Friday, September 28, 2012

September & Snow?

It's one of those interesting chores around here—running down to turn on the fuel pump for someone to fuel a plane. It's even more interesting when there's snow falling...not to mention cold.

The snow isn't sticking—yet—but it's coming.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Puh-TAY-tuhs: Alaskan Style

Monday, September 19.

Port Alsworth, Alaska.

Fresh snow on the mountains in the morning, potatoes vines beginning to die, no guests arriving today, and two of the farmboys are leaving later in the week. It's time to dig potatoes!

After working here the whole summer, I'm now initiated into the world of potato farming, from planting in early June, to harvesting at the end of summer. I've seen it all. (Well, almost all, since the guys were responsible for hilling the potatoes halfway through the summer. The other girls and I were probably busy cleaning our 352nd cabin about then.)

Last year, the potatoes took us three days to dig. This year, we had plenty of help...we started Monday‑and finished Monday. You know that feeling where you can hardly move, it's almost five o'clock and definitely past time for a break, but there's only one (or two) more rows of fat, heavy potatoes left to dig and haul?

Yes, that was our day on Monday.

And now all the potatoes are safely stored away in the farm's root cellar. We might not have asmany this year, but they're done, finished, ended...

...just in time for fall, golden leaves, and early snow on the mountains...


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Canons and Bears

In a land crawling with bears, it’s not so common to see one.

So here I am—four months in Alaska this summer, and never a bear in view.

It’s okay, actually. Hiking to the falls, climbing a mountain—all that is adventure enough, and I would prefer not to see a bear at those times. In fact, I’ve been warned about them repeatedly…

In the spring, the locals say, bears come out of hibernation and hunt for food. They’re on a diet of sorts, though, and they want to eat their greens. If you make a lot of noise when you’re out in the woods, they likely won’t bother you.

In the summer, the bears disappear into the brush. They’re still looking for food, but they’re rather shy about it. You might walk past half a dozen on an afternoon stroll and never know it. Just make some noise, so you don’t come around a corner and startle one accidentally.

In the fall, the bears are once again looking for food. Bears and mosquitoes both, and they know that time is getting short.

Still, even in the fall, it’s not so common to see a bear.

That’s why we have to go out looking for them.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve hosted a couple of photography workshops at the lodge. One couple came the first week, another couple this week—they stay at the lodge and fly out with Jim Barr, a professional photographer for lessons on using cameras in a variety of settings and light conditions.

And on Wednesday this week, I went bear viewing with the group.

Not only that, but one of the guys on the crew loaned me his Canon XTi for the day. Someone else offered to loan me a pistol as well, but I decided to stick with the Canon.

So it was—with barely time to take a breath—my day changed from cleaning two cabins and dusting lodge furniture to climbing aboard Katie, Glen’s float plane, with a sack lunch, a pair of waders, and two cameras. (I took my own camera along, of course. I knew how to take pictures with that…but a DSLR? How does that work?)

At any rate, I'm pretty sure I didn't look as impressive as the other photographers with their huge lenses and professional quality tripods.

About forty minutes after takeoff, Glen landed us in a small lake about forty minutes south of the lodge, and we hiked from the lake across a flat hump to the river, where we had spotted bears feeding on salmon.

It was a slow day on the river—the salmon run was over for the year, and very few fish remained in the stream.

We found the bears, though—a sow and cubs far off on the hillside eating berries, one or two others splashing along the bank…

…along with a few seagulls too.

Glen and Jim led the way up the river to a shelf halfway down the bluff, where they could set up their tripods. I figured out how to change the standard lens on the Canon for a telephoto lens.

We took photos, adjusted our settings, and took more photos, while a couple of bears wandered up and down the river below us. Once in a while, a bear caught a salmon or dragged a dead fish out of the shallows. A couple times, they swam across the river to a different fishing hole and shook the water off before taking up a new post.

