I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

Here's an unusual solar eclipse: Mercury crossing the sun in 2006.

Image Credit & Copyright: David Cortner

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

A pair of laggard kittiwakes by Prince William Sound.

We missed the thousands of migrating kittiwakes that had been there only the week before. There were maybe only a hundred or so left, including these two, who don't appear to be in any hurry to set off on the next leg of their migration.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday reflections

Now that it's officially autumn in the northern hemisphere, here's one of the sneak peeks of the season I got in Alaska: trees just starting to turn at Creamers Field in Fairbanks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Urban poetry

This may have been the only recognizably "urban" thing in Fairbanks, but I do love this sign, and the way the vaguely metallic finish on the wall reflects the buildings across the street.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

Resuming astronomy Tuesdays with a somewhat different look at Alaska, courtesy of the European Space Agency. The light blue body of water on the left is the Cook Inlet, with Anchorage the lighter patch near the top, just above the horizontal indent of Turnagain Arm.

Prince William Sound is the blue, vaguely star-shaped bay in the center.

Photo copyright ESA

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

A closeup of Adonis and his eagle eyes.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday reflections

Regular blogging is hereby resumed, although I will probably be mining the Alaska pictures for some time to come.

Here's another picture from my small plane adventure -- the mountain reflected in the wing of the plane.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Sunset over the Cook Inlet, taken from my hotel room tonight.

I'm staying in Anchorage tomorrow, but it's going to be raining, so I made myself walk around this afternoon, even though I was just wiped out. Unlike Fairbanks, there is a discernible "downtown" but what was odd was that there didn't seem to be any people.

At five o'clock on a weekday you would expect crowds of people leaving work, rush hour traffic, happy hours at local bars. But it was very quiet -- no crowds, no traffic.

Thank you

Our amazing team of Moffatt, Jason, Lynn and Julie have not only kept track of us, our schedules, and our luggage, driven the vans, recommended excursions, identified microscopic white dots as Dall sheep, pointed out bald eagles, offered badly needed coffee and cough drops -- they have also created beautiful picnics for us almost every day. Including orange bears.

So much depends upon a red barn

Just because I love the way the perspective makes the yellow tractor look enormous.

Obviously I'm haunted by these ghosts

Scars are souvenirs you never lose

The center is surrounded by mountains, capped by spectacular clouds today. And ghost trees everywhere.

Another excuse for baby talk

I couldn't get a better picture but I have to include this guy anyway: a young moose, left orphaned, being raised at the center.


That's the appropriate name for this handsome fellow.

He's been living at the center for almost twenty years, since he had to have one of his wings amputated after having been shot.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The AWCC takes in injured and orphaned animals, and gives a permanent home to those that can't be released into the wild.

And it was odd, but I had a very mixed reaction to this. I love animals, and I would rescue every animal orphan on the planet if I could. But it was jarring to suddenly see them -- I almost wrote "behind bars" -- in enclosures. This mama elk and her calf are lucky; they're scheduled for release next year. And I could never personally allow an animal to die just because some idiot tried to keep it as a pet, which was the case with several of the animals here. But I hated to see them in captivity, and it had never bothered me so much before.

I think I've got Alaska in the blood now.

More reflections

I love the way the mudflats break this image up, putting a barrier between the mountain and the reflection.

Morning reflections, Turnagain Arm

Our last day. After today I have to try to remember how to wrestle my own luggage and provide my own snacks. We have been extremely pampered on this tour, and basically I haven't had to do anything except show up and take pictures.

We made an unscheduled stop this morning on our way to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center so everyone could take pictures of the beautiful reflections on Turnagain Arm. That calm surface is deceptive – the bore tides here are the second highest in North America after the Bay of Fundy, and unwary hikers can get stuck in the mud flats and drown.

But this morning -- not a ripple.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The waiting is the hardest part

Back at the Whittier tunnel, where a train exercised its right of way and the cars had to wait. I do love the sign at the tunnel entrance, "Watch for rocks." I'm not sure what you're supposed to do if you see one -- there's no room to maneuver.

I found a new reason to like my iPhone -- playing word games when going through scary tunnels.

For a sense of scale

One more glacier shot.

As the old comedian used to say, “I got a million of 'em," but I do need to finish posting the Alaska blog entries sometime in this century (I have thirty or forty more pictures of closeups of the ice textures alone.) So no more.

But I have to include this picture because of the teeny tiny little objects you can just make out at the bottom of the picture, near the water. Those are buses and trucks and buildings, giving you some sense of the immensity and majesty of these mountains on the sound.


Here's a closeup of the texture of two glaciers.


Where there is water, some of it will be falling. Here are a few kittiwakes that haven't migrated yet going for the avian equivalent of a spa treatment.


I was taking pictures of the face of this apparently harmless glacier when it just -- fell off.

Boom! The glacier calved, with all the usual noises accompanying childbirth. Plus splashes.

Just hangin' with my peeps

Sea otters.

I just love these guys, with their little furry faces, and the way they just float on their backs, with their feet crossed, like football fans in their barcaloungers.

Mister America

Yes, that is a bald eagle.

I may not have seen the Northern Lights. The whales may have remained out of sight. But I really, really wanted to see a bald eagle on this trip, and today I saw at least a dozen.

