I’ve always loved the stories where people slip out of the present and into a different time; kid’s stories like Tom’s Midnight Garden, or the Narnia series, or, in adult fiction, The Time Traveller’s Wife. There’s something compelling about the notion of arriving in another time, unmoored from the present, where the universe bends and wonky things happen, where you do and see and become what you never imagined.
Holidays can provide a glimpse of that slipping into another time. I’ve just come back from one of those slips; a short break in Haines, Alaska, where time is always an hour behind and in early May you discover the earth has turned a few revolutions ahead into a whole new season. It’s winter in the Haines pass and spring in the Chilkat River valley, and the cottonwoods grow greener the closer you get to sea level.
We were supposed to go skiing on the glaciers above Haines. We slept by the pilot’s hangar, between the runway and the highway, and watched flocks of gulls crying and swooping down on the riverbanks in the distance, feeding on the eulachon rolling down from the spawning grounds.
In the morning our suspicions were confirmed: the forecast was not good — two days of sun followed by an onslaught of moisture. So we went to the sea, instead.
It was sunny and warm. We walked quietly through tall conifers along the trail to Seduction Point. Slices of golden light bisected the path. Skunk cabbages burst wet and yellow out of the damp places.
We came to a cove that looked straight down the Lynn Canal to Juneau. We saw our first surf scoters and a seal. Some of us slept. And then we moseyed on, still not talking much, until we arrived at another cove on the same coast and almost without discussion decided to camp.
And there we entered dreamtime — the first warmth after a long winter, the first green leaves, the sea teeming with marine life.
We spent hours watching the scoters. There were thousands of them. From a distance they were a moving line of black, then a piece would break off, scatter into the air, wheel around and come back, landing with splashes like sparks in a line of gunpowder.
A group flew right into our cove, coming straight at us, skidding to a stop on the water. They were joined by thousands of their fellows, forming a flock where the outside birds swam in one direction and the inside birds swam in the other, diving, coming up, diving again. Through binoculars we could see a teeming mass of traffic accidents in the middle of the flock. No bird could swim a metre without nearly crashing into another.
Some of us hiked all the way to Seduction Point and stood on a cliff, and there we watched sea lions swimming by just under the surface in groups of five or six, sticking their heads up now and then to suck in air with a snort. The scoters were going crazy. At some signal unseen by us, hundreds of them would fan out in a rush leaving a bare spot in the middle of the flock, dive down and then pop up again in another spot, all at once. It was the very best kind of nature TV — all discovery, all in real time. Later we learned it was blue mussels season, and the scoters were feeding.
We stayed lost in this magic place for two days, and then the moisture began its onslaught, so we made our way back to Haines. Usually a trip to Haines includes a visit to the Chilkoot Distillery and a meal at the Fireweed Restaurant. But we needed to follow the sun, so I scooped a bottle of Boatwright Bourbon from the Mountain Market and we headed east, towards Kluane.
We didn’t find the sun. We ended up back in Whitehorse, our holiday cut short, but with a memory like a shaft of light in a green forest from another time.
On a cloudy Whitehorse night some friends came over and I cracked the bourbon. This cocktail is based on the New York Sour, but subbing in leftovers from the trip: an egg from the pancakes we never cooked, fruit from the Mountain Market and the remnants of a boxed California Merlot.
Dreamy Bourbon Sour
2 oz Port Chilkoot Distillery Boatwright Bourbon
½ oz freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice
½ oz freshly squeezed tangelo juice
1 egg white
¾ oz Black Box Merlot 2015
4 drops Free Pour Jenny’s Solstice Bitters
One ounce simple syrup
Tangelo twist for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake for 30 seconds, until egg is foamy and cocktail is thoroughly chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a tangelo twist.