Thursday, July 29, 2010

Responsible things.

What an interesting title, right? I've been thinking that based solely on these blogs it would seem as though Griffin and I have just been playing around Alaska enjoying a footloose and fancy free vacation. This is true on the weekends. However, during the week we have both been putting in a hard 40 hours to finance our magical summer. I decided it was time for a blog on the job that brought us here and financed our trip. Sorry, I know this isn't as exciting as whales.

I work at the Pratt Museum. The Pratt Museum is one of THREE American Association of Museums accredited museums in ALL OF ALASKA. To put this in perspective, Illinois has 30-40 accredited museums (source: Jay Rounds). It's a wonderful little museum that shares the same problem that many Alaskan museums do; they are in possession of some of the most precious and quickly deterorating artifacts of the world and they have access to the fewest professionals to care for them. This is where I come in. My grant asks that I help the museum review their collections and help them organize their database and reassess the situation. I'm going to leave the description at this and not get into some of the nightmare-like dilemmas that have come up. (Okay, one example: the day I spent trying to identify the correct way to label six pairs of dentures belonging to a Homer homesteading family.)

While that is the bulk of my job here, I've also had other great opportunities. Next week, I'll be working along visiting curator Ron Senungetuk, "the father of Alaskan contemporary art", to install a new Alaskan native art exhibit. A few weeks ago I flew into Seldovia Bay on a tiny plane and hosted Culture Camp for several native children. It was pretty weird "teaching" the children about Alaskan peoples when they were clearly far more Alaskan than I would ever be. Alaskan children really have some special sense of wonder and appreciation for nature. They were all jumping in the water, climbing trees and rocks, and generally being completely free. The obsessive self-awareness that plagues our preteens and teenagers was hardly ever there.

Culture Camp location:

Dena'ina Athabascan and Alutiiq storytelling:

Artifact discovery!

We set up an archeological dig site for the kids that actually included different layers based on time periods. Each child had a tool kit and used proper procedure to excavate the area.

We were situated in a place where cave paintings by the Dena'ina had actually been found nearby. After taking a short walk to the cave where the paintings were (and nearly getting stuck there at high tide), we made paint out of natural pigments in the area. The most successful was made from a dark red rock that washes up naturally on the shores here and was actually used by natives. Then, we painted!

Alexis chose to use her face rather than the rock.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tl'ungugh (Dena'ina Athabascan name for Seward)

I'm beginning this post with three progressively closer shots of where we camped to show just how amazing our position was.

A small part of the Kenai Mountain Range:

Mount Marathon of the Kenai Mountain Range hovering over Seward (no photoshopping has been done for these brilliant colors):

Our camping spot in Seward looking across Resurrection Bay:


Now that that's been taken care of, it's time to discuss day 2 and 3 of our weekend getaway. After our glacial nightcap, we slept pretty peacefully under the mountains. Since the summer solstice it's been getting progressively darker every night which made outdoors sleeping much easier. When we woke up, we headed to our boat to explore Resurrection Bay. The ride provided more fantastic scenery. There are around 30 glaciers surrounded by bright green mountains in the area which makes for a pretty surreal landscape.

We immediately saw five otters rafting together. We see otters pretty much daily but I promise they are not getting old.

Lots of our good friend, the tufted puffin.

We saw brief glimpses of a few humpback whales, including one that had an all white tail. This mom and calf were the closest.

Our next stop was an enormous glacier known for its massive beauty, Aialik.

I've included this photo because it provides a size estimate. In the lower left hand corner there is another boat. It's that tiny white shape under the foot of the mountain.

Aialik is calving (losing giant chunks of ice) at a rate of 8-20 feet a day. It took a few seconds for us to hear the sound of thunder and a few more for us to see a minivan-sized hunk of ice fall into the ocean. This continued for the entirety of the 15 minutes we were here.

On our way back everyone became very still and silent at the sight of this very identifiable black and white dorsal fin:

It was a freaking pod of ORCAS!!! I think we saw about 20 in total. Some came really close to the ship. They were beautiful and amazing and majestic. Our tour was actually late in returning because of the insane amount of orcas that we saw that day.

