Thursday, July 31, 2008

What A Difference A Day Makes!

Well, as you can see the clouds have lifted, I took all four photos today after work and the sky behind the eagle tells the story. I desperately wanted to take a motorcycle ride but couldn't decide where so I just rode for 2 hours, from Bunker Hill to Ballyhoo to Summers Bay and over the pass, it was just what I needed.

I was also excited to find out our beloved Berrimilla are still heading east over the Northwest passage; technical difficulties with my laptop were preventing me from being able to view updates on their blog until tonight. Kimbra, Corrie and Alex have a vitality and drive that was inspiring to be around; I hope our paths cross again sometime.

I'm off to bed, it has been a very full day - cheers everyone . . . .

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Low Hanging Clouds

Chico and I walked on the Ugadaga Bay Trail last night after work leaving Goldfish at home baking muffins. I love the sense of permanence about the trail, grooves worn in the tundra not by dozens or hundreds but by thousands of years of island residents making the passage from one side of the island to the other. The only sound comes from the rushing creeks below as the last of the winter's snow melts away to the sea, and the buzzing of bees as they tackle the enormous task of pollinating the abundance of wildflowers, many of which I can now identify on sight after my sister's constant and loving repetition on our walks during her stay.

About a half mile in Chico unexpectedly bolts for the valley below, running with apparent carefree abandon, and to my dismay continues up the opposite side of the valley, disappearing into the low lying clouds. I sat down on the damp tundra and began what is becoming the semi-regular ritual of waiting for Chico to run himself out and rejoin me. Chico is 13 years old and a pound rescue, adopted from the animal shelter by Goldfish just the day before being euthanized. Given his age and his background - we've spoken with folks who knew his previous owner on the island and they say he was never allowed outside except to go to the bathroom - I just let him run when he fancies as he doesn't really respond much to voice commands anyways. Most nights when I walk out the door with Chico for a dog walk I have no idea when we'll return, and on a couple occasions he has returned without me; no matter, I love him dearly and he always comes over to say goodnight before bedding down and I do the same.

Last night, however, as I watched for his eventual re-appearance the weight of the clouds and the world began to push me deeper into my mossy perch. It wasn't just the missing dog that had me in a wee bit of a funk, it was the outside world that was going mad and nibbling at the edges of my island bliss. The base commander of the Alaska Air Force Base (Elmendorf) has apparently fatally shot himself in the head ; a horrible case of blatant wanton waste of game occurred by Point Hope with 120 caribou slaughtered and left to rot; the local volcanoes continue to act up ; the tumbling stock market has brutalized the Alaska Permanent Fund ; and now Alaska's beloved Senator "Uncle Ted" Stevens has indicted on corruption charges on seven counts of filing false financial disclosures. It's been quite a week here in Alaska - and it's only Tuesday!

That was my state of mind as I sighed and headed back to the truck to go look for Chico on the other side of the pass (I eventually found him almost to Summer's Bay and based on the timing it appears his bolting coincided with increased seismic activity from the volcanoes, so he's forgiven). As I loaded him in the truck and headed for home, I pondered how life had gotten much more complicated, even on an island in the Aleutians. I have to remember that travelers on the Ugadaga Bay trail thousands of years ago only worried about how the salmon run was, how the berry harvest was shaping up, how the health of the village was, and if they had enough of the essentials to make it through the winter - water, food, shelter and sex, the classic hierarchical pyramid of needs. Now, we've become a society of "wants" as we take our "needs" for granted and our universe has expanded so much we are often more concerned for the welfare of nations we will never see than for the elderly lady that needs a hand shoveling her driveway two doors down. We are so wrapped up in the politics of violence on the other side of the world we can't name our own city council members. And our horizons are so broad we have lost our own sense of place . . . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Just So You Know . . .

If you see and eagle posed over a nest looking like the top photo, and then for some reason you decide you want to move CLOSER to the nest, say, to pee, then the next eagle pose you will see is in the bottom photo . . . . right Sis?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bye Sis!

Friday morning my sister flew back home after a 7 day visit to the island. It was fun watching her opinions and reactions slowly evolve over the time of her stay, and she was a trooper keeping up with our full days and a home that is more like a summer camp - with beach sand and dog hair everywhere, shells and beach glass on the counters, and not much in the way of schedule or structure in the precious time we spend not working. I think she got on the plane a bit more relaxed, a bit sore from exploring and with a renewed sense of wonder in the natural world. We sure enjoyed her company as she is a flexible, undemanding houseguest who greets each morning with a sense of wonder.

Sis, we miss you already! Thanks for making the long journey to the Aleutians and for keeping an open mind and heart while you were here!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Here You Go Trevor!

