30 August 2007

Seasonal Goodbyes

It's time to say goodbye again. Today this little guy (photo taken by my volunteer of an intern) and his companion, both rescued baby otters, leave our rescue & rehabilitation facilities for the Minnesota zoo. Their cries will no longer echo into our offices - something between a bird whistle and a cat scream. And daily we are losing our summer volunteers and interns which more then double our working population in the summer. It's sad seeing them go. They've livened the place up with their enthusiasm and earnestness.

The town is emptying out. By next weekend there won't be an RV to be found anywhere in the state. They're like snow geese, they're all flying south for the winter. I won't miss the RV's to be honest, but with all of the people going the shops and restaurants close down and the docks will become empty and the town looks a little forlorn. The birds are flying south. The fish are spawning. The fireweed is almost finished blooming. Time to buckle down and prep everything for winter.

29 August 2007

Dog-Gone Fishing

It's that time of year when I have to put my dog on leash when we go near a salmon stream - and it's the time of year that every stream is a salmon spawning stream. He is, a most accomplished fisher-dog. As a pup he would get so super excited by the thrashing fish that clog the stream that he he would just merrily run around. As he got older though he learned to focus on one fish and chase it down. I don't mind if he gets one but one a week is the limit I'm imposing on him. Any more and I'll have to buy him his own fishing license. He pounces on the fish and then once he has is shakes his big bear head until it's dead. He'll then carry it all the way back to my rig, jump in the back with it, jump back out at our yard, and after leaving it to sit in the grass for about an hour eat it. Which is good - we're a subsistence household I tell him, if he catches it, he's got to eat it. Salmon does wonderful things for his fur and usually he doesn't need a kibble meal for a day or so after feasting on his self caught one. (And the Disreputable Cat would like it known that she would be a good salmon hunter if she was only let outside - at the very least she would be able to snag some of Dog's.)

27 August 2007

Necropsy Aromatherapy

Necropsy: "the term for a post-mortem examination performed on an animal. The prefix 'auto-' means 'self', and so autopsy denotes the human species performing a post-mortem examination on one of its own." (from Wikipedia)

Lately, we have been necropsying lots harbor seal stomachs. Native hunters have kindly donated us the stomachs and various organs and guts from seals they have hunted (others are not allowed to hunt seals). These donated tissues are windows into what constitutes a "healthy" seal as they did not die of an illness. All of the other tissues we receive typically come from animals who die a "natural" death which usually means they weren't doing so well.

With the stomachs we are emptying the contents, which we will later clean & identify, weighing them and describing them. We can find out what they are eating and what kind of parasites they have. These animals were shot at differing stages of digestion and sometimes we pull full fish out. Some of them really reek. As we do this work in a quarantined area (to prevent spreading potentially infectious material to healthy captive animals or vulnerable rescue animals) we cannot step out to get a fresh breath of air. When the smell gets too much though we go to aromatherapy which consists of sticking one's nose in the citrus scented Chlorox wipe container and breathing until nausea passes. I am amused by this as I usually find perfumed or scented things objectionable as they set of my hay fever. Luckily, I tolerate citrus smells well. (PS - I am kindly restraining from posting pictures of the said stomachs.)

24 August 2007

Invited to Dinner & Tagged

The lovely Orangeblossoms has invited me to dinner. I am honored to be invited among such prestigious guests. Now about those airplane tickets... In addition to the dinner invitation, she tagged me - the first time this has happened to me in blogland. Here are the results.

Breakfast Items That Are Critical To My Happiness: On weekdays Grapenuts cereal with blueberries & skim milk warmed up. On weekends it varies but I like to have a big breakfast every now and then with either pancakes, eggs, and bacon or a breakfast burrito.

People I Would Most Like to Share a Table With (okay, I am limiting this to people not in blogland nor with whom I have shared a table before or the list would go on and on):
George Shaller (a biologist who actually went to grad school with a close friend & mentor of mine)
Marie Currie (a fabulous chemist)
Jimmy Carter (who created most of the National Parks in Alaska)
Teddy Roosevelt (who came up with the National Park system)
Ada Blackjack (an amazing Inupiat, i.e. Eskimo woman who was a lone survivor on a far northern island)
Georg Steller (the naturalist for whom many things have been named - he might be a bit cantankerous but let's hope he'll have stories to tell)
Wangari Maathai (Kenyan activist & the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize)
Monica Turner (a spatial biologist in Wisconsin)
Danny Wright (a composer & musician)
Brian Andreas of Story People (I didn't cheat! It's not a blog)

