Friday, July 28, 2006
But before we get started, I am compelled to point out one of the boats that was in the harbor with us as we were getting ready to leave.
It's worth pointing out that we've had about nine or ten days of unremitting rain and overcast skies. Then, on the day of the big boat trip, the sun blazes, the temperature climbs to 72, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. Not so bad.
Every time a whale's body broke the water in the characteristic slide that preceded a tail flip, the whole boat full of people began to "oooo." When the tail flipped up and over, the whole boat cheered. It was an immense experience.
It's also worth mentioning at this point that Humpies are baleen whales; they feed by sucking an immense amount of water into their mouths and then straining out fish or krill.
They typically come up under a school of fish or grouping of krill and fill their mouths as they come flying up through the water. This behavior is called "lunging."
7/2 entry, would have my head if I raved only about whales and didn't put any glaciers in my journal. Here's a particularly glorious glacier. Happy, John?
As many as a dozen whales can team up in this fashion; here we had about five, I think. In this photo, they're just finishing the lunge.
Cody caught the same bubble net lunge at almost exactly the same moment. This is a different picture taken with a different camera; we just managed to click the shutter at almost the same instant.
Cody, you'll notice, has the superior lens. You'll also notice that he clicked a fraction of a second earlier than I did; the seagull that's almost directly over the highest whale's jaw here is just a hair further along in my picture.
There were people on the boat and great conversation; there was great food. But let's face it: the whales win.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
I also have a large paper due Tuesday, so today is also an excellent day to procrastinate, though I think I can make an excellent argument that this is somehow foundational work for the paper.
Anyway, we were somewhat overloaded in our trip from the ferry to the Chilkoot camp, so I volunteered to ride in the Ford Excursions's cargo area. Under the cargo.
They were kind enough to share their poetry and the region's stories.
On a side note, Raven and Eagle represent not clans, but moieties. You can be a member of any number of clans, but you're also either a Raven or an Eagle. Both clan and moiety are passed down matrilineally. You're supposed to marry the opposite moiety, so a Dad typically finds himself the sole Raven or Eagle in the house; this is a source of much hilarity.
The wallscreen behind her carries a number of important icons of Tlingit art. Raven, on the lower left, is a mischievious creator figure. Eagle, on the lower right is his friend and equal. There's Halibut in the middle; it's an important fish for subsistence, but I haven't yet heard any stories in which it's a character.You also see the ubiquitous Chilkat face, representing humanity, repeated across the center. In between are pictures of the bentwood boxes that would be used for storage by families living in the longhouse. The copper tokens nailed to the screen are tows, used for a while as money.
The large face and widespread arms at the top represent the spirit of the longhouse, nurturing and welcoming all who enter, a promise fulfilled by each person of Tlingit descent we met on our trip.
I've chosen not to include any of the somewhat extensive set of fish-butchering photos people took of Valentino's rather impressive skills. You're welcome.
Mary, with a superior zoom and good timing, was able to take one of the better bear photos. You can even see the grass he was grazing on.
The Tlingit stories, artwork, and weaving I saw are part of a noble and beautiful culture, and it would be an ugly chapter in our story if we forgot them, particularly when they have such a long history of wisdom and coexistence with the wild world.
Thanks to Mary and Mark for the pictures in this entry.
Friday, July 21, 2006
We took the same trail I hiked on 6/24, except this time it was raining with a gentle intensity that defies clichéd descriptions of rain. It was neither driving nor pouring; nor was it lashing, tempestuous, or torrential. It did not come down in sheets nor did it let fall cats and dogs. The closest I can come to an accurate description is "a soaking rain." There was a lot of water falling from the sky, and though it was not joined by a great deal of wind, it saturated every fiber of both clothing and being after a little while.
It was temperate enough that I made the decision to forgo my raincoat. I didn't want to spend the walk fighting to stay dry with the hood up and the blinders on. I decided to be endued with water and to trust my high-tech clothing to block enough of the chill glacier winds.
Still, to see the areas on bare rock retreat a good ten feet and the area on the water retreat even more than that in only three weeks made it easy to believe that global warming is melting the glacier faster than a normal post-ice-age retreat.
A snowflake is a typical ice crystal; a freezer ice cube is a whole series of small crystals stuck together. In a glacier, the immense pressure, together with the melting and refreezing that typically take place, forces the smaller crystals into alignment, and they join up into larger crystals. Cathy commented that the blue, compressed ice has more of a mineral quality to it; the ice crystals are positively enormous, and you can see the water's true color.
I wasn't too much in geology mode. We got a good look at a Spotted Sandpiper, who flew back and forth, piping. He was probably trying to protect his unfledged hatchling, who made a break for it from one small stand of alder bushes to another.
We didn't stay so long at the glacier that the cold breeze coming off of it made me truly miserable in my wet high-tech gear. I was just comfortable enough to be truly content. Then a brisk walk back to the trailhead and off to a long, hot shower. I may have been philosophically inclined to get wet, but that didn't mean I had to stay that way.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
As a glacier withdraws, it leaves behind it different kinds of ground: bare rock, moraine (gravel and sediment), etc. Different mosses and lichens make a home there, and then larger shrubs and trees. Mendenhall glacier has been withdrawing steadily for quite a while, so the area below it has a textbook array of different kinds of forest.
