Sunday, October 31, 2010


After eating brunch at the Prospector Hotel in downtown Juneau this very cold and windy Sunday morning, we stopped in the Valley on the way back Out the Road so that LC could drool over this.........
Beautiful truck and certainly drool-worthy.  Only $50,000.
Drool away Mountain Boy...........
While eating brunch we had surreptitiously stashed a handful of rib bones into a napkin, and on the way home stopped at Auke Village Recreation Area.
While Jamie enjoyed her own brunch I walked along the beach and took these pictures.
Auke Village Rec Area is a very accessible natural area.
The gravel and dirt trails are wide open, flat and easy to walk.
The beach is sandy.  The beach is beautiful, and so are the mountains surrounding it 360 degrees.
Also at this beach are a couple of beautifully constructed shelters than contain picnic tables, fire pits and fire places......
Two other hardy souls walking their dog on the beach.
These places are all quiet now.
No more helicopters or float planes or tourist buses or tourists or multiple picnickers or fishermen or power boats.........
I have been talking about it for a while now, but one of these days I want to sit here for many hours, keep a huge fire burning and sit under the shelter warmly looking out over the channel.........
As we were driving into town this morning we both noticed that there was a good deal of snow in the mountains - new snow that was not there only a few days ago.
The snow is slowly but definitely working its way down the mountains..........
One more local piece of work that I came across recently - a poem celebrating the end of the tourist season:

By Richard Stokes

Floating hotels taut-roped against docks
where wait flocks of buses, trolleys rickshaws, vans and taxis;
Bright-eyed greeters with clipboards and crackling radio holding
signs touting tours;
Mendenhall Glacier, hikes, dog sledding, helicopters, ziplines, whales and bikes.

Tourists carrying plastic bags of red and white
shuffling in and out of jewelry and trinket shops,
chasing discounts on diamonds and tanzanite.
Yellow-clad crossing guards with handheld stop signs,
dangling Raven and Eagle tramcars easing up and down the cabled incline,
even the black-bearded guy with the find-Jesus sign.

The mechanical miner, fake bears and snowbird merchants of South Franklin.
Windows now papered over, door locked, wares and sale staff boxed and shipped to the Caribbean.

Yellow plastic security fences along docks,
strolling men with badges and barking radios.
Docks again open for lunchtime lovers with interlocked fingers,
for knots of the homeless to philosophize and trade cigarette butts.

Juneau rests in autumn's hesitation,
breathes deeply, gives in to weather's rule
Dims the livingroom lights,
puts its feet up on a stool
and awaits winter's politicians.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wolf Remembered

By:  Richard Brigman

Stepping out on the Skaters Cabin back porch, I closed my eyes and lifted my face to a tepid but welcome sun in a peerless blue winter sky.  I gazed absently down the shoreline of the frozen lake and set up my camera tripod, briefly noting in the distance a man, a woman and a tight group of dogs.  Near the man and woman, two unfettered dogs gamboled while one large dog stood apart, watching the revelry.  Like many who came with their dogs, the man and woman ignored Forest Service advisories to keep them on leashes.

The human-canine tableau was muted into gray monotones by a cheery swirling wind tossing curtains of snow, but I took a few pictures to check camera settings.  Then, as I worried over the back panel display, adjusting for glare and depth of field, the big dog howled.

I stared at the scene and the hoped for the unexpected object of my trip on this cold pristine day.  The large dark fur ball seen through the gauze of snow, was the wolf.  After my brain finally re-engaged, I disconnected the camera from the tripod, flung the camera strap around my neck, wheeled blindly, and stutter stepped down an icy ramp to the snow-bound lake.  The heavy camera and lens thumped preventative CPR against my chest and the tripod legs folded, became my walking stick as I slogged down the knee-high drifts toward the cross country ski trail snaking across what I prayed was a solid lake of ice.

I gained the hard-packed trail and turned.  In an age-addled trot, I hurried toward the couple, their dogs, and the wolf, now a still-life etched on soft white down. As the wind relented, the wolf's black winter coat snapped into sharp focus.

"Closer.  Get closer!" my mind commanded.  The wolf, perhaps sensing my rasping advance, glanced my way, then returned his attention to the man, woman and dogs.  He seemed to be inviting the dogs closer and warning the humans away.

Drawing even with the human, canine group, still many yards across deep snow, I saw the woman toss a tennis ball.  The dogs gave chase; the wolf watched.  As the dogs scuffled for the prize, the wolf howled again.  Tennis ball  forgotten, heads down, tails between their legs, the dogs skulked toward the wolf.  The man ordered them back.  Reacting to the man's voice, the dogs retreated from the wolf a few yards, and sat on their haunches, their heads at an uncertain tilt, their attention shifting from human to wolf and back again.  After a few beats of my thumping heart, the wolf seemed to harrumph, turned his back on humans and dogs and began moving away.  He was coming toward me, yet moving diagonally away.

