September 30, 2008
A little over three months ago the elm tree in front of my house was marked by a neon orange ring of paint and labeled with a large "J". Shortly thereafter a note appeared in my mailbox notifying me that my tree was infected with dutch elm disease and it would promptly be cut down.
About two weeks ago I was terribly ill. My inner ear was off and all the world spun around. While I was flat on my back men stripped the tree's limbs from its trunk leaving a tall, miserable broccoli stalk in my front yard. It was pathetically sad looking standing there limbless, all alone.
Yesterday signs appeared reading, "POLICE ORDER: no parking between 7:00 - 11:00am!" I returned today from work to find the tree cut down level to the ground. Nothing remains now but the trunk.
The trunk seems larger now that it has nothing to hold it up. It seems that it would take two of me to embrace it. It is probably larger than twelve feet all the way around.
The entire neighborhood seems off to me. Although I'm not dizzy any more, without my huge tree to anchor me I feel off balance. Everything seems different: the house seems emptier now. The light that greets me in the morning is brighter but somehow colder and more foreign. The front yard is less sheltered and more exposed to the elements and the street.
This year has been a year of so many changes. The the removal of my tree was a capstone event. I'm hoping that soon the trunk will be ground away, a new tree will be planted and something beautiful can take root and grow in it's place. I'm looking forward to having my house feel like a home again.
September 21, 2008
Along the First 15 Miles of Denali at Dusk
|Camera||Konica Minolta MAXXUM 7D|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Minolta 24mm F/2.8 (45mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture-priority AE / 1/25 @ f/5.0|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Multi-segment w/0 EV @ ISO 100|
After cruising for moose we stopped to enjoy the beauty of the tundra at dusk. The colors in autumn are just breathtaking. A friend of mine suggested that everything looks like the color palette used in the film, "What Dreams May come."
This was a tripod mounted shot with a graduated neutral density filter held over the front element of the lens to enhance cloud and mountain detail.
September 17, 2008
|Camera||Konica Minolta MAXXUM 7D|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Minolta AF 24mm F2.8 (36mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture-priority AE / 1/125 @ f/5.6|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Multi-segment w/-1/2 EV @ ISO 200|
Driftwood from near the loop trail head circling around the lake at Eklutna, in Chugach State Park, Alaska.
September 13, 2008
Wisdom of The Father
The piece, roughly summarized, is about how long-time Republican friends of the writer were going to vote for Obama until Palin was announced as McCain's running mate. Her friends—Kim & Scott Speranza—cited many reasons for supporting Palin including such brilliant decision making as that Palin is reminiscent of Kim's farm-raised Grandmother.
What was most thrilling for my father was this quotation:
As for Palin's special-needs infant, pregnant teenage daughter and the sudden emergence of the future son-in-law with an expletive-laced MySpace page that declared his lack of interest in fatherhood, the Speranzas say Palin's willingness to cope with her flaws makes voters like them love her more. "Look, I'd certainly think twice about the family consequences of running for office," said Kim. "She has an entirely different sense of her own boundaries than most people. She's almost like a superhero. Though she does have my hair."
This caused my father to pen the following response:
Pick of the litter on pick of Palin
Re "Greetings from the energized base," Opinion, Sept. 6
I shudder to think what Meghan Daum's Republican "religious conservative" friends, who once admitted respect for Barack Obama but now feel energized after seeing how "real" Sarah Palin's family is, would have felt if Obama's out-of-wedlock, pregnant, 17-year-old daughter and her 18-year-old soon-to-be husband, using expletives on his MySpace page, had been paraded around the Democratic convention.
Would they say, "That's so American"?
Would they have been just as energized?
Game off, folks.
It is hard to disagree with him. Somehow I don't think that many Americans would have been "energized" by the news of the daughter of a black political family to be pregnant out of wedlock. It isn't hard to imagine the scathing speeches that would have been made on the collapse of American "family values" by both sides of the political punditry. But if it's a white girl, then getting pregnant by your foul-mouthed high school sweetie is just as American as apple pie and other stuff that white people like.
