A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

A Look Into My Travel Journal, My Writing Process, and Photos

semi-overcast 75 °F

I decided for this week’s entry to offer you my journal entries in their rawest form. These entries are the starting point for what will eventually become another thrilling edition of this blog. In a given week, I’ll head out exploring and recap the days adventures in my trusty journal. I’ve been writing a journal since 1997, and have filled up twelve notebooks of a variety of size. The entries are usually a quick recap. I try to write about what really struck me throughout the day. When I have time to write, my journal more thought out and thorough. There are often diagrams, maps, sketches and doodles added to the mix. Using these scribblings for inspiration and facts, I let the writing process flow. Often, I will get inspiration at strange times, and I have to try to remember what it is I want to say for most of the day before I get a chance to write it down. Somehow, the system works, and I'm able to occasionally write something thoughtful and coherent.

I realize I haven't updated my blog in the last couple of weeks. My apologies. I’ve been very busy of late spending my free time getting reacquainted with my slack line, my camera, and my friends. I've been depriving myself of needed sleep in order to enjoy my life, and something had to give. However, I think this small sabbatical has been good for me, but perhaps, not my blog.

The following are journal entries ranging from the inside passage of British Columbia to Clarkston, Washington on the Snake River.

9-10-12 BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
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I’m in B.C. these days. It’s our phase day (deckhands switch shifts once a week giving us 18 hours off in a row). I took advantage by going on a short hike into the thick forests. The moss is quite spongy, and comfortable to lay upon. We found a black banana slug, some shells and whatnot. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wrote my blog. I ate some cheese and crackers. I also collected a few plants to add to my terrarium. Mostly moss, but another limpet shell pool and the like.
Peanut butter , Honey and Cinnamon sandwich for lunch. Tea with Miss Tiffany. Pretty Beautiful. Pretty nice.
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9-11-12 TO BREATHE
Lido. Sunshine. Coffee. Orca. Watts. Dolphins. Stretch. Then I sat in the shade and exercised my breath. Alternating Nostril, deep, shallow in and out, deprivation, inflation. So good. Then I let my voice flow in a chant and it was lovely. I had all of the air I wanted and my voice was very, very low and rich. Satisfaction.

9-16-12 A FOUR DAY RECAP: POSITIONING, AMELIA, SEATTLE, PORTLAND
Well. Here I am in Astoria again. To get here, I went to Seattle. We dropped off our photo nerds and I went to sleep. I awoke to Amelia in the dining room. We talked, catching up and sat in the sunshine. She brought me a giant burrito from our favorite food cart. We compared notes, we had a good time.
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Positioning was a dream. I love positioning (this is when we take the boat from one port to another without guests). I was working nights, as usual, and hung out with Lofall (my deck partner) in the night. Decent seas. I love a good roll.
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I forgot to mention as we rolled into Seattle, I watched bioluminescent bow riding dolphins. It was AMAZING! Pacific White Sided Dolphins slowly doing barrel rolls in the bright white biofeed. Beautiful. I love the ocean. It felt so good to be back on it, rolling, riding and moving in flow.

9-17-12 CASCADE LOCKS ZEN
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Such a lovely place. A shroud of pines protects me from the sun and wind. I’m in a pocket. Cozy, but breatheable. The carpet is tan of dead grass silky to the touch. Chickadees roll through. Time to forage. In the center of the grove is a picnic table which I’m quite attracted to. So I stop and take it in. This is my second spot to stop. No, my third. My first were a wind swept pitch of grass under an ancient oak tree. Good air forced into me. My second was a slack line session with a lead of forty feet. It was awesome to feel it all. Warm sun, strong wind, slick slack line, freeness of accumulated crap I collected all night. Gone. Smiling.
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I could use one more stop, a visit to a tree I know on the south end of the island. I think I’ll let that one stand as a fine memory of last year. I love seeing the cusp of a shadow. The upper branches of a broad leafed maple are green. Glowing. Beautiful. And here I am.
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“He who understands the Tao in the morning can die in peace in the evening.” ~ Confucious

When I’m this tired, I can stare at anything for long periods. When I’m this tired, my blinks take longer, sometimes several seconds.

9-19-12 PALOUSE RIVER STATE PARK, WASHINGTON
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Well, I’m here again. At the falls, though this time I chose a shaded grove of trees and grass to slack line in, rather than hike around to the falls. It’s nice. It’s quiet. The wind in the trees, soft, warm, and fragrant. Slacklining has been good. So far, I’ve managed to slack line everyday this week. Each time at a different place.
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Yesterday, was at Maryhill. A typical session involves a couple of beers, walking the line, friends, shade and trees. The smoky clouds mute the intensity of the sun. It’s still out, but obscured by wildfires.

