Friday, August 26, 2011

in the belly

8.23.11 I crawled into my sleeping bag here on the rooftop of the ferry at 4:30am this morning after loading all our gear together one last time. Kate left by plane last night. We all took her together, “family style.” Odin was supposed to leave two days ago, but the fast ferry is in for repair. Paul and I got delayed too. I have been aching, aching, aching, to get to Juneau, to stop tackling checklists and logistics and be with community and friends again. Time is too short. I have to leave Alaska all together in just two days. I just want to pause and be here with people I miss.

The broken ferry was ironic to say the least. I was thinking we made it through summer by foot, kayak, float plane and boat in the big swells all clear. Then there we were stranded again by the most reliable form of local transportation – the monster ship. In Sitka we cruised around town in Charlie’s rig these last few days. In the spirit of small town Alaska, he tossed me the keys to his ancient truck after we hit the docks at Ceiling Cove on our last trip out. Said he’d be going out of town and we could probably put that thing to use. Unreliable breaks and a gas guzzling rusted beauty of a ride. Loved that beast. Kind of the perfect end to our summer.

I slept hard on the ferry, woke up to the cold air on my face and the grey light glowing, that thing that happens only here in Southeast, and I still don’t know how to describe. One kind of just has to experience it. I miss it already. Layers of cloud blanket the forested islands as we move through the passage. I realize that I’m looking at a the same route I’ve traveled before differently now. I know what it feels like to be deep in those forests. I can imagine what life they hold. As I peeled back the cocoon of my sleeping bag to unveil the solarium view through sleepy eyes, I remembered a story that a dear friend and mentor sent me when she saw some photographs from our summer. Years back, she was working on a book in the American West and venturing into open landscapes there, and she spent an day visiting with a Zuni. After sharing stories of place, he put his hand upon her stomach and told her “You are in the belly of the earth. ” She told said the same for our summer.

I’ve been in the belly, and I’m watching in fade into the distance before me now through sleep eyes.

The grey shifts to white then it all disappears at the horizon. I’m afraid of what I might forget.

The boat’s engine is purring. My body is still warm in depths of my bag. There’s a slow vibration around me and the gentle feeling of moving forward bit by bit. Raindrops are falling on the deck, splattering. The American flag is flapping in the wind on the stern. Its stripes provide the only color breaking the blue and grey in 360 degrees. I can almost make out the sound of it snapping back and forth above the ferry’s hum. I’m thinking about the belly. I suppose it’s what this is all about – being in the belly of wilderness, figuring out how it’s changing, and what that can teach us. I have a lot to sort out, but this has been a start.

The compass points north, but I'm headed home now. -Lauren

Saturday, August 20, 2011

bull kelp passage & wood burning stoves

August 18, 2011. Last night we sat on the rocky beach here at Klag Bay with the tide approaching at our feet. We smoked cigars and drank whisky like old weathered seafarers in the salty mist and watched salmon leap. We reveled in the sweet celebration of a mission complete on full bellies of fresh salmon Paul caught in the Whale. 40 plots finished, thousands of trees and saplings measured, no one attacked by bear, impaled by spruce limb, eaten by root holes nor capsized in kayak. I tend to prepare for the worst but always strive for the best, and that makes the best stuff that much better when things actually work out. I will long remember how it felt to sit together there by the water, a mirror of memories of the forests that tower. We have been through a lot together in these 9 weeks. It has been an experience of a lifetime for us all.

I’ve started to list the things I will remember most about each trip and each base camp. I try to scrawl the notes at night before my eyes shut all too quickly as soon as I’m horizontal. The notes are just spatterings of moments and memories I’ll expand into the book I want to write. At Klag, I treasure silence. The quiet, broken by sounds I won’t hear again for a long while and never again in this way. The crackling of a fire. The wisp of eagle wings above the canopy. Odin’s big feet upon the cabin floor. The scratching of branches on my coat as I move through the forest. Boots slogging in muskeg. Surfacing sea lions. Kayaks touching barnacles. The crack of the compass case as I check my bearing. Rain upon rocks and sea. The sound of water poured into a tea kettle. The heavy breath of my friends as we stand together under a tarp in the cold. Endless chatter of squirrels and the songs of kinglets. These are sounds lost in “the real world.” Soon I’ll hold conversations while cars whiz by and subways screech. I’ll talk over twenty different voices in a café or holler over music at a concert. I may not hear the coffee fill my cup. The background noise of a city will be louder than any central one I have noted here all summer. I am going to miss simple sounds. Here at Klag, I want to hold onto the echo of bull kelp crawling with the tide.