Looking Up Turnagain Arm
|Camera||Canon PowerShot G9|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Canon 7.4-44.4mm f/2.8-4.8 IS (35mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture-priority AE / 1/150sec @ f/5.6|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Multi-segment w/-1 EV @ ISO 80|
Looking back over the totality of my Alaskan trip, visiting Bird Creek was the most disappointing. Perhaps it was the rain. Perhaps it was because I did not have any salmon fishing gear. Perhaps it was because the campground was situated between the highway and the train tracks.
Looking back at my photos of Bird Creek I can enjoy some of the scenery I took in at the time. If you hiked over the train tracks or down to the mouth of Bird Creek you would be rewarded with beautiful views of Turnagain Arm. I particularly liked this view for the weather in the distance—a feature typical it seems for Alaskan skies.
September 10, 2008
Looking Over Eklutna
|Camera||Canon PowerShot G9|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Canon 7.4-44.4mm f/2.8-4.8 IS (58mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture-priority AE / 1/150sec @ f/5.0|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Multi-segment w/0 EV @ ISO 80|
This is view one is rewarded with if they make it half way up the Twin Peaks Trail at Eklutna. There is a little bench that looks out over the alpine lake. I brought up my camping stove and made oatmeal and hot chocolate. It was a very lovely spot to enjoy breakfast.
September 9, 2008
Halfway on the Eklutna Twin Peaks Trail
|Camera||Konica Minolta MAXXUM 7D|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Minolta 24mm f/2.8 @ 24 mm (42 mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture priority / 1/200 s @ f/5.6|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Pattern w/0.00 eV @ 100|
Part of a series on last week's trip to Alaska.
This is halfway up the beautiful Twin Peaks Trail at Eklutna, part of Chugach State Park in Alaska. The trail takes you up through a beautiful alpine and coniferous forest; and it even passes by a very spooky abandoned car on the mountainside that looks like it has been there for decades. How it got there is a mystery to me.
Minnesota State Fair Sky Ride
|Camera||Canon PowerShot G9|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Canon 7.4-44.4mm f/2.8-4.8 IS (17mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture Priority / 1/500sec @ f/4.5|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Evaluative w/0.0 EV @ ISO 100|
I took this photo while I was riding with Mom on the "Sky Ride" at the Minnesota State Fair—the relative new comer to fairgrounds gondola transport.
The Sky Ride is pretty neat as it goes over the business-end of the fair. Instead of going over the food stalls, TV and radio station booths you are given views of farm equipment and shiny new pickup trucks.
I think this view of the Minnesota State Fair sums it up well: in the picture you can see tractors, pronto pups, and the giant wind turbine blade jutting out from the pavilion of the ecology building.
September 8, 2008
'Chicken' by Chanel
|Camera||Canon PowerShot G9|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Canon 7.4-44.4mm f/2.8-4.8 IS (7.4mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture Priority / 1/60sec @ f/3.2|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Evaluative w/0.0 EV @ ISO 400|
This is one fashionable rooster.
September 7, 2008
Visiting Alaska had always been a mysterious fantasy of mine. Before coming I knew very little of what life was like here. After having spent nearly a week in the state I feel as though I can say that some of the mystery has left but the fantasy of further exploration remains.
After disembarking from the plane and climbing into my hideous Hummer H3 rental, I immediately noticed a strange sort of kinship between my native Minnesota and Alaska. There are historical Minnesotan farmsteds and lots of present-day Minnesotans walking around in their boots: tight-lipped, unkempt and looking as oblivious to the weather just as they do back home. There is Minnesota Dr., the a commercial drag through Anchorage. Even the September light and the folliage are reminiscent of late autumn back home.