I ignored a deepening wheeze and maintained a determined shuffle along the edge of the ski trail, hearing or imaging deep booms of shifting ice.  If we kept the same pace, the wolf would cross the trail about 20 yards ahead of me.  Then, with a brush of air and flashes of fur and forest green, a young woman, accompanied by three unleashed dogs glided past me, her long skis chirping crisply with each practiced stride.  "Jake, Jenny, come", she called out to two over-grown pups that had paused to assess my potential for fun.  Another dog, a big roan-colored shepherd-mix that the young skier called Maggie ignored me, and loped effortlessly at the skiers' side.  "The wolf's out," I warned.  Without breaking her graceful rhythm, the young woman peered ahead.  "Isn't he gorgeous?" was all she said.

Huffing now, I moved as quickly as my equipment and girth would allow.  I didn't want to crowd the wolf, so I stopped, picked a likely spot on the trail, paused, opened the tripod, attached the camera, and tried to slow my breathing.  I tracked the wolf through the view finder as he gained the ski trail and looked my way.  Elated, I mashed the shutter release.  The lens took up the chase, locked on the wolf, and the shutter began a rapid fire chatter.

To the wolf, I was probably a nuisance, but I was not a threat.  I was one of many who sought him out, one of many who marveled at this creature so perfectly adapted to this environment.  But I wanted more.  I wanted picture proof that this wolf and I once occupied the same space and time.  I hoped we would occupy our space and our time for a long time but I knew I had a better chance than he.  His niche was fraught with potential peril.  Aside from the free-range dogs, there were stories circulating  that some ill-advised souls were surreptitiously offering the wolf tasty treats to draw him near.  This prompted more Forest Service warnings, but like the leash rule, some didn't see the harm.  Sooner of later, someone would do something really stupid; they would get too close, the wolf would react, and the wolf would disappear or more likely, die. 

The wolf continued to the middle of the ski trail and again glanced my way, then turned and cantered away from me, up the trail.  The young skier and her dogs were upwind.  The dogs should have sensed the wolf by now.  One already did.

As the wolf moved away, after a few photos of his shaggy butt, I disconnected the camera, abandoned the tripod, and began to trail him, hoping for another look at his face, and for a picture that captured his eyes.

The young skier was skiing smoothly and had pulled steadily ahead until she and her dogs were at least 100 yards away.  Jake and Jenny, still coursed frenetically around the skier, but Maggie had stopped, turned and was staring down the trail.  The young skier called Maggie to her.  Maggie didn't respond.  Tongues lolling, Jake and Jenny stopped and taking their cue from Maggie, began tasting the air.  Down wind, something was coming, something out of their past.  Heads up, eyes fixed ahead, the wolf saw Maggie looking back at him, and his whole world changed.  His pace quickened every so slightly, his hackles rose, and the hair on the back of my neck rose in sympathy.  The young skier stopped, looked back the way she came, and began jockeying around her cumbersome skis.

Still moving ahead, I raised the camera and triggered the shutter release.  The wolf displayed and nipped at Maggie.

Maggie displayed and nipped back.  Repeatedly the young skier snapped "Maggie, come!".  Each command was more plaintive than the last, but Maggie ignored them all as she and the wolf postured and maneuvered away.

I made a shallow arc around Maggie and the wolf and continued to take pictures, until I stood next to the young skier, now flanked by Jake and Jenny.  As the distance to Maggie and the wolf grew, the young skier fumbled with her bindings and stepped out of her skis.  Looking at me, her eyes pleaded "Do something!".  Lamely I could only say "Stay back".

Unnecessarily I murmured what ever creature there already knew "Maggie will decide".

A native Texan, Richard Brigman moved to Juneau five years ago, became a certified interpreter, guided biking and wildlife tours, and recently worked as a Tongass National Forest interpreter for the Alaska Marine Highway.  Writing and photography are his tools of choice for capturing the wild, green wonder of Southeast Alaska

