Sunday, November 2, 2008

Village Travel Completed

It has been a while since I have posted so let me catch you up a bit.

First of all, I survived Car Camp just fine. Well - there were a few glitches. First of all I woke up in the middle of the night in my tent wondering what that damp feeling was on the edge of my sleeping bag only to discover it was my breath freezing as it left my mouth- is colder than I expected! Second, I woke up as the sun was peeking above the mountains to the sound of footsteps around my tent.....animal footsteps. Now they seemed too light to be a bear....but then again - I'd never heard a bear step that close to my head before. Then there was definitely the sound of sniffing...sniffing on my tent.....gulp.....then there was scratching - the kind of scratching I imagine precedes the ripping off of your skull by a large carnivore....Much to my delight however I opened my eyes to find a small black nose peeking under the edge of my tent. That small black nose belonged to "Tank" the Iditarod puppy that was camping with his owners and ran off to do some exploring.....Never has the presentation of a puppy been so terrifying!

So other than car camp - the big events have been having the snow tires installed on my Jeep and the new hard top that keeps me MUCH warmer while traveling. Things at the SeaLife Center are sailing along into winter. Work at Thorn's continues with several comical moments each night, compliments of the drunks.

The latest adventure was my trip to 2 native villages for some Environmental Education Outreach work. I left last Monday and came back late Thursday night. I traveled to Nanwalek - you can see a picture of me waiting for my flight at the Nanwalek airport above. There I got to experience what it is like to live in a totally isolated village - the only way to access it is by plane. And when I say puddle jumper - I mean really small, shaky, 4 person plane that would fit in most of your garages - that is a really small vehicle to fly over the mountains and ocean in by the way. After 2 days in Nanwalek it was off to Port Graham. There I was asked to play some kickball with the village children. They failed to mention it was Aleut Kickball - which is nothing like regular kickball - and resulted in me being pegged mercilessly by the ball while they laughed hysterically. In Port Graham, I also got to watch the Jr. High and High School kids train for the Native Youth Olympics - they have events like the one legged high kick, caribou wrestling and seal walk - pretty amazing stuff. It was interesting to see how a school with 3 1/2 teachers operates and visit with the local principal about what it is like to live in the school - literally she lives in the school! It certainly gave me a new perspective on tough teaching assignments! It was an incredible trip - I have attached a couple of pictures down on the right of this page - but the experience was hard to capture on film. Their lifestyle is so different than anything I could possibly have imagined. Really incredible people - their subsistence lifestyles and focus on family and tradition could teach us all a few things.

The temperature here has fallen below freezing and will probably remain there for some time. Daylight savings time has brought the sunrise time to around 9:00 a.m. but the sunset time is before 6:00 p.m. and we are loosing daylight each day. The snow has fallen several times - but hasn't started stacking up yet too bad. That should change in the next week or so.

One other item of big news - there was a bear shot shortly after he ran past my car. No - I wasn't driving. My jeep is parked in the alley adjacent to my apartment and apparently they tried to catch him in the alley - but he ran (right past my jeep!) and they shot at him on the other side of the alley. That could be a rude awakening one morning - a 400-600 pound black surprising me could replace my need for coffee on any particular morning.

Well - that's about it from here. Of course there are more details, stories and pictures to share. So hopefully there will be time for that when I am home visiting for the holidays. I hope this brief update finds all of you well and enjoying the coming of winter as much as I am!

Take care - Nikki

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall has Arrived

The cooler temperatures and fluttering leaves can only mean one thing here in the soon to be Great White North....Fall is here. I spent the bulk of my Saturday out enjoying its arrival. As you can see from the pictures the new season just makes the landscape here that much more breathtaking.

All of my 'neighbors' are giving hints to the changing season as well. The salmon have finished the morphing of their bodies and have reached their freshwater breeding territories. They aren't jumping in the bay any longer and have moved to the terminal phase of their stream run. Luckily while they were moving - I was able to stock my freezer full so I can remember them all winter with a little garlic butter!!

