steller's jay

"...summer days so white and full of subdued lustre."


The sun came out, and it's not kidding around. For the first time in the nearly two weeks I've been here, the clouds completely retreated and the sun has shone unabashedly all day. I was also lucky enough to be reading John Muir's Travels in Alaska out in the sun, and he describes the Alaskan summer climate in a way that truly captures what it's like to be here.
The most remarkable characteristic of this summer weather, even the brightest of it, is the velvet softness of the atmosphere...The clearest of Alaskan air is always appreciably substantial, so much so that it would seem as if one might test its quality by rubbing it between the thumb and finger. I never before saw summer days so white and full of subdued lustre. (Muir 35)
Muir definitely has a handle on the feeling caused by the heavy, moist air, cool enough not to feel humid, but warmed by the sun into a deliciously comforting, airy blanket. And, of course, if it gets too hot while you're out studying on the dock, you can always stick your feet into the glacier-fed waters of Auke Lake.

Once again, the view across Auke Lake, this time without a single cloud to obscure one iota of the craggy peaks in the far distance. The giant scale of the mountains can make them look closer than they are, but the telltale haze of the Alaskan climate should help you realize both how huge and how far away that mountain is. The glacier you see "just behind" the trees in the middle of the pictures is about 6 miles off, but even when you're standing on the glacier, the mountain still looks just as distant and hazy.

Today provided some nice lighting for pictures, so on the left is a closeup of a Steller's Jay. This one is a little bit scruffy and dirty because he was preening when I photographed him, but he did let me walk practically up to him for the photo, so you can't blame him.

Below is Cornus canadensis, the Bunchberry or Ground Dogwood.

I don't believe I've mentioned the giant raven sculpture in front of the library. Well, there you go, a giant raven.



This is where I read and wrote for a couple of hours today. Despite the brightness of the day, the northern sun, filtered as it is through the heavier air, just doesn't hammer on the skin and the eyes the way the summer sun of more southern climes might. Sunglasses were nice to have, but sunblock was unnecessary (though I don't burn very easily anyway).


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Registration Day

I woke up at 6:50, local time this morning and went for a run around campus. There's a nice loop of about 3 miles that runs down from the student housing, around towards the bay, and back through the classroom buildings. My housing is up on a hill, which makes the end a bit brutal, but it was fun anyway.

Right downhill from the dorms is Auke Lake, which is glacier fed and therefore probably quite cold. It's about 60 degrees in the air, so it certainly looks inviting to swim, but I imagine the water is in the 30s somewhere.

Moist air comes off the ocean and gets pushed up the mountains, so the water in the air condenses into clouds. That's what makes the climate here so damp and rainforest-esque. That also means there are basically clouds sitting on the mountains most of the time. You get enigmatic and frustrating glimpses of the mountains, which are, frankly, inspiring. The clouds give the whole thing an exotic and mysterious feel.

This is the view from the road by Auke Lake.

I finally saw two birds we don't get out east. There were a male and a female Varied Thrush, who were too skittish for me to take a picture of (a 3x zoom just doesn't allow you to get birds very well), and a Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon morph), of whom I only got a tiny snapshot. The picture doesn't prove what he is, but I did get a good look at him before he went into the underbrush.

This is the view from the main driveway into campus. You're looking out across Auke lake. The tiny blue-gray spot in the center of the photos, in between the mountains is a glacier. I think it's Mendenhall glacier, but I'm not actually sure, since there are two major glaciers here.

Closer crop of the view from the driveway - the glacier's much more visible here.

Same view, different angle. See what I mean when I say the clouds are both frustrating and beautiful?

This is the view from the parking lot of the student housing. That's my dorm on the right.

This is another shot from the road below the dorms. It's less rainy than yesterday and you can get a better idea of the snow-capped peaks rising into the clouds. 
The sun broke through for a little bit this AM, but not long enough for me to get any pictures...it was actually just a big hole in the cloud cover that went directly over for a while. Just as the sun was going away again, I caught a quick picture of this Steller's Jay.

There was a big welcome meeting at around 5PM at which the administrators and faculty introduced themselves. It seems to be the thing here to tell visitors grisly (their pun, not mine) stories about bear attacks. Comments like "no maulings yet this season" and "don't poke the bears" abounded. Then dinner, then a little reception, after which a bunch of us headed out to the local bar, which was just chock-full of local color. I didn't take any photos because I figured the comment about not poking bears applied to the locals too. A bald eagle flew across the bar parking lot as we arrived (remember, it's full daylight at 9PM). By the time the bar closed at 1AM, it was practically dark out. The sun sets around 10:15, but it stays dusky for a long time after that. We rather brightly decided that striking out through the forest in order to cut the corner of the road was a good idea, so we were a bit bewildered and muddy by the time we got home.


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