Monday, August 3, 2015

The Great Land: An Alaskan Chautauqua - Part Two


MISS PART ONE OF THIS BLOG POST? GO HERE TO READ ABOUT THE NEW OLD TIME CHAUTAUQUA IN BELLINGHAM, KETCHIKAN AND WRANGELL!

Good Morning, Alaska!
Sunday 6/28 Petersburg

My breath frosts in the night air as I wheel my luggage up the long loading ramp towards the Petersburg dock. It's dusky. I am thinking of a line from a wonderful story by my raconteur pal Dylan BrodyWe stood side by side, our breath frosting in the night air. And hellooooo, Josef, who's hosting both me and Eben, at 2:30am! 

We settle in quickly, set alarms in order to be at camp for breakfast, and I sleep without coughing for the first time in a week! My shower surprise - spiders. Not unlike the ones you find in Seattle all the time. (Note to self: close all luggage before leaving.) Miss Kitty and Mister Cat are also here to say hello to us this morning (but camera shy). Josef is a multi-instrumentalist - the livingroom is filled with mandolins, horns, etc. I smile so seriously. He is going to have such a blast this week! 

Camp is at Sandy Beach Park, another site specially approved for Chautauqua use. Glaciers ahoy. Icebergs in the bay - the southernmost ones in Alaska, Josef tells us. The bay disappears and reappears over the day into and out of fog, like a dreamscape. And after breakfast, I FINALLY return to doing kitchen shifts. This cold is HISTORY! Already, locals are stopping by to give us donations of fruit, bread and...50 lbs. of salmon. I finally get a parade costume from Erin for tomorrow, and help set up for tonight's community potluck. I clock Paul talking to a radio reporter with a mike, walking along the beach. Here's the report he filed on KFSK.


Potluck house band 
Over 50 community folks attend what becomes a mammoth event. How cool is that? There's a great teaser show. The band plays waltzes they rehearsed especially for the Sons of Norway, one of our sponsors. The slough in back of us that extends to the sea enables long walks. The tidepools are fascinating. I ponder a night out here, if I am ever feeling completely better during this stay. But I am eventually SO exhausted despite continuing sky gorgeousness, I'm sneaking naps in the Green Bird, and by 7pm, Eben and I are heading back to Josef’s place. Josef leaves the radio on, and set to NPR when he's not here. I smile when Le Show comes on, thinking about how extremely different, yet somehow similar my touring adventures are with Harry Shearer and Judith Owen's Holiday Shows. Those involve celebs, big cities, planes, private cars, catering and hotels. Chautauqua is small towns, boats, vans like the Green Bird and personal vehicles (ours or a sponsor's), a mobile kitchen and camping/homestays. But the mission is the same - the reverent spread of irreverence and joy. All of the shows are benefits. And the unstoppable, unfettered fun that happens is the same. The Karamazovs did one of those holiday shows with me in New York in 2013. Can't wait to tell Harry and Judith about this latest Alaskan adventure.

Monday 6/29 Petersburg
 
Norway Out
A soggy morning meeting erupts into time and commitment issues. Our schedule is loaded, and sometimes double-loaded with so many things - parades, community shows and service projects like building firepits and gravesite cleaning... a lot of us want to do all of it, but it can't possibly work out that way. You have to prioritize sometimes. We head to the Mountain Home Senior Center, which is more like a Norwegian-themed hotel. Some residents have their own suites. I'm excited to finally be in the community show. Last year I didn't do my own act, I backed others up. But Stephen is a huge Bobs fan, and he and his sister used to sing "Boy Around the Corner" together. This goofy duet (well, it's goofy how WE do it) makes for a perfect, feel-good, no tech act. And it's SO much fun.

And on an semi-related subject, I will never ever tire of Eben’s delivery of the last line of "Teddy Bears' Picnic;" he gets right up in the grills of the front row, and, as if at the end of his rope, explains emphatically, "But at six o'clock their mummies and daddies will take them home to bed/ BECAUSE THEY'RE TIRED LITTLE TEDDY BEARS!" I can hear the implied "DAMMIT!" - can't you?

The mural of this story is...

