Sept. 23, 2011
For this outing in Ketchikan, AK, we dressed for cold, wet weather and boarded a Grayline bus. Five passengers were on their way to drive jeeps and do some canoeing. Jon and I were among 16 to go canoeing and take a short nature walk into the rainforest.
Lots of waterfalls on the road to the Lake Ward, about 5 miles north of Ketchikan on North Tongass Highway. We were issued life jackets and ponchos then climbed into two large canoes. With that many paddles no one had to work too hard! Still, we used muscles I remember from teaching canoeing as a camp counselor many years ago.
We passed a steep waterfall (though not too closely!). Several times we stopped in the quiet and shouted to hear echoes sounding for as long as 20 seconds. Halfway around an Blueberry Island we stopped for a snack of dried salmon, bread and jam, goldfish crackers, clam chowder, and hot chocolate or coffee. The tour hosts joked that since we had been on a cruise we couldn’t go more than an hour without eating. The chowder and hot chocolate tasted especially good to me.
After the snack, Matt and Christina led two separate groups on a short mile-long walk into the rainforest. Among the hemlocks and other beauties we stopped by a creek with shale in it. Some of the shale has stripes of gold that gold miners used to mistake for the real thing. Alas, it is not even fool’s gold.
There are snags in the forest–dead trees that are still standing; and nursery trees–fallen logs; all of which provide shelter and nourishment for other forest life. A particular tree fungus called “bear bread” is also used by totem pole carvers to make a model for the actual pole. Rituals and prayers precede the use of any log. In the Tongass National Forest, nature takes its own course. Only logs that fall across the designated trail are cut away.
One tree was hollow enough for Matt, a good-sized young man, to get inside. A little mud won’t deter a guy who will spend his second winter in these woods. We made our way back to the canoes (more snacks available if desired!) then on around Blueberry Island. A light rain was falling and I was fascinated by drops of water that formed bubbles on the surface of the lake and remained there for several seconds before they popped. I haven’t ever noticed so many raindrops do that before: was it the relatively smooth lake surface, the air and water temperatures, the lightness of the rain? By the time Matt finished talking about points of interest around the lake I had forgotten to ask him.
Back to the dock to turn in our paddles and such then head back to town. Shops there were closing for the season so shopkeepers were eager to offer discounts and bargains galore. First we spent about an hour in Discovery Center until it closed. I could easily have stayed another hour there to view its displays of marine and forest life as well as the history of industry like logging, fishing, and mining.
When the Discovery Center pushed us out the door, we did do some shopping. There are some beautiful handcrafted items actually made in Alaska. One shop was way out of my price range but they do carry some wonderful items. In another shop I couldn’t pass up a small wooden bear holding a salmon, a signature wooden whale tail, or a metal sculpture featuring whale and sea turtle.