As you can see, the eagle in the top photo has adopted the classic pooping pose and you can see the stream glancing off the log it is perching on and continuing downward. Moments later it took off - jettisoning fuel to lower take-off weight perhaps? My sister took these photos when we were walking Chico on Strawberry Hill yesterday. As promised Trevor . . . .

Tonight after work Goldfish and I took my sister to the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet at the Grand, then we took a walk on the spit to help with the digestion from the gorging - what a feast!

We're dealing with two erupting volcanoes out here now but the planes are still flying so it looks okay for my sister's flight home on Friday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Need Some Help

I thought it would be pretty straight forward to identify this fish before I posted these pictures but I'm drawing a blank - does anyone have any ideas? It is approximately 4 feet long, it had bright blue eyes, a body and head most resembling a barracuda except with a top fin along the whole length of the body. It had a mouth full of teeth and seemed to be towards the end of it's life cycle - the tail and fins were a bit tattered and it seemed tired and weak. Any help with an identification would be appreciated - I've never seen anything like it this far north . . . .

In hind sight, I should have eaten it . . . with my sister there I was trying to go against my nature and be a nice guy! Cheers and good night . . . .

Monday, July 21, 2008

Priceless . . .

This was taken on the beach down the road from my place last night and the look on that eagle's face while he watched the fox steal a fish scrap was absolutely priceless!

Today I drove the pass with my sister then we went out to Morris Cove where we saw porpoises, whales, seals and eagles. Sis got too close to an eagle nest and got dive bombed and took a wing to the back of the head and - trust me, this sounds bizzare but I will post a photo - a three and a half foot fish with bright blue eyes and a mouth of teeth swam up on the beach and I had to make several attempts to get it back in the water. I'll research and find out what kind of fish it was - it looked almost like a marlin but I thought those were a southern species . . . .

All in all a great day, we met up with Goldfish for supper and headed to the Crap Pot Deli for king crab and avacado club sandwiches - yum!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Whale of a Day!

Goldfish brought my sister to the Museum of the Aleutians today then we went beachcombing at Little South America. The herring are running by the island so it wasn't a complete surprise when we saw this whale just 100 yards off the beach. What WAS surprising though is what happened about 90 seconds after this photo was taken - the whale breached completely out of the water and landed with a huge splash, still close to the beach. Bummer we didn't get THAT shot - we were too busy talking to be ready so we just stood there with our mouths open . . . . I do have the mental snap shot and I'll cherish it as a day well spend on the beach with my sister.

We also saw puffins and other birds, and then finished the day off photographing eagles and a fox - in the same frame. Quite a day and the weather even cooperated! We're keeping a close eye on nearby Okmok Volcano which has shown increased activity today . . . . cheers and good night . . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2008

You Be the Judge

During the month of July my sister visited both brothers, one in Maine and one in Alaska. They both fed her seafood. I'd say she's having a pretty great vacation . . . . those teachers with their summers off . . . . she and I are both taking lots of pictures and having a ball!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Evening with Sister

What a treat to have my sister out here for a week. She's got a new camera and is eager to use it, all over the island! Lots of wildflowers are blooming. like the wild iris in the top photos, and it was great to have her along for a dog walk tonight. I hope the weather will hold for a few days so we can have some adventures . . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

North Side of Ballyhoo in Fog and Ash

The switchback road up the end of Ballyhoo is a favorite lunchtime ride now that they finally opened the gate for the season. There are some fantastic bunkers and lots of other World War II remnants up there. This was taken a few days ago; down at the base it was sunny but the top of Ballyhoo was swallowed up by a giant cloud. You don't notice the dust and ash until you get home and take off your sunglasses after a long ride and look in the mirror at the coal miner staring back at you!

The planes started flying yesterday afternoon and have been flying pretty steady ever since getting caught up on the passenger, freight and mail back log caused by the eruption of Okmok. Back to normal, at least by Dutch Harbor standards!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Okmok Volcano Eruption

Last Saturday around noon Okmok Volcano starting erupting on Umnak Island, the next island west on the Aleutians. Okmok is about 60 miles from Dutch Harbor - this picture was taken by Kelly Reeves, a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, on Sunday.

The best place for updates on this and any other volcanic eruption in Alaska is the Alaska Volcano Observatory website. Volcanoes are a way of life out here, both on the island and back in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula with Augustine, Illiamna, Redoubt and Spur Volcanoes.

Airlines are very, very cautious about flying with volcanic ash in the air, for very good reasons. Flights have been cancelled to Dutch Harbor since Saturday so the mail, freight and passenger traffic are all backed up and I'm on pins and needles hoping things clear up in time for my sister to fly in on Friday. They did resume flying today with extra flights to deal with some of the backlog.

