Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Here Today, Kanuti Tomorrow.

Well this is it.  I am out... I am gone. It already sounds like we will have to abandon the Clawanmeka Plot, but so be it.  I have been preparing too long for this and in any case it is time for action.

The sincerest thank you to everyone who has helped me along my way to reaching this point... And that is a lot of people.  I owe my life and its course to the continued aid of those who are always there for me starting with my family and friends.  I can only hope to have the same effect on others in my own time as each of you has had on me.

I love you all and will continue this blog upon my return.

The Reason for Feeling or Feeling for Reason.

There is nothing that we can not achieve, nothing that we can not change in this world and within ourselves.

"Be true to yourself"

The real meaning of this was lost to me for the longest time.  True is what you feel not what you are able to reason.  Humans are able to bend reason to fit any outcome we wish.  For example addicts convince themselves through reason that what they are doing is right, all the while they shun the feeling of what they know to be right.  Therefore it is not reason alone that you follow blindly forward but the true feelings inside of you that you must allow to direct your reasoning.  Find the feelings first and the reason to support them will fall naturally, and easily, into place.

"Be true to yourself"

It can be said many ways and is the moral of a thousand childrens stories.  Well, I heard it all when I was younger and I wanted to truly believe, but I always had the hardest time being everything that I felt I could be.  Now I stand here, a man living the life that I only dreamed of as a boy... A life that I did not dare to let myself see as reality for fear that it might vanish before my eyes and leave me empty forever.  

This fear is a lie and it can easily hide the best within you.  It is a fear that constantly knocks at my mind and questions everyone of my actions.  Although a useful trait to have in the scientific process and quite the analytical advantage, it is hell to bare in real life.  It is agony to constantly play your own devils advocate and to never feel certain about any choice you make no matter how mundane.  It binds your feelings in chains of reason and locks them deep... deep down inside until it is near impossible to tell the difference between what you feel and what you think (another way to say reason).

In contrast it is true freedom of spirit and mind to live your feelings.  To put away the questioning advance of that fear... of that uncertainty and to simply trust your heart to take you on a journey that will uncover the best within yourself and the world around you.  

Dare to uncover yourself to the world and to show yourself for what you are, because for certain it will be the best of you even if you believe it to be the worst.

 Dare to be wrong... Dare to challenge convention... 
most of all Dare to be you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Project Plan

Here is a rough itinerary of the ALMS project within Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. At each plot we will survey birds, plants, lichens and even mammals... with the emphasis on birds of course.

May 31: Fly to Bettles
June 1-4:  Chalatna Mouth (Plot #1)
June 5-10: Chalatna Fork (Plot #2)
June 11-15: Clawanmenka SE (Plot #3)*
June 16-22: Minnkokut (Plot #4)
June 23-28: (maybe June 30): Chalatna ALMS (Plot #5)
July 1: Bettles to Fairbanks

Each link will connect you to a map I made over google maps to show the exact location of each plot we will be visiting.  The point falls at the center of each plot and extends in a radius approximately 1500 meters in all directions.

*  We may possibly have to drop this plot for lack of a helicopter willing to pull us out to the next plot In which case I will be returning several days early.

Earl Gray is back!

Earl is happy to be home.

Earl is the name of my host's Great Gray Owl.  He went missing about 2 weeks ago after she came home to find the inclosure's door hanging open in the wind.  It was pretty hard on her and she has spent the whole time on Facebook and Twitter answering a million and one messages from people claiming to have seen either a large gray bird, or heard an owl, or had a friend of a friend who saw a Great Gray Owl several town over.  Obviously most of these people had good intentions but they were maybe just a bit off-base.

Nancy, my host, has her falconers license and is legally allowed to keep injured birds for educational purposes. Earl is not fit enough to be reintroduced to the wild and is instead kept in an inclosure out back of her place and used a few times a week to educate the public about raptors.  She also has a little Boreal Owl named Yoda who has a cataract in one eye and is now well beyond the natural years an owl will typically reach outside of captivity.  There are a lot of Great horned Owls in the area and they will often prey on the Great-Gray Owls.  Earl would be an easy target because he can not fly very well which is also the reason that she keeps him.  

