Sunday, September 21, 2008

Taking the College Fjords

Magnificent Harvard glacier "calving"

September 12

The final day of sightseeing in Alaska aboard ship proved to be one of the most awe-inspiring. It was a journey to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. If ever there was a testament to global warming, it is Glacier Bay, which was visited by Captain George Vancouver 200 years ago. Vancouver, for whom the Canadian city was named, observed that Glacier Bay was a huge bay blocked at its northern terminus by a huge wall of ice. Over the course of time since then, the glaciers have retreated leaving 65 miles of new inlets and waterways only accessible by large vessels like the Volendam. U.S. Park Rangers came on board the ship and guided passengers into historical and geological explanations of what we were witnessing for ourselves. The largest grouping of glaciers is found in Glacier Bay at an area named College Fjords because all of the glaciers were charted about a hundred years ago and named for different institutions of higher education such as Harvard, Yale and Wellsley. The sound of a glacier "calving," or dropping large chunks of ice (or icebergs) into the salt water is not unlike a clap of thunder that follows a lightning strike. The difference is that just after the booming crack lets out a large chunk of white or blue and white ice can be seen plummeting to the sea in a powerful splash. Sometimes the icebergs are quite huge, but most of the times the pieces that flake off the glacier are relatively small like the size of a small room or a bed. Thousands of these floating pieces of ice line the way toward the glaciers and resemble floating markers that signal one of nature's most incredible marvels, albeit one of its slowest moving forces. Passengers on the decks watched in awe and listened as these giants moaned and cracked througout the day as salt water incursion caused the hundreds of years-old ice to crash to the sea. The day was quite chilly and many availed themselves of ample supplies of hot chocolate to steel themselves from the constant barrage of high winds and low temperatures. This was Alaska at its brutal best and the weather that seemed in the morning to be too cloudy or threatening broke through in the afternoon yielding incredible sights and sounds that will be remembered for a lifetime.
As evening fell, it was time for Shabbat. The ship provided two challahs, some terrible kosher wine and a nice sponge cake in order to bring in the Sabbath. There was time to welcome the Sabbath Bride in a fashion with some very Reform prayerbooks and I appreciated the overture by the cruise line to accomodate the few Jews who were on board.

September 13

The last full day of the cruise was spent packing and saying goodbye to the wonderful crew aboard the M/S Volendam (that dam ship!). We were treated to an afternoon Indonesian Tea Ceremony by the wait staff, all of whom hail from Indonesia. The final meal was a "Master's Chef Dinner," where everyone got to wear chef's hats and enjoy a repast appropriately capped off with baked Alaska for dessert. The last night I helped my teammates win the "Name That Tune" contest which featured children's songs. Was there any better indication that I suffer from Peter Pan syndrome? When I finally made it to my bed for the night, the Indonesian stewart for my cabin had made one of the delightful towel animals they make for guests. He had made a lobster, a clam, and a dog among others. But he had not honored my request for an elephant. That night he did:

My elephant "towel animal"

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