Trip 4: Klag Bay. The cabin with deep history. “Vacation week” in comparison. A wood burning stove. Wet polypro and wool drying by clothesline. 4 pairs of extratuffs puddled together. The sweet smell of yellow cedar burning. The way the bunkbeds squeek as we crawl in and out. Odin’s eight egg flip at 6:30am. The excitement in his eyes to cook on an oven after all these weeks. Snacks, endless snacks from carepackages in Sitka. Creek girgling outside. Steam rising from coffee mugs. We watch rain fall through glass. A strange, unfamiliar divide between inside and outside. The way the light shines in from the window facing south. Oddly enough, reading Cadillac Desert on the plywood floor. Paul’s first salmon. YAhoooo from the distance. Sauna night. Cold bodies in fresh water. Bucks upon beaches. Dense canopies and all live cedar forests. The “savannah” hike – shore pine muskeg and 360 degrees of open bog. Our hardest pummeling by rain. Last plot, most trees we’ve seen in one spot ever. Western hemlock and yellow cedar, oak ferns and cedar seedlings. Paddling through the passage, morning and night. The clunk of the kayak rutter upon slithering snakes of seaweed. The way Odin and Paul evenly divide the tasks of Plot 40, as if to admit no one quite wanted it to end. Last quadrat. Last big tree. Last canopy photograph. Last tree core.

On other pages of my journal I have kept notes for methods, excerpts from the study I’ll use to share my science. We’ve kept a log of “Wilderness Character” together thoughout the summer. We log planes that fly above or trash we find or any signs at all of human activity our here. It’s an effort part of a national initiative to monitor our Wilderness lands and how they have evolved since our country put these places aside when the Wilderness Act passed. Alongside science and field notes of plots, distances we’ve hiked, and charts of all the locations where climate sensors will collect data for the next year, I’ve also started to think about life on the other side. What home is. Where I go next. What that will be like.

I made a list of things I want to do, or create, and things I hope for on the other side of the outer coast. Rereading it makes me realize what matters beyond my life here and this project. Outside the occasional daydream of cotton, I don’t really long for any material possessions. My list is quite short – simple pleasures like hot baths, community and friends, talking more with family, surfing, feeling the sun and ocean on my body, fresh greens from the farmers market, more hugs, slow Sunday mornings in warm bed. And then finding a way to share this experience and what I’m learning out here. I’ve thought a lot about a sense of place. As much everything on the outer coast has demanded our full attention, this past trip has also been a bit of a transition for us all. Over dinner at night, we have slipped in and out of talking about the day, to thoughts of the future. Kate says, “I cannot imagine that in 6 days I’ll be in a classroom in Berkeley.” I wonder what it will be like for me to be processing all we’ve collected this summer outside of Alaska. As much as I stay present during the days, I’ve toyed with thoughts of moving to the ocean in California, coming back this winter to Sitka or Juneau, and visiting friends in Montana in the fall. I don’t know what comes next. For the first time in a long while, I can’t seem to plan. I’ve resolved just to let things unfold as they should.

I do know that tomorrow Charlie comes back for us. We’ll pack up our things and boat back together to Sitka, towing with us the kayaks we brought out here 9 weeks ago. We’ll clean gear and drink beers, pack up tree cores for shipment and copy data sheets. Soon I’ll be loading 500 lbs of stuff on the ferry back to Juneau. I’ll have a few days to visit with friends there. Before I know it, I’ll be on a plane, a jet this time, with hundreds of other people and a roaring engine. And then I’ll be boxing up rubber pants and pulling out sundresses and trying to make sense of history, of wilderness, and of change from tattered Write-In-The-Rain paper, photographs, and deep memory.

But today, I’ll sit here at Klag and watch the tide come and go. It’s glory day again, my last one this summer season. - Lauren

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the stoic conifers

The summer is almost over; in the north autumn comes early. We all are grateful for the relatively lenient weather recently, but the evenings are feeling colder and the twilight darkens earlier every night. The trees remain green despite the changing seasons; few are as stoic as the conifers. Despite their consistent exterior, I know they suffer through the winter freezes and excite in the spring sun. I am grateful I can more fully express my range of conditions than the conifers.

