A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor
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I. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 1
II. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 2
III. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 3
IV. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 4
V. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 5
VI. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 6
VII. The Ballast, Volume 1, Issue 7

I. The Ballast
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 1

Make voyages! Attempt them! There's nothing else.
-Tennessee Williams

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

G.K. Chesterton was once asked what books he would most like to have with him if he were stranded on a desert island. "Thomas' Guide to Practical Shipbuilding," he replied. I'm tempted to say I'd choose the Bible, but nah. I know Mr. Keillor would have along Roget's Thesaurus, 4th Edition, and that's tempting, and so is Andrea McAvey's choice of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, but I'd want something other than a book. I'm thinking I'd want music. I know Pat Donohue would pick his guitar, and Gary Raynor a bass or guitar, and both Talent Booker Sam Hudson and Music Librarian Carrie Edinger would prefer a piano to pass the time away. Something to dance to and sing along with in between a quest for halibut and quiet time under the banana trees is what I'm thinkin'. Though I agree with Sue Scott, who would want a cell phone with her. Which makes complete sense if rescue is your prime directive.

I've never been stranded, but I'll admit the idea appeals to me. And since time on a desert island probably isn't going to happen, I figured a cruise might do the trick. Stranded by choice. Think about it. You climb onto a giant vessel which is about to float away, and except for what you manage to carry on board, you leave all your stuff behind. At some point you let go of the familiar and open yourself to the Fates and to whom you might meet and to how you'll spend your time. You're no longer in control. You've got the rails of the ship to hold on to, but anything, at any moment, might appear on the horizon. A giant squid. A crate of strawberries or a barrel of schnapps. The Aurora Borealis. A yellow raft full of waving men. Pippi Longstocking.

Stranded on a cruise ship, nobody knows you. You can be who you are. And if you don't know who you are, you can be someone else. You can nap or do yoga and you don't have to search for much because it's all right there. Anything is possible, and in the meantime you can sit naked in your cabin and read, and no one is going to ring your doorbell and ask you to buy some cookies. There are no lists to make, and you can sing all you want-alone, or in harmony with all the other stranded souls. You can dance. You can schmooze. You can stay up all night writing poems about fish.

I've never been to Alaska, and have never been on a cruise. While I packed on Thursday afternoon, my kids stood around and asked questions as I rushed from closet to drawer to suitcase, dresses and hiking boots and underwear flying through the air. "What if you're stranded somewhere?" they asked. I stopped packing, and smiled, and assured them not to worry. It's going to be a fine time.

by Michelle Kissling

In the Tlingit calendar, July, August, and September are considered one month, 'Distlein', or 'the big month, time to gather everything'. To the fishermen of Southeast Alaska, this means salmon. The beginning of July marks the start of the salmon trolling season. You're likely to see several trolling boats while at sea; they're recognizable by their trolling poles that extend from the boat at 45-degree angles. Gillnetters are easily identified by the drum, usually called a bow or stern picker, aboard the boat. The gillnet is spun around the picker to avoid tangling and damage to the net. You're mostly likely to spot a gillnetter at the mouth of a river, such as the Taku River about 10 miles south of Juneau. You may notice other fishing boats, such as seiners, shrimpers, longliners, and crabbers, but you're less likely to see them during July.

Migration Notes of Interest
by Rob MacDonald

Bird migration has been a topic of interest for thousands of years. However, some early ideas on bird migration were pretty amazing. Back in 300 BC, Aristotle believed swallows vanished from the skies in Greece in the fall because they hibernated in trees. When Eurasian Redstarts left in the fall and Eurasian Robins then showed up, Aristotle believed the redstarts turned into the robins. However, this transformation was not as unreal as what the Romans thought. The Romans thought swallows turned into frogs. In 1703, an Englishman explained that the disappearance of birds in fall and their reappearance in the spring was because the birds spent the winter on the moon. Some people easily accepted the migratory travels of larger birds but were unable to understand how smaller species could make similar journeys. They conceived the idea that larger birds carried smaller birds. Some early naturalists even believed swallows hibernated under water. It wasn't until the late 1800s that the mysteries of bird migration began to come into place.

