“Who looks outside dreams, who looks within, awakes.” – Carl Jung
What’s on my mind today? Well, I’m wondering if anyone is tired of learning life lessons? I know I get a little weary when I go through a rough patch and lesson after lesson hurl themselves in front of me. My sister Linda calls it the human condition. As long as we are in these human bodies, the lessons will continue to arrive, as sure as the sun rises tomorrow! Sometimes they trickle in, and other times it’s a flash flood!
I recently returned from a vacation I had planned for over 3 decades, and there were a few currents of lessons streaming in, some of them familial and others logistical. Nothing like a trip with family to bring up lessons to the surface from their submerged crevices! It was my dream to take an Alaskan cruise with hubby when we both retired. We talked about it many times but something shifted: hubby decided that he heard enough horror stories about cruises, so he opted to stay home. So that was a lesson to allow hubby his decision, get over the disappointment and revise my dream. Happily for me, my daughter agreed to go as did my sister Linda and her daughter so it turned into a mother-daughter trip!
We reserved the trip one year in advance and looked forward to seeing the gorgeous inside passage of the Alaskan Glacier National Park. It did not disappoint. We cruised on calm, crystalline waters, and mesmerized into silence by the beauty, we could hear a pin drop.
Soon, a passenger on an adjacent balcony broke into what sounded like a Buddhist prayer song. It didn’t detract from the experience; instead, it reverently added to the meditative and sacred moment. It was exquisite and perfect.
The exterior beauty of the inside passage prompted me more than once to go within and consider the inside passage of my own inner journey, the one I’m faced with day to day – taking inventory of my gifts, talents, shortcomings and yes, those dreaded character defects. The human condition, as my sister calls it. The journey within can be the greatest of explorations and there are hazards as well as great beauty and surprises. It’s the most important journey we will ever take – the one towards self knowledge.
But back to the cruisers — it had been many years since the four of us had traveled together, so we each needed to find our sea legs and figure out how to navigate around our individual personalities and needs, and adjust accordingly. If a disagreement came up, forgiveness prevailed and principles were placed above personalities. In the end, it was truly a family trip of a lifetime and love and unity won out. Unity is is a hard-won victory, and practicing humility and keeping a mouth shut are key ingredients for success in that department, because… “Every time I try to tighten the noose of resentment around someone’s neck, I am really only choking myself. Today I will practice forgiveness instead.” Courage to Change, page 289
On the nuts and bolts side of the journey, if I had to do it over, here’s what I would change:
1. Get a balcony room. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, get an interior room with no window on an Alaskan Cruise. Spend the extra money. My daughter and I had a mid-ship interior room which was reputed to register low on the sea sickness chart. Sure we got to spend time on my sister’s balcony, but I regret terribly not having my own balcony where I could relax and view (in the comfort of my own space) all the spine tingling magnificence that Alaska offers. My daughter and I are not claustrophobic, but an interior, windowless room can get dark and stuffy and close in on you big time. BIG MISTAKE!
2. If getting away from the rat race is important to you, do not go in early August when 3,000+ other people and active kids decide to join you too. You’ll have problems getting a dinner table, let alone space in a hot tub or an available treadmill. It may feel like a floating zoo. Perhaps consider going off season. I wish I had gone in September. May is an option, too, since the Alaskan cruises run May to September. I do have to say, for all the people on the boat, the cruise staff was incredibly conscientious and customer service focused.
3. If spending more time on land in a place as spectacular as Alaska is important to you, and you still want to take a cruise, think about taking a smaller boat out of a port as far north as possible, maybe Vancouver. We flew up to Seattle, and there was a good amount of time on water (not as much had we embarked in San Francisco so we didn’t make that mistake, thank God). The stops in Alaska are rather quick and you better be back on the ship in time for sailing! What can I say, it was only a 7 day cruise so time was limited.
4. IMHO, don’t aim to pack for fancy, formal cruise ship dinners (yes, daughter, you were right). It’s okay to be as casual as you want; but if dressing fancy on a cruise is your thing, more power to you. I brought 6 dresses (!) and only wore 2. The rest of the evenings I wore comfortable black slacks. Even though the cruise ship had two formal nights, people wore what they wanted! I did not need those darn dresses – they simply took up room in my suitcase. The cruise line may try to steer men in the direction of renting formal wear; if this is not for you, don’t worry. I did not see one man in black tie!
