Same Destination, Different Path

The sun breaks through, faces turning upward, mouths open, drinking in the sunshine.  A respite, finally. No better way to leave. We’re on the Alaska Ferry’s equivalent of the milk run. The grand tour of southeast Alaska with little concern for time of day. Juneau at 4 am, Hoonah at 9, Sitka in the evening, in and out of Kake under the cover of night. Weaving through the mouse maze. West, east, and slowly, tantalizingly south.
We’re not alone. High school volleyball and wrestling teams are bedded down in every lounge when we stagger aboard in the early morning twilight. It had been my idea to stay up until our 4 am departure from Juneau, a decision I’ve been regretting since midnight. Through bleary eyes, sleep clinging to our eyelids we maneuver the minefield of snoozing adolescents, looking for any gap on the floor for a pair of sleeping pads.
Mercifully teenagers aren’t early risers, and most of us are still asleep when the purser’s desk begins to scold us over the intercom in a voice reminiscent of Mr. Feeny. “It’s time to turn these lounges back into lounges! Chaperones, get those lounges cleaned up!”
He must get a kick back every time he says lounge. But as I look around the room at the draped arms and legs protruding out of the corners and between seats, I’d say the room is living up to its name the way it is.
By the time we’re squeezing through the minuscule pass between Baranof and Chichagof Islands, the sun is burning through the fog, the day turning from Late October to June in minutes. With the shore just yards away from both sides of the boat we curl up on the solarium and let Alaska dazzle us for the countless time. Ravens chatter in the woods like invisible sentinels. A pair of Kingfisher’s chase each other above the treetops, their punk rock haircuts matching the throaty screeches perfectly. A humpback surfaces. The hemlocks grow tightly together. Every now and than a flash of red among the green, a Cedar. An outlier, we’ll be surrounded by them soon. As if magnetically drawn by the sun’s cameo, the high schoolers filter to the open deck.
Electronics are sparse among them. In the cafeteria playing cards appear, they talk, joke, laugh, are kids. Not drones with their head’s pulled down to an HD screen with the world around them invisible. It makes me smile. No cell service, unplugged from the world but not each other. When phones do appear it’s to take pictures of the scenery, often with them and their friends in the foreground.
Selfies are the new currency of flirting. All a boy must do to receive the attention of his chosen girl pack is leap into the photo, eager to participate in the immortalization of the moment through the magic of sim cards and 10 GB hard drives. Can’t say I’d so anything different if I was them.
The water stays calm as we leave Ketchikan in the evening and push into Canadian waters. Once again, we leave under the cover of night as the ferry pulls into Prince Rupert at 4 in the morning. This means crossing the border and explaining what the hell we’re doing in this country will be done through two sleep deprived and bloodshot eyes. We’re fourth in line getting off the ferry and I scarf down our remaining two apples for breakfast in lieu of turning them over.     We reach the customs lady and I roll down the window. Usually Porter sees any open window as a gateway to his god given freedom. And after two days confined to the car I expected Brittney to have to pin him down to keep him from crawling up the lady’s uniform. But he sits politely on Brittney’s lap, the perfect gentleman, as if understanding the gravity of the situation and our history with cranky and stoic border guards.
But they seem as groggy as us. The only loss is the little pink can of mace Brittney has had on her key chain since she worked mornings at a coffee shop. Bear spray, we’re told, would’ve been permissible, but since her mace was designed to use on humans, we were a threat to the unsuspecting Canadian citizens.
The inhabitants of Prince Rupert spared a terrible mace induced terrorist attack, we drive into the sleeping town. It’s too much to hope that our pet friendly hotel would leave their door unlocked at 5 am. So we grab coffee and hole up in the parking lot, waiting for the sun to rise and the lights to come on.
It feels good to be transient again. With our bags piled up behind Penny’s house in the back of the Pathfinder, the cat on our lap. Home is the four of us together. Two hours later the door unlocks and we record history’s earliest hotel check in, dropping our bags on the floor and collapsing onto the beds. Penny leaps euphorically as she hops into every corner, free of her house for the first time in 48 hours. Everything must be smelled, tasted… and chewed. With a $200 pet deposit we watch her like a hawk.
Brittney retreats to the shower, our hot water days numbered, and I watch Porter try to keep his eyes open as he curls up on the bed. The simplicity of my joy, my contentedness, brings peace. We search for happiness everywhere, sometimes demanding much, sometimes little. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an early check in, a sleeping cat, and the knowledge that no matter where I go with these three, I’m already home.