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

II. The Ballast
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 2

It is never the shallower for the calmnesse. The Sea is a deepe; there is as much water in the Sea, in a calme, as in a storme.
-John Donne

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

I read somewhere recently that the most frequently used word in the English language is "time." I'm not surprised, though I would argue that the most frequently used word is not necessarily the most important. This is something we discuss, regularly, at our dinner table. My kids will say, "Christmas" or "candy" or "pie." When I was a kid, "tomorrow" was the most important word. "What's tomorrow?" I would ask. "What are we gonna do tomorrow?"

It hit me yesterday, somewhere between a praline cream ice cream cone, the Kosher Red Hots, and seven minutes in the wind on the Lido Deck, that the word "tomorrow" doesn't matter much. Neither does my grandma's favorite word, "remember." Nope. Not this week. See, you can make lists 'til the cows come home, and reminisce all you want, but then you're missing the boat. Today you have the chance to fly over a glacier or watch the horizon from a massage chair on Deck 5. You can learn Tai Chi or go to choir practice with Mr. Keillor or watch King Kong or see some live raptors or listen to Pat Donohue sing the blues. You can become a Unitarian.

That mess you left on the kitchen counter will be there when you get home. So will the bills and the heat wave and the grouchy woman on the church council. So will what to have for dinner. What you've got right now is this day, Sunday, July 16, 2006. You're on a ship in Glacier Bay. The city of Juneau is waiting for you, and there are good people around you whose names you don't know. Yet. You get this day once, Darlin'. Tomorrow it's gone, and it ain't coming back.

Things Overheard
"Nice to meet you. Please sanitize your hands."

"...which means it's 8 o'clock in Seattle and 10 o'clock at home, which means we'll get there somewhere around 9 if I'm not mistaken. Or...wait. No. Wait..."

"I didn't sleep last night. For the first night in my life, I didn't sleep."

In the hall as the lifeboat drill sounded: "What if it's a prank and we're the only ones doing it?"

Near the pool: "No, I don't want to just put my feet in."

"Maybe I'll just maintain a buzz for the whole trip."

"Well, you are a little weird. But look around you. Geez. I mean, really."

Warm Gold in Glacier Bay?
by Natalie Springuel

"Warm Gold" was the name given to sea otters by Russian fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries because of the high price the small mammal's pelt could bring on the fur market. Over the course of a century-and-a-half, the sea otter was driven to near-extinction as the fur traders (and the Aleut hunters they ruthlessly enslaved) progressively moved east along the Aleutian chain and into Southeast Alaska. By the time the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the sea otter population was decimated. In 1911, it was formally protected and began making its comeback. Fast-forward to the 1960s: sea otters from the Aleutians are transplanted to Southeast Alaska to aid in re-colonizing the region, particularly the Panhandle's outer coast. In the 1990s, sea otters move into the waters of Icy Strait and Glacier Bay, triggering a contemporary ecological conundrum. Sea otters prey on red sea urchins, crabs, chitons, mussels, and other invertebrates. They float on their backs and balance the prey on their bellies, then use rocks to smash them open. Fascinating though this behavior might be to watch, fishermen are concerned that urchin and crab populations are declining due to the marine mustelid's voracious appetite and growing population. What is even more perplexing is that elsewhere in Alaska, the sea otter population is back on the decline. To catch of glimpse of this "warm gold", keep your eyes near shore and along the kelp beds.

A Big Thief
by Steve Lewis

Sperm whales are deep-water, open-ocean whales found throughout the world. Their populations have been growing since 1986 when the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling for this species. Male sperm whales are thought to move to northern waters, like the Gulf of Alaska, during the spring and summer. It is unclear how many sperm whales inhabit Alaskan waters, but apparently there are enough that some commercial fishermen are taking notice. Talk with any longline fisherman for very long and a story will come out of stripped gear, straightened hooks, or hundreds of fish bitten off just behind the head. Longline fishing for bottom-dwelling fish (e.g., black cod) involves hundreds of short leaders, each bearing a baited hook, fastened to a long ground line that is lowered to the sea floor. Each end is attached to a marking buoy and the line is left to "soak." After several hours the set is picked up and winched aboard -- hauling in a catch of fish weighing 7-10 pounds apiece. Apparently some sperm whales have keyed into this and are taking advantage of easy meals by pilfering the hooked fish as the line is hauled up. Ajax Eggleston has fished out of Pelican for over 20 years and recalls seeing sperm whales with grooves in their heads from following fishing lines, eating hooked black cod as they went. Biologists have begun studying these interactions with hopes of learning where and when they occur and ways for fishermen to avoid this big thief.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
-John Muir

You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness--ignorance, credulity -- helps your enjoyment of these things.