Matt's main interest and expertise was birds, but after the first week or so of July in southeast Alaska, the birds are finished marking out territories and finding mates, and they've gotten down to the business of raising babies, so there aren't so many kicking around, and practically nobody's calling.
We were, however, able to see a large number of Artic Terns, which spend their summers nesting at the base of the glacier. We even got to see a few of them mob a Bald Eagle. We also got to hear Hermit Thrushes, Chickadees, and caught a good look at a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
6/24 entry, but this picture is taken from the other side of the lake.
According to Matt, we're probably already in an age of glacial recession, so it's almost certainly not due to global warming alone that this glacier is shrinking. However, the last twenty or so years have been, overall, much warmer, so the glacier's receding much faster than normal.
As Matt points out, he's a federal employee, so if he can state unequivocally that global warming is an issue, no matter what the political leanings of the federal administration, it seems obvious that it's happening. The question now is what the negative effects might be and how we should address them.
Once we were on the water though, we slipped easily through the calm harbor waters and south, away from Auke Bay.
Salmon lept out of the water several times a minute, so far and so high that you could literally tell the species as they hung in the air. I spotted Silver and King Salmon.
On the way back, I spooked a flock of Pigeon Guillemot, who took off with some noisy clapping against the water, and a cute little Marbled Murrelet popped up about two feet off the port bow, looked extremely surprised, and went straight back down.
Though the fin may remind you of a dolphin, these guys are from a different Family entirely. In fact, Killer Whales are more closely related to dolphins than porpoises are.
They lost interest about the same time we did, and they continued on their way right as we did. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I have exactly the same attention span as a porpoise.
They lazily drifted away, popping up like adorable periscopes from time to time to check us out.
Friday, July 14, 2006
First, my sincere apologies for not writing in several days. It's the middle of the term and the workload has come down on me a bit severely this past week. Hopefully things will lighten up, but until they do, your kind forbearance is begged.
It was our first day in Haines, and we wanted to be back for dinner, so we only had three hours to hike up and down the 3.2 miles and the 3000 vertical feet to the south summit.
Three hours wasn't quite enough, but let me first point out to you the mystery of this sign, which says the Ripinsky trailhead is 3/4 of a mile to the right, at "PIPE GATE." Now, if a "pipe gate" is some thing I should know as a well-educated individual, feel free to chastize me, but I had never heard of one before. Turns out, it's a gate made out of a pipe. This might not seem like much of a mystery to you, but it stymied seven graduate students and a tenured professor, so make of that what you will.
You may be pitying me on account of the weather, worrying that my hard work to hike and my rare opportunity to be in this place were compromised by the lack of views and the wet weather. Not so, good friends; mist carries its own holiness.
The moisture kisses the skin as it kisses the lupines; it embraces the intruder and makes him part of the landscape.
Here you see me with Zoe, my hiking parter for the majority of the trip.
This is, perhaps, the time to mention that a prevalence of bear scat on the trail indicated that bears use the trail extensively for travel and forage; though all evidence of their presence seemed to date back to last summer, their footprint on the place still added a certain dread to the aforementioned holiness.
Zoe and I didn't make it to the top. Two hours' hiking put us perhaps about 1/4 mile and less then 500 vertical feet from the summit, but we had already overstayed the time, so we reluctantly turned back. I suspect her regret stemmed from the same place as mine: we didn't need to hit the peak for its own sake, but we wanted to steal a little more time in the clouds before having to float back to earth.
Almost out, we stopped at a bridge to collect stragglers and take photos. You've got Il Professore Mark Long in the foreground, then Evelina, followed by me, Zoe, and Charles.
Many thanks to Palmer for the bulk of the pictures in this entry. There's also one by Zoe.
There's still more to recount of Haines, though I'm nearly a week back. Fortunately, the week has been full of work, study, and other thoroughly unjournalable pursuits, so once I catch up on Haines, I'm up to date.
Friday, July 7, 2006
Over the weekend, my "Searching for Wildness" course went up to Haines, AK and the surrounding area to immerse ourselves in a wilder part of Alaska and to get a chance to experience some aspects of the culture of people who existed there long before any European explorers "discovered" the place. We left the Auke Bay ferry terminal at 8AM and crossed, incidentally, the line of my kayak outing from the other day before leaving Auke Bay and heading north.
The islands and glaciers weren't even the point of the trip, just a gift along the way. We drove a few miles northeast of Haines, up the Chilkoot river, to stay at a small camp whose purpose is to educate folks on the culture of the local Tlingit people. Nora Marks Dauenhauer, a clan elder, was our host and guide, along with her husband, Richard Dauenhauer. The Chilkoot river comes down the east side of the mountain range and the Chilkat river comes down the west side. Each has a distinct history.
He's cute as heck, grazing away on the river grasses, but grizzly cuteness is proportionate to distance. The same sized bear, when he appeared at the camp later that day, was a little more pulse-quickening.