Ship sail

Alaska cruise season reminds me how special life is here

  • My family moved from Los Angeles to a remote island in Alaska because we wanted to be closer to nature.
  • Every summer our island receives huge cruise ships with people ready to explore what we call home.
  • Cruise season makes me appreciate where we live.

In late April or early May, the population of our sleepy little town on an Alaskan island doubles, triples or quadruples, depending on the day.

From our living room window, we watch the massive cruise ships roll into town, dropping off thousands of tourists eager to salmon, hike, or zipline through the rainforest.

The relationship between our town and tourists is both important – many people here depend on seasonal income – and somewhat strained, at times the island can feel slightly overwhelmed.

Other than during the summer of 2020 when COVID-19 shut down all cruises, it’s been a reality every summer I’ve experienced here.

I don’t work in the tourism industry so I have no interest in the whereabouts of the ships. But I’m not bothered by tourists either. In fact, their presence reminds me of something special: that I can live in a place where people pay a lot of money – and in some cases wait their whole lives – to come see.

It’s a pretty magical place

For those who don’t want to pay for a seaplane tour of Misty Fjords or aren’t inclined to spend the day on a charter fishing boat, simply taking a stroll through the Tongass National Forest may be enough to feel that they experienced Southeast Alaska.

The forest here looks primitive, with ancient conifers and mossy undergrowth. I know the sounds and smells of the forest well because every morning I take my husky-Lab mix, a curious yearling, on the Rainbird Trail. There are three access points, and I like to mix them up. Sometimes I walk from my house to our little college campus and start there. Other times I go down the hill and through the Third Avenue bypass, with its spectacular water and mountain views, and up the stairs to one of the other trailheads.

Most mornings it’s just us up there, but not because it’s not a heavily used trail. He is. But there just aren’t many people in this town, so the chances of there being more than a handful of walkers at the same time are slim. So I can leave Birdie off leash, watch her run past me, or dash around the back of a tree sniffing other dogs that have come before.

Other days our whole family piles into the car and pulls out to the Ward Lake parking lot, where we loop around the lake and follow the changing seasons. For the record, the most fragrant time of the year is when the salmon begin to die. My 3 year old sometimes steps on a dead fish that has washed up on shore just to feel the squish of it under his shoes which is age appropriate but slightly gross.

We often drive to the beach, and even on the beaches there is evidence of rainforest – as if the woods had stopped just because the ocean was in the way. We take firewood and tea, and even on cold and rainy days we can still have fun: digging in the sand, doing the beach at low tide or swinging on a strong rope that hangs from one of the trees .

Tourists see these places too, and I’m so happy when I see them discovering the magical places we love. But I’ve come to realize the difference between us: they create memories that they can share with their friends back home, while we go about our daily lives.

Cruise season reminds me how lucky I am to live here and makes me appreciate this slice of the world even more than I already do.