Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adaptational Acknowledgement

Sometimes I struggle to find the right words to describe the spectrum of emotion, thoughts, and connections that I experience every day.  Every so often I try to reflect on the day, week, month or even year and to notice the changes I have gone through.  It is important during the course of our lives to acknowledge externally the progress that we make internally so as to continue the journey without becoming stagnated in personality.

By addressing and making conscious these small milestones we are able to move beyond them and take the next step to becoming what we want to be, to what we believe we are inside.  Although historically I have remained less social, I now actively try to follow this course of opening up and telling people about myself.  Not just the obvious about where I am from and what I like to do, but I am attempting to open up a deeper dialogue with those around me.  More recently I  have been keeping a journal and writing this blog, but even when writing it is important to put down more than just a catalog of activities from each day.  Add thoughts, feelings, and motives associated with your actions.  Describe in detail the inferences, assumptions and intuitions you feel.   

I have found that sometimes it is easiest with strangers because they are not bound by preconceptions already formed of who they believe I am.  It is a clean slate to express who I am at this very moment, not who I have been up until it.  Of course I tell them where I come from and what brought me here but the real connection, the trust that binds any relationship, is formed by exposing completely novel information about myself... By expressing something that is new, even for my own ears to hear.  All the other information, the things that I have told others before... the rehearsed and practiced lines that you scarcely think about as they fall from your lips might mean no less to them. However, from my point of view, at that moment I become someone new, someone changed, and it is by this person that I am reborn.

It is acknowledgment that is the catalyst of change in the cell, the organ, the individual, the community...  At any scale it is the same.  Something new occurs, for example let us say a chemical is released in the body.  The chemical is only able to affect cells that have the proper receptors that are able to acknowledge its presence.  All other cells stay the same as if nothing has happened.  It is the same process with an individual.  Instead of a chemical messenger, new experiences occur.  If the experience is acknowledged consciously then change is allowed to occur within the person, moreover the change can also be directed by that person.  The word for this process is adaptation.

Now consider non-adaptation beginning at the scale of a single cell again.  A chemical is introduced and the cell does not respond.  It is unable to recognize the chemicals presence or importance.  Change may still occur with constant exposure but the effects are indirect and the change is slow to take place. However the environment that the cell exists in has changed regardless of its own ability to acknowledge the difference.  The cell will now, most likely, be less effective... less fit for the new environment that it finds itself in.

  Again this is synonymous at the scale of an individual.  A person may experience something meaningful to them, but if quickly brushed aside and forgotten it will have no lasting effect.  Only constant and prolonged exposure to the same unrecognized experience can affect an individual who denies its importance.  If acknowledged, they fix the experience as a part of themselves. They begin to define themselves.

I found it quite scary to define myself as a teenager because I believed that once you became defined change was then impossible.  I thought that what makes up your being now will decide what you are later.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  I've learned now that by defining yourself you actually increase your own ability to change, to adapt.  Redefinition is always possible and constantly happening in all of us, however it is only those who realize, who acknowledge it in themselves, that are able to adapt in a meaningful way.  What better way can there be to acknowledge self-change, to redefine yourself, than to meet a stranger and to tell them about your experiences.  

Experience itself is the fertilization of potential change and to acknowledge that change is to adapt, to be reborn.  For instance, I have just had an amazing experience full of new discovery during my time counting birds for the Alaska Bird Observatory.  That planted the seeds of change in me but it did not make them grow.  It is now that I have expressed those experiences that the change is able to take root.  I grow and adapt more to who I really am with every new experience that I relate.  The only thing to prevent this is my own skepticism.  Skepticism and sarcasm are the antagonists of experience and significance.  Skeptics limit their own experience while sarcasm strips it of significance.

Keep an open mind, allow your own belief in the unbelievable and the intangible.  Experience the change that takes place around you.  Put yourself in situations where you might feel uncomfortable, out of place.  This is where you will learn the most, where you will find the ability to adapt.  The simple fact is that we don't know everything and more importantly we are ignorant of what it is that we don't know.  One of my favorite quotes to exemplify this point comes from the movie Men In Black.