III. The Ballast
Monday, July 17, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 3

Who wishes to understand the poet must go to the poet's land.

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

Okay, people. Now that we're all settled in a bit and there's a sense of routine going, we'd like you to consider making room in your day to share your thoughts and experiences with us. We'd like to print them. You've seen or heard or felt or tasted something we haven't and we'd really like to read about it. A shark, maybe, or smoke from a campfire on one of the islands we've passed. Maybe you've never seen a whale before and you saw several yesterday and it reminded you of a prayer your grandfather taught you when you were 6, or the Red Cross swimming class your mom signed you up for to keep you occupied during summer vacation.

Or perhaps the sunlit sky late Saturday evening got you thinkin'. That's when I saw a couple walking arm in arm down the hall on Deck 6. I imagine they're celebrating an anniversary, maybe 40 years. As they walked they swayed back and forth with the motion of the ship and I hummed "Edelweiss" in time with them. I got to the "Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow" part just as she lost her balance and he caught her and she laughed and put her arms around him and they just stood there and swayed under the EXIT sign.

Now I can't say much more about that. I just saw these people and they made me smile. It gave me this feeling I get only once in a while, a feeling I sure like. Maybe it gave you that feeling, too. Or maybe you're thinking, "Big whoop." Whatever. The point is, you never know whether what you have to share is going to mean anything to anyone. Doesn't matter. That you share it is what matters.

So. If you happened to attend the rather Lutheran church service yesterday, the congregation sang, "How Great Thou Art." Any thoughts on that? How 'bout the mountains outside the window when you woke up yesterday. Did you take a photo? Did you just sit there in the lotus position in front of your window and marvel in silence? Maybe you slept in. Maybe you ate something you've never tried before. Did you order the Beef Wellington with the duck liver/mushroom sauce? Tell us about that sauce.

Tell us a story. Tell us a joke. Tell us what you dreamed last night, or how you met up with an old friend from college on the Lido Deck. Tell us how you're feeling today, and what your plans are, and how you spent your time in Juneau. Tell us how much you miss your kids, and deep fried cheese curds at the county fair that started Friday. All you need is a pen and some paper and somewhere to sit for a while. A window helps. When you've finished, there's a box just to the left of the Front Office on Deck 4. Find it. That's where your paper goes. Hang on to the pen.

Harbor Seals in Glacier Bay
by Michelle Kissling

Glacier Bay National Park has historically supported one of the largest breeding populations of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) in Alaska. Harbor seals are an important apex predator and the most common numerous marine mammal in the park; however, seals have declined by more than 70% in the park since 1992. Despite the implementation of several management strategies (such as reduction in commercial fishing, cessation of subsistence harvest, and vessel restrictions), the population continues to decline. Researchers are studying harbor seals in the park and hope to identify causal factors. While in Glacier Bay, you may notice harbor seals with external VHF transmitters and time-depth recorders attached to them. Using these technologies, researchers can determine fine-scale movements, habitat use, foraging ecology, and dive behavior. Additionally, a few seals have been equipped with satellite depth recorders, which will allow recording of large-scale movements and winter dive behavior. Since 2004, approximately 120 seals have been captured and affixed with transmitters and time-depth recorders. Keep your eyes open for one as we enter Glacier Bay!

Naturalists "Know Stuff"
by Rich MacDonald

In my blue-collar family, hard work is held in high regard. Growing up a sickly kid-often constantly hospitalized with asthma -- I was on a first-name basis with the nurses. And in a family without television, I was a voracious reader. My parents encouraged my academic interests. I long dreamed of earning a Ph.D. in literature. Perhaps if I had fallen under the tutelage of some author, any author, instead of bird banding with Gerry Farrell when I was 12, who knows where I'd be today. But putting a wild animal in a kids' hand is hard to top.

Early on, I learned from Garrison there were people aboard that actually "knew stuff"...and that those people were naturalists. I mean, I know stuff about Lewis and Tolkien, McKibben and Quammen, Ambrose and Roberts. I even know stuff about bowling and cars. Truth is, I have been hired as an expert in natural history, and I will do my best to live up to the job. I can identify most North American birds by sight and by sound. In fact, my trip list is off to a staggering start...with three species (that would be with the "c" pronounced "s") of birds.

