Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall Colors Without Trees

I was born and raised in Maine so New England fall foliage will always be tops in my book but after 20 years in Alaska I have witnessed other ways, more subtle perhaps, that fall can announce it's appearance. In central Alaska, and other areas as well, you have brilliant yellows of birch leaves contrasting with the emerald green of spruce trees. Travel far enough north - Denali National Park is a perfect spot - and you will see all the colors of a New England fall expressed in stunning miniature as the tundra changes colors.
Out here in the Aleutians trees are very few and far between but you do have some of those mosses, shrubs and tiny tundra species that put on their own show - not as spectacular as the Northern Interior, but still beautiful in their own right. In the top photo are small shrubs growing on an abandoned WW II bunker; in the middle are fireweed plants, still beautiful long after the flower has gone by; the bottom photo shows fireweed among old driftwood at Morris Cove, pushed far ashore by a huge storm long ago.
Sorry the posting has been sporatic, I am trying every night but the internet has been horrible out here lately. Often I put 45 minutes into getting the pictures uploaded, on the third try, and then the internet crashes all together. A recent study revealed America has very slow internet compared with many other developed countries; Alaska has the slowest internet among the 50 states; and yes, the Aleutians have been mentioned as among the slowest in Alaska. Do the math folks, what I'm dealing with out here lately is The Slowest Internet In The World!
Luckily, what I lack in bandwidth, I make up for in stubornness - otherwise I'd never get anything posted! Cheers and good night!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just This Once . . . .

Maybe I won't ruin something by trying to write about it . . . today was the End-of-Season company pig roast, the cod is about over, pollock is about over, and the boats are going to change gear and get ready for crab season kicking off in a couple weeks. I've come down with a nasty lung infection and the clinic has me on the three days of horse pill antibiotic program with nebulizer treatments, and not only was I not cleared for attending the pig roast, I definitely wasn't feeling up to being social, even though I like and admire the work ethic of each and every one of the folks attending. If anyone has gone through the three day pill bomb, you know there are absolutely no intestinal flora left alive in my gut to digest anything, let alone a slab of pig. To make matters worse, they had been roasting the two pigs over a rotating spit in front of the Meal Plant for 24 hours, and the whole Unalaska side of the island smelled mouth-watering.
So I was feeling a bit sorry for myself . . . . Goldfish was busy baking for the Blueberry Bash tomorrow (she's entering a pie and some jam for judging) so I bundled up and headed out on the motorcycle for a short ride on a beautiful day. I wasn't going to get any sicker, and I wasn't going to infect anyone riding a motorcycle, and it always cheers me up to get outside and explore the island, no matter what the conveyance is . . .
And I end up on Ulatka Head again, always a great spot when the sun is shining, and I stand on top of the big bunker, the sun behind my back, projecting my silhouette on the clouds like a rainbow hologram. One of the most amazing things I've ever seen . . . . I took a brief video as well because I was positive none of the fifty pictures I took would come out . . . but they did . . . and I rode away feeling lighter . . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ulatka Head Dog Walk in Fog

In the foreground you can see the remnants of a WW II gun emplacement; Goldfish and Chico are standing at the edge of a very long drop to the rocks below - we don't normally walk Chico on a leash but this day we wanted to keep him safe. Ulatka Head is the end of Ballyhoo Mountain that is opposite the airport, a great place to watch for whales or watch the fleet come in.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Berrimilla Made England!

This is another video I took on my digital camera of the Berrimila as they were leaving Dutch Harbor on their way to England via the Northwest Passage. In this clip they are passing through the East Channel in front of Alyeska Seafoods, basically the view from my living room window.

To put this in context of an acheivement, here are Alex's words from a recent post "Berri and I will have completed perhaps only the second ever circumnavigation of the world via the North West Passage, after David Cowper. We have also completed a circumnavigation via Cape Horn and Berri may be the very first boat ever to get close to claiming the two, although the claim is dubious because the two circs stared from opposite ends and share the Falmouth - Sydney leg. However, each is complete in itself."

To see pictures of them in Falmouth, link to their blog here or of course on the sidebar to the right. Alex, Corrie and Kimbra - sincere congratulations, it was a blast to meet you and then follow your travels. All the best in whatever you choose to tackle and I hope our paths cross again!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not So Cute, Is He?

Same fox as yesterdays photos . . . I turned my back on him and was fiddling with my backpack and twirled in time to see him eyeballing the back of my calf - cheeky little monkey!

It is a unique ecosystem out here compared to other places in Alaska - the fox (or perhaps the bald eagle) is the top of the non-marine food chain out here; there are wild horses but no coyote, wolf, bear, moose or caribou. It is always nice to see the foxes, themselves not indigenous to the Aleutians, remnants of the old days of fox farming for furs. There have been a couple times there has been a fox on my front doorstep when I opened the door to walk the dog - a moment of amazed silence followed by extreme chaos as everyone comes to their senses.

I miss the large land mammals of Alaska - they added a sense of spice to the outdoors that is lacking out here - there aren't even really any biting insects due to the wind. Being charged by a moose in rut, or surprising a bear when hiking or - rarest of all, just a handful of times in 20 years as an Alaskan for me - seeing a wolf in the wild, those are times that live in memory forever.

We do have fantastic ocean wildlife though - whales, porpoises, sea otters, seals, sea lions - and the birding is wonderful as well. And of course those sneaky little foxes . . . . .

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Fox By Any Other Color . . .