In the last week Nancy has become increasingly pessimistic about the likelihood of finding Earl at but just a couple nights ago she got a call around 11:00pm from some neighbors a few hundred yards away saying that a Great Gray Owl was sitting on their porch.  Well she grabbed her leather glove, Owl carrier and a few dead mice and probably just about sprinted over to their house.  Upon arriving she knew instantly that it was him and I am quite sure that he recognized her because as she approached he hopped up onto her out-streched arm and then practically dove into the carrier.

It had been a full two weeks that he had been missing with a semi-seriously debilitated wing.  He must have been able to catch some food to survive that long, but he had also only flown a few hundred yards downhill from the house.  He is able to hop and fly a short distance at a time but is unable to sustain true flight or ascend to any real height. 

The people who found him were ecstatic to be able to save this bird and to get a chance to see it up close.  Nancy and her husband were up in the clouds afterwards.  They care a great deal for this wonderful bird and even though it was obvious to see they were disheartened by his loss it was not clear just how hard it had been on them until his safe return.  We are all so happy to see Earl safe and there has been a resounding atmosphere of relief and congratulations from the birder community in and around Fairbanks. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gear Up and Get Out!

Well today is one of the first days I have had completely off with nothing to do besides pack my personal gear.  I am glad I have had a good amount of practice packing for extended backcountry trips, yet I still inevitably end up feeling like I'm forgetting something and bringing too much of something else.  Preparing for the Alaskan backcountry is different than the camping I have done before.  You don't need a flashlight because this is "The Land of The Midnight Sun".  Instead you need something to shield your eyes from the sun at night and most unusual of all for me is the shotgun.

The nice thing about not backpacking is that I can bring a bunch of books and not worry to much about the weight.  I will also be bringing waist high boots, knee high boots, full size heavy hiking boots, and a pair of tennis shoes for around camp. Thats a lot of pairs of shoes but I am pretty sure i will want every pair.  I am very excited to bring my new little Johnson Travel Guitar with us.  Tim, the man I will be out there with, has been playing fingerpicking style blues guitar for 24 years and he said he would give me some impromptu lessons... he might even bring his Ukelele to play with.  I don't think I will be spending to much time bored if we are forced to ride out a few storm days sitting around in camp.

I always get anxious packing up my personal gear and then having to wait out the next couple days anticipating departure.  It is a bit more magnified right now because we have the extra Memorial Day Monday off and I will be leaving early in the morning on Tuesday.  That extra days worth of waiting time seems much longer than the usual 24 hour day.  I have been so busy recently that I am spending way to much of this "time off" thinking about EVERYTHING.  I don't mean to portray my feelings as worries because they actually come from a place of pure excitement and it is the length of anticipation that I find so difficult to bear.

Oh... but once I am on that plane and on my way out to reality... out to live in the moment... lost from the complications that we make for ourselves in our lives... that is when everything falls away.  That is when I feel truly free to be content.  That is when I am best able to view my life and the course it is taking from a perspective of contemplation without the biases that are normally so inherent with internal reflection.  I look forward to learning a lot about Alaska, the wildlife and hopefully myself.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Boroughs and Bureaus

I got to sleep in late today, wasn't even out of bed until 7:45!  Once I made breakfast and got myself organized for the day my host, Nancy Dewitt, offered to give me a ride with my bike to the Bureau of Land Management's office where I was to take my B-3 Aviation Safety certification course.  On the way we stopped at one of the Borough's transfer stations.  A couple weeks ago that would seem like absolute gibberish to me so i will translate for those in the lower 48.  A "Borough" is what we normally call a county and "transfer station" is a place where people can bring their trash before it is hauled to the dump.

The city of Fairbanks grew rapidly when the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline was being built and it grew with almost no city planning.  The result of which is a very spread out and disorganized infrastructure making things like garbage collection near impossible, especially in the winter.  So people bring it to a single location for the city to then collect it all later.

Now the transfer station is quite an interesting place.  As you would imagine there are quite a few large dumpsters and there is even a roofed structure where you can put things for the dumpster-divers.  As we were driving, Nancy regaled me with stories of insanity and downright aggression that she had personally witnessed as people fought tooth-and-nail over things like tires, soiled mattresses, broken appliances, stuffed animals, clothing and anything else deemed reusable.