The past two and a half weeks based in Ford Arm were our most challenging, both in the amount of work we had to complete and our personal capacities to handle the rigors of a strenuous field season. We had a few particularly hard days, certainly in my opinion, about a week into it. Paul Hennon and his coworker Robyn and intern Megan arrived at a crucial point, bringing valuable cargo of enthusiasm, work power, and extra food. I marveled at their clean-smelling clothes. With their help we completed all 19 of the plots we needed to measure – almost half of all the plots we will do all summer, and more than the previous two trips combined. As with meeting all challenges, success feels wonderful.

Despite the challenges, I enjoyed this trip. Our island campsite was closer to the open ocean than our other sites deeper in Slocum Arm and allowed us more sea mammal sightings; both sea lions and sea otters became regular companions. Sea lions seem to congregate in groups (pods? prides?) and raise their large bodies partially out of the water to get a better view of us in our kayaks. The first time we encountered sea lions I watched from shore with angst as four large lions rose above the surface and rapidly approached Lauren and Kate’s kayak. The lions soon submerged and returned to the others, huffing and slapping the water. Sea otters hold their babies to their chests as the float on their backs and eat crustaceans and other creatures from the sea bottom. Our boat captain Charlie blames the return of otters (after they were decimated by Russian fur trappers) for the decline of the Dungeness crab, abalone, and other dwellers of the ocean floor in the area.

While I enjoy the wildlife, I am beginning to intimately know the trees. After Odin and I flag out the plot boundaries, I don a worn but dapper yellow forester’s vest with lots of pockets and meet every tree in the plot. I measure the tree’s diameter, pound a nail bearing a metal tag with a number into its wood, and inspect its base for damage. I look into its crown and help pass judgment on its quality. Each species of tree has sharply different characteristics, many of which I could not begin to identify at the start of the summer.

Yellow cedars (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, in the cypress family) are distinct in many ways. Their bark is stringy and thin, unlike any other tree in the area. Its canopy is deep green, droopy, and oily-looking when healthy; yellow, grey, and thin when stressed. Most unique is the sharp smell of the wood, which remains pungent for decades after the tree dies and corresponds to the incredible decay resistance of the species. I chop into old snags with a hatchet to identify a tree that has shed its bark; only cedars show creamy yellow and that distinguished scent.

Mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) are quite similar; I cannot distinguish them by bark or wood scent or color, only by needles. Western hemlock’s shorter needles have two white lines on the under side, formed by little pores called stomata that allow air to come and go from the leaf. The soft needles on a mountain hemlock swirl around the branch, making a bottle-brush look. Westerns tend to out-compete mountains on well drained, fertile sites while mountains look vibrant on boggy and more marginal sights. Both species have flaky, soft gray bark and pinkish wood that smells faintly of vanilla and citrus, and turns reddish as it decomposes. They rot much more quickly than cedars. The biggest trees often have hooked, gnarled branches and tops, as if the burden of canopy dominance was too great a challenge to bear. After cedar, hemlocks are our most common tree.

Less frequently we find Sitka spruce (Picea sitkensis) and shore pine (Pinus contorta, variation contorta). The former dominate the productive, sunny coast as giants of the post-glaciated era. We have measured Sitkas over five feet in diameter; Lauren has been told of a site in Slocum with nine-foot diameter Sitkas. Siktas need sun and soil nutrients. When they get it they are huge, when they don’t they persist as yellowed stalks fighting for life among the shade tolerant hemlocks and cedars. Its bark forms hard, brown potato-chip shaped scales. Sharp needles swirl around the branches and leave little posts on the twig when they eventually shed. The wood smells like shore pine and I have a hard time telling the two species apart when dealing with very old dead trees.

Shore pine, conversely, is the stunted, twisted dominator of nitrogen starved peat soils in muskegs. Able to tolerate saturated roots, we see the lollipop crowns of the shore pines at our least productive sites. Rarely, we see shore pines towering above other trees, reminding us of its other variant called the lodgepole pine (latifolia variation). Shore pine has tuffs of paired needles and grey bark in alligator-skin scales. Its wood, like the Sitka spruce, smells the most like a typical pine.

Coring trees is among my favorite activities. I feel a hint of what a surgeon must feel as she plunges a knife into a patient; I pierce the heart of a live tree and extract a cylinder of its substance. Its growth rings reveal its trials and tribulations in life – many have rapid growth when young but slow as other trees begin to compete for light and soil resources. Others persist suppressed for decades, hardly growing, until an adjacent tree perishes and floods the tree with light and easier access to nutrients. Some trees have stories I can only begin to guess.