The bears are hording all of the remaining salmon and berries they can as their hibernation is in the very near future. Fall bears are some of the most aggressive as they are looking for their last few meals anywhere they can find it. They have been spotted all around town, as close as a block over from where I live. That means any hiking trips must be taken with necessary precautions.

The moose are heading to the hills to begin their mating rituals and will return soon with their enormous antlers in full view for the winter. They are a permanent fixture through the year and are a real hazard on the winter roads.

As for the humans, we are enjoying some beautiful weather, as evident in this picture. The temps are in the 40's but the sun is out and the sky is clear so we have nothing to complain about. For my little adventure on Saturday I took in the sights along some of the local rivers. I came across and inviting Jeep trail and couldn't resist - boy was that a mistake! About 30 minutes later I was a little weary of where exactly this trail was going to lead. It started out pretty clear and picturesque and then before I knew it - I was nearly vertical headed down along a cliff face. Quite breathtaking in more ways than one!! After about an hour I made it back to civilization with all auto and human parts still in tact.

At the ASLC we are preparing for the impending winter by doing a lot of cleaning and prep work out on all the outdoor laboratory areas. That means most of my time is spent with a scrub brush in hand when I am working in the science end of my job. When I am working on the visitor services end of things, I am focusing on program development as it seems that someone has turned the tourist fountain off and our numbers have dwindled dramatically.

I am relieved to hear that all of my friends and family in Texas made it through the storm. Hopefully in the near future I'll have pictures to share from our first snow - it should be here within the next few weeks. Each morning when I get up it is obvious that the snow is creeping down from the mountains all around me, it will be upon us soon!

Hope this post finds everyone else enjoying the change of seasons - wherever you might be!

Take care - Nikki

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I survived the weekend!!

Well I made it through the wilderness camping trip with no permanent scars!! Our weekend of wilderness adventures began on a gray and rainy Seward Friday. (Did I mention rainy? You will see that became a running theme for the weekend.) We boarded the boat, and by boat I mean large piece of tin foil that would ferry us across the 900 feet of glacier fed water, to our cabin for the weekend. There were four of us and about 600 pounds of gear, so not quite the roughing it I had expected. Luckily my camp mates were planning on staying in comfort all weekend. It was pouring rain but we were all hopeful it would burn off soon - thank goodness we didn't bet on that and instead all packed our rainboats.
Then we rode across the slightly choppy seas for about 45 minutes to a small cove on the Eastern side of the bay that opened into the Gulf of Alaska and was backed by the Chugach Mountains. We arrived on a rocky beach and unloaded our gear under the watchful eye of several bald eagles and in a backdrop of glaciers which encircled the bay. (We could hear then crack and thunder sporadically over the weekend) We hauled our gear inland to the cabin (still in the rain). We promptly fired up the wood stove within the small log cabin that held a picnic table and 2 sets of bunk beds. That stove stayed stoked all weekend to keep the chilly (and still wet) weather away. We took care of all the essentials first, starting the fire, rolling out our sleeping bags and making sure the beer was on ice. We also surveyed our surroundings - about 150 yards from the beach but more importantly about 25 yards from the latrine up the hill. Those were 25 very long and scary yards once it got dark as we were definitely in bear country.
After a gourmet dinner of steak, rice and veggies - all cooked on the fire - we played a few hands of cards by lantern light and of course participated in the ritual making of smores required by all campers. About 10 pm, 2 hours after darkness fell and much more rain as well, we made our last sprints to the latrine and turned in for the night. It was a quite night except for the constant patter of raindrops on the metal roof and the occasional trip to put another log on the fire so we didn't wake up chilled to the bone.
The next morning it was up shortly after the sun - to find it raining more.... some coffee started the day with breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes to follow. (A better breakfast than I have had in months!) The morning found us making short 10 minute jaunts out to the beach or to look around the creek bed, but as the wind and rain picked up it was back to the cabin. I read a bit and learned to play cribbage. We listened to some music and of course the ever present rain. We skipped lunch as we hadn't spent many calories sitting around. Late in the afternoon we couldn't take it anymore so we put on all the raingear and headed out for some exploring. We walked down the beach and crossed a few creek beds to find a slew of mussels, star fish and watch the waterfowl working the cove for small fish. The salmon were running up the stream at the head of the cove but we couldn't get that far before the rain got too heavy to go any further. So we picked fresh blueberries on the way back right off the rain washed bushes. Dinner of fresh grilled salmon, roasted corn and more vegetables followed. We stayed up late playing games and as a result found the need to roast some hot dogs to wash down the previously mentioned beer. Then in to our bunks for another night of rain soaked dreams.
Up this morning with the sun to pack up and clean our camping area so that we could hike all the gear down to the beach and flag down our ride back to civilization. We did have an interesting observer as we stacked our stuff on the beach - a giant bald eagle was perched on a large piece of driftwood just down the beach from us. When they are eye level like that you realize just how massive they are!
Not much wildlife seen on this tip thanks to the weather, but I guess that was a good thing. The campers log in the cabin referenced lots of bear sightings in the weeks before our arrival so we knew they were out there and hoped they wouldn't look for a dry place to sleep snuggled up next to us on our bunks!!
After a nice hot shower and some laundry time - I'm ready to get back to my routine job tomorrow. Although, working with endangered animals and world renowned scientists isn't really all that routine I guess.
Glad to hear that family and friends survived the storm down south and hope all of you had as restful and fulfilling a weekend as I did.

