All Alaskans cherish the wonderful remarks tourists come up with every summer. No fun with sensible questions like "How many kinds of salmon are there?" What we like are the ones the tour guides are asked.

The kayak tour people get tired of "whatís the elevation here?" and sometimes suggest the paddler put his hand over the side. The whale-watching boat people occasionally are asked "What time do the whales come by?" Fishing charter operators are asked when a fish will be caught by the angler.

Other water-related boat caterers report being asked if there is water on the other side of that island, and one man said heíd been asked if the boat was on a lake or "other large body of water." He asked her how she had come from Vancouver to Juneau by ship, and assured her it was the same body of water.

Along those lines, I am happy to report itís not only Alaskan tour operators who hear these dazzling questions. A few years ago I took a ferry from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Victoria. The nice snackbar host told me he was often asked if they were going to Alaska. He had also been queried as to whether the ocean froze in winter. He solemnly gave assurance it did indeed, and Canadians often used it for their national game; ice hockey.

A boy of my acquaintance this summer worked at the gift shop at the top of the tram, as the Juneau funicular that runs up a local mountain is called. He reported several people asked if he had to walk to work. (Itís the class system - workers have to climb the mountains; paying customers can ride.)

A wonderful hiking guide told me he had been asked, "Just how many times in its life cycle does a salmon return to a river, spawn, and die?" I asked his reply, and he solemnly said "I told her; it depends on your religion."

Sitka has a great salmon derby every year, with lots of prizes for the biggest fish, most poundage caught, etc. Once a visitor from Kentucky, who had heard about the derby, had a sincere question. "How do they get the fish to line up?"

So why am I repeating all these silly questions? Because I travel to Europe and other places every year, and am sure I ask questions just as dumb. It is comforting to think Iím not alone.

If you have any favorite true bits youíd like to share, do send them along. We need all the laughter we can get in todayís world.

Last summer a pleasant woman asked me if the marks on the mountains that look like white strings are actually waterfalls. I badly wanted to say they are white strings, a project of the Boy and Girl Scouts and the 4-H Clubs here, but had to be truthful and assure her they are indeed waterfalls.

My favorite comment from 2004 was the visitor at the Mendenhall Glacier here (the largest glacier in the world that can be driven to, it's said). He looked over at some people standing by a waterfall and asked the ranger, "Are those penguins?"

A young friend of mine from rural Georgia emigrated to Petersburg some years back - his prime motivation being the hunting and fishing opportunities.  His mom was not so sure about 

her son's ability to survive Alaska's wilderness.   Perhaps having read too many Jack London stories she asked him by telephone, Well, won't you freeze to death out there with no place 

to warm up?" To which her son replied (with tongue firmly in cheek): No problem Ma,  there's a convenient igloo shelter every mile or so." And that's all it took to satisfy her.


"Some years ago the cold storage in Sitka burned during the height of the summer season. It was a blow to the little town as the cold storage, a major industry,� bought fish from the commercial fishers, had the largest grocery store in town, and employed 100 people. It was also located in the heart of the town and the black, smelly, smoke drifted greasily around for several days.

A cruise ship came to port and a tourist was overheard to say, when queried by another, that he thought they were smoking fish in town.
Well, in a manner of speaking....


D. L.