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Gratitude in Alaska


            As the waves crash over the bow I shut my eyes momentarily while the ocean spray reaches my face. Some days this happens every time I encounter a wave. Some days it doesn’t happen once. The goal every day is the same; to fill the boat, and no day is the same in terms of weather, tides, hours, or amounts of fish. These variables change by the hour and are almost always unpredictable. It’s the ultimate gamble, and it’s what I do for a living. It’s the ultimate gamble in terms of income, and it’s the ultimate gamble in terms of safety. If you don’t love it you hate it, and if you don’t hate it you love it. I’ve heard this job being described as one in which “Everyone can do it, but not everyone can do it.”  There’s only one way to figure out whether or not it’s the job for you, and that’s to finish the season. You’ll be tested mentally, and you’ll be alone. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

            Isolation turns into appreciation, and exhaustion is rewarded with the few hours of sleep in the most comfortable bunk you have ever climbed in, at least tonight it is, because you’ve spent the last 19 hours outside in the weather with no breaks. Just you, your crew, and whatever nature has to offer. You will be soaked, whether it’s the rain, the waves, your sweat, or your tears you’ll wish that you were able to change your clothes every hour.

            As I cruise down the highway with a navigational system with no sense of doubt that I’ll reach my destination, I feel lost. I feel lost because of this schedule I’m on with a set of priorities I must follow every day, where I’m a phone call away, and can be contacted every second of every day. In the middle of the Pacific, towing the net on a point I’ve never seen let alone heard of, I feel alive. I feel alive with no distractions to filter my thoughts, one schedule and no way to be contacted unless it’s via satellite phone. It gives me a sense of what is really important, living without the necessity of the internet every day, or a phone to contact my bank to see how much money I have. None of it matters because none of it is relevant when I’m in that skiff.

            I wake up every morning the same way, and I go to bed the same way, but I never wake up the same man and I never go to bed the same man. Every day I’m on the Ocean I grow in which a way I can’t when I’m on land. It’s cold, and it’s wet, usually uncomfortable and you’ll stink. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, and at times it’s the best place to be. You find a lot more than money when you’re on the ocean. Often times if you’re patient you find yourself, and you find true priorities. For that, my appreciation goes beyond explanation.


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If you are interested in an independent, carefree vacation, consider Fairbanks, Alaska in the summertime. Alaska has always attracted people from the lower forty-eight and the rest of the world who have craved adventure and independence.

Alaskans, all over the state, including Fairbanks are very proud of their past. Alaska became America’s forty-ninth state in 1959; however, to this day the citizens work hard to maintain their distinctive character they established from their rugged beginnings. Last year I visited Fairbanks after being talked into it by a college student.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a great place to learn about Indian and Alaskan History. It is located on the campus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). At the entrance of the exhibit, Otto, a nine foot stuffed bear, greets visitors. Otto is a popular photo opportunity for visitors. The museum has exhibits of other stuffed game animals, totem poles, native tools and boats. In other parts of the museum there are exhibits of famous Alaskans who influenced the culture, technology and politics of the territory and the state. Upstairs there is a gallery where Alaskan artists display their works. From the upstairs window there is a panoramic view of the untamed landscape with mountains and plains.

After exploring the museum, a good follow-up expedition would be a three hour boat ride on the Chena River. Guests can learn the importance of the river in bringing supplies to the area by a native tour director. Near the river is the site of a now defunct gold mining facility which attracted adventurers to the area in the early twentieth century.

On this tour is an Iditarod dog practice demonstration. During the summer and off-season, husky and malamute dogs are trained to compete in the annual race held in March. The training takes many years as the dogs need to develop the stamina to race long distances in hazardous blizzard conditions with subfreezing temperatures. A pack of twelve to sixteen trained dogs hitched to a motorless all-terrain vehicle demonstrate the excitement of the unique Iditarod event. There are professional mushers who work full-time to train these dogs.

