The next stop on our Alaskan cruise with Royal Caribbean was not really one at all. It was more like a drive-by, or cruise-by.
We headed into what seemed to be a maze of fjords and inlets, not really knowing where we would end up. The staff and crew onboard had informed us the night before, through the close circuit TV and on the PA, that we would definitely want to wake up early the next day and take in the wonder that was the Sawyer Glacier, the most impressive part of the Tracy Arm fjord in southeastern Alaska.
No kidding – I think more than a third of the passengers on the entire ship perched themselves on the wraparound twelfth deck and the even higher partial thirteenth deck in the biting cold air. Hot chocolate was available for warming up. This was at a price of course, and even more if you wanted a little nip of brandy or rum or whatever else they had, plus a souvenir insulted cup (Mind you, this was at 9 AM in the morning. Was the booze really necessary?) People like us who had a balcony could see it from the comfort of their staterooms, but we still went out with everyone else to get a full view of it all.
A climatologist gave commentary over the PA system as we went further and further into the fjord. Just when we thought we would finally see it, the ship moved in closer, until there was no more water to sail on, like a dead end on a mountainous and sea-logged street.
Not to be too political here, but I think most of us agree that climate change exists. Whether it’s caused by man or by natural causes is seemingly up for debate (I personally don’t think it should be, but that’s for another day and another blog!). But by learning how the ice field in the Sawyer Glacier has retreated or contracted – about two miles in just 50 years, and more than five miles in the last 150 – there’s no denying something is going on here, and it’s not optimistic. When the climatologist mentioned this and some other statistics, I thought about the silly 2004 movie, “The Day After Tomorrow,” where the weather patterns of the world change crazily, almost overnight, causing major havoc all over the world and a new Ice Age in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, I don’t think that could truly happen that fast, but seeing how much these beautiful glaciers have shrunken has nonetheless given me some pause.
Doom and gloom environmental stuff aside, I still appreciated the awesome spectacle of ice and sea water before me. Sawyer is actually two glaciers that split into a northern part and southern part. We did not see any of the calving, or dramatic ice break-offs, that often happens at the glaciers, but we did see quite a few harbor seals. Supposedly, according to the narrating climatologist, mountain goats and bears frolicked on one far side of the mountain walls near the glacier.
The biggest regret I had about cruising into the Tracy Arm fjord was not waking up the girls. They admittedly were too beset with sleepiness to get up early and see some humongous ice blocks. If they had been a little younger or even older, they probably would’ve been much more impressed by this handiwork of Mother Nature. But being essentially teenagers, they now value sleep over incredible sub-arctic phenomena. I did manage to rouse JRS for a few minutes and bring her to our balcony, where she promptly commented, “This is what you dragged me out here for?”
Maybe she and her younger sister, who never got to see the glacier at all, will have their chance someday again – before most of it really goes away.