A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Rhombus

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)

Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
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I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
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Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
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The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
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My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
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My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
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The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
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Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
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It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

.

Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

Icebergs, Fox Fires, and Orca: An Alaskan Week to Remember

Kayaking in Icebergs, Euology for a Glacier, Fox Fires, and Orca

semi-overcast 50 °F

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I could see the mass of white blue ice floating on the placid rain speckled water of Williams Cove from the fantail of the ship. I asked our Bosun if he would drop some kayaks for two of my friends, and myself. I slid into my raingear, and hopped into the shuttle that would take us to shore.
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Now in the kayak, I paddled directly towards the massive blue iceberg that had drawn my attention earlier. It was even prettier up close. I love glacier blue. This color only forms in the ancient ice of glaciers. The glaciers are a living entity, though they are slowly passing away.

Eulogy for a Glacier
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In life, a tidal glacier creates some of the prettiest landscapes on the face of the planet. The glacier spends thousands of years, slowly grinding and polishing dense mountain stone until it is a perfect. Sawyer Glacier (before it split into North and South Sawyer) was the master carver of Tracy Arm-a stunning array of angled rock, white ribbons of waterfalls, green water, and beautiful ice floes.
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In death, the tidal glacier melts and disintegrates. As a parting gift, it sheds magnificent pieces of ice from its face that slowly melt into the sea. The cracking roar of white thunder signifies the birth of another berg. Once the berg settles, the tidal currents pull them away from the face and carry them out to sea. As children leave home, icebergs slowly disappear around the bend, never to be seen again. Over time, the tidal glacier retreats further into the fjord until at last the final piece of ice falls into the sea. There is nothing left but a rumbling creek, and the smooth rock of memories past.

A tidal glacier is unique, because it only creates beauty. Its life work is left to see in the short term exquisite melting of icebergs, and in the long lasting beauty of a fjord.

Zen Morning

It is in the wondrous backdrop of Tracy Arm, that I spent my morning kayaking around stately icebergs. It was another Zen morning for me. I heard the sound of raindrops tapping the surface of the slate gray water with a tiny blip. Two ravens call in the distance. The watery sound of small waves lapping the ice was musical. The ice itself is exquisite. Each piece of ice was worthy to be on the wall of the Louvre. The seawater and rain have melted it into intricate shapes, and each piece could be a plate on the Rorschach test.
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My friends went in search of warmth. I went in search of ice, and with it, Zen. I fell into deep breathing, satisfied to float around the bergs as the current would take me. I opened my eyes, and a leaf floated right to my canoe. I marveled at its vein system. Then I let it go.
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Blue
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We visited South Sawyer Glacier right at sunset. We were deep in the fjord, deep in blue shadow. A giant iceberg glowed against the rich backdrop of sun-streaked stone. It was a beautiful a work of art, a sapphire set into a locket of fire.
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The face of the glacier held still. It looked as though the entire face could fall at any minute, but it held its piece, frozen and unmoving for the moment. Dozens of harbor seals were atop the ice floes, basking in the beautiful evening. The seals live on the floes, in front of the glacier. In real estate, it’s all about location. I’d like to meet their agent.

Fox Fire
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The Inuit call it “Fox Fire.” The phenomenon is more commonly called the “northern lights” (in the northern hemisphere). Astronomers prefer to call it Aurora Borealis. It has been many years since I’ve seen the northern lights dancing in the sky. And I’ve never seen it in Alaska. I’ve seen them three times this week. Last night’s show was amazing. At three thirty in the morning, I looked to the north and saw an intense column of green light. Then a halo appeared and began pulsing. I was in awe. I ran down to the bunks, and woke up my roommate, and two other friends to share the experience. It’s a gamble to wake people up, because the northern lights are a fickle entity. As quickly as they show, they can disappear -even on a perfectly clear sky. Luck was with me, and the lights continued to dance when I returned to the stern of our ship. My friends appeared, one by one, and I was glad to have awoken them. We stood in companionable silence in the chilly Alaskan night watching the dance of all dances. I wondered what ancient man thought of the foxfires. As they dance ended, I smiled. How lucky can a guy get?