The river cruise also highlights a replica of an Athabascan village, similar to the ones the Indians lived in when Alaska was a territory and it was imperative that the people plan for the long cold winter by having sufficient amounts of food and warm clothing for survival. On the tour, a UAF college student, who was an Athabascan descendent, demonstrated how her grandmother cooked and preserved salmon so that it could be stored and eaten during the winter. The college student also modeled a beautiful fur coat made from the animals of the region.

Another attraction near Fairbanks is Denali National Park and Preserve, home to Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Start your tour at the visitor’s center where a friendly park ranger can discuss the various tours available. There are tours for outdoorsy folks as well as tours for people who wish to view the park from a bus. Whatever, tour you chose you will see spindly trees that reach to the heavens and vast canyons with “tiny” wildlife. The visitor’s center offers a short film on the history of the park. I would recommend a full day to see this attraction. But you can check into a hotel if you wish to stay longer.

To relax on your Fairbanks vacation, I recommend a visit to Chena Hot Springs. The springs are located about an hour from Fairbanks, in the North Star Borough. The road to the springs is a bucolic road with trees and lakes. I urge you to take the time and drive carefully and stop to look and take pictures of the wildlife. On my travels, I saw a mother moose with her baby wading in swallow pond and an eagle perched on a dead tree. These sights could have been shot by National Geographic magazine photographers.

When you arrive at the springs, there is a resort area complete with a hotel, a restaurant, a snack bar, an ice museum and hiking facilities. The outdoor hot tub is one of a kind; the waters have healing qualities. If it rains when you are in the hot tub, there is an indoor pool nearby to swim in. But you can still enjoy the hot tub in a light rain. After several hours of soaking, you can enjoy a nice meal in the restaurant with fresh vegetables that are grown on the premises.

After a few days of my Fairbanks vacation, I realized the vastness of the United States and understood freedom. I found it a worthwhile adventure and I think you will too.

About the Author: Eileen Sateriale is a freelance writer living in Methuen, MA. She has had short stories and poetry posted on on-line and print media.


This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Rachel Zimmerman Brachman from Canada and now the United States. Thanks for your entry Rachel!

Something puzzled me as I drove my rented all-terrain vehicle through Barrow, Alaska.   Why did so many homes have trampolines in their yards?  In a place where it’s cold and dark most of the year, trampolines seemed out of place.
I had always wanted to visit the high north, but I never imagined I’d make it to Barrow, Alaska — 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  I was traveling with NASA scientists who wanted to compare the polar regions on Earth with the icy moons in our solar system.  My job, as a NASA educator, was to meet with the science teachers at the local schools.




The hut where I stayed was a few minutes’ walk from the Arctic Ocean.  I wore my winter coat, hat, gloves, scarf, and boots, even though it was mid-August.  The temperature was 38 degrees F, with a wind chill below freezing.  I heard stories of winter temperatures reaching minus 120 F, and I couldn’t imagine anywhere being that cold.

I visited an ice cellar, where families store their frozen salmon, seal, and whale.  Since the ground is permafrost, people can dig a deep hole in the ground and carve out a cave 20 feet below the surface.  The cave stays 18 degrees F all year, so food stays frozen.  I got to taste muktuk — whale skin and blubber — a treat for the people who live there.

It took me a long time to adjust to the long days.  In mid-August, it stayed light out until 3:00 in the morning, and I found myself staying up later and later each night.  I wore a watch to bed because I couldn’t count on the sun to give me time cues, like I could when I was at home in Los Angeles.

The weather was cold and unfriendly, but the people I met were warm and gracious hosts.  More than half of the people who live in Barrow are Inupiat, or Native Alaskans.  Inupiat traditions are still upheld, and the strongest tradition is whaling.  Teams of whalers hunt bowhead whales.  It takes a whole crew to catch a whale, another crew to tow it onto land, and a third crew to apportion it out for the community.  No one can catch a whale alone, and no one can eat a whale alone: both are community efforts.