Waiting to parade...
We walk directly across the parking lot to the big market next door and parade through, giving out flyers to shocked and amazed and smiley smiley patrons. Then we hit the IGA and True Value hardware downtown. As we walk to lunch, local fisherman strike up conversations with us. They're from the Bronx and Chicago respectively. Hardworking guys who love what we're doing, can't wait to see the show and brag of seeing The Stones in the 60s. On Anne's recommendation (she and Paul came here for pre-tour prep), we invade Papa Bear's Pizza. How is it possible that they get it right in Petersburg, Alaska, and Los Angeles is so completely clueless about what good pizza is?!?! We head back in the drizzle in the Green Bird. Which is truly starting its death rattle.

Back at camp, choir rehearsal is followed by a game of volleyclub – which is exactly what it sounds like. Rod, sitting out the first round, but deep in concentration on the sidelines, says, "You know, the game is actually constructed quite well, and is very... difficult."  A young guy hangs around the camp looking to be invited to do something.... and is happy to help me clean up lunch dishes. Kaleb tells me he recently lost two dishwashing jobs because of... nepotism. He loves hockey and wants to work in Canada, but knows he has to find a way to leave do that. Other locals (and their dogs) stop by all day - after all, we're in a public park. I walk out into the loud and nonstop creek that empties into the slough only to find out these rainboots, which I got at Macy's Herald Square, are not actually waterproof. :) 

After dinner, another round of "You OK so far?” There's a talk of the amazing commitment in the group, and self-flagellation about stepping up. It's so rare that you find this in any organization... and in the professional, paid world, well...  We spread out on the beach for the annual Chautauqua Age Circle. We line up, youngest to eldest. It's fascinating. Not counting baby August (one year and change), we go from 14 to 71. Love wins. 

 
Tuesday 6/30 Petersburg
 
Erin, our resident costumer, stops in for coffee at Josef's in the morning. I follow up on something she said in the opening circle on the Columbia ferry: “You are all like children to me.” I've been thinking a lot about that. I want to clarify that it's the good parts of us as kids, not our actual possibly shitty childhoods. :)

At camp, Nancy reports that she was up very early and spotted two baby moose way out on the edge of the slough. I am SO SORRY to have missed that! Can't believe I didn’t bring Marty - Alex and my stuffed baby moose - on this trip. Marty was the Ring Moose at our wedding (in Coldfoot, Alaska). He would have loved this trip, and may have become its official mascot...

They love Joey's close up magic workshop
Before our first parade, I'm putting makeup on in the Green Bird, fondly recalling a time when doing so felt like less of a correctional activity than an enhancing one... sometimes I flash back to specific dressing rooms I've been in all over the world. What a life. We do two parades, one downtown that goes uphill to the rec center, the other around the rec center itself, where a kid-full crowd has amassed on the streets. I am so happy to be back in it, twirling a parasol and handing out flyers. The last parade I marched in before Chautauqua was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, in 2011. I was under SpongeBob. An incredible, exhausting day and an experience I don't need to have again. And frankly, what I am doing right now likely means more in the grand scheme of things. I finally lead my first theatre games workshop, which Eben joins. 
I normally eat this much salmon

Then I take Matthew's Qi Gong workshop, after which I am so beat, I shut my eyes in the theater for a half hour. Matthew was right - it CAN put you to sleep!

Dinner is a double salmon-tastic affair. How great is that? Two kinds of salmon dishes. You really wouldn't expect that. Reby and Katie and everyone who does prep and kitchen maintenance for this tour are truly heroes. The show keeps getting better and better. The Wright Center, inside the high school, is super great. I end up introducing the Sistaphone Souser act instead of the Sousaphone Sister Act, but otherwise... Oh, and Joey has to deal with a baby in his act, which is always comedy gold. It also involves a monkey puppet. At a certain point, it occurs to me, it doesn't even matter if his trick works - it's that funny.


My Petersburg Boyfriend
Mister Cat comes into my bedroom tonight for wuv. It's about time. You will all come to me in time, kittehs. It is your destiny.









Wednesday 7/1 Petersburg/Juneau Ferry

Eben texts the outside world:
"leave me alone"
A light breakfast today - we gotta pack up
A stunning morning fog - we drive to camp through thick soup that clears when we reach Sandy Beach, where the glaciers, which have been hiding, are out again. We pack camp, fold tarps, etc. I do breakfast cleanup with Scramble and Bill. When Nancy runs into town to go to the bank, she meets Kaleb’s mom who tells he was more excited by our visit than anything... in forever. We head to the dock in shifts, not knowing we'll be delayed two hours. It's kind of painful to leave this view.