Rudest Thing Said To Me This Week: Ummm...you know, I can't think of anything this week... but a week before I was volunteering at a marathon and I was trying to keep the RV's off the sidewalk and the race trail. There were several who were patiently waiting but this one guy pulled in the wrong lane and yelled at me that he wouldn't be in the wrong lane if I would just let him into the RV lot despite the fact that there were all these people running past him who would be gone in about 2 minutes. The ironic thing was that there was no space in the lot and he was going to have turn around and leave almost as soon as he came (which he did). And that guy was on vacation! Couldn't spare a minute!

Rudest Thing Done To Me This Week: Drag racing in front of my house (a 15mph zone) while my dog was outside! Oooo - that made me angry.

Jobs That Have Made Me Go, "Huh?" hmmm....amazingly I can't think of it. Usually it's the bosses that have made me go "huh?". Nothing gets under my skin like supervisors who don't look out for their people or who are unable to delegate.

Jobs I Have Had That Concerned and/or Confused My Mother: I think every job I've ever had concerns my parents because they tend to be potentially dangerous, but they are still pleased I do them. As for that though, nobody in my family ever expected me to study and become a scientist...they all thought I'd study English. It was a big surprise to them, which in turn surprised me.
Favorite Curse Words That I Can Use In Front of Children Without Too Much Fear of Repercussion: "You son of a seal pup!" which I got from my father who uses it when he is extremely upset (like having hit his thumb with a hammer). The amusing thing about it is that now, sometimes when I use this curse, it is at actual sons of sea pups...seals and sea lions. Oh, and sometimes I say "Bloody shistomiasis" which is really something to curse about, it being a dreadful water borne disease that affects much of the world. (Nerdy of me, but somehow it's stuck)

Curse Word That I Use Most Frequently After Leaving the Children: Bullshit. I use this mostly when I feel someone is well, bullshitting me, or themselves. Since grad school I have a low bullshit tolerance. I don't usually use it in a mean way, just a statement. However, I'm not much of a curser...if someone offends me I'm likely to get all super polite and sickly sweet but if I stumble very hard into something I might just say "bloody hell" which is, for some reason, very satisfying.

Most Honest Bumper Sticker I've Ever Seen: "I club baby seals" with a club picture for the word. Granted, I didn't exactly appreciate the sentiment but it was honest.
Changes I Would Make If Money Were No Object: To what? To my life or to the world? This is a very large question....hmmm....but I think, if we are just referring to my life, I would run my own research and forget about grant writing and I would probably travel more, and I would donate more money to my pet causes because really, there's not that much I would change.

Favorite Piece of Technology: Well, everything is technology these days right? I'm awfully fond of running hot & cold water (showers & washing machines) but I suppose you meant some sort of electronic gadget ... but I've lived without all of them and I have to say the one that gets me the most excited when I rejoin civilization is the showers.

Oh, and, tagging? If you want to do it, consider yourself tagged. If you do please write that you are in the comment line so we can follow you.

23 August 2007

Explaining Thermokarst

Froghair & Sally Forth requested further elaboration on thermokarst. I did reply in the comment section of "The Changing Alaskan Arctic/ Sub-arctic" to them but apparently they wanted more. So, on popular request I will attempt to explain it....

Thermokarst (see picture taken on Bering Island, Russia) is surface topography that results when the ice on top of a surface underlain by permafrost melts creating a hummocky ground surface. Because the surface is underlain by permafrost (esentially frozen ground that never gets heated above 32F [0C]) the water from the melting surface snow and ice has no where to go, i.e. it can't just soak into the ground. So instead it tends to puddle or pond up in lower lying areas. These puddles start to melt the permafrost underneath by acting as an insulating, warming mass. As the permafrost melts the frozen ground depresses as it is consoldiated under the weight of the surface water - this is called thermokarsting. This is how a thermakarst puddle becomes a lake and how they eventually connect to each other.

As the melting of permafrost excelerates with other warming influences (such as it not being as cold for as long of periods to refreeze the permafrost) thermokarsting increases sometiems resulting in large pieces of collapsed ground (you can see pictures of this occuring here: http://www.mines.edu/~mgooseff/web_tkarst/tkarst_proj.html). A friend of mine from grad school, Dr. Katey Walter, has studied another worrying effect of increased thermokarsting - the release of ground methane gas by releasing organic material that was trapped in the permafrost into these thaw lakes (thermokarst lakes). This methane (CH4) is then released into the atmosphere which in turn accelerates global warming even more. In addition, when thermokarsting occurs in forested regions it often leads to boggy landscapes that cannot support trees (and sometimes you get the drunken tree affect - I have pictures of this somewhere but I can't find them at the moment...).