So, whether you are an armchair naturalist or a lister in a 12-step program, you owe it to yourself to join the Naturalists on Deck at 5:30 a.m. at least once this cruise (if after a late night in the Crow's Nest you can't force yourself up, at least attend one of our lectures). Even if you have no naturalist tendencies, our enthusiasm and the fact that we "know stuff" could well make it worth your time.

Things Overheard
"It was right here. I know it was right here. Wasn't it?"

"So I'm still waiting for the balloons and confetti like on the Love Boat."

"You are very high maintenance."

"Not really my thing, God."

"Where are we, exactly?"

"Have you seen him yet today? I did. I think he was eating toast, but I'm not sure."

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods...there is a rapture on the lonely shore.

IV. The Ballast
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 4

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.
-Jonathan Swift

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

Well, the cruise is half over and didn't that time just sail by? I thought I could hang onto it or at least stretch it out by staying up until I tip over or maybe setting my alarm for 4:13 a.m. Nice try. There's no way to slow it all down, and why try anyway? You only end up sleep-deprived and you can't hike through the Tongass Forest when you're plumb worn out. So put your watch away and sleep when you're tired and whoop it up in the meantime.

Now, "whooping it up" is a relative thing. For some of us, whooping it up consists of drinking a new variety of tea, or attending a Scotch-tasting seminar. Others of us go skydiving and para sailing and buy season tickets to Cirque d'Soleil. Some of us have children or buy stock or can pickles. Whooping it up is about impulse and joy with a hint of decadence, and everyone does it.

I whooped it up on Sunday. The plan was to have coffee in Juneau with a writer who lives in Haines. Instead, we hiked up the side of the mountain to Perseverance Trail and back, talking writing the whole way. Then my husband and I got into the car of a man we met back home in Scandia last Tuesday night at church. He'd been visiting his mother who belongs to our church, and invited us to call him up, which we did, when we arrived in Alaska. So we spent the afternoon with the Ericksons, and they brought wine and salmon, and we shared stories while, for nearly four hours, humpback whales bubble-fed, killer whales swam by, eagles circled and Peter, the son, fished for herring.

We made it back to the ship just before it left the harbor and we hugged the Ericksons and they hugged us back. We plan to send them a thank-you, maybe a jar of lingonberry jam and a church cookbook and an invitation to visit, in return for an afternoon of what was, for us, whooping it up near Admiralty Island.

Things Overheard
"No, no, no...it's that little button on the side."

"Do you think your pants are going to fall down?"

"We're in Juneau together. Did you know that?"

"Now we can all go back and practice bubble net feeding around the Lido Deck."

Feeding behaviors of humpback whales
by Michelle Kissling

Humpback whales are baleen whales that are specially adapted to gulp vast quantities of concentrated food and water. The baleen functions like a sieve, capturing small fish and invertebrates which comprise the majority of their diet. Humpback whales are a relatively common sight in the Inside Passage, but watching humpbacks feed is an experience worth noting! You're likely to see two types of feeding: lunge and bubble net. When lunge feeding, a humpback propels itself rapidly through a school of small fish or krill with its mouth wide open. During these vertical lunges, a whale's head can rise almost straight up out of the water. You're most likely to see humpbacks bubble net feeding, a cooperative feeding behavior, near Point Adolphus and at the mouth of Glacier Bay. During this impressive display, one or more whales dive beneath a school of fish and begin blowing bubbles as they rise to the surface in a spiral circle. As the ring of bubbles reaches the surface, the whale(s) lunges through the prey, swallowing tons of food and water.