Cedar trees are the most damned stubborn trees I have ever witnessed. Cedars have the ability to die and live in linear strips. Often bears will chew at the inner bark of a cedar for the mildly sweet sap. The tree above that portion of the base will die, but the parts of the tree that are undamaged continue to support branches. At the extreme, one narrow strip of living wood supports a branch or two, deceiving the uncareful observer into thinking it dead. In the words of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, the trees are “mostly dead; slightly alive.”

Miracle MaxSee, there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Now, mostly dead, he's slightly alive. All dead, well, with all dead, there's usually only one thing that you can do.

Inigo: What's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

I hope we can post some pictures; mostly dead cedars are a case study in perseverance. Unfortunately, their ability to persist is only strong against physical damage to the bark, the reduced snowpack and freezing that damages cedar roots causes the widespread mortality we are studying the summer.

With the hardest work out of the way, I hope for relatively straight-forward and relaxed progress through the remaining four sites on our next and last trip to the Outer Coast. Inevitably, our thoughts turn towards the next phases in our lives. Odin will go to dark Fairbanks for his first term of graduate school, Kate returns to sunny Berkeley for her final term of her undergrad degrees, Lauren is guiding a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon on the 28thbefore settling in for a long semester of data analysis, and I have my ticket booked to Seattle for the 25th; my schedule is the most forgiving with some volunteer commitments on the 29th and my last year of grad school starting the end of September. We each think about what is important to us this summer, what we don’t want to leave behind. The hard times seem less difficult in retrospect. We look forward to one last week in the wilderness, in the comfort of a cabin and the company of a group of friends that might never be in the same room again. We each think about what is important to us beyond this summer, our loved ones and upcoming challenges, the uncertainties of our lives. I hope for some of the conifers' strength as we complete this project and move on through winter freezes and summer sun. - Paul

I admire each of my teammates, as strong as the conifers in many ways.

Friday, August 12, 2011

great grandfathers by the sea

Eighteen days ago I was stepping off of Captain Charlie Clark’s drop-bow skiff and onto the rocky beach of a small island at the mouth of Ford Arm that would become our new home for the next two and a half weeks. We left the dock in Sitka crazed and anxious to get back to the forest. The weather was testing us, disabling us from flying into Slocum Arm. But to our relief Charlie came to our rescue in his rusty beat up pick-up truck, which at the time and through our tired and frustrated eyes resembled a shiny black stallion ready to carry us off to his boat and into the woods.

The sea was fierce and we all swallowed down some Dramamine as Charlie charged through the outer coast swell. I chatted with him to keep my mind off the bumpy ride and soon found out that he had a jack russel terrier named Tackle. He then held up his right hand to show off a rather mangled thumb and matter-of-factly said “he bit off my thumb last January.” I think I sensed a hint of pride in his voice. I was so caught off guard that the only thing I could think of to say was “Do you still love him?” What a weird question. He replied that yes, he still loved Tackle and the recovery wasn’t too bad. A couple hours passed and soon we were off-loading our gear onto the beach of our island and waving to Charlie as he motored off into the misty white atmosphere surrounding our cove.

The next couple days were real “limit-testers”. The kind of days when you just want to give up and say “I quit!” The rain was relentless. Our hands were disgustingly pruny, our only clothes were soaked and even the “waterproof” electronics were failing us. I remember climbing into the tent after the worst of the “limit-testers” and crawling into my sleeping bag. Lauren sidled in next to me and just when I thought I was safe from the rain I touched my sleeping bag and it also felt wet. I frantically started to touch different parts of the bag and worriedly looked over at Lauren to ask “is this wet?” She touched it and reassured me that no, it was not wet but my hands were so saturated that everything I touched felt equally drenched.

The next few days the rain gods gave us a break (thanks to Odin who ceremoniously pours out a couple of drops of our precious whiskey to the earth to show our respect). The sun felt amazing and soon our clothes and electronics were the driest they had been since we left Sitka. We hiked around sans rain gear feeling the sweet but salty southeast ocean breeze on our skin (through our long undies of course) and Odin mentioned how the islands in the distance looked somewhat tropical. After a slight moment of silence we all started laughing and agreed that Odin has got to go further south sometime. The remainder of the trip was spent measuring plot after plot after plot….after plot. We really are lean mean measuring machines.

