Pardon the profanity, but based on my extremely limited experience so far, I think the state nickname for Alaska could be “Alaska: We’re Not Making This Shit Up”. We landed in Juneau on Friday at 2:30 PM, and flying in was a jaw-dropping experience. Even before the descent, you could see mile upon mile of tall, snowy mountains, ocean, and small islands that look like they were once tall, snowy mountains but got swallowed up by the water. The Mendenhall Glacier (thanks, Anna, for remembering the name for me!) was visible from the plane.
As I was sitting on the flight from Seattle to Juneau, a cheerful-looking girl with a violin and curly blond
hair walked onto the plane. We both recognized each other from the Internet at the same time, and we smiled and waved in passing. It was in fact Emily, my fellow intern. She’s a recent college graduate and history major from Lewis and Clark College, and after spending the afternoon with her yesterday, I can tell it’s going to be a fun summer.
Once you land at the Juneau airport (which is the second tiniest I have ever been to—the one in Moncton, New Brunswick is smaller, but not by much), you’re greeted by stuffed bears in display case, as a reminder that yes, they do have bears here. During dinner with the museum founder (Dave) and his wife (Carol) on our first night, they casually mentioned that there was bear repellant at the museum should we decide to take it with us while hiking. My mother had posed a very good question regarding bear repellant earlier this week—if you have to be close enough to the bear to shoot it in the face with bear repellant, aren’t you probably already a goner? I asked Dave, and he admitted that he’s never had occasion to use it, but he does carry a shotgun with him everywhere he goes. (To which I responded, “Wait…seriously?” He was serious.)
Dave and Carol are probably the most capable people I’ve ever met. Dave whips together contraptions made out of hammers and junk he collects, works as a longshoreman and hauls in cruise ships, and Carol grows every vegetable on the planet. Both of them, it
sounds like, can fix just about anything. They lived without electricity or running water for 15 years, so they know how to carve together a living from scarce resources. Emily and I both felt kind of sheepish when they asked us if we knew how to use Facebook. Because yes, of course we can, but that doesn’t really seem like something to brag about in comparison. They put together the Hammer Museum with their own collection, and they fixed the building up themselves (I’m going to footnote the museum here—it is spectacular and deserves its own post. I’ll give you a picture for now).
But back to the scenery for a moment…we took a Cessna with Wings of Alaska up to Haines from Juneau, and it was kind of like riding in a big kite. You could feel the wings balancing, and you could definitely feel when the wind started to shift. Apparently (as I was informed upon landing), we got the “big” plane—it was an 8-seater as opposed to a 4-seater, and the 4-seaters are even bumpier. It was a beautiful day for flying, and as we casually flew by soaring mountains, you could see small waterfalls of melting snow on the mountainsides.
A man on board, who is a native of Alaska, used to work as an engineer on boats in the area. After sailing all around the world, he told us, he can say that the worst weather on the planet is right in the area we were flying over (the Lynn Canal is the name for that stretch of water). Apparently in the winter, wind gusts of up to 100 mph and temperatures well below 0 make for a terrifying ride. “You’d never know a wave could get so big,” he said, and at a certain point, it’s so cold that turning around is not an option, so you just have to sail forward and hope for the best. “But we never killed a passenger,” he added, “though we did run over one fishing boat.” That, he told us with a grin, is why he was taking the plane.
The “commuter planes” here are kind of like giant flying trucks. They deliver people, but also food. I saw some take-out containers in the cargo area, so I’m not sure if you can order food from Juneau and have it delivered by plane…? This seems unlikely, but I’ll have to verify. So rather than going straight to Haines, we stopped to drop people and cargo off in Skagway. Skagway is 12 miles away from Haines via boat or plane, and it’s 350 miles away by car. Dave mentioned that we’ll get to visit in the next couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to it (NB: When you hop off the plane in Skagway, everything smells like fish.) A woman who had been on my flight from Phoenix wound up on the same plane with us, and she’ll be working retail there for the summer. She told us that the town gets 900,000 cruise visitors a year and that 900 people permanently live there. What I briefly saw of Skagway gels pretty well with what I’ve heard about it (“It’s quirky,” the boat engineer told us), and I look forward to seeing it.
I should also add that I originally wrote this post 4:30 AM because I woke up with the sun at about 3:45 AM. When I fell asleep around 9:45, the sun had disappeared, but the sky was still pretty light. I looked it up, and apparently Barrow, AK, gets all sunlight all summer and no sunlight all winter, so I count myself lucky to be on the southern end of the state. The winters here are also tempered by the presence of the ocean, so it’s rare in Juneau for the temperature to dip below 0 (at least according to what I’ve read).
I’ve got more to write about, but I’ll save it for later! We start work tomorrow (with training and a board meeting), and the museum is set to open on Wednesday, when the first cruise ship docks.