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The Falkland Islands

New Island Bird Colony, Hiking Across Carcass Island, Slacklining in Stanley and Remembrance Day on Tumbledown Ridge

sunny 55 °F

New Island
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I fell in love with the Falklands almost immediately. From the ocean, the Falklands appear to be a barren collection of windswept islands. Upon closer inspection, the landscape consists of long grasslands that rise slowly from one side of the island to the other before falling abruptly into the sea below. The wind blows relentlessly from the west, building waves that smash into its western shores in a foamy crescendo.
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Birds are everywhere. The upland geese graze along the hills like docile cows. Long-tailed meadowlarks sing among the tussocks. Turkey vultures glide effortlessly on the strong breeze above the highlands, and penguins, albatross and shags populate the rocky cliffs. These islands are far from barren.
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I stood upon a western cliff of New Island not more than ten feet away from a breeding colony of rock hopper penguins, black browed albatross and blue-eyed shags. There were hundreds of birds along one section of cliff. These birds were mixing in a giant melting pot of feathers and fowl language. The cacophony of three types of birds squawking over the bashing surf was intense.
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The penguins hopped up and down the cliff (hence the name) from their nesting site to the top of the cliff. They were keenly interested in dried grass in which to build their nest. The shags had the advantage with the ability to fly and could gather grasses in clumps from the hillside before crash landing into onto a narrow section of unattended rock. The giant albatross stood watch on their nests. On occasion, they would waddle over the slanted boulders often tripping over their giant webbed feet. While good for swimming, the webbing makes for walking over boulders quite difficult. Imagine wearing snorkeling fins and walking through a pumpkin patch, and you can see the difficulty.
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Besides the din, the cliff smelled much like a bird colony- the pungent aroma of guano wafted through the breeze. I walked the ridge stopping at intervals to admire the variety of birds. For me, the rock hoppers stole the show. This was my first experience among penguins in the wild, and, well, if I didn’t love penguins before, I certainly love them now.
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Carcass Island
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I passed by a line of Magellanic penguins that sat idly on one of the beaches of Carcass Island. They were content to stand or lie down in the warm sand, seemingly at ease. I gave them a wide berth as I passed them, climbing up onto the flat grassy plain fifty yards past the waterline.
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I walked counterclockwise around the large bay at the south end of the island. The land rose steadily from the waterline to a ridge high above me, but I was content to walk the path that straddled the fence line. The owners of the land raise sheep. In the distance, I could see their dirty cream bodies high on the hillside.

The walk was very pleasant. I took my time, enjoying the beautiful landscape spread out in front of me. The afternoon sun was warm, and I was glad I hadn’t worn any heavy clothes. Who knew the Falklands would have such nice spring weather? I sat down in the warm grass to make some quick sketches of the landscape before moving on. I listened to the plethora of birds, and decided the Falklands are a birders paradise. I walked on.
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As I neared the farmhouse, I passed bright yellow thickets of gorse. The gorse plant is an invasive species to the Falklands. If left unchecked would run rampant over the native vegetation. The thickets are incredibly dense; a twisted trap of strong branches and razor sharp needles. I wouldn’t want to try to walk through such a devilish mess. For as nasty as navigating through them would be, to walk around them is quite enjoyable. The bright yellow petals of the gorse are quite beautiful, and they smell of coconut oil. Many songbirds would sit atop the gorse and sing its springtime song as I passed by.
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“It was one o’ them zippidy doo-dah days.” ~Uncle Remus.

Stanley
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Stanley is not a large town, with something near two thousand full time residents. Stanley sits on a long gentle hillside. The homes and businesses terrace downward from the top of the ridge to the water. The houses are a comfortable size and built low to the ground to get out of the wind. The small yards stand in their natural state, with clotheslines strung up for wet laundry. The strong breeze makes quick work of wet laundry on a sunny day.

The central area of downtown is British. It reminded me of images of the quaint British town, full of red telephone booths, small shops bunched together and narrow twisting cobbled streets. I wasn’t much interested in the many gift shops (much to my niece’s dismay). I was on a mission. I was trying to find two trees with just the right distance between them.

Why was I looking for two trees? Because I wanted to slackline. I reasoned that if I could find some trees to set up my slackline, that I might just become the first person to slackline in Stanley, and perhaps the Falklands. There aren’t many “firsts” left in this world. Somebody has already gone to the moon, somebody has already climbed the Matterhorn, and somebody has already eaten over sixty hotdogs. And it was my hope to be the first to slackline in the Falklands.

The problem was I was having a hard time finding trees. There aren’t many trees in Stanley, and most of them belong to the government. I walked through the memorial wood of 1982, but the trees were too flimsy. I also felt it might have been disrespectful to the fallen, or those that loved them. The Falkland Conflict of 1982 is still fresh in the minds of the residents. I was there on Remembrance Day; more on that later.

