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Waking Up In Sitka

Lounging In Dandelions, Photos of an Alaskan May, Complacency, Waking Up

all seasons in one day 65 °F

I remember very clearly lying on a picnic table in Petersburg, Alaska. I said to my friend, “I wish we could do this all afternoon. We could get a bottle of wine, maybe do a crossword and fall asleep.” She agreed. Then we checked the time. Our sunny revelry was over. We had to go back to work.

Well, my life has changed since that sunny afternoon. A week has passed by and I’ve fulfilled my contractual agreements with that ship. It left me behind in Sitka, Alaska and I’ve been happily unemployed for the last four days.

I spent my last week on the ship working a very odd schedule. I started my shift at 9 pm and finished it at 9 am. It’s not a good schedule to have, especially if you have any desire to be social. But, I did it without complaint, as that was what they asked of me.
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I was in a sleepy torpor for two days as I tried to shift my sleeping schedule to more traditional patterns. I spent a lot of time lounging in sun strewn dandelion patches. Sitka has great dandelion patches. The flowers are bright and robust - nestled into the thick mat of fresh green grass. I thought back to my afternoon siesta with my friend back in Petersburg and I knew that lying around in a sunny park is everything I thought it could be.

At one point, I thought to myself that I should really write about my last week on the ship. I had a lot of fun teaching some new deckhands the tricks of the trade. I enjoyed the Alaskan seascapes in full bloom. I knew it was a passing thought, when I looked up at the clouds. I was just too tired.

The following photos will be my voice for the past week. They ring loudly and true about the supreme beauty in which I live, work and play.

Alaska in May

The Waterfalls of Tracy Arm
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Midway Islands
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Three Shades of Gray
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Point Anmer, Point Styleman and Grave Point

Sunrays Over Taku Harbor
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South Sawyer Glacier Explorations
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Arctic Tern Taking Flight
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Harbor Seals and South Sawyer Glacier
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Icebergs
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Davit Crane Fancy Work
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This is the best piece of fancy work I have tied so far. This sling holds the hook of our davit crane to a rail. There are two different types of chain sinnets, two different types of whippings, and a four strand star knot atop the wooden button I made out of an old piece of wood. Look for another article on knot tying in the near future.

Early Morning in Glacier Bay
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I love working the night shift in Alaska because the sun rises so early in the morning. I saw this scene around three thirty in the morning. It is a very peaceful time.

Afternoons in Front of the Marjorie Glacier
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I’ve been spending a lot of quality time watching the Marjorie Glacier. Glaciers, like whales, often require many hours of patient observation before they will do anything of note. More often then not, they will remain motionless for hours at a time before rewarding the persistent with a grand show. Even if nothing happens, the suspense and pleasure of watching glaciers is time well spent.

Complacency
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A friend of mine asked me, “Do you ever get complacent about the views around you?” It was a fair question. Have I become jaded? Maybe I have, I don’t know. For example, I remember the awe I once felt about seeing a humpback whale from a distance and hearing its powerful blow. Now, after seeing hundreds of them up close for the last three years, I wonder.

I enjoy seeing a whale as much as I always have. It is fair to say I’ve gotten much more fussy about which whales I’ll choose to photograph. After sorting through thousands of boring whale pictures and deleting most of them, I know what I’m looking for: An interesting composition in good light of a whale. If it isn’t intriguing, I’ll set my camera down and simply enjoy them.

Speaking of which, another friend of mine came down to my cabin to wake me up. “Thom! There are twenty orca outside, right now!” I leaned on my left arm and sleepily replied, “Twenty, hunh? Twenty one is the magic number.” With that, I rolled over and feigned sleep. I thought it was a good line, considering she shook me out of a dead sleep. Now, don’t get any ideas. After a few minutes, I got up and went out to watch the orca. There were three pods with about six members in each group. There might have been a single or two swimming around as well. It was the most orca I have seen together in one big pod. I didn’t take many photos as the whales were far away, but I like this one.
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Waking Up In Sitka
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On the third day of my stay in Sitka, I started waking up. My friend Annie and I went for a long walk in one of the most beautiful forest settings I have ever found. I called it a “Celebration of Green.” I’ll offer more on that later this week.

