A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor

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Cruise Journal

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August 22, 2005
A pleasant, overcast day in Boston and we set out on the cruise as people in my gene group always have, with serious trepidations. Serious trepidations include the fear of falling off the stern at 2 a.m. and bobbing in the north Atlantic and watching the festive lights disappear over the horizon, also icebergs, of course, and German U-boats, hurricanes—Irene is gone, but there's Jasper, Katrina, Lois, and Marvin to think about—the Tsunami, the big kahuna, and so forth.

Trepidations serve to heighten the pleasure of travel. Mother always worried about the possibility of having left the iron on. This fear occupied her for 30 minutes or so as we drove down the road until finally Dad said, "Well, do you want to turn around or not?" and she said, "Let's just go," and that resolved it.

You imagine the worst as a preventative measure, to make yourself a smaller target for the evil eye, but also as a sort of hairshirt moment, for the pleasure of removing the hairshirt and putting on a T-shirt and dark glasses and shorts and stretching out on a steamer chair and inhaling salt air and looking forward to the first lobster sandwich.

Ah, the sea! Today we work our way "down" the Nova Scotia coast. The term "down east" comes from the fact that the prevailing winds in the summer are from the southwest, and that, going from Boston to Maine, or beyond, would be going toward the east, downwind or, "down east."

After getting around Cape Sable Island on the southwest corner of Nova Scotia, we head East Northeast, leaving Lunenburg and Halifax to port and Sable Island to starboard.

Sable Island is a 26-mile long, one-mile wide shifting sand spit that is one of the places that have earned the name "Graveyard of the Atlantic." The lifesaving station there was a busy place 100 years ago. Eventually, with the invention of radar and electronic navigation along with motor-propelled vessels, Sable Island no longer needed a lifesaving station. Now there is a small population of scientists (maybe five or six) that collects meteorological and marine biological data.

In addition to its many shipwrecks, Sable Island is also famous for its population of about 300 wild horses. It is also the setting for a popular Thomas Raddall romance novel, The Nymph and the Lamp.

Make sure to get out and enjoy the sea.
—John Arrison

As predicted, the sun rose at 5:43 a.m. We arrived on deck to a dozen intrepid nature lovers, whose numbers quickly swelled to nearly 50-and in the pea soup fog at that. We can only imagine what will happen when the morning dawns, crisp and clear.

During our time on deck, we observed: Leache's Storm-Petrels, Northern Gannet, Greater Shearwaters. We also observed the ubiquitous Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. However, the highlight of the morning was a Pomarine Jaeger, a wicked exciting life bird for Natalie and several of the passengers.

For those of you adventurous enough to rise with the sun, please join us at sunrise every morning to observe Nature's offerings (fog, rain or shine).

—Rich MacDonald and Natalie Springuel

My husband and I are on a long overdue honeymoon. Saturday evening we watched the fog roll in on our veranda as we finally set sail. There was a fabulous fireworks display in Boston's North End.

Just when we thought the moment couldn't get better, an arm appeared around the rail from the room next to us. The hand held a bottle of champagne; our neighbors had just finished toasting their 30th anniversary and offered us the rest of the bottle.

Bon Voyage!
   — D.N. Pick
Gollybum! Who would have thought it? Here I am, a shy, mild-mannered mountain boy out on the ocean with Garrison Keillor and 1,196 of his friends.

Day one was fun. We made it on board the Maasdam and, somewhat bewildered by it all, got underway for Bar Harbor, Maine, at about 8:30 p.m. We gathered at the stern rail to watch Boston dwindle away with fireworks from Fenway Park, lighting up the night sky.

Shortly after we set sail, an orange-colored skiff marked "Pilot" came chasing after us and, coming alongside, allowed a brave man to jump from our deck to his. It was an interesting afternoon on board ship. We did our "Titanic" disaster drill, bumping into each other like penguins, as we toddled to our lifeboat stations, wearing bulky life preservers.