I walked past the chapel, past schoolyard playgrounds, and all the way to government house. In fact, I was navigating by treetops, hoping that I would find two trees that would suit my purpose. But all of the trees I found were surrounding public or private buildings. I was about to give up.

Finally, I found an empty playground with a telephone pole and a jungle gym the right distance away. I smiled. The warm grass felt good on my bare feet as I took to the line. During my session, a tour bus full of passengers drove by, and the driver announced in full British accent, “And here we have a man walking a tightrope in the park. How very strange…”
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One of the passengers told me this when we later met on the ship. I laughed aloud at my strangeness.

Remembrance Day on Tumbledown Ridge
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I stepped off the bus onto a gravel road right next to a minefield. This was my first minefield I’ve been close to (unless you consider the cross examination I’ve faced from several females I‘ve known). It was slightly unnerving seeing the minefield. Who knew if they found them all? I stuck to the path through the native grasses from the trailhead, and it took awhile before I felt comfortable in leaving it.

As I’ve said, the conflict of 1982 is still fresh, and there were still many reminders of the war all along this hike.

Hiking in the Falklands is easy and enjoyable. The ground often rises along a gradual slope that isn’t hard to climb. It’s not long before you are hundreds of feet above the trailhead from where you started. After making the initial assault to reach the ridgeline, I saw where Argentine troopers had dug foxholes into the damp earth. I haven’t walked through many war zones in my life, but it had a sobering effect on my hike. I kept wondering what it would be like to be here on this barren ridge, fighting for my life.
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The heights of Mt. William jutted out of the ridge at a steep angle. I wanted to leave the group and climb them on my own, but I knew if I ran off to scale them, some other fool would too. While I’m confident in my own ability, I didn’t think most of my fellow passengers could handle what I had in mind. I stuck to the course.

From Mt. Williams I crossed a narrow peat covered valley across to Tumbledown Ridge. I weaved around perfectly circular holes punched in the peat where artillery fire had landed. From there we climbed up the rocks to where the cross stood. It stands to salute the British troops who had fallen in the skirmish.
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The wind howled over the ridge from the west. I could barely stand upright in the gale, and soon sat down to get out of the pummeling. I listened to one of our guides talk about the battle, how the fighting went from high point to high point all the way down to Stanley, several miles away.
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In fact, I really enjoyed the company of one of our guides. Derek’s family has been in the Falklands for over five generations. This is his home, and he is rightly proud of it. I asked him how his family came to the island.

“Well, back then the colonies offered a chance to get away. Quite a lot of us went to Australia or New Zealand, Canada or America, but somehow, we came here… It’s home.”

We chatted for the rest of the hike, enjoying the exercise and endless beauty around us. He told me he was in the Ramblers association, which had occasional group treks to various islands. I asked him what his favorite place was on the island.

“That’s a tough one; each island has its own charm. There are good things about all of them, I suppose. I like New Island. It’s very nice. And Carcass island is very easy to walk on.“ I had to agree. At one point, Derek walked off to gaze over a cliff, and I took this picture of him. Should you find yourself in Stanley and looking for an interesting guide, Derek’s your man.
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Though my visit to the Falklands was brief, I feel I made the best of it. I enjoyed two solid days of hiking, and became the first to slack line there. I hope I make it back there some day.

Our ship has since turned southeast and is heading towards South Georgia Island. We’ve been at sea for a day and a half, and expect to make landfall tomorrow. By all accounts, South Georgia is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and full of dynamic wildlife. We’ve crossed the convergence zone of the southern ocean. This is where the water temperature drops, and currents between the relatively warm water of the northerly oceans meet the cold water of the southern ocean. I expect we’ll be seeing icebergs soon.
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“Walk On!”

Posted by Rhombus 07:21 Archived in Falkland Islands Tagged landscapes birds islands hiking photography penguins stanley slacklining falklands Comments (0)

On Travel Philosophy

Delving Deep into the Art of Travel, An Autumnal Romp Through A Western Landscape, Misfits

semi-overcast 53 °F

Argentina Travel Philosophy

I was thumbing through my brand new Argentina Travel Guide the other day. I suppose it was going all right. I was looking at various towns and locales, trying to memorize the interesting tidbits each place offered. I hoped to piece together enough interesting locations for my upcoming trip. I was “making a plan.” Something about it didn’t sit right. I wasn’t interested in reading this humongous fact book, and I felt overwhelmed by the task. That’s when I set the book down. I had reached yet another epiphany.

I don’t know much about Argentina. My attempt to memorize a travel guide isn’t going to help me understand it any better. I’d rather enter the country without a clue, making each experience that much more thrilling.

