Sunday, July 24, 2016

Snow Bears

So on a still rainy Sunday, I will continue blogging on that last still snowy November Sunday where the blog left off yesterday.  Still at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, I was treated to something new.  On every previous visit, the muskoxen, or Oomingmak, were somewhat sluggish, usually eating or napping.  In retrospect, I think they were just to hot in the summer to have any fun.  But on the first snowfall, I was treated to some action!  The muskoxen were clashing heads, literally!

They would lock horns, twist and turn, and then like cowboys in the old west, retreat a few paces and ready for the next clash!

However they did seem a little mortified when they realized I was watching them intently.  I think they thought all the visitors of summer were gone for a few more months.  Surprise Oomingmak, me and my camera never hibernate.  You have to admit, they look pretty neat with the white horns and white beards.  They remind me of Quakers.

No visit to the Wildlife Center ends without me spending some time bear watching.  Yup, this pose by Joe Boxer definitely made my snowy Alaska photo collection for the Christmas card.  It hangs on the window outside my office too, and it always gets a few comments.  People usually wondering how they would caption the bear.

Just wandering around before a nap.  A reaaaaaaaally long nap.

After a few minutes. he decided to wander off and curl up for a short nap.  He wasn't headed to a den...just a short snowy slumber.

Something about the fall colors just made me fall in love with this scene...the way the sky and the snow blend, the mountains have turned from green to blue, and on the lower ground, everything is shades of brown, including one dusky shaded brown bear.  Love it.

I think the sound of my shutter caught this bear just while he was getting drowsy, he looks like he kind of started.  This is the one hesitation I had in buying this camera...every picture comes with an audible shutter click.  When testing it in the store, I expressed concern about it not being stealthy around bears, and they just looked at me like I was a mad woman.  Well, here we are, and the bears do indeed notice the click.

And then it was time to head home.  Mr. Bear gave me a long slow gaze as I left.

And I was left with some beautiful pictures to tide me through the winter in case I didn't see them again til spring!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Remember November

This particular summer Saturday in Alaska was not the sunniest of days.  That's OK because a little rain keeps the forest fires at bay.  So now is a good time to tackle some of the old pictures for the blog, and we left off on a Sunday in November.  After Halloween here, you can donate your Jack O Lantern's to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  So I packed up my pumpkin and headed south!  The mountains were covered with what the locals here call "termination dust."  Snow.  Signalling the termination of long Alaska summers.  It's a bittersweet sight.

Mountain goats often hang out of the cliffs above the highway, but it's difficult to see them at 65 mph.  I have learned to watch the roadside turnouts for photographers with big lenses trained at the sky.  Photographers and goats apparently go hand in hand.  When I see them, I pull over and enjoy the mountain goats myself.  I was particularly happy to see a baby goat!

They were safe from us clumsy humans below, but I think just knowing we were watching them made them a little self conscious.

I can add this to the collection of photos of animals mooning me.

Eventually they found a comfy little spot among the rocks and thorns to settle in.  I decided to carry on and let the little guy have some sleep.

The other goal of my trip was to get some snowy Alaska pictures for my Christmas card project.  Alaska did not disappoint.  There were far too many great scenic views to put on the card.  This one was not the one I chose, although in retrospect, I really love this picture.

I chose this one, because it shows the shoreline of heavy silt along the inlet.  A very different beach than my last home in Bermuda.

In the summer, a baby muskox and his mother had a private area.  Now that the winter was arriving, the little guy had beefed up and fluffed up.  Muskox wool is warmer than sheeps wool and softer than cashmere.  The Inupiaq people, who lived her long before I, called these animals Oomingmak.  Their wool was called quviut.  Today you can buy quiviut products.  A scarf costs upwards of $200.  I asked about a blanket and was given an estimate of $5000.00.  The wool does not shrink, and if cared for properly a garment will last 20 years.  I don't make enough money to buy a $5000 blanket, so I jut shivered a bit and admired this fuzzy little guy, happy to know he'd be warm all winter.

My next stop was to meet Deshka!  Deshka was a newer arrival at the conservation center.  She was born in captivity in Montana, but she is a gray tundra wolf.  She moved to Alaska when she was just a few weeks old, in the summer of 2015.  She stayed out of the public spotlight in an area off limits to visitors until the fall, so this was my first sight of her.  I was surprised to see that she was smaller than a lot of the dogs around here.  She had very high energy, enjoyed pouncing in he snow, and was shy and beautiful and a wonderful sight to see.  Deshka also made the Christmas card.

