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An Autumn Wind

The End Of Summer, The Start of Autumn, Favorite Pictures of the Week

sunny 75 °F

An Autumn Wind
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Yesterday was… It’s hard to describe yesterday. I will try. It was hot, dusty and exceedingly bright. One had to squint to try to alleviate the discomfort. Squinting all day makes you tense and irritable. It was hard on the eyes. A listless pall of negativity surrounded the ship. I felt it. This was heavy and draining. It affected everyone. I saw many stifled yawns. I saw many frowns. I felt mildly annoyed all day.

Evening came on, without much improvement. I had stowed the flags, I was standing watch at the gangway enjoying the cool darkening of the skies. From somewhere unknown, an unexpected wind arrived. It hammered into us. I’ve felt the slap of the wind before, but it has been awhile since it has punched me. This was no love tap; this was a well balanced punch with a strong follow through. This wind blew for forty-five minutes without letting up. This was an impressive wall of nearly invisible energy.

I turned and faced into the melee. Cool, moist air engulfed my mouth, my nose and lungs. It whipped through my hair, tousling my beard. Then the wind began scouring our decks. Our garbage cans went sailing, empty gas cans tumbled across the lido. Three kayaks toppled from their racks onto the deck. Our mooring lines stretched taut under the strain, and our deck mats flipped upside down asunder.

The deck crew assumed headless chicken stances, and ran around the boat securing all loose ends in order of importance. It took awhile, but eventually we secured our decks. When I stepped inside, the ship seemed so calm and peaceful compared to the tumult raging outside. I went back out into the wind. It was awesome.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this gale cleaned that dying breath of the last day of summer right out of us. Amongst the crew, moods visibly improved (myself included). I felt more alive, much happier, and more buoyant.
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As quickly as it came, the wind dissipated and vanished. The waters were calmed down; the stars reappeared above. You would never believe that a straight-line wind had ripped though.

This morning, I awoke fresh. I could feel the difference from yesterday to today. The morning light seems brighter. The air is fresh. It’s chilly out, whereas yesterday it was sticky. The autumn has arrived. Our second mate noticed it last night during the gale saying, “Holy crap. Is that the end of summer?”

I started my day with the following passage:

“Foolish. Of course! To give up a steady job in order to gratify a few vague daydreams. To leave a life of comfort for one of constant danger, discomfort and insolvency. Surely that is the height of foolishness. I reasoned with myself. How in the first place could I ever find the money to do it? But I was young, argued that other restless self, and a lad of twenty-one can always find a way to realize his desire.

And the desire grew and grew until it rang in my ears like a trumpet call.”

Dennis Puleston ~ Blue Water Vagabond.

I came to the park equipped with coffee cup, muffin, yogurt, orange, phone, books and slack line. I chatted with my brother Karl, talking of many good things. Our conversation covered comfort, breakfast nooks, Limo, our brother Eric, paradigms, the wind, and autumn. We complimented each other on our prospective journeys and appreciation for all the good things in our lives, and ended on a good vibe.

I breathed that fresh cool air; I ate my breakfast in the shady company of trees. After many minutes, I set up my slack line and found my balance.

This is good. This is how I like to start my day.

I'll end this entry with my favorite pictures of the week. Enjoy!
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Posted by Rhombus 01:37 Archived in USA Tagged night rivers friends autumn moon photography washington wind Comments (0)

The Great Bicycle Fiasco

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bike Owner

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The Great Bicycle Fiasco began (not surprisingly) with a single thought. “I should get a bike.” Well, that thought blossomed, and I began to visualize the bike I was hoping to get. I like old bikes. Old bikes have more character than newer designs. I love big fenders, shaky wheels, big springy seats, and handlebars that haven’t any aero-dynamics. The best ten dollars I’ve ever spent in my life was on one such bike. It was a one speed, rusted black, Schwinn. It came with big chrome fenders, and narrow handlebars. It quaked and shook slightly when I rode it. I loved that bike. That bike had an epic demise. It involved a beautiful blonde, a sunny spring day, and a moment of bicycle self-destruction. That story will have to wait for another day.
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I found my new bike at a funky antique store in Clarkston, Washington, called The Hangar. Many antique stores are run as a collective- meaning several dealers have banded together to form a co-op that has rented out a space to sell their wares. When I walked into the shop, I asked the sunny woman at the register if she had any bikes. “Yes, just the one out front... Or, I do have an old one.” The way she said it, made it sound like I’d be crazy to be interested in the old bike. I said to her, “I’d like to see the old one, if you don‘t mind.” Since the customer is always right, she smiled and led me on a winding path through a maze of interesting old stuff.

It was love at first sight. I told my host, “Now, that’s a great bike.” She looked at me askance, but seemed mildly amused at the same time. I walked around it, admiring its lines. The bike is that sixties tannish beige color. It wasn’t pale yellow, yet it wasn’t tan, it was a mixture of both of them. It had two solid fenders, wide comfortable handlebars and a boxy triangular seat. It was just what I was looking for.