So here we are, all gathered from the mountains and the prairie, on this ocean, white with foam; so God bless America, my home, sweet home!
   —W. Miller
As we ascended Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the highest mountain on the East Coast, at 1,500 feet above sea level, our guide was hopeful the fog would lift. It was beginning to move, but alas, we were greeted by more fog & mist at the vista. Ironically, at the point where we should have seen the most, we could only see our shoe tops!
   —C. Marquardt

August 23, 2005 (back to top)
We spent the whole day on the ship yesterday, and we're enjoying ourselves more and more. We've unpacked our luggage, made friends over dinner, ripped up the dance floor and gone swimming in the saltwater pool. Buffets all day. Music all night. Kind people in the elevators. A constant gentle rocking, with a light rain hitting the windows, and little friendly waves kicking at our heels. This is our home for now.

After wandering around Bar Harbor two days ago, we tendered back to the boat, fresh blueberry ice cream still dripping down our chins. When you return somewhere from a trip, that somewhere starts to feel like home. We're settling in quite well. We know the trick about the 7th floor by now. You have to go up one or down one to get to the other side. But it's OK, because you might bump into a new friend on the way.

So together we glide up the coast, eager for the adventures ahead, happy to spend more time with each other sipping iced tea on the Promenade.

Ten years ago, I proposed to the woman who is now my wife in a cozy bar in downtown Charlottetown, P.E.I. This cruise is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our marriage, and revisit the place that is in one sense where it all got started.
   —L. Florence
We people on the Prairie Home Companion cruise are not so young and pretty as we once were. We are aging together in ways that carry particular graces, I suppose. Graces which in their own way are better than the elbowing conceit of youth.

While we may no longer be all that young or all that pretty, we have saved our money and spent it well in coming together to enjoy the simple graces of our lives and the values we all share.
   —R. Talbot
Another long-held dream realized: Bicycling along the Carriage Roads in Acadia! We've visited Acadia twice, over many years' span, hearing about the Carriage Roads, but not having the opportunity to bike them.

We picked up our reserved bikes, hopping onto the park bus, and had a very pleasant ride around Eagle Lake and Witches Hole, a distance of about eight miles (with much up and down!). Not bad for a pair of septuagenarians!
   —B. Johnson
Day three, and the pleasures of the APHC cruise may be raising some guilty feelings among the Norwegians among us, or even a Dane like me.

I don my neuroscientist cap to offer an antidote: Experiments show that stimulating environments increase the rate of producing new nerve cells. The survival of new neurons is enhanced by neurotrophins generated by exercise and learning new material.

So if any feelings of guilt creep in, remember what good things this week is doing for your brain.

And enjoy!
   —C. Christensen
My cabin is highly conducive to sleeping, even napping. It's nice and cool and really, really dark when I want it to be. The switch by the bed kills all the lights no matter what switch I used to turn them on. I love that!

The rocking motion—so pesky for those of us not accustomed to the combination of high heels and champagne—cradles and comforts me when I lie down.

So much to do outside the cabin, and so much not to do inside—a delightful dilemma, to be sure.
   —L. Gilman
We were "tendered" to Bar Harbor after breakfast, about 9:30. It was foggy when we docked and continued so while we toured the town's shops and its excellent museum of the American Indian culture in the Northeast.

The fog lifted about noon, long enough for us to take some lovely pictures of the harbor, and our ship, the Maasdam. We each had a bowl of delicious lobster bisque, then returned to the ship for a nap.

As we prepare for bed, the winds are at "force 5" (brisk), up from "force 3" (gentle breeze). The seas have a "slight chop" (up from "calm"). I hope we sleep well as our ship rocks and rolls us toward our Charlottetown, PEI, destination Tuesday.

Fogbound, we sail on...
   —W. & S. Miller

August 24, 2005 (back to top)
Canada greeted us with open arms, as our massive ship pulled up to port at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, an unassuming coastal village known as the home of Anne of Green Gables. We climbed off the boat and scattered on to various adventures. Bus tours. Lobster rolls. Long strolls along a rocky coast. And when we came back to the ship, we had stories to tell at dinner.