The Last Hours of the Green Bird
The Green Bird dies at the ferry dock. Some guy wants to take it off of our hands. A WIN WIN? (Likely not not.) The ferry's delayed. I've asked Eben what kind of tune the band is missing in their repertoire so I can write one for next year. So he plays me Ray Noble tunes we find online. Almost one by one, everyone heads into town since it's a 90 minute wait. Some end up back at that pizza place, where the owner asks how our show went! It's a lovely walk back. I am really so happy to be Be Here Now. At the terminal, I grab a Sue Grafton mystery book in the free library. Harmonie and I rap a bit. I mention that she, an artist who calls herself Harmonie Lyrix does a silent act. It's only now that I learn about her longtime music career in New Orleans.


What the...
Finally afloat, back in that mod blue lounge on the boat, there are PEOPLE OTHER THAN US already aboard. LOL. The Japanese guy I strike up a conversation with is traveling with an Argentinian friend he met aboard the ferry. And he has my NYC subway map wallet! I have never seen anyone with it before - and he bought it in Tokyo. WOW. We all basically take over the lounge, slideshowing through Skip’s amazing photos and eating crap after crap from our snack bins under overcast skies as glaciers and trees glide by. Harry and I discuss next year's Moisture Festival in the cafeteria (I'd like to come back as a solo artist, and possibly emcee). Stephen's brass quintet rehearses in the hallway (video below). Coy whales, spotted yards away, only show us their tails only... and Stephen remarks that they are licensed to krill. During an endless company meeting, the lounge gets darker and darker because the lightswitches are in the locked area. Security will apparently be an issue in Juneau's Cope Park campsite.

video
Stephen, Rod, Linnea, Isak, Matthew and Phina:
Did Juneau they had the brass to do this?

Upon arrival, it's pouring in Juneau. But our amazing sponsors have already put Plan B into action, diverting our camp indoors at the JACC (where we end up all week) – yay! Dinner awaits as well. I bond immediately with my host, Emily and coordinator Natalie, who used to book The Bobs here. She's a huge fan, “even though it wasn’t you I saw!” I apologize retroactively for us not coming here in 2009 – she wasn't booking anymore then anyway. She has been to Coldfoot, where I was married. “It’s a minyan!” Natalie says, giving me a huge hug. I'm gonna like Juneau!

Thursday 7/2 Juneau/Douglas

This morning I have to buy plane tickets. Real life creeping in again... I'm giving the keynote speech and teaching two classes at Harmony College Northeast, a conference of mainly barbershop singers in Worcester, MA in early August. I'm sure it's gonna be a blast, but right now it's so mentally far away... (and typing this in late July, I'm using my Chautauqua experience as the springboard to the speech, which is about harmony itself...)


The amazing smoked salmon breakfast rivals the one I had at Katz’s Deli in New York just a month ago. George is laying out our options for Sunday, our day off. He says it now takes ½ day of hiking to get to the actual Mendenhall Glacier, and requires professional equipment. Wow. Alex and I walked right up to its edge back in 2002. People peel out of the JACC in shifts for various parades and teaser shows, so there's some chill downtime. Weeding through a cardboard box, Anne picks out an iPhone cable. “Hey, did someone lose an iPhone… oh, wait - this is the Losy and Found box. Hey, this is mine!”


O, Pioneers!
I head out with a small group of performers for two community shows. The first is at the gorgeous Pioneer Home. Art with Alaskan imagery   and scenery lines the walls. The crowd loves us. Joey and Phina sing their ridiculous and sweet King Kong song and get the residents to go ape. Shannon and Stephen (aka Pepper Jill and Jack) croon their charming "I'm a Dork for You." And we move on to a show at a State Youth Home. Very serious security. About 20 male and female teenagers are brought into a gym to see our show. I can't help wondering what they all did to be there, how truly violent each is or isn't. They are a wonderful audience once they shed their games and uncross their arms. Still, Joey selects the guard/therapists for the audience participation, not the residents. I wonder if that's what he was told to do. Too weird to say, “Thanks for coming!" after the show as we shake their hands, so “Thanks for being such a great audience,” has to suffice. Our transportation helper for the day tells us these kids are indeed violent, and this is not one of those "for profit" prisons you read about so often in the Lower 48. I'm both sad for them and their circumstances, and happy we could give them an hour's break from their demons.



