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Dodging Icebergs

Has your summer been fun and exciting so far? Are you having wonderful boating adventures?

Earlier this month, I was aboard an airboat in Alaska! That was a new experience for me.

I traveled to the state for a joyful occasion, my oldest nephew’s wedding. In the days that followed, other family members and I enjoyed time together as tourists. We rented a wonderful house on Big Lake near Wasilla. It provided us a convenient home base, a comfortable place to relax, and wonderful sunsets…after 11 PM! It also offered opportunities to fish, swim, or go boating (had we packed a boat). We saw eagles circle overhead. Ravens swooped and scolded. It was a beautiful setting.

A highlight was a sightseeing tour to the Knik Glacier a short drive from where we stayed – or alternatively, 50+ miles east of Anchorage. I don’t dispute that our tour operator does indeed have the best job in the world; he declared that before we set out, and I’ll let it go unchallenged. His company takes visitors from around the world out to see the glacier four to five months out of the year. The scenery is amazing and pristine, yet ever-changing. Access to the area is limited, so there are seldom others there.

Our adventure that day began aboard a no-frills, no-seatbelts, military-style flatbed truck which transported us over a rugged dirt road, approached a river, paused, then surprisingly drove into the water. That move generated laughter and a few screams, as well as some fun photo opportunities. We were then impressively ferried over and through several formidable creeks/rivers; punctuated with additional bumpy and winding road. The excitement continued even after we were eventually conveyed to two boats that awaited.

Our party numbered fourteen; we were divided at that point between the airboat and another sturdy, yet fast little vessel. We soon found ourselves zipping around increasing, and increasingly larger, chunks of ice as we approached the glacier. Then, towering icebergs came into view. The two most prominent and memorable ones had a blue hue, rather than white as I’ve come to expect. Our guide explained that the bluish portions had been submerged until earlier that morning when a big chunk had “calved” – thus causing the remainder of the formation to rise up higher out of the water.

We pulled to shore and they tethered the boats so we could hike up for better views. We did so, and stood and/or sat along a ridge overlooking what we had seen from below. This perspective confirmed that our boats were truly dwarfed by the ice chunks and formations we had seen. The scope of melting, floating pieces was seemingly endless. We also had visibility to the many different types and textures of the snow and ice formations, some angled and sharp; and the vastness of the glacier beyond. Aside from our conversations and the occasional distant sounds of small “flightseeing” planes, it was completely quiet.

Our guides confirmed what I’ve read and heard in the news. This glacier and others are receding at a rate not seen before. We had hoped to see wildlife on the tour, but learned that bears, moose and other animals are sparse because they aren’t protected. Changes to hunting regulations, have caused those populations outside of parks to seriously dwindle. In the same way that I notice and sense subtle, less dramatic changes in my own environment, he described some of the impacts he has seen since he’s been there – overhunting, especially the legal decimation of bears. It was a sad moment on this otherwise wonderful trip.

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This was the first time I’ve seen icebergs in real life (or IRL, as the younger members of our party might say). Though, I’ve long found the concept and metaphor of icebergs intriguing.

On this trip, I was reminded that so much of our personalities and our past experiences – like icebergs — are not visible or known to others, even those we consider close to us. Case in point: two of my college-age nieces had no idea that I’d been in Alaska before, much less had significant experiences there. Conversely, I was also unaware of some important changes and experiences in their lives.

Aside from our trip to the glacier, thoughts on what each of us considered to be “the best” parts of the overall trip were insightful. One niece and her husband were beyond thrilled to catch (and release) a huge salmon on our final morning there. Some of the younger ones might cite the wedding itself, perhaps the dancing, as the best. Others, would nominate the grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup that they prepared together for lunch one day at the lake house. Parents in our group might cite seeing their offspring genuinely having fun, IRL, as the best thing. S’mores around a bonfire, time in the hot tub, a football game in which I managed to be the videographer (as opposed to a crash-test dummy), and some lively games and stories at the lake house might also rise to the top of that list.

I enjoyed the moments of true silence at the lake house and at the glacier. The Night Owl in me loved the “midnight sun,” while some others in the group lamented the lack of light-blocking curtains in their bedrooms. My non-morning-person-self was thrilled that my cloak of invisibility…or scary bedhead…kept everyone at bay until after I’d had my morning coffee.

Letting go of harbored illusions and worries is also high on my list of bests. The notion that things need to be a certain way sometimes must gracefully yield to what is. My nephew’s outdoor wedding was eventually moved indoors due to incessant, torrential rain that day…yet, it was nonetheless, wonderful. My worries about traveling and flying alone also proved to be a non-issue. I had a wonderful seat companion, who made me wish the flight was longer.

Cheers to dodging, and examining, those real and metaphorical icebergs! And, cheers to more summer adventures ahead of us!

Karen Berge

Karen Berge

I enjoy living in Seattle, where boating opportunities abound. My goal is to take advantage of them all!
Karen Berge

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