Orca Dynamics
by Natalie Springuel

Did you know that there are two kinds of killer whale in the Pacific Northwest, each with a totally different diet? Resident killer whales tend to have a home territory where they focus their feeding on fish and squid. They rely heavily on echolocation to send sounds into the sea. The sound waves bounce off potential prey, which helps the whales hone in on the prey's position. While the residents are boisterous in their activities, with spyhopping and breaching behavior commonly seen, catching a glimpse of the incredibly stealthy transient killer whales takes more patience. These orca (another name for killer whale) travel in smaller hunting groups and hunt silently to avoid alerting prey of their presence. Transient orca feed on marine mammals like seals, sea otters, sea lions, and even baleen whales. Scientists believe that transients and residents are so committed to their individual feeding styles that they have evolved totally separate lineages. Seals can tell the two apart by their sounds. As for us humans, telling them apart is more tricky. Start with the female dorsal fin (shorter than the males). In resident killer whales, the female dorsal fin is recurved back and rounded. In transients, it is also recurved but pointed. Also, resident killer whales tend to travel in larger pods. Our route takes us through orca territory, so keep your eyes peeled on the water and see if you can tell them apart.

Rumor Has It...
There are people who are eating dinner in the Lido Restaurant in order to attend both main lounge shows. Which, in itself, makes sense. The food in the Lido is varied and good, and who wouldn't want to catch both shows? Thing is, you attend the main lounge show twice in one evening, and that second time around you take a seat meant for a guest who has not yet seen the show. Which means somewhere out there, someone is squeezing in, or standing, or simply staying away. Please take turns. It'll come back to you somewhere down the road.

The world will never starve for wonder, but only for want of wonder.
-G.K. Chesterton

V. The Ballast
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 5

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

A moment of silence and round of applause for Roger and Arda from Oregon, here for your 50th Anniversary and what a lovely thing. Congratulations! And Happy Birthday, Peter Scheuzger! You turned 80 Sunday, and you're lookin' good! If they weren't such a fire hazard, we'd line the decks with candles and light 'em all up bright in honor of the many of you celebrating anniversaries and birthdays and reunions, along with the smaller things we celebrate like job promotions or last fall's bumper crop of apples or simply realizing the dream of seeing Alaska. We don't have all your names and all the reasons why, but many of you are celebrating, and we raise our coffee mugs high!

Marked Steller Sea Lions
by Steve Lewis

During the summer, adult Steller sea lions congregate at one of five rookeries on the outer coast of Southeast Alaska. These rookeries are places where sea lions breed and have pups. However, it is possible to see sea lions at haulouts throughout the Southeast during these months. If you look closely, you might see that some of the animals are marked with a letter and number (e.g., F2095). These animals were marked as part of an ongoing study to determine why the sea lion populations in Alaska are declining. Between 1994 and 2005, over 2,300 sea lions were identified in this way. The letter indicates the rookery where the pup was born (F = Forrester Island complex, V = Graves Rock, W = White Sisters, H = Hazy Island, equal sign = unknown birthplace). The number uniquely identifies each individual sea lion. Each spring and summer, biologists visit rookery and haulouts around Southeast Alaska to resight marked animals. Resighting known individuals allows biologists to estimate important population parameters such as age-specific survival rates and reproductive rates. Additionally, biologists can estimate age of weaning and describe distribution and movement patterns. For example, sea lion F2095 was born at the Forester complex in 2002. This animal, a male, has been resighted repeatedly during October through April at haulouts in Lynn Canal (Benjamin Island and Gran Point) and at the Hazy Islands rookery during two summers. I spotted this animal in the spring of 2004 at Benjamin Island, a large winter haulout near Juneau.

Short-tailed Weasel Energetics
by Rob MacDonald

Did you know that short-tailed weasels seem to have everything going against them in winter? The short-tailed weasel is small and has a long, thin body that gives it a large surface-to-volume ratio. This leaves the short-tailed weasel with a problem retaining heat. Making matters worse, the short-tailed weasel's fur is thin and provides little insulation. As a result, short-tailed weasels are almost constantly expending energy on heat production. In fact, their resting metabolism is almost twice that of other mammals of similar size. Most carnivores are known for their ability to eat ravenously when food is available and then go long periods without food. However, with a weasel's small body size and high-energy needs, they can't go through this process of feasting and then fasting. Their stomachs are so small that even when engorged, their stomachs are empty again after four hours. Because of this, short-tailed weasels can die of starvation after only one or two days without food. During winter, the only feasible thing for a short-tailed weasel to do is to minimize energy consumption. One of the ways they do this is by restricting their activity to about four hours each day. During the other 20 hours each day, the weasels rest. And often, this rest occurs in the nests of their recent prey. Energetics studies of small mammals have shown that nest use reduces the metabolism of resting animals up to 35%, which is good for these energy-needy animals.