To catch a whale, first the hunters have to catch several seals.  The seals’ skins are sewn together to make the outer covering of a wooden-framed boat called an umiaq.  Hunters can only catch whales in the spring and fall, hunting only what they need to survive.  Every part of the whale is used, and there are prescribed portions that go to the crew that catches the whale, the crew that tows it into shore, and the crew that carves it up and shares it with the community.

At the end of the whaling season, there is a celebration called Nalukataq, or “Blanket Toss.”  In such a remote place, where everything else has to be flown in, anything which can be caught locally is very important: bowhead whales, bearded seals, caribou, fish, and snowy owls each have their season.  The Inupiat name for Barrow, Ukpeagvik, means “The place where snowy owls are hunted.”
But why do so many families in town have trampolines?

I visited some Inupiat Elders, asking them about the trampolines.  They told me about the community celebration at the end of the spring whaling season.   The sealskin covering of an umiaq is removed from its wooden frame, and handles are woven around the edges of the skins.  The blanket is placed on the ground.  Thirty members of the community take their places around the edge of the blanket, holding onto the handles.  They pull the blanket taut by leaning back, and the blanket is lifted off the ground to waist height.  The captain of a successful whaling crew stands in the middle of the blanket.  Everyone pulls the blanket in unison, changing the tension, and the captain is hurled up into the air.  He jumps up and down on the blanket as long as he lands on his feet.  When he misses, it’s someone else’s turn.  Some people can jump as high as 15 feet, and some do flips and other fancy moves.  The Blanket Toss is an important part of the whale celebration, along with drumming, singing, dancing, and storytelling.

And people have trampolines at home so they can practice for the blanket toss!

It all started to make sense to me.

My trip to Barrow was coming to a close, but I had learned so much on my trip, and I have so much more to learn.  I hope I will be able to return there again someday.

About the Author: Rachel Zimmerman Brachman: By day, I work as a solar system education specialist.  In my free time, I write manuscripts for children’s books.  I’m an inventor, a scientist, an educator, a writer, a mom, a knitter, and a world traveler.  My Facebook page is here:


In Heather Poole’s insider memoir, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, she says, “Just goes to show anything can happen if you just take a chance!” Her story will inspire many to finally take that next step and make their dreams a reality. While her anecdotes are not all of the fairy tale variety, many of her moments along the path to dream come true are sticky in many unpleasant ways! But she does share her hopes, and her disappointments and she does get to live the life she imagined.

Having worked  myself on a cruise ship, many of her tales of life in the air have a familiar quality. Most people imagine being a flight attendant or assistant cruise director is one long party. Sadly, there are moments even when you have your dream job where it is just a job! “Once I watched an entire group of passengers traveling to Haiti put a voodoo curse on a coworker in the middle of beverage service. I’ve seen a woman try to store her baby inside an overhead bin. Not too long ago a drunken passenger grabbed a flight attendant’s butt—right in front of his wife.” It is hard to get this job but don’t give up on your dreams. “Ninety-six percent of people who apply to be flight attendants do not get a call-back!” Even with those numbers, Poole makes it and shares the literal and figurative ups and downs! “Who wouldn’t love working twelve days a month…I did appreciate the flexibility, the freedom, the camaraderie, and the excitement.”

Read the full book review at Wandering Educators.

By Lee Abbamonte

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to a whole new world.

Travel enables you to see the world through other peoples eyes and from other points of view.

Travel increases your awareness of other cultures and people.

Travel makes you smarter.

Travel is the best education you can receive.

Travel enables you to speak intelligently on a variety of global topics.

Travel shows you how global policy effects different countries and different types of people.

Travel brings you to places you’ve only dreamed about seeing.

Travel shows you landscapes you never thought were possible.

Travel shows you what real beauty is.

Travel shows you that everything is beautiful in its own way.

Travel makes books and television come to life.

Travel makes adventures happen everyday.

Travel makes dreams come true.

Travel gives you a sense of enormous accomplishment.

Travel gives you something to look forward to to.

Travel gives you options.

Travel is a lifetime journey that is never the same twice.

Travel makes the big world small.

