Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for Alaska

Miscellaneous 2011

Arctic Chihuahua Photography@2011

Arctic Chihuahua Photography @ 2011

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Cows and Big Puppies on the Kodiak

fog-lifting

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, there it was.  A bison?  We were flying at about 500 ft, on a windy and rainy day, our young pilot skirted the water’s edge along the low lying edges of gold. One could count twigs.  My immediate reaction was that this was a bison below, broad, thick, deep brown, furry around the shoulders.  That thought was rejected before reaching a state one could call real cognition.  Next my mind went to Musk Ox.  Can you see a pattern here?  Large and broad along the shoulders, big head. Brown, furry…Kodiak.  Moose?  Nah.  By this time thoughts were actually coming to some vague waking shape.  ‘Moose‘ was rejected before it had really even been considered. Even so, I tried to make it fit. Reality was a bit disconcerting. The creature was, I told myself, after all a dark brown that stood out from winter grasses much like a moose stands out in a snowy wood.  Hmm.  Problem was that this creature was not spindly enough and I am told there are no moose on Kodiak Island. Cow!  That’s it!  The most plausible explanation.  It’s a cow all by it’s lonesome in the middle of no where. There are no humans, no other cattle and large predatorial monsters wandering around. Right! By now we were flying beyond the beast.  I turned craning my neck for one last glimpse.  It was as brown and as placid in the field as would be a good sized and meaty bull.  That was my first glimpse of a real Brown Bear or Ursus arctos middendorffi, Kodiak style.

 Back at the ranch so to speak, or the place I was staying while working in one of the Kodiak Island villages, it was mentioned I might not want to walk around much outside “because of the bears.”  I was informed that a local resident had seen large bear tracks within the past few days.  Nearby.  Yes?.  I’d heard this before and had yet to see any sign of the elusive Kodiak bear.  They are supposed to be hibernating now anyway.  Never-the-less, I was cautious as I walked about in this area set away from housing and the few businesses, the boats.  There had actually been a bear near the school yard perhaps 8 weeks ago.  I knew this to be true based upon photographs taken, stories told, and by the fact that a large dumpster sits near that particular site.  I was beginning to wonder if this cautionary note had been nothing more than general concern about the POTENTIAL of bear appearances.  Because the reports of bear were not current, and there was no sign of or expectation of them in the near area, I set out around the building and the snow plow’s path to see for myself.

Uh yeah. There they were. Dog tracks. Large dogs tracks.  I’d seen the dogs running alongside their family cars on the way to the airstrip to pick up passengers, mail and cargo.  These were large Labradors, black and yellow, friendly tail wagging family dogs.  I kept walking, an eye now to birds in the woods not far out back and behind the building. 

 I cannot begin to describe my initial reaction.  Not a bear, thank goodness, but what had been clearly dog tracks led to an area where a much larger track appeared.  Much larger.  Big puppy. There were the toe imprints, smooth, rounded, the size of worry stones, something that would fit nicely into one’s palm.  Someone has been walking around barefooted. I wished.  I wanted a very large person to have been walking around in the snow without benefit of shoes or socks.  Surely that is what it was.  Yup.  I took a few more steps to follow and there was the mother footprint of all time.  I gasped and my heart began to pound.  I took a very large breathe as though preparing to slip underwater for a VERY long swim.  Then my voice returned and out came, something that can only be described as referring to sacred feces. 

Have you ever seen the footprint in snow of a Kodiak bear?  Huge.  Several prints were blurry and smeared into the snow, melted and refrozen now which was a good thing temporally. Gidget’s fingertip sized feet give the impression of a real sized dog once the snow around her delicate prints begins to melt around the edges.  There is no way this new line of prints can have been from a large dog then melted around the edges to give such a larger-than-life appearance. These prints were not examples of this phenomenon. This print showed toe pads so distinct and separate, just about a full inch of untouched snow between each pad.  There were other shapes planted in the ice; some holes had long and deep scratches into the snow towards the end of each pad mark:  claws!.  Yow!  I stepped into the shape of this Big Foot sized hole.  I placed my second foot in and snuggled it up next to the first.  Despite wearing a pair of those padded suede slip-ons in a wide men’s size, despite the thick red raglan wool socks to insulate them further, there was still room around the edges and in the length of the print for more foot. Oooooo!  Sacred feces!