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.  Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

One of the glaciers across the bay

Eric and Jude (behind), Woofers on my farm

Luke, Noah, and I in San Francisco

Scotty(Left) and Me(Right) in the float plane

Taking a picture in Kanuti NWR

P.S.   Just found this blog that a friend, David Swanson, is writing about his time in Cameroon working on a water supply project. Check it out!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

WWOOFing in Homer

A few days ago I arrived in Homer, Alaska.  I went straight from the airport to Small Wonder Farm, a little family run farm trying to become sustainable.  Its an interesting place with a lot of animals and and a lot to do.  As wwoofers trading work for food, we work hard and we get fed well.

My cabin

Hot tub

Work can be anything from building animal enclosures and raised planter beds to caring for animals and preparing them for the kitchen table.  It is great manual labor and every day I finish tired and happy.  This farm in particular is only in the fledgling stages and they do not have much in the way of produce yet but bartering between farms is common and we certainly don't miss out on veggies.

Solar charging

The downside of wwoofing on a fledgling farm is that I am not learning as much as I would like about sustainable practices.  The upside is that they actually let me try out my own ideas which fosters innovation.  I love trying to problem solve odd situations.

This may be a farm but it is not an uncomfortable living.  The main house even has a cedar hot tub on the back porch, though I haven't made use of it yet.  I imagine that it is quite serene to soak in it during the sound dampened snowy winters here. The farm is located on the top of a large ridge overlooking the mountains and glaciers across the inlet.  Everywhere you go the view is extraordinary.

Baby duck mass.

Go Ducks!

Pig pen

Andy the hilarious goat

Roosting Turkeys

Oh the outhouse

I love these planter boxes

A couple rescued swans

The house and foggy mountains in the distance.
Some steps I built Makajawan style
All farmers must own an old truck that wont start.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Some Remaining Pictures

Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge

The Kitchen

There was one day when we had come back from point-counts and the sun was out, blazing hot.  Not even the mosquitos were out that afternoon.  It was our last plot and the lake looked so inviting that i decided to go for a little swim.  One of the best choices I made out there.

Dragonfly and its exuvia

Helicopter sling-load bearing all of our gear

Just a few mosquitos.

We had to walk across this beaver damn to get to work every day

2:15am looking over the arctic circle

Got to love those spiders... they do eat mosquitos.

Scotty coming in for a landing

The White Mountains Pinnell Trail

Justin can't wait to go hiking!

These guys poped up in a single day after some heavy rains

Good spirits on our drenching 10 mile hike out of the mountains

Back in Fairbanks

We found this cute little Downy Woodpecker fledgling in Anne's Backyard.  It had hit a window and was stunned but not seriously injured, we wanted to make sure the cat didn't get to him.   It was difficult to tell if it was a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker at first.  Eventually we noticed that the Hairy Woodpecker, which is larger with slightly different proportions, also has slate white on the exterior tail feathers while the Downy Woodpeckers have a couple black bars evident in the pictures below.

See the two black lines on the white tail feathers?

What a cool wing!  Rarely do you get such a great look at the details

Pepper (the little one) and Kiana keeping us company

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lynx

I think that I have probably already told most everyone that would read my blog about the encounter I had with the Lynx in Kanuti NWR, but I am going to write about it all the same.  This was no small thing for me and it will likely linger in my mind for years to come.

Ever since I was young I have had an affinity towards cats.  Both wild and domestic, large and small.  I can not help but love every cat that I see and often times they like me too, in that cat-love kind of way.  Growing up we always had cats and more than just a couple of them.  That is, I'm sure, where it began for me.  As I aged my interests became more diverse.  I payed attention to dogs, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and was fascinated with them all but still I had this place in my heart for cats.  If you had asked me then what my favorite animal was... or my favorite cat, the one I would most like to see, I would have said a Lynx.

