Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where has this summer gone...My Summer in Whittier Alaska

Firstly, I have been terribly lazy and not motivated to keep this blog up as I originally promised. With work keeping me busy, and lack of online time I have been focusing on other things and did not feel my usual

inspiration to share my experiences this summer. In any case time is passing by so I will share a few things about my summer working on Prince William Sound in Whittier, the Strangest little town in Alaska.

I have endurred endless rain, wind and fog this summer, yet also on a high note, countless lovely days of glorious sapphire skies and breathtaking views. Staring out my living room window at 5o waterfalls I count my blessings even with the challenges. I took my chances this summer deciding to work in Whittier, often referred to as the weirdest little town in Alaska. Once a thriving Military base, now abandoned, the railroad owns pretty much everything. Home to roughly 186 or so year round residents, who some how manage to survive hilacious winters of 30 foot snow drifts and 100 mph winds, I feel grateful to just be here for the summer.

The gem is that it is the gateway to Prince William Sound, a protective inland sea bound by Islands and the Chugach National forest, the second largest national forest in the US.

A northern temperate rainforest , which accounts for the high level of rain, and roughly 110 inches or so of precipitation a year. It is also why this area has the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers in North America or the world for that matter. Surrounded by waterfalls and breathtaking beauty all around literally makes this one of Alaska's precious gems, and probably one of the most beautiful places in the country. However, the infrastructure of the town itself, which really isn't that much of a town does lack character and charm. Abandoned buildings, railroad tracks and the junk boat yards give it a rather funky run down charm all it's own.
Traveler's and tourists come here from all over the globe to see the Glacier's ,and enjoy the Cruises and fishing charters that keep this area active in the summer months. This summer I have juggled working mostly in the office checking passenger's in, yet I have also worked on the boat's as a deckhand filling in here and there, although I love being on the boats I do not particularly like the food service part which takes up a lot of energy and time, cleaning and prepping, and as far as I am concerned distracts from the tour. So
on some of my time off I have gone out our boat for sheer pleasure and jus to enjoy the magic and scenery and our charming Sea Otter's who are the most common Marine Mammal seen here..., although I do not go out on my time off as much as last summer season, I have still snuck in a few times to enjoy myself. I have also fit in some hiking and just hanging out as well......

and have revered in the charm of Sea Otters floating in large rafts, icebergs floating in bays, icy blue glaciers and channels and passes where the water is the color of turquoise gems.

I even hopped over to Girdwood a couple of times, a small town that is the home of Mount Alyeska, Alaska's premier Ski resort. The town would be considered by some to be Alaska's hippy town with down to earth residents, cute cabins and beautiful flowers in the summer. They hosted a couple of festivals this summer and I attended the

Forest Fair which had amazing booths of local art, down home music and some tasty faire. All good fun and a lovely escape from life behind a tunnel. Yes indeed to access the town of Whittier you drive through a 2.5 mile tunnel which opens and closes every hour in each direction, one way on the 1/2 hour, the other way on the hour. Life is ruled by the tunnel here and you literally do feel you are living behind walls, tall mountain walls that is. I have managed to escape a few times to Anchorage, Alaska's big city to run errands and enjoy some culture.

A few weeks back I took a ferry voyage on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry, the Chenega. A high speed catamaran to the little town of Cordova on the Southeast end of Prince William sound.

A charming little non tourist town which is primarly a fishing village and home to a unique glacier called the Child's Glacier which calves off into the Copper River famous for it's Salmon. The ferry was a 7 hour ride since I opted to travel on the day it does not go direct and makes a stop in Valdez which is on the road system.

Cordova is not on the road system, and is also known for the Million dollar bridge which was never completed. I enjoyed wandering the quaint little town with some art galleries and little hang outs that are typcial of Alaska's smaller fishing villages. Cordova is home to around 2,500 people or so and the only way there is by plane or boat. I stayed in local hotel above the town bar which had it's fair share of noise, yet embraced her own kind of charm. A lovely little place when you want to escape the tourist crowds and just get away. Another fact about Cordova is that this area of Prince William sound was the hardest hit by the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Thousands of Marine Animals perished and it effected the area for a very long time after that. Thankfully this area has since recovered, and the Sea Otter's and other Marine Wildlife are starting to come back. Many of the Orca's (Killer Whales) that call this area home, had huge effects following the spill. Some of the larger males suffered damange to their hormones which effected their dorsal fins, and to this day some of these Animals have dorsal fins that curl over, and this is due to the oil effecting their hormones. Many died, yet the few that did survive retain the flopped dorsal fin. A very sad day for this area and the wildlife that call Prince William Sound home.

