One Man's Paradise

A Day in the Life of an Artist

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I was fortunate enough to be designated driver for an artist in residence, who came to visit the Arctic for a week. The Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks sponsored for the first time this year an artist to visit and work for a week in the Coldfoot area. Kelly Ann Sheridan from Idaho Falls was chosen as the inaugural artist.

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Kelly used a variety of paints to create impressions of the Brooks Range. It was amazing to see how she created subtle hues of green and blue from a limited palette of base colors. Painting in the outdoors in the Arctic had its own challenges. The mosquitoes were merciless. The light and mood of the scenery would change rapidly. In the end it was all good.

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The finished results of her short visit to the Arctic may be for sale at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, AK or on her website.

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One Man's Paradise

The Arctic

“A land of enormous geometry etched by the cutting edge of light. Implacable, raw, elemental, beautiful and threatened.”

T. H. Watkins

A picture-perfect day at the North Slope. 140 miles of undulating hills covered with wet tundra until the Arctic Ocean. This is the place that unimaginable herds of caribou crossed in the spring to give birth to their young, to escape from the mosquitoes and to find summer feeding grounds. Come fall the migration pattern reverses.

Musk ox and arctic foxes roam this place that looks so innocent on a warm and sunny day. It will turn into a frigid, wind-blown freezer that only a few species can tolerate and even thrive in.

This place needs to be experienced with all senses. A photograph does not do it justice. It will serve me as a reminder of  a summer north of the Arctic Circle.

 

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One Man's Paradise

The Brooks Range

“As I walked for hours beneath the stupendous grandeur of the mountains, I felt humble and insignificant.”

Bob Marshall

Bob Marshall explored the Brooks Range in the 30s. It was his life-long goal to find true wilderness. Only natives and a few miners had ventured into the Brooks Range before that. He described his adventures in Arctic Travels. Between his matter of fact observations he sprinkled a few remarks like the one above.

I was able to hike a day here and there into this remote mountain range that comes as close to true wilderness as it gets.  There are two native villages to speak of Anaktuvuk Pass and Arctic Village, and a few hamlets like Bettles, Coldfoot, and Wiseman. All in all less than 1000 folks living along the 700 mile long stretch of mountains that is crossed by just one road, the Dalton Highway.

The remoteness and ruggedness of these mountains has helped to maintain its wild character. Gates of the Arctic National Park covers the central part of the Brooks Range. In most years it is the least visited national park in the US. Isn’t that interesting?

The picture above was taken from the top of Sukakpak, with Mt. Dillon in the foreground.

 

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One Man's Paradise

Where Days and Nights Unite

It’s been a while.

Life above the Arctic Circle has been amazing and exhausting at the same time. There has been an abundance of daylight since I arrived in the Brooks Range in June. The days have blended into one long period filled with constant change. After a long winter the reemergence of life seems overwhelming. I almost feel like there is no time to rest. Every week a new set of wildflowers appeared, wilted and went to seeds,. Berries are beginning to ripen, and the end of summer is approaching fast.

I have seen musk ox, caribou, fox, and lynx.

I have climbed mountains, crossed the tundra, and waded through rivers.

Today, is the first time I find the time to post a picture and collect some thoughts.

The picture was taken near Galbraith Lake at one o’clock in the morning.

More to come.

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On the Road

Drive – Eat – Sleep

I have been on the road for the last how many days? Here are some of my blurry memories, inspired by Karin Hesse, Aleutian Sparrow

Montana

The coal trains are running day and night. Where does the coal go?

Alberta

Oil and gas. Prairie and mountains. The first mosquitoes, oh no.

Extreme wildfire danger, already? It looked very dry…

British Columbia

Supernatural, indeed. Gas prices that made me weep.

Yukon

Bears, black and brown, mostly single bears, one sow with two cubs, one lone grizzly, moose, bison, stone sheep, dall sheep, bald eagles, a fox, coyotes. Not to say the world is intact up here, but there is a lot of wildlife to be seen from the road. Some lupines and butter cups where flowering.

Alaska

Welcome home. I got the stinky finger right away and was cut off, when I did not exceed the speed limit. There is so much space and so little traffic. It must be an Alaskan thing. I also had to take a class in Defensive Driving for my new job. Why me?

Nevertheless. The coastal ranges are stunning, if you care for remote and rugged mountains. It is end of May, there is still snow in the mountains. Nature is just awakening, in a hurry. Shiny new green leaves everywhere.