There are, of course, some dramatic differences. There are moutains. There is still a frontier spirit. Shaggy, toothless men roam the streets of the towns and villages scrambling for supplies before returning off-grid. It isn't as settled and tame as it is on the Great Planes.
When I arrived the plan was fairly straightforward: I was to meet Jim at the Anchorage International Airport and he and I were going to drive up to Denali National Park and camp from Tuesday night to Saturday, return to Anchorage, clean up at a hotel and fly home Sunday. A simple plan.
As soon as I landed in Alaska Tuesday afternoon the plan got complicated. Jim had already been in Alaska a week. He was at Katmai National Park photographing grizzly bear. I had a message he left from a sat-phone in the field telling me that he was weathered in and he couldn't fly out of the park. I was going to have to find something to do near Anchorage and hopefully the weather would clear up the following morning for us to hook up.
The weather did not clear up. I needed a new plan. I ended up camping for three days around Chugach State Park, close to Anchorage, so I could stay within mobile phone range.
I stopped at a U.S. Park Service information center and I received information on camping around Anchorage. The difference in mentality on camping here in Alaska was strikingly different than Minnesota. When I asked the ranger, "where should I camp near Anchorage?" I was met with a blank stare.
"Well, I would just drive until you see a spot that looks pretty, then stop your car, pitch your tent and camp." Of course it was that easy! Why not?
If you tried the same thing in Minnesota, you'd have a State Trooper shining a flashlight in your tent in order to see if you had your head screwed on striaght.
Camping just anywhere felt a little too contrary to my Minnesotan upbringing. I asked for a little bit more guidance and I was given information to two Chugach State Park areas: Bird Creek and Eklutna.
Bird Creek was closer to town—perhaps 30 minutes from Anchorage International—and so I decided to spend the night there in case Jim came in the following morning. It was a terrible bust: camping was prohibited except for the campgrounds (or hiking to back-country and finding a clearing), it was drizzling rain, and worst of all the campground was boxed in by busy railroad tracks and the Seward Highway. I felt like I was sleeping in a trainyard.
Still, I attempted to make the most of it. I put on my raingear and went for a hike up along the Bird Creek. After walking along the muddy banks for awhile I came up to some locals fishing in the creek for salmon. One of them saw me and called out, "Hey! Where's your pole?"
I shouted back, "I'm just hiking!"
"That's no excuse!" came his reply.
I watched him for awhile from a distance. I saw that he was building a race out of rocks to draw the salmon in tight to one side of the stream. He pulled out a big salmon. I wanted to get in and have a closer look at what he was doing. I came down to him.
He was a weathered looking man. He had deep lines around his eyes and no teeth. He was dressed head-to-toe in camoflage: from his waders up to his jacket, save his bright hunter-orange stocking cap. He eyed me suspiciously and asked, "what'cha want?"
I made some allusion that I was just killing time waiting for a friend. He blinked and asked, "where's your fishing gear?"
"Back in Minnesota," I said.
That worked. We were buddies from then on. Minnesota has incredible street, or perhaps "stream" crendials here in Alaska. It wasn't the last time Minnesota would help smooth introductions.
I watched him pull another huge silver salmon from the stream. He bashed its head in with a rock, cut the monofilament line and tied the line to a stick that he held pinned beneath the rushing water with two heavy stones. The half-dozen or so fish he had caught flopped helplessly in the current, keeping fresh in the cold creek water.
I asked him, "how long have you been out here today?"
He looked over to his cooler as the rain beat against the muddy shore of the creek, "oh, about four beer or so." This came as a complete surprise to me: he told time in beer!
I wished him and his toothless grin good luck and I made my way back to camp.
The following day brought the news that Jim was still weathered in at Katmai. I made my way into Anchorage and stopped in at an Internet cafe, ate at a delicious Korean restaurant, and did some shopping before heading up to Eklutna to camp for the night.
Eklutna campground was beautiful. It is about 10 miles off the Glenn highway over rolling hills of aspen on a narrow road. I felt as thought I had finally reached someplace interesting.
