Why I’m Going Back to Seward in 2017

Major Marine Tours deckhands come to Alaska from all over the world to spend their summers showing our guests the incredible beauty of Alaska’s glaciers and wildlife. Though they travel far distances and spend the summers away from family and friends, many deckhands choose to come back to Major Marine Tours year after year. Tamara Lang, Major Marine Tours deckhand and interpretive volunteer at Kenai Fjords National Park, reflects on the reasons why she will be coming back to Seward in 2017.

 

I write this from the end of 2016 in Port Douglas, Australia, between the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Last week my advent calendar melted in about ten minutes. At the end of my street starts the ocean, which runs out to a reef so large it can be seen from space, and which is yet so intricate that each dive brings new fish which flash into the shapes of waiting coral. I am in the place I’d dreamt of since I first learned to read.

And yet, even here, it is Seward, Alaska that holds my imagination.

Seward comes to me in images: Mountain peaks that change with each perspective, shifting under a kaleidescope of clouds. Tangled cliffs where mountain goats manuever coves heavy with the gemstone green of microscopic life. Water that sits silent above frantic depths until it eases out our glimpse into its secrets: humpback whales, their blows hanging above glassy ripples. Or the timeless rise of orca’s fins, stark and black, mindlessly elegant as their calves practice play.

This is the summer Seward that I carry with me through Australia’s heat, that I hold close in the pictures on my phone that I swipe through whenever I feel the need to love something. A world in a series of glowing rectangles on a screen, promising itself into the future.

I have traveled a fair amount, and I still have a long list of places I want to go. But when I think back on the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the world — the limestone karsts of the Philippines, the haunting loneliness of Mongolia, the crumbling hills of Scotland and the perfect peaks of Switzerland, even the salt-flat sunrises of Death Valley in my own country or the sunlit awe of coral canyons in my current home — I can honestly say that there is no place yet on earth (besides maybe Norway in the fall) that stuns me with the overwhelming scale of beauty that Seward brings.

Some places have mountains; some have coastlines. Some have rainforests, some glaciers. Many places have marine life; a few are lucky enough to host whales. But nowhere else on earth have I found a place where mountains, ocean, rainforest, glacier, and marine life come together in corridors of beauty as dense as those found in Kenai Fjords National Park.

And so, for the first time in all my travels, I’m going back.

I am going back to Seward in 2017 for the Fjords. I am going back for bowl-shaped mountains carved by cirque glaciers, for the impossible thin ridgelines that run seaward along the ancient glaciers’ retreats.

I am going back for the whales: the orca slow and stately as their fins spear the white of distant glaciers, or else stirred into intelligent motion. The humpbacks, their mass lifting skyward in a breach. Even the fin whales, long and rare, or the frantic pace of Dall’s porpoises.

I am going back for the glaciers, falling from their heights of frozen motion into the sea.

I am going back for those same boulders of ice mixed into Major Marine Tours’ glacier margaritas. For bubbles of air two centuries old melting into your cup. History in the form of a drink.

I am going back for the eagles, their feathers white between the blues and green of sea and forest. For the kittiwakes, peeling off their cliffside nests in a single current of winged white. For the puffins, clumsy and wise, their painted faces peering from nests on rocky spires.

I am going back for the people who make the sea their home, and in the process become a home for each other.

I am going back for the chance to walk downtown through a 11:00 pm sunset staining the mountains pink above the water, because a taxi costs five dollars in currency and forty minutes in lost walking time outdoors.

I am going back for slow morning coffee in an old church, for bonfires on the coast.

I am going back for hikes of crystalline silence between the mountains and the snow. For the awe of hiking through wildflowers to look down over a sea of ice spreading between mountains made islands, ringed by ice up to 4,000 feet deep and older than our country.  I am going back for all of the mountains and coastlines I have yet to explore. For the potential that sits heavy in my hiking boots.

But mostly, I am going back for the sea. For the restless awe that can only be found on the bow of a Major Marine Tours vessel as it breaks out of Resurrection Bay, the Gulf of Alaska to my left, the coastline like a string of jewels to my right. I am going back for the wonder of watching for a whale’s rise on a full but silent deck. For joy that comes like laughter as we drift through air studded with puffins or swept by kittiwkes moving like music. For the feeling of rounded whole as the Spirit of Adventure or the Glacier Express moves through water so still it holds the world in reverse upon itself, the glacier rippling through the sky as they sweep under our bow. For watching passengers fall in love with the Alaskan waters I cherish, day after day after day.

I am going back to Seward. I am going back to Major Marine Tours. And if you’re looking for a trip to make you fall in love with 2017, then I hope to see you there this season.

Tamara Lang is a writer of creative nonfiction and a deckhand with Major Marine Tours in Seward, Alaska. Read more of her work at tamaralang.com, or follow her on facebook or instagram at @tamaralangwrites.

Deckhand Tammy on the Harding Icefield trail.
Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park
Orca whale calf
Puffin in Kenai Fjords National Park
Seward Small Boat Harbor