Passenger Notes
Today I lounged on the Lido Deck, my chair positioned so that I could see the view on both sides of the boat. I saw people dressed for the Arctic. I also watched a bevy of ladies practicing synchronized swimming in the saltwater pool...In choir practice we sang hymns praising God. But it seemed to me that we were also praising life - the water, the mountains, the glaciers, the jubilant whales and the still moon when we sang... Susan Gower

After a 20-minute [boat] ride from the bay to Saginaw Channel we suddenly came upon a large group of humpback whales bubble net feeding...five and six flukes arcing into the water, one after another in front of me, over and over...I wept in wonder at the glory I witnessed. Um-hmmm! Molly Chapin

As the ship moved ever closer to the Marjorie Glacier earlier today, and small icebergs bounced off of the hull with extended "boing-oing-oing" sounds, some one began humming the Titanic movie theme. Again at the Marjorie, on the open Lido and upper deck, two spontaneous, though not quite simultaneous, versions of America the Beautiful broke out. No one over-rode anyone; they just ended a bar apart. Adele

We had a great bus driver for our outing in Juneau. Stuart said that he had just graduated from college with an English major, and failing to find work in that field, decided to move from Seattle to Juneau to become a tour bus driver. So that's one more job opportunity for English majors! He told us that crows and ravens are common here. Both birds are black, but the raven is larger than the crow. Also, the raven has 5 pinions (special feathers to help it fly) per wing, while the crow has only 4. So you could say that the main difference was a crow and a raven is a "matter of a pinion." Anne Huberman

"A guy walks into a bar with a dog." Sounds like a joke, but in Juneau, it really happens - more often than you'd think. We were in two bars in Juneau, and in both bars there was a guy with a dog. Of course, it was the same guy and the same dog, but in the second bar, another guy walked in with another dog. The guys knew each other and immediately entered into conversation with each other. The dogs knew each other, too, and immediately began sniffing each other's butts. I think that hanging out in a bar is a good way to get a feel for the locals in any town, in any part of the world. I liked the people in Juneau. I liked the dogs, too. John Logue

Glacier Bay! While not all things come to those who wait, some do. Like this voyage. My husband was an Environmental Biologist with the National Park Service. He used to be sent into the field for weeks at a time to places like Glacier Bay and Denali. It ticked me off to no end to be left at home with 3 scrapping kids. Now...thirteen years after his death, my eyes are enjoying some of the same sights his did 20-25 years ago. I'm realizing just how righteous my anger was as I look out on the bay! I'd no idea quite how short my end of the stick was. But...my stick grew! Thanks, Garrison, for taking this on! You have been a constant presence all these years. Name Withheld

Things Overheard
"You gotta find one bartender and work with him. Mine's name is Dan."

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
-E. B. White

VI. The Ballast
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 6

Wherever we are is not where we're heading: we're going somewhere else.
-Gary Snyder

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

I must confess to a small regret I'll carry with me for some time. It'll get worse on Friday when I see my kids and we hug and swap stories and they'll ask what was the coolest thing I saw. I'll then launch into a graphic description of the great banana slug found in the Tongass Forest. The banana slug is yellow and huge. It's as big as a hotdog, and it can grow to half a pound. It eats anything and everything, and if something tries to eat IT, it is so sticky it can't be swallowed. It'll stick to your shoe. It has one lung and breathes through its skin and a hole in its side. It moves slowly and deliberately, and when you poke it with your finger, it contracts to a blob. While hiking through the Tongass Forest on Tuesday morning, I saw nine or ten banana slugs, all big and yellow and slimy. They were something to behold, and I didn't get one picture.

The Toads of the North
by Steve Lewis

As you get out onto the trails around Southeast Alaska, keep you eyes peeled for a small, chunky toad hopping across your path. This is the western toad, Alaska's only toad and 1 of 7 amphibians found in Southeast. They range in color from brown to green to gray but generally have a light colored stripe down their back and a white, spotted underside. While their exact distribution is not clear, they are known to occur on the mainland and on most of the larger islands in the area. The toads live on land but migrate to freshwater ponds in the spring to breed. Females lay eggs, which hatch into tadpoles in the ponds. These tadpoles spend up to 3 months in their natal pond before leaving the water and dispersing into the forests and muskegs. When handled, toads may emit twittery sounds, puff up, urinate profusely or give off a secretion from skin glands that is highly distasteful to predators. In fact, predators will often eviscerate adult toads to avoid the bad tasting skin and people have reported seeing piles of toad skins leftover from some predator's meal. Western toad populations appear to be rapidly declining in many parts of their range for unknown reasons and there is a growing concern that Alaska populations are experiencing a similar fate. Long-time Southeast residents have noted sharp declines in toad numbers, prompting efforts to monitor toad populations.