Now the season is coming to a closure in just barely two weeks and new adventures await me. I am excited for the new opportunites and surprises that are lurking around the corner, fun surprises and magical places.

Ice Castles, Surprise

I am grateful to be leaving this great state on a Cruise on the Zaandam, one of Holland America's smaller ship'S to the Southesast and through the inside passage to Vancouver, British Columbia. One of My long time Bff's from High school is flying up to join me and I am sure we are going to have blast, plus I will be celebrating my birthday as we sail through the passage on the 17th. It will be nice to have a vacation and enjoy the other side of the state for a week. For now I have just barely two weeks of work left, and will be spending my time packing and getting ready for all the new opportunites that await me.

Also be sure to check out the Bonus photos I have added as well... For now have a fabulous day and will catch up with everyone soon.

My digital drawing, Humpback Spring

Orcas at the Dock in May, one of the AE pod members

Moonrise over Whittier Glacier

Kodiak Bear Cub female at the Alaska Wildlife Conservaiton Center

Eagle Perched along the Turnagin Arm

Whittier on an early April Morning

Working on a Charter in Blackstone Bay, from the Wheelhouse

Otter Buddies floating out in Port Wells near Harriman Fjord

Otterly Family Affair

Reflection at the end of Ester Passage into Port Wells and Harriman Fjord

It's obvious "I heart Otters"

One of my digital drawings, Humpback Sunset

A cute Big Bear at the Girdwood Forest Fair

Signs were everywhere at the forest fair

Flowers growing outside a cabin in Girdwood

Cute Guy, Alaska Husky Dog in his Dad's truck, Girdwood

Bald Eagle perched high at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage

Some of my Sistah's hanging out in the Brown Bear area at the Center

Fireweed peaks in early August

Rescued Orphan Kodiak Brown Bear cub at the Wildlife Conservation Center

Reflection of Ice at the Surprise Glacier in Harriman Fjord

It's a Family Affair

Fireweed overlooking the Bay in Cordova

At the top, Portage Pass hike

Billings Glacier out of Passage Canal

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bald Eagle Vision Canvas Print from

Bald Eagle Vision Canvas Print from

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Real Raven Talk

In following the suit of my Blog name, Raven Talk I have decided to share a bit more about my favorite bird and the subject of many legends and myths. Particularly here in Alaska, Ravens are revered for many reasons, not only his she a trickster yet also a creator. Ravens are the largest member of the songbird family (if you can even call their kwonk a song) or the Passerine family. Belong to the order of birds known as Corvids which includes Jays, Magpies, Crows, Rooks, Treepies and such. From my perspective they indeed are the smartest of birds and true survivors. In the middle of a cold stark winter once in Montana when literally no sign of life was to be seen anywhere, there perched atop a barren tree was my friend.

Ravens are found in every type of environment, from the coldest and most barren arctic to stark deserts of the southwestern US. Ravens in Alaska are particulary endearing to me and larger than most of their southern brothers and sisters.

Up here they can exceed 24 inches in length from head to tail, sometimes reaching 27 inches. Unlike their smaller cousins the Crows, Ravens do not live in family groups, since Raven's mate for life they are more often seen with their life mate and sometimes will forage on their own. They quietly nest away from all the other noise and chatter in the mountains and finding a Raven nest is not an easy task. Crows however live in larger family groups and roost together. When young their eyes are blue and begin to darken after several months. Last summer I was fortunate to witness a mother raven training her youngsters while living in Seward Alaska.

After she noticed I was observing them, she and one of the kids took off, one of the youngsters stayed around and I watched her goofing off without mom watching. At this age which I guess might of been 3 months, they were already roughly the same size as the adult. Anyway, it was a blast watching them and they are quite enjoyable to observe with their various antics and clever abilities. Ravens have around 40 different type of vocalizations, from their standard deep throaty kwonk to little whistles and sounds coming from their throats as if they have bells in them. How they do that is a wonder. My fascination with Raven's began around 15 years ago. While volunteering for a wildlife Rehabilitation center in San Rafael California on my fisrt day I had asked the intern supervisor what to do. She responded by saying well you can feed Edgar and Lenore, the two resident Ravens who lived there. She also followed up by saying make sure you wear a hat as Edgar was particularly fond of peoples heads.

