We’re back on the high seas after a day floating through Glacier Bay, a day docked in Juneau, a morning and afternoon in Sitka. Things have changed. I heard a glacier crack and groan.
I watched the “calving” of the glacier, which is when a piece as big as a house suddenly breaks off and slides into the water. It was spectacular, and our little human being response was hilarious: we squealed and clapped as if an illusionist had just performed a particularly impressive sleight of hand. We have no other programmed response to drama. I’m sure it seemed perfectly natural to applaud the glacier to many of those present, but to me it was endearingly absurd. Applause is for performers. Although I’m not sure exactly what the appropriate response would have been—stunned silence? Anyway I felt overwhelmed. Then I looked down into the water, and saw three seagulls perched on pieces of floating ice, riding the waves. Somehow this is what actually made me cry.
In fact I’ve been moved to tears quite a few times on the trip now, mostly in aesthetic response to the devastatingly beautiful immensity of the world here, which is common and cliché enough that I’ll not spend too much time on it. Here are a few pictures.
In Juneau Susan and I donned our warmest gear and took a hair-raising boat ride from the dock across the water to a muddy beach. We climbed into a MOG and were trundled up the side of a mountain to a plywood shack where friendly, funny guides strapped us into multiple harnesses. We did one practice zip, then were up in the rainforest canopy. I began the day in a state of exhilarated terror. On the first platform I had to hug the tree. I could barely look down. By the end, I was scooting to the edge, peering over, sticking my feet into the airspace off the platform. I zipped with no hands. I screamed and hollered and kicked my feet, raised my knees to go faster, watched the rainforest whizzing by, and felt free, free, free. And strong. It was a particular ecstasy, the cold damp air on my face, the uncanny views, the hyper-reality of the forest floor SO damn far away. Even the suspension bridges thrilled me.
Susan would zip away, calling “Bye bye!” and then we would giggle uncontrollably on the next platform, minutes later, with a new story of how we’d felt, what we’d seen. The last and longest zipline was the only one to take us out of the forested area, over the beach, and suddenly I saw the mountains, the water, and the future seemed expansive and perfect, with simply no reason to have fear about anything. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve had a few other experiences of exposure therapy that worked, but this one was by far the most pronounced, because instead of the simple eradication of fear, my terror was replaced with elation and delight. I loved what I had dreaded. Only certain drugs have had a similar effect on me. Our guides wore T-shirts that said “Eat, Sleep, Zip” and we’ve decided this is the new way to remind ourselves to open up to this profound shifting from resistance to ecstatic acceptance.
This has convinced me to expand an experiment I’ve been doing since Italy. On that trip, I realized that many of the foods I thought I didn’t like were simply prepared badly in my past experience. Or, I based my projected dislike from past experiences with “similar” foods. Once this method was proven faulty over and over again by the superlative tastes I experienced (especially with things like snails, octopus, kidneys), I realized the only answer was to act as if I have no idea what I dislike. Now, I try everything, intending to like it all. I especially have to eat things that seem distasteful to me at first, and I am under particular mandate of mindfulness there. The expansion of this experiment, as inspired by the zipline, is to let go of all the little pieces of identity that are attached to my dislikes. It’s just not interesting to hang on to “I don’t like roller coasters,” or “I don’t like staying up all night” or “I don’t like fighting." More importantly, it's limiting. And since I'm spearheading Project Limitless for my life, it's time to only dislike things on principle, not from force of habit.
I ate fresh salmon fish & chips and an Alaska Brewing Co. summer ale at a dock restaurant in Juneau with Susan and her long-time friend Kathryn before tromping back onto the Westerdam. As the ship pulled away, we sat in our wicker deck chairs, under plaid blankets, on our verandah, sipping Earl Grey and nibbling shortbread and dark chocolate. We traded the binoculars to watch salmon leaping six inches out of the water, check out incredible cabin-homes on the shoreline, and spot mountain streams we’ve dubbed “rivulets!” that cascade from the very peaks all the way into the sea. We felt like society ladies from 1920 “taking a cure.” We were living a fantasy.
It seemed insane to stay up late enough to see Leslie (without whom neither of us would be on the ship) sing in a karaoke competition. We went to the show in our pajamas, drank cocktails and screamed and gasped with laughter at the endearing, bizarre performers and the three shockingly clever judges. (One of them was the ship’s comedian, Julie Barr, who has purple hair and made a joke about being a “fluffer” in front of 200 silver-haired cruise passengers! Priceless!) My favorite part of the show was that the judges showed total irreverence for the cruising industry. They made fun of people who go on cruises. They made fun of themselves for working on a ship. They made fun of the invented culture, they made fun of how expensive everything is. It was a relief to see it, operating just below the surface of the official story everyone tells in the daytime. I knew it was there, but I didn’t know the passengers ever got to be privy. I wonder if the entire industry would collapse if that awareness of the Game we’re playing here became part of the regular language?
In Sitka today I watched a Tlingkit dance performance. I got mesmerized by a dancer-grandmother who wore a perfectly calm baby in a front-facing carrier. The baby held her arms out when everyone else did, and calmly replaced her pacifier whenever it fell out. She made no sound for the entire half-hour that the grandmother was dancing. I walked through the Russian Bishop’s House and drew a sketch of a brass samovar I’d like to have in my house. I’m overwhelmed by details and consequences and history and beauty and we’re just pushing along in the water, mountains out the window changing every few minutes, Susan curled up in her king-size bed in her turquoise satin pajamas, me nestled in a thick red sweater, on the way to Ketchikan.