Today, I woke up to a beautiful blue bird sunny day. I lay in the warm womb of an afghan blanket as cool air from the open window wafted over my supine body. It was the best night of sleep I’ve had this year. I felt totally refreshed and energized. I was a new man. I looked at my clock, which said 7:32 a.m. I knew in that moment I had my mojo back! I have left that sleepy torpor behind, and it is time to embrace my life projects with all of the energy I can give them.

I wish I could convey just how happy I am right now. Words can’t do it.

Posted by Rhombus 22:32 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers ice alaska oceans ships glaciers photography sitka icebergs fancywork Comments (0)

Living The Good Life: Parting Shots of Antarctica

Opportunity, Parting Shots and Going Around The Horn

sunny 21 °F

It’s hard to believe I went to Antarctica. Who does that? As we were winding up our last days on the continent, my travel companion and I compared notes on how much we’ve worked this year. I’ve worked five and a half months in 2012, and she worked six months. We both started laughing at our ridiculous good fortune. By the numbers, we should be living in poverty. But here we are, sitting in white robes on a comfortable bed, waiting for our next landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s absurd.

My advice: When opportunity knocks on your door, answer it.

Parting Shots

Orca!
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I didn’t see many whales around the peninsula, except for one pod of Orca. The orcas were on the move in search of seals. The seals like to bask in the sun on top of ice floes. The whales will search among the icebergs; spyhopping out of the water to see if any seals are hiding on top. In this pod, there were two males, one female, and one juvenile whale.
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Endless Mountain Landscapes
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We had some outstanding weather on the trip. These shots are of the narrow passage that leads to Port Lockroy. The weather for the entire trip was amazing. There were several days in a row of brilliant sunshine with blue skies. Sunglasses and sunscreen were mandatory.
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I didn’t expect the peninsula to be as mountainous as it is. I love seeing high mountains peaking out from heavy cloud cover.
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Marching Penguins
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Penguins spend a lot of their day moving from one group to another, one place to another. Though wary, they tolerate humans so long as we do not get in their way. A penguin is busy this time of year, there are rocks to haul, nests to construct and mates to attract.
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A penguin highway is a great spot to watch them. The highway is obvious, as there is a ten-foot wide discoloration on the ice, and it usually has a couple of penguins ambling back and forth upon it. I like to sit down right near a highway at a strategic point where the penguins have to by closely in order to get where they want to go.
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For instance, one of their paths wound up a rock ramp between the ocean and the main colony. I sat down right next to bottom side of the ramp. The penguins didn’t care at all. They waddled right by and allowed me to watch them from less than three feet away.
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Penguin Flight

Brown Bluff sits at the extreme northerly end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Underneath this massive rock lies a large breeding colony of penguins. Like all life forms, a penguin must eat. To do this, they have to eventually get into the ocean and swim out to their feeding grounds. A leopard seal must also eat, and it knows the best place to catch penguins is between the colony and the feeding grounds.
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The leopard seal is very crafty, and uses all kinds of stealthy camouflage to catch the penguins off guard. He will hide behind bergs; wedging himself into a small crevice before launching himself at the passing penguins. He’s a menace to penguins.
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The penguins know this, and fight back with numbers. At a rocky point, the penguins gather in the hundreds. They wait there until the lead penguin closest to the water decides to go for it. Then it’s a game of follow the leader, and the hundred penguins that were standing behind him launch themselves into the sea in a mad rush. It’s impressive.

The penguin mob began swimming out to their grounds. When penguins swim, they “porpoise” through the water, jumping out like dolphins to catch a breath of air before diving back down. I watched the penguins get further away from shore. They looked like they were going to make it. Then, in an instant, they turned 90 degrees to their original direction and began to panic. The leopard seal struck again.
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The penguins raced back to shore. They began popping out of the water and recklessly landed on the rocks. They were scared. When the chaos ended, I could see the leopard seal thrashing the penguin against the water. It was somewhat sad, but that’s the way it goes.

Around The Horn
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We ended our explorations of the southern ocean by cruising through Drake’s Passage up to Cape Horn. This section of the world is unique. It’s where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic and Southern Oceans collide. Our passage wasn’t bad. We had a good roll to our ship, but the seas remained relatively calm.

