Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy New Year!

Long nights, late sunrises, and early sunsets present a wonderful opportunity for little-ambient-light photography. It’s such a pleasure to wait for a sunrise at 8 or 9 in the morning, late enough to sleep in till 6 and have a cup of freshly brewed tea before heading out.  A fresh breeze, a new blanket of snow and the star-dusted sky has greeted me in the mornings over the past several weeks. Seven and a half years of living in Juneau, Alaska and I still often think how lucky I am to have ended up here. Walking outside my front door, being greeted by towering mountains, bald and snow covered on top, thickly lined by trees at the bottom. Little ambient light noise lets me see the thousands of stars above my head and an occasional dance of aurora borealis, spectacular and mysterious in its beauty.


A ten-minute walk from my house puts me right in downtown Juneau, with its uniquely  disharmonious and unappealing architectural styles outside of the historical center. The white snow and the darkness of the night cover up many of the blemishes. Lurking through the darker streets with an old wooden surveyor’s tripod (thanks to Art Sutch for letting me borrow it, after I broke mine a week ago), looking for interesting combinations of lights and shadows. Crispness of the cold in the air. The last time I checked, it was 15° F in Juneau, 3° F in Anchorage, and – 30° F in Fairbanks. Happy New Year, everybody!


Governor’s Mansion: The Exodus

In the spring of this year, I mentioned how much lovelier the Governor’s Mansion (in Juneau, Alaska – the state’s capital) looked now that Sarah Palin has moved in. Even the Anchorage Daily News posted my comment on their website. Well, the honeymoon didn’t last long. For the past six months, Sarah Palin and her cabinet have been residing in Anchorage, as are most of the State of Alaska commissioners.

As I was walking past her mansion on Friday night, I couldn’t help but notice that even the grand entrance is no longer shoveled free of snow.

The Full Moon

It was a rare combination in Juneau – the full moon and clear skies. Such an opportunity for night photography was hard to pass – a chance for a photo of the moon reflecting in the lake by the glacier. I drove to the Mendenhall Glacier after work and walked out to the lake… I forgot it was December in Southeast Alaska, when lakes are normally frozen. Moonlight sparkled in the snow over the whole lake, with no sight of open water for the moonlight to reflect in. As I was walking back, I saw the Big Dipper hanging low over moon-lit Mt. McGinnis, which flanks the east side of the Mendenhall Glacier.


I did get a couple of shots of the  moonlight reflections in the Gastineau Channel next to downtown Juneau.



Cleaning Up

Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage is dotted with islands, large and small, many only a day of paddling from each other. Some of them are within an easy reach of Juneau, making kayaking a popular activity here. A number of locals have lobbied to get a few of the more popular islands protected from development, and on June 4, 2008, the governor added 14 islands around Juneau to the Channel Islands Marine Park, the state’s system of marine parks.

Although these islands require an effort to get to, they still see their share of junk and trash accumulated along their beaches. Tides, currents, waves and wind deposit remnants of commercial fishing and boating – nylon nets, rope, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic containers – whatever floats, along their shorelines. People who flock to these beaches  sometimes leave their trash behind – cans, camping and picnicking leftovers, shotgun shells, tarps. Some trash makes me wonder how it even finds its way to these small islands – airplane tires, tractor engines.


In August, Carol Anderson of Turning The Tides, a Juneau-based non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about ocean issues and to promote ocean-friendly practices, clean-up efforts, waste reduction and sustainability, organized a beach cleanup of several of the nearby islands. About 10 volunteers on two boats spent a beautiful sunny, warm day collecting trash from beaches of Lincoln, North, and Benjamin Islands.


Of course, collecting other people’s trash might be a feel-good effort, but it wasn’t our treasure and is not a solution to littering. Plastics, even though they break down to smaller pieces, will theoretically linger forever, as there is no natural mechanism for them to decompose into basic elements. In the process, some release toxins that mimic or disrupt hormone pathways, among other negative effects, potentially leading to an increased chance of cancer. Avoiding use of disposable plastics – bags, water bottles, containers, forks and spoons – is one part of the solution. Not littering is another.


The Hooligan Camp

It has been a while since I have updated my photo blog. This summer has been a bit crazy for me and I have not done as much photography as I would have liked to. However, the hiatus is over and I am back in business. I am shooting again and will be updating this blog regularly, hopefully weekly, except for a month-long trip to NYC in January ’09. Here’s a catch-up of my summer adventures.

Berners Bay is a jewel of Southeast Alaska. Located just 45 miles north of Juneau, it is a picturesque small bay, accessible by kayaks and boats from the end of Juneau’s road system. Not only is the bay and its system of rivers an important spawning area for several species of fish, it is also a favorite recreational area for many Juneaunites. But, like so many pristine areas that are not far from population centers, it is threatened by a proposed road that will snake around it, and a near-complete mine that will tower on its East side.


Every spring, around the end of April – beginning of May, Berners Bay bursts to life with an explosion fueled by small and inconspicuous-looking fish. Returning from roaming the ocean, these fish enter Berners Bay and go up Berners and Antler Rivers to spawn. For just two weeks, what follows needs to be seen to be believed. The back of the bay, the delta area of two small rivers and sandy intertidal beaches, usually very tranquil and relaxing, explodes with thousands of sea gulls descending on the fish as they enter the rivers. Dozens of seals and sea lions follow the fish towards the sandy shallows of the rivers’ deltas, where they are out of the reach of orcas that also come in for a snack. Humpback whales show up in greater numbers than usual, often being the first and the last to greet a human visitor to the bay.

The culprit of this explosion is eulachon. Also known as hooligan, Thaleichthys pacificus, are an anadromous (living in saltwater and spawning in freshwater) species of smelt. They are so rich in fat when returning to spawn, if dried and lit, they will burn like candles. In fact, their high fat content is the reason they are so sought-after by so many birds and other animals. I can attest that they are very tasty to people, too, lightly fried or smoked.


I was graciously allowed by Pete Schneider, a U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist, in charge of the Berners Bay eulachon study to join their field camp for several days during the eulachon run the past spring. I was hosted by two U.S.F.S. field biologists, Chad Hood and David Beatley, who worked out of the Hooligan Camp on a bank of Antler River, trapping, measuring and tagging the fish caught in three traps along the river. Although this year’s run was small, the experience gave me a greater appreciation of the importance of these fish to the whole Berners Bay ecosystem and provided me with a couple of photography projects I will be exploring over the next year.