The odd flip-side to this equation is that within Alaska, there are virtually no recycling programs.  Apparently, up until a couple years ago, there actually were none.  It was all just trash.  Now there are several and the level of material being recycled here is slowly rising.  Of course you have to gather it, separate it and then drop it off at the not-so-convienent collection areas which are completely different and unassociated with the garbage transfer stations.  Even those who believe in recycling are reluctant to do the cross town shuffle to get their garbage and recyclables to the proper places.  It is an unfortunate system and I hope that someone puts two and two together soon.

At the training today I heard all about the various ways to get seriously injured by small aircraft. most of them involve something big spinning very quickly and somebody not paying close enough attention.  Each possibility for injury that we covered was a followed by a story of someone doing exactly that.  What struck me the most during this course was hearing about how many people actually live after the crashes.  It is more of a rarity to die in the crash than it is to die while waiting for rescue.  Now, crashes are not particularly common in general... so don't worry to much mom. We just spent the whole day talking about the few that have happened and how to avoid them or to be safe if it does occur.

Now I am certified by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management for the next three years to fly on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.  ABO will be happy to have me back next summer, if not only because they wont have to pay for any more training.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WWOOF Life in Alaska

I have been raving about my job a lot and I am so focused on it that recently I felt the need to take a step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture.  It made me realize that although I am busy right now, once this seasonal position is up I will be right back where I was a month ago... probably with even less money.  In an effort to avoid a predicament like that I have been asking around about jobs and generally keeping my ears open in case of a possible opportunity.  I have actually just applied for a couple positions but I don't think that is exactly what I would like to do just yet.  I want to move about more and try different things.  I want to learn more about myself and the world.

I think I have written about WWOOFing before but as a quick refresher it is essentially a way to travel, live and learn about organic farming anywhere in the world for cheap. It stands for World Wide Oppertunities on Organic Farms.  Most often the host will offer room and board for your assistance on whatever they deem necessary. This can be anything from a small garden, to a vineyard, to a full scale ecolodge.  You can get connected online by joining a WWOOF group, most often divided by continent or country.  Then you have access to a directory of all of the participating farms in the area of your choosing.  There are more hosts for any given place then you would believe.

I just joined the WWOOF USA group to find a host in Alaska, preferably in Homer.  Honestly I chose the area mostly on a whim and also after hearing the opinions of people who's judgement I trust.  So, I wrote to a place called A Seaside Adventure because it looked pretty amazing and the hosts seem incredible.  It is an ecolodge run by a amateur lifetime naturalist and his wife on Little Kayak Island.  This really seemed perfect, but of course, they were all set for the summer so I had to move my sights elsewhere.

I moved down the list of hosts in Homer and sent out emails to about nine other places that all sounded great in their own ways.  One woman called me back within hours of my email and offered me a spot with them for up to a year. They live on a small off-the-grid farm called "Small Wonder Farm". It is powered by solar, wind and hydraulic power during the summer and mostly a generator during the winter.  They are just about as self-sufficient as a person can be and just want to teach others the same practice.  Lucky for them and me, I want to learn that practice and to live that life... at least for a while.

I haven't committed to this project just yet but I am very serious about doing something like this and I don't see any better time to do it than right now.  I am here... I am ready... I am excited... I am able and I am poor going on broke.  This particular host encourages their volunteers to try and get a job and to meet people in town also.  The whole set up sounds just about right... They even have a hot tub.  Who can argue with that?

Off Trail and at Home.

Yesterday was a pretty lax day with me and the other intern walking around identifying birds by ourselves.  I was able to confirm a lot of my more tentative knowledge of bird songs because it was just us two newbies yesterday and I even got to see a Red Fox poke its head out from behind a hill at me before scampering off.  Today was a different story entirely because I got to participate in real point counts.  This marks the end of bird survey training for now and the beginning of the job I really came here to do.

We took off early this morning and set out to Creamer's field, the refuge behind ABO headquarters.  We walked down the trail as usual until we were as far from the building as I though we could go... then we jumped off path and followed the GPS coordinates to a point way out in the middle of a tussock ridden swamp.  There was unkempt Black Spruce forest and heavy Willow underbrush to fight through until finally, and suddenly, we arrived.

We stood at our point for a moment to get our bearings, check the distance of several noticeable landmarks, and to get out the various data sheets that must be filled in at each point.  Justin grabs his watch and announces the start of the count.  