The day began with overcast skies, threatening more grey. But by noon the sun parted the clouds, and for the first time, we can see the shore while we read poetry in our lawn chairs on the deck. Every now and then you put your book down and walk up to the rail, because Natalie points out a notable bird diving into the water. Or because you have to see the glorious glow the sunset casts on the water behind us.

A happy couple cuddles up to each other, gazing out at the vast glistening ocean. Three new friends strike up a conversation in the hot tub. A family dresses for dinner. A young musician practices for Thursday's talent show. And we all sail merrily along.

Cape Brenton Island was known as Ile Royale after the treaty of Utrecth, which marked the end of the War of Spanish Succession in 1713. Ile Royale and Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) became the two largest French holdings in what had been a much more expansive Acadia.

The French consolidated on Ile Royale and settled a town and built a great fortress named after the French "Sun King," Louis XIV. Though Louisbourg wasn't very grand by the time of Louis XIV's death in 1715, it was to become by the 1730s an important French outpost until its final fall to the British in 1758.

Back in the 1720s, the French first found coal deposits in the Sydney area. Coal mining, in the 19th to 20th century, became the biggest industry, swelling the area's population from 2,500 to more than 20,000 between 1890 and 1915. The growth came also in conjunction with the finding of Newfoundland iron ore and the building of great steel mills in Sydney.

The industry, though, didn't bring prosperity to most of the population, as the miners were paid hardly a subsistence wage. The battle between miners and the corporation, and later the government, ultimately resulted in more losers than winners, with the mines closing four years ago.

North Sydney was, in the 19th century, an important shipping and shipbuilding town. It remains important, as it is the Nova Scotia terminus of Newfoundland's lifeline, the ferries.

My husband and I have always admired the Canadian people and today we discovered another reason to do so.

While exploring Charlottetown, we plunked ourselves down on a park bench outside Province House. When we left a bit later, we inadvertently left our camera.

About 20 minutes later, we discovered our error and went back to the bench. A couple from Nova Scotia told us a local had taken our camera and left a large note with his name and phone number.

Thanks to John Cathcart, a Canadian government employee, we have our camera and our memories back.
   —A. Noble
Being on the PHC Cruise for me is better than attending a fantasy baseball camp with Hank Aaron, Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle.

As we prepare to go ashore in Charlottetown, P.E.I., I appreciate that the time is passing quickly, and I'm doing my best to savor every minute.

The service on board the Maasdam is phenomenal and courteous. What's even more remarkable to me is the sense of community I'm experiencing. There's a palpable camaraderie among the cast and crew of PHC, which is inspiring in its own right. There's something even larger, though.

The self-selected folks onboard this cruise share a deeper affinity. In a world yearning for community and connection, this experience creates a world of possibility, where creativity, whimsy and kinship flourish. The characters and plot lines from a mythical town and cast of radio characters link us together in a powerful way.

For me, it instills a sense of hope that when we disembark we will be able to bring a lightness and "spring in our step" to a strife-torn world that needs more light.
   —B. Lindberg
Our only "problem" is a choice—whether to eat yet another snack, to dance, to sing, to listen or to disembark. None of these dilemmas is a serious question. It all seems designed to keep us very busy so we don't think about unpleasant things, like global warming or the state of education and social welfare. We'll consider it all soon enough. Meanwhile, this is a four-star (out of four) experience.
   —C & E Bell
Yesterday on my 52nd birthday, I made the observation that my heavily salted head of hair is part of the majority here on the ship unlike home where no one else seems to have started to turn gray at all.
May your woe be gone and your heart be light as you sing and dance away the night.

August 25, 2005 (back to top)
Like Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, we drove our ship up to Cape Breton Island and unloaded in the town of Sydney. A quiet place with no pretension, it wasn't the quaint tourist destination that the other places have been. But you could tell it's been lived in, if not often visited. People went off on excursions, and some reported they saw puffins and seals on Bird Island.