"Picasso on the Edge
of a Mountain"
Indoor Orca!
The Douglas Island library is in the same building as the fire station (I joke, "That'll make the book burning easy," only to be told that Paul made the SAME JOKE, natch.) Our first assignment here is to mingle and "judge" the chalk contest before a huge potluck. Joey and I volunteer to hand out "awards" for the chalk drawings, which are really incredible. The event's supposed to be for kids, but we all do it. Then we jam with the local, AMAZING marimba ensemble (featuring Chautauquan and local business owner Val Snyder and my host, Emily) before a short teaser show featuring Scramble and Eli fire juggling and Allie T. fire-hooping. 





The potluck features MORE salmon. And Jonathan Reynolds, a 90 year old music major from Boston who laments modern music vehemently. Kym sings a Lakota song to him and he is absolutely rapt. Boy, it's great to just sit and talk to people here. It's packed. And we're told that they've sold 600+tickets already for tomorrow. 





MARIMBA!

Fire!

I walk outside to take in the gorgeousness of the Gastineau channel. Renewed thoughts of living here bombard me yet again… how could I ever have forgotten its beauty? But how… when… HOW? I can't imagine a time when I will not be obsessed with the things I still have yet to accomplish in New York, in LA, in general. This would just be... a different choice. Not a referendum, as I always say - a different choice. Noted.


video
O M Juneau


Friday July 3 Juneau


We have to be out of the JACC by 11am today and can’t come back until 11pm – it's booked for an event. So we systematically stack up all of our stuff behind a curtain at the back of the room. I walk downtown, adjusting the memories of my visit here with Alex as I go. The charming Silverbow Bakery seems much nicer than I remembered - gentrified? I buy some goofineers (goofy souvenirs) and eat at the aptly named Grumpy's Deli (dour workers complaining about tourists), And I still think the huge ships in port just look...weird. I help the gang move our show stuff into Centennial Hall, essentially an 1100-seat convention center, right across the parking lot. 



 
 
Joey's close-up magic workshop in Juneau
The marching band parades around downtown, just two blocks away, leading a bevy of people to a teaser show in the Centennial Hall lobby. Workshops are held in its conference rooms. So many families! My improv games session is packed and really fun, despite a hyperactive kid who tries to run the class because his dad is a local improv guy... LOL. It's so cool to see folks just dive in to these fun exercises that promote listening, supporting your fellow performer and being in the moment. Afterwards, I yak with some local theater folks.


The show is EPIC (that links to a review) - in the massive hall. Some of the performers have never had a house that big. And despite a massive sound system crash right before we start, which Betsy capably overcomes at the helm! We are almost sold out of our merchandise already - Raggedy Annie, the Merch Goddess, is a-groovin'. 


Emily and I go home to fetch a vehicle I can borrow for the evening. She gives me their huge pickup, and I help everyone move back into the JACC at 11:30 as fireworks explode around us in the parking lot. A serious NW thing? No one did that in NJ except punks when I was growing up. Portland peeps were crazy about it when I spent summer 2010 there, and Seattle was pretty crazy too, as I recall. Juneau's main fireworks event happens at midnight - when it's finally dark - over the water. Tonight there's also a pumpkin moon. I climb the hill around 12:30 am for some real fun parking the truck in a tight spot, on an angle. And it's a standard transmission, which I don't normally drive. I just crack up the whole time...
 


Saturday July 4 Juneau/Douglas

Emily drops me off at the JACC and people are still sleeping – I thought breakfast was at 8 but it’s 9. So I accompany Scramble, whose sweet guitar playing is today's alarm clock, with a lilting improvised lullaby. We go from bedroll to bedroll waking people in the hall as the kitchen crew outside chops, coffees and spreads out yet another amazing feast.


You caption this
2 Pipia Sisters, 2 Sousaphones, 3 smiles, no waiting
We are marching in TWO parades today! We walk down to the Douglas bridge, where the Juneau parade folk convene. I swap travel stories with a guy from Whitehorse, Yukon (Juneau's sister city), various Scotsmen marching with their clan flag, and  the Juneau Volunteer Marching Band, who will combine forces with us playing three super patriotic songs (over and over) all day. Super Dude and major tour sponsor George and I sing the alternative lyrics to “Stars & Stripes Forever” - "Three cheers for our web-footed friends/for a duck could be somebody's mother" - and neither can recall exactly where that's from. The parade is a HUGE deal here – “biggest holiday of the year,” and no one can remember the last time it was this sunny on July 4. 




