NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007
Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 14, 2007
Monday arrived cold and snowy. I peeped out of the warm hotel room and looked at the snow blusters that swirled and danced across the gravel. I had a number of things to mail, and the USPO was right across the road. Guess I better start my day.
It wasn’t planned, but I made three separate trips to the post office that day. I needed to mail a beautiful large map of Alaska to Hawaii. I needed to mail the squished decorated styrofoam cups back to my new friends from St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, and I needed to send my cold weather gear back to VECO in Fairbanks, Alaska.
In between the trips to the PO, I was drawn to the edge of the bay as it licks the main drive that curls around the mountains of the island. I heard it before I saw it, the musical sound that cold ocean water makes when colliding with smooth round stones. I knew that sound. It was the same sound as the beach at Yaquina Head outside of Newport along the Oregon coast. I closed my eyes and felt the snow sting my face. The smell was the same too. Rich and fecund, the north Pacific.
I stumbled along the stony beach, watching my feet, watching the stones, measuring the bull kelp from holdfast to shorn bald bulb. I decided to take some beach memories home to Hawaii, a discarded plastic ice cream bucket held my treasures until I tucked them in my pregnant duffels, still wet and cold.
By this time the air was a white whizzy chaos. I could not see the mountains. Rumor had it that if you couldn’t see the mountains, the plane wouldn’t land. The weather forecast told of snow showers, especially towards evening. I thought I might try to hang out at the airport in hopes I could fly standby with an earlier flight.
Luck was with me and I got the last back seat of that tiny plane. Three hours later, I was in Anchorage, an airport in the throes of remodeling. I slipped off the plane into another dimension, in which I had to give up two perfectly good containers of yogurt to the TSA. Yes, those are really dangerous, those cups of yogurt. I had forgotten about the horror of terrorists when I was in the Bering Sea.
Somehow my white pure world of Bering Sea memories was about to collide with reality. I would have yet one more gentle midnight flight. On board Alaskan airlines, I flew south, to a megalopolis named Los Angeles. Little did I know, as I munched my warm pumpkin scone, a rude reintroduction to civilization was about to say, ‘Hey wake up!’