Close Encounters with Orca
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I’m working nights this week. I awoke around four, and headed up to the top deck our ship to eat my breakfast. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool. The sun broke through the high patchwork clouds, bringing warmth, and chill. I read philosophy aloud to a friend as we watched the Alaskan seascapes slowly change with our movement.
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Then the boat slowed, and we spotted a pod of orca. I put down my philosophy book that I was reading to a friend, and we watched the whales for a while. Then, as they swam away, I went back to my book for a few pages. Suddenly, we heard the whale spout right next to us, and we jumped up to see them. They were right next to the boat, skimming the surface just underneath the water. Then, as a family, the big male popped up, followed by two females and a calf. It was amazing!

Needless to say, I’ve been eating a lot more breakfast up on the lido. There is no finer way to start my day.

To recap, this week I’ve seen six different glaciers. I’ve kayaked among icebergs. I saw a beautiful iceberg scene of seals, ice and sunset. I watched an orca pod for several hours. I watched humpback whales bubble net feed. The aurora borealis danced across my sky three times on three different nights, and I’ve shared it all with some great people.

Alaska. It’s such a small name, but it gives me such a big smile.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales alaska oceans kayaking glaciers photography orca icebergs foxfires auroraborealis Comments (0)

Alaskan Atmosphere

A Breath, Mists, Wildlife, Sea Scapes, and Very Large Animals

semi-overcast 63 °F

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I’m trapped in the ether of Southeast Alaska. In this region of Alaska, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure. The air is coldest at the point of entry- my nose- and warms only slightly as it flows down my windpipe into my lungs. At the entrance to my lungs, the cool air spreads evenly into my lung tissue. It feels as though someone just walked into a warm and cozy house after spending several hours out in the winter cold. It smells fresh. It tastes pure. It blows my endorphins wide open. With every breath, I feel alert, happy, and somehow, more alive.
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When I say I am “trapped” here, I mean to say that I am once again working on a ship with few options for escape. To those of you who might have worked on a vessel before, you will understand what I mean. Even if I wanted to gain my freedom, there are only two choices: I can jump off the boat and swim to shore, or I could get off at the next port later on in the week. I think I’ll stay.

Life on a ship is not so bad actually. The work is good, the people are fun, and the seascapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
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In fact, I think Alaska is almost impossibly beautiful. I will never understand the physics behind the mist and fog that forms and flows around the islands, mountains, and rain forest. I don’t think I want to. Physics aside, the results are inspiring.
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If the landscape wasn’t mind blowing enough, then there are the giant animals that wander though these Alaskan scenes. During my first week, I had close encounters with Stellar Sea Lions near the Inian Islands. I watched a pod of Orca catching Salmon in Peril Straight. Near False Bay, I saw Humpback Whales working together to corral herring in a giant bubble net. As one, the whales swam through the net feasting on the herring in an orgy of mass eating.
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It was very exciting. I was leaning on a portside rail, looking out at a school of herring dancing on the water. A quivering ball of herring makes the surface of the water bounce, as though a heavy rain is falling on the ocean. I heard the whales before I saw them. I looked down and with a rush of frothy white water, the pod broke through the surface right next to the ship. I was spellbound.
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On land, I watched grizzly bears foraging along the shore. They were prying mussels off the rocks for their lunch. I spied a wolf pack through binoculars loitering on a beach. The pack had a young pup, and it embraced its playful nature. While the mother and other members relaxed on the beach, the pup ran around between them biting them on the muzzle. In one scene, I saw a murder of ravens, a wolf, and a grizzly bear hanging out near a creek.

The Reid glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the prettiest I have seen. A giant ice cave has formed on its face this year. I love looking at the texture and coloring of this glacier. It has a marbled look, mostly brown and dirty white, but it glows a very subtle glacier blue.
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This past week was perhaps the best welcome back present I could have had. Alaska continues to be very good to me. I feel like my words and pictures can’t really do this place justice. I could use thousands of adjectives from the English language, but none of them comes close to describing what it is like to stand in place and look off to some distant fog covered island. It is one of the world’s truly remarkable locations.
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I’m satisfied with my captivity. If I’m going to be in prison, it may as well be by choice in the wilds of southeast Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 02:46 Archived in USA Tagged trees boats islands whales alaska clouds oceans mist photography bears wolves Comments (1)

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