"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dear Nation, Here's Your Christmas Tree, Love, Moose Pass and Seward Folks, Alaska

Sometime in early December, a switch will be thrown and the nation's Christmas tree will glow with hundreds of lights.

That tree, a Lutz spruce, is yet to be cut down.   That will happen next week. 

Right now, it's alive and growing--and guarded 24/7 by USDA Forest Service personnel from Moose Pass and Seward.   Why?  Because that gorgeous, symmetrical tree was hand-picked by the Capitol grounds superintendent from several potential trees in Alaska.

The one he chose is this one, now spending its last week in its home forest just a couple miles south of the general Moose Pass area and about eight miles north of the general Seward area.

It's a  little hard to see how nice it is because it's still a tree in a forest, but take my word for it--it's gorgeous.

A short gravel road was built recently that ends in a circle around the tree, giving cranes and the man who will cut it room to work.

The trunk.

This is the first time a tree from Alaska will be the nation's Christmas tree, and it's from our Chugach National Forest.   As you can imagine, the city of Seward is buzzing with plans to celebrate next week.

The guard trailer

One of the guards.   Don't even think about messing with that tree!

The link below gives you a more complete idea what a complicated process the selection is and planning the transportation of this tree.   It's a big deal!


Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Fur and Feathers Journals, Ch. 14, In Which We Say Goodbye and Take One Last Stealth Photo of Gorgeous Brian

My bags are packed,
I’m ready to go…

No.   No, I’m not.   I’d like to stay here at Silver Salmon Creek for the rest of the summer and until they close down for the winter in mid-September.   Then, I’d like to come back in the spring when they open and stay that season too.   I’d like to live here.

A Coastal Brown bear fishing the creek with Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in the background.

I try to think how I could make myself useful to earn my room and board, but they have it handled with an excellent staff.  My bags are packed, though, and I am prepared to go, but unwillingly. 

We who are leaving today are gathered on the lawn, waiting for the Cessna 180 and the DeHaviland Beaver  to arrive with new guests who will move into our cabins, sleep in our beds, and visit with our bears and puffins.  We take group photos.

L-R:  Owner Joanne Coray, me, Lynda, Andy, Ken, Gary, Kate, Rick, Michele, and Ron.

With Rick and Ron

I look out over the grassy meadow towards Cook Inlet and think about all the places I’ve traveled to and the things I’ve done in the last ten years.  Holding the skirt of a hot air balloon as the pilot inflates it and then soaring high above the Australian Outback at dawn.   A third-row seat at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and petting the incredibly sweet lippizaner stallions, mares, and foals at the stud farm in Piber, Austria, and feeding them the peppermint candies they love.

Zip-lining over the gorge at Victoria Falls in Zimbabe.   Climbing to the top floor of the Potola Palace in Tibet.  Riding elephants in India and Zimbabwe.  Riding a camel in the Outback.  Hiking the slot canyons and washes in northern Arizona.  

Riding small river boats through the inlands waterways of Russia, the Yangtze River to Three Gorges Dam in China through a haze of smog, and a week on the sacred Ganges River in India.  Surviving a ferocious storm with 55 foot waves in the Southern Ocean near South Georgia.  Surviving a young bull elephant’s temper tantrum in Botswana.

So many places, so many adventures.  And yet, I think as I look out over that green meadow where I have seen so many Coastal Brown bears, this—this right here—is what I’ve been missing.  The Alaskan wilderness. 

And the bears?   Oh, my word.  I never, never thought I would be so close to these dangerous predators and not be terrified.   How could this be?   How could these wild animals, notorious for attacking and feeding upon humans, approach so close?

"These are fifth and sixth generation bears," explains Rick.  "They are habituated to humans."   I think about how careful the guides are to keep us in a group, make sure we don't block a bear's path, stay silent and still.   

And, in answer to something I'd been wondering about, in a move that would do a Secret Service agent proud, I've seen Rick move in front of us when a placid bear seemed to want to amble through the middle of us.   My encounter with Old Sow excepted.

Then the first plane buzzes the lodge.   The guys start the ATVs and take us and our bags to the beach where the plane has already landed.

One last stealth photo of Gorgeous Brian for the gals.   He was teased unmercifully about his hair  by the guys.  "Watch," said Rick one day.  "He can't go ten seconds without touching his hair."   And Brian hammed it up.

Goodbyes are said; everyone hugs their new friends.

Ron and Cody, with a new guest in the ATV trailer.

The Beaver.

Jacob the pilot.

The two with airline connections to make in Anchorage go with Tim in the Cessna.   The rest of us load up in the slower Beaver.   Soon, we’re aloft, and much, much higher in this beautiful weather than the trip down in a low overcast with rain.