Advertisements

Porter Supertramp

Porter stares longingly out the sliding door. Like a kid with his face pressed against the glass, watching the rain fall in sheets for the second straight week. Frustrated, he paws at the door until we open it. Outside he stops short of the soaked grass, rain pelting the tin roof, reminding him, all of us, that summer is over. With a dejected look he walks back into the warmth.
It’s been that sort of fall in southeast Alaska. Sometime in August the heavens opened the floodgates and it hasn’t stopped raining since. Puddles litter the dirt roads and driveways like little lakes. Rivers flow between them, connecting them, turning the road into a washboard, car shocks moaning in protest, CDs skipping.
And once again, we’re on the move. Packing this, debating that, Porter and Penny wide eyed with alarm. Moving again? At least this time the posters can stay on the wall, unneeded clothes can hang in the closet. Last summer every box and duffel had to return to the exact same spot in the Pathfinder or it wouldn’t fit. Not this time. We have a whole year of our lives meticulously planned. We know where we’re coming back to. Where our next paycheck is coming from. Sell outs.
But for now it’s time to wander. To cheer silently when the beat up old Pathfinder coughs to life. The cat taking his position in the driver’s lap, Penny poking her nose through the gaps in her house, always looking forward. It’s time for ferries, lunches out of plastic bags, for Prince Rupert to have hotels with lenient pet policies. Most importantly, it’s time for Hanson Island. For quiet coves and sleepy sunrises, Harlequin ducks chittering good morning. For silent walks through the forest, listening to the whispered messages of the cedars. It’s felt like a lifetime since we were there, or maybe just yesterday, it varies.
How much longer do we want to do this? Whenever we talk about what we’re going to do “going forward,” the subject settles on buying property, settling, wrapping ourselves in Gustavus’ warm embrace. Hanson Island stops us cold. Reminding us of town runs, sea lion haul outs, and transients on Critical Point at 3:00 in the morning. And we know we’re stuck. That houses will have to wait. We have the rest of our lives to be domesticated. To fence ourselves in. We’ll be ready someday. Ready to drop our roots among the birch on the glacial outwash near the bay we love so much.
But not yet. We understand that what we have on that little island is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That a chance like this will never come around again. How do you willingly give that up? I don’t think we can. So when people ask if this is our last winter there we smile and shake our heads.
“Probably not.” We answer. “Paul and Helena may have to kick us out.”
When do you know that you’re ready? What if we’re destined to bounce between two places that we love forever, unable to commit? What a beautiful problem to have. Some winter it’ll feel right. We’ll stay put. We’ll go to every Gustavus potluck, every fundraiser, make new friends, discover what we never knew we had. But Hanson Island will forever be a part of us. An essential nutrient in our life. A place we’ll always long for, always love.
Right now I can’t wait to get back. To wrap myself in that island as long as I can, to enjoy it for as long as possible, knowing that our time there has an expiration date. That worrying about it won’t make it any better. Nothing to do but take as deep a breath as I can, savor every sunrise, every 50 knot storm, every night hauling the boat up the beach on the rising tide. Because we’ll never get to live like this again.

Sea World, Blue World, Where in the World do we Go From Here?

After much posturing, debating, and protesting, the end of Sea World is in sight… kind of. Last week, the California Coastal Commission approved Sea World’s new “Blue World” expansion which would nearly double the size of the orca’s pools at the San Diego location. Approval comes with an enormous catch, Sea World would be forbidden from breeding orcas of wild lineage or housing more than 15 orcas in the new pools. We’ll bypass Sea World’s bleats about depriving the whales of their right to breed as “inhumane and unnatural” (nothing more natural than artificial insemination) to avoid the risk of choking on irony, and discuss where Sea World, and its opponents go from here.

“It’ll all be over in a few decades,” I thought. But rereading the Commissions vague restrictions I had more questions than answers. Sea World can build the tanks, but it cannot be populated with whales containing genetic material from wild whales or whales captured in the wild. Every Sea World orca, at least that I can find, has at least a grandparent of captive origin. The DNA of free whales runs through the veins of every whale in those pools. Technically, no one qualifies for the Blue World pool.

What the commission is implying I believe, is no offspring whose parents were born in the wild can reside in the new enclosure. No sons or daughters of Tillikum or Corky. Second generation, captive born whales would qualify for the new enclosure is my understanding. Which raises even more questions. For example, what does Sea World do with Corky, the northern Resident female from A5 pod who was captured in 1969? If wild caught orcas don’t qualify, Sea World would be looking at transporting her across country to Orlando or San Antonio. As would her tank mates Orkid, Ulises, Kasatka, Nakai, Ikaika, Keet, and Shouka. A massive whale shuffle would be on Sea World’s hands to move captive born animals to San Diego.

But the ruling also prohibits the trade or transfer of whales to and from the park. Does this include transfer of whales between San Diego and the other two locations? No article that I could find specifies. But if you cannot move any whales in or out of the San Diego location, why the stipulation on the genetics? The ruling needs more specificity before Sea World or animal rights activists can truly claim victory.

We have tragically reached a point where most of these whales cannot go home. For many, Sea World is the closest thing they’ll have. A cocktail of Icelandic, Resident, and even Transient have been stirred into the genetic cauldron leaving many of the park’s inhabitants with no identity. Refugees of the natural world. While the argument can rage about how Corky or Tillikum would fare if they were returned, there is no such case for the majority of Sea World’s prisoners. Where does an Icelandic/Resident mix go? And what pod would even consider accepting this man made whale Frankenstein?

The Commissions ruling is a ray of hope. It may not lead to the quick death of orca exploitation, but it’s a step in the right direction. I would love to see a more concise ruling on what Sea World can and cannot do with the additional 4 million gallons of tank they wish to build. If it means that those eleven whales in San Diego are the last ones that have to endure captivity on the west coast, fantastic. Maybe Sea World would even try to save face and agree to a net pen retirement for Corky. But if all it means is that Sea World has to shuffle whales a little more across the country, than little has been done but increase the number of mom and calf separations.

Sea World is slowly fading, but they’ve made it clear that they will not go quietly. An appeal will probably emerge, we’ll hear more about how wonderfully they treat their animals, and ticket sales will continue to drop. Let us continue to diplomatically educate those that buy tickets and boycott those that sponsor them (No Budweiser till Corky’s out!). The animal rights movement has moved at an exponential pace the past few years and I can’t wait to see where it leads next.