I have always balked at the concept of North. North has connotations of frigidity and it makes me happy that I have my home on the balmy west coast of the country where it rarely gets severely chilly.
Otherwise my gravitation is southward. Southern California, bits of Mexico, Costa Rica and especially the Hawaiian Islands work benevolently for me, and I could imagine no worse nightmare than being forced to reside in the Canadian hinterland – that big chunk of the nation east of the Rockies. January in Saskatchewan I think would make me want to end it all.
And as I feel about east I feel even more vehemently negative about ‘north’. Why would anybody want to go there? Here on Vancouver Island I tend to think that Campbell River is a bit too northerly. In BC that farthest north I have ever been is Quesnel, and that was when I was about 12. Never had the impulse to repeat the experience. Oh, I have flown over it – flown over the high arctic a few times. It looks very cold and bleak from 35,000 feet. And it looks big. Too big.
In so saying, I found myself in a bit of a quandary over our recent Alaska trip. Even more of a quandary in the sense the idea had some enticing merit to it. I may not like the idea of northerly, but I am a romantic and also a lover of literature and legend. So, I was immediately put in mind of Jack London and Robert Service, and the whole Klondike gold fever thing and Skagway’s villainous Smoky Smith and the famed White Pass and Yukon Railroad. You see, the idea of Alaska gave me some great thoughts to conjure with. Combined with the fact were to be making the passage in a rather luxurious ship, The SS Oosterdam. While the onetime gold seekers made their way on perilous little steamers out of Seattle and Victoria, we could sit in our sumptuous stateroom and watch the world go by.
Point of fact, I loved the trip, and towns like Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan have an allure even in name. The trip to Glacier Bay was enthralling and there is no sound quite like the rumble and cracking of a huge chunk of thousands of years old ice breaking away in the glaciers relentless if plodding passage to the sea.
This is all in the so-called Alaska Panhandle, which is that finger that travels along the upper BC coast practically to Prince Rupert. An area about which a latent sense of patriotism makes me want to call it BC Irredenta, a region of which in the early days the Brits sold us out to the Americans in a move to avoid conflict. Wimpy Brits, I say. Always sucking up. Anyway, the Yanks got that chunk of Alaska, and they also got Sarah Palin. Oh, and we looked and looked but could not see Russia from any point in the area.
The trip had high points galore, not to mention summertime temps, amazingly enough, and no fog or rain. So, Glacier Bay, as I say, was magnificent, I mean truly stunning. Our whale watching out of Juneau was unsurpassed. I have been in Hawaii. This was better. But best of all, in some respects, was the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon trip. When I was a young boy we had some big books called Engineering Wonders of the World, published sometime in the early 20th Century, and one of the chapters was about the construction of that wonderful rail line through the almost vertical mountains of White Pass. Took me right back to childhood to actually be on that train.
Have I changed my mind about northerly climes? Not really, but I wouldn’t have missed that trip for the world.