After ten minutes of us in silence and observing the sounds of the world around us, which unfortunately still included the distant sound of the highway, we compared our various notes and counts to see how accurate each had been.  I am very far from an expert but I have made some serious improvement from the first few chaotic counts a week ago.  Even though I am still forgetting what a few calls were and missing out on some of the quieter or higher pitched songs, I feel pretty great about my progress.

After that we split up into smaller groups and continued to hit points spread across the virtually untreadable back area of Creamer's Field.  It was so much closer to the real thing as opposed to stopping in the middle of well worn trails to practice counts.  It was buggy and soaking wet.  I got scratched up and down from fallen spruce.  It was great, and real, and everyone loved it.  These truly are great people and I have rarely felt so included in a group of people with the same values and respect for one another and the environment that I feel. 

Later in the day, after a solid helping of cookies that I whipped up last night, the biologist and I set out a meal plan and discussed tying up the last loose ends to our trip... hopefully with a little time to spare.  I think that I will check to see how my slowly drying electronics are doing after the last few days being submerged in bowls of rice... Wish me luck.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Perfect Day in Alaska

I just walked in from a little sunday bike ride and thought I ought to catch everyone up to the last few days of activity up in Alaska.   Lindsey and I set out this morning to retrieve our bikes which had been locked in the woods.  We start on walking down the shoulder of the road and make it about a quarter mile before the thumbs we have stickin out to our left take any effect.  A man in a pickup with a friendly looking husky riding shotgun offers a ride with the disclaimer that it may be illegal to ride in the bed of a truck so we had better keep out heads down.  We squeeze in sitting cross-legged and facing backwards and then just lay back to watch the tree tops whip by overhead as the man helps to hasten our would-be hour long walk into a 5 minute car ride... I guess I should mention the full story and explain just why the bikes were locked in the woods in the first place.

As I have mentioned before we had planned to go canoeing on saturday.  This required a little bike ride to meet Peter, the man with the plan, and Mike, also on bike, about halfway to our place.  We stash the bikes safely in the woods, jump in Peter's car and head out to meet the rest of the crew.  Justin and Claire have just finished getting ready when we reach the house they are camping out at.  I hop in their car to even the loads and we take off already towing 2 canoes.

We stop one more time to pick up 2 more canoes and apparently a dog. With one on top of each car, the canoes i mean...not the dog, we head out.  An hour later we are unloading the gear at the Upper Chena River and running the two-car-shuttle to the takeout point.  The canoes are split up with Peter and Justin both in solo canoes, Lindsey and Claire in one and Mike I in the last.  Nova, the dog, is riding with Peter.  He gives the last call for anyone needing a dry-bag to store their things and we head out.  Peter goes first being the most experience with Mike and I following, the girls behind us and Justin in the rear.  Mike has no canoe experience at all and it has also been a while since I have been in one.  Now this is where things got sticky...or should i say wet?

We make it about 50 yards downstream before the first few large sweeper logs and hard angles become evident.  We make it passed the first and come up hard on the second on the wrong side. I try like hell to avoid the log but communication isn't quite what it should have been and we hit it hard broadside.  I lean into it attempting to stay upright as the boat wobbles side to side. Mike has a slightly different reaction and as Claire later so eloquently put it, "He just rolled out of the boat like a potato" earning him the nickname "Tater".  Now the Canoe has tipped far enough to take on the water from upstream and it flips fast.

I am in the water grasping the log we hit with my legs pushed a bit further down.  My grasp is good but the water is far to powerful to pull myself back up on the log so I feel first for branches and and then, finding none, pass underneath to the next obstacle. A second log sticks out and there is a mass of branches after that.  When your stuck in the flow of a river branches can be the death of you by holding you fast underwater with nowhere to go and I know it.  As I hit log number two I use the momentum to hoist my self  up juts far enough to maneuver to the side and out the the free flowing water.  

Out there I see that Peter has gotten caught as well.  Just up ahead he ran up on a log with his canoe in an oddly vertical position. Nova has hopped to the dry area and waits patiently for Peter to tell her to unload before she even considers getting out.  He makes it to the gravel bar and secures his boat while I find my footing and fight the current to stay stationary.  