The Underwater Sounds of the Ocean
by Natalie Springuel

Taking a cue from National Public Radio, whales and dolphins communicate important information on sound waves. Whales take advantage of the fact that water transmits sounds faster than air. The world's largest animal (which occasionally travels the Gulf of Alaska), the Blue Whale emits sounds on a frequency inaudible to humans, but whales hundreds of miles away can pick up this sound! Humpback Whales, which we are bound to see, can sing the same melodious song for up to 24 hours. These far-reaching sounds likely serve to attract potential mates. The toothed whales (orca, sperm, pilot whales and dophins) use echolocation to paint a mental image of their surroundings. Clicks, pings, whistles and other sounds are generated by air sacks near the blowhole and concentrated by the melon, that oily mass on a whale's forehead. In the case of the sperm whale, the melon is so big it makes up a third of the whale's body. The melon directs sound waves ahead of the whale and just like the sound of a foghorn or an echo; it bounces off the rocks and landmasses nearby, and back towards the animal. Whales can interpret the bounced sounds with so much accuracy they can differentiate between a moving school of fish and a member of their own whale pod. In the ocean environment where light is in constant shortage, sound provides marine animals an alternate way of seeing their world.

Passenger Notes
There was an old liberal from Boulder
Whose outlook grew colder and colder.
She came on this cruise
And lost all her blues
Singing harmony, shoulder to shoulder.

-Priscilla Gifford

I either have one of two songs going through my head at a given time: Climb Every Mountain or The Bear Went Over the Mountain. I've also been dreaming about whales...hmmm?! Name Withheld

Whether it is a poem that reminds us that Iraqis have children, too, or a hymn celebrating creation and our place in it, thank you all for bringing us together once a year. If the movie Crash was about the randomness of our connections, this cruise experience is about the deliberateness of them. Name Withheld

As we cruise 'round Glacier Bay, it is obvious that the glaciers used to be bigger and more imposing. Not that I'm dissatisfied, I'm just concerned. Why do they call it "global warming?" Global warming evokes thoughts of sitting by a cozy fire, sipping hot chocolate and perhaps wearing slippers the puppy has not yet chewed. Can we find and foster a better term for this serious condition? One more ominous, not as friendly. One that gets the message across? Global baking? Global frying? Global incineration? Nancy Preisser

My husband Peter and I are on the cruise celebrating our 50th Anniversary. The date is April 6th and we are a little early - He was so cute, with lots of red hair (that's what he said I married him for). He thought I had money. Fifty years later, he is losing his hair and all my money went to the cruise - Oh, well, I'd do it over again.
-Iris Westerberg, Minneapolis, MN

My sister as a little girl thought the words to the Doxology were, "Praise Father, Son and Holy Smoke."
-Name Withheld

I am my mother's companion on this cruise - and my dad travels with us as a friendly but unseen spirit. He and my mom had often talked of taking an Alaskan cruise together but they never got to it before Dad died several years ago of cancer...When he taught me to drive our 1965 Park Lane Mercury in 1970, he told me emphatically, "Don't take your eyes off the road - you don't have to look at me. When you're talking, I can hear you." Well, I think Dad would say to Mom and me, "Are you girls having a good time?" Yes, Dad, we're having a good time - but oh how we wish, so wish, you were here. I heard my Mom singing in our stateroom bathroom this morning, "Will the circle be unbroken..."
-Name Withheld

Yesterday we took our four children whale watching. After a fine show of bubble net feeding, Lee, one of our eight-year-old triplets, observed, "They are so realistic!"
-The Rolander Family

Things Overheard
"We should check on Mom."

"You are blessed and I am blessed and that's why we are shining."

The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it.

