It was the most wonderful and exotic of all our trips (as each trip is in its turn). The only flaw was that Carol forbade me to bring my laptop. Had I done so, I could have sent picked up and sent e-mail every day from Seattle, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Glacier Bay, and even from the ship, which had a satellite phone. Had I been able to do so, you would have received relatively pithy reports on a daily basis. Now, as I rely on my memory to recall it all, it will be as though I invited you over to see our slides--"Here is another view of the glacier." (Yawn. Yawn. What time will this be over?) As they say on the answering machine messages, "You may press the * key at any time to skip this message and leave one of your own."

The trip was planned in Barnes Hospital last summer. As I lay in bed, snatched from the jaws of the malachamovess, I looked at Carol the Haggard and said, "I've put you through hell. What would you like? Anything you want." Instantly, she said, "Alaska." She had been noodging to go to Alaska for years, but I had insisted that we were young and vibrant and active, and that an Alaska cruise is for when you are 90, and they roll you out onto the deck in your wheelchair, and say, "Look!! A glacier!!" And you say, "Grgaaghhhhhhh," and motion towards the dining room with your cane.

The trip we chose was through the Harvard Musuem of Comparative Zoology, run by Special Expeditions, owned by Lars-Olaf Lindblad, the Swedish explorer and meatball maker. We flew to Seattle on Frequent Fliers, and changed planes for Juneau. Juneau is the capital of Alaska, the largest city in the United States in terms of square miles, with a population of about 8,000. You can only get to Juneau by plane or boat--there are no roads in. The architecture looks sort of like a frontier town movie set or perhaps like Athol, Massachusetts. The food sucks. It has the world's most beautiful K-Mart that looks out at a snow-covered mountain. We met the group we were to travel with, for the most part lovely people, bright and interesting. Out of 60 people, only 2 or 3 were obnoxious. They took us to the Mendenhall Glacier, right in town, our first. A glacier is essesntially a frozen river of ice that moves slowly (inches/week) but inexorably down through mountain passes from a massive ice field on top down to the bay. A glacier is a wonder of the world. It is so huge. Craggy. You don't just see it. You experience it with all your senses. The ice is so dense it is a bright blue, not white. The closer you get to it, the colder the air gets. There is an eerie silence before it. Nobody speaks. Huge chunks of ice weighing tons "calve" off it as it nears the water, avalanching with a crack, then a roar of thunder, and then a huge splash. If your 200-foot boat is 200 yards away, you feel a substantial wake. Sometimes, the ice within the glacier crackles and pops. I dubbed these noises "glacier farts."

That night, we went to the movies and saw ConAir. Not bad. Not as good as "The Rock," but not bad. Great movie theatre in Juneau. 30 people in it. Huge wide screen. Good print. Volume turned up to 10. And we got Senior tickets with no hassle.

We went to a salmon egg farm, where they take one lucky stud salmon and squeeze his belly with all their might until he comes all over millions of eggs that are laid out on a screen. Amazingly, all the offspring look just like him. The next time you see a salmon laid out on the ice in the A&P, take a good look at its face. The stud salmon was probably his father. We ate a lot of salmon in Alaska--King salmon, Pink Salmon, Red Salmon, Coho Salmon, Copperhead Sockeye Salmon, Chub salmon. Also halibut. They use halibut like a junk fish for fish and chips.

Then shopping.

Then to the airfield, where we got into a convoy of 4-6 seater Piper Cubs that flew us up to Skagway, a gold rush town that has been converted into a movie set with stores for tourists. Yuk. We did buy a rather elegant Russian lacquer box of Czar Sultan, made in Palekh, where the best boxes come from. Lots of Russian influence in Alaska, but few Russians. In Skagway, we went up a 20-mile railroad that climbed a mountain to where the gold was. It followed the prospectors' foot trail. Most of them died on the trail from starvation, cold, falls. The Jews stayed in town below, sold dry goods, and ran the brothels. The view from the old railroad cars was magnificent--vistas of mountains, ice fields, mountain goats.

From Skagway, we got into our planes again for a flight to Glacier Bay. Our pilot was a cool guy with a pigtail who reminded me of my friend, Doug Cruickshank. He treated us to runs through the mountain passes, coming within a few feet of the walls, up and down, banking right and left, zipping over treetops with a few feet to spare. It was like a James Bond movie. After you said the Sh'ma, you sat back and enjoyed the ride. It was like Disneyland.

We stayed at a lodge in Glacier Bay overnight, and got on the Sea Lion the next morning. The boat has 32 cabins, a dining room, and a lounge with a bar. Our cabin was tight, but adequate. There was no reason to stay in it, except to sleep. The food was surprisingly good. Good cheap wine,too, and Campari at the bar. There were lots of doctors on the trip: four psychiatrists, a cardiologist, an orthopedist, an internist, a dentist, and a family practicioner. What little leisure time there was (the sun rises at 3:30 AM and sets at 11:00 PM, and just being on deck is thrilling), I spent learning my music for the week at the Berkshire Choral Festival in August.