The girl's canoe is still upright and heading for me but they look freaked out... well Lindsey does but Claire is scrambling to get her camera out to document this whole ordeal.  I catch their boat midstream and direct towards the shore as Justin's canoe comes up fast and unmanned.  I missed what happened to him but later heard that he had a similar crash to what Peter did.  I get hold of the one of the ropes we tied on to each canoe and grab a log sticking out from the gravel bar in the other hand.  I grip tight but the rope slips and grip tighter.  With about a foot of rope left to go it holds tight.  I wrap it around the log and Peter jumps up to help me secure it. 

I am still standing in about three feet of and Peter shouts at me, "YOU get out of the water!"  Thats when I realize just how cold that Alaskan river water is so I get out.  Its probably around 40 degrees and parts of me are already feeling it.  I think the only reason I could hold the canoe in one hand is because my hand was numb and I didn't feel the rope burn right away.  I am wearing hip high boots and they have taken on quite a bit of water so my feet are feeling the weight as I drag them begrudgingly to the gravel bar.

Mike is already standing there and looks a bit lost. I see the girls have gotten out and Claire is clicking away.  Justin is further upstream but looks to be fine aside from being wet.  My canoe is the only one unaccounted for so I ask Mike and he points downstream about 30 yards to where I can see the bottom of our boat poking up a foot out of the water but sitting stationary.  I dump the water from my boots as quick as I can and head towards it.  Im thinking quicker now and remember that callout from Peter just before we put in about anyone needing a dry-bag. I hadn't answered and I regret that quite a bit now.  In my backpack was my camera, my phone, and my Ipod.  I would ask myself why did I even bring the phone or Ipod, but it is not the time to reflect yet.  

I move downstream and the water is only a couple feet deep where the boat is though still moving fast.  With some serious effort and most likely some adrenaline I get it flipped over to see my backpack still tied in but soaked through and through.  Peter works his way over and we dump the rest of the water and pull the canoe back to the group.  

I walk up and get the boat on land before looking around again.  Looking from person to person everyone has a sober look to them and in some cases downright panic. However, no one is hurt and only my sunglasses and Mike's sandals are missing.  From the relief and shear excitement of that last few minutes I just start laughing, and laughing hard.  Everyone loosens up a bit and we are all cracking up in seconds.

The rest of the day goes smoothly aside from the girls taking a quick dip in a much calmer part of the river when one of them looses her balance and sits on the side. We all dry out in the sun and even get to see a Moose midstream, a Bald Eagle in its nest, a few beautiful Harlequin Ducks, and a ton of various birds along the way. All-in-all it was a great day.  I wouldn't have changed a thing... well I would have used a dry bag but besides that, it was perfect.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sure Hope The Earth Doesn't End Tomorrow

The wind really picked up here today which is supposedly very unusual and dangerous in the interior of Alaska.  Suddenly two different wildfires sprung up just barely outside of town.  While driving around we could see massive plumes of smoke rising up and at one point you could actually make out the flames licking up the hillside.  Several friends of the people I am staying with have been evacuating their homes as the fires have spread.  Don't be too alarmed though because the fires are not to close to where I am staying and they have a very good firefighting squad up here to take care of these things.

Tomorrow I am going canoeing down the Upper Chena River with my colleagues and I am sure we will be birding along the way.  Time seems to be moving very fast here and i hope it is not over to quickly.  Every day is so full of activity that I have to find time take a moment and think, read, maybe draw just a bit.  The instant I hit my bed I am out like a light and it feels fantastic.  I have never been able to fall asleep so fast in my entire life.  I have wrestled with falling asleep most of my life and now, in the Alaskan summer where the sun never sets, I am finding sleep where I least expected it to be.

Oh and a "Happy Apocalypse" to all the sinners like me.

The Missing "Lynx"

Birding can be a difficult hobby, especially when you move to a different area.  In Oregon i could probably  identify a White-crowned Sparrow by sounds without much difficulty but in Alaska they make an entirely different sound. The only obvious connection between them is in the quality of the sound and of course they way they look.  Even their appearance can change a good amount with the further northern populations being a bit larger with stronger contrast in color.

