A Ferry and a Glacier

This morning we packed up quickly from our mosquito haven taking just enough time to enjoy a breakfast of homegrown eggs. What a difference in flavor and color. I wonder if I can raise my own chickens?

I am feeling more than a bit sad that the past few days of our trip went so quickly. Today it seems like this month long trip is really just a Three Hour Cruise…without enough time to stop and visit everyone as much as we’d like.

We headed over to Portage Glacier but weren’t expecting much. The Milepost magazine indicated that the glacier has retreated significantly in the past twenty years so that it was impossible to reach in person and the icebergs that Portage Lake was known for were also reduced. And we found this to be so. There were a couple of small icebergs along the shoreline, but nothing all that exciting. Still, an iceberg is an iceberg and we hear it’s 120 in Phoenix so it was still worthwhile to visit.

A receding Portage Glacier

A retreating Portage Glacier

Next on our agenda was a drive through the mountain tunnel to Whittier.  The railroad tunnel was widened just enough to fit vehicles through one direction at a time, giving the town sudden access to the outside world. We were there to take the ferry from Whittier across the sound to Valdez.

Rebecca had a friend who recommended a Kenai fjord cruise which, while fun, just couldn’t fit into our agenda.When we read about the ferry opportunity we realized this could be a great option. The ferry doesn’t run to each port every day so we did have to readjust our schedule by a day. We also made reservations once we decided to do this. A good thing too, because the car hold in the ferry was completely filled on our trip.

I had expected we might get on the ferry, finding seats inside the enclosed viewing area but the weather was so beautiful we were able to sit outside the whole time. Rebecca was very concerned that she would get seasick but the water was flat as glass. By sitting out on the deck we were able to see much more wildlife, including a humpback whale that decided to breach the water just as we were watching! Of course, we still got to see the fjords and great waterfalls, and with every snow covered mountain that showed up around the next bend, Bob would tell me to take a picture because ‘this’ mountain would look really good above the fireplace. (If I had 20 fireplaces we’d still be in good shape.)

It just keeps getting more beautiful!

It just keeps getting more beautiful!

There was a little girl who had been watching as intently as I for porpoises and more whales so I was very excited to share with her when I spotted the unexpected iceberg. After snapping a gazillion pictures of the lone iceberg I looked ahead only to discover a whole giant field of icebergs! They were every shape and size. Big ones, small ones, blue ice, snow covered, some you could look under the water and see the heavy bottom and some still covered with gravel, just as they broke off from the glacier.

Hundred of icebergs in front of the giant Columbia Glacier.

Hundred of icebergs in front of the giant Columbia Glacier.

Oh, and the glacier? We hadn’t looked closely enough at the route or probably would have noticed that the ferry passed right by the Columbia Glacier: a HUGE glacier that feeds into the ocean. Oh my goodness! It was truly amazing! I ran back and forth across the deck like a crazy person trying to take pictures of the best icebergs. As we neared the glacier there was a definite change in the temperature as the wind swept down off the mountain picking up that cold air and cooling us immediately. But what fun!

After we crossed the glacier bay we saw no more icebergs but we did see more porpoises playing in the water and lots of fish jumping before we entered the town of Valdez.

Sunburned and tired from all that fresh air we decided not to drive any further but to spend the night in this town at the end of the Alaska pipeline. Our budget hotel was reflective of the town. It was completely modular. The woman at the desk called it a ‘man camp’ filled with summer workers for the pipeline. However, we did notice they took more than the occasional tourist as a busload of Mennonites gathered for breakfast before boarding their tour bus heading north.

Next: The Return Trip Begins.


The Goal

 Have you ever set a goal for yourself, then wondered how in the world you would accomplish it?  We all do.  Sometimes the task is huge and maybe we’re not quite as knowledgeable as we want others to know.  But we don’t want to admit it.  Unrealistic…or attainable…  Right???  Okay, maybe it hasn’t happened to you…but it has happened to me.

