Jul 20, 2006

JUNEAU, Alaska: The floatplane trembles over the firs and fjords of southeastern Alaska. I shift – slack pounds in the cockpit – trying not to elbow the yoke.

“Mine cave-in,” bellows the bush pilot over the engine's revs. “Flood! – whroooooarrrr – only mules died – rrrooooowwwww – one man disappeared, though. Wwwwrraww … gambling debts.”

Wow. The license plates don't lie, I think: truly, Alaska is the last frontier.

Later I discover the Treadwell Mine collapsed in 1917, not last week, as I'd misheard. The swimming pool drained five feet in “one great gulp” as the gold-diggers' wives basked like a sea lion harem. These details temper my Call of the Wild fantasy somewhat. I didn't weather three nights outside on the world's longest ferry route – Washington to Alaska – to hear about a Ladies' Auxiliary.

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