Minutes later, we came across a crazy humpback whale that was flipping his tail around and showing off for everyone. Here are three different parts of the whale's body. The only way that I can explain the massive size of the humpback is to repeat the captain in saying that its jawbone is as big as a bedroom wall.

Pectoral fin:

Dorsal fin:

Tail fin:

This is the other side of his tail. The markings are referred to as their "thumbprint".

After such a majestic day, we were beat and ready for some food and sleep. Griffin made a giant fire like a very tough man.

After a good look around at the scenery it was decided that the only reasonable thing to do would be to immerse ourselves in this high glacial content water under the mountains despite the 30 degree temperature.

When we got back to the fire, Griffin appeared to be steaming next to it because of the temperature difference.

I saw an otter out in the water late that night and walked to take a look. It played with me for a good quarter of a mile down the beach by popping its head up close to me and then diving under far away. I thought the photo Griffin attempted to take of the whole ordeal was about as surreal as the whole story.


On the third day of our trip, we went for a short kayak. We took a stroll down the beach while we were waiting to load out, enjoying one of the most beautiful days we have seen. During this walk, Griffin found a pair of wraparound sunglasses in a bunch of seaweed that he is still talking about right now.

Before heading out into the ocean, we took a short walk to a lovely waterfall.

This day was a great example of Alaska weather because by the time we were in the kayaks the fog had set and the mountains became this:

We've decided that we don't mind the fog so much because often the mountains then appear to float over the ocean . . . which is pretty cool.

We saw a lot of little glacial waterfalls coming down the mountains on our kayak.

We received the best goodbye ever as we headed out of Seward and saw this little guy/lady posing alongside the road:

Look how close it was to the road!

Gone Fishin'

While you were at Pitchfork we went fishing!

Homer is the Halibut capitol of the world.

After assessing all our options we decided taking a half day trip on a charter boat was our best option. They provide poles & bait and take you to hot spots. They also fillet what you catch. Each year homer has a derby to see who can catch the biggest halibut of the season. Last year's winner caught a fish weighing 354.6 lbs.

Until arriving in Homer I'd never seen a Halibut. My first reaction was "Man. that's an ugly fish" and that hasn't changed much. Their flat stretched out bodies are perfectly designed for resting on the bottom of the ocean. Both eyes are on the top side with skin camouflaged to blend in with the sea floor. Their other side is white, hiding them from predators in the event they swim upward. While big fish like the one above are great for trophys, "chickens" or halibut weighing 10-30 lbs are generally regarded as having the most delicious meat.

Before heading out we picked up our derby tickets and one day fishing licenses. As non-residents we are allotted a 2 halibut limit per day. We boarded our fishing vessel, along with about two dozen others for the two our ride out to the "chicken patch." When we arrived we picked up our rods, already fitted with bait and weights that would drag them down to the bottom of the ocean.

Literally seconds after my weight touch the bottom my pole began to bend with the weight a fish on the line.

Soon after Nicki felt the same pull on her line.

The halibut put up a heckuva fight, but in the end we were victorious.

Ahhh, sweet sweet victory

With the assistance of a deckhand my first fish was tagged and thrown in the storage compartment (after a strategically placed stab wound to put it out of it's misery). Again I let my hook sink to the bottom and once again I felt a bite within seconds. After a few minutes I had my second fish and fulfilled my limit.

Nicki caught two more, but threw them back because they were too small.
About 15 minutes after I caught my second she met her limit too.

We rode out for 2 hours to be done fishing in 20 minutes. While those 20 minutes were exhilerating, the following 45 were slightly less so.
We learned a very important lesson the hard way:


After everyone had caught their limit and the boat headed back to the harbor. The deckhands spent this time filleting the day's catch. Here they are cutting up one that we had caught.

We returned home for a victory feast. First I had to skin each of the 8 fillets. I've been working at a fish & chips restaurant all summer, so I have become immune to how gross skinning and cutting fish can be.

Then we bagged it up. The bag by itself is just the cheek meat, which is exceptionally delicious.

No Ashley, you can't have my fish!

Mmmmmm, the sweet smell of victory

That night we dined on toasted broccoli with toasted garlic, steamed smashed potatoes with green onions, and baked halibut that was swimming around in the ocean a few hours beforehand.