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Alaskan Atmosphere

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

semi-overcast 63 °F

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

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

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

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

The Best Day in Glacier Bay National Park

The John Hopkins Glacier, Sea Scapes, South Marble Island, and Sunset

sunny 72 °F

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The day began innocently enough. When I stepped into the daylight, my first sight was that of the Margerie glacier. It was a good first look at the world, its jagged ice face holding fast in the early morning light. It was beautiful, but not in a picturesque way. It was beautiful to stand in the cold open air looking at the glacier still deep in shadow holding absolutely still, in muted pale blues of early mountain light. It was like standing alone in a beautiful ice temple, or standing knee deep in a forest watching the snowfall; it left me feeling good about everything.
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The day only improved from there. We motored across to look at the John Hopkins Glacier, which is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually expanding. This was the first time I saw the John Hopkins, as thick sea ice blocked our passage earlier in the summer. The John Hopkins is connected to the eastern edge of the Gilman Glacier. The faces of the glaciers were lit up in bright morning sun, while the hanging glaciers high above them were still in cloud.
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The combination of sun, swirling mountain clouds, glaciers, mountains, and sea were a dynamic force to reckon with this day, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a reoccurring vision that made me very happy to be alive. This is my last trip into Glacier Bay for the year. The landscape and seascapes combined with the variety of wildlife made this among the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska. It was a splendid farewell, a final reminder to come back and explore again sometime, that Alaska is still wild and will forever be.
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Now, before I get lost into trying to weave poetic justice to the indescribable beauty I hold in my memory, I’m going to let my images speak for me. The point is, it was a beautiful day, and I’m glad I was there to live it. If I never see Alaska again, I’ll still have this trip to Glacier Bay National Park to hold dear.
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I saw four different glaciers. The Marjorie, the John Hopkins, the Gilman and the Hoonah. The Hoonah was probably my favorite, as it was high up nestled under the shoulder of a high mountain. The swirling clouds were sunlit white behind the piles of jagged ice. It was an easy composition and one of my favorites.
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As we cruised along, we saw a brown bear and a wolf sharing the same beach. They were both poking along the waterfront looking for food, or looking for fun, who knows? I focused my lens on the wolf, as this was the only wolf I’ve seen all year, anywhere. It was though it wanted to pose for me, and he walked out to the end of a small spit of rocks and held still, looking off into the distance, before poking around some more and disappearing into the woods.
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The sky was putting on a fantastic show of its own with playful variations on cloud, color and light. The sky would change its dynamic every twenty minutes, bending light through the heavy clouds, creating a masterpiece of living art. In every direction I looked, another seascape demanded my attention. I was in my element, in the elements, and loving every second.
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In the late afternoon, we sailed up to South Marble Island, and I don’t think it’s ever looked better. I’ve talked about the Marble islands in past entries (June 10th to August 6th), but my last views were my favorite. I loved seeing the crowded, noisy and stinky sea lion covered rocks and pastel skies one last time. The birds were still living there, the puffins, cormorants, gulls, jaegers, among many others flying in groups through many of the photos I captured. As we left, the sun came out, backlighting the most southerly outcrops in glinting sunlight, offsetting the heavy cloud cover off to the west. Intense sunrays burned through the gaps in the clouds giving the scenes even more layering than I though one scene could handle. In a word, gorgeous.
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Then as we traveled further south in the setting sun, the Orca showed themselves and we were able to match their pace as we cruised south. A male and female were traveling as a pair through the placid light blue water and with evening sun behind me, the whale and spruce covered island made for good memories.
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We docked into Bartlett cove for a couple of hours, and I took the time to finish my day with a little exercise. My buddy Luke had his slack line, so I borrowed it and set it up on the dock. We took turns practicing our craft, focusing on balance in the cold night air. Balance is the correct term, for as we walked the line, the sky turned golden orange in the west, the strong afterglow of the sunset. In the east, just peaking above the tops of the dark spruce trees was the pale yellow moon rising through the dark indigo sky.
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It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska, a cornucopia of landscapes, wildlife, oceans, visions, photography, and life. It had it all, and I hope there are more days like these in my future.
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Posted by Rhombus 20:30 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales ice alaska clouds glaciers photography portland wolves Comments (0)

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