I pitched my tent and went for a twighlight hike up to the lake. It was beautiful. I saw the trailheads for the loop trail and the "Twin Peaks" trail leading high up into the forest. When I returned a met a man looking up at the hills. He was watching the bear near the tops of the mountains, grazing on the few remaining blueberries up-elevation.
I woke up about an hour before sunrise and loaded up my pack for a day hike. I started up the "Twin Peaks" trail. I think it is about 3,000 feet up 2.8 miles. The view from the top was spectacular. You look out from lush forest down to a blue alpine lake below. I fired up the camping stove and ate oatmeal and drank hot chocolate. It was as quiet and as windless as it could be. I could have heard a squirrel fart.
Around noon I hit the highway back toward Anchorage. I had a message from Jim: the weather had cleared and he hadmade it from Katmai to Homer soon he'd be in Anchorage. He'd be waiting for me at the airport.
We loaded the car with his things and busted up Denali National Park.
We had some dissapointing news when we arrived at the Mercantile Center in Denali. Since we had been delayed by two nights we would have to forfit out camp site at Teklanika campground. Teklanika was deep into the interior of the park and we would have been allowed to drive our car all the way in. Park regluations state that you must stay three consequtive nights in order to stay at these camp grounds. Instead we had to take a spot at the very busy beginning of the park and went driving up and down the first paved 15 miles of the park looking for wildlife during sunset. This activity was dubbed "moose cruising." Staying near the park entrance may have been worse but for me, the uninitiated, it was fun.
While we were cruising for moose I was introduced to the beauty of the park. It was my first time seeing true tundra. It was autumn and everything was a glow: blueberries and fireweed were brilliant shades of red. Bright yellow aspen trees were everywhere. The hills were purple and orange and the mountains were brightly capped in white. It was gorgeous!
After some early morning moose cruising, we took the camper bus up to the other side of the park up to Wonder Lake Campground. Wonder Lake is a place most guidebooks will tell you are notorious for two things: its beauty and its bugs. Nearly six hours and 90 miles up a dirt road, we arrived. All the beauty was there. Luckily there were relatively few bugs. It had been raining off and on in spurts on the ride up and we were greeted at the campground by a beautiful rainbow.
Not waising any time, we hurried to lock up our food in the bear-proof storage locker provided at the campground and we got back on the bus up to the beaver pond with a group of self-proclaimed "beaver enthusiasts." Tired-out, groan-inspiring "wet beaver" jokes were rampant.
The beaver pond was beautiful. Just feet of the road, a family of beaver had dammed up a small stream to build their lodge. The surrounding landscape looked like it was on fire: bright yellow aspen took hold in red and orange tundra. Green coniferous trees dotted up here and there. The three beaver were busy caching food for the winter. It began to rain in big, hard droplets. The rain came tumbling down and hit the surface of the pond in big, hard splashes. There was no wind. We began to get soaked.
I had to make a choice: to stand and be satisfied with watching the wildlife work or to try and take some pictures. Taking pictures would mean sacrificing my rain gear to protect my camera gear and getting wet. I evidentally lacked to the forsight to buy rain gear for my camera.
I locked in next to a very professional looking beaver enthusiast and I took off my rain gear to protect my camera and bag. The guy next to me told me, "dude, you are going to freeze." I nodded in return. I knew that I had the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me and a dry change of close waiting for me back at camp. I chose to freeze.
I got cold and I got wet. But, I can assuredly tell you that I did not get as wet as Jim's camera. We were all taking photos of the cute family of beaver that decided to take a break, snack and investigate us for a bit when we heard a terrible noice, "ker-ploosh!" Jim's giant 500mm lens, camera, and tripod tipped into the pond. Thousands of dollars of camera equipment—that had never taken a lesson in their short lives—were trying to swim with the beaver.
