Flowers to me, particularly wildflowers out in the wild, present some pretty solid evidence of some sort of greater power in the world. When a person really investigates and examines the structure of flowers and learns about the coevolution of flowers and the creatures that pollinate them, it seems to me that there is some greater thing going on there more than just the passage of an unimaginable amount of time and some slight genetic mutations that work better than others and are therefore selected and passed along to future generations of the organism. There is magic in the world, magic in the sense that there are so many unexplainable mysteries out there and flowers, to me, represent this magical realm. Agree or disagree, it don't make no never mind (what up Alabama folks!), I hope you enjoy the magic of these wildflowers currently blooming here in my part of the world.
I'll start it off with lupines which are one of the largest, conspicuous and easy to identify flowers here in the hidden gem. There are several species of lupine and they grow from sea level just above the tide line to the windswept rock gardens of the alpine ridges.
This is Indian Paintbrush, another easily identifiable flower and one that is usually found with lupines on grassy beaches.
There are not many brown or brownish-black flowers out there so this guy is also very easy to identify. It is most commonly called a chocolate lily but is also known by the name black lily or rice root as its small bulbs or corms look like rice and are edible.
These are some really pretty fuzzy flowers from a plant called buckbean. Buckbean is a common aquatic plant that grows in muskeg pools.
A couple of different violets there. The top one is a yellow wood violet, the bottom is an early blue violet. The flowers and leaves of violets are edible and could make a colorful addition to a salad, particularly a salad of wild plants! Violets are also interesting in the fact that their seeds are released through a sort of explosive mechanism. Another interesting folkloric tidbit, there was a belief that wearing a necklace of violets would prevent drunkenness. If someone out there tries this and finds it successful, please let me know!
Yellow marsh marigolds
The flowers of one of the most poisonous plants in the area, baneberry. Sounds dangerous!
These last two flowers are called invasives or non-native but are still attractive. The top one is a Robert geranium, the bottom is one that we all know and love to hate, the ubiquitous dandelion.
One of my favorite plants commonly found here in the temperate jungle is Oplopanax horridus, or Devil's Club. Devil's Club is a very appropriate name for this beautiful horrible plant as one can easily imagine some damned soul being eternally scourged with it by some sadistic and cruel demon. Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at this.
These are just the biggest and most obvious of the spines that cover this plant. These are woody spines found on the stem of the plant which rarely break off into your skin, just puncture it like needles. There are also smaller, more delicate spines that do penetrate the skin where they then break off and lie in wait to cause you pain and discomfort many hours and days later. Every part of this plant, the woody stem, the leaf stalks, and the leaves themselves have spines that hurt, except the roots, they are the only spineless part of the plant. This is the cactus of the rainforest.
I have honestly become very fond of this plant, to me it represents just how rugged, wild, and difficult this part of the world is. Devil's Club grows in more open areas where the sunlight can actually penetrate the forest canopy and can grow to over 10' tall while never getting any bigger in diameter than a half dollar. This results in a plant with a long stem with a lot of spring and given the fact that Devil's Club tends to grow in fairly dense thickets, it has a sinister tendency to smack you on some part of your body when you least expect it, step on one stem and another one that you didn't notice will whack you across your T-shirt clad back! Devil's Club is also very good at being the only available usable handhold when you are climbing a steep forested slope and only the thickest of leather gloves can armor your hands against its woody spines. The softer, more delicate spines can actually be much worse than the big, obvious ones. You usually don't feel them enter you and only realize they are there hours later when you feel a sharp, piercing pain. These things get in deep somehow and are nearly impossible to extract unless you know the proper technique which I will share with you so that you know what to do should you ever encounter this plant. The proper technique for removing these insidious little things is to suck it up and deal with their discomfort for 2-3 days until they begin to fester slightly then you can easily squeeze them out. For real. This is what I have found to be the best anyway and it gives me great and sadistic pleasure when those little hairlike spines pop up out of my skin.
I started that paragraph by stating that I was fond of Devil's Club didn't I? I truly am which may give some disturbing insight into my personality. I have hiked so many miles in this jungle now that only the densest of Devil's Club thickets makes me alter my course and I carry my Devil's Club spines and scars as a badge of timber beast pride! And, picking out those little spines over the next several days gives a person something to do if you get bored!
