“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

23.5 Degrees

Oh, the words we eat. And eat. And eat.

A hungry friend at a Juneau salmon bake on Gold Creek.

It must be sometime in the recent past (because I remember it) that I last said, “Me, on a cruise to Alaska? Never. I go to Alaska to get out in it. You can’t get out in it on a cruise.”
If words were delectable, life for me would have been a gourmet feast. Yes, I ate the words and went on a wonderful cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage. The food was delectable, the service unbeatable, and the ship a floating resort.

Every night a gourmet feast on The Radiance of the Seas, a floating 13-story resort.

Looking down at the main lobby bar from the 7th floor of the ship.

If you want to see Alaska’s Inside Passage, which has no roads and no rail lines from one stop to the next, you’re going to have to go by water; unless you have your own float plane, you need to take the Alaska ferry or a cruise. If you’re young and adventurous, you can take a sleeping bag and sleep on the deck of the ferry. Then when it drops you off in Skagway or Haines, you’re on your own.
Take the cruise.

The Radiance of the Seas docked at Icy Strait’s Tlingit community Hoonah.

Why see the Inside Passage in particular? Because Alaska’s southeastern “panhandle” is different from the other FIVE Alaskas. Yes, Alaska is big enough to have six huge sections that are all unlike each other.

The other five are the Gulf Coast (south central), including Anchorage, the Kenai peninsula and Seward, and Prince William Sound; the south western Peninsula and Aleutian Chain, which reaches out some 1,500 miles toward Asia and is the boundary between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea; the Bering Sea coast, which is a relatively harsh, sparsely populated, cold and windy flatland; the Great Interior, the vast land (almost 170,000 square miles) between the Brooks Range on the north – the entrance to the Arctic – and the Alaska Range to the south, including Denali, Fairbanks, the Yukon River, and tundra, lots of tundra; and finally, the Arctic, from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean, before going to which, I suggest you read John McFee’s Coming into the Country and bone up on your courage.

Rule One
In all six sections, there’s only one rule: In Alaska, Nature rules. Period. Break that rule at your own peril. Alaska is a land of extremes that range from incomparable beauty to dangerous hostility. It is all light and all dark -- because of the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth on its axis.

In the summer, Alaska looks the Sun in the eye; in winter, the land can be as dark as blindness. Our ship, Radiance of the Seas, cruised us to Seward just in time to get to Anchorage for the nearly 24-hour daylight of the summer solstice. Alaskans will tell you that by the end of the summer, they are very tired.

Susitna, “The Sleeping Lady,” as seen from an Anchorage hotel, about 2 a.m.

As is true for all of Alaska, the Inside Passage is a gourmet feast for the senses -- in high def. It must be the closeness to the sun or clearness of the atmosphere, but the light that bears down on Alaska, clarifying the colors as if sent through a prism, might burn like a laser were it not for the clouds and rain. On a clear day, each color is saturated, it seems to its limit.
On cloudy rainy days, of which there are many along the Inside Passage, the blue-green backdrop seems to enhance the colors of the small communities built along the coast. Mountain ranges don’t allow these communities any depth, and the streets of some are built on pilings over the water.

Above: Juneau (top) and Ketchikan,  where the coast road is built on pilings over the water.

Not only is the Inside Passage different from the other Alaskas, the views along the passage change, gradually transforming from a softness at the southern end, including Ketchikan, to a majestic, rugged beauty at the northern end, including Yukatat, Hubbard Glacier, Prince William Sound, and Seward.

Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay.
I remembered James A. Michener’s description of the birth and death of glaciers in his 1988 novel Alaska. I tracked it down:
If the valley down which the glacier came ended at the shoreline, the towering face of ice would come right to the edge of the ocean, where in due time, fragments of the glacier, sometimes as big as cathedrals, sometimes bigger, would break away with resounding cracks that would reverberate through the air for many miles as the resulting iceberg crashed into the ocean, where it would ride as an independent entity for months and even decades. Then it became a thing of majestic beauty, with sunlight glistening on its towering spires, with waves playing about its feet, and with birds saluting it as they sped by.

Hubbard Glacier, closer.

Different cruise lines may choose different port stops along the Passage. Most will include Ketchikan at the southern end.

Ketchikan’s hillside community.

Other possible stops include one on Prince of Wales Island, then the communities of Wrangel, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Hoonah on Icy Strait, Gustavas, and Seward. Most will cruise near a powerful glacier. Once the ship exits through Icy Strait, it leaves the relative safety of the fjords and is in the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska, where the temperature can drop from around 65 degrees Fahrenheit in June/July to 5 or 10 degrees less (or more, depending on whether the sun is out or behind clouds). Alongside a glacier, it is cold, really cold.

All the beauty belies that lying in wait underneath is a dangerous harshness. The few people who live along the Passage know not to break Nature’s rules; they learn to live with the beauty, the land, the waters and wildlife, as well as with awareness of the dangers.

