Printed July 9, 2019

North to Alaska III: Inside Passage – the story of the raven and breathtaking Tracy Arm Fjord

By Janice Edwards/ The Bulletin

During the bus ride in Ketchikan, we saw an unusual mural of a Raven letting a man out of a ball.
We wondered about that until we visited the Totem Heritage Center, where we saw a totem pole topped with a huge raven head.

There, we learned the top figure often identifies the tribe or clan and tells a story associated with the group. The Raven represents creation and knowledge – he is the” Bringer of Light.” The story of the Raven is the northwest natives’ creation story.

An abridged version of Raven’s story goes something like this: Before Raven came, the earth was dark and cold. People were living in the dark, and he began a search for light. He found it inside of a series of locked boxes at the home of the Sky Chief, who did not want to share it because he thought his daughter was ugly.

The Raven turned himself into a pine needle, which floated down into the water the Sky Chief’s daughter was drinking. In her stomach, Raven turns himself into a baby.

When the baby is born, it becomes the Sky Chief’s joy. So, as the baby grew, the chief refused him nothing until the child asked for and received the contents of the final box – a shiny ball. He then turned himself back into a Raven and flew into the sky with the ball, placing it in the sky to enlighten all mankind.

Our time in Ketchikan was running out, so we went back to the ship for the next adventure.

Time on this trip became a blur. We had to cross two time zones to get on board the ship, and then we went through a time zone at sea – twice. Add to that, sunrise at around 5 a.m. and sunset around 10 p.m. Time became an enigma. That night, our ship left port around dusk – about 9:30 p.m. We ate supper late and perused the ship’s itinerary for the next day. About 11 p.m., we finally laid down to sleep, knowing we would be through the Tracy Arm Fjord by 9 a.m. We had arranged for a wake-up call for 7 a.m., thinking we would be up before entering the fjord. We would sail all night.

We woke to sunlight streaming through the opening of our state room, revealing the side of a mountain almost close enough to touch. It was about 5 a.m., and we were already in the fjord (a Norwegian term meaning a narrow waterway surrounded by sharp cliffs). We grabbed robes, threw open the curtains and planted ourselves on the balcony. Roy and I were soon joined by our daughter and son-in-law from next door to watch the cliffs rise over 3,000 feet above us.

The Tracy Arm, about 45 miles south of Juneau, Alaska, was named after the Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Franklin Tracy, and is the heart of the Tracy Arm Fjords Terror Wilderness designated by the U.S. Congress in 1980. The only access is by boat, helicopter or float plane. The 27-mile-long inlet is very narrow - at times no more than half a mile wide - and ends in the twin Sawyer Glaciers.

Because of unusually sunny, calm weather, our cruise ship sailed almost to the end of the fjord, where we could see one of the twin Sawyer glaciers. On his last trip, our cruise captain had only made half the distance. We drank in the waterway, strewn with icebergs and “bergy” bits melding this cold blue world filled with life.

Slowly other people woke and moved to their balconies, standing mesmerized for up to four hours. This place, forged in fire and ice, blessed that morning’s congregation making the pilgrimage, and left us revitalized.

Next installment – Juneau, whale watching, and lessons learned.

(Jan wants to hear from you. Write her in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)

Raven discovering man.


Tracy Arm Fjord showing Sawyer Glacier at the end.