As sun set and the boat sailed away, we noticed a helicopter circling our ship, only inches away from chopping through the glass windows of the dining room. It was only a drill, but enough to make a few people exchange concerned glances with their dinner companions.

We have one day left on shore, and one day at sea. By now we all know how to best enjoy ourselves, and it's encouraging to remember that cruise days are long days. There are adventures still ahead, people to meet and many a song to play.

My first time to Halifax, I went by sailboat. One of my favorite memories of that trip was when we were sailing home, leaving Halifax Harbor. The fog was thick and we were motoring into the wind. All of a sudden, like a door opening into the post, the fog lifted just enough for us to see the great fishing schooner Bluenose II, gracefully and majestically sailing "wing-and-wing" downwind, right toward me.

No, there was no fear of collision, except for a collision of times. The new fiberglass yacht under power didn't belong in the realm of beauty and spirit of this replica of the 1921 143-foot grande dame of Nova Scotia.

Despite the hard life at sea aboard the original Bluenose, we knew that, even with the modern conveniences on our new boat, we could never know such spirit that thrived as the Bluenose played with wind and water.
   —John Arroson

"A fin! A fin!" A voice was heard from the direction of the bridge. We looked to the bridge, where a hand pointed to 11:00. We had a brief but exhilarating look at a pair of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. This relative of the Killer Whale is a common dolphin in the open waters along our route.

Thanks to the persistence of all those early risers, we now have our first whale sighting (dolphins are a toothed whale).

The dolphins were quickly followed by a pair of Gray Seals. These seals, which can grow to 7 ½ feet long, have heads shaped to suggest their colloquial name: horsehead.

Our proximity to Sydney Harbor afforded abundant bird sightings. As we steamed into port, we saw: Northern Gannet, Bonapartes, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls, a flock of Common Eider and Double-crested Cormorant (locally known as the shag).
   —Rich MacDonald and Natalie Springuel

Oh no! Only two more days on this cruise. After a night of Beau Soleil, Prudence, the All-Star Shoe Band and dancing, I slept in for the first time this morning. Then I swam in the salt-water pool, walked around the deck, ate a late breakfast outside and gazed at Sydney: white steeples, white houses, pointed roofs, a rocky shore, fishing boats and sailboats floating nearby, calm waters and puffy clouds framing the city.
   —S. Sheiffield
The biggest complaint this old curmudgeon has: There are too many great choices and not enough time, or energy, to do it all. It is like being a young boy again, being offered all the ice cream I can eat. There are too many flavors!
   —N.L. Baumwart
The serendipity of having the Maasdam as our ship was incredible. Several years ago my eldest child, only daughter, Chris, and I went on a three-day Vancouver visit and then the Inner Passage cruise together on the Maasdam. It was a memorable time. After a valiant battle with cancer, she passed away in the fall of '04 and here I am, on the same ship, the same deck as before—beautiful.
This trip has been a dream come true. My husband and I are in our early 20s and enjoy spending our Saturday evenings tuned into PHC. Sometimes I can even convince my husband to dance with me in our living room while we listen to music. When we announced to our parents that we were going on this cruise, they told us we would probably be one of few "younger" couples. They were right. But everything about this cruise—the music and other entertainment, the seminars—has been amazing. And the people have been amazing, too. In our daily lives in Nebraska, when we mention PHC to our peers, we rarely find that they know what we are talking about. And now, to be on this ship with people who share some of our same interests and passions, we are definitely in good company.
   —K. Cline
We spoke to our daughter in Minneapolis today and told her what a wonderful time we are having. She was incredulous to hear that her parents, who are usually in bed and asleep by 9:30, have been up until 1 a.m. three nights in a row, singing and dancing and carrying on.

August 26, 2005 (back to top)
One of the highlights of this trip so far has been the heavy fog of Sunday and now the rain showers in Halifax, which only proves that we're in the north Atlantic. The Canadian Coast Guard's helicopter drill in Sydney harbor, dropping three rescuers onto the bow deck as the chopper held position above the moving ship for 20 minutes, was another. To some people seated to the rear of the dining room, it appeared that the ship was under attack by terrorists, and yet the diners did not break stride and ate their appetizers.