You can also read about the eruption on the KIAL website and the Anchorage Daily News.

Problems With Blogger?

About 5 or 6 days ago I stopped being able to see new posts on my blog or any other blogger blog - yes, I tried cleaning out my browser cache, and everything works okay using Firefox - has anyone else been having any problems? Sorry I'm behind a bit on posting, I wanted to get it straightened out first . . . only three more days until my sister gets here!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Squeezing Clouds Through a Keyhole

It was a gorgeous evening tonight and I headed out for a ride over the pass after work as Goldfish was walking Chico. I stopped for awhile and watched clouds being funneled in by the wind from the Summer Bay side, speeding up as they shot through the pass and emerging on the town side. You could almost imagine the clouds shaking themselves off like a cat emerging from an unexpected dunking. I understood the physics of it, the venturi effect, pressure vs. volume, etc . . . but this afternoon I was content to just sit and watch. At the summit of the pass I found all the plants heavy with dew, the clouds having left little pieces behind, evidence of a violent forced passage on their way to the North Pacific from the Bering Sea.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Litttle Bishop Rock

We've been getting some perfect weather out here lately, 60 degrees and almost cloud free. This was taken yesterday when I rode over the pass at lunch time; seeing Little Biship Rock is easy as it is right beside the road. When you hear a boat talking about Bishop Rock, they are talking about the BIG Bishop Rock and to get a good view of that you need to go up Ballyhoo to the area behind the cloud in this picture. Look all the way to the left, use binoculars if you have to, all the way to where the land ends and the sea goes on seemingly forever. There is the big brother to this one; both get their name from resembling a Bishop in full regalia - think of the bishop in a fancy chess set - when viewed from the right angle.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fireworks from the Living Room

Since we were camping in the living room and the dog really abhors fireworks, we elected to stay inside with Chico and enjoy what we could see of the fireworks from our window. I'll be sure to find a better vantage for the New Year's display . . . .

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nome Berris & Inside Camping

The best news of the day is the Berrimilla is safely in Nome, getting caught up on chores and waiting for the ice to go out in Barrow. You can get caught up on their progress here - there are even some pictures of yours truly checking out the boat with Kimbra and McQ while they were still in Dutch. Congratulations to Alex and crew!

Tonight we went to a wine tasting at the Grand with 6 different wines from Dunham Cellars paired with fantastic food courses - both Goldfish and I took home a door prize and we had a great time. Last night we wanted to camp out but the weather was sketchy (imagine that!) so we opted for the living room! Chico absolutely loves the tent and we've decided to leave it up for a few days; tonight we pimped it out with a mattress from the spare bedroom.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

I may have some fireworks photos later - they have to fire them pretty late to have any chance of seeing them against the summer Alaska sky. We're camping in the living room tonight - tent and all - we didn't want to let a little drizzle change our plans.

I'll post more photos of the unique houses on the Unalaska side of the island soon - there are some unique colors. I took this today on the way back from walking Chico. Lets see, peeling pastel paint, moss on the roof, the requisite group of eagles lining the top and wildflowers in the yard - yup, that's an island house! I also want to do a photo series on what constitutes an island car . . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shades of Gray

If you've watched Deadliest Catch or read anything about the Aleutians you've probably heard about the endless gray skies - I think Aleutian Gray is even a color - but the thing is, there are a million different shades of gray swirled together. There may be patchy cloud cover at 1200 feet hugging the mountain tops and another layer at 3000 feet and then a patch of blue sky here and there thrown in for good measure, all moving and changing at high speed from the wind. I have a love/hate relationship with the gray skies - they always make the sky look washed out in relation to the things on the land but when I just stop worrying about what they make the mountains look like and just focus on the clouds themselves - that is magic . . . .

And that is my bit of philosphy for the day - take a second look at setbacks and troubles as they often reveal beauty and opportunities upon closer inspection . . . .

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Whether in a city with glass skyscrapers and store fronts or an island with water every where it seems we always look for reflections, as if the world somehow gains something through duplication alone.

It seemed like a long work day today so after walking the dog at Little South America (where he ran beyond the point of exhaustion and had to be lifted into the back of the truck) I jumped on the bike and rode over the pass, light mist and all, to clear my head. All that time walking with the dog and riding the pass and I didn't see a soul once I left the plant either time, the fog deadening all the sound except the dry rasping call of foxes and the thumping rhythm of the motorcycle. My mind is centered and I'm ready for bed . . . . .

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

View from the Living Room Window

We had a large group of immature eagles flying around the front yard yesterday - if any of them are reading this I would appreciate if they would return for the fish head they left under my window (the avian version of football, I suppose) as Chico takes a keen interest in it whenever I'm trying to load him in the car . . . . .