Most of them were too far away or moving too fast to photograph, but this guy remained cooperatively at the top of the tree until everyone had a chance to get his picture.


The boat ride was definitely educational; every glacier was identified. Every type of glacier was explained. And I promptly forgot all of it. The cloudy sky made amazing patterns of light, and the glaciers tumbling down to the water didn't look real.

Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound was full of wildlife -- birds, sea otters, no whales, alas! -- but it was quickly obvious that the word of the day was going to be glacier.

A few more Whittier pictures

Whittier reflections


We had an hour or so to look around Whittier before our boat ride, which, coincidentally, is about how long it takes to walk, very slowly, from one end of town to the other. 

It was fun to have something besides mountains to take pictures of, and I liked the quirkiness of the place. Its current population, according to Wikipedia, is 177, but it was at one time a major military outpost.

Sarah Palin jokes notwithstanding, Alaska’s proximity to Russia made it an attractive location for the Defense Department during the Cold War, and for a while Whittier was home to the two largest buildings in Alaska, built for housing soldiers and military families. One of them is now condos, where most of the current population lives, and the other has been abandoned since the 1960’s. It’s a kind of creepy presence in what is basically a tourist town.

Whittier Tunnel

I didn’t know this was coming, and that was probably a good thing. The town of Whittier, where we were boarding a boat for a day on Prince William Sound, has been accessible by road since 2000. Before that, it could be reached only by boat or by railroad, the railroad access via a long narrow tunnel under Maynard Mountain.

Digging another tunnel would have been prohibitively expensive, so they just upgraded the existing tunnel so it could be used by either trains or cars. But not at the same time. And only in one direction; there’s just one lane so the traffic changes direction every hour.

It’s a claustrophobe’s nightmare. The tunnel looks like it was hewed out of the mountain by orcs; the walls and ceiling are rough stone, and you drive right on the train tracks for roughly two and a half miles (or ten years.) I wasn’t reassured by the regular appearance of safe rooms, to be used in case of fire or earthquake, or by the fact that after a train passes through, traffic has to wait while the tunnel ventilation system runs and makes the air inside breathable again.

It’s actually very impressive. But if I ever go back to Whittier, I think it will be by boat.

Above the line of cars waiting for the signal to enter the tunnel. And because we hadn't eaten in at least an hour, our wonderful tour team produced snack trays for us to nibble on while we waited.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Rain forest

The lush greens on the grounds of the Alyeska. We're a long way from the tundra now.

Alyeska Resort

Our final accommodation is this luxury resort in Girdwood.

We are really in tourist central now, with a spa, shops and restaurants. We had another gourmet picnic (including Alaskan smoked salmon and bagels) under the trees, then most of the group took a hike.

I'm still going into uncontrollable coughing fits whenever I start breathing hard (or just breathing) so I had a coffee on the terrace instead. It's a hard life.

The view from my room is below. I should have made it a video, so I could show the way the aspens shivered in the light, like sequined dancers shimmying in the breeze.

Ghost forests

Just below Anchorage, I started noticing these stands of dead trees along the water (we were whipping along the highway at the time, so I don’t have any clear pictures.) They were an eerie anachronism in such a lush, brilliant setting, spikes of withered branches amid the curves of the mountains and glaciers and waves.

They’re called the ghost forests, and they’ve been there since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in North America. The land along Turnagain Arm, including a section of the highway we were on, sank six to nine feet. Two coastal towns, Portage and Girdwood, were underwater at high tide afterwards. Portage was abandoned; Girdwood, which is where we’re staying, was moved two miles inland and rebuilt.

Salt water killed the trees, but ironically, also preserved them, so they still sit along the coastline fifty years after the earth sank beneath them -- strangely beautiful, haunted, sad.

Happiness is a warm puppy

To get the full effect of how we responded to encountering the puppies, you should read this out loud in a singsongy baby talk voice:

There were PUPPEEZ! And we got to hold them! And smell their wittle puppy breath! And they were so soft and so sleepy and so…so…they were PUPPEEZ!

Honestly, the little girl in the pink was the most dignified person present. The rest of us just cuddled the little fur balls and crooned baby talk. The puppies handled it with quiet tolerance.


This is Ernie, who was hanging out in his kennel while his friends were pulling the tourists around the woods.

PLEASE let me pull you somewhere!

The dogs bark and howl and jump in the traces, ready to, begging to, dying to RUN! They rotate head dog duties, which seem to consist of barking the loudest.


The dogs who run the Iditarod start training as soon as the weather cools off, even though there isn't any snow on the ground yet. They pull a wagon instead of a sled, and the dogs at headquarters, no doubt by coincidence, pull a wagon that has four extra seats, one of which can be yours for a mere ten dollars.

Obviously it's tourist bait, and just as obviously, I bit. We bounced along a wooded trail behind a train of barking dogs for a few minutes, and it had no business being as much fun as it was. But the dogs are so beautiful, so intense, and so joyful at getting to run, to be part of the team, that it was impossible not to catch their enthusiasm and I laughed (interspersed with coughing) during the entire ride.

(The picture is a tree decorated with the booties the dogs wear when they're actually racing.)

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