"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."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Love from all but one

Thursday afternoon, after blubbering in front of my totally understanding supervisor at Denali, I was invited on a field seminar. And I jumped at it.

But the in-between time was rough. I drove out to Glitter Gulch for sorbet and picked up a hitchhiker who works for a bus company. Hitchhiking is a part of life at Denali that I really enjoy. The only time I've ever hitchhiked was outside the country. There's such a stigma against it here in the U.S., and in places it's illegal. Maybe it's illegal here, but I don't know or care. I'll pick people up anyway.

The blueberry-pomegranate sorbet was absolutely what I wanted that moment. It's a nice little ice cream parlor too - a large cup only costs $3.50, which is phenomenal for such a tourist-focused community. I turned south towards Anchorage and visited McKinley Village to find a cache. The station from Fairbanks just barely came in playing 'Nice to Know You' by Incubus. What a beautiful band...

I experienced dining at Glitter Gulch for the first time...and due to what was available, I had the Hungry Hungry Hippie. It's a sort of disappointing falafel. Maybe disappointing because I didn't have it with the yogurt sauce, which maybe has all the flavor.

The next morning, I packed up overnight gear and walked the road to the MSLC. The seminar I was invited to was called 'Birds of Denali' led by Nan Eagleson. She started the program off with a slideshow of birds in Denali, which I think was really fantastic. I never knew about birds that hit other birds upside the head just to catch their projectile vomit midflight. Or that ptarmigans molt head to toe in spring, and toe to head in fall (did I get that backwards...?).

Before we drove off, an education specialist, beaming smile as usual, handed me a gift: a woven basket filled with three beautiful little notepads with inspirational themes. I grabbed the swan with the 'unsinkable spirit' and ran off. She really amazes me each day. Gifts aren't necessary to make me happy, but she hasn't known me very long and doesn't know me incredibly well - so I'm absolutely touched she makes such an effort to console me and make me feel at home.

We drove off west to Teklanika where the MSLC field camp is located. People here refer to it as 'Tek' and this confuses me completely because I immediately imagine them saying 'Tech.' It was a miserably rainy day, but we stopped for a nice walk at Savage River where we saw all kinds of birds I never noticed.

The field camp is a comfortable little village near the Tek campground almost in hearing range of the Tek River. A small shack holds cooking gear and 'smellables,' and is connected to a cooking area that even has a very posh camping oven. Nearby sits a yurt used for eating and meeting. Down a path in the woods are six tent cabins, each with four bunk beds. They are remarkably new-looking and comfy, though they don't at all shut out the neverending light of Alaska.

We made an alfredo pasta dish with salad and garlic bread with cream puffs for desert. I'm going to blame my emotional state for having totally botched my preparedness for this, as I forgot all my food at home to replace the dairy and meat. I was so hungry though, and so angry that my former inspiration failed me, I just didn't care that night. I devoured a bowl of alfredo (without the chicken... that isn't a compromise to me), ate two slices of garlic bread, a salad, and three cream puffs. Oddly, I was really pleased I didn't really get sick as a result.

After waking at 6 a.m. (you couldn't possibly tell from the sun), our group made a stop at Igloo Creek. Saturday was still rainy and miserable, so hardly any birds called. We next wandered Tattler Creek, a geological wonderland. Still, very few birds. We kept driving west, further than I'd ever been, seeing golden eagles west of Sable Pass and a raven nest under a bridge. West of Polychrome Pass, a group of five Dall's sheep wandered just below the road. What a view - a one-lane gravel road with an unimaginably steep, long drop below. Not a place to ever make a mistake.

We finished just east of Eielson Visitor Center. I'll get there someday.

In the morning, again at 6 a.m., we ate and packed up for Mount Margaret as it was actually a clear day. The general way up to the top is by a very muddy social trail that plugs through alders the first few hundred feet. Beyond that, the mountain opens up to alpine tundra. At the summit are amazing periglacial features including classic stripes, nets, and circles. Not too many birds here, but we were lucky enough to see a group of surf birds fly by us. We watched a group of five Dall's sheep walk across the high plateau to eventually meet with a group of three. A half mile before the groups joined, the five sheep took off running and plowed into the group of three. They took the offensive and flipped around to confront them. Once, twice, sheep jumped and knocked heads.

By the time we started down, the sky completely clouded up and a little hail fell on us. We got down fast and beat the heavy rain.

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