Silently Scuttling on the Ceiling of the Sea*

The first night on the ferry, I woke at 3:30 a.m. Alaska time to the feel of the ship rolling heavily side to side. I couldn’t see out, as we’d been given an inside cabin. Claustrophobia got the better of me and I couldn’t go back to sleep without seeing what was going on outside, so I got dressed and went up on deck. The ship was quiet – no one around but the cleaning crew and the galley staff, prepping for breakfast. Outside I was surprised to find we were sailing up a narrow channel in calm water – the rocking created, I suppose, by currents. No wind, no waves, just the silent ferry cutting through the still black water, leaving barely a ripple. The islands were silhouetted black against the pre-dawn sky, close to both sides of the ship. No signs of habitation but an occasional buoy. The land was ghostly still, the shore as wild to my senses as it must have seemed to the first white ‘explorers’ coming up the channel. All was silent yet palpably alive and I breathed into the quiet presence, the anxiety I’ve carried all winter in the city finally starting to fall away. I went to my bunk and was rocked back to sleep by the motion of the sea.

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We steamed up the Inside Passage all day, in various channels and sounds between Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C.  The islands surrounding us didn’t seem much different from Whidbey and the San Juans near where I lived on and off as a child.  Beautiful, but familiar.  In the afternoon we passed Bella Bella, a small predominately First Nations village, subsisting on fishing and logging.  On one beach was a small cluster of cheerful, red-roofed buildings fronted by a tall totem pole, what looked to be Raven on top, presiding with wings spread.  We crossed Milbanke Sound, rolling drunkenly across the open water, and into Princess Royal Channel and here the country began to feel different.  The mountains on the islands higher, topped with snow.  Waterfalls coming down vertical cliff-faces and tumbling into the sea.  All of us looking for the flash of white along the shore that could be the Kermode or spirit bear, but no wildlife sightings except some porpoises playing off the bow and a variety of birds skittering across the top of the channel in small flocks.  

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I spent the day writing, napping, snacking, and reading. Point of Direction by Rachel Weaver, about a woman on the run from grief and guilt, who meets a fisherman while she hitchhikes north on the Alcan Highway. They move to a lighthouse on a tiny island where things happen. Passage to Juneau, part memoir and part history, about a man who takes his sailboat up the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau on the same route as us. A bit too verbose for me (435 pages could easily have been 300) but lots of commentary on the land around us and the history of the area, both Native, European, and geological. And finally started The Plover by Brian Doyle, sequel to Mink River (fav. book ever) about Declan’s voyage West from Oregon into what he calls the continent of Pacifica. 

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It was a good day.

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*”silently scuttling on the ceiling of the sea” is a quote from The Plover

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