Archive for Alaska

New photos of the day

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , on January 21, 2014 by polarguide

I decided to get outside with my camera again today. side my last post the sun has not shown itself.  We have been hunching under the weight of low clouds and shouldering into the driving rain since christmas.

The wind and rain stopped today and the temperature floated at a balmy 45 degrees.

The tide was high late afternoon so I decided to take the camera to the beach and try to capture some reflections on the water with some motion blur. Here they are:

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beach34-2I used a really slow shutter speed to give the ocean a ghostly appearance. I used a cable release but somehow still have motion blur on the still objects so they are all a little soft. Im going to go back out tomorrow and try to do them again. with a even a small amount of sun the water will glow with color but the added light might make a slow shutter speed impossible.

 

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My job

Posted in alaska, antarctica, icebergs, photography, sea kayaking, travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2013 by polarguide

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I have a unique set of skills that don’t lend themselves to consistent employment.  As a result my life is diverse and adventurous. I can’t always predict what will come next and I like it that way. I flow from one season, one country, one job, to the next. Like the tide rushing in to meet land again, then retreating slowly, floating away every stick or stump that has been ditched on the beach by the tide before, for the sake of memory, then abandoning them again on some other distant shore.

Sometimes it feels very insecure.  I don’t make much money and I travel often. This strains my relationships and sometimes makes finding work more difficult. People are less willing to commit to me personally and professionally because they know within a few months I will be leaving. That lack of commitment goes both ways.

I have been a massage therapist for fifteen years.  Massage makes up at least fifty percent of my annual income.  I have worked at sports clubs, fitness centers and chiropractic offices from philadelphia to Alaska. I’ve done massage while sailing through Beaufort 9 storms on ships in the Norwegian Arctic, through the legendary northwest passage of the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica.  Surprisingly, massage has carried me across the sea to some of the most remote parts of the world.

I have been a wilderness expedition guide for almost as long as I have been a massage therapist. In the summer I guide mainly sea kayak expeditions into remote parts of south east Alaska.  Guiding has allowed me to experience and learn things about the natural world that I always dreamed of as a child and gives me the opportunity to share and teach. It allows me  to follow another one of my passions, wildlife photography.

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Paddling below Mt. St. Elias. Wrangell St. Elias national park, Alaska

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Wrangell St. Elias national park, Alaska

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Me and co-guide Ken with our guests in front of the Guyot glacier.

I recently received my captains license. In between sea kayak expeditions  I captain a thirty foot aluminum boat named Taurus, that acts as a water taxi, delivering people to remote parts of south east Alaska.

The Taurus, loaded with kayaks and ready for a water taxi run.

The Taurus, loaded with kayaks and ready for a water taxi run.

My job working on a ship in Antarctica is the only place where all of my random skills, Massage therapist, kayak guide and boat captain, are unified. I suppose you could say I become complete, in a very narrow sense.

It takes two days for our ship to sail from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. During those days at sea I’m the massage therapist on board the ship.  I offer a variety of massage modalities to the passengers to meet their relaxation or pain therapy needs.   Arriving in Antarctica we offer two excursions off the ship each day to view amazing landscapes and exotic wildlife.  Passengers have the option of  going to shore via inflatable zodiac or going on a sea kayak excursion through the icebergs.  On these days I split my time between kayak guiding and zodiac pilot.

The Akademik Ioffee in Antarctica

The Akademik Ioffee in Antarctica

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Kayaking through a snow storm in Antarctica

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Zodiac cruising among giant ice bergs in Antarctica

Intertwined with all of this work and travel I am slowly building a home.  for years it’s been my dream to buy a piece of land and build a small home, myself.  Paid for out of pocket, no debt.  I have begun to realize that dream, all my spare time and money is dedicated to seeing it become a reality.

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I’m feeling the need to consolidate my skills and contain them geographically. This gives me sense of peace and anxiety.  The thought of being less diverse and less mobile is unappealing.  Continuing on my current course seems unsustainable.  I’m at a cross road.

More than once in my life I’ve steered into what felt like a dead end, then navigated ninety degrees from everything and everyone in my life.  Its hard to do, but it has its rewards.    Im not looking for anything that drastic now.  Its time for a change, but not a sea change.

I have never been fully conscious of  exactly what motivates me, only that I am motivated.  My best  perspective of the past is found by exploring where I am today.  The consequence of my motivation is in league with coincidence.

I need to meditate on the genesis of my motivation. Distill all of this experience and crystalize it into what comes next.

To fly or not to fly

Posted in alaska, antarctica, bears, guiding, icebergs, photography, Uncategorized, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , on November 1, 2013 by polarguide

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I could be on a plane right now.   I could be on a plane flying south.  South to South America, to Uruguay and Argentina and then further south to Antarctica.  But I chose to stay in Alaska for the winter.

Alaska for the winter or Antarctica for the summer.  Or both, simultaneously. I feel indecisive about my decision. I feel like a paradox.