Of course I looked up and around.  You know the routine: stop, look and listen, a warning from one’s earliest lessons about safety.  Nothing.  Whew.  I gingerly followed the prints to see where they went, then again, where they had come from.  Within 15 feet of the back door, the prints wended their way towards a couple of burn barrels and a telephone pole, made their ways between the two and into the shrubs separating me from a nearby cluster of village homes. Where had this bear come from?  I followed out and around behind the building where the paws came to within 10 feet of the building, meandered around the fuel tank and disappeared into the graveled scar left by the snow plow and about 25 feet from the front door.  On closer inspection I could see they had originally come onto the gravel yard from brush along the airport road. 

I was out here just two weeks ago and there had been no snow on the ground. Within 24 hours of this arrival in town, so I was told, it had snowed 6 inches.  These were not fresh tracks but they were certainly not as old as I would have liked them to be and most certainly were made within the past few days if not within the past 24 hours. So this is what “clean” fear feels like.

There are some fears that are born of worry.  These bring a chronic anxiety that eats away at one’s well being.  These are not beneficial-to-the-soul sorts of worries.  Then there are worries born strictly out of the natural world, the world where we belong, the one we are an integral part of.  These natural fears are the worries ‘born of bear’ if you will. 

I wondered what Gidget might do if she encountered a Kodiak Bear. I first imagined her barking and challenging much the same as she will try with a large and gentle dog.  Next I recalled the way she will step back to stand on my feet or hide behind my leg when she is genuinely fearful and wants to be picked up.  Yup.  I think I will take the Gidget tactic from here on out.  No longer will I suspect others from putting one up on the “new kid” and faking footprints the way the Big Foot prints were faked in northern California and Oregon.  These are big puppies!  No shame in respecting mama nature or mama bear. No shame in hiding behind someone’s leg.  Ok.  That might be going a little too far. 

Suffice it to say, one of the small take home lessons for me today is that sometimes it’s okay to accept a ride in a car rather than to walk the few blocks and the offer of a ride might be a genuinely sincere expression of concern. ‘Sides, it’s far too cold to be running around barefooted. Can you give me a lift?

Stay warm, wear thick socks. Watch out for big puppies.

 Always,

Jennifer and Gidget, the small (and large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua

On the Kodiak

 

Mill Bay Beach

Mill Bay Beach, Kodiak, Alaska – December 28, 2008

 

Now that The Arctic Chihuahua and I are safely ensconced upon the rock that is Kodiak Island, we have a bit more opportunity to catch up with some of the projects each of us has set out before us.  Gidget has a small stuffed mole still needing to be fully consumed, and I have a few pet projects myself.  


1)  Learn the camera

2) Learn the camera

3) Learn the camera

After those three projects have been completed, I hope to get back on track with the expressive therapeutic modalities work.  

You might check out some of the early photos of “Arctic Chihuahua Photography” as well as the earliest of the Poetry and Poetry Therapy posts.

If anyone can help with learning the camera, I’d sure love to hear from you!

Cheerios and always,

Jennifer and Gidget the small (and large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua : D

Yummy Chummies

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It is a sunny, crisp, chilled day here on the Kodiak.  Snow has melted from the ground in town leaving an exhilertating chill to the air. Mountains around jut up in broken, snow covered flint.  The boats are moving.  

We live here.  Gidget and I call this home and when one lives in a stunning place, even a walk for groceries becomes a life moment. 

This morning, I slipped into my favorite caribou brown hoodie (embroidered with a wolf and “Kotzebue – Alaska”), pulled on a grey daypack, and headed out for some food.  Steve repeatedly asks me how I am getting some of the specialty foods I purchase.  He asks me if they are expensive here.  He is accustomed to my tales of Arctic living. Truth is, I cannot believe my Kodiak good fortune.  I can live where mountain meets shore, where snow storm meets waves crashing on mossy crag, where boats move all winter long.  I can also purchase bleu cheese, sweet bosc pears, organic vanilla soy milk, cinnamon chocolate, crunchy red bell peppers and perfect bananas. Oh yes, loquats.  LIfe doesn’t get much better than that!  I live in the best of both worlds.