But the great highlight was the Song Night and getting to sing "O Canada," "Amazing Grace," "Row Row Row Your Boat" and "Bye Bye, Love" all on one program. And "Dona Nobis Pacem," conducted by a committee of church ladies, was a hoot and a half.

And on the way to the aft swimming pool, a man was overheard saying, "This has been a great week for retired people to have sex." No idea what was meant by that and I didn't stop to ask.

As we cruise back "up" the coast of Nova Scotia and coast across the Gulf of Maine, we travel over or past the grounds that have, for hundreds of years, provided bountifully to our fishermen ancestors.

Rudyard Kipling's book, "Captains Courages," drew contrasts and similarities between the fishing schooner captain and the captain of industry. We now face the contrasting concerns between fishermen, who use the most modern fishing technologies to pay for boat, gear, fuel and supplies; the scientists, who try to determine the limits of a sustainable fishery; the politicians who try to determine the limits of a sustainable fishery; and the politicians who try to come up with laws that work to solve problems and benefit their constituents.

It's a tough battle, and in the Maritimes, where fishing has been a key industry, the closing of the cod fisheries has upset hundreds of communities. Where do we go from here?
   —John Arrison

I'd better check in since, with so much overcast on this trip, I've been as obscured as the stars!

As our cruise and August draw to a close, I thought I'd share with you a clarification over an oft-used cliché heard around this time of the year: "The dog days of August."

We conjure up the image of an ole yeller mutt, prostrate in the barnyard shade, twitching away the occasional blue-tailed fly alighting on his dusty coat. Well, dump the idea!

In reality, "The dog days of August" have astronomical origins. Orion the Hunter, with whom we normally associate winter nights, is followed across the sky by two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor. Canis Major, the larger of the two dogs, bears the bright star Sirius at his throat.

We do not see Orion the Hunter on a summer evening because the nighttime side of the earth faces a different direction of space in the summer. As the earth revolves around the sun, our nighttime side "sees" different constellations at different times of the year. We see Orion in the winter, Leo in spring, Sagittarius in summer and Pegasus in the autumn.

If you arise just before dawn in mid-August, you will just begin to spy twinkling Sirius, returning to the night sky after months lost in the sun's glare. Sirius, being part of Canis Major, the large hunting dog, is often called the "dog" star. Hence we get "The dog days of August," as Sirius rejoins our night sky.
   —Jonathan Harmon

Tears came to me at the songfest last night, this morning, when greeted by the bagpipes and, most unexpectedly, when the smiling steward brought breakfast to my door.

Is this something I deserve, to be at a party with 1,000 of my closest friends? Garrison describes what I cannot. God bless 'em—and next time we'll need a bigger boat.
   —C. Edwards
Thirty-six years ago this month, we were on our honeymoon here in Nova Scotia at Halifax, Luenberg and Peggy's Cover. Who would have ever thought we would return with such wonderful fellowship of our PHC brothers and sisters? Thank you all for sharing these precious moments with us!
   —D. and C. Peace
While surveying the port from deck this morning, I saw a beautiful woman, her flax-colored hair blowing in the Halifax breeze. An old sea shanty cautions sailors about the likes of her: A Halifax girl who, it is said, with a turn of the head, could lure a man from an adventurous life at sea to a quiet land-lubber's life ashore.

"Why, that's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," I thought, as I smiled at her. She tossed her head and smiled back, Naomi, my wife of 20 years, today, for a little while, a Halifax girl, and one with whom, at this sea adventure's end, I shall be glad to retire to our quiet Rhode Island cottage by the sea.
   —J. Roberts
The First Cruise has been such a pleasure that we're talking about a Second and a Third. Plans haven't been formulated, but we're discussing a 10-day excursion next summer that would take us up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City and perhaps to Newfoundland. And a spring, 2007, adventure to Yucatan and Costa Rica. You certainly will be notified when our plans firm up.
   —G. Keillor

August 27, 2005 (back to top)
We regular folks loaded this ship just a week ago, perhaps a little wary about the opulence of it all. A cruise! Many of us would never dream of such indulgence. We're not the kind of people who are comfortable being waited on, who believe they are entitled to daily bed-makings and fresh towels at every shower. We don't have the outfits for elegant dinners night after night, and we may not have the bodies for donning bikinis and lying in the sun.