9-23-12 SEPTEMBER FLYING
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Whoa. Time is hauling ass. Made it to Clarkston. Three days of smoky skies, friends, slack lining, a bit of work, and walking around.
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On the first day, I went slack lining when I finished work. I went to the doctor who told me I had strained my shoulder. Seems about right. It takes six weeks to heal, and I’m on the 4th week. Ah weel.

On the second day, I visited my old friends Eva, Ada, and Faith. We caught up and hung out at the pool. Eva and I went slack lining. What a fine lady. On our way back to our ships, Tiff calls and I rush off to an antique store and buy a bike. I asked the lady in charge if she had any bikes. “ Just the one out front… or we do have an old one.” I told her I wanted to see the old one. “Really? Ok.” It was an easy sell. It’s a seventies tan cruiser. It had two flat tires, but I can fix it. In fact, I’ve already put on a fixing session. I put on an inner tube, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seat, de-rusted the rims and so on.

It’s going to be a sweet ride.

Day three.
Smoky. Real smoky out. Mountains obscured. I went to the Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston. It was hot, muggy and smoky. Every type of person you can imagine was there, a walking display of humanity, most of it kind of appalling.
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We went on rides and they were very fun. Part of the scare of these rides is wondering if the contraption they lock you in is going to hold together. Then the fun speed of flipping upside down and screaming. I was having a ball. We went on the Kamikaze, the Zipper, and the Tilt a Whirl. My body didn’t know what the hell was going on. I flipped it, spun it, rotated it, and shook it. It’s sleep deprived, sun baked, dehydrated and sweaty. The tilt a whirl was too much. I felt sick halfway through the ride.

Then we waited a long time for a ride back to the ship. Stupid Purser. I felt like a kid though, exhausted, sticky, tired, and a little sick. Don’t count fat people at a fair. It might depress you.
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Hot shower. Cold Beer. Comfortable bed. Ahh.

Now, you are back up to speed. Look for more adventures along the Columbia River until early November. My plan of riding the Zen flow has already proved very interesting. Instead of leaving this ship in Portland, Oregon, I’m now leaving it in Longbeach California. Big Smile!

Posted by Rhombus 16:59 Archived in USA Tagged islands rivers rainbows friends sunsets canada ships sunrises forests philosophy zen slacklining Comments (0)

The Grand Finale: Four Alaskan Jewels

Glacier Action at John Hopkins, Ice Kayaking, Aurora Borealis and Bubble Net Feeding Humpback Whales

sunny 57 °F

I love the way Alaska says goodbye. I’ve spent a lot of time here this season-just shy of three months. There are so many moments, images and people to celebrate. I have sublime memories of it all. However, I feel as though Alaska has saved the best for last- a grand showcase of the Southeast Alaskan environment. I am an appreciative audience. In the past week, I’ve seen the best glacier calving I’ll probably ever experience. I’ve gone kayaking among the ice floes and icebergs of South Sawyer Glacier. I’ve witnessed a spectacular show of the northern lights off our stern. Finally, in Snow Pass I spent two hours in the evening among bubble netting humpback whales against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset.

I feel as though Alaska is reminding me why I love it here (as if I needed one). It’s successfully planting the seeds of adventure in me for next season. There aren’t enough creative adjectives to describe what it like to witness what I’ve seen these past few days. How many times can I say something is beautiful? The same goes for words such as, fantastic, wonderful sublime, spectacular, awesome, amazing, and so on. These are good words, but they are no substitute for being in my shoes.

John Hopkins Inlet, September 4th, 2012
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Can you feel the warmth of the bright sunshine on your face? Can you sense the fresh coolness of the air with every breath? Can you hear the small chunks of ice “crick” together as the ship negotiates through an icy passage of bergy-bits? Can you see the sheer black walls of the fjord, covered in a swirl of passing cloud? Can you see the jagged grin of the glacier as we weave closer to its face? I can, and I hope I never forget this day.
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I’m standing atop the highest point on the ship laughing and bantering with my mates. A quarter of a mile away from me is the John Hopkins Glacier. The John Hopkins is a tidal glacier-meaning that the face of the glacier is over the ocean. The glacier face is very wide. It stretches from one side of the inlet to the other for several miles. It is also quite tall, rising several hundred feet above the greenish gray waters of the inlet. The face is a crooked smile of jagged icy teeth. There are twisted impacted spires and buttresses that would repel any attack from below. If I were designing a castle, I would replicate the face of glacier, complete with unstable and unpredictable falling of massive ice chunks.
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The glacier is very active. I’ve never seen so much calving. Normally, seeing one section of the face of a glacier calve off and fall into the ocean happens maybe once per visit. It is a memorable event. Today, the ice is rolling off the glacier every couple of minutes. I hear the icefall before I see it. A calving glacier sounds like a mixture of a thunderclap from a strong thunderstorm and an avalanche. The natives called it “white thunder” - an apt name.