I may have given a bad first impression of Devil's Club but it is also a beautiful plant as you can see from the above photo of a fully grown leaf. The leaves can get quite large and have a very attractive symmetry somewhat like a maple leaf. I have always thought that some sort of Devil's Club leaf design would make a cool tattoo. Devil's Club may be so well armored and protected due to its wealth and value as a medicine and food source. Devil's Club is related to ginseng and has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of medical issues like arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, dandruff, digestive issues, menstruation issues, colds, tuberculosis, and many other things. It is used as a tea, poultice, and salve. Putting a Devil's Club stem above your doorway is also supposed to keep evil spirits from entering your house and seems to work as I have not had a single evil spirit in my house since putting it above my door. The plant also has pretty red berries later in the year which are also edible and are an important food source for some animals especially bears. Devil's Club also has a very distinctive and pleasant smell. This plant is truly, truly a natural wonder.
Just a few photos from an evening King Salmon fishing trip last night. A fishing trip but unfortunately not a catching trip. The return of King Salmon is predicted to be pretty bad this year and the state fish and game managers have put a very restrictive limit on them. This means potentially lots of hours trolling waiting for that burst of adrenaline when you see the rod jerk and hear the line getting ripped off the reel. That time does present one with an opportunity to commune with friends, enjoy the scenery, take some photos, and drink some beer. (I'm not sure it is possible to fish without drinking beer, I hear that it is but I'm skeptical)
It has been a rather cold and rainy spring here in the hidden gem and has felt more like autumn than spring. Yesterday evening was particularly autumn-like with a thick band of fog down on the water, thick enough that I had to use radar for a bit to get over to the fishing spot safely.
Fog is interesting in the way that it can cancel out a person's sense of direction and speed so completely. It can also create some interesting perspectives of the world.
To be honest, this won't be too much of a bear blog, more of a random series of photos from the last week or so. There are a couple blurry bear photos though and one of a wolf from a bear hunting trip that I did with a couple friends two Saturdays ago. An unsuccessful bear hunting trip I'll add so anyone who thinks hunting bears is bad can be at ease! I'm not much of a bear hunter but would like to get one nice spring black bear to have as a blanket in my attempt to keep things as natural as possible. I did make 3 more attempts to get the bear I mentioned in the earlier post about whales but only saw him once and wasn't able to get close enough for a shot. I think a future blog post will be about hunting and my thoughts regarding it as I know there are some people who disagree with it or feel that it is unnecessary or cruel. There truly is a spiritual and deep connection to nature and the animals being hunted that comes with hunting them.
This was one of 4 brown bears we saw on that Saturday bear hunting trip. It was a small bear that was only about 20-25 yards away from us when we first saw it. It didn't see us for a minute or two so I was able to get out my camera and get this not so good picture of it before it saw us and ran away.
This bear was small enough that I was initially concerned that there might be a mother bear nearby but fortunately there was not! There were 3 of us humans there and we were all armed with big caliber rifles but I still prefer to not encounter a mad mama bear, mostly for my own safety but also to avoid any need to hurt or kill a bear just doing what she should be doing - protecting her young. It still amazes me how quickly bears will avoid conflict and confrontation with humans given that they could so easily rip us apart. The strength and speed of a bear is just incredible! I love the constant state of heightened vigilance a savvy person should have when in bear country. Everyone should feel like potential prey occasionally to keep the world in proper perspective!
This is one of two wolves that we saw several hundred yards away. I will never get bored with seeing wolves, every tine I have seen one is a special experience. I am an unashamed wolf proponent although many of my fellow Wrangellites and hunters still have a personal policy of shooting them on sight using the reasoning that the wolves kill too many deer and moose. My thought is that they kill just the right amount of these animals and until my fellow humans live in the wild 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and have to kill their food with their mouths, we should give them a break. I have had 3 wolf encounters that stand out in my mind, all in the Wrangell area.
The first of these memorable encounters was on a large grassy salt marsh in a tidal estuary where I saw 17 wolves at one time! They were stretched out over several hundred yards crossing the grassy area into the timber and was obviously a pack with individuals of varying ages. I was in the area moose hunting at the time so quickly knew that my moose hunting plan had been dashed by their presence but I was still happy to have had this encounter. Later on that same day, I discovered sign of wolves chasing a cow moose with a calf in the sand of a dry channel of the river. There was one area with moose hair scattered all over the ground which was churned up and disturbed where the cow moose obviously was fighting off the wolves. I saw no traces of blood and was able to follow the moose and calf tracks to the river where they entered the water and must have swum to the far shore and escaped.