I learned—and Jim re-learned— exactly how elastic the tundra really can be. You can step into a spot of tundra and it will sink 18 inches. Sometimes when you lift your foot you can actually feel the tundra pushing your foot up. The sensation of walking in back-country tundra is a bit like walking around in those inflatible castles for kids that show up at fairgrounds and amusment parks. It's bouncey. Jim had unfortunately shifted his weight and the tundra lifted his tripod into the pond. Being the prepared man he is, of course he had a backup camera body and numerous other lenses. His big 500mm was clouded over for the remainder of the trip, however. All in all he bore his dissappointment well.
We were cold and damp when we got back to camp. We made ourselves dry, cooked dinner and I passed out into a hard, dreamless sleep in the tent before Jim's alarm went off about an hour and a half before sunrise.
Our big goal of camping up at Wonder Lake was to hike up to the reflecting pond in the morning in order to try and take a photo of Mount McKinley (Denali) in the morning. Even catching a glimpse of the huge mountain is somewhat rare: different sources say that the moutain is completely eclipsed by clouds 80-90% of the time.
In the early morning twilight we could make out the shape of the mountain and we could see a band of clouds enshrouding the bulk majority of the mountain. Still, the mountain was visible and we hiked at brisk pace in damp 35 degree weather in order to find the pond.
We made it to the pond just before the first true rays of sunlight began to hit the mountain. There were three people situated with their cameras down around the pond already: a couple from one of the expensive interior lodges and an Alaskan who Jim and I met along with his wife on the bus ride up to Wonder Lake the day before.
Jim and I situated ourselves next to the lodge couple and setup our equipment. It was freezing. The man of the couple, a handsome well dressed guy in his early 30s, looked oddly familiar to me: he had the polished look of an entertainer. He could have been a televion actor or played supporting roles in some movies. I couldn't quite place him. Jim had the same impression that I did, that he had somehow seen him before.
His girlfriend was beautiful and when she spoke she had an Eastern European accent I couldn't quite place. They were both giddy with excitement. Jim and I were busy, heads down on our equipment and getting setup for what we thought was going to be a mediocre shot at best. The girl said, "I really think it is going to happen!" Norm's disembodied voice, hidden to us from all the scrub exclaimed in return, "my God, I think you're right!" We looked up and we saw the thick cloud bank dissipaiting and moving off the face of the moutain before out very eyes. The alpine glow of sunrise was just beginning.
I engaged the lodge couple next to us and commented, "if it happens, we'll sure be lucky, won't we?"
We exchanged some plesantries, I found out that they were from New York city. He commented that he hoped that the clouds would dissappear soon because his driver from the lodge, who was patiently waiting in a van above the pond, had a schedule to keep and would need to take them back soon. I rubbed my fingers together and gesticulated that he should bribe him a bit for some more time.
He chuckled and produced a wad of cash from his pocket and peeled off a bill, "oh, hey, look at this strange leaf I found right here! Do you think you could identify it for me?" he mocked to the non-existant driver behind him. We chuckled together, perhaps for differing reasons.
The clouds continued to dissipate and we began to take pictures of the mountain and of its lightly rippled reflection in the pond below. A few wisps of clouds hung in front of the mountain. The New York couple grew a little agitated and told us that they had to leave in order to catch a plane out of the park. Their driver, a young kid about 20, emerged from the van and asked the man if it would be alright if they left. The New Yorker invited him to come down and join him instead. The driver, obviously nervous for returning to the lodge late to angry supervisors, agreed, stating that he had never seen the mountain so clearly before. We would learn later that seeing the mountain surrounded by a clear blue sky was about a one-in-five hundred chance occurance.
The couple joked about their fellow lodge-mates who wouldn't wake up early enough to see the mountain. They alluded to how they were soft city slickers and that they didn't really know how to get out and enjoy nature. All the while they were standing next to their driver and waiting to be taken to their private charter plane. The irony sadly was lost on them. It was not lost on us however. We three humor-hungry Minnesotans and Alakans gathered up our share and kept it safe for a feast of later laughter.