Until next time - Take time for what you like and take care....Nikki

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Well this seems kind of stupid.....

At the request of several people, who claim that I never write, I have decided to attempt blogging. In all honesty I see this as a fancy My Space page and thus somewhat ridiculous for someone my age to be doing. But hey - this should at least give me something to do in the winter...assuming the frostbite doesn't make it too hard to use my fingers to type!

So here is what you need to know to get caught up this far - I LOVE IT HERE! What is not to love, the weather is nice and cool (Ask me again in 3 months how I feel about that), the wildlife is abundant (In nature and at the local bar) and I spend my days surrounded by some of the leaders in their academic fields (Kind of like the people I used to work with....I guess).

Where to start...where to start...well in the picture at the top of this page you can see my new town - Seward, Alaska. Population 10,540 if you count the bears, moose, eagles, otters and whales. If you just count the people - there are about 2,500 residents. Of course in the summer fishing and tourism season that blossoms to about 5,000 residents and 25,000 Cruise Ship Passengers. I live about 2 blocks from where I work in 'downtown' Seward - all 3 blocks of it. Downtown Seward consists of 4 bars, 2 restaurants, 2 coffee shops, 3 Tourist T-Shirt Traps, 1 bank, the cable office, City Hall and the National Parks service for the most part.

I spend my days at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Here my job is to help facilitate the exchange of information between our Husbandry, Research and Marine Mammal Rescue departments with the rest of the staff and of course the visitors. On any given day I get to hang out with endangered animals, watch cutting edge research take place, herd tourists through our gallery, attempt not to get crapped on by birds in the aviary and lots of other cool stuff. I'll write more about my job later.

In the evenings - I can hike, kayak, hang out and look for bears or enjoy my part time job at Thorn's Showcase Lounge! The Showcase as it is called here is a bar and restaurant right out of 1955 - - Red Leather Chairs, Brass bar accents and Old Jim Beam Bottles decorating the walls...a real class establishment. I waitress - - stop laughing - there a night or two a week. Well, sometimes more if the other staff members have been arrested, are recovering from gun shot wounds or other various ailments or are already too drunk to come to work. I love the stories that come out of this place - more will follow no doubt.

Anyway - I guess that is my life in a nutshell for now. I am hoping that I can update this blog whenever I have a little adventure and that somehow reading of my misfortune and near death exploits makes your day brighter. The next update will come on Monday - if I survive that long. We have a little wilderness camping trip planned - from what I have deduced a boat takes you to a remote location and drops you off. Then they come back 2 days later and if you are still alive, they bring you home.....Nothing can go wrong with this plan!!!