My second memorable wolf encounter was on a trip up the Iskut River which is the largest tributary of the Stikine River and is just a few miles across the border in British Columbia. Two of us were in my 16' jet skiff on our first excursion up the Iskut which is a very fast flowing large river in the middle of the wilderness. As I was navigating the channel, I noticed some splashing in the water right on the shoreline of the river ahead of us on the right side of the river (or river left for you paddlers). I saw that it was an agitated cow moose frantically running back and forth along a short stretch of the river bank. I then noticed two smaller animals swimming across the river toward her in front of us and thought that they were two moose calves. One was a moose calf but the other was a wolf in close pursuit of it! The moose calf was calling out and swimming hard but so was the wolf. The river current was very swift so the smaller animals were swept downriver from the cow moose causing her to go up into the forest where I lost sight of her for a few minutes. The bank of the river was fairly steep and very rocky which presented a significant obstacle to the moose calf, the current and the rocky, steep bank made it impossible for the calf to clamber out onto the shore. The wolf had no such problem and quickly got out of the river a short way downstream of the calf and then began trying to find a way to get to the calf. While the calf couldn't get out of the river, neither could the wolf get down to the calf so for several minutes there was a dramatic standoff with the calf bawling and struggling against the current and the wolf searching for a way to get the calf. While this was happening, the cow moose reappeared on the river bank upriver from its calf and the wolf and then re-entered the river and was quickly swept passed her calf and the wolf. When she realized this, she quickly and powerfully swam to the shore and got out once again but was now a hundred yards downriver from her calf and in a spot where she couldn't see it. She was not happy with the situation at all and then went back into the forest. Meanwhile, the calf and wolf standoff continued until the calf swam back across the river to the far side, the opposite side from its mother, and got out and ran into the forest. The wolf watched the calf swim away and then it too disappeared into the forest on the same side of the river as the cow moose. Then this incredible story we were fortunate to witness was over. We didn't see any of them again and have no idea what the outcome was.
The third encounter happened in 2015 on August 1st which is the first day of our deer hunting season and is the only reason why I remember the date! My friend Beth and I were hiking and deer hunting on one of my favorite islands in the Wrangell area, Sergief Island up on the Stikine River delta. It was a beautiful sunny and warm day on the delta so we were just leisurely walking through the thigh deep grass of the salt marsh along a slough leading back out to one of the main channels of the Stikine River when I saw 3 small wolves run across the sandy bank of the river channel out of sight behind the river bank. They were wolf puppies in that gangly, leggy, goofy stage of puppyhood and didn't seem to have noticed us at all as they romped by with each other. Just moments later, I saw a full grown wolf running by us in the grass about 50 feet away. This adult wolf's course put Beth and I between it and the puppies who were still somewhere in front of us on the riverbank. The adult went about 50 yards and then stopped and turned toward us and began barking just like a dog! It didn't bark kind of like a dog, it sounded just like a big dog and if I hadn't been watching it do this, I might have mistaken it for a domestic dog. While we were being barked at by the adult, I turned back toward the river where I had last seen the puppies to try to get another sighting of them. I couldn't see them but could hear some faint whining coming from some willow bushes and moving further downriver from us. When I turned back to the adult barking wolf, I saw something truly cool and unexpected, the wolf was standing on its hind legs! The height of the grass was such that we could only see the wolf's head and face and the very top of its back when it was on all fours but now I could see its chest! It must have been trying to get a better view of the area to determine where the puppies were and what our intentions were. We didn't want to disrupt this wolf family too much but neither did we want to end this amazing encounter so we started walking in the direction of the puppies and put some willows between us and the adult wolf which kept barking and began to keep pace with us on a parallel course just on the other side of the willows. We never saw the puppies again but periodically could hear whines from various parts of the willow thickets which seemed to be angling toward the adult wolf. Eventually the adult stopped barking, we heard no more puppy whines, and never saw any of them again!
This is an example of an estuary of a small river at low tide. This is a river valley about an hour and a half from Wrangell where we saw the small brown bear and the wolf in the photos above. At high tide, the majority of the land seen here would be covered by water and you could bring a shallow draft boat into the estuary.
Alaska's state flower, the forget-me-not, is in bloom.
Just a few okay sunset photos to fill out this post.
Willows against a beautiful blue Stikine River sky about 1 mile from the Canadian border.