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Archive for June, 2008

A sea of willows and creeps

I sit here in my Anchorage hotel and there is a dreary gray light outside. It comes with the persistent daylight that is here this time of year: that twilight that never goes away. On a cloudy day like today, there is no telling what time of day it is at any time during a 24 hour period. On our drive into the city shady characters lurched about the sidewalks: an old man hanging up a banner at a park with a cigarette dangling from his crusty lips, pre-teens with bad acne and even worse mullets amused themselves by balancing on a guard rail, an overweight man in a too-small filthy wife beater pedaled a recumbent bike towing a child trailer full of trash. I don’t know if it is because I drank too much last night or what, but this place began to creep me out. I have retreated to my hotel room and am now eyeing the outside world somewhat skeptically from the comfort of my queen size bed.

Aahh. My own queen size bed. This is a luxury that I have not had in the two weeks since I have been “deployed” up her for work. Much to my great astonishment, the project manager crammed 6-8 people in 2 very small RVs for the duration of the time. It didn’t take long for the RVs to become pits of despair and misery. Existing in there became a challenge as people attempted to put their hang ups aside and try to live and work in the same 150 square foot space. My bed was also a couch of sorts, and I had to wait for everyone to go to bed so I could fold it out and roll out my sleeping bag, situating myself between the crease and the seltbelts which dug into my back in all the wrong places. I was also a good five inches too tall for the bed, and my feet dangled uncomfortably over the edge.

During the days it was easy to forget the cramped quarters. We hiked through unforgettable terrain mapping wetlands and identifying plants, with sweeping views of phenomenal mountain ranges, glaciers, and the subarctic tundra. I stomped about on 6 squishy inches of peat moss atop permafrost, surrounded by plants that were occupied with ekking out an existence in this relentless climate. I got used to my shovel hitting frozen soils again and again as I searched out soil profiles. I blazed trails through seas of willows, imaging that I could be the only human to have ever taken that particular route across the slope. All the while I let my voice ring out every few minutes in a hope to avoid any “wildlife interactions”. I was gripped by an anomaly- an intense desire to glimpse something exciting coupled by the intense aversion to encountering wildlife. There were days when we heard wolves howling, stumbled upon old carcass after old carcass, and the bear sign got thicker and thicker with each step, and I felt pursued and frightened, yet exhilarated. I know I was being watched time and time again as I bushwhacked around the forest and tundra, and I wonder now how many bears lay silently, watching me go by like a clown in a bright orange vest, hooting and hollering and thrashing around.

Then it would be back to the too-small trailer, where I mediated my space threshold with generous helpings of beer and wine as I jockeyed for a space to process my data. Fall asleep mildly drunk, wake up thirsty and groggy in the tiny trailer, and jockey to get over to the coffee machine and then jockey again for a private place to change back into my field gear. I’m glad it’s all over, and tomorrow I leave this place of conflicting emotions and rugged landscapes for something a little more navigable.

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Arrived in the North Country

I was delivered to Anchorage this afternoon without enthusiasm. The baggage claim felt oddly familiar, with people’s coolers and cardboard boxes wrapped in duct tape and army style duffles and rubber kayak bags going around and around and around the conveyer belt. The men around me were unvariably dressed in T shirts from their favorite brewery clasping around their beer guts, rugged looking khakis, and Keen shoes. They talked about shotgun shells and whiskey, and lurched in to grab onto their luggage when it came by with quick, jerky, aggressive movements that entered into my personal space.

It feels so bright here. I don’t get it, how could it really be that much brighter than Oregon? But the northern climes with the neverending daylight almost seem brighter. There is this eerie feeling that overcomes the people as the weather moves from one extreme to the another in a great pendulum swing from dark to light. I longed for my sunglasses during the brief walk we took around the block to an eating establishment. It was our hope that the prices around the block would be cheaper than the upscale hotel we are staying in, and we were indeed rewarded. Our sacrifice? We had to sit in a gleaming brushed aluminum environment with Ace of Base blasting on the loudspeaker as the servers moved around tables to prepare for the evening’s upcoming event- a “model search”.

So 15 nights to go, 0 nights down.

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