Posts Tagged 'Glacier Bay'

From Port Townsend WA to Glacier Bay AK …… 2009 Cruise Summary

Here’s where the Aurora took Jack the Skipper and First Mate Baggywrinkles this summer.  We cruised a thousand nautical miles along the Inside Passage, north from the 48th to the 59th parallel parallel and west from 123º to 136º.    We sailed out of our former home port of Port Hadlock on Port Townsend Bay, Washington, on June 13th and arrived at our new home part of Hoonah, AK on August 1.

The year 2009 will be remembered for a magnificent summer that followed a monstrous winter. Our most difficult day was the very first – crossing Juan de Fuca Strait; our most difficult hour was also the very first, rounding Point Wilson for the umpteenth time.   As for the normally obstreperous waters of Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Strait, Cape Caution, Milbanke Sound, Dixon Entrance,  and Icy Strait, they all behaved for us, as our endless stream of sun-filled photos show.   Next year when we come south through the usual rain, fog, or storms, we will have the vision of these spectacular vistas still in our heads.

Have a look at our pictures.  Those of the Skipper and First Mate together were taken by Piers Rippey, who brought welcome hands to our deck for ten days from Prince Rupert, BC and Auke Bay, AK.   The photos are arranged chronologically on one page; slide show takes 18 minutes.  No photo captions at the moment but here’s our route.

June 13             Mitchell Bay, San Juan Island, WA, at dock  48 34 N 123 10 W

June 14            Montague Harbor, BC on mooring buoy     48 53N 123 25 W

June 15            Nanaimo, at dock     49 10 N 123 56 W

June 16-17       Comox, at dock   49 40 N 124 56 W

June 18             Campbell River, at dock    50 02 N 125 15 W

June 19             Kamish Bay/Granite Bay, at anchor 50 14 N 125 19 W

June 20              Shoal Bay, at dock   50 28 N 125 22 W

June 21               Forward Harbor, at anchor 50 29 N 125 45 W

June 22               Lagoon Cove Marina, at dock  50 36 N 126 19 W

June 23               Laura Cove, Broughton Island, at anchor   50 50 N 126 34 W

June 24               Sullivan Bay, at dock   50 53 N 26 50 W

June 25                Blunden Harbor, at anchor   50 54 N 1217 17 W

June 26-27          Duncanby, at dock    51 24 N 127 39 W

June 28                Green Island, Fish Egg Inlet, at anchor   51 38 N 127 50 W

June 29-30         Shearwater, at dock    52 09 N 128 05 W

July 1                   Klemtu, at free dock    52 36 N 128 31 W

July 2-3              Khutze Inlet, at anchor   53 05 N 128 16 W

July 4                  Hartley Bay, at free dock   53 25 N 129 45 W

July 5                 Klewnuggit Inlet, East Inlet, at anchor   53 43 N 129 44 W

July 6-10           Prince Rupert, at dock   54 20 N 130 18 W

July 11                Brundige Inlet, Dundas Island, BC, at anchor   54 36 N 130 53 W

July 12-13           Ketchikan, AK, at dock    55 21 N 131 41 W

July 14                Meyers Chuck, at free dock    55 44 N 132 16 W

July 15               Frosty Bay, at anchor    56 04 N 131 58 W

July 16-17          Wrangell, at dock  56 28 N 132 23 W

July 18-19         Petersburg, at dock   56 49 N 132 58 W

July 20              Portage Bay, at anchor   56 59 N 133 19 W

July 21               Hobart Bay, Entrance Island, at anchor  57 25 N 133 26 W

July 22               Taku Harbor, at free dock   58 04 N 134 08 W

July 23-24         Juneau, at dock   58 18 N 134 26 W

July 25               Auke Bay, at dock   58 30 N 134 39 W

July 26-27        Hoonah, at dock   58 06 N 135 27 W

July 28              Bartlett Bay, Glacier Bay, at anchor  58 28 N 135 53 W

July 29               North Sandy Cove, Glacier Bay, at anchor   58 43 N 136 00 W

July 30               Sebree Cove, Glacier Bay, at anchor   58 46 N 136 10 W

July 31               Bartlett Bay, Glacier Bay, at anchor    58 28 N 135 53 W

Aug 1-present    Hoonah, at dock   58 06 N 135 27 W

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Icy Strait Point

IcyPoint

The Hoonah Tlingit have taken a bold approach to cultural tourism that may be a wave of the  future.

