Alaska: The Inside Passage

by Greta Olsson

Elderhostel booked passage for one hundred and twenty of its people aboard the Universe Explorer, a ship with a capacity of 735 passengers. I was on the top of eight decks, and felt the engines only when sitting in the movie theater on the bottom. Even with an excellent movie, the throbbing was annoying. All else was excellent.

Obviously the scenery was gorgeous. We saw the usual: killer whales playing, otters, sea lions, puffins, and bald eagles. There were miles upon miles of fir trees and fascinating cities like Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Seward, Juneau, Wrangell, and a last stop in Victoria, Canada.

In Wrangell we visited an eagle sanctuary, and watched a keeper feed an eagle by hand. I asked whether he wasn't afraid of that huge beak. No, it's the claws that may cause a problem. The beak acts like a shovel and takes food from the flat of the hand without a scratch.

We were able to pet an owl, and I was amazed at how soft its feathers were. Because the guide asked how intelligent we thought the owl to be, I was able to answer "very dumb", and relate the story I'd heard at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.

A speaker for a Mensa AG said that Mensa should not use the owl as a symbol of intelligence or wisdom. He had an owl, and when the kitchen was being redone, the owl liked to fly up to an overhead shelf and watch the action below. One day the man and his son walked into the kitchen with the owl. The bird flew up to his shelf, which was no longer there, folded his wings, and fell to the floor. Our speaker commented to his son on the stupidity of the bird. The boy argued and agreed to take the owl out of the kitchen and then re-enter with it. For a second time the owl flew up to the shelf that wasn't there, collapsed his wings, and fell to the floor.

Our speaker said that he once was on TV working with a parrot. Toward the end of his presentation, the parrot suddenly announced, "I'm tired. Let's go home."

"Now that is a sign of intelligence", our speaker offered.

Mensa would be smarter to use the parrot, not the owl as their symbol.

To get a boat near a glacier is very exciting. Glaciers are both beautiful and dynamic. Enormous "ice cubes" all around an area in front of the glacier and about our boat were an unexpected surprise. Actually they were good sized blocks of ice that had broken off from icebergs and the glacier.

Our trip started in Vancouver, and I most highly recommend seeing the charming shops and restaurants on Water Street in Gastown, as well as its famous steam clock. The clock resembles an old fashioned street lamp but with steam coming out of its top. It sounds like a fog horn when it tells the time.

About three bus stops from Gastown is Vancouver's China Town. If you're not yet bored with too many China Towns, do go see the Chinese Classical Garden there. The volunteer guide was unusually intelligent and well educated, but couldn't answer my question as to why the Chinese, especially in U.S. Chinese restaurants, favor the red and black combination so much - a color scheme much favored by people in mental institutions.

We associate red with stop, danger, dynamite, and fire (a horrible death). Fire can be cozy. However, it's the heat that is cozy - the fire is still a danger. And what about the red faced person who is very angry, or the red blush that means emotional discomfort? The red face of a long term heavy drinker is not a healthy condition. We associate black with age, sophistication, sin, crime, and death.

The Chinese think of red as a happy color as in the red cheeks of a baby. How can that surmount fire, dynamite, and danger?

I asked whether the whole group is nutty or neurotic. Our guide thought perhaps. A Caucasian who married into a Chinese family spoke to an Elderhostel group in San Francisco. He couldn't answer my question, but felt that his family was neurotic. Of course he did have a great sense of humor.

I'm not anti-Chinese. I admire their intelligence and ability to work. They were delightful students in my class- room. Asians are marvelous in the classroom, but are they goofy outside of it?

Oh, back to the mental patients: they like the anger of the red combined with the depression of the black.

An administrator from the downtown office came into my classroom wearing a red blouse and a black suit. I knew she'd give me a bad time. She did. I steer clear when I can. I'm definitely prejudiced against this color scheme.

Dirty finger nails is another turnoff.

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