This is Alaska?

Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2003

A friend from England has been visiting me for the last 10 days, one of those independent travelers Juneau is seeking as an alternative to being overwhelmed by environmentally destructive cruise ships and their infrastructure-destroying human cargo, for which we taxpayers pick up the tab. She is of a certain age and profession, a member of the British traveling classes. Her last adventure was to walk the Milford Track in New Zealand.

She has never been to the USA before, or to Alaska. She has been overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and completely revolted by what tourism is doing to it. On seeing downtown she turned to me, her arm making a sweeping gesture that included the size, number and ugliness of cruise ships tied up and anchored, and the mercantile acne that has broken out all over the area, oozing tawdry trinkets: "What has this to do with Alaska?"

She wept over the harassment of whales by an endless procession of enormous and/or noisy boats. The whales seemed not to be able to sound fast enough when one showed up. A tour boat would arrive; flukes would show immediately. Boat after boat surrounded them until there were six, or even seven, once including the fast ferry from Haines. She was horrified by the new quarry road that is ripping up the forest near Auke Bay, the lines of buses at Brotherhood Bridge, the bullhorn near Skater's cabin, mustering a flock of perhaps 50 kayakers just disgorged from yet another bus. The peace of her early morning tea turned into a session with a dentist's drill when some jet skis went by. But the West Glacier Trail was the last straw. We were shattered by the incessant clatter of helicopters, which never let up the entire time we were walking. She had to scream to be heard over the noise. "How could you people have allowed this to happen to this beautiful wilderness? What is the matter with you? How can you bear it? Where is the silence of the forest? You cannot hear the sounds of the animals and glacier! I should have saved my money and gone hiking at Heathrow!" And with that we left the bench and went back down.

She will not return to Alaska, though she will, of course, go back to the UK and tell all her friends in the traveling classes about the destruction of the Juneau area by greed for the almighty dollar. And Juneau, fast becoming a wasteland, will lose yet more independent travelers.

I am writing this letter at her behest.

Martha Reeves


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