Inside Passage cruise ship tourism is a two edged sword.   It brings income to coastal communities and affords visitors an experience both spectacular and affordable.

We thought we’d run into cruise ships frequently.  As it happens, Petersburg and Wrangell take no large cruise ships.   A single large ship a day is allowed in Glacier Bay and they cannot dock or anchor.   Prince Rupert, British Columbia has only one a week, Vancouver of course a few more, but we didn’t go there this year.   In fact, in our whole passage through Canada we encountered underweigh a single  large cruise ship, one of the classic, never-very-large vessels of the Holland America Line.

Cannery

Unfortunately, Ketchikan and Juneau have fallen victim to what the an editorial writer in The Juneau Empire calls “the magic blingdom” on the waterfront.   Mind you, four ships a day can dump 56,000 people a week on towns with populations of  less than 8 and 31 thousand people respectively.    I assume the same is true of Skagway, Haines and Sitka as well, though some towns manage better than others.    In addition to obvious environmental concerns huge,  it’s very sad to see shops operated by the cruise companies themselves or by merchants from the Bahamas, who simply move their operations there every fall.

The attraction for visitors is clear.  Cruise line welcome all members of the family, able bodied or not.     Cruise ships can afford to take on leading scholars, naturalists and historians.   Many if not most cruise ship folks appear to be  foreign visitors to the US, for whom the week on the Inside Passage out of Seattle must be an affordable respite from land based travels.   But so many average foreign tourists traveling in foreign flagged ships probably weakens demand for historical, cultural and eco tourism.

IMG_0798

Enter the Hoonah Tlingit and their locally based approach.  The original people of Glacier Bay, they were forced south across Icy Strait to Chicagof Island when the glaciers advanced in the seventeenth century.   In the early twentieth century many fished for or went to work at the large cannery established at the entrance to their harbor by investors from Port Townsend.     From 1912 to 1953 the Hoonah Packing Company operated as a full fledged cannery.  After that, it turned to other types of fish processing and eventually served as a maintenance base for the purse seine fishing fleet until 1999.

In 2001, the Hoonah Native corporation, which had purchased the site, implemented the new concept of a private, purpose built cruise ship destination known as Icy Strait Point.   The wonderful old buildings of the cannery were renovated to accommodate a museum, restaurants, and thirteen, small Native-owned shops, including a bookstore.  The tribe constructed a new Big House for cultural presentations for themselves and to share.  Beyond the water front there’s a boardwalk with benches, totempoles and a daytime campfire.  Beyond are hiking trails and a ride down Mt. Hoonah on the country’s fastest longest zip line.    And visitors can walk the 3/4 mile to town or hire local guides for fishing, bear tracking, whale watching and the like.

IMG_0783There are no plans for a cruise ship dock at Hoonah; rather ships anchor out and tender passengers in.   Only one ship is allowed at a time for an average of 3.5  visits per week in the summer.

A really nice touch is that Icy Strait Point is open free of change to all local Hoonah people and to visiting fishermen and cruisers in Hoonah Harbor.   We spent a fine sunny afternoon there, a welcome break from oil and anti-freeze.    While the experience is was more packaged than our visit to the North Pacific Cannery with the well trained teenagers of Port Edwards, British Columbia, Ice Strait Point really does have something for everybody.

