Winter Ferry Tales

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2010

I am on the ferry as I write. Presently, I am somewhere near the tip of Vancouver Island in Johnstone Straits. It is the Inside Passage at its best - calm waters and snow-capped peaks bathing in the colors of the sunset. The only thing missing is the humpbacks. I enjoy these long, tranquil moments on the ferry. They kinda of make up for those nights sleeping on the floor with the swim team who, of course, arrive in a jubilant mass at 1 a.m.

Ferry trips are also about meeting people. This is something I look forward to, particularly since the odds are pretty good for running into someone from Juneau or Ketchikan. On this trip I met an old friend from Ketchikan - a fisherman I worked closely with some 20 years ago. Our time together on the ferry has been absolutely delightful. So has been exchanging pleasantries with the people sitting near you in the cafeteria. However, I can't say the same about those late night "Sages of the Solarium." I don't know what it is about stars and heat lamps that make these young, newly minted Alaskans think they are now so endowed with worldly wisdom that we all so very much want to hear it. Wait a minute, wasn't that me 33 years ago?

Right up there with the sages of the solarium are the "Guitar Beards," putting on an ad lib performance in the bar. Like the sages, they think I 'm here just to listen to them; that I'm just dying to hear "Margaritaville" sung drunkenly one more time. Time to go check out the kids in the aft playroom. Sure enough, toddlers and Legos all over the place.

There is something refreshing about the sameness of ferry travel 20 years later - like scouting for the flamingo tree on an island in Peril Straits. This was a fun moment to renew with my fellow Southeast Alaska travelers. Sharing this moment is also a statement about the difference between traveling in the fall and winter compared to summer. In summer, the flamingo tree is a joke for tourists, in winter the flamingo tree is a bond among local travelers. However, I do have to admit I miss seeing the "what the heck" reaction when they realize those eagles are just plastic flamingoes tied high in the tree. This is a fun memory to share with all 15 of us in the forward observation deck.

Yes, winter ferries mean less people. You can roam around the ferry and a find a seat or a lounge chair wherever you want. There is so much space, I must admit there were plenty of recliners to quiet that 1 a.m. sports team once they got settled.

However, for me the most prevalent feature of ferry trips is time. You have plenty of time to read, to linger over one more cup of coffee, to stroll around the deck, to play cards, to write, to listen to music and then you can have a late lunch with plenty of time to read, write and stroll again before dinner. The rhythm of the days slow down with the lazy speed of ferry travel. Even the scenery is on slow. Although I'm ready to get off this ferry after three nights and days, I am thankful for the slowing down of time. This is what makes ferry rides good for the soul.

Time to go check in on those "Guitar Beards" in the bar. Now, how sweet is that to hear a James Taylor tune coming from the corner?

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.

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