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

No comments:

Post a Comment