The last frontier of the hunter-gatherer

*****The last frontier of the hunter gatherers
Use of tools is one thing that sets people apart from the other animals that share the planet.  Commercial fishing is the last vestige or the hunter gatherer phase of human cultural development.  The tools of fishing used today evolved directly from those of our ancestors.  Nearly all fish catching devices in Alaska are simply improvements on one of three basic types of devices:  hooks, nets and traps.
Over the years, fishermen have developed increasingly efficient gear designed to harvest specific species.  As harvest efficiency has increased, so has the number of commercial fishermen.  The combined effect is that today’s commercial fishing industry is, in most cases, capable of catching a lot more fish than the stocks can biologically support.
To maintain a long term supply of seafood, government fishery managers develop regulations to limit both total catch and fishing effort.  Regulations dictate what kind and how much gear can be used, establish boundaries of the districts in which fishing can occur, and determine what days (or even hours) fishing will be permitted.
Terry Johnson, Ocean Treasure: Commercial Fishing in Alaska.  p. 19

Commercial fishing is the last vestige or the hunter gatherer phase of human cultural development.  The tools of fishing used today evolved directly from those of our ancestors.  Nearly all fish catching devices in Alaska are simply improvements on one of three basic types of devices:  hooks, nets and traps.

Terry Johnson, Ocean Treasure: Commercial Fishing in Alaska

Here’s my take away and and what calls me back.    Time and space are different in Alaska.  It’s not just in a different time zone.  Not just long days suddenly reversing into long nights.   An ice age flows right into the present in Glacier Bay.   People there sense things differently.  Eventually, you do, too.

Alaskans practice the wisdom of the ages as they move across the waters and the land in search of subsistence.  Natives and settlers alike, share an age old ethic of self-sufficiency that distinguishes them from most other Americans.  Halibut hooks and other tools of the trade adorn totem poles.   Contemporary families budget time and energy to take care of their food needs and look forward to it.

halibut hook

Alaskan waters are so abundant that there is a thin line between subsistence and commercial fishing. Many commercial fishing vessels become the family home during the summer months.

Alaskans are genuine foodies who make most chefs and diners look frivolous.  Of course, they  have supermarkets.   In fact produce is amazingly high quality and fresh and the prices are just fine.   Summer nights are too short to grow corn in Alaska but it arrives with its silk glossy and damp.    Melons do well on the long trip are apricots, peaches and pears are respected and protected.  Local growers turn out beautiful summer salads and greens and families brag about the size of the cabbages in their household plots.    But meat and fish?  Nearly impossible to find at the supermarket.

It was great to see the excitement of the Blough family as they left for their annual reunion and caribou hunt.   All the Alaskan cruisers we met were looking forward to the hunting season.  Everyone takes their annual  allotment of deer, which is 6 small Sitka deer per adult.  Most of them were also hoping to get a moose.   Dianna licked her chops in anticipation while sharing her recipe for bear ribs.  Many folks hunt black bear  but seem to agree that brown bear is not very good at all.   Since Neal and Dianna have professional butchering equipment at home, they also order two cattle and two pigs on the hoof.

At Hoonah Trading Company, canning jars, rubber seals, and canning parifin were flying off the shelves as folks came out of the woods with pailfuls of salmon berries, then blackberries and next huckleberries.

IMG_0842

It was the fishing we saw up close.   Every dock has a number of simple fish cleaning tables with a fresh water hose.  Around 4 pm every day people line up to use them.   Huge sockeye, pinks and chum, many males with the hooked jaws of spawning season.    The largest halibut we saw was 170 pounds, but everyday we saw people bringing in lots of smaller ones.

Our cruising neighbors, some from the inland areas of Alaska, have promised to show us the ropes next year.   Most of them clean, cut into portions,  vacuum pack and freeze their catch on their boats.   Out of town sport fishermen take their fish to a small shop behind the Harbormaster’s that processes and packages fish for shipment.   The morning we flew out of Juneau airport, I felt pangs of sheer envy at the huge cartons of frozen fish that many travelers were checking with their baggage.