Note: I believe you may find a more comprehensive exlaination of thermokarst in this article by De Schutter: http://ougseurope.org/rockon/surface/thermokarst.asp.

22 August 2007

Gloomy Day Luxury

It's been rainy and foggy for days now, the fog hanging so low over the mountains that they disappear and the ocean is shrouded in mist. When it lifts a little, ever so little, the clouds have the appearance of being stuck on the mountains, which, is actually what they are, so laden with moisture they cannot lift themselves over the peaks. It's gotten colder already. No more 60F (16C) degree days and I noticed the other day that it is almost dark at 10pm now. It feels like early autumn.
There is a local chocolatier here. Amazing really that we have such a thing. It is the height of luxury on such a rainy, gloomy day to go and pick out a single chocolate truffle to have with a hot cup of tea. Today I picked out one for each of my interns as well. This is contentment.

21 August 2007

What we can do

So I thought that after that last post I should post some resources on what we can do to slow/ control climate change. It may seem like a small drop in the bucket, each of us working on our own behaviors, but I am reminded of my favorite West African saying "If you think you are too small to make a difference, remember what it is like to sleep in a room with a single mosquito."

Girls for Glaciers (http://girlsforglaciers.wordpress.com/) is a blog about two girls trying to change their habits to be more globally friendly. It's an excellent place for those who don't know where to start. For more ideas check out the Environmental Defense webpage (http://www.fightglobalwarming.com/index.cfm?source=banner_search). Here you can find out which machine is the most environmentally friendly before you buy and you can even sign up for weekly email tips. Check out the Global Footprint Network, Advancing the Science of Sustainability (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/) to learn about new technologies working towards a better planet. And finally, don't forget to estimate your global footprint (http://www.earthday.net/Footprint/index.asp) to find out your personal impact on the planet and to help your resolve to do better!

16 August 2007

The Changing Alaskan Arctic/ Sub-Arctic

Warning, I'm going to get on my soapbox a little here. People ask me all the time if I've noticed the effects of climate change in the north. I have. As a scientist I have seen reams of data from various colleagues that all show the same worrying trends. I am not going to talk about data or figures here though, I want to present my personal observations about the changes that have occurred in the time that I have lived in Alaska. In the last seven years folks. The arctic is sort of the bell weather of change but I know that changes like this are happening all over the world in your communities too - all the "unusual" & "record setting" weather is just one example. Dispersed in between my observations will be photos (taken from the air) of icebergs and glaciers that I have the privilege to experience in my landscape that are melting away - I want to share with you the beauty of this ice, especially if you have never seen it before and as it is particularly vulnerable to climate change. And a quick note: I will not be replying to comments that demand that this isn't happening, I mean come on, even the current US president Dubya has finally admitted it is. If you believe there is no change or that the degree of change is natural arguing with you is like arguing with a believer over some sacredly held interpretation of text; it's pointless. I will however, address thoughtful questions.

Permafrost is melting. This is causing houses to sink and tilt into the landscape, causing bike paths & roads that were once even surfaces to bump up. It is causing lakes to disappear (through a process called thermakarst). Ironically, the ice roads that oil companies use to access their wells are melting meaning they can use them less and less time out of the year.

Lakes & wetlands are disappearing both because of thermakarst & because of increased air temperatures.

As lakes & wetlands disappear they fill in with shrubs and trees. The habitats of wild things that like marshy land shrinks. More lakes freeze solid in the winter as they are shallower. This means less fish stock (including the economically valuable salmon) is surviving the winter which means there are less fish in the oceans.

The ice is melting. Glaciers are melting for multiple reasons. As the temperature of sea water has raised a degree the are melting faster where they meet the ocean, with increased heat in the atmosphere more of them is evaporating into the air, with increased rain caused by changing weather patterns they are pooling up more and melting from the top down as well as the bottom up.

Calving glacier melting is causing changes in water temperature and availability of ice for habitat of ice seals. The bergs are lasting less and less long into the season, the calving occurs with greater frequency.

