Photo Essay: Yukon to Shropshire

First posted in October, 2005

Sam and I traveled from Dyea, Alaska to London, England via Whitehorse on September 19th. The one hundred ten mile drive through Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon was alive with autumnal color, but we knew we had a long day ahead, with errands to run in Whitehorse prior to the departure of our flight, so we forced ourselves to drive onward without stopping to take any photographs. I'm certain we'll make the same drive again next autumn, if only for the sake of a photoessay.

As it turned out, I had read the time of our flight incorrectly, and we arrived in Whitehorse much earlier than was strictly necessary - we could have taken all those gorgeous autumn landscape photographs after all. Instead, I had to settle on a photograph of two lovely golden trees by the airport.

With a few hours to spare once we'd checked in for our flight, we decided to spend a bit of our afternoon at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

The Beringia museum far exceeded my expectations. The unobtrusive structure is set back a bit from the road with a few somewhat silly-looking mammoth statues out front, and I'd sort of written it off as a joke. Inside, however, the interpretive center is lovely: simple, modern, filled with well-researched exhibits. It turned out to be a wonderful expenditure of time.

Sam and I were the only two people there, given that we arrived right at opening on a Monday morning, and therefore had the full attention of the interpreter, who was very enthusiastic about Beringia's history - she ever offered to take us out back and let us throw spears using an atlatl, provided no other visitors showed up to distract her.

Using an atlatl is an item on Sam's Things I Should Do Before I Die list (I saw the list once, and atlatl use falls right after entry #8 - "Obtain a bokken that I can play with in the front garden while wearing my kimono to make people who drive past wonder about me."), so he was quite pleased at the prospect. This was a good thing, because about fifteen minutes after the girl made her offer to let him use an atlatl I dropped my digital camera on a concrete floor and destroyed the lens retraction mechanism (not beyond repair, but the camera wasn't going to be of any use this trip). I left in search of a new digital camera. Sam stayed at the museum so that he could play with atlatls.

I pulled into a parking spot on the street in front of the photo shop and immediately realized I was devoid of Canadian currency for the parking meter. I ran into the store and said to the boy at the counter, "If I promise to return immediately and purchase a nice digital camera, will you give me a quarter for the meter so that I don't get a ticket?" He looked to his boss, who nodded. "From the till?" His boss nodded again. The boy gave me a quarter and I returned second later. A mere fifteen minutes later, after discussing everything from from point-and-shoots to SLRs, I settled on a Konika/Minolta DiMAGE Z5 (anti-shake, 12x optical zoom, 5.0 megapixel - not an SLR, but a definite upgrade from my Olympus Camedia C700, which was only 2mp).

But I digress. This is a post about a trip to England, not about camera geekery.

I returned to the interpretive center, where I found some mannequins slaughtering a caribou.

I also found Sam, who was walking about in a haze of post-atlatl-use euphoria. lists the etymology of the word addle as follows:

From Middle English adel, rotten, from Old English adel, pool of excrement.

Personally, I think the word, meaning to muddle or confuse, surely was coined after seeing how a man negotiates the world in an almost post-orgasmic haze after having discovered the joy of using an atlatl. Addle/atlatl. Think about it.

Anyway, I took a quick look at the rest of the museum with the time remaining. The final exhibit we saw explained how, as temperatures increased, massive amounts of melt water were released from the rapidly retreating glaciers and rising seas, and according to the myths of the First Nations People, it was from this inundated landscape that the creator, Crow, created the world that we know today.

We left the Interpretive Center and walked back to the airport so that we could grab a light lunch before our flight. We encountered a tiny red squirrel along the way.

We ate, we discovered that our flight was delayed, and we waited. As it turned out, the delay was such that it merely eliminated our layover in Vancouver without creating any actual problems. If anything, it streamlined our travel. Before we knew it, we were flying over Greenland, headed for London.

It was then that we discovered that Sam was a threat to the plane's security.

In the pocket of Sam's trousers was a piece of paper he'd been given at the Beringia museum. A piece of paper that contained all the information necessary to make your own atlatl. That's right - Sam was carrying plans for how to make a stone-age weapon on an international flight, and I'm sure there's some obscure regulation somewhere that prohibits that. Fortunately, he was able to remain undetected by the authorities and we cleared customs in London without incident.

After all that stress, it was decided that we should unwind. Now, I am a freak in that I don't get jetlag. My method of coping with transversing nine time zones is as follows: I sleep through the entire trans-Atlantic flight, then look at the clock and say to myself, "Okay, that must be what time it is." I was consequently up for anything - afternoon tea with the Queen, followed by taking Prince William out for an evening at the clubs, you name it. Actually, Sam hates the royals, so I only really considered a boat ride on the Thames. I figured Sam could just relax his jet-lagged-self on the boat, but he was having none of it.

We instead spent the afternoon in Kensington Garden. He read the rest of Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That, I wrote in my journal and took artsy photographs of the undersides of trees.

We had a light supper and a couple of pints at one of London's many, many We Are Trying So Hard To Attract Tourists That We Have To Say How Very Traditional We Are pubs, then turned in for the evening.

As it turns out, while I am able to fake my brain into thinking it's a certain time of day, I am not able to fake my stomach into it. Sam and I woke up at about three in the morning - suppertime in Alaska. A small flier in our room teased us into believing that if we dialed 24 on the phone that room service would bring us a sandwich at any hour, day or night. We desperately dialed 24 every fifteen minutes for an hour and a half before finally giving up and going back to sleep hungry.

