North, to Alaska, up north, the rush is on

Published 8:57 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

There were no pigs in the airport.

They weren’t flying yet.

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I was flying — to Alaska.

I took a plane. It seemed wise.

If God had wanted us to fly, he’d have given us airplanes. He did, we have them, and I fly.

I couldn’t stop staring at the blinking “L” on the plane’s “Lavatory” sign because air travel combines boredom and panic in inventive ways. Takeoffs are optional. Landings are mandatory. So are beverage carts. I don’t drink soft drinks, pop, soda or any of the other names those drinks answer to. Except — there is always an exception — under certain conditions while I’m flying. I get odder as I get older. That’s quite a challenge, but I seem to be up to it. If someone sneezes behind me on a plane, my complimentary beverage has to be ginger ale.

Some years, as I’ve traveled to Haines, the airplanes kept getting smaller as if they were Russian dolls. The last plane was formfitting. This year, I went from a big plane to a ferry. The ferry is much roomier. After flying in a cramped airplane, the ferry felt as if I’d taken off tight shoes.

It takes time to get from Minnesota to Alaska. It’s time spent wisely, but I don’t know why they had to put Alaska so far away.

A friend went for a walk near Haines and in a river, he saw a bear that scared the living daylights out of him. I advised him that the bear was more afraid of him than he was of the bear. He replied, “If that’s true, that river is no longer fit to fish in.”

Bear bells are popular accessories. The sound of bells is supposed to alert a bear of the wearer’s presence. You don’t want to surprise a bear. Bears don’t like surprises. You wear bells and hope that one of them isn’t a dinner bell. I tell those whose budgets don’t allow for the purchase of bear bells to yell, “Back off bear, I have a bell!”

I can guarantee that the bells are effective on gummy bears.

The same friend went salmon fishing. He’s not much of a fisherman. He didn’t even catch a can of salmon. I told him that he should have gone fishing in Ketchikan.

Alaska is where you learn that you should never run away from a problem unless it happens to be moose.

I spent time in Juneau. I took my wife on a city bus. I’m the last of the big spenders. We missed the bus at one of its stops. “If I run, could I catch the bus?” I asked a bystander, who might have been innocent.

He replied, “If you run, you could pass the bus.”

Juneau is 600 miles southeast of Anchorage and 900 miles northwest of Seattle. It has approximately 31,000 residents. The city and borough (equivalent to a county) cover about 3,100 square miles. Juneau is surrounded by Tongass National Forest, a temperate rain forest. Juneau has an annual precipitation of 92 inches. Temperatures are 25-to-35 degrees in winter and 55-to-65 during the summer. The longest day is June 21, with 18 hours of sunlight. Juneau was born in 1880 when Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau discovered gold in Gold Creek. There are 40 miles of paved roads in Juneau and another 22 miles on Douglas Island. The highest speed limit on any road is 55 mph.

Alaska is where rhubarb and smoked-salmon flavored vodkas thrive. The leading vegetable crop is the potato. Birch syrup is made in Alaska. It takes 110 gallons of sap to make a gallon of this syrup as opposed to a 40 to 1 ratio for maple syrup

Juneau might be our cloudiest city. What did the Juneau resident say to the Pillsbury Doughboy? “Nice tan.”

The first time I visited Alaska, it had me at the mountains. The rest was just gravy. I walked where there were no rooftops because much of Alaska neighbors the margin. The odds of meeting interesting people are good, but the goods are odd.

I took up residence in Haines. My accommodations were fine except for the sink drain, which was slower than an election recount. In a masterpiece of the ridiculous, either a fur coat or the results of someone shaving his pet porcupine had clogged the sink.

Martin Luther said, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

Luther could have added, “And in unclogged sinks.”


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.