But something has changed in us the past week, and we will not be the same people getting off this ship as we were the first day. We have let ourselves enjoy and be grateful for something we wanted to fight at first, believing we didn't deserve getting spoiled this much, having this much fun and free time.

We've stayed up past our bedtimes and overeaten. We've danced to loud music, lost some money at the slots and had one too many Cuban Mojitos. And we even admitted that we liked it all.

What an exciting adventure this has been for us. We especially enjoyed the talent show auditions, the sing-a-long, the dancing in the Crow's Nest and Fred Newman.

All the singers and the hands are terrific as well as the radio actors. The staff people are also awesome.

We hope to meet again.
   —H & D Daeger
As we prepare to re-enter the life we've made, it is right to reflect on this week whose memories will last a lifetime. The special people we've listened to on APHC for decades or seen on stage at the Fitz are just like us—regular folks with a smile and a kind word. We appreciate they have been working while we've played.
   —K. Berg
We wondered if our fellow cruise passengers might be a little older, a little more conservative, a little "stuffier." Then we started reading their T-shirts: "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican," "The Drinking Will Continue Until Morale Approves," "Troubles? I've Got Pawlenty," and "Try To Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are."
   —S. Aldrich
Rolling home, rolling home
Rolling home, too full to stand
Rolling home, we're stuffed but happy
Rolling home to diet land
   —M. Chorles
I felt a little like Mrs. Krepsbach yesterday. Fifty-something treated to a facial—her first. Guilt, fear, indulgence and frivolity all rolled into one. Oh, what fun!
They do it greener in Canada. Did you notice on PEI the choice of three waste collection boxes—compost, recycle, waste.

Our taxi driver in Sydney pointed out how there is almost no road litter. The heavy fines are supposedly a deterrent. But I suspect it is more about a higher level of respect for the environment. Our taxi driver said he keeps a compost file.

In Halifax I spied an electric car with a silly alligator mouth. I dismissed it as some touristy façade until I saw the driver hand-picking up trash—no doubt to feed the alligator.

"Oh Canada! We stand on guard for thee."
   —B. Oda
Saturday evening I will be returning to my home in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. One thing I know for sure, although my family might not see a different wife and mother standing for the first time in ten days in our blue-and-white kitchen, I have been deeply changed by this cruise.

I've flexed some internal muscles I've forgotten about over the past 20 years when I last used them. Dancing, oh my stars, how I've danced. Whoever said BeauSoleil is the best damn dance band around hit the mark dead-on. I took afternoon naps on those nights when Beau played extra late so that I could give it my all on the dance floor of the Crow's Nest.

And I never, in all my days since Garrison spoke at my college graduation in 1986, dreamed that I'd be able to walk right up to him and bring up the time of day and chat about whatever was on my mind.

The Maasdam is filled with remarkable people. I'd love to get to know y'all better. I'm leaving with renewed confidence; you don't know how deeply your words and actions and friendly faces affected me.
   —S. Budig
Robert Hutchison, the winner of the later talent show last night, did an amazing job of capturing the spirit of this cruise in his second song. What really made this cruise so special wasn't the places we saw or the luxury on board, but the wonderful, friendly, Midwestern- (or might-as-well-be Midwestern) nice people with whom we've shared the journey. An older crowd but, like the choir Robert described, spirited, content and not afraid to try new places, people, songs, notes or whatever. This cruise has allowed us to celebrate our cultural heritage, share our stories and hear those of new friends, dance, be spontaneous and gregarious and basically to feel young again. I feel more than ever that youth is a state of mind. I know I found it here with all of you.
   —L. Murakami

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