The occasion was Whalefest, which was held at the beginning of this November. My colleague, Linda Nicholas-Figuroa, turned me on to this gathering a couple years ago, and I found the event both enjoyable and instructive. So, I was excited to hear that the conference was back on for this year.,
We attended most of the regular conference panels by zoom, but they still had a few in-person events, hands-on stuff (necropsy goodness!) and out-doors (whale-watching). I love the area. So, my baby and I packed our cameras and headed down there with a colleague and a couple students.
Way back when I first saw the ad for a social science professor at Iḷisaġvik College, I remember pulling up the college website to fight a polar bear alert on the front page. Now some might have found this a bug, but I can assure you that for me this was a definite feature. I really wanted to see this place. As it happens, polar bears don’t show up that often, and when they do, it seems that I’m always busy. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get up close and personal with one of these guys; I just enjoy seeing them from time to time, and especially when I have a camera handy.
So, I’m sitting in the cafeteria during the orientation for this semester when a notice goes out telling us there is a polar bear on the beach, just across from our buildings. The point of the alert is of course to let us know that we shouldn’t wander out that way (at least not on foot), but they do sometimes have an ironic effect. I desperately wanted to take a really long bathroom break right then and then, but I managed to hold myself together long enough to take advantage of a legitimate lunch break.
…and then the bear stuck around for a couple of days. Apparently, a walrus carcass had washed ashore nearby and he was munching on that in between naps on the beach and out on the ice. Eventually the local Wildlife department moved the carcass, but not before I and half the town got plenty of pictures.
One of the first things I did when I moved to Barrow was walk out onto the tundra with my little Backberry phone and try to get some pictures of a snowy owl that stayed out behind the college here. He would stare at me as I approached and then fly away just as I was almost in range for a decent photo, only to land a hundred feet or so away and stare calmly at me as I repeated my efforts. I almost got some decent pics of that guy. All day, I almost got them.
There was something the way that owl just watched me approach. It was a forgone conclusion. It wasn’t going to get THAT close, so he was in no hurry to fly away. He took off just as I was about to get close enough for a decent pic, and he went just far enough to re-establish his own comfort zone, and incidentally to tempt me to engage in one more round of effort.
These days, I have an actual camera. I’m still a bit clumsy with a lens, but my camera is smart enough to compensate for some of my photo-foolishness, and the result is a (hopefully) passable batch of owlitations. Most of them were taken the summer before last. This year, there just didn’t seem to be enough hot lemming action to draw a big owly crowd. Anyway, …owls!
I had already booked a work-related flight to Fairbanks when Covid19 began spreading through the U.S. I remember talking about it with Moni in the days before I flew, and especially the night before I was to go. We seriously talked about cancelling the trip, but I thought it best to follow through with my plans. By the time the plane hit ground the next day, pubic sentiment had shifted from something along the lines of “maybe wear a mask, wash your hands a lot, and avoid crowds” to something more like “don’t go out at all, definitely wear a mask, and start shutting down the businesses. By the time I left Fairbanks 3 days later, the University was all but closed and restaurants were take-out only. Touching people, even to shake hands, was not done. Needless to say, I didn’t get much done. I felt pretty relieved to get home safely.
And then there was a period when we were all just locked down and travel wasn’t really an option.
I felt this.
I felt it in my teeth.
And in my stomach.
I had already scheduled a visit with an oral surgeon. He was to take the remains of 2 molars out the right side of my mouth, hopefully before the botched cap on my left side fell out and left me on a solid yogurt diet.
As the time of Covid stretched on, and people began to realize this wasn’t ending any time soon, I started to think about flying south to get my teeth done after all. With the help of her sister (a nurse), Moni had the safety precautions down to a science, and we started making limited forays out of the arctic. I still cringe at the thought of leaving the state, but with a little planning, I feel like we can get down to Anchorage and get what needs doing done. We can even venture pout of our room a bit, in which case we figure it’s best to keep going right out of town.
One good thing about Alaska, some of the best things about it take you well away from other people.
Still got one last procedure before I can sink my teeth into a proper steak. I would prefer to hunker down completely for the next few months, but I may need to risk one more trip. In the meantime, it occurs to me that I haven’t done a proper poto-gallery in awhile. So, here are a few pictures from recent travels. This of course includes a few drives around town, and maybe a few from before the pandemic. Anyway, …pics!