Paul accepts a thank you plaque
from the City of Juneau
Marching in the parade in Juneau
AND WE'RE OFF! It's about 3 miles RT. And jam-packed. I keep flashing back to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in 2011 (a semi-fantastic experience I never need to repeat). I'm twirling my parasol and marching and high fiving kids along the route just like in NYC. But this is... more connected, more immediate, way less surreal somehow. And I'm not under SpongeBob. Beautiful Erin is next to me, kicking up a storm big time for a lot of the route. Forget that! 




Kids hold out Halloween-like bags vendors fill as they march by. A female cop stops Allie and asks for her hula hoop as we loop around downtown. Then she starts to hula hoop herself!  It's hysterical. A guy from the Juneau band hangs in the back with me, playing the cowbell. I think of Alex, who joined these Fighting Instruments of Karma at the Oregon Country Fair playing cowbell the year he came up to see me play there with The Bobs. He marched around with them so gleefully. Afterwards he said, "Eben told me not to play this ALL the time." I recognize people from my workshops yesterday along the street. Some of them yell, “Hey, Clara Tweaker!”  WOW! 


video
Drum jam en route, between flagtastic musical selections!

Eben and Josh and I take the bus with the other band to Douglas, where the second, much shorter parade will be held. First order of business: redeem our coupons for free hot dogs at the Fire Station! I am tempted to ask the lady in the booth selling $15 homemade pies for the Pentecostal church if they believe in marriage equality before I buy one... The parade is hot. We end up chilling in the Perseverance Theatre lobby thanks to Betsy’s handy key to the place...

Waiting for our NOTC “concert” to begin at Savikko Park in Douglas, we chill out and swap bad jokes - because Carmen is dying to show us that she can now play the trombone.


video


Raggedy Annie at Savikko Park
Stephen and I croon an old Bobs tune in the Concert...
 
Top of the World!
 
There are a few options for getting back to the JACC.  I choose the boat ride offered to exactly 19 Chautauquans by local fisherman Alberto, since I came by road this morning. It's a perfect end to this beautiful day. 
 
video
The Love Boat?

 
Back on land, I hit the Juneau ATM with Matthew, confessing: I like having all of these ATM receipts with the names of Alaskan places on them. 

Then a rare dinner away from the gang - with Eben and Anne at SALT. A cheese plate and bacony Brussel sprouts. Eben drops me off, having borrowed a car himself. It's still light out and gorgeous at 9pm. I take a looooong shower, thinking about the loooong showers I do not take at home in drought-conscious Los Angeles

Sunday July 5 Auke Lake

DAY OFF! I bolt awake at 4:30 am again. I think it's an endless sunlight thing... and I hike down the gorgeous hill to the JACC around 8am for the big Latka Jew-off! Eben and Paul are yukking it up, making competing entries with varying degrees of onions and no varying degree of YUM. Alas, Eben is heading back to Seattle. SO sad to see him leave our first "on the road together" experience, as our 12+ year friendship that usually took place when it was ME who was on the road! Still very sorry we didn’t get to hear him do my Russian tune. Maybe another day. Joyce, another of our amazing sponsors, takes me uphill to get the truck again to help bring folks out to Auke Lake, and my suitcase, to put in the "pack this in the U-haul" pile for tomorrow morning. 



There are no wrong turns
After a quick call to the police to ascertain whether it's legal in Alaska to have people sit in the bed of a pickup truck (YES), I drive a small gang out to George's place on Auke Lake. Kym and Anne, mushed in the cab with me, discuss Kym's daughter Scarlett, and college options. Part of me envies being at that phase in life, part of me is glad to never have to be in my 20s again.  : ) All of me is so happy to be here, right now. And when I miss one turnoff, we end up dead-ending at a breathtaking viewpoint of the Mendenhall Glacier. Alrighty, then. Sigh.
 