Work is slow, money is tickling in and flowing steadily out.  Heavy grey clouds,  good food and the company of friends make me feel at the same time comforted and discontent.  I have too much time.  My mind is too idle. The days are growing shorter. Lying on the couch, lying in bed, from the tin roof  the slow rain applauds my apathy.

Its the money.  And the work.  The work and the money, That’s what I fret about most.  Work keeps my mind busy, I would work for free if I had money.   I don’t give two shits about money, never have.  I just need to pay the rent and for food, and my teeth.  I broke two last week!

Winter is coming.

Summer is sweet in Alaska, with all its sun and whales and endless work.

Winter is slow and dark, its a vacation from summer.

I like fall best.

The fall wind and rain justify laziness.  Hunting and fishing and friends  I haven’t seen since spring because we were working all summer. Then a blanket of quiet dark lays across the top of the world as winter snuggles in for the season.

Still, It would have been nice to hop on that plane heading south to south america. By now, I would be in Montevideo eating octopus in the mercado del puerto.  A few days more I would be in Ushuaia stuffing my face with asado.

By this time next week I would be a sailor again, rolling over waves and fighting through storms on the drake passage heading to the  worlds most remote continent. I spent a few hours today mulling over my photographs of Alaska and Antarctica, trying to find a common feeling. Trying to somehow make sense of these two polar opposite portions of my life. Trying to find an emotional bridge or a rational connection.  It sounds strange but I couldn’t.  It’s as if I am two different people living one life or vice versa.

I Put together a few of the photographs I took this summer at home in Alaska, and a few from last season in Antarctica.  I chose pictures that were characteristic of each place, from my perspective.

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Large small scale building projects

Posted in alaska, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2013 by polarguide

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Summer finally arrived after a winter cold May and Early June that transformed into the sunniest summer we have seen here in years.  I have moved over to my summer home in Gustavus Alaska, where I have begun construction on my cabin.  Its been a dream of mine for a long time to buy a piece of land and pay for all the building cost out of pocket and design and build my own modest home. After years of thinking about it, it seems a bit unbelievable that I am actually doing it.

The property I purchased is in a small village in South East Alaska called Gustavus. Nestled in the forest at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus is not an island but it has no road access and is only reachable by boat or airplane. The population  hovers around three hundred people with an increase of one or two hundred more in the summer.

Building in this remote place is challenging but not without its rewards.  Having never built anything in my life the financial and geographical obstacles were intimidating, but once I saved enough money to buy some building material I just threw myself into the project and four weeks later I have made more progress than I thought would be possible. Along with the foundation of my cabin I have built confidence and no longer see the project as overwhelming.  I see the progress I’ve made and  can plan the next stage and even visualize  the completion of the project.

The first obstacle was money and the cost of buying building material.  All the building material in gustavus has to be brought in on a barge, so I have kept the size of the building small to reduce the overall amount of material needed.  Not only is there no road to the town of Gustavus but there is also no road that leads to my property.  This is the second obstacle,  all the material must be carried to the construction site through the forest, another reason the make the structure small.

So far, I have dug a foundation that I put on pier blocks.  Carrying concrete to the building site to pour a foundation was really not an option.  the floor of the building rests on 4″ / 6″ pressure treated lumber raised 12″ off the ground and knee braced with 4″/4″ pressure treated posts.  The deck will be completed with 2″/10″ joist and 3/4″ plywood. It looks like this:

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I purchased the land 3 years ago with my friend Zach. Together we purchased a Yurt. we share the yurt as a communal living space while we each build our own cabins on opposite ends of the 3.25 acres of land.

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gustavus-9We are completely off the grid.  No electricity, we catch rain water for drinking and we use a wood burning stove to heat the yurt.  Between building I am guiding 8 to 10 day kayak trips.  I leave tomorrow to start trip, it will be at least a week before I can carry back more lumber and start the next part of the project.  I hope to have the walls up and roof on by the end of August.

Little Runners

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2013 by polarguide

My friend Zach is an elementary school phys-ed teacher.  He called me early yesterday morning and asked if I could photograph a school event that he organized.  It was a 5 kilometer (three mile) fun run and every child at the school was participating ( over 500 kids) from kindergarten to 5th grade.

I don’t remember much about my kindergarten days but I’m sure I never ran three miles just for fun.  Every child was smiling as they left the starting line and they were absolutely beaming when they crossed the finish line.  It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining.  It is late spring in most of the northern hemisphere but here in Juneau, AK the leaves have only just begun to bud, and the tulips have not yet bloomed.

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Its nice to see adults dedicated to getting children out side and active.  I’m sure all these children are typical kids who watch television and play video games but when adults set a good example and make it fun they inspire the kids.  Every child, be they a jaded adolescent or a sweet innocent kindergartner will find joy and excitement at participating in something as simple as running. The proof is in the faces of these children.

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Mommies and teaches joined the race making it a real community event. I had a great time watching the kids have fun and I got some entertaining new photographs. Zach was appreciative and that made me feel part of the event even thought I didn’t run.