Mountains Are Fountains Of Men

When we woke up this morning and looked out of the bedroom window the sky promised to make for a much calmer day than it was yesterday.
While driving to work yesterday morning I fought strong rain and even stronger winds as I made my way from Out the Road to downtown Juneau for an early morning training session.
This morning the sky was filled with white clouds, blue sky and a weak and watery sun. 
But sun none-the-less.
After a hurried and unhealthy breakfast of cinnamon buns and coffee, we packed up my pack with fresh water and a bowl for the dog, and bottled tea for the two of us, and headed out to Eagle Beach.
I noticed it first in the Valley mid-week, and then noticed it again today when we arrived at Eagle Beach - that the mountains look much larger, and much more rugged, when they are covered in snow.
And the Chilkats are now full of snow.
The pictures immediately above and below just called to me when I saw these two older ladies walking on the beach.
They were dressed in brightly colored coats and gloves and their tiny silhouettes stood out strongly against the huge and rugged snow-covered mountains behind them.
I shot the pictures blind, facing into the sun, and had no idea if they would turn out or not.
I am glad that they did..........
I have a little experience being up in the mountains in snow.
Early in my adventure racing escapades I did a race in the Smoky Mountains the first weekend in April.
Temperatures were supposed to be well above freezing for the duration of the race.
I knew that the forecast was not going to hold right from the get-go when we started the canoe portion of the race in freezing rain at 10pm on a Friday night.
By 5:30 the next morning when we finally got off the water both me and my two male team-mates were hypothermic.
After spending some time recovering we headed on bikes up into the mountains where the weather continued to deteriorate throughout the day.
As we continued to make our way higher into the mountains precipitation changed from freezing rain to light snow to eventually heavy snow coming in sideways at us by 4pm that afternoon.
We ended up using our emergency radios to call in for a pick-up by the race staff while we all huddled together under space blankets in high winds, blowing snow and fading daylight up around 5500 feet.
About an hour after that dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish), the race was eventually called and it took emergency crews from every county surrounding the race area until 11pm to safely pull all the stranded racers out of the mountains.
The mountains make their own weather. 
And weather forecasts mean very little. 
Although that was one of only a few DNF's I have had over the years, I do have far too many stories about freezing rain, snow, ice, river crossings and hypothermia while in the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and N Georgia.
Good times...........
While my Mountain Boy burned a bunch of old mail, I wandered with James along the roadway and along the beach close to the road.
The air temperature was colder than I had realized when we left the house, and I dug into my pack for a windbreaker to throw over the two layers I was already wearing.
Lesson to remember now that it is almost November - bring hat and gloves. 
Especially gloves.
My hands were freezing the entire time that we spent at this wide open, channel and sand and snow-capped-mountain-filled beach........
We saw a couple of people walking at Eagle Beach this morning, and another couple at the Boy Scout Trail across the narrow river.
But the beach was very quiet.
It belonged to the ducks and the seagulls and the eagles and to us..........
Once our old mail and our junk mail was burned we walked along the beach.
Since the tide was out we walked out a long way, and whenever we do that I feel like I am walking closer to the mountains.
The Chilkats, filled with early snow, are calling to me and I want to see them a little closer.
We are toying with the idea of going to Haines again, or maybe Skagway.
I know that these Alaskan tiny towns are almost completely closed down for the winter but that is OK.
I don't need the tourist stuff. 
I just need to be closer to the mountains and closer to nature and away from Juneau for a short while.
The ferry ride alone will be worth the trip.............
As close as I can get to there from here.........
And more mountains behind us.  They cradle Herbert Glacier.........
With snow starting to appear in the mountains now, I have found myself thinking about my snow-shoes that have been sitting in the trunk of my car for the last few months, and am looking forward to the time when I can wear them again.
I also now find myself glancing more often at the cross country skiis and boots that I bought at a yard sale over the summer, and that have been standing in the corner on the back porch patiently waiting for the weather to change.
I have never cross country skiid before but am looking forward to trying out this new activity.
And every once in a while I click on the link I have in Favorites at work, and check on the status of Eagle Crest Ski Resort.  
There is only a dusting of snow on some of the mountains over on Douglas Island right now, but that will change very soon.............
The beautiful beach..........
While we were walking today I told LC that one of my favorite times out at Eagle Beach this past summer was the day we came out in the evening when the tide was waaaay out.
The wet sand was completely filled with thousands of different kinds of birds, and we had a wonderful time watching them and taking pictures of them.
That was the day when LC got within mere feet of an eagle resting on a log.
Neither one of us knows why this very beautiful bird allowed him to get so close, but as LC continued to speak softly to him, I held Jamie back and watched in amazement as the spectacle of this man and this bird communing with each other played out in front of me.
I took a great picture of the eagle in full wing when he finally left the log and flew away.
It was an encounter that I will never forget..........
One bare tree in between the pine trees, with the mountains behind it.......
After 90 minutes or so of being at the beach the weak sun finally gave way to increasing clouds, and with it getting colder we decided to head back..........
Sand in formation created by both wind and tides....
And a barnacle encrusted piece of driftwood........
The very beautiful Boy Scout Trail.......
The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thought and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains—mountain-dwellers who have grown up strong there with the forest trees in Nature's workshops..........John Muir

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lena Beach

The weather forecast for today called for 100% chance of rain and high winds.
As I drove to work in the heavy and pouring rain this morning my car shook unnervingly from side to side in wind gusts that reached up to 50 mph.
Thankfully I was not driving my truck.
The good news was that it was warmer today than it had been over the past few days.
As I closed in on the city I noticed that the triplets - three mountains that I named one day last spring because all my downtown pictures somehow seem to include these same three Douglas Island mountain peaks, were dusted in snow.
I smiled to myself when I saw them, as I always do.
Winter is coming - slowly but surely but actually not so slowly......

