National Geographic Quest
A Day Like This One There are days in Southeast Alaska remembered for epic events, the kind of experiences that burn into your memory like the birth of a child, a wedding day, or the death of someone special, never to be forgotten, associated forever with a certain square on the calendar, a particular smell, or an era-defining song. Then there are days like this one. * * * A single, lazy humpback breathes, dives, and disappears. A half-dozen otters, scattered here and there in the middle of the channel, roll, groom, and fall asleep. A lone eagle, spotted from a quarter mile away, perches at the top of a spruce tree, occasionally turning its head to look at we don’t know what, sitting without care as we approach, pass, and depart. A mink swims along the shore, slips from the water, and disappears. Harlequin ducks. Canada geese. Cormorants. Outside, pressure is high, sky clear, sun bright, water calm. In the lounge, we discuss what it means to think like an ocean, debate how to treat a fevered planet. Nothing epic happens on the ship today––nothing like a birth, a wedding, a death, nothing to sear this day into memory. There is no theme song. Not even the scent of skunk cabbage or whale breath to trigger recall. It is the kind of day one might imagine spent napping in a hammock or reading in a rocking chair. But we are not on a beach, or a front porch. There are no hammocks or rockers. We are on a ship. We are in Alaska. Throughout the afternoon, guests come and go from the bow, joining a couple perennial members of the staff. Sometimes we sit in silence, other times we converse. I speak of the abundant brown bears on the islands around us. Guests ask Kelly about this peak or that waterfall: “Does it have a name? How tall is it?” A guest who has sat on a bench in silence for at least a half hour breaks a pregnant pause. “This day couldn’t be any better,” he says. Around the bow, a dozen heads nod. Everyone smiles. It is a sentiment I hear several times throughout the day. * * * I don’t know what guests or other staff will remember from today, but I will recall this as a day I was reminded of something I used to teach young guides when I was in a training role. It isn’t your job to impress your guests, I would tell them. Alaska will do that for you. Set them up for success, serve them, tell them a story or two, share facts when they ask, and tell them you don’t know when they stump you with a question. Mainly, be honest with them, get out of the way, and let Alaska do her job, because even on a day when nothing epic happens, when it would be easy to imagine kicking back in a hammock and sleeping the day away, Alaska will never fail you. Even on a day like this one.