I have also been making large strides in identifying all of the new birds around me, such as the Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hammond's Flycatcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow and Solitary Sandpiper. There are more but those come to mind in particular.  I even heard and saw a few Trumpeter Swans swinging by the bog we were in this morning.  I also saw a Snowshoe Hare bounding through the same area.  I was pretty psyched about that but the people from fairbanks scoffed a bit and told me several stories of how it can be common to see around twenty in the same place all at once. I even heard a story about my boss witnessing a Hare running by him and then close on its heals a Lynx pursuing it.  Oh what I would give to see a Lynx.  I love birds but I have always had a fondness for cats in my heart and probably a Lynx most of all.  My cat Cleo, now living with my mom and dad, reminded me so much of a wildcat with tufted ears and thick fur like a Lynx that i just had to get her from the shelter in florence Oregon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Point-Counts and Shell-Shooting

I finally got to do some real bird work today!  We went out early to Birch Hill, normally a ski park but in summer a disc golf course, to work on bird survey training today.  First we stood around and discussed how to do a point-count.  Essentially you stand in one place and count all of the individual birds around you that you can either see or hear in a ten minute span. It is not easy because you cannot count individuals twice and you have to constantly be listening, looking and writing at the same time.  All of this not to mention you must first be able to identify all the birds by sight, song, and call.

Identifying birds by sight is the easiest but also the least likely to occur when doing a point count in a forest.  Among other data you have to estimate distance from you to the bird with an error of 10 yards at the point of detection. I could keep writing more and more specifics about how to point count but I don't think anyone would want to read it and honestly I am just to damn tired to list it all.  We did see a moose on our way to Birch Hill, although i get the feeling I am the only one who thinks it was awesome!

Later on in the day, the main biologist and I went to Chena Hot Springs to attempt to qualify at the shotgun range.  After just a few practice rounds we decided to go for the test.  We loaded some 12 gauge shotguns with slugs powerful enough to kill a bear and let loose.  First we were required to shoot on targets and make 3/3 shots within an 8x11 inch square... Not too hard.  Then we had to hit at least 2/3 shots in the same square on a moving target and I didn't miss a single shot!  That was a serious confidence boost.  Although guns still really aren't my thing, If a Grizzly Bear is running at me I would absolutely let a few rounds loose.  Well now I am certified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a Designated Shooter, which means i am allowed to defend both myself and a group of people from danger.  It is the highest rank they have for field crew although I really-really-really hope that it never gets put to the test.

That is about enough "red-necking" around for now and I am moving my sights, no pun intended, back to the birds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bear Aware

Bear awareness training today went well.  I learned a good deal about Grizzlys, Black Bears, and Polar Bears. First of all I learned how to identify each... the Polar Bear was always pretty easy.  The others have some serious overlap and actually the Polar and Grizzlies are beginning to hybridize now as the Polar Bears are making their way further south in search of food. More importantly I learned how to avoid bears and how to act in the case of confrontation.  I have to say that I am not a big fan of government training already.  There were very important bits of knowledge but they were spread out thinly through an entire days worth of powerpoint lectures.

Fairbanks with the Alaska Range in the Background
Later on in the day I biked over to ABO and met the rest of the field crews. Lindsey is the other intern in my position and she will be going out in the field with Peter Elstner to do point counts.  Justin and Claire are a couple and have been around the world as "field gypsies".  Lindsey and I are staying at Nancy and Jim Dewitt's house now and it is an even better situation than the last.  This house is up in the forest on a hill overlooking Fairbanks.  It is a bit more of a ride into work every morning but I am sure that being up here has some serious advantages as well.  
Summit Drive going up to the house I am staying in.
Bike path through town.

Downtown Fairbanks park on the Chena River.

The Dewitts contribute a great deal of time and resource to ABO and Nancy even rescues injured birds and uses them for educational purposes. Unfortunately a few days before I arrived her Great Gray Owl escaped and is nowhere to be found.  However she does still have a Boreal Owl that I intend to check out later on.  We are living in the downstairs of their house which is actually much like an apartment and a decent one at that.

Tomorrow I go back to the federal building for firearm training.  I can't wait to get this stuff out of the way so I can start to get into the actual birding and point-count survey training.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Tim Walker meets me at the airport right on time as I arrive in Fairbanks about 8:00 this morning.  He is my boss and the man I will be spending a great deal of time with at Kanuti Wildlife Refuge.  We get acquainted with on another and then he drives me all around, up and down the city of Fairbanks.  From the University of Alaska to the downtown area.  It really doesn't take all that long.  We even stopped a couple times to check out the Alaska Bird Observatory (ABO) and then some impromptu birding at Creamers Field.

