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Prairie Home at Sea - Day 5

August 16, 2006

The fun with Garrison and company on a cruise to Alaska continues.

July 18 Sitka, Alaska

This morning we awake docked in the beautiful bay of Sitka, the site of the formal transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. We certainly got a deal for $7.2 million.

The natural beauty of this spot includes forested mountains coming down to the sea, a dormant volcano, and a chain of islands that protects the bay from ocean swells. The tiny town is the home of St. Michael's, a Russian Orthodox church, established in 1848. As in all of Alaska there is a story. When the ship carrying the icons, chalices, and the doors for the altar encountered a storm, some of them were lost at sea. A month later the crate with the icon of St. Michael washed ashore unscathed! In 1966 the original structure burnt to the ground. The story is that it took one man to remove the chandelier from the ceiling during the fire and six men to carry it into the new building.

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We disembark to take a catamaran on a quest for sea otters and other wildlife. They promise a "raft" of 10-12 sea otters but nothing else. What a trip we had! First, we spotted bald eagles (they are everywhere!), stellar sea lions, and various gulls. Then the captain whispers over the mike that there is a large raft coming up on our starboard side. It is a raft of over 70 sea otters! Most were old and grizzled and content to float on their backs wrapped in kelp. The younger ones were on the outside of the raft, rolling and tumbling. They are so accustomed to the catamarans that as long as we were quiet and did not make sudden movements, they made no attempt to get away. I noticed that they are much larger than the ones I see off the central coast of California. The guide explained that they are the same species but the abalone is much richer in Sitka Bay. Since I have had a love affair with otters since I was a child, I certainly was more than satisfied. But there were more delights just outside the bay. Since it was an incredibly calm day with blue skies, the captain said that we were going out into the ocean to see if we can find some whales he had seen earlier. We spot the blow and sail closer. Soon we realize that there are at least three humpbacks. We are in absolute awe that we are looking down into their blowholes! As they swim alongside us, we are all hoping to see flukes. Ah, the magnificence of those creatures obligingly showing us their tails! We stayed with them until it was obvious that other boats wanted to move in closer so we left them to astonish more tourists. This was a profound experience.

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Back on shore I watched Garrison interacting with passengers. He is unfailingly polite and is tireless in posing for pictures and signing autographs.

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Tonight's main theater show stars Jearlyn and Billy Steele, Butch Thompson, and poet Louis Jenkins. None disappoint but we have come to expect this. Butch announced that he has a website now but that he couldn't remember what it was. He fumbles around in his wallet while talking about it and finally, pulls out a business card and announces, "Oh, yeah. It's butchthompson.com!"

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Posted by Ann VerWiebe at August 16, 2006 5:14 PM


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