(Click the pics to embiggen them. You know you wanna!)
Between her new job and our move into a new apartment, my girlfriend and I haven’t had much of a chance to to travel together this summer. We did manage to sneak out for a week or so in mid June. What we decided to do this time was a quick road trip from Anchorage to Valdez. Of course, getting to Anchorage required a little flying time, but that’s old hat. We had to make a couple purchases for the new place, so that meant staying a couple days in the vicinity of Anchorage, so we found a lovely bed and breakfast in Palmer. After that, we hit the road!
Not literally, of course. I ain’t got nothin’ against the highway.
Anyway, the trip was about a 5 hour drive, but we made plenty of stops. We traveled along the Matanuska river for quite some time, made a brief stop a bit south of Glenallen, then headed off toward Valdez. To say that we found a number of beautiful sites along the way would be putting it mildly.
Valdez itself was absolutely wonderful. I hit a couple museums (The Whitney Museum and the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive) and we hung out at the docks for a time. We ate at the Fat Mermaid a couple of times and made stops at Mike’s Palace and Fu Kung. …suffice to say that we were well fed. We also ran into the folks from Sweet Cheeks Bakery, run by the parents of a coworker, but we didn’t get back in time to get our cinnamon buns. Still, …all of Alaska is just one small village! You just can’t travel through this state without finding connections to the people you meet. Eventually, we bought tickets on a tour boat, which of course meant that I got sick (yes I took some meds), but mostly that was just amazing. I almost never opt for a paid tour, but I’m very glad I did this time.
On the last day as Moni and I were strolling around downtown getting ready to say goodbye to the place, a random guy came out of Mike’s Palace and asked us if we lived in the area. The answer was ‘no’, of course, and then he proceeded to tell us that he had lived here himself once, 30 years ago. I cringed inside as he launched into his efforts to tell me about the good old days. A few minutes later I felt a twinge of sadness as he left us with tales of bar fights between Okies and Texan (oil workers) spilling out of the Palace and onto the street. Apparently, the police had once been disarmed so as to enable the fight to continue. Additional stories involved a pair of Korean prostitutes who paid him extra for a pizza every night so as to have a place to stay. Just how much of this was true, I have no idea, but the stories were a good deal more entertaining than I had anticipated. I found myself wishing we’d run into him before lunch rather than after and on the verge of leaving. Still, a few more eagle pics and off we went.
Hell, even the shopping we did back in Anchorage before boarding the plane back home went well.
I wish every vacation was this cool.
(You may click to embiggen!)
Ruins from Old Valdez
Mountains in the Background
On the Wing
Factory across the water
Snow Goose BnB
The chunks of ice on top got there when they were thrown up out of the water as the ice broke apart.
This juvenile whale was playing around the boat for about half an hour. …his mom was not amused.
St. Innocent, Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage (Moni really wanted to see this one)
Random Waterfall empties into the sea
Yep, lotsa bunnies too!
Looks Kinda Smug for a guy that lives on the scraps tossed out by fisherman!
When you look into the scenery, sometimes the scenery looks back at you.
Are these guys ever not angry?
Water will fall
Mountains over trees
This, I’m told, is an oyster catcher.
Well hello there!
Almost an island of sorts
That mountain was framed!
Horse Tail Falls
Lotta little ice
Moni likes to stop and take pictures of the road.
Big chunk of ice
Closest I could find to street art
Random roadster (Anchorage)
Columbia Glacier has the blues!
Couldn’t get over the color of the water
You otter sea the mountains!
Abandoned structure along the Matanuska
Athabascan footwear (Copper River Heritage Center)
Well over a thousand miles separates Barrow from Juneau. It’s enough to make the place as different from Barrow as either place would be from much of the lower 48. I imagine many of my friends and family must themselves imagine the sights Moni and I have been enjoying here this last few days are common experiences. But we don’t have eagles in barrow, nor trees or mountains. We don’t have glaciers either, unless you count the whole ocean as a glacier for part of the year. (Jokes aside, I’m pretty sure that’s not how glaciers work.) Southeast Alaska is a truly beautiful place. It’s one we don’t often get to enjoy.
This guy was a little ways off, which is why Moni and I weren’t immediately sure what we were looking at. I was busy snapping stills of this eagle with as much zoom as I could. Moni scooped me with a vid.
