative center for a Russian Orthodox diocese that stretched from Siberia to Northern California on the first floor, and a gracious residence on the second.

In the 20th century the house was allowed to deteriorate gradually until its demolition seemed inevitable.  The National Park Service acquired it at the last moment, annexed it to the Historical Park and made an extensive structural and decorative restoration, including  recreation of the original wallpaper patterns by the original manufacturers in Russia.  The Finnish-built furniture was repaired and the house opened for visitation.

One of the visitors was Soviet Union Premiere Boris Yeltsin who came to Sitka with his wife, Naina Iosifovna Yeltsina who, in an era when religious belief was discouraged in Russia, maintained a strong personal devotion.  Guide John Fish showed us the lovely Chapel on the second floor and told us that while Boris was out in Sitka searching for a good bar, Mrs. Yeltsin toured the Bishop’s House, stared at the Chapel in wonder and then, as he put it, “moved in” and performed a 45 minute Orthodox service by herself and for herself, often deeply moved emotionally.  Would that Bishop Innocent could have seen it.


The Raptor Center is a major facility for treating Birds of Prey (eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, owls, etc.) that are injured and require surgery, medication, and flight rehabilitation.

We spent a half hour or so there, including a talk and introduction to Volta, the Center’s educational demonstration eagle.  Volta will never be released back into nature as his fractured wing bones had healed in the wild but had set in a configuration that would not let him fly.  The fragility of bird wings – they’re hollow to lessen skeleton weight -- rules out re-breaking and resetting them as the bones would shatter. 

Those birds whose injuries can be treated sufficiently to allow them to be released eventually, live in the huge flight training room where they’re able to build up strength and endurance in a somewhat natural environment that gives them plenty of space and perches for practice.   

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