Today we start out in thick fog and cut through cold northerly winds toward Baird Glacier. While we proceed, our naturalist, Jason, gives us an overview of marine mammals that we’ve encountered so far on the trip and what we can expect out on the ice.
When we arrive at the glacier, the fog has cleared but it’s much colder. We head out on the skiff covered in wet weather gear and warm layered clothing. The slog out to the ice is through thick moss and deep loose sand. I’m amazed by the beautiful flowers, lichen, and moss that manage to find a way to survive out on the moraine’s silty soil. I pick up some skipping stones. They’re polished greens, reds, and ambers, the product of years of grinding by the massive ice flow. In reality, we only get to stand on a block of ice near the glacier rather than on the top. Jason explains it’s too dangerous to actually walk on the icy surface without special gear. I understand, but am disappointed nonetheless. After an hour, we’re taken back to the Island Spirit.
We cruise down the sound under blue skies. On the way, we view sea lions basking in the sun on the harbor markers lighting the way into town.
We port in Petersburg, which is a Norwegian settlement on Kupreanoff Island. It’s the clearest day and night since we left Juneau, and the only time we’ve actually docked overnight anywhere, so everyone heads into town to check it out. It’s a fishing/cannery village, and there is one pizza parlor and two bars open on this Saturday night. I walk the length and breadth of the city. It’s remarkably well maintained, which isn’t so surprising, since the city once had the most millionaires per capita, thanks to the fishing industry, of any in Alaska. Yes, people in America actually used to make lots of money working with their hands! The asphalt roads are in great shape, and there are other signs of prosperity: a couple of neat churches, late model trucks, a nice-looking school, new housing construction, even some waterfront condominiums for sale. But there are also what appear to be housing projects, with itinerants or vagrants hanging out around them, and they look more like native Atlantans than native Alaskans to me. I later learn, somewhat to my relief, that they leave the town once the season is over, but I’m left to wonder why the native sons and daughters can’t do the job that the imports do.
As I stroll through town, I meet some people: a crew from another, even smaller cruise ship, some kids roller blading, and, as night falls, a young man headed for home across the harbor. I look out at the black night and remember the image of a grounded vessel with a crushed hull on the other shore, and hope he knows what he’s doing. I’m sure he does. It seems most everyone up here has come to know and accept that risks are part of the price you pay to live in such wild beauty. From my perspective, it seems well worth the trade-off to me, but then, I’ve never lived through an Alaskan winter.