Foreword: This installment updates an earlier post (A Real-Life Spiritual Experience), and adds examples of Al’s intervention when the boat’s bow deck was under water.
My first experience of being vividly aware of being protected by an “unseen force” happened while transporting four hunters back to Whittier from Naked Island, where I had dropped them off a week earlier. Naked lies 40 miles from Whittier, about in the geographic center of the Sound. The morning weather forecast on the day of the pickup called for a small craft advisory, with northeasterly winds. I left Whittier mid morning, traveling close to land along the north side of Wells Passage as much as possible, which afforded some protection from the wind. Once past the protection of Axle Lind Island, the seas were running four to five feet in height, and were fairly far apart, so they were not especially steep. The seas came directly from the northeast as the forecast had predicted, putting them on the boat’s port beam, or left side. It was a fairly tolerable ride as the boat rose up over the crest of a swell, and then descended into the trough between the crests.
I have a guardian angel I named Al. I haven’t always been aware of Al, but he has definitely been there for me when I needed him the most. The name comes from my middle name “Albert,” after my Uncle Al, my Mom’s number two brother. I believe that Al has always been with me, but it was only after experiencing close calls while boating in big seas in Prince William Sound that I became more aware of him. With my being an adventurous sort, there have no doubt been times from childhood on when Al intervened on my behalf that I was totally unaware of. However, there were also times when I miraculously evaded calamity that I remember all too well. Continue reading →
It is now early summer 2014 as I write this piece. Just last fall I had begun seriously looking at bicycles that would work better than my trusty old Specialized Crossroads on the many dirt trails around Anchorage. I had been looking forward to a new mountain bike ever since, and here I was on my very cool new Specialized Hardrock “Hardtail 29er” on my favorite paved trail, Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. I rode my usual out and back nine-mile route from Point Woronzoff to the hill that rises from the flats up to the Kincaid Park chalet. No problems, and I felt great about finally having a bike I had waited so long for. Continue reading →
Note: I first wrote this January 2, 2015, while camped in southeast Arizona in a camper van I had at the time.
Ten different cats have been a part of my bachelor household for different stretches of the past 36 years. As any cat owner knows, their pets are individuals and can be independent little cusses, some more than others. Then occasionally, one joins the family who seems to be maybe not so much independent as just slow. “Slow” is a kinder term than stupid. One of my current two cats, “Lighter,” as sweet as he is, is just such a cat. I adopted Lighter (an orange tabby) and his fraternal twin brother Darker, as kittens in 2008 while I lived in Whittier, Alaska. Darker died from a wasting liver disease summer 2014, but Lighter is still going strong, along with Boots, my old-girl black-and-white “tuxedo cat.”
Below is the early working version of an invited “Stakeholder Essay” in a collection of studies that summarize the affects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Prince William Sound’s communities and resources. Several years in the making, the collection was recently published as a 355-page hardcover book, Sustaining Wildlands: Integrating Science and Community in Prince William Sound, Aaron Poe and Randy Gimblett (Eds.). 2017, The University of Arizona Press
Is it possible to love a place so much that what you do there imperils the very values that brought you there in the first place? What if there are so many like-minded people using the same place, that together you do just that, even if unawares? These are questions I pondered for many years, as a working biologist, as a parent exploring the Sound by inflatable in the 1980s with my three young sons, and most recently, as a nature tour guide in Prince William Sound.
After moving to Alaska in 1975 to begin my job as a seabird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), my summer field work included running Zodiac inflatable skiffs with a field partner to get around to various study sites along the coast from our shore camp or chartered live-aboard support boat. The first of these was along Kodiak Island’s east coast during my first three summers in Alaska (1976, ‘77, ‘78), then again at Kodiak during a study of puffin food habits in 1986, and finally on a beached-bird Exxon Valdez oil spill survey cruise, fall 1989. Before I began the water taxi business in 1987, and during the “break” in the business 1990-1992, I resumed work as a USFWS biologist on Exxon Valdez oil spill studies in Prince William Sound. Those included temporary stints during the month of March in 1991 and 1993 helping with winter seabird boat surveys, and then full time again from 1992-1994.
Upon watching sea otters for any length of time, one easily gets the impression that they are the epitome of sociability. They float on their backs in amicable groups, often close to each other. Mother otters carry their babies, and even older young ones on their bellies. This is the scene encountered again and again by folks who spend much time on the water in Prince William Sound.
A few years ago, however, while aboard my boat in the southwestern Sound, two companions and I witnessed a far different side of sea otters. Continue reading →