After the cruise ships depart…

…Skaguay is so compelling. But the cruise ships sit in the harbour like enormous hotels, towns even, during the day, and it’s hard to get a sense of the town without them. We arrived yesterday and thought how beautiful the buildings were. Yet the main street — Broadway — was so busy that it seemed like a place turned over to tourism. Shops selling diamonds and t-shirts, trinkets of one sort and another.

After settling into our B&B, we wandered around a bit and then signed up for a walking tour at the Klondike Gold Rush National Parks Centre. That was wonderful. This organization preserves many of the original historical buildings in Skaguay (I loved that the ranger who guided our tour insisted on this spelling) and in fact these buildings are gorgeous. Unlike so many towns of the late 19th c., Skaguay never had a fire to destroy its wooden buildings so many of them are intact, false fronts and all.

Our ranger-guide took us to the Moore cabin, William Moore and his son being the founders of the location that became Skaguay at the base of the White Pass route to the gold fields. I spent last summer and the fall working on a novella which has at its heart a character who travelled with his father to Klukwan on the Chilkat River in the late 19th c. – early 20th c. to observe the Tlingit potlatches and to try to acquire some of the ceremonial objects associated with the Whale House. I was particularly interested in Louis Shotridge, a Tlingit man who went on to become an ethnographer involved in attempts to sell artifacts from Klukwan. Louis’s father George was keeper of the Whale House.

Imagine my surprise as I entered William Moore’s house and saw an enormous photograph of one of the Klukwan potlatches! It turns out that Moore’s son, J. Bernard Moore, married Louis’s sister, Klinget-sai-yet. This made the tour much more potent than I expected and the realization that this community was adjacent to Klukwan has coloured the past two days.

Today we went by catamaran to Juneau for the day, a long day, stopping enroute at a Steller sea lion rookery on Lynn Canal to see the huge males basking on the rocks while females and their pups nursed nearby.

The air was pungent with them and it was noisy as well.We saw humpback whales, harbour seals, a pod of Dall’s porpoises darting swiftly around our boat. After a few hours in Juneau, we were taken to to the Mendenhall Glacier which was extraordinary. So blue and vast!

Then back to Skaguay. We went over to Skagway Brewing Company Saloon for something to eat (we had two meals there yesterday because the food was so good) and enjoyed a ramekin of crab and artichokes and a platter of smoked salmon along with a glass or two of wine. I loved the music which the bar-tender said was a band from his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota — Trampled by Turtles. A blend of bluegrass and folk, with a kind of homage to Steve Earle, evident in the intelligence of lyrics and melody. I’m going to look for their cd called “Palomino”.

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