Story last updated at 2/4/2009 - 11:43 am
When I first moved to Juneau four years ago, I worked on whale-watching boats. As soon as we left the dock, tourists invariably began asking when we would see the whales. We didn't know exactly, we'd tell them - whales are wild animals and you never know exactly where you'll find them.
"We're all in the same boat here," I'd often quip.
It probably wasn't very funny anyway, but looking back, I'm not sure that I was using the expression correctly. Sure, we were all looking for whales, but the boat's crew had a distinct advantage over the tourists - we know when and where we were likely to find them.
I've been thinking about boat expressions a lot as I've reflected on the unmooring of the Lituya ferry last Friday. Nobody was on board the ferry when itbroke free from its mooring at Metlakatla and drifted onto the rocks of Scrub Island.
The event is particularly unsettling to me because I've been living on a boat for the past few months. And on nights when the wind is blowing as fiercely as it was the night the Lituya broke loose, it's easy to lie awake and imagine our own lines breaking and our boat drifting blindly away from the harbor.
I won't deny that shipwrecks are terrifying. And every time a boat runs aground is a good warning to other boaters. But coming unmoored when no one's on board is scary in a different way.
Out at sea anything can happen, but in the harbor, we are supposed to feel safe. Once the lines are securely tied, we should be able to sleep peacefully on or off the boat.
The Lituya unmooring is particularly unnerving, because if any vessel is well-secured, it's a ferry. How are we to feel secure about our own little boats?
In the same weekend in which one line was broken, another one was strung, bypassing the downed Snettisham tower and restoring hydropower to Juneau.
Some people scoff at the term "energy crisis," and perhaps rightly so. Is it really a crisis to pay higher rates for electricity for one month which some people in villages are regularly paying all year?
Well, this might be another case where we seem to be all in the same boat but some people are in a much better position than others.
It all depends on support lines. When energy rates go up, do you have money set aside or a line of credit? Is there a family member or friend willing to help out when times are tough? Or are there government or private funds available to help those in need?
In short, how we weather any storm depends on our mooring lines - how many do we have, and how strong are they?
Last week I printed a letter we'd received from Arianna Peluso, a fourth-grader in New Jersey who wanted to know what it was like to live in Juneau. (I'm still collecting responses, if you'd like to send one to firstname.lastname@example.org.) I've been thinking more about this over this week, and I also attempted an answer to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum's query: 'What does it mean to be in this place?"
Last week I looked inside the CCW for answers. This weekend, I looked inside myself and remembered how I felt when I first moved to Juneau almost four years ago.
Like many others, I came to town only planning to stay for a few months. I felt footloose and had plans to avoid getting "tied down" for a while.
But that first summer, after our boat was docked, I was making ties of my own in Juneau - getting a library card, establishing friendships, finding favorite coffee shops and learning the trails.
Gradually, in my time on land, I started to realize that Juneau was a great place to dock. The thrill of adventure is not far away - we can't set foot outside without being lured by the mountains and the ocean. But when the winds are howling and the swells are growing, it's nice to have a place to be tied to.
On Sunday evening the harbor was quiet again. The diesel generators were switched off and the winds had died down. Still, I double-checked the lines before hopping aboard for a peaceful night's sleep.
One final note on support lines. For years we're had a support group listing in the CCW on the calendar page. This week, thanks to the great submissions more and more people have been sending in, our calendar outgrew the space we'd allotted for it. So we've moved the Support Groups listings to the health pages (page 19 this week).