Travel humbles you.

Travel puts things into perspective.

Travel shows you what poor is.

Travel shows you how unfair this world can be.

Travel shows you people overcoming the longest odds to live their life to the fullest.

Travel shows you triumphs of the human spirit.

Travel teaches you how to say “Cheers” in 30 different languages.

Travel teaches you the International language of beer.

Travel teaches you to appreciate wine and the beauty of vineyards.

Travel teaches you to try new things.

Travel makes you yearn to do new things.

Travel teaches you the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Travel teaches you to become a traveler and not just a tourist.

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. I am a travel writer, travel expert, global adventurer and have appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, GBTV, Fox News, Jetset Social and have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others. I’ve visited 306 countries and am one of the world’s most-traveled people.

“I believe in globalization of everything including people. I believe that I am a citizen of Earth. I believe that people around the world are at their core, basically good and the same. I believe that more people should experience the world and the way traveling can open their eyes and minds to different and exciting things. I believe in just being myself. I believe in life.” – Lee Abbamonte

Where are your vacation plans taking you this summer? Disneyland? A national park? Europe? Having a stay-cation to enjoy your own local attractions? This summer I will get to meet people from around the world as they come to Los Angeles!  I am a tour guide, and I proudly showcase the history and glamour of Hollywood, widely known as the movie capital of the world! I consider myself somewhat of an Ambassador of So Cal as I seek out news stories, historic landmarks and pop culture tidbits to share with my guests. But it took me a while to find this exciting career. I have a few other professions under my belt including elementary teacher, youth and teen activity coordinator, focus group moderator and special events coordinator for a non-profit organization. One of my most memorable jobs was serving as a crew member for Princess Cruises! It was so exciting waking up each day to a new port, interesting sights and most importantly new foods to enjoy!

There are days when I miss the ship life and the carefree days spent on the world’s most beautiful beaches. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively, I can say there’s no place like home. My husband Matt, who’s a commercial pilot by trade, came up with the idea of forming a local tour company so that we could create our own jobs. Would you believe we met when Matt moved in next door and became my neighbor? My friends find it funny that I had traveled the world and found my mate here in my own backyard in Playa del Rey! In May 2010 we exchanged vows on Hubbard Glacier in Juneau, Alaska just two months before we launched our company TOURific Escapes. Toasting our marriage with clear, crisp glacier water is something I’ll never forget.

Back in Los Angeles with Matt as the driver and me as the tour guide, we highlight the Sites and Bites of Hollywood in our cozy 14 passenger van. You don’t really know a neighborhood until you’ve experienced the local cuisine, and here in Hollywood we visit landmark eateries, celebrity chef-owned restaurants and really fun places that have interesting stories and even better food! Have you ever tried lavender ice cream? What about Kaya Toast? Crack bacon anyone? If you find yourself planning a trip to Los Angeles and not sure where to start, let TOURific Escapes kick off your experience with a day in Hollywood. Wherever your summer travels may take you, take time to explore the Sites & Bites around you!

An annular solar eclipse can be seen this weekend on Sunday, May 20, 2012. CAUTION– Do not look directly at a solar eclipse without a proper filter! Annular eclipses can be dangerous to your eyes.

Because the solar eclipse will block out most of the sun, a spectacular “ring of fire”  will be seen in the sky.


You must find a way to protect your eyes if you plan to watch either the annular solar eclipse on May 20-21, 2012 or the transit of Venus on June 5-6, 2012 – or both events. Many will use solar eclipse glasses from commercial manufacturers, and they are great. A home-rigged indirect viewing method can also be very effective and offers a way for groups to view. Whatever you do, never look at the sun directly without some filter in place to protect your eyes, during any part of either of these events.

Information on how to view a solar eclipse safely from the Exploratorium: Remember never view the sun with the naked eye or with any optical device, such as binoculars or a telescope! Click here for instructions.

May 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse Video

Article first published as Solar Eclipse Sunday May 20: Ring of Fire on Technorati.