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A Prairie Home Companion Cruise - Part 3

August 14, 2006

Part three of Donna Fox's 7-part series on her recent tour to Alaska with Garrison Keillor and the crew from A Prairie Home Companion.

July 16 Juneau, Alaska

When we docked at noon, we saw Jearlyn Steele waiting on the dock. We waved enthusiastically and she told us later it made her feel so welcomed. She had been honest when filling out the pre-embarkation health questionnaire in Seattle and was not permitted on the ship. At last night's APHC show I had remarked that I bet Jearlyn was supposed to sing "Frankie and Johnny". I could hear her belting it out.


We quickly disembarked to meet our floatplane to Taku Lodge, an old hunting lodge built in 1923 locate on the Taku River about a 25-minute flight up the river from Juneau.


As Loren and I waited, we debated the advantages of having an old pilot versus a younger one. I was all for the younger one with the better reflexes. As luck would have it, we not only had the youngest pilot but also the smallest plane, a six-passenger Dehaviland Beaver. The takeoffs and landings were undetectable. As we left the dock, Pat told us that we needed to stay on the water until the engine was warm enough for takeoff. We glided along for a few minutes and then we were gently lifting into the air. Looking down into the glaciers and seeing the incredible blue ice was breathtaking. The landing was equally smooth.


Taku Lodge, known as Twin Glacier Lodge then, was given to a young nurse, Mary Joyce, by her employer in 1934. In December 1935 at age 27, Mary made a 1000-mile journey on her wooden sled pulled by her five sled dogs. During the three months she mostly traveled alone in temperatures down to 50 below. The sled is in the rafters of the lodge.


As we entered the lodge, we were offered cold and hot drinks. The incredibly clear ice was from the glacier across the river from the lodge. We watched a young man grill salmon over an open alder wood fire. As we queued up for the buffet, I noticed that there appeared to be a white fish also. Little did I suspect that I would be introduced to white Alaskan King salmon and that I would fall in love with it. First, I had to get over the notion that salmon is orange. Once that was accomplished, I quickly became a convert. Apparently, the white has become highly sought after for restaurants. It just happens that there is a higher incidence of them in the Taku River. What a delightful surprise.


As we were eating, someone yelled, "There's a bear!" We looked out the large picture window to see a rather large black bear cleaning the grill. After each cookout, the bears appear to eat the sand that has caught the drippings. The trail guide told us that this spring he has seen two mother bears showing their cubs the grill. The mother bear picked the cub up and dropped him into the grill!


After lunch we took a short hike through the forest, gazing across the river at one of the glaciers. Then back into our six-passenger Dehaviland floatplane with our intrepid pilot Pat.


Back on shore we decided to walk around town and stumbled upon a bronze of a English bull terrier. Patsy Ann knew when a boat was coming in before anyone. She would arrive on the dock to greet each one. Legend has it that one time she came down and people began to gather. Suddenly she got up and trotted over to another dock. Yep, that is where the boat docked.


Back on ship, we went to the Lido deck to see the presentation by the Juneau Raptor Center. There was a peregrine falcon and a hawk on board. The naturalist was fascinated by my story of the Cleveland peregrine falcons and the fight to the death over downtown streets all in the name of love! Clearpath, a younger female, arrived in town and set her cap for the handsome Buckeye. She vanquished Zenith who had been a resident of the ledge on the skyscraper for eight years.


Again there were shows in every venue this evening. Finally, Jearlyn Steele and her brother Billy performed their magic.


Posted by Ann VerWiebe at August 14, 2006 2:11 PM

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