…the persistence of seagulls pays off.
A needlessly hurried spin around Mendenhall Lake.
…and a short photo gallery (click to embiggen):
Chilkat Weaving demo at the Alaska Native Studies Conference
Form Line Art on a Utility Box
Dancing at the Folk Music Festival
Sunset at the Anchorage Airport
Denizens of the University of Alaska, Southeast
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
A Bit of Street Art
Shore of Auke Lake
Mountains Overlooking Mendenhall Lake
The Visitor Center and a small Pond at Mendenhall Lake
Couple friends walking under a rainbow
Mendenhall Lake in the evening
This was Auke Bay as seen from the University of Alaska, Southeast (taken through a chain link fence)
I’ve been back in the arctic for a little over a week now. I didn’t really expect to see ice along the coast at this time of the year. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a little surprising. Still, the coast has been littered with the remnants of the melting ice pack the entire time I’ve been here. Thought I’d share a few pics.
It’s odd, I suppose. Over the years, I find myself taking fewer pictures of Barrow. I keep thinking things like ‘that’s old’ and ‘my friends have already seen that’, but I suppose that’s the same thinking that left me with so few images to show for a decade in northern Arizona. Anyway, that’s one thing I like about about getting away. You come back home and remember what’s cool about it.
…in this case literally.
(Click to embiggen!)
Pretty sure that’s a sealion begging for a fish
Didn’t even notice the seagull till I got home.
Like Styrofoam packing
That small line of ice was moving kinda fast in the current
There is a reason I put my picture posts for this blog in the category of “Bad Photography.” I really don’t know what I’m doing. I started taking pictures when I realized I lived in a place full of amazing sights I am very lucky to witness. As I’ve traveled more, I’ve found even more reasons to take pictures. What I haven’t done is learn enough about the settings on my cameras to make any intelligent use of them. Neither have I made much use of post-production technologies. Most of the pictures on this website are thus straight out of the camera using the most basic settings available. This summer, I began using Instagram, however, and with a little badgering from Moni, I finally starting using some of the filters available on that service. It’s still bad photography, of course, I wouldn’t produce anything else. (I do have principles, you know!) But I do think a few of these images are an improvement, so I thought I’d share a few of the Alaska-themed pics in a new post.
…er, this is that post.
(Click a pic to embiggen it. You know you wanna!)
2am in May (Barrow)
Whale Skull During Spring Thaw (Barrow)
Snow Flurries (Barrow)
Sunset Over Melting Sea Ice (Barrow)
Nalukataq (Spring Whaling Festival, Barrow)
Snow Sculpture (Part of Contest one Spring, Barrow)
Bears on Barter Island
Ducks on Ship Creek in Anchorage
Eskimo PSA (Barrow)
Part of a Home in Point Hope
Jigsaw Dumpster (Barrow)
Arctic Palm Trees (Barrow)
Is that ship levitating? (Barrow)
Not Quite Ready for Winter (Barrow)
Dumpster Fauna (Barrow)
Bear patrol springs into action! (Kaktovik, Barter Island)
Anchorage History on a Wall (Anchorage)
Anaktuvuk Pass (Damn, it was cold that day!)
Beach in August (Barrow)
Ice wall piled up after a storm (Barrow)
Antfood Strikes! (Barrow)
Dew Line, Early Warning System (Barrow)
Ship Creek was a natural bluescape that evening (Anchorage)
Midnight Sun (Barrow)
Ice wall on the shore (Barrow)
Sea ice (Barrow)
Noon Flight out of Barrow (this doesn’t quite capture the high winds)
Poor Lonely Cold Light on a Dark Night! (Barrow)
Abstract Alley (Anchorage)
Eagle River as I Recall
More Sea Ice (Barrow)
Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass
Northern Lights (Barrow)
Chena River from Pike’s Landing (Fairbanks)
Dew Line from a Distance (Barrow)
Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay)
Sunset Over a Pond (Barrow)
Early Spring Thaw (Barrow)
Kivgiq Performance (Messenger Feast, Barrow)
Unusually open water in mid winter (Barrow)
The jellyfish invasion did not go as planned (Barrow)
Someone yarn-bombed a tree (Anchorage)
Eagle River again
Umiaq race on July Fourth (Barrow)
Eagle River again
Sea ice (Barrow)
This is a float-plane runway (Anchorage)
Contrails point accusingly at seagulls. They say ‘Bad Seagulls!’ (Barrow)
So, I just spent the last 3 days in the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island. From listening to friends, students, and coworkers, the village brings to mind three things; ANWR, The Bone Yard, and the Marsh Creek Inn.