I am glad when I can park my car and not drive for 3 months. Peace.

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Conservation

Y2Y

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Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon


I did not know what Y2Y was until I discovered “Walking the Big Wild” by Karsten Heuer. As a young man, Karsten decided to travel from Yellowstone to the Yukon Territory by foot, ski, and canoe, following the trails of grizzly bears in the most rugged and remote ridges and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. This epic trip was in support of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative raising awareness for the need of wildlife corridors.

The establishment of wildlife corridors is a recent concept in wildlife conservation. Here is my current understanding how we got this point. National parks were created more than 100 years ago for the enjoyment of the people. We decided what that enjoyment was. In places like Yellowstone it was to protect the unique thermal features from human development. In Yosemite it was to protect the valley and the surrounding mountains from settlers, ranchers, and farmers. Some wildlife was also considered part of the enjoyment, such as bears and elk. Bears were fed and bear cubs were kept as pets and shown off by park personnel. Elk herds were considered great assets for a park to have. However, the initial mission of the national parks was not to protect wildlife. Wolves, for example were exterminated by hunters, trappers, army, and park rangers in Yellowstone National Park. By 1929 the last wolf had been killed in the nation’s first park. Apparently wolves were not considered part of the enjoyment at that time.

Over time studies by Aldo Leopold and Adolph Murie convinced park managers that predators are essential parts of intact ecosystems. Wolves were protected, even reintroduced, against much objection from a number of stakeholders, mostly ranchers. It was assumed that setting aside 2-5% of our lands for national parks would be sufficient to create small islands of “undisturbed” lands, which could sustain intact ecosystems. That number was later revised to 25% and up, which was never going to happen. There is no tolerance for national parks of that size. Not in a time, where for the first time the size of national monuments is reduced per presidential decree.

As an alternative to super parks, wildlife biologists suggested to create corridors, where wildlife can safely travel between protected or suitable habitats. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is one if those efforts to create a network of parks and connecting corridors that provide suitable wildlife habitats connecting otherwise isolated populations and thereby preventing local extinction.

Karsten Heuer’s book is not just about the adventure of hiking, skiing, and canoeing for more than 2200 miles in what’s left of the Rocky Mountains wilderness. During his trip he gave presentations to the public and the press about the purpose of his walk and the intentions of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative. You can imagine the kind of reactions he got. You may also be surprised how much appreciation and support there was from landowners, locals, and hunters.

The Y2Y Conservation Initiative was founded in 1993. Karsten completed his walk in 1999. 20 years later the program is still going strong. There have been ups and there have been downs. In 2004, Y2Y was recognized by the Canadian Geographic Society with a silver medal. Some parks were expanded, a lot of land has been developed. Reserve networks have been proposed in other states, such as New Mexico, Oregon, and Florida. Unfortunately, it appears we are just (2018) about to loose the last herd of caribou in the lower 48s. For them, it was too little, too late. This is the world we will be living in: land development and other human activities reduce the habitat required for sustaining healthy populations of wildlife. What was present in large abundance in the past, can be seen now only in parks and reserves. Tomorrow, you may have to visit a zoo, or go to your library and read about it in books…

The work is not done. I can only recommend this book. If you like it, there is a follow-up adventure: “Being caribou”. The author and his wife spent their honeymoon following the great caribou migration in Alaska. I would suggest, read the book first, then watch the amazing documentary.

If you want to follow up on the ongoing work of the Y2Y initiative please visit www.y2y.net.

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Note to self

Crossroads and Intersections

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“I see myself at crossroads in my life,
mapless, lacking bits of knowledge

then, the Moon breaks through,
lights up the path before me…”

John Geddes


Well, I definitely see myself at crossroads, not just a simple right or left turn. My map is full of intersections, highways and dirt roads. The problem is, which one to take. I know, the destination is not the important part, it’s the journey.

Maybe the Moon will shine tonight and tell me which way to go.

That’s the beauty (and dilemma) of seasonal work. Once the season comes to an end you have to make changes to your life. Move, idle, work? Search and choose…

I seem to be content with changing things up. After a couple of structured months with responsibilities for others and work schedules, leisure seems attractive. Then, after enjoying the great freedom for a while, a daily routine does not appear that bad.

Not working is not as easy as it sounds. The question of a purpose in life comes up. Once you have a work schedule that issue seems to be clouded over. With a lot of free time, it pops up.

Obviously, I have to much time to think…

I am probably going with Robert Frost. Have a great weekend, y’all.


The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

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