Meanwhile the moutain fully emerged. It was crystal clear and the sky behind the mountain was azure blue. The New Yorkers took a few last photos and were ushered away by their worried driver. We snapped away and I heated up hot chocolate and oat meal for the rest of us to share.
While we were eating a gaggle of elderly Japanese tourists arrived in a lodge bus and cooed on about the beauty of the mountain. A few comparisons were made to some peaks I was unfamiliar with in Japan. I spoke with them for a bit in polite but childlike Japanese. They were very entertained by the fact that a unkempt American could butcher their tongue so well. One of them volunteered that they had just seen two moose about a mile off on the north end of Wonder Lake. I relayed the information and we packed up our gear and took off.
We missed the moose but ended up hiking a bit off the road and around a back-country pond. The water was still as glass and it presented itself to us with a perfect image of the mountain. We took more pictures and Norm left us there, nervous that his wife would be wondering were he had got off to and stayed away so long.
Jim and I hiked the hour or so back alone back to camp. We packed up and presented ourselves at the bus stop. We ran in to Norm and his wife who were heading up to the beaver pond. A chill had descended on them which had rather obviously percipitated from Norm neglecting to extend an invitation to his wife to join him in the morning. Jim asked exactly the wrong question, "so, how did you keep yourself busy while we were off taking pictures this morning?" I actually felt the hair at the back of my neck stand up. I think it was the first time that's ever happened.
We rode the camper bus back to the park entrance that afternoon and crused for more moose in the evening. Around nine in the evening we hit up a local spot for fish and chips and hit the road back toward Anchorage. A little less than half way I gave up the car to Jim and slept until he found a motel in Eagle River, about 30 minutes from Anchorage. It was about 1:30 in the morning.
I woke up in a dream-like state. All I could think about was climbing into a proper bed. At the counter, ahead of us in line, was a very young couple. They were extremely intoxicated and stank of booze. A likely outcome of last call at the country bar. The girl had her cell phone loudly playing top 40 tunes to the lobby. The boy was flapping his mouth at the check in clerk, his age peer.
As we stood behind him he turned around to us and began to flap his mouth at us, "hey my buddy just found a two karat gold nuggest panning for hold the other day, do you know how much that's worth? That's like two grand buddy and right outside of Hope, too! Awe come on, you know where Hope is, don't cha?"
I hoped that he would go away. I hoped that I could sleep as soon as possible. I hoped his nuts would fall off.
The girl asked, "can we smoke in the room? Yes? Awesome! Let's go!"
They crept away to the elevator leaving the clerk to say, "you know, if I didn't know him I would have never rented him a room." I drempt of panning gold in an Alaskan stream that night.
This morning Jim and I ate at a diner and I dropped him off at the airport. Before I sign off from a Kaladi Bros. Coffee, here in Anchorage, allow me to leave you with this snippet of convesation I just heard. A blond, hairy 30-something year old man in a tie-dyed teeshirt was talking to an unkempt 20-something young man with a braided gotee:
"Things are getting real bad, man. Not bad like they are in Long Beach or in De-troit, but real bad. If I weren't crazy I'd be home polishing my gun right now. If I don't take my anti-psychotic pills at one-thirty today...watch out."
For now, goodbye Alaska!
September 2, 2008
I'm a Chicken, See?
|Camera||Canon PowerShot G9|
|Lens (35mm Equiv.)||Canon 7.4-44.4mm f/2.8-4.8 IS (30mm)|
|Exp. Prog. / Shutter @ Aperture||Aperture Priority / 1/60sec @ f/3.5|
|Metering w/Adj. @ ISO||Evaluative w/0.0 EV (Flash -1 EV) @ ISO 400|
Mom and I stopped by the poultry barn at the Minnesota State Fair. This one looks like he's smoking a Lucky Strike.
Isn't it interesting how chickens can looks so intensely emotional and intelligent in one moment and then so completely vapid in the next?