Glacier melting and warmer temperatures have increased the shrub & tree lines in the arctic. Whole landscapes and views that once existed have disappeared.

Increased fires in interior Alaska have led to a decrease in trees and an increase in heat loss to the atmosphere and a reduction in CO2 recycling by plants and an increase in smoky skies which affect living quality.

Bug infestations such as birch bark beetle and leaf miner which used to cycle every ten years have now been heavy for three years running in interior Alaska causing these trees to be drier and more susceptible to flame. Between flame & bugs the lowlands of Alaska may become grassland while the uplands become shrubby.

Changing winds have increased the impact of mosquitoes on caribou & reindeer on the north slope as these animals are finding less and less relief. More die from insect harassment and from the energy required to keep moving to keep them off.

The ocean is rising. Arctic villages are sinking into the waves and are having to be pulled back from the edges.

The oceans are not freezing as completely or as securely to the shore. Fast ice, which allows both polar bears and people to get out on the ice is disappearing stranding polar bears on land causing an increase in bear/ human conflict.

The rivers are not freezing as completely for as long. Rivers are the traditional method of getting around bush Alaska and the time that they are unstable - where you can not dog mush, snow machine, or boat on them - is increasing making communities more isolated.

Snow is not what it used to be. It falls later, it melts earlier. If you question this note that the last 3 years the famous Iditarod sled dog race re-start location has had to be moved north from it's traditional location as there is not enough snow.

Parasites are showing up in Alaskan wild animals that have never been seen in Alaska before.

The arctic is the place where change is happening fastest. Look around you, every where people are saying "This is really abnormal weather" or "Record year for this (fill in the blank with the weather in your area)". This is happening everywhere the world over. The climate is changing folks. And it is our habits that are doing it.

Note: I do not use "global warming" as I feel this term is both mis-leading and a political salve. People feel better if you talk about warming, they feel they wouldn't mind if it warmed. But the truth is that it is global change which exacerbates all climate patterns. It makes the cold colder in the winter, the hot hotter in the summer, the dryness dryer, the wetness wetter, and the storms bigger and more unpredictable. The US administration which has belatedly admitted that climate change is happening would prefer us to use warming because warming sounds milder. It lulls us and keeps us from acting - words are power and how we describe something can take or give strength to it.

15 August 2007

Petition for World Peace

As a commenter on my blog recently pointed out (you're right William, I should announce it) AFS has organized a petition to promote world peace through more intercultural exchanges. Click here to go sign it: Petition for World Peace. (If the link isn't working you can paste this address into your browser: www.exchanges4peace.org )

"Friendship leads to understanding, understanding leads to peace"


Wild Alaskan Rose (Rosa nutkana)

I went out with some very good friends while in Anchorage, post orientation. Our discussion led to a certain restaurant in town which one of us knew. Since culture and the way we communicate was on the front of my brain I noticed how differently we located this restaurant. Now, I am very familiar with Anchorage as it has been my re-supply town for many years now and I have had to attend all manner of conferences, training events, and meetings there. My friends are equally familiar as they live there. But we don't locate ourselves by the same type of landmarks.

All of my references were to trail heads, parks, the ocean, and creek accesses where as theirs were all street names and malls. When I described to them where something was they would respond by saying "oh, near the intersection of Street X and Street Y?" and I would look at them confusedly because I never noticed the street names there, instead I noticed the creek that went under the bridge and the beaver dam that you can see from it. Clearly the things that I key in on and are important to me are not the same as theirs. Perhaps this keying in on these non-human made signposts explains why I tend to be more disoriented in urban areas then in the woods. Throw me in any patch of wilderness and set me off in a direction and then at the end of the day tell me to return back to the beginning spot and I will do it unerringly. Do the same thing in an urban area and I will generally go in circles for awhile.

13 August 2007

Working Against Cultural Bigotry

It is International Blog Against Racism Week and since cultural and religious based bigotry often coincide with racism and the week coincides with the arrival of the AFS exchange students to Alaska I thought I would share with you why I am proud to be a volunteer with this organization and why I think it makes a difference.

AFS is an intercultural, non-governmental organization that promotes intercultural learning through worldwide exchange programs for students, adults, and families. AFS flies no single flag, represents no single ideology or national objective, and speaks no single language. It was founded by volunteer ambulance driver's in World War I who thought that if people knew each other and had a better understanding of each other's cultures there would be less need to go to war. It is now the oldest exchange program in the world and is still run primarily by volunteers.

