Ice Palace

Ice Palace

Ice Palace

Ice Palace


Every third woman you passed on Gold Street in Baranof was young, pretty, and pregnant. The men, too, were young, virile and pregnant with purpose. Each, making his or her way along the bustling business street, seemed actually to bounce with youth and vitality. Only an occasional old sourdough, relic dating back to the gold-rush days of fifty years ago, wattled and wary as a turkey-cock, weaving his precarious pedestrian way in and out of the frisky motor traffic, gave the humming town a piquant touch of anachronism.

An exhilarating street, Gold, though the stores and office buildings that lined it -- one- or two-storey cement or wooden structures -- were commonplace and even shabby. The enlivening quality was inexplicable, but ardent Alaskans sometimes attributed it to the piercing quality of the Arctic light and the dryness of the atmosphere. Middle-aged tourists, weary after thousands of miles of travel over this seemingly boundless territory -- whether by plane or by a combination of plane, train, ship and automobile -- were puzzled and plaintive as they viewed the haphazard town of Baranof for the first time.

"Everybody walks as if they had springs in their shoes. Or maybe it's because you're all so young."

If the visitor's guide happened to be Ott Decker, Secretary of the Baranof Chamber of Commerce, he would reject this with the mysterious lightheartedness that seemed to suffuse most near- Arctic citizens.

"Young's got nothing to do with it. Around here you can live to be a hundred, easy, unless you're shot, or your plane cracks up on you, or a bear sees you first."

"Well, it's something. A kind of a crazy something. No offence. I just mean, what makes them bounce?"

"My opinion, it's the violet rays or the magnetic pole -- we're not so far from the North Pole, you know, when it comes right down to geography -- or it's the radiant northern, uh, isotopes or something. . . ."

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