Last weekend the Carnival came to Sitka. It seems more wholesome than the carnivals of my youth. Carnivals, as I remember them were a bit seedy, in an exciting way. The Golden Wheel is run by an Alaska family. Several generations travel with the amusements and games and the whole thing is almost mostly squeaky clean. The Carnival didn’t get to Sitka for several years because of Sitka’s terrible ferry schedule. Once we missed out because the Alaska Marine Highway swapped out ferries, and the smaller ferry could not handle the rides. Kids’ anticipation this year was palpable.
I have never ridden on the ferry with the carnival, but I did once ride with a circus. We were a little late out of Juneau while they loaded the elephants, lions and a trailer with the big top. In Chatham Strait we hit some heavy seas and the ship started to pitch. Now as a kid I had mixed feelings about the circus. I loved the excitement but always felt sorry for the animals. As I grew I grew older my feelings toward the animals grew more tender. I felt sorry for the elephants, lions and dancing dogs.
As the ship started to pitch the elephants became frightened –terrified — and they started trumpeting. An elephant trumpeting is loud, but when the elephant is enclosed in a steel car deck — a reverberant steel car deck — it sounds like the hounds of hell, There is no way to escape the sound, it travels through the ducts, up the elevator shafts, up the stairwells. It strikes terror. Brian asked “Do elephants get seasick?” I answered with the old “Boys’ Life” magazine joke
“What do you give a seasick elephant?”
“A lot of room.”
The only place to get away from the sound, or at least attenuate it, was out on the deck, away from the reverberating insides of the ship. Out there you could still hear the terrified beasts but the wind and rain muted the sound, and the fresh air was an improvement over the ripening smell inside the ferry.
My son, Brian, knew my feelings about circus animals but he and Kevin had extracted a promise from me that we would go to the circus when we got to Sitka. Brian and I stood out in the wind and rain, the sound of weather mixed with the muted trumpeting of terrified pachyderms. Brian said: “We ‘re still going to the circus, right pop?”
We went to the first show, and watched the lions, who had been tranquilized for the ferry trip, showing their fearsome teeth in what could have been frightening if we didn’t know that they were just yawning as they came out of their pharmaceutical haze.
There were no animals at the carnival, but watching them load in reminded me of that memorable ferry trip.