The forests are becoming increasingly interesting and exciting as we discover more and more of their secrets. We are becoming accustomed to their different structures, shapes, colors, smells, and components. The trees tell us stories and we are merely trying to understand and interpret this knowledge so that others can understand how to manage and maintain these changing landscapes. During this past trip we learned that the healthy forests have a very different story to tell than the dead ones, but they are all interrelated, and hopefully by sorting through our stacks of soggy, dirty, and torn data sheets Lauren will be able to decipher a complete history as well as some insight into the future. We encountered some of the biggest cedars we have seen yet. The great great great grandfathers of the forest. We take turns guessing their diameters and when Paul yells aloud the exact measurement we all let out one big synchronized “woahhhhhhhhh.” This experience has been so many different things it’s hard for me to come up with a clear and precise way to describe it, so for now I will just sum it all up by saying “woahhhhhhhh.” - kate

where cormorants glide above glass.

August 10, 2011. I am writing from the nest on another “Glory Day,” surrounded by what is now more than two weeks of stink. Kate is still passed out beside me in her sleeping bag. I am cuddled up to the Toughbook computer in my bag, wearing down the last bars of battery power for some writing. I am essentially sleeping in a laundry pile these days; woolies and polypro line the perimeter of the tent. Socks hang from every corner. Write-In-The-Rain paper struggles to dry out in the mesh wrack we’ve rigged up above us for data preservation. I fear they are starting to mold. I’ve got ziplock bags full of the few items that I keep dry at all costs – batteries, storage cards for my cameras, letters and postcards I am in the midst of writing to friends and family, and a few others I have received and still carry with me to read after a hard day. Rain drops hit the roof top in the usual patter patter ping ping.

Today we will savor sweet Glory Day. For the past two trips now, we have worked harder than one could understand without experiencing. Paul Hennon says I shouldn’t even try to explain. We pushed it even a little further so we get a glory day at the end – one full day to ourselves, free of the demands of finding plots, climbing and crawling, and measuring trees, and free from the chaos of Sitka. Returning to the “real world” is always something to look forward to for showers and food and catching up on life beyond the outer coast. But it’s always accompanied with logistics, lots of running around to fix broken things and restock, unanticipated news from family and friends, and missing things we don’t have out here. Whatever unfolds can be a lot to take in, especially when we just have forty-eight hours to recoup and what we really need to do is simply rest. I’ve come to realize I can never know what to expect when we hit full communication again. So on glory day we revel in the beauty of the outer coast, sleep late, sip coffee while the salmon jump, and nothing really touches this day. The boys are packing up to hike “Block Top” – the mountain we’ve named across Slocum Arm on the Khaz Peninsula. When Kate surfaces from her cocoon, we’ll load up the Whale to paddle to the little islands that scatter the coastline as Slocum Arm fades into the ocean. I want to look for glass balls from the old fishing boats and watch cormorants glide above the glass.

We are thirty-six plots down and only four to go. It seems that anything can happen here, and whenever we get confident, some new challenge suddenly emerges. So I don’t want to jinx us. But I am absolutely blown away with what we have accomplished thus far. And I’d say barring bear attack, broken legs, and impassable weather (sorry mom, these are all slim but notable possibilities), it looks like we are actually going to pull this off.

Everyone told me this summer plan was ambitious. I didn’t quite know what that meant until I was deep in it. There have been waves of doubt and endless moments of discomfort juxtaposed with those filled with growth, accomplishment, and camaraderie. There is one grey morning I remember quite well this trip. It had been raining so hard that everything was starting to fog and malfunction. I was putting foggy GPS units in my pack in the pouring rain at 6am on Day 2 thinking “we still have so far to go, we won’t make it like this.” It was the one morning all summer when I actually voiced any doubt. I generally find anything worth doing in life is accompanied by doubt. Yet voicing it, or focusing too hard on hesitation, tends to cripple what would work out otherwise. If I only acknowledge doubt briefly and put one foot in front of the other, it becomes a mere blip in the past. So I try not to let my mind entertain any of that too long in anything or anyone I pour my heart into. But that morning, I was huddled under the tarp pouring coffee and muttering, “Guys, if it keeps up like this I don’t know. It just may not work.” Everyone was silent. Silent for at least a few minutes. “I mean, it’s only day two. My camera in the drybag is totally fogged.” Odin finally broke the enduring lull, “It’ll shift… We can do this.” That afternoon the sun came out for 3 hours. We scattered electronics on the ground beneath the dead trees to let condensation form and then slowly slip away, like a distant memory of old problems and road blocks.