Hoonah, a fish packing community, is home for native Tlingits, who know how to live with Alaska’s harshness.

See more photos of the Radiance of the Seas and of the Inside Passage here.

Grieving with a Classmate

Anchorage High School 1961 classmate Dave Barnett and his wife Diane have suffered an unspeakable loss, and sadness hovers so thick, I feel I can barely breathe. On Saturday, July 30, a mid-air collision of two float planes over Anchorage took the lives of their daughter, her husband, and their two children.

The wake will be held tomorrow and the visitation and memorial service will be held Friday.
Dave and Diane were among our classmates who took the cruise up the Inside Passage, having flown out from Anchorage to Vancouver to board the ship and return to Anchorage for the 50th reunion; I was able to spend time getting reacquainted. I am simply unable to know what to say or do that would convey my wish to offer comfort at a horrific time like this.

May their daughter Hetty, her husband Corey, and their two children rest in peace. May Dave and Diane find some way, through faith, family, and friends, to survive this awful loss. They are in my mind and heart.

Drop Dead Denial

My daughter has just been transported from the county jail, where she has been for nearly a year, to Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama, to begin her 20-year sentence imposed for her drug-related crimes.

The Norwegian right-wing Christian extremist who killed nearly 70 young people at a Youth Camp near Oslo is looking at a 21-year sentence.

Tutwiler is a hell hole by anyone’s standards. Julia Tutwiler, an Alabama heroine, would be horrified and repulsed by what Alabamians have allowed to happen and by what Americans have allowed to happen in today’s prisons, while believing they aren’t paying for it.

How do I feel about my daughter’s imprisonment, regardless of how warped the sentencing is?


Why? How could I be relieved? Amy Winehouse. I know what dead is.

I also know that drug addiction is a fatal disease. Americans – huge numbers of them – continue their denial of this fact, despite a huge body of evidence to the contrary. Medical and biological evidence is clear: addition is a disease.

This fact is NOT the same thing as saying, “Calling addition a disease gives addicts a free ride. They don’t have to take responsibility for what they do.”

Addicts don’t have a free ride. Look at Amy Winehouse, the most recent celebrity to die from addiction.

Weird Denial
Denial is a hard, hard concept, one that is difficult to get your mind around. How can you be in denial if you know you’re in denial? Denial is believing you are NOT in denial, that what you think or feel or choose to believe is real, true, correct, accurate. Whatever evidence to the contrary is presented, denial will insist on denying the evidence. How totally weird.

To get out of denial is tantamount to confronting difficult truths, admitting you are wrong. Humans don’t want to do this confronting thing. It is embarrassing; it hurts too bad; it’s a life changer. And it reveals the denier as the worst, most hurtful kind of liar – one who lies to oneself, usually for self-protection, to avoid hurt. Who can fault them?

I can.

Denial works on an individual level and on a societal level. The worst part about denial is that it doesn’t work – not for the short term and not for the long term. There is way too much collateral damage.

Americans are in denial about America’s and its citizens' roles in the current Drug War and how we are enabling the Mexican cartels to do their unspeakable crimes. America supplies the guns. Americans are the highest users of drugs.

Not to believe this, despite all the evidence, is to be in denial.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, who has been a medical director for rehab clinics and who has become a television face, now has a program on Headline News at 9 p.m. (eastern time); he recently reacted to an English policeman’s cautioning people not to speculate on the causes of Amy Winehouse’s death. He took issue with that stance.

He calls the addiction the real cause of death, whether she died of an overdose, alcohol withdrawal, a heart attack or whatever might be reported as the “primary cause.” “Twenty-seven-year-olds don’t just die,” he says.

Too few people know that withdrawing from most drugs won’t kill you, although addicts often wish they were dead during withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is different. It can kill. Alcoholics in treatment are withdrawn (detoxed) slowly. Long-term alcoholics who quit drinking abruptly and are not under a doctor’s care can die from the physical effects of the withdrawal when it turns into delirium, tremors, and seizures. The body’s vital functions can simply quit.

So if Amy Winehouse died from abrupt withdrawal from alcohol, as her family appears to think happened, then the addiction to alcohol was the bottom-line cause.

Biology 101
In his 2003 book Cracked: Putting Broken Lives Together Again, Dr. Drew (as he is known) explains the biology to a group of addicts in treatment:
“Why are you addicted? The simple answer is that some people are configured biologically in such a way to respond very positively to substances. . . . What makes you an addict is primarily a change in a tiny region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.
“This region of your brain has started to mistake the chemical message of survival with the message delivered by drugs. The drive to use becomes confused with the drive to survive. . . . These drives demand gratification with the same life-or-death intensity as taking a breath.”
Neurobiology and brain research more than supports these statements. Not to accept Dr. Drew’s information is to be in denial.

If I want my daughter to live, then I want her in prison. If she were to get back out on the streets, she would die. There’s no denial of death.

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