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Apathy or ardor

Posted in alaska, photography, travel, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by polarguide

Its that time of the year again, when after returning home from months of travel, work and adventure I have trouble motivating to do anything.  This in between time generally involves lounging on the couch drinking too much coffee, talking to my self or speaking out loud to people who aren’t present. I pace. I suffer with intermittent episodes of insomnia.  It seems the more free time I have the less organized my mind becomes and finding one thing to focus on is hopeless.

Its hard to feel inspired to photograph when I have hundreds of files full of thousands of pictures from Antarctica that I still have not organized. I have snapped only 150 images this past month. I feel photographically congested.

So this year I decided to take a new approach.  I quit the coffee.  Coffee scatters my pattern of thinking. It causes my thoughts to reel down uncharted paths that lead my mind no-where.

Also, I started a strict vegetarian diet. No eggs, cheese or dairy of any kind. Ninety five percent of my diet is fruit and  hearty colorful (mostly organic) vegetables and lots of beans. Once a week I have a meal of fresh salmon or halibut caught by local Alaskan fisherman  or deer meat that I shot and butchered myself. I also joined the local gym and I try to work out everyday.

During this phase of my year I usually hole up in my apartment for weeks at a time, rarely answering the phone and experiencing mild anxiety about spending time with friends while simultaneously feeling sorry for my self, wondering why no one ever calls me.  Lately I have been trying to socialize more. My new strategy has been to actually answer the phone and when someone invites me on a hike or to a dinner party instead of mumbling an incoherent  excuse, I bite my lip and say yes.  So far the results have been quite successful and I am remembering that I actually do have friends.

This past week I said yes twice. The first was to an invitation to go on an overnight sailing trip to Saint James Bay with three other friends.  We had a great trip with some real life adventure when we nearly flipped the thirty five foot steel hulled sail boat completely upside down. Luckily, no one was injured.  The second yes was an invitation to a simple walk on the beach on a sunny day with three lovely ladies. Here are few snap shots from both events.

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Kayaking in St. james Bay

Kayaking in St. james Bay

St. james Bay

St. james Bay

Dall's porpoise exhaling

Dall’s porpoise exhaling

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

It seems silly to lament these things, these journeys into the heart of apathy are a necessary rest period.   Soon it will all change. Three more weeks and my sea kayak guiding season begins, then I will be on the move for another three months and life will be a parade of new people, wilderness adventure and wildlife photography.

The bears in my life

Posted in alaska, bears, photography with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by polarguide

I have been wanting to post a blog about bears.  Now that summer is long gone and the first few inches of snow have covered Juneau I assume the bears have made their way to high ground.  To Burrows and caves where they will slumber away the cold dark winter.  Then yesterday a friend texted me, she was on the road out side of my apartment on her way to meet me for dinner, “Bear between me and you” she wrote.

Just when we thought it was safe to put our garbage out, the bears remind us that they have their own agenda.

I thought I would share some of my favorite bear photos from the last few seasons.

Black bear, Glacier Bay National Park

I photographed this Black bear in Skidmore bay, in Glacier Bay National Park.  It was early morning, we had just kayaked out of camp and found this guy eating Barnacles on the beach at low tide.  This is an incredibly sharp image considering It was a cloudy day and I was shooting from a kayak.  I took this photo in early june, its amazing how fat this guy is so early in the summer.

Brown bear near Point Adolphus

I photographed this Brown bear at Point Adolphus, on the northern shore of Chichigof Island. We had our camp set up less than a mile to the east of where I took this photo.  Several people told me they had been seeing a young Brownie hanging out in the area and I was hoping to get a photo of him. I also took this shot from my kayak.  It’s a little soft but I like the colors and the Devils club leaves add nice texture.

Brownie with pink salmon.

I caught this big girl with her two cubs on the Anan river near Wrangell, AK.  She caught fish after fish by sitting in the water and waving her paws around until a fish bumped into her,  then she would snag it.

Polar bear, Spitsbergen.

I was test driving a new Zodiac off a small group of Islands in Spitsbergen, Norway.  Spitsbergen, also know as Svalbard, is a Norwegian territory north or Norway above the 75th parallel. I traveled to Spitsbergen with One Ocean Expeditions, working as a Sea Kayak guide and Zodiac pilot.  This day, while test driving the new motorboat I was fortunate to find this beautiful young bear alone on the beach.  I spent an hour observing and photographing this exquisite creature. this is one of my favorite shots.

Two Polar bears and the Monaco Glacier, Spitsbergen.

A short time later I came upon these two Polar bears. Again I had the extraordinary opportunity to photograph two incredible creatures with the magnificent Monaco Glacier in the background.

Though there may be a few restless bears still skulking around the streets of Juneau, photographically speaking its time to put the big bruins to rest. Time to move on to other subjects. As the northern Polar regions cool and snow and ice hush the frozen landscape, I begin my migration south, to the austral summer and Antarctica for more amazing photographic opportunities.

I have my tickets, I leave for Ushuia, Argentina on the 5th of November. I’ll keep you posted.