We pass Duck Island and the puffins.  Pilot Jacob crosses the Inlet at 5000 feet and flies along the eastern shore of the inlet.

Duck Island at low, low tide.

Anchorage.   Lake Hood is at upper left, just beyond the runways for Anchorage's international airport.

Then, we land at the Lake Hood strip and when the Beaver stops, I try to figure out how to get out of this seat belt.

These photos aren't real sharp because I'm photographing them through the Beaver's windows and the spinning prop,  and dealing with reflections.

It’s all over now but for more goodbyes and hugs.

I retrieve my truck from the parking area, load my bags, and head for home.

*PS:  I took two cans of Coke Zero with me to Silver Salmon Creek, one of which is shown in the photo bar at the top of this post.  Coke has been labeling its cans with names and various words  like "superfan" or other such things.   I thought the one at the top of this post was appropriate for me.

(One more chapter and photos to come.)

 Important preparations for the bonfire on our last night.

 The hardcore stay up late into the night, waiting for the meteor shower that is expected.

Owner David at left, Rick, Gary, and Andy.

Ken and Ron, Lynda,  and ???

 I was not among the hardcore meteor watchers.   As I walked to my cabin, many of the staff and what appeared to be staff from the nearby Homestead lodge were gathering with guitars and more beverages.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Fur and Feathers Journals, Ch. 13, In Which We Visit Shelter Creek and The Orphans Visit Us

It's our last full day at Silver Salmon Creek with its plethora of Coastal brown bears.   Today we're going on another boat trip, this time south to Shelter Creek.

Michele, the editor of Alaska magazine, joins us on this trip.   She's been going on all our bear viewing rides, and it's interesting to watch her photographing the bears and puffins.

Cook Inlet, named after the famed explorer Capt. James Cook, is at peace today and the ride is smooth as we travel south.  Even getting to the boat is easier than our trip to Duck Island to see the puffins as the ATV is able to drive far out onto the tidal flats and deliver us almost to the boat.

Can you see the speck of the boat on the horizon?

Oliver, the son of lodge owners Davis and Joanne Coray, is our captain.  Once at Shelter Creek, he maneuvers the boat carefully towards a beach at the mouth of Shelter Creek, with Rick in the bow watching for submerged rocks.

Nice views of Mt. Iliamna on the way to Shelter Creek.

Iliamna is the snow-capped peak at far right.


From there, it's a short wade to shore.   Rick comes up beside me so I can balance myself by holding his arm.   I'm wearing those wretched hip boots again, but this time I have on three layers of socks so my footing is more stable.

"Thanks for helping Rick, Jeanne," says Ron.   "That's so nice of you."

Rick went back to the boat to fetch a dry pair of waders.   This photo is fuzzy so I didn't enlarge it too much, but I still  like it.   It's one of those quick, over the shoulder shots with a point and shoot Coolpix.

We're met by Tyler,  who, with Daniel, operate a remote tent camp for guests of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge who want an even more remote experience.

L-R:   Tyler, Rick, Daniel, Kate with Gary behind her, and Michele.

Once we're all at the river, a small bear appears and we're off to photograph the beautiful creature with Mt. Iliamna as the backdrop.   

She wanders upstream and wanders downstream, not paying us the least bit of attention.

This is a gorgeous spot and the weather couldn't be more pleasant.   The hard core photographers follow th bear upstream, watching for that perfect photo, while I go back to the beach, talk with Tyler, and snap photos of things I find interesting.

Iliamna is on the far right.

I thought this piece of driftwood resembled a sea otter lying on its back.   No one else did.

Rick is on the right in the foreground.   Look between his belt and his right arm (your left, his right).   That's a can of bear spray in a black holster.

Eventually, it's time to return to the boat and go back to Silver Salmon Creek.  As we're riding back to the lodge from the beach, we spot The Orphans in the meadow, moving towards us, and we stop to watch.

Look at how pretty their coats are when they're dry, even though they're shedding.

Once they reach the trail, one crosses immediately in front of the ATV and the other wanders past us along the trail.  

Farther back on the trail is Cody, a guide from the lodge, who parks his ATV and waits for the cub to decide  where she's going.

She goes into the path to one cabin, comes out, into another, and out.   Finally she makes up her mind and disappears into the forest.   Only then does Cody move.

Later on, Ron says, "I noticed you had bear spray with you at Shelter Creek."   Rick responds, "I don't know those bears as well."

This is what I call the meadow, as seen from the upper deck of Silver salmon Creek Lodge. 

The label for Shelter Creek is just above Herbs Lagoon at the bottom of the photo.

Silver Salmon Creek is located on the western (left) shore of Cook Inlet, roughly across from the town of Ninilchik on the eastern shore.