I also gave up counting on planes this go around. The waffling weather poses too much of challenge to the mission, and I have had to learn quickly to be flexible and make decisions minute to minute. I am eternally grateful for Charlie the champ. He rallied from the docks in Sitka on moment’s notice, making the long run through the narrows, out to the coast, and around the Khaz peninsula to get us back on track. We’d been stuck eating omelets and waiting for planes for too long. “Tell me what you need, and I’ll getter done.” He told me on the phone. “I just need to get back to those trees, Charlie.” He asked for five minutes to check is gas levels. And ten minutes later we were pulling six hundred pounds of gear from the float plane and shoving it all in his rusted old truck. He threw me the keys to another car nearby to pick up Paul, and less than half an hour we were gone from stuck to Slocum.

For the past two weeks we have been camped on this little island that strattles the space between the calm, protected waters of the Arm here and the wide open coast. Bears can swim, but I chose this spot to give us a bit of a breather from the last one where grizzlies wandered down from forests to fish the creeks near camp. There is little here to entice a bear our way. We haven’t seen any in camp this trip. Instead we are surrounded by birdsong, where still live cedar forest meet ocean coast. And every night, I am awakened every few hours by the sounds of sea lions surfacing – the “pffoof” gasping they make as their heads bob up for air. Humpbacks seeking protection from the open waters have journeyed past a few times, and I caught the glimpse of one orca fin, a little teaser for the pod that must have accompanied below. There is a rocky pier we use for radio check-ins, sat phone calls, and rock fish jigging. Fresh fish in pasta has been latest treat after “family fish night.” The skies let up, pink sunset shifted in, and we passed our one rod around to reel in some protein. Kate and Paul brought home the bacon.

My birthday was filled with simple pleasures. We slept until 7:30. Instead of waking up and sliding into wet rubber and wool within minutes, I lay in the nest for half an hour with the ipod, ignoring my battery rations for the trip. In fact, it was a rationless day for all. Paul said, “Everybody wins on birthday day!” Extra cheese slices and chocolate. I had planned for us to explore a live forest that day. I wanted to spend my 30th under a full canopy, amidst the quiet open of a forest still thriving with cedar. In the live forests I find I am more present, and I tend to ponder the future – what will happen next. We measure the stress of the wise old cedars, and I wonder how long they’ll hold onto their green. I am no bird biologist, but I see a clear pattern of marbled murrelets that scatter the waters around us when we go to measure live stands. They skip and dive across the water like stones. We seldom see them near the dead forests. In the dead I tend to feel some loss – what once was there, what might have been, which species won out and which did not, what we miss no longer there now. That’s no good line of reflecting on life lessons for anyone to start year 30. So we hugged live cedars, walked amidst oak ferns, climbed the roots of giant spruce trees and basked in what we now consider the leisure of measuring just one plot in a day. To top it off – Paul Hennon and two new friends dropped in to help out for a few days. Our pilot buddy in Juneau surprised us with a 24 pack of beer. We ate pasta with fresh veggies and watched embers smolder on the rocky beach over Raniers. Over the days that followed, we doubled our work power in the good company of friends.

The team agrees -- we are lean mean measuring machines now, well in the groove. Standing in Plot 40 is going to be a flood of emotions for us all. We are quite a family now, and I feel fortunate to say I somehow managed to end up with the dream team of a field crew. There’s a lot I am going to miss about our time together. Charlie returns for us tomorrow, picking us up in the same spot where he left us seventeen days ago (and for me a year younger). We’ll transport our kayaks north to the last spot, where we will measure just four or five plots in live forests after a couple days rest in Sitka. We will be spoiled by the comforts of a cabin there, built long ago by the grandfather of a dear friend of mine in Juneau. We’re calling it “vacation week” – swapping bear boxes for better food and looking forward to coming home to a cabin with a wood stove. I can’t quite believe there are no more dead forests for us to survey this summer.

Every now and then I have visions of coffee shops and warm sunny days entering data between surf sessions and bike rides back in California. I can’t imagine that reality, but it will come. And I’ll be there savoring sunshine, missing the fog here and the way the thick white clouds settle into the hemlocks, spruce, and cedars in the Chichagof Wilderness. It’s kind of crazy how life works that way. - lauren