Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider


I’ve been lax about updating my blog entries because whenever I decide to share an insight or event, whether personal or political (aren’t they the same?) or book-related, I post it on Facebook. I’m aware that not everyone who reads my blog is a Facebook friend or follower, so I decided I’d collect the comments and pictures I had posed during an incredible three-week trip Gary and I took in August to Seattle, Vancouver, southwest Alaska (on a cruise through the Inner Passage with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay), Denali, and Fairbanks.

But I discovered a problem when I began to write my travelogue: a written description of a trip, even complete with pictures, is boring. Remember those old film strips teachers would show in class? Boring. Remember going to dinner at some elderly (to you) relatives’ house and later having to sit through an interminably long slide show of their vacation? Boring. Remember bringing home a new boyfriend or girlfriend and having your parents pull out all your baby pictures? Boring. Not to mention embarrassing.

I was on the trip, and I can assure you the reality was terrific. We were never bored. We did things we didn’t think we’d ever do, saw things we’d never seen, had experiences we’d never imagined, reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen for forty or more years. But when I read what I had written, I was bored. I was bored while writing it. Even the pictures were boring – after a while, all mountains volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls look the same.

Doling out the information, complete with my wryly humorous (to my mind anyway) observations, in short bits once a day (more or less) may have been entertaining. Putting it into a running narrative is … have I said this yet? … boring.

So instead of a travelogue, here are some life lessons I culled along the way. In no particular order. And without relevant pictures.

  1. It’s very hard to take decent pictures with an iPhone. But it’s even harder to take pictures without it, as I learned one day when I didn’t get a picture of a Bald Eagle posing close by. I had left my tote bag with my wallet and phone in the trunk of the car of a lovely Seattle couple who took me birding one day. I was wearing yoga pants (hey, they’re comfy – I’ve never even tried yoga) and a tee-shirt, without pockets. Fortunately, the couple had a very good camera and emailed me the picture.
  2. It’s harder to take pictures from a moving train. Particularly when it’s raining. And I have the blurry pictures to prove it.
  3. It’s hardest to take pictures of wildlife, especially when they’re far off and moving. And the train is also moving. Wildlife photographers must have infinite patience – and very high quality cameras. And very fast (or is it slow?) exposure to get pictures of Orcas and Humpbacked Whales when they are breaching.
  4. It’s fun to get out of one’s comfort zone, as I discovered on a solo trip to Mount Baker, in a rented car, without cell phone reception. Fortunately, it was a direct route from Bellingham, where I visited some friends. (Notice, I didn’t say it was a straight route.) But it’s also a good idea not to be too reckless, which is why the following day I took a bus tour to Mount Rainier.
  5. And it can be rewarding to try – and succeed – at something you didn’t think you could do. On the way to Mt. Baker, I took a side trip to Nooksack Falls. For the first time in years, I was able to go down (and back up) a fortunately short but extremely steep rock and tree root strewn trail to the waterfall. I got to the vantage point to discover I was too short to see over the chain link safety fence so I could take pix, but I managed to climb up some rocks to see over the fence. I was so proud of myself, I texted Gary, who was a presenter and participant of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies in Seattle, and said, “Look what I did, all by myself!”
  6. Sometimes, it’s nice to be taken care of. After we went through customs at Vancouver and boarded our cruise ship, we didn’t schlep our luggage again until we left Fairbanks to fly to Seattle and then home. The luggage was already in our cabin on the ship and in our rooms in Denali and Fairbanks.
  7. You can find a minyan anywhere. There’s an episode of “Northern Exposure” in which the Jewish doctor who has been assigned to the interior of Alaska is looking for a quorum to say Kaddish, the Mourners’ Prayer, for his uncle. He has a dream in which he rounds up everyone named Cohen (even the writers/directors the Coen brothers). We did the same thing, but in our case it was done through eavesdropping and then corralling anyone we heard speaking Hebrew so I could say Kaddish on the first anniversary of my mother’s death. We even found an American who, after the three of us kept staring at each other, turned out to be an acquaintance from our graduate school years in Philadelphia. A couple of days later, we all got together again and held Shabbat services (interrupted by a sighting of a pod of sea otters) and had dinner together.
  8. And you never know who lives in far-flung places. We had dinner in Skagway with a rabbinic colleague who lives in Israel but visits his kids in Skagway every summer. And we had dinner in Fairbanks with a classmate from my undergraduate days in Boston who has lived in Fairbanks for several years.
  9. Global warming is real. Just ask any Alaskan, at least the ones we met. If you’re not convinced by their apologizes that the waterfalls aren’t as spectacular as usual because of the lack of snow the past few winters, then read about how the glaciers are receding at an accelerated rate.
  10. You think you’ll remember where you were and what you saw. You won’t. It’s a good thing I filed all the pix as soon as I could into folders on my iPhone or the only reason I would have been able to tell the difference between Mount Baker and Mount Rainer is I saw the former, but the latter was hidden by clouds. (We did get a distant view of it from the Seattle Space Needle.) As I mentioned above, after a while, all mountains, volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls look the same.
  11. It doesn’t matter if everything blurs together; there’s always Professor Google to remind you of the difference between the taiga and the tundra.
  12. I can survive quite well without Wi-Fi, but only if I have cell phone reception and can check emails, texts, news notifications, and Facebook several times a day. Otherwise, I suffer withdrawal symptoms, as evidenced by my checking every few minutes to see if we had reception yet.
  13. Even if you can’t remember all the details, the pictures – even the blurry ones – still show the splendor of the planet.
  14. Finally, if you bump into me and don’t think you’ll be bored, I’ll be happy to show you all 399 of my pictures.

Comments on: "AN ANTI-TRAVELOGUE" (6)

  1. I lived in Pacific Northwest for 20plus years, beautiful area, glad you visited. (also cruised to Alaska out of Vancouver and gained quite a few pounds that I retain as souvenirs. Next PSWA I’ll be sure to ask to see your pictures! (smile)

    • And I’ll be happy to show them to you!

      I actually didn’t gain weight on the cruise. We mostly went to the buffet, so we were able to control not only what but how much to eat. Not being much of a drinker, I didn’t add too many more calories from alcohol. I also walked a lot more than I usually do.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your Facebook posts–thanks for taking us along on the trip. And this blog post had me laughing from #1. In #7 I LOL’d at myself when I realized I wasn’t reading about seeing a minivan anywhere 🙂 Great list!

  3. Ilene, my wife and I just completed that cruise out of Seattle a couple months ago, so I could identify with many of your ventures. But I was thoroughly amused with your creative style of sharing your adventures in this blog post; so many truisms about cell phones, cameras and photo ops, etc.

  4. franstewart said:

    Your post reminded me so much of my trip to Denali (and elsewhere in Alaska) a number of years ago. The guide at Denali pointed out the Dall sheep grazing on a steep hillside. “We call them Dall dots,” he said. Of course. In my photos, they look like nothing other than a number of white speckles — hardly inspiring. But the memories are marvelous, even if the photos lacked any sort of oomph.

  5. Nicce post thanks for sharing

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