Rivers of ice and snow flow down crevasses in the glacier like a waterfall. There are white explosions of water backlit against the shadow of the glacier. The cloud dissipates, and I wait a few more minutes for the next “crack” of ice.
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While I wait, I realize the improbability of our timing. The John Hopkins Glacier is a hard glacier to reach. It has a narrow fjord, which is normally jammed with ice. This ice often thwarts most vessels from getting close to the face. On previous attempts, we have only navigated within a mile of the face. Today, we’ve reached the safe and legal limit - a quarter mile away. Besides our proximity, the fact that the glacier is almost continuously calving is amazing.

Then I heard several loud “cracks” off in the distance. In a sequence I’ll never forget, several apartment-sized chunks of ice tumbled and fell off the face of the glacier into the greenish silt water of the inlet with explosive force. It looks like they are falling in slow motion, but they aren’t. It’s a matter of perspective and distance. When the ice hits the water, the detonation of foam, ice chunks, water and spray is tremendous. It is awesome, truly awesome. The force of the ice creates a surge wave that radiates quickly in all directions. We are soon bobbing up and down, rising and falling four feet with each swell. The shoreline closest to the glacier takes direct hits from the wave. Seconds later, another even larger piece of ice dislodges and hits in the same spot. This time the splash is gigantic. I can’t believe it. The surge wave is HUGE, and not only did I get to see it, I managed to keep my finger on the shutter.
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Tracy Arm, South Sawyer Glacier, September 5th, 2012
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My expedition leader burst into the crew lounge and asked me if I wanted to go kayaking. Not feeling particularly energetic, I came up with a quick barrage of excuses as to why I shouldn’t go. She looked at me, and began picking apart my defense, as a well-practiced prosecutor would have. I buckled under the cross-examination. I put on my rain pants, grabbed my little point and shoot, and loaded myself into a red kayak. I like Sue. She’s good like that.

And, of course, she was right. This was to be my last chance to kayak among icebergs for the season, and I soon began to enjoy myself. I paddled over to a likeable iceberg. It had a giant sculpted sphere of ice balanced on top of it. It was lit up beautifully in the mid-morning sunshine. It took awhile to maneuver into the position I wanted, but in the end, I was satisfied. I had this beautiful berg, a kayaker in the distance, and finally the massive face of the South Sawyer Glacier.
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Frederick Sound, 11:10 PM

I was making a complete walkthrough of the ship as part of my nightly engine rounds when I decided to peek off to the north to see if the northern lights were out. To my surprise, I saw a large greenish halo just below the big dipper (as I call it). To make sure, I pulled out my camera and took a test photo. When I looked at the playback, I saw the green sky of the aurora borealis. I smiled, and walked into the dining room to spread the word. Before I could check them out, I had to finish my engine round. By the time I returned to the bridge, there was a small crowd of people on the aft portion of our bridge deck gazing in awe at the greenish swirls in the northern sky.
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The second mate released me to go enjoy the show. I grabbed my camera, and joined the small crowd. A waxing half moon was rising out of the east, which cast a long moonlit reflection on the water. Though not ideal for watching the foxfires, it was pretty in its own right. To the north, halfway between the big dipper and the horizon, tall greenish spires began to form. They intensified in brightness and design, dancing among the stars to a sonata few people get to hear.
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For my part, I set my camera for night work and tried to keep it as stable as possible. I love the way the camera can the greenish light of the borealis. It makes for a beautiful scene - far more intense than what the eye can actually see of the foxfires.

It was the best northern lights show of the season. I made a mental note to myself: Remember to look off to the north once in awhile on clear nights. You never know when the foxfires will burn.

Snow Pass, Southbound, September 7th, 2012

I knew this was going to be the last group of bubble net feeding humpbacks I was going to see this year. Fortunately, I was working on the lido deck. The lido offers a great vantage point to watch whales because it is our highest deck. I had my camera, and I was in position, just as the group surfaced. It was going to be a good show.

