Rainbow, Pelican, Alaska

For Spacious Skies

Trip to Alaska with the founder of "For Spacious Skies"

Never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect to be talking to 20 school kids from Pelican, Alaska, about Luke Howard and cloud nomenclature, but there I was -- just a few days ago.

How did this happen? It was another spinoff from a connection made about eight years ago with Jack Borden of the "For Spacious Skies" Foundation, who had come across my Peterson's Field Guide to the Atmosphere and made contact with me. This led to furnishing him with cloud slides from which a cloud chart was developed.

Kay Harrell of the Pelican School District became aware of
"For Spacious Skies" through reading an article about Borden in an obscure educational journal. Having money from Alaskan oil revenues for education enhancement, she invited him to fly to Pelican to do a workshop on sky awareness. He was gracious enough to say, "you ought to invite John Day, too," and she did.

Pelican is a small town, population about 250, built around a fish freezing plant. It is a company town. Its economy depends entirely on fishing, principally for salmon and halibut. Its name comes from the fishing boat of Charles Raatikainen, who founded the town in 1939. Pelican is 30 minutes by float plane west southwest of Juneau. It lies at the base of a steep hillside on the east side of Lisianski Strait, a quarter-mile-wide fiord angling from the north side of Chichagof Island. Main street is a piling-supported eight-foot-wide boardwalk that extends a quarter mile from the plant at one end to three school buildings on the other.

Borden and I rendezvoused at SEATAC airport. A strange thing to have been in close touch with someone, psychically, for eight years, yet never having seen the other face to face. We met, embraced, and had a wonderful six days together.

Transportation to Pelican was on an eight-seat float plane. Weather was good so the passage was smooth. It was fascinating to look down (and not too far down!) at the rocky mountain passage. Finally, we came to the bulk of Chichagof, surmounted the ridge and dropped down into narrow Lisianski Inlet, Landed and taxied up to the dock where we met our hostess.

We walked to the end of the board walk to inspect three quite nice school buildings: elementary, middle and high. These had been build about 10 years ago with money from the sale of pipeline oil.

We had to take a water taxi to our bed and breakfast inn since it was located a few miles up the strait and there were no roads. Just before boarding we saw the first of many stunning sights. This was the vertical arc of rainbow, perfectly reflected in the quiet waters of the inlet. Pelicanites were still talking about that rainbow days later.

Gail Corbin, owner/operator of the inn, is an archetypal Alaskan pioneer woman who wears many hats. In addition to acting as skipper of the water taxi skiff, she produces gourmet meals -- king salmon, fresh halibut, shrimp, venison. Two days per week she acts as local magistrate of the court.

We came to a school community that already is turned on to weather, for there is plenty of it. Certainly the lives of fishermen are governed by weather. Pelican lies in the Tongas Rain Forest. It receives an average of 150 inches per year of rain, and this summer has been particularly wet, to the disgust of the residents. We lucked out -- three of our five days were fine. Everyone was wondering about weather for the forthcoming 24-hour halibut season. Foul weather would produce economic disaster.

Borden, on Friday brought his inspirational message to the teachers and the staff, all 10 of them. It was my turn to try, in all ways possible, to do a good favor to the kids by increasing their awareness of the sky and all its marvels. In a breakthrough moment, about 10 years earlier, he had seen the sky with new eyes and realized his previous unawareness. He left his TV reporter job and has devoted full efforts to raising childrens' consciousness about the sky.

It was my turn on Saturday. Twenty kids of all ages turned up voluntarily. I talked about how Luke Howard gave Latin names to clouds, and showed them slides of clouds of many different shapes and colors.

Topping all the sights we saw was a display of the Northern Lights Sunday night. We stood on the beach and "ooh-ed and ah-ed".

We hope our visit will be one with an ongoing impact. We reached a meeting of the minds with our fellow teachers to institute a new program "Your Clouds and Our Clouds", setting up "skypals" arrangements with other schools now doing "For Spacious Skies".

This would involve exchanging cloud pictures and developing a scrapbook showing how the same cloud types appear in different parts of the lower 48 states. And in the world! The freezing plant is owned by a Japanese man. We hope to establish a linkup with the elementary school he attended. And why not with schools in the federation of Russian states? After all weather is no respector of national boundaries.

 Cloudman Note -- You may reach Jack Borden and "For Spacious Skies" at jjborden@webtv.net

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