This bit of logic sent me deep into the bones of travel philosophy. The fact is, the planet has been thoroughly explored. It is mapped, photographed, and documented. Argentina is no exception. However, my ignorance is a beautiful concept. No matter where I travel to when I’m in the country, it will be new experience. And I will feel that surging high of excitement at each “new discovery.” This can be as simple as a pleasant park in Buenos Aires, or as involved as my first glimpse of Mt. Fitzroy.

While I’m at it, why plan anything at all? I’m going to bring a map. I’m going to start in Ushuaia, and somehow I’m hopeful that I will end up in Buenos Aires by January 30. What I experience in between is the great unknown. This is how I want it.

Now, this might mean I may not get a place to sleep every night, or food on a regular basis, and I might have to wait a week before I can catch a ride on a bus to my next town. That’s the way it goes. That’s all part of the fun.

I’m inclined to admire the wisdom of Lin Yutang who wrote, “A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond. Either travel is ‘vagabonding’ or it is no travel at all. The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, and no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going.”

Last Ride on the Columbia
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Before I leave the country, I still have some business to take care of in this one. Namely, finishing the River season, and positioning the ship down to Los Angeles, California.

The Columbia has been good to me this year, but I’m ready to move on to other adventures. In nine days, I’ll be unemployed. This thought doesn’t scare me; I’ve been unemployed before, and will be again. At heart, I’m a writer, a rambler and a photographer. I just don’t make any monetary gains with my passions. I’m ready for a change, though. If anybody has any ideas what I should do for my next occupation, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say. I’m certain something will work out, I’m just curious to see what that will be.

Autumnal Romp
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The thigh high grass was wet from the rain that had fallen the night before. The autumn wind is like smoke. It carries a tang of something soothing, sweet, and earthy decay. The sky was mostly cloudy, but large patches of pale blue sky were forming above me. It appeared the rain had passed, at least for now. I follow a mule deer trail as it rises along the steep grassy bluff to where the black basalt outcrops break through the earth. High atop the rock eyre, I pause for a moment to admire the view. The Palouse River is far below stretching wide between the steep canyon walls. This is the confluence, where the Palouse and Snake Rivers join in Southeast Washington.
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I move on; walking easily among the wind swept grasses and bobbing prairie sunflowers. The only part of the flower left on the stalk is the center, which has turned a dark Dijon beige. In the distance, the bluff rises higher to more basalt outcrops. I’m happy. I love early morning autumn jaunts through beautiful landscapes. Who doesn’t?
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I reach the first of the section of columns, and I know I have found what I am looking for. It’s peaceful here. It’s far away from the ship, and the view is spectacular. I put down my backpack, and start composing pictures. I take a few shots, but I’m waiting for the light to get better.
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In the meanwhile, I sit on top of the highest rock column. The column has layered horizontal sections of basalt piled on top of one another. Wind and water have eroded it over the eons into a beautiful sculptured piece of stone. If this rock were to crumble, I would plummet off the face of the cliff reforming myself into a twisted pile of broken bones upon impact. I’m not worried about that just now, as the view is excellent. The wind is buffeting my back, letting me know that its there to support me. I drink some water. I eat a granola bar, and a kiwi. Life is good.
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I love the landscapes of this region. If it weren’t for the fabricated infrastructure that dots the land, I’d think I was in Mongolia.

Palouse Falls
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Later in the morning, I find myself perched high above Palouse Falls. I love this waterfall, and I love the park that contains it. It’s one of my favorite in all of Washington.

The wind is amazing. It whips the waterfall spray, dragging it high above the waterfall on a strong updraft. The cloud swirls in the air, forming the symbol for the number nine (my lucky number) for the briefest of moments. I smile. I love noticing quiet details.
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The wind gusts pluck leaves from trees on the rim of the canyon and carry them far out into the gaping void. They never get a chance to touch the ground. They fall for twenty feet before twirling upward in the draft high overhead. They disappear in the distance, and I am envious.

I love autumn.

Photos That Didn’t Belong
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In a given week, I’ll take many photos that I enjoy, but don’t fit the scheme of what I’m writing about. Since I’m nearing the end of a work period, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite misfits that didn’t find a home.

Author’s Note: The line, “The autumn wind is like smoke” is taken from Lin Yutang’s classic, The Importance of Living. I love that line, but I felt quotations would have been distracting in context. I give him his deserved credit here. Thanks.

Posted by Rhombus 08:31 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes rivers hiking travel autumn argentina photography washington palouse philosopy Comments (1)

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 Grand Finale: Four Alaskan Jewels

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

sunny 57 °F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Pass, Southbound, September 7th, 2012

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

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

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

Thank you, Alaska.

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

A Camera's First Week: My Best Alaskan Photography

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

sunny 56 °F

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

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

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

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

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

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

GLACIER BAY FROM DAWN TO DUSK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Whale Rendezvous

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

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

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

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