The tires were both flat, but this didn’t scare me. I’ve picked up some handy man skills over the years and figured a couple of inner tubes would be an easy fix. Beyond that, I’d raise the seat, polish the chrome, and give it a tune-up with tools I had onboard the ship.

I bought the bike for forty dollars. This might sound like a lot for an old cruiser, but I knew I could easily resell this bike at the end of my ship contract. Several of the women I worked with would buy it from me in a second. I pushed it out of the store, saddled up, and pedaled on down the highway. I know that this isn’t good for the bike rims, but I HAD to ride it. After two hundred yards, I stepped off and pushed it another half mile back to the ship.

Author’s Note: The following is a true series of unfortunate events. I offer you the sequence of anguish this bike has caused me over the past week and a half. As you read this, please keep in mind that all I really want in this world is to take this bike on a leisurely ride.

The First Week

On the first night that I “owned” my bike, I set to work seeing what I could improve. I oiled the moving parts, inflated the tires, and chemically scrubbed some rust off the rims. I found from my initial investigations, that one of my tires held air, while the other tire did not. This seemed an easy fix. I decided to run off to store the next day to get a couple of tubes. In my haste, I neglected to measure the size of my tires before I headed off to buy new tubes. Consequently, I bought the wrong size and style of tubes.

I figured this out when I tried to install them on the rim. I had to stretch it like a taut rubber band to get it on the rim. And when I tried to inflate the tire, it remained flat. Then I got the bright idea to patch the original tube. I filled it with air and held the tube to my ear to see if I could hear where it was leaking air. I found a tiny hole near the valve stem. I talked to our Boson who gave me some extremely powerful glue to use to patch the rubber. I went about cleaning, preparing, gluing (nearly getting high in the process) and sealing the hole. The instruction manual informed me that it took twenty-four hours to cure. I was happy with my efforts.

Twenty-four hours later, I happily grabbed my tire, tube and tools. I put the tube and my tire back on its rim and re-inflated it. I watched with excitement as it seemed to be holding air, but after ten minutes, the tire began to get softer and softer, my initial pleasure began to deflate and sag- just like the tire.

A day passed before I had a chance to work on it again. Since I’m working on a ship, I can’t just run to the local bike shop every time I need a new tube. I have to work, and I only have limited free time in which to run into town. However, I knew I’d be at The Dalles with plenty of free time on a Monday afternoon. I found a map to the bike shop online. When one p.m. rolled around, I bolted off the ship to get my tires. I kept a brisk pace as I walked east along Second Street, counting down the numbers on the buildings until I reached Salmon Cyclery. The shop was dark. The door locked. The shop was closed on Monday.

I walked glumly back to the ship. I checked online again and found that my next chance to go to a bike shop was in Hood River the next day. I checked with my supervisor to see if I could run to town for a half hour, and I was ready to go. I didn’t count on the fact that as soon as we dropped our guests off at the dock, we left.

In retrospect, I can’t quite believe my patience. I guess I was still doggedly holding to the idea that I would be riding my bike the next day. “Tomorrow never comes.”

Finally, six days after I purchased my bike, I was in Portland, Oregon. Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States and I figured if I couldn‘t find the right gear here, I couldn‘t find it anywhere. I speed walked up Salmon Avenue counting the blocks to get to Tenth Street. There I would find the Bike Gallery. This was the closest bike shop to the ship in downtown Portland.

It seemed like my stars were finally starting to align. The shop was open, and well stocked. Before I left, I had measured the tires, and had memorized their dimensions since my first mistake earlier in the week. I talked with a skinny guy at the register, and he helped me find two tires, with matching tubes. I made my purchase, and went back to the ship.

I tolerated the day of work. I was slowly baking away in the hot sun, impatiently waiting to get off my shift. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Finally, 7 pm rolled around and I ran up to my bike. I quickly dismantled the tires in the gloaming of late evening and brought them down to the crew lounge aka Thom’s Bike Shop to put on the new ones. The tire said 26 inches. The rim said 26 inches. They should work, right? Wrong. The tires lied. After many frustrating minutes of trying to stretch the tire over the rim, I finally gave up. They weren’t going on. Upon measuring the tires, I found they were only 25 inches. It was another crushing blow, and I was beginning to lose heart in this futile project. I told the chief engineer, “At this point, I’m hoping I’ll get to ride it by November.”

The next day brought me to Astoria, Oregon. I gathered the last of my optimism and put it to good use. I had the following things going for me: It was my day off, I had a ride into town and Astoria has a bike shop that was open on Friday. I had all day to work on my bike if it came down to that. I was hoping it wouldn’t.
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I had some time to kill before the bike shop opened. I put my time to good use by calling my brother. I sat on a park bench overlooking Astoria’s waterfront. It was a pleasant morning. The wind whisked charismatic leaves about the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but set up a few photos. The conversation was great. It reminded me of why I really like this guy.