5. Even if the weather forecast for your destination spells out balmy temperatures, plan for cold and wind on the ship decks. Alaska was having temperatures in the 70s so I decided not to pack my North Face fleece or my super warm hat. I brought a lighter yoga jacket, a sweatshirt and a packable down jacket instead. I really missed my warm fleece that keeps me comfortable on the dank, cold, foggy Northern California coast. I could have used it on the ship’s deck where on cruising days, it was no way near a balmy 70 degrees.
6. Don’t forget the binoculars so you can get closer to the Humpback whales. I completely forgot about binoculars (as did everyone else in my party). One can buy binoculars on the ship, but I had a budget and decided not to make that expenditure. This reminds me that there are lots of opportunity to exercise purchasing power on a ship where jewelry and photo buying ops spring up around every corner. We ignored all of those to the best of our ability.
7. Arrive at your city of departure at least a day early. My sister and I arrived on the same day the cruise was scheduled to leave and had flights been canceled or delayed, we would have been in trouble. I was adhering to a budget and being stubborn. Our daughters traveled the day before and got in some fun and sightseeing. A friend who had taken an Alaskan Cruise counseled me after the fact: when you do a trip like this, don’t go half measure. Who knows if you will ever do it again!
8. Don’t forget the rain parka. Ketchikan is the one of the rainiest places in North America. I brought a parka but forgot it when we stopped in that rainy salmon fishing capital. I did semi-okay with a light sweatshirt topped with a thin down vest and ear muff, but I got wet. I also left my tote umbrella back home and wished I had it in my backpack. Do take time to visit the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan (so much cool history and very reasonable entrance fee, $5 for seniors!) and if you find kids in Ketchikan who are doing the following, I hope you’ll stop to say hi (as I did) and interrupt their trance! Ha ha.
They were so absorbed in their phones that they didn’t know a stranger was taking a photo of them…with her smart phone! They told me they were playing games, and like the seasoned Grandmother I am, I politely told them they were missing out on all the Alaskan beauty surrounding them.
They missed this, thousands of salmon waiting to swim upstream and a hardy fisherman who caught one and released it!
Or a Bald Eagle hiding in a tree in the thick of the town:
An ancient totem pole carved from western red cedar, the tree of life for the Native peoples:
A cool sea plane that took off from a watery runway:
I love my phone too and I usually get my blogs started on it, but something is wrong when we are smack dab in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery that God has created, and our faces are stuck in our phones. I recall a wise man musing out loud that he thinks we are losing our connection not only to Nature, but to our own intuition due to our smart phone addiction. For some, technology has become a god and our self soothing pacifier. However, Nature offers such healing possibilities and miracles that can generate goosebumps and make us FEEL ALIVE because our senses and souls have been touched by splendor. (Sorry, a smart phone can’t do that.)
In the past few years, I’ve met a Vietnam vet who visited the Grand Canyon and was so taken with it that he stayed to live and work there. In his words, he chose Nature instead of alcohol to glue back the pieces of his shattered spirit. I also met a man who lost his wife suddenly and took to hiking in the San Jacinto wilderness above Palm Springs (accessible by aerial tramway) every single summer weekday to absorb the healing medicine of that magical location. He lost a lot of weight and that was a welcome side benefit because his own health was shaky. The Park Ranger greeted him with “Hey there, Trail Ninja!” Nature had changed this man, but he had opened his heart to the possibilities. The Trail Ninja offered some nuggets of wisdom before he stepped off the Palm Springs tram: life is too short; don’t hold grudges.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
If I find myself feeling a little low, I’ll remember these vistas that I inhaled in like a curative nectar, and I know a happy glow will be rekindled in my heart:
Lessons learned: Don’t be a cheapskate; don’t stubbornly adhere to a budget if you have some flexibility. I’ll reveal now that the cruise line made a mistake on my itinerary and reached out to me about a month ahead of time and offered a balcony room at half price and after some thought, I declined the offer. I thought, a room is a room and how much time will I be spending in it? Can anyone throttle me now? My daughter was a real champ about it and went with the flow, but we both suffered and longed for fresh air and a view. On the philosophical side, I’ll take a cue from the Trail Ninja and try to live my life letting go of grudges and resentments; forgiving as I would want myself to be forgiven. Would I take a cruise again? Probably not, but never say never. I’m glad I went and I gathered up some precious family memories, and now I get to check it off the list. Done. Next ?
I’d love to hear from readers about cruise experiences or anything else that comes up as a result of reading this August edition, and I’ll close with this…
May your inner passage be filled with more tranquility than rough seas!
Offered up with love and humility,