As for commercial fishing, we’ve had to learn about the rigs of the various fisheries just to navigate past them.   We learned about gillnetting from Joe Upton’s Alaska Blues and from the talkative Arnie.    After LaDonna’s dramatic story of the Wrangell purse seiners, we peppered seiners with questions.  Trollers were everywhere, from the lovely antique double ender in whose company we negotiated Green Rapids to the dozens in Hoonah Harbor.  Our favorite boats there,  moored side by side, are Icy Lady and Happy Hooker.

longlinerWe saw our first longliner leaving Frosty Harbor:  a bizarre non contiguous assortment of red balls and flags stretching nearly across the channel.      We consulted our Canadian charts book, which has good illustrations of  a troller, a gillnetter, a purse seiner, a long liner and a trawler.   Identifying how fishermen in each fishery set their lines and nets is an essential part of cruising the Northwest Coast.   (Alan Sorum’s artlcle “Identifying Alaska Commercial Fishing Boats” has the basics but poor pictures.)

This post has wandered and taken time to write.   As I try to finish things up here, I am distracted and feel a powerful call of the wild.  It’s the end of  August and the wilderness of southern Oregon should be spectacular.    So I’ll end this with quite from an anthology called Alaskan Stories (edited by John Miller) hat I picked up used during my final visit to Juneau’s Rainy Retreat Books.   (And read as I tried  to fall asleep in a hotel bed, which didn’t move the way our bunk on Aurora does.) All the other Alaska books are safely shelved on Aurora but this one sneaked back to Portland, making my reentry all the more difficult.

Robert Coles, the great psychiatrist, teacher and  Children of Crisis author, brings us these words of a fourteen year old Eskimo girl who once spent six months in Fairbanks.

I remember waking up in the house we had in Fairbanks; I went to the window, and I saw – another house.  I bent my neck and looked, and there was the sky, a small piece of it – the size of meat  or fish we have in the middle of the winter, not the fish or meat we eat in the summer.  Everywhere we went there were houses and stories.  We kept looking at walls.  I couldn’t see beyond a street; there were always cars and buildings.  The sky was not the sky I knew.  There was no ocean.  At school there was a playground but across the street there were stores.  My mother said she felt a lot of time as if she wasn’t getting enough air.  My father ended up in bars at night, drinking.  He didn’t see anything except the beer inside a bottle.

One day he came home and said he wanted to go back to our village; he wanted to stand near the ocean and look at the water, not drown in beer.  We left the next day.  My uncle has been in Fairbanks a long time, but we couldn’t stay, and  I’m glad we’re back here.  As soon as we got home, my grandmother told me to go say hello to the ocean, and to the ponds, and to take a walk through the grass, and to watch for foxes and say hello to them.  And to not forget the sky; she never does – she’s always looking at the sky and watching the clouds, and she can tell if the weather will change by the way the clouds go across the sky.   She won’t tell me her secret.  She says I’ll learn it by looking at the sky long enough myself!

Hometown boy crosses nation to Alaska in 1915 Ford

 

What should I see parked near the Mendentall Glacier but an ancient Ford pickup with New York plates and the names of small hometown businesses. Turns out the owner, Doug Hauge, is from Stittville, a village in the catchment area for Whitesboro High School, from which we both graduated.  
He’d driven all the way from New York on back roads along with a bunch of other Model T nuts from around the country.   His has got the original equipment from the tires up, though he did add GPS and a tiny ingenious, fold out camping unit in the back.   
2009 is the centennial of the first cross country road race, won by the Model T, of course.   The group planned their route to coincide with various local events and festivals and received well earned hospitality everywhere they went. 
At the end of that trip, in Seattle, Doug said good bye to the rest of the fleet and continued on to Juneau with his nephew for crew.    Several days later I noticed that The Juneau Empire thought it was a pretty cool story, too. So have a look at their nice illustrated write up.  http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/072709/loc_471371167.shtml
Yet, another good thing about Alaska: It’s a place where folks with large dreams of adventure in very small, unlikely vessels – if they make it – end up to telling their stories.

