The ship anchored beyond the wide mouth of the fjord as sailors lowered a native canoe filled with supplies. Reggie gazed down at the small craft and shuddered. The tiny craft bobbed alongside the schooner, which already rocked too much to suit him. A heavy woolen coat hung to his knees but it barely kept him warm against the icy breeze. How would he manage to camp inside the glacial straits of the fjord?
“We’ll return in two weeks, sir,” the captain said and broke Reggie’s reverie. “We can’t afford to set here with them icebergs floatin’ past.”
“Yes, I understand.” He stiffened his shoulders and held out his gloved hand. “Thank you, Captain Jefferies. I appreciate your taking on this commission.”
Reggie winced under the vice-like grip of Jefferies and the captain grinned. “Your financial inducement was substantial, sir. I’d hate to lose my best customer so take a care! If you’re not here upon our return, we’ll launch a rescue party to search you out.”
Laughter erupted from behind Reggie. He turned to see a grinning native face surrounded by shaggy black hair. “No need to risk lives of crew, Captain Jeffries. We come back when moon is full and wait for ship.” Scottie, a Tlingit guide from the village of Hoonah, scampered down the rope ladder and jumped into the rocking canoe.
“He’s a highly recommended guide, and I’m certain we’ll be here on time,” Reggie said, more to reassure himself than the captain.
“We’ll collect supplies in Skagway, so the ship will be ready for the next stop on your excursion.”
“Mind that you collect my new shipment of paint and canvas.” Reggie peered down into the canoe. “I’m keen to get that shipment as I’ll run out of proper supplies soon enough.”
“We could slice up one of our small sails to make canvas. No need to waste gold shipping it from Europe when there’s plenty of sailcloth right here. A vigorous wash would make it clean enough to slap paint on.”
Indulgently Reggie smiled, having heard the offer before. “Don’t cut up your sails, Captain. My supplies will be waiting in Skagway. I’m sure of it.”
His stiff boots slipped on a wet rung of the rope ladder as he descended toward the deep blue water. He tightened his grip on the ropes and sucked in a breath to calm his nerves.
“Come on, boss. It’s just a few more steps!” Scottie shouted.
Reggie inched closer to the water and stretched his foot out to touch the canoe. A firm hand steadied his boot until he connected with the canoe bottom. The small craft teetered. “Got you, boss,” Scottie said, and the Hoonah propelled him toward a solid bench. “You sit safe here.”
Feeling grateful to avoid the icy-black water, Reggie sighed as his butt plopped onto the flat board stretched across the canoe. He stretched his arms out to grip both sides of the craft as a wave crashed against the boat. Water penetrated the fingertips of his thick gloves. As Reggie shivered Scottie untied the canoe and scrambled over bundles to reach his own perch. Soon the native paddled the homebuilt craft toward rocky cliffs jutting above the mouth of the inlet. Droplets from the paddles pelted Reggie’s face.
He saw a paddle resting against his right foot. “Should I help you row?” he shouted.
“Not yet! First you watch, see how I make strokes. We reach smooth water and then you help,” Scottie shouted back.
Relief washed over Reggie, since he feared releasing his death-grip on the canoe. The streamlined craft rolled over ocean waves that moved toward the mouth of the fjord. Sea water mixed with fresh water as the river current flowed steadily out to sea. Large chunks of ice floated past, and Reggie wondered how long it might take to reach the glacier.
When the canoe entered the mouth of the fjord, the water calmed and Scottie’s paddle strokes slowed. He cheerfully announced, “Eagle totem help us cross into Raven territory.” Scottie stroked the stylized eagle pendant hanging from his neck.
Tlingit natives divided themselves into two clans, and apparently Scottie belonged to the Eagle clan. “Does the Raven clan claim this fjord?” Reggie asked.
Scottie nodded. “In long time past, Raven clan live at foot of big ice wall. Foolish woman make glacier much angry by singing too loud. It push Raven clan out of canyon into ocean. Be much quiet so we don’t make glacier angry.”
“I plan to be very careful of the glacier.” Reggie stared at the steep rock walls of the fjord and marveled at the glacial force needed to carve through solid granite. Before the trip he studied scientific writings and knew the ice gouged out the valley over thousands of years. Greenish blue water filled the valley floor in a flood of pure glacier water that melded with brackish ocean tidewater.
With an artist’s eye, he studied the color and wondered how to mix that particular shade. His fingers itched to open his paint satchel and search through the oils, but fright kept his fingers clamped to the canoe’s sides. He mentally painted the picture. Dark brown rock and emerald green trees rose in a near vertical slant from the jade green water. No. It was not jade green. He must combine blue, green, and brown pigments until he matched the true color.
An icy breeze brushed his cheek. He glanced up just as the boat rounded a bend and gasped with delight. High in the V of the shaded canyon walls, a vision of brilliant white gleamed in the sunshine. Excited, Reggie nearly stood to get a better view. The canoe rocked and he froze, clutching the canoe tighter. As he enjoyed the tantalizing glimpse of ice, the canoe skimmed silently across the water. Reggie kept quiet, almost afraid to break the spell of the glacier. He understood why natives believed the glacier was alive. It snaked down the canyon like a living thing that waited for them to approach in their tiny craft.