The center also had a new porcupine.  This little fella has a nice little pad to hang out in.  And hang out he does, he tends to be asleep whenever I visit.  Hopefully he's doing laps and having fun at night.

Adonis is the resident bald eagle.  Adonis was unfortunately injured in a norther community.  He was found with a gunshot wound that resulted in a wing amputation.  Bald Eagles have a long life.  He will have a safe home, but he cannot fly and be returned to the wild.  It's tough to see, but what is great is when you see some of the workers, in the pens, feeding, passionately sharing information about these animals, and interacting with them, you feel as it's the best possible outcome considering the circumstances.

These deer were wandering around, all fuzzy and calm, not at all bothered by the lone girl with a camera wandering around on a snowy day.  I don't think I realized how the "antler attachment" points looked on deer before, thought they were kind of pretty.

I put my hand out so she could smell me, which I probably shouldn't have done, because she licked me!  I quickly pulled my hand back, running through my mind if humans carry any bacteria that are harmful to deer.  I think my skin flora are the same as hers, but kept my hands away from the fences after that, for her not me.

I did however try to get one snapshot of the whole deer...she is a bit blurry because she was not going to stand still for me!

Jade the red fox didn't look too found of the fresh snow.  Jade always looks a little sad.  But (spoiler alert) in the spring of 2016 she was joined by a new friend Storm who had been illegally raised as a pet in Montana.  The two foxes appear to have made fast friends and were having a great summer when I visited last.

The muskox usually are further away from the fence, and I rarely get a photo opportunity.  I stopped here to get a picture of this guy who was up and looking right at me.  As soon as I turned my head...

...the little oomingmak charged me!  It was like Sesame Street where they do near...and far.  Except it was far....and suddenly near.  Now the face may look innocent, but apprarently without the fence, I would have been head butted with the same force as a slow moving car.  Except the Oomingmak can actually run 37 miles per hour...explaining the far and fuzzy little beauty might have knocked me out of the park!

It had been quite the weekend.  On the Saturday I saw a Viking go by in a kayak, saw a very large grizzly in the middle of the highway, got licked by a deer, and charged by a muskox.  Par for the course in wonderful and wild Alaska.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

All Hallow's Eve

Sunny Saturday blog catchup before I head out to Bear Paw Festival (fear not, no bears are harmed, in fact, there are no bears there...normally, but anything is possible in Alaska) to pick up my new "welcome" bear carving statue thingy which I haven't quite decided what to do with, but I have always wanted.  Will post a picture tomorrow.

But first I have to pick up the blog, which is still somewhere back in October, on Halloween weekend.  First there was my attempt to carve a pumpkin, aided considerably by a Skype session to Saskatchewan with my sister and her in-laws who had gathered in a garage with far too many beverages and sharp objects for their annual Halloween pumpkin carving night.  My little fat cat, who is fascinated with all things potentially edible, started hunting the pumpkin immediately.

Fortunately it was too big for him to eat.

We got the first dusting of snow that day, so I headed out to to take some pictures, not being sure if I would be spending much time outdoors for the next several months of winter.

I started at my favorite coffee shop, the Sleepy Dog, which strangely shares a building and advertising space with a lawyer and a midwife.

The Eagle River was like glass.  I pulled off the side of the road, wandered down to the riverbank, and took a few pictures of my first "First Snow" day in Alaska.

Tranquil, serene, slightly crisp, it was all good things.

After enjoying a few minutes of quiet, I heard other vehicles pull up, and a frenzy of closing doors and unpacking began to happen in my quiet mountain scene.

Kayakers had arrived, to take one last journey down the Eagle River for the season.

There was Go Pro Guy, who was very friendly.

And random bearded dude kayaking in the snow in Alaska wearing a Viking helmet.  This is a perfect example of why I usually have my camera with me.

Soon they were all milling around in the water, Viking and all, and ready to begin their trip.

And they were off, leaving me back to my solitary snowy mountain morning.