"AFS enables people to act as responsible, global citizens working for peace and understanding in a diverse world. It acknowledges that peace is a dynamic concept threatened by injustice, inequality, and intolerance.

AFS seeks to affirm faith in the dignity and worth of every human being and of all nations and cultures. It encourages respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language, religion, or social status."

My Dog & Cat in inter-species communication

One of the things that makes me very proud of AFS is the organizations reaction to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. This event showed AFS-USA that there is clearly a huge rift of understanding between Muslim & Judeo-Christian cultural groups and nations. We discussed how can AFS increase understanding between these groups? We decided to create a scholarship particularly aimed at exchanging students & teachers between nations that are predominantly one or the other, in other words, encourage non-Muslims to go on exchange to Muslim based nations and non-Judeo-Christians to go on exchange to Judeo-Christian based nations. These students will learn amazing things about the other cultures and their own but more importantly is that they will connect with people and when they return to their home countries they will share those connections with their communities. These connections make it harder to generalize and scapegoat the group because the group has a face and a name and a history.

10 August 2007

The Cultural Iceberg

Spending all day with a bunch of exchange students makes one think a lot about what constitutes culture. Today we discussed the idea of the iceberg. You only see 10% of an iceberg's mass, 90% of it is below the water. Culture is like an iceberg. There are visible things that we identify as culture and then there are the little things, the nuances, that make up the culture, much of which we have absorbed during our every waking moment without thinking about it.

"Culture is a mold in which we are all cast and it controls our daily lives in many in suspected ways...Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from it's own participants" -Edward T. Hall

So what are some of the things on the iceberg above the water? Food. Art. Style. Sports. Literature. Music. Holidays/ Festivals. Religion. Language. Etc. And below the iceberg? Fine details such as, what constitutes cleanliness, is hard work rewarded, how do family members communicate, who makes decisions, what kind of emotional expression if considered appropriate, what is considered polite/ rude, is cooperation/ competition rewarded, dating customs, gender roles, family member responsibilities, what are the notions of timeliness, etc. You get the idea.

One of the most interesting thing about living in another culture is how much you learn about your own - the things you never noticed before. It's like in the Wizard of Oz when everybody is wearing rose colored glasses - we all wear glasses tinted with our own cultures and we never notice it until someone points it out to us or we go somewhere where we take them off for the first time. The difference between traveling and living someplace is the difference between seeing the tip of the iceberg to understanding some of what lies hidden below the water.

Tell me, what do you think constitutes some of your hidden iceberg?

09 August 2007

Newly Arriving Exchange Students

I'm so excited! Today this next school year's AFS exchange students arrive in Alaska and I'm going to meet up with them in Anchorage and give them their arrival orientation! I think we have 31 kids coming but I have to check the roster. They're coming from all over the world and they'll be going to host families all over Alaska and attending high school here for the next year.

I love meeting these groups in the beginning and then watching them grow and change over the year. They gain confidence in themselves, they learn to be independent thinkers, they learn how to solve difficult problems, how to deal with new situations, etc. I know that this group will be nervous, many of them did not think of Alaska when they signed up for this thing. To them the USA meant Florida, New York City, and California - the world portrayed by Hollywood and by the view-the-states-in-a-month tours that people they know may have gone on. They will be freaked out about how they will survive the cold, the dark, and sometimes the isolation of small town life. They will be freaked out by all the dogs in this place. And they will have a blast. By the time they leave they will laugh at their worries. They will have done things they never dreamed of doing: skiing, dog mushing, kayaking, camping, hiking. Many of these outdoor things that Alaskans take as a normal part of life are completely alien to these kids who live in places where there isn't quite the same wildness left so that even when you are recreating in it you are always on a well marked trail (most of Europe) or in places where the wild is seen as a dangerous place that you strive to conquer or get away from (much of Africa, Latin & South America, & Asia).

Wild Geranium (Geranium erianthum)

When I lived in Northern California I used to take the kids and their liaisons on a backpacking trip about 3 months after they arrived and I would tell them that it was a metaphor for their experience. In the beginning you are scared, nervous, not sure you are going to like it and it seems like a huge trip. In the middle you are tired, you have blisters, you may be grumpy, you think it is never going to end. At the end you are having so much fun you don't want to go back even though you are looking forward to showers and your own bed but you know you will be leaving fine company who knows you in a way that other people don't because it strips you down to your essentials and you can't believe how quickly the time passed. When you leave it changes your outlook and you look back on it as one of the best things you've ever done and you have a wealth of stories and memories from it.