At dinner aboard ship
Mitch & Adam Kapor (retired, invented Lotus), Michael, Sally & Jerry Sussman (real estate agent & entertainment lawyer), Carol, Chuck & Sheila Schwartz (psychiatrist & therapist)
The bay is smooth, and the boat rock-steady. The main entertainment was talks by the naturalists. There were 7 naturalists with us on the trip, specialists in botany, mammals, geology. Every morning we went out in the Zodiac boats, rubber rafts that took us ashore for hikes in virgin woods. The naturalists kept calling out, "Yo, bear!!" to let them know we were coming through. I learned the difference between a brown bear (same thing as a grizzly bear--ursus arctis horribilis) and a black bear. If attacked, you lie down and play dead in front of the brown bear, and you attack the black bear head-on, punching it in the nose. Or is it the other way around? The problem also is that some black bears are brown, and some brown bears are black. The main thing is not to run, because then they think you are a dog and not human, and they can run down a horse and then they kill you. This goes against all Jewish instincts, but, as I say, if you worry about such things, stay in town and sell dry goods. I was surprised that I was able to do the hikes as well as I did. We were wearing knee-length waterproof boots so as to disembark from the Zodiacs, and to be able to walk through "boot-sucking mud." We learned all about the flora and fauna, and the plants and animals as well. Beautiful wild flowers. Stupendous fir trees. Breathtaking vistas from the boat of mountains, snow, water, sky. And there were no other people, no other boats, no telephone lines, no planes. It was our world.
Hiking in woods 
                                                      Hiking in woods                                                    The forest
Carol & bearscat Michael & sea otter skeleton
                                                                      Carol & bearshit                                           Michael & sea otter skeleton

We saw bald eagles, abounding like robins. Brown bears. Black bears. Timber wolves. Mountain goats. Sea otters frolicking in large groups, playing like silly children. Orcas. Did you know there is more than one Orca the Killer Whale? And we saw many humpback whales feeding, sometimes within a few yards of the boat. They are big, their breath stinks, they frolic and flip, jump out of the water, make lots of noise. We love them. They are so cute. I attempted to make a harpoon out of a Swiss Army knife and a bamboo curtain rod, but the naturalists were upset.

We kept saying to each other how brilliant we were not to have taken a large ocean liner cruise, and to have chosen this small and intimate way. And then, while we were drifting before the Stewart Glacier, watching and listening to it calve, a small cabin cruiser pulled up. On its front deck was a steaming hot tub with two naked people in it, sipping champagne, who had come to see the glacier. That was the way to go.
Hot tub boatHot tub boat Glacier bayGlacier Bay

Glacier Bay at sunset from ship

We ended up in Sitka, a Russian town. The eskimos, who are composed of different tribes, came over the land bridge, when Asia and North America were connected at the Aleutian Islands. The Russians then came over and conquered the Tlingit (pronounced Klinkit) at the Battle of Sitka. There are wonderful totem poles and costumes. There was a Russian church. Most of those who attend are Aleut eskimos.

From Sitka, we flew to Seattle, where we spent a day. Seattle is a wonderful city, like San Francisco in its feel, but more scenic in vista, and with more rain. We had dinner with Ammi Borenstein and his girlfriend (looks like bride-to-be to me), Vivian Scheid. He is taking a job in outdoor gear design, just having finished school in this. They have a lovely house to live in, and clearly do well with each other. She is a lovely elementary school teacher. We were both struck by how self-aware Ammi has become, how new-age in the very best sense of the word, very much in touch with his feelings and accepting of himself and others.

We had two great dinners in Seattle, which abounds in great restaurants. It is also oyster heaven. We spent a morning in the Pike Street Market, one food vendor after the next selling fresh fish of all kinds, fresh vegetables and fruits. We ate a pound of Rainier cherries. And a poppy seed pastry from a Russian bakery, and Starbucks coffee, and a croissant, and a muffin, and samples of all kinds of fruits and sauces--all before 11 o'clock. We took a harbor cruise, and hung out in funky neighborhoods looking in funky boutique windows.

Then home. Last night, our 36th anniversary, we ate at Cafe Nuovo. I had made a reservation for a gondola ride (Providence now has an authentic Venetian gondola cruising its newly opened riverfront), but it rained, so we went tonight instead, sipping wine, eating bread and cheese, to the strains of "Mattinata" on the boom box in the bow.

The Providence Gondola
How lucky I am to live. To live in such a world. To see such wonders. How blessed I am with Carol and our children. We spoke with Marjorie tonight, who went out to White Sulphur Springs today with Jonathan, where they signed the contract for May 10. The Kotex website she designed got mentioned in USA TODAY this week as one of the best around. We got a card today from Andy, who is tracing the family trees in Lithuania and Latvia. He davened Kabalat Shabbat at the Vilna Shul this past Friday evening. Prospects are looking good for a job in NYC for him when he returns on July 7.

This weekend, we are going up to the Berkshires for the wedding of Eric Putnoi and Debbie Polansky.

What a life we have.