Thursday, February 23, 2012

Picturesque Alaska

Texts: Picturesque Alaska: A Journal of a Tour Among the Mountains, Seas, and Islands of the Northwest, from San Francisco to Sitka by Abby Johnson Woodman, c. 1889.

All About Alaska  Travel Pamphlet produced by the Pacific Steamship Company, c.1889

Travel Pamphlet Cover, 1889
From All About Alaska:
"What there is in Alaska to will see, admire, and pass through channels, straight as an arrow and of unfathomable depths, banked on either side by perpendicular and gigantic mountains, whose untrod summits are clothes in clouds and ice. But what will interest you most will be the Glaciers--glittering in the distance until you have an opporunity to climb on one.
"You will be amused at their totem poles--which are made by cutting down a good, straight tree, dressing it down to the desired size, then carving it in a very rude way, with figures of birds, Indian warriors, and other fantastic shapes...they are raised and planted on end before the owner's hut."
"Having arrived home: You will find your eyes clear and sparkling, your appetite keen, your step more elastic, your general health immensely improved.  You will have lots of stories to tell of your experiences, which will make you the lion of your social gathering and the envy of those who stayed home." 
The Muir Glacier, in Glacier Bay, woodcut drawing from Picturesque Alaska
The steamship enters Glacier Bay, and the entire world comes ablaze in light.  The late afternoon sun, still high in the sky in early summer, throws its beams on every surface, and they throw them right back.  The glittering deep blue of the sea, the mottled sky and clouds, and the pure, icy, crystal clear blue of dozens of glaciers, surrounding the bay on three sides, reaching the water and meeting the sky.  The entire world was awash in the sparkling blue light, and the entire passenger population came up on deck to bask in the beauty of it.  We docked at the port of Juneau, a small city on southeast Alaska.  Home to native people, Russian settlers, as well as Americans in the fishing and mining industry, the town is growing, and quite easily accommodates our passenger ship with seafood restaurants near the harbor, excursions into the forested mountains directly encasing the town, and glacier climbing trips.

Totem poles, woodcut drawing
from Picturesque Alaska
We sign up to trek on a glacier.  The leaders bring strong mules, connected by heavy rope. We slide primitive spikes to our shoes--the thing could very well be an early torture device, but it effectively gains traction on the uneven, icy surface of the glacier.  Climbing in a glacier becomes much easier than it appeared from that glittering world of blue that we approached from the Bay.  The ice slides directly down to a small visitor's shack--it must be temporary because the glacier moves anywhere from several inches to a few feet per year, and may overtake the visitor's center in any given winter, when climbing is closed.  The seven participants--four from the steamship, myself, and two cousins visiting a Russian aunt in the town--assemble in a line between the guides and mules and we begin our slow trek across the ice.  The ice is cut in grooves and it takes a lot of caution, but there is no fear of sliding right off the surface, as the spikes on our feet protect from danger.  There is plenty of rock and debris not visible from the ship that adds to our traction.  The visitor's center has taken great caution to rope off a short, safe section to climb on--if we were left to our own devices we'd surely find the nearest crevice to fall into.  For about one hour we stumble back and forth across the surface, enjoying the rising chill from the glacier's surface and the beating sun on our heads.  

photo courtesy of
The guides encourage us to purchase posters, etchings, jars of authentic "glacial silt," which is really just glorified dirt" in the visitor's shack.  I politely decline, preferring instead my own mental image of that glittery world, the cool smoothness of the trek, the up-close details of the glacier's surface carved and etched into the ice.  I do wish to purchase the ice spike I wear on my feet, but deny their practicality and move on, instead drawing a picture here of my best attempt.  We returned to town chilled and hungry, but with a new appreciation for those enormous frozen rivers that cover this landscape.

Around the World

Trinity College Raether Library holds in its basement level of seven miles of shelving that constitute the rare books collection of the Watkinson Library.  These works range from the 11th century to the present, and include not only manuscript but pamphlets, maps, art prints, college archives, and more.

Through a Fellowship Program funded by the Watkinson, I am embarking on a creative journey using the various works held there.  My project is founded in my love of travel and I quite literally plan on journeying "around the world."  My project has two parts:  this blog will house the written component of my journeys.  I'm writing a somewhat fictionalized/imagined travelogue, based on readings and quotes from works in the library.  These works include travel pamhplets and advertisements from the late 19th century, captains' logs from the 1500s, travel diaries from the 1920s, and more.  My journey will not be set at any one point in time, but I instead grant myself the freedom to land myself in any era that catches my fancy.

In addition to the online recording of my travels, I will also create a visual representation of the journey.  My map will include a variety of materials and photos from each destination, and will have a direct link to the online travelogue.  This map will be on display in the Watkinson upon completion.

So, I'm off on my journey!  Happy travels and make sure to check back here as I go.