This fellow is quite photogenic and makes his home near the top of Ballyhoo. The foxes are all different colors out here, from black to grey and all the shades in between, but this fellow has what I consider a classic "fox look". He was also quite a cheeky lad and he snuck around to my blind side when I was fiddling with my pack and I believe he was going to give me a nip about the ankles . . . be on the lookout for this guy, he's a prankster. I have some poorly centered shots I took straight down at my feet where his face is filling the frame looking up at me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fall in the Air

I just came in from the pre-bedtime Chico walk and you feel that nip in the air . . . the salmonberries are gone by and there is only another week or two of good blueberry picking . . . the pink salmon have spawned out and died so that dog walk along the river smells like every salmon stream does this time of year - not nasty especially, just that earthy, loamy smell. The silver salmon are entering the streams now - much smaller number than the pinks but more flash and splash. The eagles are mostly somewhere else this time of year, off on eagle business, no doubt exploiting a phase of the island ecosystem I haven't seen yet. When my sister was visiting the herring were running so it was a time of whales and porpoises and seals aplenty, fattening up. Every time of year has its moods and smells and sounds, a book waiting to be read everytime you walk out the door. I love all the seasons out here - summers with all the impossibly lush greenery and winters with all the violence the Bering Sea can bring to bear on a treeless rock. Life is good . . . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

4 Days . . . . .

That's how long it took me to get this posted - the internet out here has been horrible! It is well known that Alaska has the slowest average internet in the nation, so you can imagine what it's like on an island sometimes. Remember that Youtube video of the Berrimilla? It took all night to upload. And - Wait! There's More! - I get all this stellar performance for the bargain basement rate of $142/month. That includes basic cable as we use a cable modem, but since I don't watch TV, it's all internet fees in my book . . .

So! We've been busy picking blueberries, averaging 40 cups or so per night. Along with salmon berries, our crab stash, and some salmon, the freezer is shaping up nicely. The pollock season is wrapping up and cod season is in full swing and there is beginning to be a fall feel to the air in the evenings. HOPEFULLY, it won't take another four days to get something posted, cheers - steve

Friday, September 12, 2008

Medicine Dream Concert at Unalaska High School

Let's see, Thursday night was berry picking - more berries that even the last post! - and tonight we went to the Medicine Dream concert. Those guys are fantastic! From normally too-cool and aloof high schoolers to grandmothers, this band touched every one's heart with their positive message, dynamic stage presence, and unique sound. The highlight for me was when one of the band members came off the stage with a hand drum and started circle dancing around the gym. By the end of the song, hundreds of folks had joined him, almost encircling the whole seated area.

Check these guys out here. For my friends in Anchorage that are reading this, they are performing at the Alaska Native Heritage Center at 7:30 on Monday, September 15th - go check them out, you won't be disappointed!

I'll post more pictures (probably of berries!) tomorrow - cheers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Berry Madness!

Goldfish gets out from work earlier than I do and today she put that extra time to good use and found a new berry patch - just what we needed as our regulars were starting to be a bit picked over. You can see our results from two hours of picking tonight and from the quarter you can see these are prime! We dry them overnight after washing and then freeze them on cookie sheets prior to vacuum packing. The freezer is shaping up nicely!

Rest in Peace Mom (1934 - 1994)

Mom, it's been 14 years today and I know you've been watching but I hope you spend less time worrying, now that you have the big picture. Sure, old worries like one son in law enforcement, another in the military during Desert Storm, daughters being daughters - those worries have been replaced with keeping an eye on those new great-grandchildren as they learn to walk and to run and to drive and to love. Your angel wings must get a workout because along with the new additions the sons are still playing with guns and the daughters are still being daughters . . .

Mom, I would never think of trading the rest of my life for just five more minutes with you, that would be silly - I've got a fantastic life and I just talked with you an hour ago while I walked Chico along the river (unless I had, say, just three minutes left to live, then I'd trade - 'cause my momma didn't raise no fool). With that said, my most fervent wish would be that you give yourself a pat on the back - you done good Mom, your four kids are doing well, and more importantly we know how to love and we know family comes first.

We miss you Mom, today and always . . . . .

Sunday, September 7, 2008

So Beautiful

My sister was with me when we saw this egg on the beach, I had forgotten about the photo. Besides my sister and wife (of course) this egg was the most beautiful thing I saw that day - more beautiful than the puffins roosting and making their funny noises, flying by with fish in their mouths as they beat their tiny wings like hummingbirds to keep their comically fat bodies aloft; more beautiful than the whale that went right by the beach and breached completely out of the water not more than 100 yards away. Their is something fundamentally perfect about an egg, a miracle of nature, even more so by virtue of its unbroken state on a hard gravel beach. There is nothing I could add or take away from the photo above that would make it better in my mind - it is a dichotomy of death and beauty, larger than a hens egg but smaller than a gooses . . . my sister looked away, no doubt mindful of the unfulfilled potential within yet even now as I post this, I scroll up and look at the egg again and yet again and try to decipher why it still thrills me to this day . . .

Busy, Busy, Busy!

It may seem like I've been in hiding but in truth things have been a bit hectic - the usual end of month reporting issues, blueberries to be picked, keeping a watchful eye on "our" Sarah Palin as she tears up the national scene, following the Berrimilla crew as they close in on their goal of reaching England from Australia via the Northwest Passage, and a recent birthday pushing me to the ripe old age of 45. All good fun but the blog time has suffered . . . and my Dad threatened to cry in his cereal if I wasn't a bit more regular . . . good morning Dad, love ya!