Kaktovik lies off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; its residents hunt in the area, and they will be directly affected by any changes to its status. How the particulars are likely to shake out is the subject of a different post.
The bone yard at Kaktovic is a well known bear hang out. It’s located just off the end of the runway, and it is a regular attraction for polar bears, …and people with cameras. I didn’t get out to the bone yard itself, but I did get to watch a mother and her cubs amble their way toward town. …Later that night I awoke to the sound of shots fired in an effort to scare them off. The next day, I spoke with a lady whose supply of seal oil stores had been raided the night before and another who had been up all night on bear patrol …you could say that this time of year, the population of Kaktovic increases a bit.
…and the difference is bears.
Finally, the food at the Marsh Creek Inn has been nothing short of legendary among my friends and coworkers. Mike, the proprietor of the inn, serves not only as the clerk and the head cook, he often drives the shuttle out to the airport. His cooking surpassed my expectations. It was fantastic.
It took me a couple extra days to get out of Barter Island. Fog proved to be the culprit on day one, but day two was a mystery. The plane didn’t leave Fairbanks until it was too late to make my connections. Tonight I’m in Dead Horse, one step closer to home at any rate.
Here are my pics from Kaktovik (you may click a picture to embiggen it):
Marsh Creek Inn
Who the Hell got me to smile?
Dinner at the Marsh Creek Inn
(I’ve been hearing about the cooking here for 2 years; I was not disappointed)
A Little Sun on a Cloudy Day
Pile of Bones
The birds seem to love it.
The Early Warning Radar Station
Bird Hovering in the Wind
Seagull wondering what I’m up to.
Boarded Up Building
Road through Kaktovik
Funny smudge marks on that truck;
how did they get there?
Low Flying Plane?
Mama bear and her cubs.
Wandering towards town
Getting a little too close to town.
Got their attention
There they go!
Road Through Kaktovik
Not a Bear,
Arctic Cotton II
Native Village of Kaktovik
Housing at Kaktovik
The Bone yard
(Located off end of the runway, this is where the village deposits the bones of whales harvested locally; it is normally a good spot to watch bears.)
So, I’ve been back in the arctic for a little over a week, and the fog has only just given me a chance to get out with my new camera. I took a walk yesterday, mostly around the perimeter of town, and yes water and pretty stuff seems to have held my attention for most of the day. The place looks pretty much the way I left it which isn’t exactly surprising. Let’s just say that with the onset of drilling in the North Slope there was some cause for doubt.
The housing situation in Barrow is never all that good, but with Shell on its way, several of my colleagues and students were struggling to find a place as landlords held out in hopes of windfall rent profits. But it was never clear that Barrow was going to get a large influx of workers, and Shell has scaled back its plans for this year. So, things seem to be easing up a bit, a little too late for at least one couple.
Sad to see them go.
Most of the migratory waterfowl seem to have left already, but a bird or two remains. Other than that, a few familiar faces are missing and a few new faces have appeared. Barrow remains Barrow, just like paradise.
…only not at all.
(Click to Embiggen)
The Kitties were happy to see me. …no really.
Barrow-side from Browerville
Barrow-side from Browerville 2
Barrow-side from Browerville 3
Barrow-side from Browerville 4
Path out to a Point
(It’s not much of a point, really,
but around here it’s like a mountain-top)
Sculpture (There is a story behind this, but I’ve forgotten it. So um …hey, look at the ice!)
My friend Cindy would probably do something like this
Boat and Old House
Ice in the Background
Bird with Ice in the background
Old Arctic Hotel
What’s Wrong with this Picture?
Dumpster I missed
Been Meaning to Get this Dumpster for Awhile
The bird is the word!
One of several barges dropping supplies off while they can
Another attempt at Cindy-Style
Some Housing with Umiag and Sled Frames
Wind Breaks 2
Building and Reflection
Winter is Coming
Tiny pockets of groundwater trying to make it foggy
It’s about 12:30am, but that sunset looks like the real thing.