Comedic Timing

I walked into the well-appointed bike shop in Astoria shortly after it opened. The owner wore a working man’s apron, spectacles and smile. I asked him if he had any bike tires that would work on the rim I had brought in with me. He said he might, and asked me to follow him to his tires section. He searched through his tires, testing them against my rim. He measured my rim, and tried some more, mumbling to himself while he searched. Finally, he turned to me, and gave me the bad news, “Sorry, I don’t have any that will work. I can order them for you though, and you’ll get them next week.” I thought about it for awhile, checked my calendar, and did the math. I just couldn’t face another week of this. I thanked him for his time and stepped out into the street.

I sighed, and wondered what I did to deserve this kind of run around. I had one option left that I didn’t think of before. What if I put my new tubes in my old tires? The old tires were well worn and cracked. They had sections of dry rot where the supporting mesh poked through. I decided to give them a shot. If it worked, I’d be riding that day, if it didn’t, I‘d be no further along then I currently was on this project. I caught a cab back to Tongue Point where we moored our ship. I went dumpster diving into the trash to pull out the old tires that I had thrown away the night before. I grabbed my tools, rims and new tubes and set to work.

The installation went well. By this time, I had become very proficient at changing bike tires. I had them reinstalled on the rims faster than you could recite Homer’s “Odyssey.” I crossed my fingers, and put air into the tubes. They inflated beautifully. Finally, after all that disappointment, I knew I could take my new bike out for a spin around the dock. I bounded back up to the Lido where my bike lay upside down. I bolted on the tires, and spun the wheels until they hummed. They rolled straight and true.

Down on the dock, I stepped into the pedals and took my baby on our first ride. It was awesome. I kept yelling at the occasional crewmember who walked by, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m Riding, I’m riding!” I was completely happy.

It passed its trial run. I grabbed my adventure bag, and set off down the dock at a comfortable speed. I didn’t know where I was going, but the unknown was calling my name. As I neared the first hill, I built up some speed to help me ascend the slope. Just as I started up the incline, I put all my weight into the downward stroke of the pedal, “POW!” My chain had snapped.

Now, I am blessed with a good sense of humor. At this point, all I could do was laugh. The irony, and comedic timing of this chain snapping was perfect. All of the pent up frustration I had with this bike drained away with my laughter. There was nothing to do about it. I braked to a stop, walked back a few feet to what was left of my chain, and wrapped it around my handlebars. I turned my bike around, and scootered it back to the boat. I hauled it up to its home and secured it to the rail. I put on my walking shoes, and stepped off the boat. I was going to walk to town.

For the rest of the day, I pampered myself, and enjoyed my day off. I went out for lunch at the Rogue Public House. I ate a delicious burger with a Dead Guy Ale. I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores to peruse their racks. I found a book on writing style. Finally, I bought a new bike chain from the bike shop. I finished my spree by drinking a strawberry milkshake in the shade of a comfortable birch tree.

I caught the bus back to the ship. It was evening, and I decided to install my new bike chain. After tinkering a little on the new chain, I set it on my bike. I would test ride it the next day.

Moonlight Ride

It’s getting dark out. The breeze blows steadily with occasional warm currents from the heat of the day still curl around me. A day past full, the moon is rising steadily over our little harborage. It casts a pale light across the vacant park I’m enjoying. I had just finished a satisfying slack line session. It’s hard to slack line at night, but it was fun all the same. I’m sitting with my back to a fragrant pine tree. I have a cold beer in my left hand. I’m watching the moonlit harbor scene morph around me. Taking an idea from my brother, I talk awhile about where I am in this world. It was a good chat. And it seemed like a good thing to do.

My bike is leaned on its kickstand. I messed up again. I didn’t tighten my rear wheel enough when I installed the chain. I’m completely at ease with the situation. I think there were many lessons taught to me from the last week and a half, and I feel like I’ve learned them.

After I finish my beer, I grab my gear and walk my bike back to the boat. Instead of housing my bike, I decide to wrench on it a bit and get the wheel back in place. This time, I tighten down the nuts with as much force as I can muster on my vice grips. I put my tools away, and push my bike up the ramp to the gravel parking lot. I tentatively try a few slow circles. I gain more confidence with each pedal stroke. Soon, I am flying along the asphalt trail, a moonlit streak in the dark park. The smile upon my face is as large as the moon. I feel young and alive - my skin tingles with excitement. I feel as though I just learned to ride a bike again. Once again, I’ve caught the exhilaration of freedom, and relearned the lesson of balance.

Posted by Rhombus 02:08 Archived in USA Tagged bikes rivers oregon trails washington woe Comments (0)

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

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

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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

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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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