When these kids arrive tomorrow we will be doing the equivalent of giving them a map & compass and signing them in at the trail head. They're going to be excited and nervous and they will be awesome. I'm already inspired and I haven't even met them!

08 August 2007

Alaskan Man

There's this guy at work who exudes the external air of an old-timer Alaskan male. He's got a beard half way down his chest, grizzled and gray, he exudes a grumpy sort of air, wears scruffy clothes and makes jokes about his grandson cutting wood for the teachers some day instead of bringing them apples. You know what else? He crochets. That's right, huge beautiful rugs (& he'll sell you one if you beg). If you met him you would be floored by this fact, it would be the absolute last thing you would ever expect this man to do. Run a trap line? Build a cabin from scratch? Drink too much too often? Curse the rabble (whoever they are)? These are all things you would expect of him just from the view. This, I think, is what makes him a typical Alaskan: he's quirky in unexpected ways.

07 August 2007

The Bear Went Over the Moutain

I was singing this song on my hike the other evening when lo and behold I ran into a black bear going over the mountain. It's a bit of an odd coincidence. Now, technically, I was singing this song for the benefit of this bear and it's brethren, the better not to sneak up on them, but still. I was singing this particular song not because it's a good song or because I had an enthusiastic child along but because I was tired of my own prattle of out-loud thoughts and because the repetitive songs learned in childhood are a good way to keep up the noise level and keep thinking because I don't have to work at remembering the lyrics. (Yellow Owl's Clover [Orthocarpus luteus] pictured to the lower right)

So why was this bear going over the mountain? As far as I can tell s/he climbed the mountain because the view made it a perfect place for a latrine. Clearly it had been in use as such for some years as the piles of aged to new feces would attest. And once s/he was there, why not go down the other side? After all, there is a good salmon stream down there and some yummy watermelon & salmonberries along the way. Of course, maybe s/he was going to the other side but the exertion of mountain climbing prompted other bodily functions, we'll never know for sure.

06 August 2007

Disturbance in the Sound

Edited to add: Anyone who rents a kayak or goes out with guides in this area is furnished with recommendations on how to approach marine mammals and what not to do. The kayakers I've written about had clearly identifiable rented kayaks.

To the four paddlers of two little red kayaks in a certain bay in Prince William Sound, Alaska seen around noon today.

Dear Kayakers ~

Today was both your lucky day and your unlucky day. It was lucky because you were foolish enough to pull your kayaks right up to that calving glacier and touch it's face without being squashed by a piece of ice carving off and effectively ending your existence. A rather foolish thing, don't you think? To challenge nature for a photograph that might have been the last of you?

It was your unlucky day because you blatantly broke the Marine Mammal Conservation Act (1972). Did you know that when seals lift their heads to look at you it is out of concern for your presence and not to pose for a photograph? I know, dear kayakers, that you must be a bit ignorant, hence the close up view of the glacier, but even you must have noticed the fact that as you approached them, even tried to put your kayaks on the icebergs the animals were resting on, that they fled to the water. You were there on a day when the brash ice was sparse and the seals had to clump together to find space in the ice.

Aerial Image of Harbor Seals hauled out on Ice

What you didn't know is that we saw you on glacier cam and that we have video footage of the whole thing. That's right, we remotely monitor these seals on an hourly basis all summer long. We weren't looking for you but how could we not notice? And there is a penalty for such disturbance of the marine wildlife. Had you merely accidentally scared them we would have let you off the hook but pursuing them? Foisting your kayak on their bergs as they frantically dove for the ice? That was inexcusable and avoidable and I regret to inform you that we ratted you out.

05 August 2007

Midnight sun hiking

Something I love about midnight summer sun? The fact that you can spend the whole morning of a weekend day being lazy (taking time with your coffee, your breakfast, and a lazy walk with the dog) and getting things that just cannot be put off any longer (laundry, filing, vaccuming, etc) and still get off for a hike at 3 in the afternoon without even pausing to think about daylight. If you'd gone in the morning you would have brought lunch, now it's going to be dinner. And 17 miles later you show up at your doorstep right around bed time. Love it.

02 August 2007

Prize Conversations with Tourons

I have nothing against tourists. I've been one and without them this very wet small town south of the permafrost would not survive economically (which is probably true of much of AK) but sometimes you have these conversations that make you shake your head and wonder if their brains went on a different vacation.