 

Glacial gorgeousness chez George

 
George and his dog,
who LOVES to do this
I've been remiss about writing about each day - I try to write notes and  phrases about events and quotes I'll flesh out later. So I sit in an alcove in George's place looking over Auke Lake, typing and smiling as bathing-suited jugglers and swimmers lap up the day. There are kayaks, rowboats, soccer matches on TV, hysterical songs from Betsy in an impromptu livingroom concert. There are gourmet ice creams (bought with our $100 winnings for Best Band in the Juneau parade), the freshest halibut ever (expertly grilled by our host), nappings, doggies, and sunscreen. Wesley and Lindsey's life-vested kids take steps forward in their quest to learn to swim. The cold, cold lake is so clear you can see fishies. It's so gorgeous that the demise of my bathing suit strikes me as hilarious. Joyce, Natalie and Amy are there, too – they were also the backbones of this tour. Just a glorious day.


video

Auke Lake Wrapup
 

mmmmmmmmm

We're back in town in time to take the Mt. Roberts tram at sunset (amazing). In the building atop the mountain, the cool 15 minute movie about Tlingit history is noteworthy - not for the terrible acting but because the dances in it are identical to some that we saw on Shakes Island in Wrangell. And the creation myth that Paul wrote into the Alaska show. I have to wonder if anyone else besides me and Paul is thinking about the show we abandoned... I'm sad there’s no hike time up here, but happy we actually got to do this. I buy a cool retro AK tote - my only real souvenir. I later learn that Stephen and a bunch of other younger-and-still-having-energy-left type people hiked down singing songs about being eaten by bears - to keep the bears away. 

I'm too tired to have dinner with some of the gang at Juneau's famous Red Dog Saloon, which we pass on the walk back to the JACC. But I do note that the giant eagle statue is missing from the storefront where Alex and I took a googy picture in 2002. Everyone's asleep when I get back to Emily’s place, but Waffles and Pancakes (her carby-named cats), who've decided they love me now, battle for my attention. Waffles sits atop me, gently flexing her claws. I leave a thank you note on the counter, since I will be leaving at Ow O'clock.

Monday July 6 Juneau/Hoonah

Due to bad weather, Alex and I couldn't fly to "Glassier Bay" as the British person we met in Skagway called it 20 years ago… And now I'm headed to Hoonah, the town founded when Glacier Bay folks moved across Icy Strait because the glacier (then advancing) took over their land. I won’t be here for the Hoonah vaudeville show Wednesday - because it was rescheduled from Tuesday. The ferry schedule changed after I'd bought my plane ticket home from Juneau, but my schedule didn't change. I still had to be back in LA on July 8. But Paul said I really should see this beautiful town, so I am going anyway. I'll do community shows and stuff. I bolt up again at 4 am and drive the truck downhill one last time at 4:30 to meet the gang. The U-Haul has already left for the ferry, and everyone is dazed. The hall is almost empty. An Alaska Coach bus takes us to the dock. We pass the Mendenhall Glacier again, its bright blue brilliance a morning siren call. 


You can do it, Bill!
Vivian's FIRST front page
We watch with bemusement as Bill is forced to back the kitchen truck and trailer onto the ferry. He hates being told what to do! Scramble says, a la Bill's Alabama drawl, “This is harder than stuffing a crocodile into a roll of toilet paper!” The LeConte ship is small compared to our previous ferries. The Alaska topo map Alex and I have hangs in the hall of this ship, which kind of makes me feel like I am home... Peeps sack out on the forward observation deck between chairs. The O’Bents are an o’bliss of new marriage in their 20s, spooning together. Vivian is thrilled to see her picture from the parade on the front page of the local paper. Ty, Scramble, Paul and I laugh groggily in a cafeteria booth. I propose Aleutian Chautauqua. How cool would THAT be?  Ty’s eye has some kind of stye, and Scramble tells a South American tale of lemon juice that cured his own eye ailment. I posit that at the very least, it cured his iScurvy (which is now a free app). Paul is the only one who laughs when I tell him I downloaded the iClaudius app. The Pipia Sisters huddle at the corner table being adorably secretive about their plans for the Ben Show, a very inside-joke evening that Chautauqua does for itself near the end of each tour. My last ferry ride. Initially clear and amazing, it descends into fog so heavy they sound the horn several times. 


video
My last ferry - Juneau to Hoonah

Amelia and Mary, two of our sponsors enthusiastically greet us at the ferry. Buses have been arranged to take us to the campsite. The driver gives us a stern warning that as soon as this breeze stops, the bugs there are gonna be fierce...noted. Over the course of the day, the visible mud flats next to the park become a BAY that Carey swims in (she made it her mission to swim at every camp near a body of water). It's so sunny I realize that I have gotten a tan in Alaska, despite having slathered on the sunscreen. 

