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.

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