Gidget also finds an upside to living south of the Arctic Circle.  When I return from a “hunt” I bring her a treat or two.  Here there is a much wider variety of dog treats. Today, I found a truely Alaskan small dog treat:  “Yummy Chummies.”  The label reads “With Wild Alaska Salmon” and they do smell like fish.  These are the original soft n’ chewy variety to accommodate Gidget’s small dulled teeth.  

Funny to see her reaction to a non-beef, non-chicken, non-turkey, non-greenie based treat.  Gidget let the 1″x 1″ chewie fall to the ground and took a long sniff as she stepped back.  I turned to put the rest of my groceries away and when I looked back, the chewy was gone.  She asked for another.  I gave her one more.  She sat patiently waiting for me to set it at her feet.  Again, I looked away and once again, it was gone.  Now, since then, Gidget has run about the house a couple of times.  I wonder if she really ate them.  

We will find out.  Then again, maybe we won’t.  Suffice it to say, it is a wonderful world where I can share my life with a dog, albeit a very small dog, and know that we each have enough of our Salmon Chummies or cinnamon chocolate to have now or to save for later and after a walk.

Each of us reading this post leads a blessed life, whether it seems up or down in this very moment.  In this very moment, may each of you have what you need and a little bit more. That is my wish for you and yours.

Chummies all ’round! Have a wonderful, warm and safe weekend.

Cheerios,

Gidget and Jennifer.

Heaven

 

Kotzebue Sound, September 2008

Kotzebue Sound, September 2008

“And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And God called the firmament Heaven.”  Genesis I:6-7

Seals, Herring, and the Last Stones of Summer

The Last Stones of SummerThe Last Stones of Summer                                      

Gidget and I, as is sometimes the case, take a jaunt down to the shore to meander among the pebbles and driftwood. We step gingerly over the occasional jellyfish washed to shore and I collect interesting stones. 

This morning as we approached the water, I could see the surface was already smooth and mirror like.  The Kotzebue Sound becomes very still just before a freeze.  This morning it is not at all about to freeze. Though just a few short days ago the biting air told us it was trying or wanting to snow, today it is almost barefoot weather, with slight breeze to the skin. These are indeed the last days of summer.

Soaking it in, my sleeves rolled up on this no-jacket-kinda-morning, Gidget and I listened as the water lapped quietly. Herring jumped and flowed with the current, slapping and flashing a fin or two. At times, a cluster of herring hit the surface frenetically and as a group splashed and shimmered like a silvery puddle in heavy rain.

Further off, a seal or two, or five or six could be spotted, their dark conical heads riding smoothly just above the waters surface. The seals are beginning to migrate south for the winter. Some signal up north, the chill or the movement of the fish, whispers to the seals…”it’s time to be heading off.”

And so it is…

Later gators,
Cheerios and Love Life!
Jennifer and the Arctic Chihuahua

Landing Like Cranes

I Prayed Bernoulli Was Right!

Sunday evening I flew out to Noorvik, a village located just north and west of Hotham Peak and south of the Brooks Range along the Kobuk River. The pilot was interesting and new to me (Irish perhaps?). We began our take off on a lesser-used runway. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable I can be with change until found myself flying with this new-to-me pilot on an unfamiliar runway.  I looked out the window towards the wings and struts, comforted by the familiar rivets of this particular plane. I prayed Bernoulli was right.

The flight in all honesty was fantastic!  We took off in a southerly direction and parallel to the shore which gave an excellent and expansive view of the Kotzebue Sound.  Except for about one mile of open water along the shore, the sea ice stretched out unbroken until, in the distance, there was nothing left to see but an even larger expanse of the Arctic Ocean sea ice.

Further upriver and east, tundra water is a dark tannin color, the color of deeply pigmented and dried, rusty moss.  The thawing waters stretch out in this color, with a broken patina of frozen waxy white on top.  In this betwixt state, many of the rivers and tundra lakes look like large leopard skinned agates spilling out across the flatlands. 