I drop my stuff at the house where I'm staying, about a 1/2 mile walk from camp, and head back out for the day. That bus driver was right - although the kitchen is not near the bay, it's hot now, and... bugs bugs bugs. I find a shady reading spot by Joey’s tent, set up my chair and read for a while. There's no wifi or data in the town, really. Amelia's dad, Bill, is the local tribal leader. He has invited us to hear him tell some history stories up at the school today. I head back for a shower even though bugspray and sunblock goes right back on after it.  Hey, it's just like New Jersey (NOT)! 


My neighbors
Hoonah Hooligans - with the Pipias and Linnea "downtown"
I run into Phina, Sophie and Linnea and we head to the Office Bar, where the Ben Show is supposed to happen tonight. Turns out we can't do it there after all: when a cruise ship is docked, children are allowed in there, but after it leaves, they're not. So the show's delayed as everyone heads back to camp.. It's light until about 10:30pm, so we'll do it outside. Goofiness ensues: the band switches instruments and plays tunes from the show. People do acts they don't normally do on Chautauqua, which is super cool, I play my piano/vocal version of "Sandwich Man" (from the Bobs album, Coaster) and as I overdramatically sail into the coda, accidentally turn on the auto-rhythm and knock the music over. It's stoopid fun. I walk back at dusk - a.k.a. 11pm - more concerned about running into bears than anything else!
 


Tuesday July 7, 2015 Hoonah

View from Hoonah Camp -when the tide was in.
This entire area is exposed mudflats and tidepools when it's out. (And buggy.)
Up at 4am again. The tide is out. I walk to camp as ravens laugh and twelve different kinds of sky put on a show over the bay, glaciers in the distance. The tents are all pitched by the bay, and there's this desert-like area of nothing you have to cross to get to the kitchen trailer. Someone has set up a Way Station in the middle of it, under a canopy, with a water cooler, a guestbook, and a NY Times crossword puzzle. There's a sign with arrows pointing to the kitchen and to Chicago, noting the mileage to each. I deeply regret not taking pictures of this whole thing because it was dismantled by the end of the day... but it tells you all you need to know about why I love being on Chautauqua with these people.

Harry's on the phone with Petersburg people - the Green Bird was abandoned and impounded. This guy on the phone's gonna figure it all out and make it alright. Fingers crossed!  I announce it’s my last day, thanking everyone… then clean up the breakfast fruits, condiments, etc. I especially want to thank the kitchen goddesses, Katie and Reby. I give away the extra Dramamine, my box of tissues (a few people got a cold here... always happens!). I ponder leaving my camp chair and sleeping mat, which I lent to Jenna… Looking ahead to next year? 


Ya know, Phina, that horn
is as big as you are
Hoonah Hoohah
My last show of the tour is at Senior Center. I like to think of what we did as making magic in a tiny room for 20 people on the side of a mountain. 

Later on, our downtown parade yields a small turnout but it’s a weekday, and I don't think a lot of tourists are in town. There are some - one of whom asks me, “Does this happen every day here?” At the coffee shop next to the HIA building where the workshops are being held, the servers tell me they want to run away with us, and ask if anyone can join. Shannon and I buzz the thrift shop - always a great adventure in Alaska. Then I listen to part of a Tlingit language workshop. 

I finally find the internets at the library, where Amelia is the librarian! I check in for my Delta flight home tomorrow. Can't believe it's here already. I run into Linnea on the way back to camp - she's headed out to do the community service project near the ferry terminal. It's a long walk, but I decide that THIS is what I want to be my last activity on Chautauqua. 


 

I find Shannon, Val, Paul, Ty, Kristin, Karl, Carey, Matthew, Cy and Skip already at the small, beautiful cemetery, weed-whacking, removing very old, cheap plastic bouquets, cleaning headstones and clearing brush. I join in, rolling back layers of moss and dirt sometimes 4 inches thick. It sometimes peels off like carpet. The clouds clear and reappear in the bay across the street. We pile the brush in a truck and pack up after the designated hours, and pile into Amelia's van. She sings a song to us in Tlingit to thank us. We are silent as she sings, watching clouds roll in. Two local women who tend this cemetery pull over to say it hasn’t looked this good since its last cleaning many years ago.  We only scratched the surface, and hope they pick up where we left off.
 