An interesting development at work that has been both reassuring and settling for me has been my recent aquaintance with an unforseen ally. 
Someone powerful and accomplished and connected, who for some strange and unknown reason has recognized the difficult professional situation that I have at times faced, and seems to be motivated to act on my behalf without hidden agendas.
And unexpected but welcome development in my professional life......

After a two hour training downtown, some crazy, but thankfully low-key situations on a Friday afternoon at work, and a strange and interesting meeting in the afternoon that left me shaking my head, I met my Mountain Boy in the Valley for an early dinner.
The weather had settled by this time - grey skies still, but not raining and the winds had calmed.
LC was already waiting in the restaurant for me to arrive, and as I pulled into the parking lot I looked over at his truck and saw my goofy hairball dog, who began barking excitedly when she saw me.
Jamie and a raven apparently had a communal experience in the lot before I arrived.
After dinner we piled back into respective vehicles and headed Out the Road, agreeing to stop at Lena Beach on the way home.
The sun actually shone..........for just a few minutes.
Damn!!  Will I never learn??  Always a sucker for a Sucker Patch of blue sky.
Of course, by the time we reached Lena Beach the sky looked ominous again. 
The first time I visited Lena Beach was while I was still staying at the extended stay hotel downtown. 
It was mid February and I rode my borrowed mountain bike out of town, past the Valley, past Auke Bay and towards the Unabomber Cabin that I had just rented and was planning on moving into in just a couple of weeks.
I had plans to head up to Eaglecrest Ski Resort later in the afternoon, so got only as far as Lena Beach before stopping for a few minutes and then finally heading back towards town.
That was the same bike ride where I got pulled over by a way-good-looking blonde Juneau cop for riding on Egan Drive, when I should have been riding on the adjacent Glacier Highway. 
Lena Beach is a quiet, beautiful cove and is an eagle nesting area.
I have been there many times - watching eagles, watching the ferries pass by, watching the owners of private boats and kayaks as they enjoyed their adventures on the water, watching young families as they bar-b-qued during the summer, watching my Mountain Boy as he bar-b-qued for me, watching the salmon methodically work their way up the fish pass, watching as Chris fished here for the last time just an hour before catching a plane back to New Jersey.
Yes.  He spent two weeks in Juneau doing nothing but fishing, drinking and sleeping, and even fished his way back to the airport.
The picnic shelter at Lena Beach where we have both spent many hours eating and sitting and talking..........
This is a very protected cove, and even though open channel is very close by, this cove is almost always a calm and quiet place......
As with all of my favorite places, this one is quiet again.......
There were many very beautiful days this past summer, but I love these places so much more when I selfishly do not have to share them with others.........
Except for this man.
I willingly share these places with him........
Throughout the summer there were a couple of power boats that were parked in the middle of the cove, and accessible only by row boat.
They are now stored for the winter and the cove is empty.........
Jamie the Wonder Dog - named that by Gary (LC's brother) during the few brief days he spent with us here in Juneau in June before heading back to Minnesota.........
Lena Beach, with its quiet water and rounded rocks seems to be the one place LC seems to feel compelled to hone his rock skipping talents.
He's pretty good.........
As with many beaches in and around Juneau, this one is filled with rocks.
Most are rounded and ground smooth from years of exposure to water in the channel and almost constant rain.
But there are also large areas of sharp slate and mineral filled rock that is still in the process of breaking apart.....
One more of many picnic shelters that we crossed paths with this evening as we walked the beach.........
Walking the gravel road back to the vehicles.
This could be a quiet, fall, country road anywhere in the country........
The fish pass.
The last time we were here we spent a lot of time watching spawning salmon working so very hard to climb each step of the pass, many times getting close to the top only to be washed back into the channel due to the strong rapids.
I spent a lot of time this past fall watching the spawning salmon in waterways throughout the area.
This is my first experience with this annual event, and I found it incredibly interesting (and truthfully almost sad in some respects).
An amazing story of nature that I am still in awe of..........
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature........Henry David Thoreau