Richard Turen
Richard Turen

In early July, I left my home and the oppressive heat of southwest Florida to sail on Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Mariner from Seward, Alaska, to Vancouver. I had scheduled this trip primarily to avoid the heat in the summer ghost town where we dwell.

July and August are prime season for Alaska cruising, and I would be away from Florida for almost two weeks. I had planned well. I didn't read any weather reports, because I have been up north on eight or nine different occasions. I knew it would be more comfortable than the tip of Florida.

Only it wasn't.

I was in Anchorage when the temperature reached 90 degrees for the first time in history. The previous record high was 85, set back in 1969. There was a dome of warm air hanging over much of our cruise route, a dome producing record temperatures that were, on certain days, one or two degrees warmer than the temperatures I would have experienced had I stayed home.

The beaches were packed. And, yes, there are beaches. The problem was that Alaska residents and shop owners don't really see the need for air conditioners. Few homes have them. Don't forget, Alaska's major cities only hit 70 degrees and up about a dozen days each summer.

The local papers along our route in Skagway, Sitka and Juneau were reporting that black bears and moose were trying to stand over backyard sprinklers seeking relief.

I saw anxious workers from the local fisheries alongside our berth in Ketchikan trying to maneuver huge rectangular boxes of ice so they could quickly load that day's catch and get it shipped before everything melted and spoiled where it sat in the beaming sunshine.

After three days, the dome started dissipating and life was back to Alaska normal. That meant I could get off at my favorite port, Icy Strait Point. This beautiful new harbor complex was built by the Alaska Native community on Chichagof Island, about 30 miles west of Juneau. It is the only truly native port along the Alaska Inside Passage route.

Once ashore, I managed to find my way into the town of Hoonah. I walked and I talked with friendly locals. There was one small grocery store. Everyone there ate berries, fish and not much else. They looked healthy. They fished, hunted and foraged for sustenance.

I met a nonnative woman setting up a stand to sell her beautiful photographs of birds. She had recently moved to Hoonah because her partner had been assigned there in connection with her government work.

Her stand was in front of a pier with huge rocks overlooking a beautiful sea. She told me the natives were welcoming and friendly. During our conversation, I noticed that only two trucks had passed. I wondered about her life here.

The scenery, the fishing, the hunting were all, of course, extraordinary, she said. But what most impressed her was her neighbors' need to just sit and talk. She loved being "off the grid." I loved Hoonah because I was walking streets devoid of outsiders, and they let me look in just a little bit. It was like walking through the set of a slow-motion film.

The day I returned to Florida, it was two degrees cooler there than in Anchorage.

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