We woke a bit later than hoped due to the middle-of-the-night-hunger event, but I was ready to conquer London. While waiting for Sam to wake up, I practiced with the settings on my new camera by taking photographs in the hotel room mirror.

Eventually we wandered out into the surprisingly warm and sunny late summer day. After a late breakfast and a bit of poking about in a couple of our favorite shops (Muji and Foyles), we did the boat tour.

While waiting for our boat's departure time, we faffed about on the Embankment. Here is a photograph I took during our wait. It is of a World War I memorial by V. Rousseau, a gift from the 'grateful people of Belgium.'

Eventually our ticket time rolled 'round. We boarded the boat and floated up and down the river past the famous sites, listening to an ex-navy chap who thought his jokes were terribly witty. Here and there we learned something.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben - quite possibly the universal symbol of England

The London Eye, an immense Ferris-wheelesque machine that can accommodate 15,000 visitors per day.

Blackfriar's Bridge, one of the prettier bridges on the Thames

Another beauty: the famous Tower Bridge

Our journey came to an end near the Tower of London, a site I will definitely revisit in the future.

Sam agreed to go with me on the tour of the Thames out of an unspoken commitment that we would try to spend as much time together during this holiday as we could, because at the end of it we'll be apart for at least a month, possibly more. He'd already done the tour, and swore that it really wasn't worth doing again, but he is a man in love and I am a lucky woman. See, I took a boat ride on the Seine earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it, and as soon as I discovered that the Thames had a similar tour, I wanted to do it as well. But London is not Paris, and, as I should have suspected, the Thames is not the Seine. In retrospect, I can see why Sam didn't want to go a second time, but I'm glad I went at least once; the desire to do the tour has now been satiated, and I did see some of the famous sites of London... enough to get a small taste and decide which I might want to visit on a future visit - on foot, not by boat.

Later that evening we had dinner with a number of friends at a wonderful little restaurant, Little Bay near Kilburn Park. It was great to see friends again, and to make the first face-to-face acquaintance of my friend Gunther, who coincidentally happened to be visiting from Austria.

I would post photos of friends, but (A) I know that at least some of those friends despise having their photographs on the interweb and (B) the restaurant was quite dark and very few of the photographs came out. Nevertheless, a few of us began toying with my new camera, and here's the one photograph that turned out - at least with respect to lighting and such:

Yes, I know that I really shouldn't post that photograph, as it's not terribly flattering of Sam. But it's an okay photograph of me and it demonstrates what huge geeks we both are, because we're both wearing intarweb in-joke shirts (for KoL and SGR, respectively). Also, I like photographs of Sam, and the alternative photo that I could have posted will show you was not only dark but equally silly:

When I inquired as to why he made those faces, he told me it was because everyone was fiddling at such length with the unfamiliar settings on the new camera that he got "tired of sitting there trying to look beautiful." No comment.The next day was mostly spent at Tate Britain, a destination that had been on the schedule for months because they own not one, but four works by my favorite painter, John William Waterhouse. I saw my first Waterhouse, A Mermaid, elsewhere in London this past January and found the experience to be quite worthwhile, so I had my sights set on seeing Consulting the Oracle, Magic Circle, St. Eulalia, and Lady of Shalott. Unfortunately, only Magic Circle and St. Eulalia were on display, while the other two were in storage. Had I known in advance - had I thought to ask - I could have contacted the museum to make certain that all four were on display and, if not, made an appointment to see the two that are presently off the floor. Live and learn, I suppose.

The Tate, at present, does not permit photography. They are presently reviewing this policy, particularly with respect to artists who are deceased, but as photography was not yet allowed, I took to sketching. Nearly every time I draw I am reminded of how I should draw more, that my skills have grown dull through lack of use. I might have done something right, though, because though the Lady of Shalott that I drew looked nothing like the one Waterhouse had painted... but she did bear a remarkable resemblance to Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet), another of Waterhouse's works. I have more thoughts on my latest Waterhouse experience, but I think I'll post on those separately another time, hopefully soon.

After the Tate we walked a bit, and our stroll took us back near Parliament and near Westminster Abbey. Here again is an example of architecture worthy of a city such as London.

A side rant: I'm not particularly keen on some of the newer buildings sprinkled along the skyline, such as those by Norman Foster, and while I know some disagree I feel they invade the character and history of London, that they somehow pervert it. An example...

Granted, some of Foster's stuff is okay, such as this bridge:

And perhaps I just need to remember that a century ago everyone thought that the Eiffel Tower was an eyesore that should be torn down.

Okay, pointless rant finished. For now.

After wandering about for awhile, we met Sam's friend James and his girlfriend Kim. The four of us made our way to Chinatown for a meal, followed by an evening at the pub (if you notice the poor quality of these shots, please note that these were taken with my PDA, not the spiffy new camera).

Everyone is happy in Chinatown, it would seem.

The Public House: Where bald men go for intense conversation

James and Kim are both wonderful, and not for the last time this trip I made friends with whom I wish I could spend a bit more than just one evening. Alas, t'was not to be (at least not this trip), for the next day we gathered up our belongings and caught the midday train to Shropshire.

Home again, home again. Fields Lane.