Cruising Along

My friend Bob Welch is busy working on his next bestseller that began with "Fifty-two Life Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life." He's now rising early to write "52 life lessons for Les Miserable". I mention this because he commented that he was up at 4:38 am yesterday (so was I) writing. He's a wonderful columnist for the Eugene Register Guard and a fine instructor in writing. My first, in fact. He inspired a new way for me to think about the writer's cruise I just took to Alaska. I can't come up with 52 life lessons.  I can't even come up with five!

I will make a few random observations about cruising and writing.  First, never eat more than you would at home even if the food is glorious and there for the taking. One of my writer friends taking the cruise told me that a person gains from one to three pounds a day on a cruise. That seemed stunning until I saw the array. One colleague took the galley tour and returned with incredible facts about just how much food is purchased for one of these floating hotels. Eighteen thousand bags of tea and seventeen thousand bottles of wine were mentioned for a 14 day cruise (we were on an 8 day jaunt). They need so much food because for some reason we eat whether hungry or not just because it's "there."

It's also true that it's difficult to stay focused on writing issues while ice bergs bubble up against a sea green ocean that is clear and reflective. We spent days "at sea" working on writing issues with workshops on taxes and writers, plot development, character arcs, silencing our internal editors and changes in the publishing world. We were focused and collaborative.

But when we encountered such incredible scenery with glaciers and mountains, whales and sea lions it was difficult to think about my story of the 1840s when all I wanted to do was experience the joy of creation. I think that life lesson taught would be to remember Emily Dickinson's words "Earth's crammed with heaven and every burning bush aflame with God. Only he who sees takes off his shoes." We must give ourselves time to "see" and take off our shoes in reverence.

One of the excursions - those experiences one can pay extra for when the ship is in port - that thrilled us was taking a boat trip down the Chilkat River through the Eagle Preserve. The water was so white with glacial flour we couldn't see the bottom. I was bundled pretty warm with a down vest, jacket, rain gear. The sun came out at times and we had a squall that brought out one young woman's umbrella. The guide said it was a first on a float trip!

We were advised that if we got dumped for some reason to simply point our feet downriver and someone would be back to pick us up. But the river is very shallow, only one or two feet deep. "Why not just stand up?" I asked. "Because beneath the surface lurks branches you can't see and swift currents that shift gravel bars from a float trip in the morning to ones in the afternoon. If you try to stand up you'll likely get pitched over and pinned. And the water is very cold, 34 degrees." So sometimes when life pitches you out in the cold it's best to "lower your standard" so to speak and float, allowing others to help you. Good advice I think.

One of our stops was in Victoria British Columbia. My friend Sandy and I decided to take a ride around this beautiful city. It was just the right pace in an early evening. We drove right by the home of Emily Carr the famous painter. I'd read an historical novel about her life years ago and this city claims her for all she did to preserve the totems and other unique features of the Northwest Province landscapes. I fought my bronchial infection while on the cruise but this carriage and a good thick blanket provided by the carriage company made for a perfect climate. Rested, we walked around the city buying up Roger's chocolates said to be ordered by President Dwight Eisenhower for the White House. But Oregon's Euphoria Chocolates are hard to beat! The life lesson? There's no place like home for chocolate.

I finished reading two books while on the cruise, went whale-watching, hung out at the Mendenhall Glacier, enjoyed the ferry boat ride from Sagway to Haines, listened to the biologist inform in a most entertaining way about bears and seals and whales, attended stage shows and watched families enjoy their times together. And I had a book signing in Ketchikan at Parnassus Books. There was a slight glitch there...the books arrived the day AFTER I left. But Maggie Freigat the owner was wonderful and she did have my Promises of Hope for Difficult Times book so that was fun. We visited a totem carving shop that was the highlight of the trip in Ketchikan sharing creative ideas with Haida craftsman. You'd think that cruises would be restful, wouldn't you? But here's how I really felt at the end of each day.  Less restful than "vacating."

It was also a thrill for me to meet and re-greet writer friends. We had dinner each evening with Tom and Judy Baer and the Cox family Dave, writer Carol and their sweet seventeen year old daughter Katie. What delights they are. As good as dessert. I also met and reconnected with Colleen Cobble, Sharon Robins, Mindi Higgins Clark, Gayle Roper ( and her friend Vicki), Denise Hunter and my Wisconsin pal Lynn Cote. Each of these new/old friends brought new insights about writing, friends and faith.

Vacations, after all, are meant to be times of "vacating" the ordinary. A cruise to anywhere does that well.  May you vacate in small and large ways this week and energize yourself for being aware of all the gifts of being home.  Warmly, Jane