It was at that moment that I looked down and realized exactly what I was standing on.  Camoflauged by the snow and grass and branches, I didn't realize at first that I was standing right next to what looked like a moose femur.  My mind flashed back to the sign I had seen earlier unnervingly not so far away.

"Large grizzly seen here 10/29/16, feeding.  Be aware!!!"

The joy of having this beautiful piece of Alaska all to myself faded ever so slightly and I decided perhaps now was a good time to get back to the car and move on with my day.  Well, it was about 200 metres later that I came around the corner and saw this.  I guess that large grizzly wasn't too far away from where I was after all.

I pulled over to let him figure out where he wanted to go, and watched him truck on down the road.  Hopefully towards higher ground and a long winter nap soon.

I still wanted to get my last winter hike in, even if it was just a short one.

The snow nicely filled all the empty seed pods into surrogate flowers for a day.

My favorite summer scene transitioning to white.

What I thought might be my last snapshot of this path in 2015 (but it wasn't, spoiler alert!)

And so a walk, a Viking, and a road bear later, I made it home in time to pass out Halloween Candy.  I was glad I had the pumpkin, because it drew kids in like a lighthouse, and I had bought waaaay too much candy that I was going to otherwise end up eating.

First Halloween in Alaska.  Totally didn't suck.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thoughts for a Rainy Day

In trying to catch up on the photos of last fall, I have finally made it to a rainy day in October.  The good news is that I had a really busy winter at work and I should catch up to 2016 pretty quickly.  My September photo file had one day of snapshots of my cat eating my flower garden.  Then nothing til this day with the bears.

As I mentioned, it was a wet, chilly fall day.  But a day off all the same, and so I headed down the road to see what the bears at the Wildlife Conservation Center were doing.  It didn't take long to spot this big bear, sitting on its butt in the drizzle.  I guess if you're gonna be a wet bear, you might as well just sit on your big furry butt and soak it all in...literally.

I watched this little (ok, 1000 pound) bear tilt his nose up and let the rain fall on his face.  If there would have been snowflakes I am reasonably certain he would have caught them with his tongue, he was rather enjoying the inclement weather.

At least initially he was enjoying the moment.  I think he got rain up his nose which led to this rather disgrunted expression a moment later.  Musings of a wet bear.  Here I sit, damp and and befuddled, my fuzzy butt in a large wet puddle.

When the rain let up and a little sun shone through, I swear he cracked a bit of a smile!

Meanwhile, this girl had assumed a different pose...belly down, my favorite post-Thanksgiving pose as well.  She has quite the manicure too!

If you are gonna be wet, you might as well just roll with it.

I absolutely love this photo with the cute little feet and the fat little bum (again, little being relative to the thousand pounds of bear they are attached to).  While these animals deserve respect, they also deserve the awe and fascination they inspire with their intelligence and beauty.  And so it is with deep awe and respect that I ask...aren't those the cutest little feet?

Here she looks like she just decided to give up and sleep through it, head on paws for naptime.

Eventually Joe came over and parked his butt by his sister Patrone.  These two siblings are usually close together.

He looked at me like the least I could do was pass down an umbrella or something.

Little Hugo was just walking around in the rain.  She has naturally dark fur around her eyes, and in the rain she just looks like a ball of dark fur.

A little black and white for contrast brings out that pretty face.

After a while I was as soggy as the bears, and the rain had us all feeling a little blue, so it was time to say bye and head home.

I stopped to say hi to Mr. Moose and he didn't seem to mind the drizzle at all.

Ever notice how mooseanei (kidding, the plural of moose is actually just...moose) noses are wierd and floppy on the end.  Still cute, but there's a lot of wiggle room at the end of that nose.

It was a good day, spent at one of my favorite local spots, with a few of my favorite beings.  I am getting quite attached to the personalities of each of the residents of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  

When I got back home I went for a short walk and came across one very particular falling leaf.  I picked it up and brought it home with me.  Every once in a while, on those days where you go out into the world and find your quiet, I find little signs that make me wonder about what lies just beyond the world we know.  It's those days that feel the most peaceful that I see symbols that remind me of the most brutal and discordant things in my life.  I remember the smile and laughter of a girl who drew hearts everywhere.  I remember a girl I can never share days like this with again.  But little things like a perfect heart shaped leaf also make me feel like on these days, she's with me still, watching bears in the rain.