VII. The Ballast (Special Edition)
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Volume 1, Issue 7

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Inside Passages
by Holly Harden

Well, here we are at the end of things, the beginning of others, waiting at the rail for whatever comes next. Woke up this morning craving Sitka spruce tip syrup. Never got around to trying it, and won't, it seems, until next time around, which is fine with me.

We received over 100 notes and letters from you sharing stories and confessions, observations, poems and jokes. Unfortunately, we were unable to print all of them, or most of them. Only a few of them, but each one was read and appreciated and we are grateful. Thanks to you, all thanks.

"Goodbye" isn't a comfortable word where I come from. We prefer to say "Well, okay, then," as we help shut the car door and wave our goodbye, and then holler "Wait!" and run inside the house for the cookies or jam or whatever it is we're sending along, and we run it out to the car and hand it over and say, "Alrighty, then" and wave some more. Sometimes it takes half an hour. So, for now, let's just say take good care, and we'll be seeing you along the way, and we're sure looking forward to it.

A Visit to Juneau
by Louis Jenkins

Juneau is a noisy place in summer, cruise boats arriving and departing, airplanes
landing and taking off, seaplanes coming and going, helicopters all in a row, off to
look at the glacier. There are fishing boats bringing in their catch, chum salmon
doing belly flops in the harbor, automobiles racing around, even though there is
really no place you can get to by car. There are people selling jewelry and furs and
popcorn and there are tourists everywhere. For a long time this whole area was
covered in ice and it was quiet and the big mountains looked silently down on the
sea. None of this activity makes any sense, but this is what we do. Apparently, this is
our job. So when some guy calls me and wants me to move his refrigerator and paint
the floor underneath it's OK with me.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

A Note from Gordon Wright
I am an Interior Alaskan coming from a sub-Artic environment. This means permafrost, about 12 inches of precipitation a year, daylight coming and going at seven minutes a day. We have huge valleys a hundred miles across, treeless tundra and the aurora borealis and solitude. Coming to the Southeast is like visiting another Alaska, one with life governed by the weather, the tides, the comings and goings of fish. I speak the language, but feel like a stranger in my own land. The Southeast overwhelms me, with that maritime energy, wetness, the wind and storms in the winter. I love the whales and glaciers, but give me a peaceful Arctic night at 40 below zero. Any time.

Passenger Notes
The best surf and turf since my prom.
-Jane G.

Choir Practice
Sharing books, sharing song
Sharing air, singing fair
Singing well, breathing wrong
Breathing long, swelling sea
Blowing whale, weather fair
Sharing air, sharing sea
Sharing song.

Garrison displayed his usual perfect timing at last night's show when, after his jokes about the Titanic, the ship's alarm went off. Silently we all counted the blasts. Not the lifeboats. What, then? We froze. The music faded. "Stay right here. We'll take care of you." That deep voice, so reassuring. The voice we all hear every Saturday night. And then the captain's voice, explaining the problem - a small fire, and the measures being taken. Nearer my God to Thee, indeed...It was good to set foot on land this morning...
-Susan Gower

Two separate tour guides told the old joke about women seeking men in Alaska: "The odds are good but the goods are pretty odd." I feel the opposite about the people we meet on board. Our tablemates are lovely conversationalists, just like last year. All the conversations, even the ones on which I eavesdrop, are great.
-Jill O'Brien

I have a running conversation with "my" dining room steward. I have learned that he is from Java and has a family there - 2 young children and a wife he calls 2 or 3 times a week when we are in port. He works 6 months out of the year for the cruise line and has done so for 8 years. He and most of the staff sleep on the "B" deck - almost on the water line, as indicated by the imaginary goggles he mimed. He and other staff from Indonesia are waiting to hear if loved ones and friends were affected by the tsunami.

The theory at our dinner table that the rugs in the elevators reverse so that Holland America would need only 4 rugs per elevator has been disproved. While others were looking at birds this AM, I flipped a rug!
-Name Withheld

The leap,
The splash,
A second on the clock.
Forever in my mind.
-Willie Schatz

Things Overheard
"I've had more naps this week than I've had in the past six years."

She: "We're so lucky, 45 years together and it just gets better."
He: (to another person at the table) "Yeah, 47 years and we're still having great times."

Adventure is worthwhile.
-Amelia Earhart
A Prairie Home Companion Cruise is produced by Prairie Home Productions, presented by American Public Media Group. Ship's registry: the Netherlands.

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