I watch as a woman in full waders retrieves a couple of Common Redpolls from a net and then bands and releases them.  It is nice to see some birds up close and personal without the aid of binoculars.  Their size, shape, and texture are immediately discernible.

Next, Tim takes me to the Teel's house in which I will be staying the next couple nights.  They are some of the kindest people and most generous people I have met.  They offer far more then I need or can even use and we talk birds for a while as their Cockatoo, Lucky, chatters for attention.

After a little nap I am ready to check out Fairbanks on my own.  I head out on an ABO bike to try to learn my way around. Ending up back the ABO headquarters I decide to go on a short hike. They have a small network of trails behind the building connecting various grassland, bog, lake and white and black spruce habitats. What a day!

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Everyone I talk to mentions how today is the first day of warmth they have had and how it provides a glimpse of the short and sweet summer to come.  I finish my ride in time to have a delicious meal with the Teel's and suddenly we are at it again.  At the drop of a hat, or rather the squawk of a bird we are headed out to go find some waterfowl down by the dump and out by the airport.  Neither of these would seem like beautiful places... and they are not, but there are tons of bird in both spots.  Considering that it is 8:00 at night makes it all the more wild.  Lucky comes along for the ride and gets a bit overexcited and seems to mistake my finger for a snack.  A beak like that can really chomp down! 

Ok, it is late and I plan on some more birding tomorrow.  It is 11:00 now and the sun is still up in full view.

Lagopus lagopus... Lagopus lagopus... Lagopus lagopus...

I wake up from dreams of Ptarmigan flying over to a strange soundtrack in my head.  I have been repeating the words Lagopus lagopus incessantly to myself as I slept like some kind of meditative mantra.  Lagopus lagopus is a species of Ptarmigan that i hope to see outside the confines of my imagination soon enough.

I sit up to see that I am still lying on a bench in the Anchorage airport.  It is 5:30am and the sun is poking up from behind what I believe is the picturesque Chugach Mountains.  I have a feeling the word "picturesque" is about to become rather common in my vocabulary...

Time to board my last flight to Fairbanks.

(Updated 5/15)
This was my view as we flew into Fairbanks.
Alaska Mountain Range


Saturday, May 14, 2011

The First Day of The Rest of My Life

Sitting in the Portland airport at 9:40 pm waiting to board my red-eye to Alaska.  I finally have some time to sit and update what I have been doing this last week. Amidst the cleaning, packing and subsequent repacking I have been saying my goodbyes to all my friends around town.  I am not a fan of goodbyes in general and having them be drawn out can be very difficult.  I will miss getting to spend so much time with the people I love but I am excited to be embarking on this adventure.  I feel as though I have been hanging in limbo for to long now and I know that this break in routine and jolt back into reality will be both what I need and what I want.  I need challenge to feel fulfilled.  I want action to be happy.  It is the downtime that I struggle with as my mind wanders aimlessly searching for something to affix its attention. After crossing the security check it is all beginning to sink in.

The preparation is over. My life begins now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where The WIld Things Are

I depart for Fairbanks on a red-eye flight out of portland on the 14th.  Just a few days away and I am so anxious to get going. As I have said before, I HATE waiting.  However, this is far better than waiting for word about job applications. This type of waiting is actually amping me up more for the adventure.  I have been corresponding with my soon-to-be boss about traveling around after the position is over.  I would like to see the rest of the state... maybe even get another job and extend my stay.

A couple days ago i signed up for aviation safety training because we are being dropped in by pontoon plane or helicopter. Every time I have ever gone camping before this I have had fantasies of being out in Wild, not just the uncapitalized "wild"... well now I will be. I will be out of touch, out of reach, out of my comfort zone and so freaking happy about it.

It should be rough and potentially frightening but at least I know without an ounce of doubt that it will be one hundred percent reality. It is pure... It is dirty... It is painful... It is change... It is unsafe and downright deadly, but it never pretends not to be.  We all know where we come from even though most of us like to pretend we are beyond it. We can act as though we have created a new world that is completely under our own control but the truth is that we all play by natures rules. In fact we live and die by them every day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Out of catastrophe comes opportunity"

The Graduate
I picked up my younger brother from Portland Oregon on friday. He has been a student at The United Bicycle Institute for the last three weeks.  Noah has a passion for bikes that is growing and clearly a driving force in his life. I am so happy that he decided to follow this ambition and I genuinely hope that he finds what he is looking for within it.