We landed in Noorvik the way the birds do…with a slight hesitation just before setting the legs down. The pilot came in at such an acute angle I began to wonder if we might run out of airstrip before the plane came to a complete stop. Our pilot floated in like a crane.  We had plenty of room.

At the airstrip, I was greeted by one of the Health Aides who carried the key for the place I’d be lodging in (the home of a colleague).  There was a note written on the envelope inviting me to make myself comfortable and avail myself of the homemade yogurt, mixed fruit and freshly picked cranberries (lingon berries in my own Swedish tradition).  I did as bid, and then set out to village work.

A couple of hours later, and in need of a break, I pulled out a bird book, walked down to the river with my binoculars and took another close-up look at Alaska. 

The paths down the hill are sandy, wet in the low areas, with many signs that 4 wheelers on their way to the water went ‘round (thus widening the puddle), or had been stuck in the muddy trail.  I had to walk tippy toe in the mucky parts or by clinging to the tough and pliant willow whips while keeping to the narrow and grass tufted margins. A couple of times I decided to take a more direct route, through the drier brush.  In the thicket, I found broken paths about the height and breadth of a large man.  I chose one path heading the general direction I wanted to go then began walking easily through the pre-cleared tunnel.  Within a yard or two of the entry, the willows unexpectedly gave way to a wider clearing, perhaps a 6′ x 6′ space littered with bolus moose droppings. 

A Moose‘s bedroom! I felt somehow invited, but also intrusive, as though the occupant would soon return and want to rest without company.  I checked to make sure the scat was actually dried and old, then ventured on with confidence. I hoped to catch a better glimpse of the songbird that seemed to be following, yet also eluding me. 

I must have wandered into the Moose’s living room at that point. So many animals live at the edge of water here. I happened upon a pond full of Equisetum or Horsetails (a plant species of prehistoric origins) and several wetland birds, more moose scat (fresh this time), and recent hoof marks. I hesitated and proceeded with more caution, but as any diehard birder would do, I came to my senses and stepped boldly forward into the kitchen as it were, hoping to catch “just one more bird” for the lifetime list…. even if it meant the end of that lifetime. What a way to go!

I survived however, and by the river’s edge, where the brush opened to powdery sand, I sat overlooking a small cove, a nearby bank, and low-lying flatlands across the river.  Here a flock of Sandhill Cranes called out in sounds described by some to be between those of a French horn and a squeaky barn door.  I watched as a group of about 17 of the giants took to the air, necks outstretched and leading the way over the Kobuk River.  I wondered where they were going so urgently this sunny midnight.

With that signature moment, and a suddenly cooler breeze, I headed back to lodgings and sleep.  I stopped to take one last look for the small and nondescript bird, this Virgil to my Dante.  As though to bid adieu, the bird posed in full view not more than a few yards away.  By binocular I could see the crimson spot on its forehead, the only distinct feature on this otherwise unremarkable creature.  This tiniest chakra identified my little friend as a female Common Redpoll.  I could call that a day.

There were more sightings in Noorvik, between working moments and up until my return flight.  I waited out at the airstrip, binoculars in hand, chatting to residents who came to pick up cargo or passengers.

The way home was by Cessna 207, possibly the smallest of the Bering Air fleet. Only the pilot and I were aboard for the trip back to Kotzebue. What a gorgeous view though!  Tundra swans stood out like the fuzzy white spots on dotted swiss skirts. Flowing rivers coiled and tapered to nothing. It was as if someone had mixed two batters, one dark, one light, then swirled.   We passed back over the leopard skin agates and pelts, back over the cracked and rusty tundra, the waxy and granite waters, back to the fragile gravel spit we call the Baldwin Penninsula and home.

Gidget met me at the door as she always does.  She wags so excitedly I have dubbed her the Helipup and my home, the Helipad.  She nearly takes off as I lift her up for a proper greet.

It feels good to be here.  Life is good.

 Near or far, simple or complex, bird-by-bird, in fair exchange, I’d love to hear about the details of YOUR life. How do you learn to land softly in a bumpy world? Nothing is ordinary when we look with wonder.

More tomorrow then…

Jennifer and The (small but large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua