"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I take a school bus to work

Saturday, I went to Fairbanks on some errands and to have a little fun. Before I could even get out of the park, however, I spotted a moose and her newborn calf. The calf had been born the day before.

My first stop in Fairbanks was the Museum of the North to check out the geology materials. Most of the museum was one room of very excellent displays centered on Alaskan natural and cultural history. The upstairs area was art and an exhibit called, 'The room where you go to listen.' 'The place,' as the artist seems to have nicknamed it, is a white room with a screen. On the screen are colors in constant, but very very slow, change. On the speakers are bells and chords reflecting the movement of the earth around the sun and moon around the earth and the aurora borealis. Booming speakers announce earthquakes occurring in Alaska in real time. I wondered what the 2002 Denali quake or the 1964 quake would have felt like...?

Next, to the Farmer's Market on College and Caribou. It's not a farmer's market yet, but rather a market full of artisans. The only crops so far are cucumbers and radishes. I picked up some dandelion jelly, fireweed jelly, and fireweed honey. A very friendly couple selling carved rock pendants let me take away one of their creations for a dollar less than they asked - with the promise that I come back with the final dollar (I ran out of cash...). I picked out a rounded pendant that came from a tailing pile - it certainly looks metamorphosed, and the greenish tint makes me think it used to be basalt. The woman had me pick out a silk string, and the man carefully glued connections to the ends. Very nice. I recommend them.

Last place to stop before errands was the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge to find an EarthCache about an ice wedge. Beautiful nature trails and a peaceful walk on an amazing day.

I went to Savage River yesterday, a 20-30 minute bus ride from the Murie Science and Learning Center. Denali was out in full view but only visible for a short distance before nearby mountains blotted it out. Temperatures have been in the low 60s lately, practically balmy.

Wandered along the west side of the Loop Trail up to the bridge and kept going to try and find the knickpoint. I walked for quite a while but never did definitively find it. I'll have to get back.

Took the east side back and was stunned to meet a Dall ram right around a corner. As he began to trot up the trail towards me, I backed up and realized an ewe appeared behind me.


Dall sheep ram heading up the trail towards me.

Arctic ground squirrel, I think?

Partway through Savage Canyon.

I spent this morning brainstorming with a Park employee in a building called 'Over There.' A lot (or all) the Park buildings have strange nicknames. C-Camp's recycling center is called 'Over and Over.' Our rec hall was once called the 'Bloody Bucket.'

Our talk was totally inspiring - I really have a desire to produce useful geological materials this summer, and it helps to have encouragement from all over. In the past three weeks, I've received more helpful advice and encouragement than during my entire graduate career.

Since I walked to the office, I decided to try taking a bus home. It's funny, getting on a school bus all these years later.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not a day for tea, apparently

Moose aren't all that uncommon, suddenly. Two moose reside in C-Camp with the humans, Belligerent Momma and her calf. The calf, for visualization, is taller than a small pony. Belligerent Momma got her name before my time because she apparently charges...a lot. The other day, I walked within 20 feet of her without realizing she was there. In a good mood, maybe. Later in the afternoon, I walked back to the washhouse and there she was again. Only this time, she craned her neck, lower her head, and just stared at me. And I thought I was a safe distance away...

As I was typing up another chapter of the geology field guide, an MSLCer wished me a happy Monday and gave me a beautiful card and... a rock-print mousepad! It is really touching. I see her as one of the most accommodating, positive and encouraging people I've ever met.

Another MSLCer and I walked down to Horseshoe Lake on an errand. Beautiful place - a classic oxbox lake surrounded by gnawed-in-half logs. No other sign of beavers, though. The trail was lined with pasque flowers (ground-hugging light purple flowers that generally herald the onset of spring). And a random fact...apparently pasque flowers are extremely toxic causing bradycardia (slowing heart). I should have munched on glacier and avalanche lilies in Washington when I had the chance. No way I'm eating anything but blueberries here.

I decided I probably shouldn't "adopt" a sled dog for the summer because I'm hopefully going to be getting in a good deal of field work that may last days at a time. I still need to get out and see a sled dog demonstration though...for another post, maybe...

I'm still mentally toiling over what to do with my thesis. Independent Study seems like the way to go. It just feels like giving up, though.

Friday, May 14, 2010

First moose in Denali!

Today I began the interpreter's field guide. It's already turning into a huge deal, definitely going to be some kind of book at the end of summer. When I began describing concepts behind the tectonics and glacial history of the park, I realized most people don't have a geology background and few people have a basic understanding of the subject. So in go chapters on the rock cycle, the theory of plate tectonics, accretionary terranes, and all of that interesting stuff.

At this point, I only have a basic understanding of Denali and Alaskan geology. It's confusing, for sure. Denali is the size of Massachusetts. But I know the glacial history of the park pretty well now, even though I'm having trouble tracking down the actual published (?) papers that documented each glaciation.

Still no official word on what will happen to the other two GeoCorps interns who were going to work with the geologist who died. I'm curious - it's really an unfortunate situation to be in. There's a chance they had other offers elsewhere but turned them down in favor of this opportunity. I also selfishly mourn for the loss of who would have been one of my biggest mentors, as he was eager to incorporate me into his field research. Just an hour or two before I was told about his death, my supervisor and I were discussing how I would take an aviation exam to accompany researchers on small planes throughout the park (glacier landings!!).

Picked up two hitchhikers in the park who jumped for joy at me stopping. It turned out they were part of a pack of bicyclists heading for the Savage River checkpoint...way, way west down the park road. I think the place is only 15 miles from the entrance, but it seems a lot longer. Especially because of the hilly conditions the first few miles. We passed three of their other friends on bikes. We lucked out and saw a very large moose right on the side of the road, oblivious to our presence with that 'MUST EAT' zoned-out look on its face.

Hitchhiking won't be all the common, I'd imagine, once the buses pick up in the coming weeks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Too much sun

I decided to pick up The Host instead of either option. I'm really liking it so far, which I don't find too surprising.

This morning, I *think* I encountered the state bird of Alaska, the willow grouse. I'm not actually sure what it was. I called it a ptarmigan, and if it was really a grouse, I'm still technically right. All I know is that it was a big, raven-sized hen-like bird with brown and white feathers.

[briefly asked by a interpreter asking me what kind of rock he found. It was probably slate, and I haven't seen it naturally in the park yet]

I spent the day researching and organizing future EarthCaches. It's really amusing getting paid to do what I really enjoy doing. In the coming weeks, bus service will eventually carry all the way to Eielson and Kantishna both located on the farthest western reaches of the park road, 89ish miles in. It doesn't go near the very western edge of the park. While my supervisor is away the last week of May, she suggested I do the frontcountry hikes and visit these far-away places to really get started.

The abundance of daylight is getting to me a little. By the time I try and get to bed around 10:30, I toss and turn for a good hour even if I cover my head. The sun sets way earlier, but dusk and twilight last forever. At least until midnight, if not later, you can walk outside and see just fine. Based on the sun's position when I wake up in the morning around 6:30ish, I'd guess the sun rises around 4:30 or 5. Yep, I was close! According to wunderground.com, civil twilight is 3:16 a.m. and 12:20 a.m. Actual sunrise and sunset is 4:47 a.m. and 10:55 p.m. And tomorrow will be over 6 minutes longer.

It all feels so strange to me, almost artificial. It's great having so much light, but it's so hard to go to bed when it's still perfectly bright outside. And we're not even to the point of having 24 hours' light yet.

Healing biscuits

On an impulse, I made biscuits based on a recipe on the back of my baking powder. Had no shortening, so I gambled with olive oil and won. They really hit the spot.

I'm feeling better, personally, about what happened today. Less like it's unreality and more like yes, it really did happen.

Finished up A Walk Across America, enjoyed it enough, and now have to pick out a new book. Should I delve into Ayn Rand? Or run far, far away to some relatively mindless travelogue?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old geologists never die...

That's the beginning to a really awful geology joke that I never really liked anyway. But the Denali Park & Preserve geologist wasn't old, he was more what I would call young - just older than my dad, maybe. We found out today he died from heart failure while leading a group of kids on a hike outside the park.

I just met him yesterday at day 1 of the park research bonanza where he gave the one and only talk I would ever hear him give on the top 10 geological facts and features of the park. I introduced myself, immediately liked him, and he invited me to participate in his field research for the summer. Yesterday I was charged and ready to do everything I could to improve understanding of the park. But I wonder now what will happen with all the projects he had running, specifically the mining restoration at the west end of the park. I wish I knew more about the park and policies - I would love to help keep going what he already put so much work into.

On my semi-regular hike home from the office, I thought a lot about the apparent spontaneity of death. While I acknowledge that a number of young people who do healthy things still die from medical causes, most of the time there is a very good reason(s) someone passes away. Since I lost my uncle to heart failure and especially since working directly on a man who succumbed to the same at a hospital, I guess I felt super-sensitive to the news of the geologist's death.

Anyway, I talked to my dad earlier and called my mom while hiking home. Just had a hole in me, feeling empty and wishing I could see at once all the people I love. I sat on the bench overlooking the frontcountry area and just thought it out for a while until an audible cloud of mosquitoes gathered around me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thesis woes

I spent this weekend oscillating between being sure I'll accept the independent study option just to end this all, and being slightly sure I can manage thesis edits according to schedule. Honestly I'm not sure what only have an IS versus a thesis would mean for me. Would it change how potential employers see me? Would it be an issue if and when I ever decide to go back to school? I'm facing solid deadlines now, though. 18 June is the close of summer registration, the latest I can get my thesis materials in. My committee requires a new version three weeks prior to that day, which is 25 May.

It's making me miserable. But I know, either way, when it's all over, I'll be a better, happier person.

Despite feeling horrible about how my graduate life will finally end, I really enjoyed just relaxing in the cabin. I wrapped up Breaking Dawn (no laughing, it was actually a great book that my former roomie had me read), Under the Banner of Heaven (which was totally enlightening, personally), and began A Walk Across America (I read Jenkins' Looking for Alaska and really enjoyed that one).

I really want to jump fully into this Denali work - but the thesis needs to be out of the way. Once it is, I'm anticipating being actively involved with the Denali project beyond the regular work hours. The more I research what I'll be doing, the more enthusiastic I get.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Already I'm seeing a drastic decimation in an element of my food supply...honey. It might last a couple of weeks, though.

Yesterday I started writing down my thoughts and goals for this summer. And began researching all the resource options I have, which aren't many. There is a definite need for a comprehensive geology book on Denali.

And today I faced reality - my thesis must be done by 15 June. I really have to work on it today, which is what I've planned. I originally wanted to hike all the frontcountry trails and investigate the current Earthcaches, but I'm putting what I want to do on hold for what I have to do. There'll be time later for that later, I guess.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Today is my second day back in the Park. The weather and the daylight have completely confused me. It was dusk until at least midnight, when I rolled over under my covers to shiver away the night. Daytime temperatures have, so far, been quite mild...though it seems to rain throughout the day without my notice. There are rain droplets on the cabin window, but I somehow missed their appearance. Puddles repeatedly form on the gravel volleyball court across the way, but I *really* missed those events.

C Camp feels so snug in the mountains. Not quite choked, and lofty enough to have some excellent snow-capped mountain views. I'll try out the roadside trail tomorrow morning, granted I get myself up at a reasonable time. Definitely would like to limit car usage (for money, for the spirit of the wilderness too for sure, and for the exercise ...and hopefully for the animal sightings).

Spent the day just settling in and meeting people. Went to a couple interp sessions on the bus system and informal contacts. Denali is definitely a different kind of park since accessibility is so unlike what I'm used to. Only one road drives in to the heart of DENA, and private vehicles are prohibited after mile 15 (the road is 89 miles long). Buses take over from there on a gravel road that gets increasingly narrower as you travel further west. I understand that and appreciate it a little better now, but it still makes work a little difficult.

Started making a dent into my food stockpile...shopping with Dave a few days ago cost about $208 at Fred Meyer, and $68 at Costco...plus a lot of miscellaneous stuff. It would be interesting to post a list of all the stuff I got and to see what lasts and what doesn't, how long it lasts, etc. Not sure where the receipt is though.

Still have my thesis hanging over my head. I have a little glimpse of what life would be like with it finished...it's really the only major thing barring me from being pretty happy. Things would be much grander with it out of the picture.

Nice living in a Park again, though. Actually *inside* one this time. But government bureaucracy is hilarious as always. My current officemate laughed at it, but then seriously commented that if it's a system in place to treat everyone equally, it's worth it.