It is inspiring for me to see my brother take life on and assert himself into it in the way that he sees fit.  Historically i have followed the philosophy of "going with the flow" of life, but as time goes on I begin to realize that you must act on your impulse. When your gut... or your heart screams for action it is most wise to obey.

My heart has recently sent me on several, rather contradictory courses.  I strongly feel the urge to leave the country and Ecuador has been the subject of that ambition... yet always at the back of my mind hangs the idea that i will find what i seek in New Zealand.  I cant not pretend to know why I feel this way but I have, for a long time, thought that when i do make it abroad to either New Zealand or possibly Australia I will find what I am constantly and blindly searching for.
The UBI classroom

I feel a pull towards the country as both a generally unpopulated area and as a place on this earth where those seeking simplicity in life may find it.  Complication and drama do not become us.  To actualize the feelings of Love, Beauty, Freedom and Truth is all i can ask to achieve. I seek the truth through my career as a biologist and the course of action I follow in my daily life. I wish to find love in the world that is based on ideals but rooted in reality.  I practice art... mostly photography, drawing, a little music and once-upon-a-time glass-blowing as my acts of beauty.  While my heart is a compass directing me towards freedom and therefore my own happiness.  I have found that at the worst of times, when i feel the most lost... the most desperate... if i am willing and able to listen to what my heart desires I can move beyond this moment and gain insight into exactly what it is that will fulfill me in the future.

"We are men of action, Lies do not become us"***
The world crumbles around us as perspective deformed to obsession,
Life becomes a single pursuit infected with blinded progression,

to seek what lies before us as an answer to our quest,

as lies do not become us, frankly, clich├ęs say it best.

***(Westley from The Princess Bride)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"The World is Mud-Lucious and Puddle-Wonderful"

Cape Disappointment 4/30
A long, somewhat convoluted, ride up from Eugene to the Washington Coast was how I spent my day last friday and it couldn't have been better.  We took our time on the drive and went the scenic route along the Columbia River.  It was a nice day getting on towards evening as we arrived at Willapa Bay.  We met up with the last remaining crew member and Due to the time of day we decided to post up camp at Cape Disappointment.  It was a beautiful place covered with vegetation and some great camping spots.  Little oceanside towns dot the coast line as you drive along the peninsula.  This is the same place where Lewis and Clarke finally found the Pacific Ocean at the end of their long journey. I wish I could have seen this place as they did.

We woke up to the sounds of birds at about 5:30. I lay in my sleeping bag trying to separate the birds I was hearing from the birds of my dreams.  I heard Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Nuthatch (not sure if it was red or white-breasted), Winter Wren, and a Downy Woodpecker.  The rest were either fantastic imaginative birds concocted by my unconscious or simply calls that I do not know.  A quick breakfast of couple-day-old bagels and we went out in search of a canoe.  After chit-chatting around town Keaton had found a man interested and renting out his huge orange canoe to six 20 year olds for the night.

Long Island 5/1

A couple of trips across the not-so-long stretch of water separating the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge of Long Island from the mainland and we were there. We didn't want to waste any more time so we quickly dropped the canoe in a safe spot and packed in to the interior of the Island.  A couple miles in we found the path to Smokey Hollow Campground.  At the site some Kayakers had just beaten us to the primo spots but we were only momentarily put-off as the next site down the line was a cozier counterpart to the first two.

Still midday and with hours of sunlight left we made our way north on the inner island path to see if we could reach the far side.  I was a long walk and we took our time to really observe the surroundings closely.  I would have to say that the highlight of the day for me was when someone spotted a Barred Owl and we got a nice long look at it. What a beautiful and silent bird.

Bird List
Hummingbird sp.
Wilson's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Tern sp.
Bald Eagle and Juvenile
Belted Kingfisher
Barred Owl
Red-Winged Blackbird
Tree Swallows
Golden-Crowned Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow

This trip was a well needed excursion into the wild for me. I am still waiting on more information about my Alaska job and this short pack trip was the perfect amount to get me re-stoked and prepared for it.  I now know that I need gators, socks, a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and batteries. Im sure there is still more and maybe i can squeeze in one more trip before i leave.  Camping, even for a day, can both raise spirits and restore sanity.