It was strange to see Cape Horn. Though I have read about it, I never imagined that one day I would be looking at the tip of South America. I had made it around the horn. What a strange life I lead.

In the old days of sailing, it could take months to make it around the horn, and many mariners did not make it. Hundreds of ships litter this section of ocean. Many sailors were never seen again.

Fortunately, our ship was not one of them. We turned northeast before turning into the Beagle Channel before returning to Ushuaia.

So ends one hell of an amazing life journey. In time, I may have more to say about this voyage, but I’m still digesting it. As one adventure ends, another begins. “Adios, Antarctica. Hola, Argentina.”

Posted by Rhombus 08:42 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands wildlife ice oceans photography penguins icebergs antarctica Comments (0)

The Elements of Antarctica

Blizzards, Ice Sculpture, The Slide and Penguins

semi-overcast 22 °F


After much thought, I’ve decided I’m a struggling as a writer. I don’t know what adjectives to use when trying to describe the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. My thesaurus has run dry. It’s hard to find words that illustrate supreme beauty-except those very words. Antarctica IS supremely beautiful, and that is all I have to say about it.

The Antarctic Peninsula is essentially made of six elements. These are: ice, rock, water, atmosphere, snow, and wildlife (which includes humans). The interplay of these six simple elements makes Antarctic landscapes magnificent.

Here is my proof.

Blizzard on Deception Island
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There is nothing like walking around in a blizzard in Antarctica to make you feel alive. I landed on Deception Island in the midst of a fierce gale. The snow wasn’t really falling so much as it was whipping horizontally over the ground. It never really had a chance to hit the ice. The wind grabbed those flakes and used them to scour the land and the people who walked upon it. It was awesome.
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It was a great day for photography. The wind and driving snow obscured the details of the landscape. I shot these photos in sepia to give an “olde tyme” feel to them. They are some of my favorites of the trip.
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Neptune’s Window
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My compatriots and I took a hike to a high point called Neptune’s Window. I love how these lines of people look in the heavy wind and snow.

Slush
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I found a pond with interesting patterns made of slush.

Cuverville Island
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Natural Ice Sculpture
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A beautiful collection of natural ice art surrounds Cuverville Island. What I really love about these sculptures is not only are they completely natural, but they are only momentary. You have to appreciate them as they are in this moment, because a day from now they might be completely different. In the Antarctic, the flow of change is constant.
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Weddell Seal
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Seals spend much of their time sacked out on the ice floes.

Gentoo Penguin Colony
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Gentoo penguins have a colony on Cuverville Island. It’s interesting to watch gentoos during this time of year, because they are beginning their mating season. All over Cuverville, the penguins gather about in groups on the highest points of the land. They choose high ground because the snow will melt the quickest on top, and it is here where they will make their nests made of rocks.
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In the colony, the penguins consisted of two groups: those that are still looking for a mate, or those that have found one. The courting of penguins is quite elegant. After a good sit, the penguins will slowly walk in a circle. Together, they will bow down very low to the ground and open their beaks while looking at one another. Then the birds will return to a neutral pose and continue sitting around for a few hours.
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The penguins that haven’t found a mate yet spend their days wandering from one group to the next. Often they will stand in trios and call out in a loud “purr.” These calls are announcements of their availability and fine genetics.
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Penguin watching is a fascinating pastime.
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Neko Harbour Shenanigans
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I took my first footsteps on the Antarctic Continent on a cold beach at Neko Harbour. I started my afternoon off by hiking high up on a massive bluff. I passed the ever-present gentoo colonies as I sweated my way to the top. It overlooked the massive glacier that was just across the small cove from where we landed. The glacier had a huge piece of ice poised to fall into the sea below. It would have made a tremendous wave had it fallen. The glacier did sheave off some ice, but the giant piece stayed in place.

Since I was on top of a very steep hill, it only made sense to slide down to the bottom on my rain pants. I managed to talk two of my friends into joining me. At first, it didn’t look like we were going to have any luck. The snow was too soft; the slope not steep enough. We tried a few different techniques, before the snow and slope cooperated. We were soon sliding easily along the snow, laughing, giggling, and whooping with joy. We picked up speed. The joy turned into sheer terror as we reached the lip of the true slope. At this point, there was no way to slow down, and we went into a free fall down the side of the cliff.