Eventually, the bears wandered off and disappeared around the bend. Maybe they were bored—or they had scheduled a performance downriver a mile or so. At any rate, we had a quiet spell and a chance to eat lunch.

We were just finishing, and I hadn’t packed my lunch bag back into my backpack, when a big honey-colored bear sauntered down the bluff beside us and strolled along the path beneath us.

Think about standing at the top of a flight of stairs, looking at a bear at the bottom of the steps—that’s how close it felt.

The bear ignored us, though, and wandered down to the water for a short fishing excursion, while we snapped photos—and waited for her to turn around and face the right direction for the lighting.

That's a bear's life around here.

Through the day, we spotted some other wildlife as well, including a ground squirrel. It wanted to imitate its citified cousins, trying to run almost under our feet. And if you look closely, you might find the ptarmigan hiding in the bushes...

Early in the day, Glen wondered briefly about takeoff from the lake, if the wind didn't pick up. By mid-afternoon, the wind was still calm, so he told the others he would fly me out to another, larger lake, drop me off with some of the gear, and then come back for them.
It shows how little I know about this kind of life. Getting dropped off at a lake in bear territory and warned to be careful? Okay—I know not to wander too far, and I’ll make lots of noise while I’m there. I can handle that.

But getting dropped off somewhere and handed a gun? That’s just a little weird, not to mention unnerving.

Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately), the wind had changed around by the time Glen and I reached the plane. The rain was setting in as well, so Glen taxied across to the other shore and picked up the other two passengers. I was told to sit in one of the back seats—someone else, bigger than me, needed to ride co-pilot so we could get more weight forward. Once everyone was settled, we taxied out, headed into the wind, and lit out for home.

Anyway—yes, I have now seen a bear this year. I’ve also heard stories of a brown bear visiting the town in the past week, but at this point, I’ll be just as happy not to see that bear before I leave, or any others either.

At least, not without having a camera with me—point-and-shoot or DSLR.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rescuing Books...

...rescued by books?

Very early this summer, not long after I arrived at the lodge, we were told that some old books were being moved from storage into the burn pile. Oh, and there were some books in with all the rest of collection.

Let books be burned? Certainly not!

 So, another girl and I trekked down to the burn pile and picked through it, rescuing as many books as we could. (Though not all of them, sadly—I'll do better next time, I'm sorry, mea cupla...)

I came back with an armload of books—a few well-known classics, and a few oddballs, like Just So Stories and The Call of Alaska.

This was in May.

It's now September.

I've read the first couple chapters from two of these books; I've even read one of them clear through, along with a few others books I'd brought from home. Most of the books just sat on my shelf, though, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then one of the girls asked me this week..."Are you alright?"

I was surprised. Yes, sure, I'm fine. Tired, but that's normal around here. Maybe a little disconnected, maybe a little crazier than usual, but still fine, just fine...

A couple hours later, though, I realized there was a major problem in my life. One almost unbelievable and most certainly inexcusable.

I hadn't read a book in over a month, not since I posted my last book review.

Now, I may have read a short section from one of my rescue books, and I might have looked at a couple photo books. In all that time, however—in an entire month—I hadn't sat down and read a book.

Among English Majors, that must be a record. I know it is for me, and fortunately, I knew at once how to remedy it. That afternoon, I pulled out one of my thickest books, climbed onto the top bunk, and started reading. (It was not, I must admit, one of the books I'd rescued, but one of those I'd brought with me. It was a book, nonetheless.)

I didn't get far—time tends to get a little limited around here, with only two hours off between cleaning cabins and prepping for dinner. But I did get some mental relief, and a brief trip to another place, before I came back to lodge life and headed upstairs to chop cucumbers for that night's salad. I'm planning to head back to the book again soon.

So, how's it going here?

Still sane!

Hurrah for books!

(Beautiful, beautiful books!)

Oh, and some other news for this week...

...the snow this year was almost exactly two weeks earlier than it was last year.