More incredible habilup tacos for dinner. And Rio, Somer Joe, Scarlett, Daniel, Stevedore and I are poised for seconds! Baby August becomes the unwitting subject of a photo joke (see L) and his dad cracks up. I start my goodbyes - a huge round of hugs and thanks, disrupting another volleyclub game as the bugs/windy cooling cycle repeats itself. The group gives me a "Fantastico!" and I head back. It's only when I'm showering back at the room (having dispatched three spiders!), replaying the hug round in my mind, that I missed one person... sadface. I’ll pack tomorrow morning.

I have a TV here, and feel kind of weird about that. I decide to leave Law & Order on until I finally drift off...I guess this will ease me, grudgingly, back into reality.



 

Wednesday July 8, 2015 Hoonah to Los Angeles

I pack as Nancy plugs in her laptop. She's come over to take advantage of the room's quiet for a conference call. I finally throw out the torn but sturdy Duane Reade bag from my last New York trip; I've been carrying muddy boots in it, and like many Alaskan things, it was duct taped together because it worked so well. I put on the rainboots too bulky to pack, flashing back to the creek at the Petersburg camp... I need to reseal the inside seams back at home. 

Locals on line to get coffee lament tourist complaints about snacks on the bear tours. I am thinking about the morning meeting at camp, less than a mile away, and trying not to stress about revised rehearsal schedules for projects in LA I will soon have to deal with. Suddenly I'm wishing I’d taken Kym up on her offer to work on my back...

Wings Over Alaska has a frequent flyer program called Wanderlust. I want to be its premier member. It's an awe-inspiring 20 minute ride to Juneau at about 2500 feet. We pass directly over camp on the ascent; the morning meeting is just breaking up. I sigh and smile. What a gift, this trip, these people, this place, this $45 ride. Some people commute on these planes. I can't imagine ever taking this for granted. A fellow passenger on this 12-seater tells me left everything behind in Santa Fe and just moved up here two years ago. Asks if I'm from Juneau. I'm wearing green and brown cammo pants, grey and black spotted rainboots, an Anchorage Film Festival T-shirt, a beige moose print fleece, a black and grey lumberjack jacket and a black cowboy hat. And a huge smile. Mendenhall Glacier is still bright blue overcast a million greys of ever-shifting beauty as we descend. 

I have to wait an hour to check my bag through to LA. That's OK - free wifi in the airport. A dude is very upset about having waited in line for 20 minutes to check a bag. I am an impatient person. I find him funny right now. After eventually dispatching with my bag and camp chair, I walk the 0.2 miles to Donna’s Restaurant – for my last sourdough indulgence, a YUM patty melt. After I head out, Betsy, our supercool sound person from Perserverance texts - she CAN come out to meet me after all, so I turn right around! Also a lifelong musician and theater artist, Betsy toured the Northeast U.S. with an original, Alaska-themed musical school show about glaciers and subsistence living. I tell her she needs to run away with us next year. She smiles conspiratorially.  :)

The idea of nabbing an Ivar's chowder at SeaTac has lost its charm after all of the mouth-watering fresh fish I've had in the past 3 weeks. But now there is a Beecher’s Cheese in SeaTac! French onion soup with their signature cheese. And as is my custom, I get a container of curds to take back to LA.

Just before my 8:30 takeoff to Los Angeles, I text Stephen and Nancy; it’s showtime in Hoonah. Phina will emcee with Paul, as I’d suggested. Kym will kick it in a totally different way as Clara Tweaker. And I will start fish oil tablets again, now that I’m not eating it every day.

Staring at the picture of Hekla on my phone, looking forward to squeezing and kissing her, I still long for my sweet Sitka. Doubly sad that I didn't go all the way to Sitka (his namesake) with the tour. As was the case last year, I couldn't afford to stay longer and miss so many gigs. I'd hoped to spread some of his ashes there. Pure beauty returning to pure beauty. Happiness re-uniting with happiness. I look forward to that day. But doing Chautauqua also feels like a return to a purer, infinitely positive source of joy through music and comedy and wonder. Maybe that’s why I am so moved every time the marching band enters a room - everyone in it becomes a child again. It's exactly what Erin was talking about that lovely Petersburg morning. And for a brief period of time each year, in a wide world of wide problems - global and personal - Chautauqua leads us all back to a place where we can all be unabashedly green again.