And just like that, the winds have changed. Our summer, such as it was, is fading with the light, as are my regular dispatches from Petersburg. I heard KRBD’s Leila Kheiry on the radio interviewing Wes Adkins, with Juneau-based National Weather Service, who laughed at his own descriptions of Ketchikan’s record-breaking summer rainfall. In that laugh I heard the can-you-believe-this tone that’s been echoing around town.
The fleet’s trailing in from the grounds with damp everything. You either found blueberries or you didn’t. We may still have the occasional warm spell, but when the calendar reads September you know it’s a different kind of borrowed time.
So I’ve been stealing moments to ignore the weather and play tourist. The first opportunity was when Breakaway Adventures took a group up the Stikine River, to hike at the Great Glacier and forage along the way. I was able to flash back to the same time last year, when I was kayaking down the river from Telegraph Creek with a group of 10 people. We spent a week making our way down, basking in sunlight for most of it and laughing through the rain squalls the final two days.
I thought back to that trip often during this year’s one-day venture. Comfortably nested in the heated boat, I watched the raindrops trail along the windows. This time I was with a group preparing for the upcoming Rainforest Festival, avid foragers who share their knowledge, memories and enthusiasm with anyone interested. We picked nagoonberries, some of us for the first time, and along with the typical foraging discoveries located a giant sparassis (or cauliflower mushroom). The goal of the day was to scout for what was ripe, see what had come and gone and keep an eye open for promising future adventures.
I was also holding space for a stranger, Stéphane Goosse, the Belgian traveler who was lost on the river this summer when the canoe he was in with a friend overturned. It’s always devastating to hear when events take a dramatic turn, and it was impossible not to think of how arbitrary it can seem every time.
The next day I was supposed to go whale watching with Tongass Kayak Adventures, owned and operated by longtime Petersburg resident Scott Roberge. But the wind was picking up to 20 knots so we delayed by a day. He still had some campers to pick up over by Baird Glacier, would we like to come along? So while millions were watching the solar eclipse, in person or through a livestream, four of us were bopping along in a field of grey to a nearby Forest Service cabin. We found our friends and turned around, and on the ride back heard all about their kayaking among the icebergs before we returned home to hide from the wind and rain for a day.
The next day Roberge brought us to where he knew a pod of whales had been congregating. We got to experience bubble net feeding, lunge feeding and a breach. We learned about their feeding, mating and wandering ways. I took a few pictures of dark grey smudges moving between the sky and sea, before I put technology aside to appreciate feeling small. We found a beach with rocks that turn to gems in the rain, and now I’m armed with a small bowl of worry stones to send to friends dealing with heavy loads. Roberge was able to tell us the latest research Fred Sharpe and the Alaska Whale Foundation have been up to, and we waved at the hearty volunteers staying at Five Finger Lighthouse as we passed by.
September is also about recognizing the smaller moments of summer that are left. On a recent day the clouds were high enough that we could see the mountains, and rain had held off for most of the day. “This counts as a sunny day now,” I’d laughed with the boat’s crew, who didn’t seem to think my joke was funny.
Later I was standing at the dock watching a sea lion thrash a salmon into pieces to eat. There were four of us there, including a visitor and two employees of one of our bigger-of-the-small cruise ships. The visitor was dancing on the toes of her feet, hands clasped together in front of her as she watched the display.
“Oh, I just can’t believe it! Just look at it!”
She turned to us and threw her arms out, bending her knees to do a mock-jump in the air. “I’m here! I’m here! Oh, please, come here,” and she reached to us, pulling the three of us - each at least a foot, if not two, taller than her - into a group hug.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” she repeats joyfully, releasing us to go inside and eat dinner. She kept throwing her hands out in exclamation, then bringing them back to clasp together in front of her heart.
“I just can’t believe it! What a day!”
Chelsea Tremblay lives and writes in Petersburg. This is her final Muskeg Connection column of the season.