George Island and the Inian Islands

May 18, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Resilience! Alain de Botton wrote, “A good half of the art of living is resilience”. It is the ability to adapt, change, go with the flow, and most of all find a way even in the most amazing circumstances.

Today we observed resilience at its finest. We began our day at George Island where the weather was so beautiful it was startling. Nice, balmy breezes and a sun so bright it glistened on the water in front of us as we made our way ashore. There we scampered and scurried to either ditch our life vests for hiking, or grab a different one for kayaking, and begin our exploration of the island.

Some chose to ascend to the crest of the island along a hiking trail leading from the beach.

Along the way, they were immersed in a variety of trees, plants, and birds. After a bit of a steep hike, they reached the top where a Second World War gun emplacement stood in the shadows of tall spruce trees and time. Its purpose was to defend the Inside Passage’s northern entrance from 1942 until the end of the war. The gun was test- fired only four times before falling silent, waiting for an attack that thankfully never came to the passage.

While hikers were discovering some of George Island’s history, another group was investigating an intertidal pool on the other side of the island. A very brief walk took us to a place where we could see a lighthouse in the distance guiding ships, like ours, safely to their destinations. It did not take us long to discover life in the little pools of water left behind on this rocky shore. As water ebbed out into the inlet, tiny puddles were left between the jagged rocks and smooth pebbles on the shore. In these puddles, hermit crabs did battle while tiny chitons rested just underneath the water. We saw long stipes of bull kelp lying on the shore and sea anemones hiding against dark rocks feeding on tiny fish that wandered a bit too close.

In the meantime, kayakers and paddle boarders were enjoying peering into the clear water below them and looking at sea grass and kelp while visiting the rocky shoreline. Some kayakers explored a nearby archway on one side of shore while others paddled around in front of the beach discovering small caverns, enjoying the sounds of birds and watching an eagle flying along the tree line.

The real fun came before we returned to the ship for another in a long line of delicious lunches. Those who were daring and adventurous donned their swimsuits and shorts for a “polar” swim from the beach. Moments before they had been lying on the beach soaking in the warmth of the sun. The chilly water was crisp yet exhilarating!

In the afternoon, we loaded up the DIBS for a 1 ½ hour jaunt around the Inian Islands and into the entrance of Cross Sound. Despite the fact that the water swirled in great waves around us, the area was teeming with life. In fact, it was because of this “washing machine” like motion that sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, gulls and guillemots are drawn here. As the upwelling occurs, it pushes the dinner table right up to the surface and makes for a feeding frenzy. Although, it is hard to tell if a sea otter is ever frenzied. They always sort of look like tourists on vacation lying around enjoying the view. The temperature turned chilly. The wind picked up, and combined with upwelling, the ride was a bit cooler and a lot wetter than our others. But even that was a teachable moment. It was easy to see the power of the ocean, the strength of the sea life, and how that interaction is delicately balanced.

Today, some hiked a steep trail in the middle of a seemingly forgotten land to find a long silent outpost where men stood watch in rain and fog, alongside the chilled salt breezes, in a place that had to be difficult to access, in order to protect the people who live along the Inside Passage. Resilience.

Today, some viewed abundant and rich life in remote tide pools. This life had somehow found a way to survive on the rocky shore amongst the jagged edges of this tiny inlet. Resilience.

Today, some paddled around the shoreline battling small waves and long strands of bull kelp reaching up and out of the water. Several dared the frigid water just to say they could; and they did. Resilience.

Today, we witnessed sea creatures of all kinds battling the climate for survival on the fringe of the world. Resilience.

Today I saw friends helping each other clamber over rocks, dodge pools of sea life, put on and take off layers of water proof gear, offer each other warm or dry layers, encourage each other to try something new, stand up on a paddleboard, change places with a steward and serve dinner to guests with about ten minutes of training. I saw them go further, reach higher, do that one thing they really wanted to do but were afraid to try or reach out and help another human being. Today I witnessed shipmates become friends and people from all over the world, and all walks of life become intrepid explorers. I saw people overcome obstacles together and enjoy every moment! Resilience.

We are nearing the end of the journey and in this part of the world it is easy to believe you are reaching the very ends of the Earth because, thankfully, thoughtful, courageous people have strived to survive life on the fringe and preserve it for future generations.

When you reach the end you often find that it us only the beginning. That is more evident here than anywhere… where air, land and sea meet and resolute humans, explorers and indigenous alike, “choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide”. Resilience is the key!

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About the Author

Tama Nunnelly

Guest Speaker

Tama Nunnelley teaches geography and history at Guntersville Middle School in Guntersville, Alabama. She focuses on bringing history to life through the infusion of geography and technology into her classroom. Tama is a National Geographic Certified Educator and was honored by the National Council for Geographic Education as a 2015 Distinguished Teacher of the Year.

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