So I followed her suggestion and put on a hat, well so much for hats, as Edgar decided he much prefer to follow my feet and kept pecking at my feet. Lenore however pretty much just stayed on her high perch and watched curiously from above. I fell in love with them, and from then on I was hooked. Once while hanging out at Ocean beach in San Francisco a raven started following me, funny because I had no food on me. The raven was talking to me as well, so I began to study their myths and legends. Here in Alaska Raven's are depicted in many a tale, and for the most part Raven is actively a trickster, yet in most of the Southesastern Alaskan tales of both the Haida and Tlingit people they are also seen as a Creator. In the stories Raven creates other animals as well as stealing the moon and sun. One story which is of

Here is a Story taken from the Book by John Smelcher, The Raven and the totem. The majority of the stories are from the Southeastern legends, however this one is of Inuit Origin from the Arctic

Alot of the stories tell of how Raven was once white and through different scenarios ending becomming the black bird she is today. This story enchanted me because I could imagine this actually happening with Raven's silly antics.

Once Raven was very white like the snow on the tundra and so was Owl. One day, while sitting on a rock looking for rabbits, Raven flew down and landed beside the white owl.
They had known each other for a very long time and were always challenging one another to see which was the strongest. Raven sat down on the rock next to his old friend.
“Let's wrestle, said Raven.
“I do not want to fight with you today, “” answered Owl.
“But Raven still would not listen and started to wrestle with the unwilling owl.
They rolled around the ground and when owl saw a mud puddle he pushed raven into it. The black mud covered his entire body. No white remained at all! Raven was very mad because he was so muddy and owl pushed him in
“Friend Owl,” said the mischievous bird, “give me a hand so that I can get of this mud hole.”
But the white owl was wise to Raven's tricks and deceits.
“No.” he said. “You are the one who started the fight. I said that I didn't want to wrestle today.”
Raven thought for a minute and then said,
“friend, if you help me out I will give you half of my possessions.”
So Owl reached down and pulled Raven out of the thick, black mud. Raven was still covered from head to foot and he was no longer white like the snow.
As soon as he was out, the black bird shook his feathers and mud flew all over the place e. Some of it splattered on Ow;'s white feathers, leaving him spotted with small black specks.
To this day raven's are entirely back and Owls are spotted.

the above story is from the book the Raven and the Owl, an inuit Tale in Alaska.

Six years ago I spent a little over a year working as an Avian Keeper for Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka Alaska. Our mission was to rehabilitate injured Raptors and release them back into the wild. When I started I was elated to find out that they did have a resident Raven. The center did not discriminate and took all types of birds that were injured, even very small songbirds. Anyway, I ended up being the primary keeper for Gilly, our resident Raven. She had been admitted to the center as a young fledgling after suffering from a gunshot wound, which permanently severed her left wing from the humerous down. Despite her disability she was amazing, and because of their high intelligence and not being with her life mate they can display boredom behaviors resulting in feather plucking and other self destructive behaviors. I spent a couple of hours a day doing enrichment work with her to help keep her stimulated. Some of this involved food games, throwing food in the air for her to catch, hiding food in various toy's and other hideouts in the enclosure. She never seized to amaze me with her antics. Once I got her sharing her cached food with a wild boyfriend. Apparently a Raven that had been at the center that they paired her with had escaped after a volunteer did not shut the enclosure properly. He was named Romeo and paid Gilly regular visits. It was pretty amazing watching her pass some old piece of what appeared to be Salmon through the enclosure, and I was pretty taken with the fact she was sharing her abundance with him. The other delightful thing was I use to give her treats of meal worms in which I wrapped in empty toilet paper rolls inside paper towels. She had a ball taring up the paper towel and devouring the meal worms practically in one swallow. On one occasion I wrapped a mouse separately and placed in the opposite end. I could see the gleam in her eyes and excitement at her treat. She very carefully unwrapped the mouse, then to my amazement she jumped off her perch and walked it over to her water pan then proceeded to wash it off before eating it. I couldn't believe it that she washed her food, what a clever and meticulous gal. Anyway, I adored her and loved listening to her various throat vocals and calls. Ravens have a variety of calls over 40, from what sounds like beels goes offing to loud gurgles, they are very charming for sure. My respect and admiration for this clever and wise bird goes beyond the norm. I hope this little story charms you and brightens your day with the humor and opportunistic persistence of this extremely smart bird.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Whittier alaska, is it pretty or Shitty? Well the answer is?

