Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

January 5:

 

     There seems to be two types of people here in Juneau.  There are the natives who have lived in the area their whole lives, or at least a long long time.  And then there are folks like us...part timers, imported temporary workers, college kids, and Coast Guard sailors posted here for a tour of duty.  You don't meet too many folks in between.

     "Yeah, the weather gets to some people, I guess", the natives will sheepishly admit.  And I'm starting to see what they mean.  Though it may be blessed with scenic, pristine wilderness right out everyone's window, that forest we look at is a temperate RAIN forest.  There are two kinds of weather here: rainy, and snowy.  After the novelty of a very white Christmas, the new year brought warm rain.  Now after a week of it, the snow is all melted and Juneau seems like one big cold mud puddle.  The already short, dark days of winter are made even more gloomy by gray skies and near constant precipitation.  In the dim twilight of mid-morning, those beautiful mountain hills seem ominous and brooding.  To describe this murky valley as a prison is not too far off.  With no roads to escape from this isolated coast, one must rely on a ferry over stormy North Pacific waters, or an expensive ticket on Alaska Airlines to get away when winter gets too much.

      The natives have figured out how to cope.  It seems like half my patients must negotiate their follow up appointments around an upcoming trip to Hawaii.  As for us, we have Uliad to think of--waiting under sunny New Zealand skies and promising to carry us off to whatever latitude of sunshine we wish come Spring.  For now that's enough.

       

 

January 9:

       "The morning commute" can be a little different in Alaska.  Friday morning I went to work in a tiny, single engine airplane that carried me from Juneau to the little remote village of Gustavus.  Like more typical commutes, the weather put a bit of a snarl in mine as we had to sit around for a half an hour waiting for the fog to clear.  A gap appeared and we took off, climbing hard to get up and over the next fog bank rolling in at the end of the runway.

        On board was the pilot, a few sacks of mail, and an an unaccompanied minor of about five years of age who it appears was being sent off to visit grandma for the weekend.  And then there was me: paying passenger and also co-pilot (if only by my seating position, not my qualification) and also this little town's only doctor for the next 8 hours.  The village of Gustavus usually has a nurse practitioner, but she's on vacation for a month so I volunteered to be one of the docs who would hold a once a week clinic.  The pace was relaxing out there, I was told, but you always run the risk of bad weather grounding the planes and getting stuck out there.  Aside from the morning fog, the weather report looked good.  So I took the risk of packing little more than a stethoscope and a lunch.

My ride to workMy little clinic in the woods

       I had been in touch with the village clinic's office manager and she was to pick me up at the airport.  "Will she know who I am at the airport?" I wondered at first.  But on my morning commute over some spectacular rugged mountain peaks I realized that compared to the only other passenger on this flight, I wouldn't be too hard to pick out. And as we glided in for a landing and I got a look at the whole village of some 300 people it became clear.  She would know who I am because I'll be the only person in this village whom she doesn't already know personally.  One of the airport workers, upon seeing the doctor was here, made an appointment time with the office manager right there in the parking lot.

       So I was driven to an adorably tiny cottage in the woods where I was to see patients for the next few hours before catching a flight back to Juneau before dark.  I have to admit, there's a special place in my heart for tiny little remote communities everywhere.  One has to wonder, what is it that leads folks to live in such a hard-to-get-to place?  How did a town ever survive here where going to the store for a carton of milk involves a 30 minute airplane ride or many hours in a cold boat?  I would have loved to stay longer and find answers to all my questions, but with only 6 patients needing my attention (2% of the whole population, nonetheless!) I'll have to hope for another opportunity.  And the scenery on my commute home?  My God!  Sometimes I can't believe they pay me for this job.  The drive home from work...

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

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