* Standing on a balcony overlooking the ocean this fellow says to me "So, what's the elevation above sea level here?" I look over the balcony and say "Well, since the tide seems to be out I'd say about 4ft"

* I was pumping gas when this RV pulls up. This couple gets out and they look distinctively cold being dressed for some other climate than 60 degrees with rain & mosquitoes. The guy says to me "I thought it was warmer in Hawaii! Where's all the sunshine?". II thought the guy was joking but he wasn't. You know how on maps of the United States Hawaii & Alaska get pulled out and put in little windows in the Pacific? Well, come to find out that somehow this couple had managed to get all the way to Alaska while thinking that Alaska was merely the largest island off Hawaii. I think they need a new travel agent and a better map.

* "So how much does it cost to ship an iceberg?" Umm, well seeing as you live in the Carolinas can I just ship an empty box and tell you it evaporated?

* "When do the smoked salmon run?" Let's see....

* "I'm from the United States of America" (best said by drawing out and emphasizing the country name). Umm...guess what dude, you're still in the United States of America. Yeah, really.

* And then there is the woman who is living in a campground this summer. She comes into the coffee shop and tells us things like the mountains around us are invisible (I can agree on a foggy day), that she controls the weather (well, give us a break then!), and to complain that the AK Park Service hasn't installed plumbing in her tent yet (well, they haven't gotten around to that amenity in some of the houses either dear) all in an accent she claims is French but which sound suspiciously like attempted Irish. But this later one is loony enough to possibly be an actual local.

01 August 2007

Excursion to (Los) Anchorage

I went to Anchorage on Sunday night to meet up with a good friend from Fairbanks on Monday who is leaving the state at the end of the month for Boston. Anchorage is sort of in-between: 3.5 hours from Very Small Wet Town and 7 hours south of Fairbanks. I drove in on Sunday night where I met the most astonishing traffic I have ever seen in my entire time in Alaska. Cars were piled knee deep around Turnagain Arm from Girdwood to Anchorage and nary a one was moving. I promptly pulled over, let dog out of the truck while tied to the frame, got out my sleeping pad, my book (A Far Country by Daniel Mason – fabulously written), and my dinner and proceeded to make myself comfortable in the bed of my truck. I wasn’t in a hurry and the view of Turnagain arm and the bore tides was fantastic. I know that the traffic was really impressive because out of staters kept coming up to me to tell me that they lived in LA or NY or where ever and they had never seen anything like it and was this normal? (Can’t imagine how they pegged me for someone who lives there can you? ). Around 11 o’clock it finally cleared long enough for DOG and I to reach our campground (~1/2 hour south of Anchorage) where we spent the rainy night quite cozily.
Picture from a previous trip to Anchorage in early spring

The problem with going to the city is that there are always so many things one must do when one goes to the city because there are things you can do and get there that I simply cannot in Very Small Wet Town. So of course, after meeting my friend for coffee she ran around with me to go to the bookstore & exchange read books for unread books, pick up an item that had been dropped off for repair weeks earlier, shop for a tent, pick up pet care items, and so on. I absolutely loathe shopping which may be why I rather dislike Los Anchorage (or maybe it’s because it has won awards for being one of the most unfriendly cities and has more violence then it’s small city status should warrant) and although I always have lists of things I need to do and get in the end I usually only get half before I absolutely must flee the place.

Los Anchorage was built with absolutely no planning, starting with the gold rush years when people weren’t planning on staying so they built where they could. This continued with the oil rush days and continues today. My friend complained that everywhere in Anchorage looks the same. And it is sprawled. It, like the Russian city Petropavlovsk, is located in a gorgeous setting of mountains and ocean but the city itself isn’t very attractive. That said I am very glad for the extensive network of trails within the city which I retreat to regularly when the sensory overload of the city gets to be too much. My friend from Fairbanks was also overwhelmed, despite Fairbanks being the next biggest city in Alaska, and kept asking me – “How am I going to survive in Boston?”.

We parted ways to go to appointments, various annual doctor appointments for me, in-laws for her. I stayed a little later then I planned because I simply could not leave without taking the opportunity to go to the cinema to watch the new Harry Potter movie. Then DOG and I fled south where we both breathed a little easier and CAT was most relieved when we got home having spent her first night on her lonesome since joining the family. It seems if I had stayed a little longer I might have seen the FBI fun at the home of our Senator Ted Stevens.