I probably learned about them from a Zoobook or on a nature show but they just seemed like the most amazing cats.  They are extremely secretive and difficult to observe in the wild.  They feed mainly on the Snowshoe Hares during both the winter and summer months.  As it happened this year, 2011, was the low point of the Snowshoe Hare's population, which runs in a ten year cycle.  When there are many Hares the Lynx can feed easily and so their population grows too, but when the Hare population drops and the Lynx no longer have such abundant food bouncing around they must travel further and search more often to feed themselves.  That is the time to see them as they are breaking their normal habits of stealth and  secrecy.  I was told about this before we went out though I didn't dare get my hopes up to see something so unlikely.

A basic population ecology concept of predator prey relations

We had made it through 17 days, we were on the second to last plot.  We had arrived, set up camp at lake Minnkokut earlier in the day and we were just sitting down to rehydrate ourselves some delicious food in a pouch.  I was pouring the water in my pouch and Tim was telling me how the Arctic Circle ran across the lake only 70 meters out from our camp when I glanced up to look at the lake just over his shoulder.  I ran my eyes along the shoreline, as I did a million times a day hoping to catch some flicker of movement, when I saw it working its way toward us about 150 meters away.  Quickly I pointed it out to Tim as i fumbled for my binoculars.

Click To Enlarge, It is the dark spot in the center. 

"Looks like a Fox" he said squinting at it.  I already had my binoculars up and instantly I knew it,  "I dont think so... Thats a Lynx, for sure."  The words tumbled from my mouth.  I reached down for my camera, already wishing I had a nice telephoto lense to really get the shot but deciding to do the best I could with what I had.  The Lynx kept working its way toward us along the shore.  Later on Tim said that it was probably searching for duck nests among the reeds.

We continued to watch it slowly work its way closer and closer.  I would watch it through my binoculars for a bit then it would be much closer so I would take a few photos and then get annoyed at how little of it I could see so I would switch back to binoculars.  Eventually it was less than 50 meters away, then 40, then... it had walked into a patch of dense shrubs but still coming our direction.  Tim and I stayed silent, unwilling to move to swat at mosquitos or even acknowledge their presence.  We were both focused and waiting, adrenaline pumping. I think that I held my breath though to be honest I can not be sure, every ounce of attention I had was being focused on my vision to catch the first few photons that might give away the movement of the Lynx.

We waited motionless for what seemed like an hour but was probably closer to a minute.  Then it walked out, looking right at us.  It hadn't seen us before it walked into the shrubs but now it was quite aware that we were there, it must have smelled us.  It did not appear frightened, only curious.  As we watched it, it watched us.  The most amazing thing was that it didn't seek shelter, but instead revealed itself to us as if to say, "Yes, I see you and you see me, this is my territory. Are you friend or foe?".  With our continued silence and unveiled posture out in the open I hope that we answered back, "We are nothing to worry about, only passing through."

The best shot I was able to get.

I think that it got the message because it did not flinch, did not run.  In fact, it walked out even further into the sun and sat down.  I took as many photos as i could hoping that some of them might be in focus, that I might get the shot to remember this moment by. Then I stopped with the camera and decided to remember it the old fashion way.  I studied its face through the binoculars.  I could see its beautiful eyes, the tufted ears, the defined jaws and the bearded face.  Its fur looked thick and insulating, though it already had its summer coat. I just couldn't take my eyes off of it.

Unfortunately the resolution and zoom weren't enough to get the defined image

After a few minutes of this two-sided observation passed and the Lynx decided we were no longer of interest, it turned and walked away.  It was a slow and precise movement without a hint of fear as if it was just going to continue on with its hunt.  After waiting for another ten minutes in case it returned, Tim an I sat back down to our now well rehydrated food in a pouch.  There was only one subject to chat about that night and I'd say we did our best to cover the issue thoroughly.

Now, I know that this story might seem dramatized or embellished but I assure you it is not.  That is how I experienced it. That is how much it meant to me.  When you experience something that leaves both the child you were and man you are left in wonder it is not a just fleeting moment.  That experience will live in me every day and it will be a very long time before it fades from my mind.