Don't laugh at the title of this post, as this is a common saying here, Is Whittier prettier or is it Shittier? for the lack of better words to descirbe it, indeed it has it's high points and it's low points to stake a claim for this quote. The high point being the gateway to one of Alaska's Crown jewels, "Prince William Sound" and the low point being somewhat of a railroad junk yard and shipping port. It seems port towns usual

ly seem to lack character, except of course in it's colorful residents. Since the permanent year round population is roughly around 120 people, and the summer population possibly grows to around 500, it is a small town with I am sure many huge hearts.

The saying goes be careful what you wish for, or what you ask the case of my choices for work this summer.. After spending several months last year working in Seward for the summer, I opted to try Whittier this summer ,a quarky little Alaskan town where you have to drive through a 2.5 mile tunnel that opens and closes in each direction for 1/2 hour, so you better time it right if you want to make a cruise or some connection here.... honestly it might not of been my best decision in life, yet I will do my best to make the most of this sleepy, funky, quarky and not so much of a "Town". Calling it a city is not exactly an accurate term, better yet, a junky fishing port with very little ambience. The main draw to this area is that it is the gateway to Prince William Sound. A majestic mountain ,and glacier clad area with the highest abundance of tidewater glaciers not only in North America yet the world. So can you guess why this area has so many glaciers concentrated in one area. Well if you guessed snow then you are pretty right on along with consistently mild temperatures where the warm Japanese air currents flow into to meet the cool Alaska air bringing in much needed precipitation in the form of that fluffy white stuff called snow. It takes an entire year for those tiny crystal like snowflakes to condense with all that movement and pressure to become "Firn" that stage of snow that is compacted over time to accumulate and form this marvelous jewel called Prince William Sound. Whittier is a fishing port and many fishing boats call this home. The town is host to roughly around 120 year round residents, who congregate and live in the rather humdrum and gloomy concrete building in town called Begich Towers. All these units are either privately owned condo's or apartments and also host the summer employees who come here to work on fishing boats, glacier and wildlife cruises and the big cruise ships that pull in here. The highlight is taking a 1/2 day or full day cruise out Passage Canal through Blackstone Bay to the Blackstone Glacier ,or on our longer trips to Surprise Glacier. Traveling through the numerous Fjords and passages you might spot some Wildlilfe along the way although not as abundant here as that of the Kenai Fjords National Park, where I worked and played last summer. Here in Prince william sound it is likely that you will encounter playful Sea Otter Rafts where a multiple of 5 plus Otters are lazily hanging out on icebergs or feasting on some tasy meal of Octupus or some other lovely sea creature of their choice. Not as many whales here, although on a few of our trips we have encountered a Juvenile Humpback whale, who in fact greeted me this morning as I was meditating on the waterfront. With my eyes close and breathing in and out I suddenly heard this big whooosh......... and was astonished and delighted to open my eyes to this whale, what an amazing way to start the day and on friday the 13th at that. We also have resident Orca pods who last friday spent several hours fishing and feeding also on the waterfront which delighted all those who were hanging out on a very rare sunny almost wind free evening. More commonly we have a few different types of Pelagic seabirds who come in for the summer to nest and breed with the Black legged Kittiwakes being the most abundant of these birds. Right outside of town their is a Rookery and our trips spend time there everyday observing their various behaviors such as peeling, fighting, preaning and more. Peeling is an amazing behavior as when an approaching predator is nearby such as Peregrine falcons or Bald Eagles, they suddenly in huge numbers peel away from the cliffs which is exciting to watch and looks great on video. So even though Whittier is a pretty shitty little town, I will make the most of my summer being busy with work, going out on the boats, some hiking and bird watching to fill my time.

Well I have managed not to go entirely stir crazy here, since I have worked almost every day with only two days off in the last 2 1/2 weeks. Due to staff shortage I am the only other person who knows the office functions besides our brand new manager who is also still learning the ropes. Since the weather is not always cooperating for hiking excursions, my only day off I ran to Anchorage for grocery shopping this week. Last week on part of a day off I went out on the boat. Fortunately that day the weather cooperated and we had warm sunshine and sapphire skies. Sea Otter Rafts graced us with their endearing personalities, a few in multiples of 20 so that delights the passengers. Prince William sound is not known for the same abundant wildlife Kenai Fjords has so we have to look a bit harder. Hopefully with the summer salmon runs Resident orcas will come through as they did a few weeks ago, and hopefully a humpback or two.

In any case the scenery is majestic and if it wasn't for that Whittier is nothing put a pile of crap and old buildings, they say be careful what you wish for. So for now i bid adieu til next time, hopefully something exciting to report.

Bonus Photos below:

Otters in the sound