I felt the earth. move. under my feet

I was writing in my office at school when, around 1:51 yesterday, the building and my desk with the built in bookshelf started shaking.  Hard.  Back and forth for thirty seconds.   My mind went just blank, and when I gathered my wits, right at the time it was over, I realized, Earthquake!

I have never experienced one of those and have always been kind of paranoid about it, mildly worried whenever I set foot in California.  I had heard from my California friends that they went through them all the time, that they were usually just mild ripples.  This was no mild ripple!  It was a hard long shake.  It turned out to have been 5.9 on the Richter scale, no less, with an epicenter of around 100 miles away from us in central Virginia.   We are close to Washington, D.C., where I’m told people downtown rushed into the street and the Pentagon and White House were evacuated.  The quake was felt for hundreds of miles, including in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, where JFK airport was shut down.  And yet there seems to be no damage to speak of and no one hurt.  (If you hear reports otherwise, please report them in a comment.)

Some of you readers must have felt it too.  If you did, please report and give your location.  Let’s see if we can calculate how far this thing reached.

Rest & restlessness

Well, we are back from our Alaskan cruise.  What a great vacation.  A cruise ship offers rest and relaxation, the beauties and sublimities of nature, the benefits of civilization, learning interesting things, fine food and drink, entertainment (shows, live music, movies), time to read for sheer pleasure, quality and quantity time with whomever you are traveling with (in my case, my wonderful wife of 40 years).   You can make a vacation of any one of those, but a leisurely cruise gives you all of them.  We had a week of utter enjoyment.  So why, after a week, was I so ready for it to end?

One might say that I need to be productive and all that.  But I really believe this is a fault.  St. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.   Restlessness is surely a function of the Fall.  In Heaven we will rest from our labors.  We will enjoy a permanent vacation, with pleasures forevermore.  We cannot even conceive of what that kind of existence would be like. And the foretastes we might have of that on earth–such as a vacation–can be hard for us to handle for very long.

What strange beings we are!

Hard life

One of the things that has struck me, as we cruise by in luxury, is just hard life is out here for the people who live in the small towns and remote areas of Alaska.  Skagway is mainly a cruise ship town in the summer, with an influx of businesses that descend on the place for a few months to sell jewelry and cheap souvenirs to us tourists, but some 800 people live there year-round.  Our tour guide was telling us about how the winter brings 15 feet of snow accumulation, winds that routinely reach 50 mph, temperatures that average between zero and 10 below—sometimes dropping to -30 with -100 windchills, and, what is even worse than that, darkness that lasts all day.   The sun is over the horizon for about  28 minutes with only 4 hours of daylight.  In Skagway barges come in once a week with supplies for the grocery stores and such, and the pickings can get pretty bare by the end of the week.  (Forget about fresh vegetables.)   Skagway was the model for the town in Northern Exposure.  (Indeed, there is no doctor.  There is a nursing station, but if you need a doctor you have to travel six hours on the ferry or fly out to Juneau.)  But the people are still happy, right?  Well, the rate for alcoholism and suicide is many times what it is in the lower 48 states.

I could appreciate living in a place like Anchorage (pop. 300,000), which has the diversions of civilizations and economic activity.  But in the remote towns people make their living mainly by fishing (think The Most Dangerous Catch, which is about fishing in Alaska) or by doing other kinds of physical labor that is much more difficult due to the challenging conditions (think Ice Road Truckers, which is about driving a truck in Alaska).

But surely living out here must have its compensations.  The Northern lights.  The frontier spirit.   None of our tour guides, after all, have been full-time residents, just followers of the tourist trade who go back to California when it gets cold.  I’d like to hear from some real Alaskans!  Please comment, telling us how things really are where you live.  What are the joys that keep you there?

In the meantime, I salute the hardy souls who live through the Alaskan winters, the remnants of those pioneers and frontiersmen who made our country great.   Most of us Americans have grown soft, unable to endure even the most minor hardships, so no wonder we are in decline.   I honor you Alaskans, even as I myself am thinking, I don’t think I want to retire here.

At sea

On the cruise just entering Glacier Bay.  We just saw some whales.  What luxury this ship offers.  I’m sure my ancestors never got above the orlop deck with the bilge water and the ballast.   But this is a dream.    Internet connection is very slow and–as one of you commenters helpfully and correctly informed us–VERY EXPENSIVE  (75 cents a minute!).   Plus, the carefree existence here keeps us insulated from all the bad news of the outside world.  So I don’t have much to say.   (I did catch a stock feed that informed me of how the economy is collapsing.)   Anyway, my posting might be irregular but I’ll do the best I can.  We disembark in Vancouver, Canada, the middle of next week.

Alaska report

As I said we’d be, we are in Alaska.  This land is vast.  This one state is a fifth the size of all of the others put together.   It’s not only the northernmost state and the westernmost state, it is the easternmost state, since some of the Aleutian islands stretch into the Eastern hemisphere.  And much of this land is virtually inaccessible.  If you look at a road atlas of Alaska, you will see one red highway like an artery circling around the middle of the state, plus some capillaries around Anchorage.  And that’s about all the highways there are.  (You will also see a road headed up to the far north.  That’s the one featured on Ice Road Truckers.)  You can’t even drive to the state capital.  The only way into Juneau is by ship or by plane.  The main way to get to the little towns and other sites in the vast northland is to fly there.  In Anchorage you can see huge parking lots of private planes, some of them ancient little Piper Cubs, plus float planes in the lakes docked at the piers like boats.

The parents of a former student have been very, very gracious in showing us around.  We went two hours inland into the mountains and hiked on a glacier.   One might think that a glacier would be like a sheet of ice, smooth like a skating rink.  In reality, as we learned, the surface of a glacier is utterly irregular, with slants and hills and holes and streams and crevasses.  Also patches of rocks and silt as well as ice that is sometimes white, sometimes clear, and sometimes an eery glowing blue.  You had to watch every step.  It was extreme hiking.

Thanks to our guides to Anchorage for your hospitality, for your driving, and for your bringing  such adventure into our usually humdrum lives!  Later today we get on the ship!

North to Alaska

This weekend we head up to Alaska.  Anywhere to get away from this heat!  No, I have always loved sagas of the high seas, and had always wanted to go for a ride on a big ship.  My wife not so much, but she has always wanted to go to Alaska.  So she proposed that we celebrate our 40th anniversary (40!) on August 7 with an Alaska cruise!   How brilliant and thoughtful she is.  So we saved our pennies and made our plans, and now the time is here.  We leave Sunday and will be gone for around two weeks, with some time before and after the cruise to do a little exploring of Alaska and Canada on our own.

Don’t worry, though.  I expect to be able to keep up the blog.   The ship has Wi-Fi.   I don’t think it violates the point of a vacation to blog.  That’s not my job.  It’s my hobby.   But I reserve the right to miss a day or not post quite so much.

We go north, the rush is on.


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