An Alaskan Journey

Summaries are always difficult. Particularly when attempting to summarize a week’s worth of overlapping experiences in travel sight seeing, conference participation, disability management outside of regular coping strategies, long-time friendships renewed, new friendships sparked, wildlife sightings, and the extravagance of a cruise ship coupled with many thoughts about the ecological and sociological morality of it all. I mean I suppose that sentence was a summary with many commas, but it catches no depth and living it was deep.

I wish I had pictures of the whales. They were unseeable except with binoculars and tiny even through magnification, but I saw them leap from the water and splash. Giant humpback whales spouting in circles, slapping their tails, and flinging themselves airborne. For fifteen minutes I watched as our ship sailed further away and they became too small to be seen. I know they were not playing, they were hunting or communicating, yet I imagine the whales get a thrill from being airborne. I hope the splash brings them joy. I felt kinship with them as a creature who sometimes does things because they make me happy rather than because they contribute to my survival.

I’m so glad I got to see the whales while cruising past Alaska.

The whales came after the alpaca sweaters purchased in Juneau made from wool in Peru. The sweaters are much more expensive than clothing I usually purchase or wear. I’m sure some of the cost is tourist tax, but most of it is simply the cost of quality and craft. They came on the morning after a very hard day where all the world felt too much. Disability felt heavy and like it stole all the joy from the trip. Howard had so much pain he could barely see past it and there were no comfortable chairs. I’d been worn down by hundreds of evaluative decisions about every food I ate to make sure it aligned with my newly acquired dietary restrictions. But the next day Howard felt better, and we caught Pokemon on the dock, and I bought sweaters, and a street vendor had delicious Cambodian meats. So I traveled far north to Alaska to have South American and South East Asian joy delivered to me.

Everything was better after the sweaters. I had energy to turn outward again. I got to talk more with my fellow writer / travelers. I got to teach three times. I got to put on my sparkly dress. There was even a glorious meal at Izumi where the waiter was pre-notified about my diet restrictions and did a beautiful job of guiding my choices without making me feel like I was missing out on anything. He even conjured a layered berry mousse and sponge cake that was somehow delicious while being both wheat and dairy free. After so many “sorry we can’t make that dairy free” after scanning the buffet and seeing so many delicous-looking options that I clearly couldn’t have, after actually being brought the wrong meal and having it whisked away again, after the head waiter assured me that he would personally deliver all my meals in the future which was a lovely gesture but also meant my meals were slower to arrive. Food was complicated in dozens of tiny ways at every meal. And then there was the miraculous cake, which I did not think to photograph, but I can still see in my mind’s eye, lavender and yellow-white with berries atop.

It was on my flight home that I scanned through all the pictures on my phone. I’m so glad I took as many as I did. There were highlight moments even on the hardest day and they were all right there, allowing me to rescue the beautiful memories from the tangles of emotion. If you’ve brought any emotion with you, a trip is sure to stir it all up and bring it to the surface. I arrived to this trip with an abundance of emotional baggage that I didn’t know how to leave at home.

It is easy to think that a trip such as this one should be such an unmitigated joy, but the reality is that travel always comes with downs as well as ups. So it is left to me to decide what the story of my trip will be. I could create an instagram version of joyful photos, or I could allow the emotional mire of the hardest day to dominate my memory. I pick the whole thing. The bright moments in contrast with the other ones. The impromptu tide pooling that happened because my longed-for birding excursion got cancelled. The Pokemon caught in short walks off the ship because Howard couldn’t venture farther and Pokemon caught from the ship itself despite the frustrating Wifi. Laughing together over the first apology steak offered by staff for food mistakes…and about the second even fancier apology steak followed by a note on my account that got me extra attention for the rest of the trip. Laughing about how awkward I felt about the extra attention. Possibly the most valuable thing is an awareness of how thoroughly my friends will show up for me when they see I’m having a hard day. There was so much kindness.

It was a beautiful trip. I’m so glad I got to have it. All of it.