 

IMG_0670What should I see parked near the Mendentall Glacier but an ancient Ford pickup with New York plates and the names of small hometown businesses.

Turns out the owner, Doug Hauge, is from Stittville, a village in the catchment area for Whitesboro High School, from which we both graduated.  

Model THe’d driven all the way from New York on back roads along with a bunch of other Model T nuts from around the country.   His has got the original equipment from the tires up, though he did add GPS and a tiny ingenious, fold out camping unit in the back.   

2009 is the centennial of the first cross country road race, won by the Model T, of course.   The group planned their route to coincide with various local events and festivals and received well earned hospitality everywhere they went. 

At the end of that trip, in Seattle, Doug said good bye to the rest of the fleet and continued on to Juneau with his nephew for crew.    Several days later I noticed that The Juneau Empire thought it was a pretty cool story, too. So have a look at their nice write up with more photos (including the one at the right, which I’ve stolen). 

Yet, another good thing about Alaska: It’s a place where folks with large dreams of adventure in very small, unlikely vessels – if they make it – end up to telling their stories.

Sea Otters!

 

IMG_8550The moment we’d been hoping for came as the fog parted and we were motoring up the main channel of Glacier Bay.   We’d just seen a group of frolicking Steller Sea Lions, but these were different.  They did dive, but otherwise looked like bits of flotsam.    Four hairy islands:  two hind legs, fore paws together at waist, and a head that pivots to look at you.   A sea otter moves on the surface of the water on its back.

On Boxing Day when we were at the Vancouver Aquarium in the snow, the highlight was watching the sea otters, so smart and playful.    I held my first pelt in April, when Mini and I visited the Columbia Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon.  At the wonderful trapping exhibit at the museum at Wrangell, I closed my eyes and felt each of the dozen or so pelts on display for the most luxuriant.  The sea otter wins hand down; mink and ermine are nice to the touch but just not the same.  In fact, Lynn Schooler, in The Blue Bear, says that the former pelts have between 20 and 50 thousand hairs per square inch while the sea otter has an impossible sounding million.  

The fad for this fabulous fur that nearly wiped out the sea otter within a hundred years appears to have had an inauspicious start.  Vitus Bering, the Danish captain in the employ of Peter the Great who demonstrated that Alaska and Siberia were on different continents and gave his name to the strait between them, ended his career and life shipwrecked on a small island.  According to Lynn Schooler. some of his crew survived the winter of 1741-42 by clubbing sea otters, consuming their meat, and wrapping themselves in the pelts.  When finally rescued, they showed up in Saint Petersburg wearing the otter cloaks that set off the frenzy for fur.  By the time Alaska was sold off to the Americans in 1867 the sea otter had become very rare.

By 1911 sea otters had been officially protected.  When the population was threatened the 1960s with nuclear testing on the Aleutian Island of Amchitka, several hundred otters were brought to Southeastern Alaska.  Then in the 1990s their numbers in the Aleutians dropped periously low, likely due to encounters with a pod of transient, or red meat eating, orcas.  Given the role of sea otters in the ecosystem, this decline is of concern.   As Lynn Schooler puts it (p201): 

Sea otters eat a lot of sea urchins, which in turn eat a lot of kelp, which provides critical habitat to dozens of species of fish.  Without otters to keep them in check, urchin populations can explode, denuding vast shorelines of kelp.  Without kelp there are fewer fish, and therefore less prey available to feed the Aleutian chain’s bald eagles.  Between sea and sky, the tendrils of disruption probably reach much farther than we can imagine, and it is not difficult to envision the entire ecosystem eventually slipping off its tracks.  

While sea otters still prefer the open seas of the Gulf of Alaska they have  recently been visiting Glacier Bay.  After seeing a number of them there, we passed one up close sailing back to Hoonah across Icy Strait.

 Like us, sea otters are omnivorous, with both flat grinders and more pointed teeth for tearing.   And they are charming, nothing like their weaselly, carnivorous cousins the martens and river otters.  (Our European friend, Mini, encountered her first-ever river otter on the dock where Aurora was moored in Port Hadlock in April.  Mistaking it for an unbelievably large rat, she recoiled in sudden fright, pulling a muscle in her back.)  

Best of all sea otters are smart, using tools and fashioning protective clothing.  Sound preposterous?   Here’s what the  authors of the indispensable and authoritative The Nature of Southeast Alaska say:    In feeding, otters may carry a rock on their chest, to use as an anvil to smash urchins and other hard-shell prey.   During storms, otters ride out the surf by wrapping a strip of kelp around their middles for stability. 

That’s one speedy little ice age!

 

The term ice age usually brings to mind a situation continental in scale, and a period millions of years long that ended at the dawn of human history.   What’s cool about Glacier Bay, however, is that it’s a product of a much shorter era that fits squarely into our historical past and our human future.
Officially known as the Little Ice Age, it didn’t really get underway until the late 1600s.  At that time the Hoonah Tlingit people lived in a broad valley that was in the place of today’s Glacier Bay.   Then the glacier at the end of the valley started to move down it, driving the Hoonah Tlingit south across Icy Strait to Chicagof Island, where the good ship Aurora is in their care today.  By 1750 the glacier was as large as it would get and extended 5 miles into Icy Strait.   
When the British explorer George Vancouver charted the area in 1795, the glacier had calved five miles into the newly created Glacier Bay.   John Muir visited in 1879 and in writings that inspired other visitors, described a Glacier Bay then 40 miles long.  
Today its 65 miles from the mouth of Glacier Bay to tidewater glaciers at the western end and those in the eastern arm known as Muir Inlet.  Many glaciers that recently calved into the sea, now end on land.  But as many glaciers retreat, a few are still advancing.  
We floated from the lush three hundred year old forests near the mouth of the Bay, with its spouting humpbacks, to the utterly barren rock faces of the upper reaches, newly scoured by tidewater glaciers, visited by the odd tufted puffin, we experienced the whole succession of geologic periods.   This speedy excursion through geologic history has left me feeling dreamy and speechless.  Hopefully a few pictures and an excerpt from  The Blue Bear will help create a vision for those who have not yet made this journey.
When a glacier retreats it begets rock as barren and bald as the moon…for a while – say ten or twenty years – life would remain an exceedingly small idea in this neighborhood; only lichens, moss, and a few other simple forms of life capable of grasping a a living from the minerals from the stones and the gases in the air are able to colonize such sterile rubble.  
In time however, the slow accumulation of organic material among the cracks and declivities would form something of a poor soil where seeds and spores borne in on the wind or clinging to the feet of birds would start to grow.  After a few spare pilgrims of grass and other flowering plants took root, more stingy soil would be formed, and after a half century or so, thickets of alder shrub would take the neighborhood by storm.  Alder contributes a rich detritus of rotting leaves and fixes nitrogen in the soil, enough so that after a few decades more, the seeds of [spruce] trees would begin to find their way in, take a firm grip, and send down roots to suckle at the soil.  If the seedlings survive, they rise into the light, exclaiming themselves above their bushy neighbors, until on a hot summer day a cloud of yellow pollen bursting from the ripened sex glands of distant kin drifts by on the wind and embraces the young tree.  Within days, seed cones clinging to its branches grow swollen, pregnant with the possibility of a forest.  Squirrels and jays move in, cutting, picking, eating, shitting, and scattering the gravid cones from hell to breakfast.  More seeds sprout nd more seedlings live, rising up to become saplings that eventually grow tall and large enough to touch branch tip to branch tip, casting a shadow over the alder, which then withers from the lack of light and dies.
Spruce needles are highly acidic, and for the next hundred years, those falling at the feet of the trees slowly alter the flavor of the soil from the alkaloid dullness of lime to a sharp bitter tang.  Ironically, spruce is acid-intolerant – it has no taste for its own waste – but hemlock and cedar are not.  These interlopers gradually mix and meddle with the hegemony of the spruce until they grow tall, rot and are thrown to the ground by fierce winter storms.  When spring comes, sunlight streaming through the resulting holes in the canopy ignites a riot of blueberry and dogwood.  After a gestation of centuries, a mature, proper forest is born.   

mouthThe term ice age usually brings to mind a situation continental in scale, and a period millions of years long that ended at the dawn of human history.   What’s cool about Glacier Bay, however, is that it’s a product of a much shorter era that fits squarely into our historical past and our human future.

Officially known as the Little Ice Age, it didn’t really get underway until the late 1600s.  At that time the Hoonah Tlingit people lived in a broad valley that was in the place of today’s Glacier Bay.   Then the glacier at the end of the valley started to move down it, driving the Hoonah Tlingit south across Icy Strait to Chicagof Island, where the good ship Aurora is in their care today.  By 1750 the glacier was as large as it would get and extended 5 miles into Icy Strait.   

Intermediate

When the British explorer George Vancouver charted the area in 1795, the glacier had calved five miles into the newly created Glacier Bay.   John Muir visited in 1879 and in writings that inspired other visitors, described a Glacier Bay then 40 miles long.  

Today its 65 miles from the mouth of Glacier Bay to tidewater glaciers at the western end and those in the eastern arm known as Muir Inlet.  Many glaciers that recently calved into the sea, now end on land.  But as many glaciers retreat, a few are still advancing.  

We floated from the lush three hundred year old forests near the mouth of the Bay, with its spouting humpbacks, to the utterly barren rock faces of the upper reaches, newly scoured by tidewater glaciers, visited by the odd tufted puffin, we experienced the whole succession of geologic periods.   This speedy excursion through geologic history has left me feeling dreamy and speechless.  Hopefully a few pictures and an excerpt from  The Blue Bear will help create a vision for those who have not yet made this journey.

next to upper

When a glacier retreats it begets rock as barren and bald as the moon…for a while – say ten or twenty years – life would remain an exceedingly small idea in this neighborhood; only lichens, moss, and a few other simple forms of life capable of grasping a a living from the minerals from the stones and the gases in the air are able to colonize such sterile rubble.  

In time however, the slow accumulation of organic material among the cracks and declivities would form something of a poor soil where seeds and spores borne in on the wind or clinging to the feet of birds would start to grow.  After a few spare pilgrims of grass and other flowering plants took root, more stingy soil would be formed, and after a half century or so, thickets of alder shrub would take the neighborhood by storm.  Alder contributes a rich detritus of rotting leaves and fixes nitrogen in the soil, enough so that after a few decades more, the seeds of [spruce] trees would begin to find their way in, take a firm grip, and send down roots to suckle at the soil.  If the seedlings survive, they rise into the light, exclaiming themselves above their bushy neighbors, until on a hot summer day a cloud of yellow pollen bursting from the ripened sex glands of distant kin drifts by on the wind and embraces the young tree.  Within days, seed cones clinging to its branches grow swollen, pregnant with the possibility of a forest.  Squirrels and jays move in, cutting, picking, eating, shitting, and scattering the gravid cones from hell to breakfast.  More seeds sprout and more seedlings live, rising up to become saplings that eventually grow tall and large enough to touch branch tip to branch tip, casting a shadow over the alder, which then withers from the lack of light and dies.

upperSpruce needles are highly acidic, and for the next hundred years, those falling at the feet of the trees slowly alter the flavor of the soil from the alkaloid dullness of lime to a sharp bitter tang.  Ironically, spruce is acid-intolerant – it has no taste for its own waste – but hemlock and cedar are not.  These interlopers gradually mix and meddle with the hegemony of the spruce until they grow tall, rot and are thrown to the ground by fierce winter storms.  When spring comes, sunlight streaming through the resulting holes in the canopy ignites a riot of blueberry and dogwood.  After a gestation of centuries, a mature, proper forest is born.   


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