Years ago we learned about an interesting program for children with special needs.  It involved a unique interaction between the kids and dolphins.  Dolphins are smart.  They are able to sense things that we humans sometimes miss.  Dolphins (you’ve seen it with some dogs) pick up on a persons ability and feed on it.  They’ll be gentle with the fragile older woman and rambunctious with the teen.  People realized that dolphins have this uncanny way of sensing things and saw that disabled people were also relating to the dolphins in a good, positive way.  They took it a step further and found that often disabled children would be particularly motivated to “work” if the reward was a treat with a dolphin.  Speech and occupational therapists found this work/reward system to be successful in many children.

Back to Matthew.

After we learned about the program I called and got more information.  It sounded like great fun.  Yes, it was expensive but maybe we could see some benefit.  We got on their waiting list.  The wait was long…I’d almost forgotten about it when, in the spring two years later, I got a letter inviting us to schedule a in the summer.  I was so excited!  Something fun.  It might help Matthew.  We can call it a vacation.

Until I read the qualifications:  Cannot be afraid of water.  Uh, oh.

Let me just tell you that Matthew has a healthy respect for water.  He doesn’t take a shower because he doesn’t like water on his head.  He never gets too close to the edge of a lake or river, always choosing to throw rocks from ‘way back there’…  And swimming lessons???  Yeah, right.  We tried.  Many years we tried.  Always the same, screaming kid, scared of the water.

I know you’re laughing thinking, “Good grief, that should have been that.  But the pictures???”  And you’d be right.  That should have been that. 

But we said, “Let’s do it.  We’ll schedule for the end of summer.”  Talk about setting a goal.  I was not sure we would make it.  Still, we’d give it our best shot.

Luckily, Phoenix has a special pool that offers lessons to those with special needs.  I signed Matthew up.  I think they would only let us sign up for a month at a time.  Day one came and we got to the pool.  Matthew had been there before and it hadn’t been pretty.  In his usual manner he turned around and grabbed on to me wrapping his arms and legs better than any octopus.  I would say his voice was loud and boisterous but shrill and shrieking would be more correct.  I love that pool.  It’s 5ft at the deepest so the entangled two of us walked out to mid pool.  When I finally managed to get him unwrapped he discovered he’d grown.  He was standing in the middle with water only to his waist!  Score one for mom.

But learning to swim was a different story.  No, he did not want to put his face in the water.  No, he did not think it was fun to float on his back.  No, he was not going to jump off the side of the pool.  The teachers were good.  They worked patiently with him each day.  Day after day.  Every two weeks he was evaluated.  I think you had to reach Level 3 to be an independent swimmer.  He was at Level 1.  May ran into June and June into July.  One thing I have learned about Matthew is that the more times he does something the closer he is to mastery.  (I know…that’s the same for most of us…)  We decided that once a day wasn’t enough and began going back to the pool in the evening.  Rebecca also got some lessons and showed us how it could be done.  We were well tan that year.  We knew all the lifeguards and teachers by name, along with their class schedule and future goals.  But still Matthew was barely putting his face in the water.  Still screaming.  Still scared. 

August rolled around and I was pretty worried.  He had made progress but was still at Level 2.  Should I call the dolphin place?  Dear God…hear my prayer…  Had I really set a goal we could not reach? 

Then it happened.  We’re in the pool (as usual).  Matthew screaming and flailing (as usual).  But then the teacher stepped away.  HE WAS SWIMMING!  Oh my goodness!  It was so exciting.  As soon as Bob got off work we went back to show off.  It wasn’t a fluke.  He was swimming! 

One week later we were on the plane to Florida.  The size of the lagoon where the dolphins lived was pretty intimidating.  I won’t lie and tell you the first day or two was easy but he did it.  He worked hard, tried to say the words, and loved his rewards.  On the last day I overheard one of the trainers telling another that the dolphin wasn’t listening to him.  He was right, the dolphin was responding to Matthew.

So if you have what might seem an insurmountable task think of Matthew.  A lot of patience.  A lot of effort.  And a super lot of determination.  Amazing what we can do.