Friday, September 19, 2008

Home Again, Part 3

After our time in Glacier bay, the ship moved on to the state capital, Juneau. Fortunately, our room faced the port so we woke in the morning to a view of the city:
Hubband, T, and A were booked to go on a float trip down the Mendenhall River, near Mendenhall Glacier. Being prone to motion sickness, I opted to go on a hike through the temperate rainforest on Douglas Island, just across the channel from Juneau. We decided that it would probably be better if the camera came with me. There were about 24 of us on the excursion, and we split into two groups to go through the forest. It was beautiful there. 
It was very different from the forests I knew growing up in New England; there were far more lichens and mosses, and fallen trees decompose very slowly due to the cold, leading to a very wild, almost overgrown look. Some on the walk expressed the thought that the forest looked 'jumbled' or 'messy', but I just saw it as renewal. There were still berries out, even though we were there at the beginning of fall.
We walked a few miles through the forest and eventually came out on the shore of the Pacific, on the far side of Douglas Island. There is really no dirt here on the island, just rock topped with volcanic ash and the composted remains of old plant life. There was a very sharp delineation between forest and shore, because the shore really didn't have that compost layer. There were some tenacious rye grasses growing among all the rocks and bits of shell but the rest of the vegetation was mostly sea weed brought up by the tide. While at the shore, we watched a pair of Harbor Porpoise feed, a pair of bald eagles defend their territory from another, and a porcupine strip bark off a hemlock tree. 
After we walked back through the forest and were transported to the pier, I waited for Hubband, T, and A so that we could go on our next excursion. Unbeknownst to me, they had returned much earlier than I had, and much wetter and colder, so they had already reboarded the ship to change into drier clothes. They did have a good time, but also learned just how cold glacier run-off can be. (If you're curious, it's about 34 F.) Eventually we found each other and headed off to the mine, where we heard about the founding of Juneau, mining techniques, went inside a mine shaft, and saw an equipment demonstration. The view from just outside the mine shaft entrance was amazing:
After panning for gold and garnets in the old tracings from the mine (cheesy, I know, but still kind of fun) we went back to downtown Juneau looking for a snack. One of my rainforest guides had mentioned a little hut near a parking garage that sold king crab, so Hubband, A, and I headed there while T stopped at a different hut making crepes. Hubband and I each got a cup of steaming hot king crab bisque, while A got an order of legs. Both came with delicious garlic rolls. The bisque was unlike any other I've ever had; there was definitely a mustard flavor to it, and while it was thick and rich, it didn't sit in our bellies like a brick the way some will. There was a ridiculous number of enormous chunks of crab in each cup. Fabulous. A, who doesn't particularly like seafood, ordered the crab legs in a fit of adventurousness, and reaped the dividends. Steamed freshly to order, caught that day, he was shocked by how much he loved them. T caught up with us, carrying an enormous crepe folded in 4 and filled with chocolate, strawberries, and bananas. Perhaps not as authentically Alaskan as king crab, but delicious. The young woman making those crepes loved her job, and it showed. Everyone we met in town seemed to share that quality of love; mostly it was a love for their home, and an eagerness to share the reasons why. I think the reasons were pretty obvious.

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