The world was gorgeous. God rays snuck through heavy clouds to the west illuminating the sea with a heavenly backdrop. The water patterns were a hypnotic swirl of blue, gray, black and white. A kaleidoscope of the sea.
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The captain gave permission to stand on top of the pilothouse, which offered an even better view. The whales did not disappoint. There was a pod of six whales working together.
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After they dove down in single file, we dropped our hydrophone to listen to their calls underneath the water. Nobody really knows what is being communicated. However, the noises they make seem to have some effect. It is surmised that once the whales dive below, one or two of the whales circles the bait ball while blowing air bubbles. The bubbles rise and form a net, which traps the fish inside of it.
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Other whales are crying out with and eerie short like blast of calls. This is to scare the fish into a tighter ball. I know it would scare the crap out of me, if I saw a pod of six whales entrapping me in a net and began crying at me. The noise they make does kind of sound like a whimper, but a whale sized whimper. This goes on for twenty seconds to a minute, before the call changes. One whale blasts a tremendous long trumpeting call, which seems to be the signal for the whales to swim through the net. Think of a cavalry brigade’s trumpet and the order to “CHARGE.”
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Meanwhile, on the surface, nothing seems to be happening. Then, if conditions are right, you can see a perfect circle of air bubbles appear on the surface of the water. If birds are present, they begin flying around and calling to one another until they zero in on the surface point. The bird squawking reaches a frenzy just before the whales break through the surface. When the whales do lunge through the water, it is surprisingly quiet. For an animal fifty feet long and weighing ninety thousand pounds (I weighed one, it's true), they hardly make any noise at all except for the expelling of their breath.
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I’ve seen bubble netting whales dozens of times, and I’ve yet to tire of it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Alaska is very good to me. I will miss it, but I know I will be back for more. The season has ended and it’s time to search for new adventures somewhere else.

Thank you, Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 15:04 Archived in USA Tagged alaska oceans kayaking glaciers photography whale icebergs foxfires auroraborealis Comments (0)

A Camera's First Week: My Best Alaskan Photography

My New Camera, The Alaskan Brown Bear, The Best of Glacier Bay in One Day, Humpback Whales, Favorite Shots

sunny 56 °F

It feels quite good to have a solid camera in my hands once again. I was jonesing for a telephoto last week, and my withdrawal symptoms just about got the better of me. Somehow, I feel more complete. My camera is my tool that lets me share my world with you. Without it, I felt something missing. I couldn’t think of a better way to christen this new camera than by exploring the beautiful waters of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage through its viewfinder

The usual suspects came out to play this week. Namely, humpback whales, spectacular scenery, and close encounters with the Alaskan brown bear.

THE ALASKAN BROWN BEAR
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I’m squatting on my haunches in the sharp gravel along side a cold Alaskan salmon stream. There is a brown bear not more than fifty feet away. It’s well aware that I am nearby, but for now, I am not a threat. For my part, I am making damn sure that it doesn’t see me as a threat. I would ooze deference out of my pores if I could, just to assure this bear that I am not a menace. I’m quite calm. This is as close as I’ve ever been to a bear, and I’m enjoying myself- awed by the experience.
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The bear is plodding along the riverbank. If a bear had musical accompaniment, I should think the tuba would suffice nicely. A bear walks funny. Its front paws are mildly pigeon toed, facing inward with every step. It manages to slink and lope at the same time. It bobs its head from side to side with each step, avoiding eye contact. A bear sees direct eye contact as a threat (much like my Finnish brethren). It’s easy to see the power of the bear. Its power comes from low to the ground in its thick legs and powerful fore arms. If I had only one word to describe this bear, it would be AWESOME.
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Its shaggy coat is a potpourri of different shades of brown. Its legs are the color of dark chocolate. They are wet from having just crossed the river a couple of times. Its back is furry brown with light tips. The brown coat is shaggy, matted and thick. One could even say it’s almost “grizzly.”
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The bear is patient. It watches for salmon waiting to swim into the rocky shallows. When it sees a fish, it stiffens its forelegs and runs at the fish with a quick upright dash. With a lunge, it slaps at the fish with its front paws attempting to crush the fish. With a powerful slap, it crushed a salmon against a rock before grabbing it in its teeth. The bear carried the wriggling fish to shore and promptly ripped its stomach and egg sack and ate them. Bears make fishing look easy.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be this close to a bear again, so I take advantage of my proximity. I take many photos. The cloudy skies offer an even light. I like the brown of the bear against the tannin brown of the river.
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A mother bear reappears from past the waterfall. She has two cubs that she’s keeping out of sight from the male. The mother has a huge salmon gut, and definitely outweighs the male. I’m thinking if they got down to exchanging blows, my money is on the momma.