I tried to dig my fingers, boots, and arms into the snow, but it was no use. I was at the mercy of gravity, speed, and friction. I finally managed to dig my feet into the slope, but that only caused me to summersault heels over head. I body slammed into the ground and lost all control of descent. Finally, I began to slow and gradually slid to a stop. I laughed. It was exhilarating. I looked over to see how Amy was doing and she was fine. Then we both watched to see the giggling Tiffany fly down the last slope to where we were sitting in the snow. We compared notes, laughed some more, and finally got up to collect our things.
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After the slide, I watched penguins for the rest of the afternoon. They were up to their usual antics: Waddling around, bowing to one another, making nests, and looking cute. I had several of them bob right up to where I was sitting in the snow. I had a good look at their fine lines and remarkable feet.
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Lemaire Channel and Booth Island
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Lemaire Channel is one of the most beautiful stretches of water I’ve passed through. It is bound on both sides by steep, snow-laden mountains. Icy fields descend the mountain and form tidal glaciers at the waterline. I ventured through a corridor of blue glaciers. I felt like I was in a hallway of the Gods.
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After passing through the channel, I rounded the south side of Booth Island. It is in this area that the big icebergs have gathered. There size is immense. Only about ten percent of an iceberg is above the waterline. Keep that in mind as you look at some of the photos of these icebergs.
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The Keyhole
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Leopard Seal
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This is a male leopard seal. The leopard seal is a fierce predator that eats penguins as its main source of food. Their lithe, sinewy bodies are ideal for slipping through narrow openings in the ice. Leopard seals are territorial, claiming a patch of water as their own.

Compressed Ice
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The heavy weight of the dense glacier compresses oxygen out of the ice, which is why it is so clear. The clearer the piece of ice is, the less oxygen is in it. You can see this same process for yourself if you take a small scoop of snow and begin working it and squeezing it with your fingers. As it melts, it becomes easier to form, try to keep it in the shape of a cube as you compress it. You will notice that it becomes clearer. Now you won’t be able to make it as clear as this piece, but the concept is still the same.

Pack Ice
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It was an odd experience to be moving through pack ice on a ship. I have read about pack ice in countless books about Polar exploration. In my mind, I always wondered what it was like to be bashing one’s way through an endless plain of moving ice. As with everything, it’s one thing to read about it; it’s quite another to actually experience it.
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First, some science. Essentially, pack ice forms when a large flat piece of new ice breaks up in smaller chunks and collects en masse by wind and currents. Most pack ice looks like a large collection of giant snow pancakes, with smaller chunks of ice in between.
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Our ship is an ice class vessel, which means it can push its way through pack ice with relative ease. After the days activities, with dinner firmly lodged in our stomachs, everyone on board went outside to enjoy this unique experience. I bundled up against the cold, grabbed my camera, and went out to the bow of the ship.
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The lighting was incredible. Photographers and painters dream about this light. It was low angled light from a golden sunset, diffused through bands of thin clouds. The sunset seemingly lasts forever in the Antarctic during the summer months, and this was no exception. In the background were heavily clouded mountains that contrasted beautifully in the sunlit foreground. The photographers on board were in ecstasy, shooting hundreds and hundreds of pictures in a couple of hours. They ran around singing Paul Simon’s “Kodakchrome.” They talked to the icebergs, complimenting them on their beauty as they snapped their shutters. It sounded like machine gun fire.
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I loved every part of it. The ice pancakes were beautiful. Hell, everything was beautiful. It was an amazing evening in a unique landscape.

Adelie Penguins
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This is the classic Antarctic scene: A small group of adelie penguins popped out of the water onto a flat sheet of ice right in front of me. They shook and rolled around on the floe, which helps them shed water from their dive. They were curious, yet cautious. They kept one eye on me as they rested. I halfway expected them to start tap dancing, but they didn’t.
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Then one of the penguins took the lead and readied itself to jump back in the water. The other penguins followed it, and they all lined up before diving back into the frigid water.
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Antarctica is supremely beautiful… Yep.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:49 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands ice oceans ships photography penguins icebergs blizzards Comments (2)

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)

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)

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