I’ve had a good morning. My plan for my day off was to watch bears at a close distance, and I’m very satisfied. As I walk back downstream, yet another bear appears across the river and saunters upstream to fish beneath the falls. On my side of the river, yet another grizzly is padding my way, some three hundred yards away. I think this is probably a good time to take to the water and make my leave. I bid the bears adieu, thanking them for their presence and tolerance. It is another Alaskan feather to add to my cap.

This rendezvous of bears takes place every August. As long as the salmon keep running, the bears will continue to feast. As long as they continue to feast, the forests will continue to benefit from the nutrient rich excrement the bears leave in the woods. It’s amazing to see the interdependence of life forms in an active ecosystem.

GLACIER BAY FROM DAWN TO DUSK

This was one of the finest days I’ve ever seen in Glacier Bay National Park. The day dawned bright and cheerful, and it remained that way until the sunset in the evening. I spent all day outside, coming inside only to eat my meals. I kept my camera handy, and the following photos show Glacier Bay at its best.

Sunrise
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Jaw Point
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Jaw Point isn’t marked on any of the navigational charts, but everybody who ventures into the John Hopkins inlet knows of this jagged point of rocks. This was as pretty as I have ever seen it, bathed in strong morning light.

John Hopkins Glacier
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Glaciations
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I once yelled at a glacier, “Hey Glacier, Glaciate!” And in that instant, a huge chunk of ice cracked off and splashed into the sea. I must learn to beware of my powers.

Orca in the Distance
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In the morning, while watching the sunrise, I told my friend Tiffany that we were going to see Orca whales later in the day. We hadn’t seen any in two weeks, and while it’s possible to see them in Glacier Bay, it doesn’t happen very often. However, I was inspired by the good vibes of the morning, and felt good about our odds.

At about three thirty in the afternoon, the call came over the radio that there were “aqua pandas” coming at us. I smiled and laughed. I waste all my wishes on the ridiculous. I could’ve wished for world peace or the cure for cancer, but no, I had to use it up on more whales. This big male passed right in front of our bow before swimming off in the distance. I love the clouds and calmness of the water. The orca was a nice touch.

Frat House of the Sea
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I don’t know why it took so long for me to make this connection, but my friend Siri and I came to the conclusion that stellar sea lion haul outs are the ocean world’s equivalent of a college frat house. They smell like a frat house, they look like a frat house, and it sounds like a frat house. Stellar sea lions make the most disgusting sounds imaginable. They belt out a loud chorus of elongated belching, dry heaves and farts. The air stinks of excrement and rotten fish. The rocks are covered with large males jawing at one another trying to prove who the alpha male is.

Sunset over the Fairweather Mountains
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It is a fitting end to a beautiful day. The Fairweather mountains were all aglow in the orange bath of the suns aftermath. Gorgeous.

A Whale Rendezvous

I was talking to one of our guests about how beautiful the day turned out to be. She agreed, and said she would trade all of this good weather for a chance to see a whale. I told her, that not to worry, whales will come out in good weather and in bad, and I had a feeling that we would find some along the way. She smiled (she was very sweet) and said, “Okay, if you say we’ll see whales, I won’t worry about it anymore.”
I smiled. She was such a sweet lady, and I hoped for her sake that we would see some whales. Within hours, we were on a group of humpbacks that began bubble net feeding.
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Later on in the week, we came to a place where dozens of whales were spouting all around. In a five-mile radius, there were probably over forty active whales. It was amazing. That’s why the ocean is so incredible; I never know what I’m going to see on a given day. One day it can be orca, on another day, there will be bubble net feeders.
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There was one whale that trumpeted with each breath at the surface. This trumpeting isn’t normal. A slight blockage to its spout causes this Louis Armstrong sound. However, the sound it made was awesome. It reverberated off the nearby hills in a long echo. It was so very beautiful.
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Just before dinner, I found my friend and asked her if she had seen enough whales yet. She smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, “No.” I smiled with her. I know the feeling. To see a whale up close is an amazing experience that I will never tire of.

FAVORITE ODD SHOTS
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I like my new camera. It has served me well this week, and I look forward to sharing more views of this amazing world with you.

Posted by Rhombus 22:47 Archived in USA Tagged boats salmon whales alaska clouds sunsets photography forests bears Comments (2)

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