Saturday, August 29, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 3

July 30, 2009

My bed was very clean and comfortable (I was also very, very tired!) The air was cool – almost too cool,- as at one point I shut the window above the bed. I enjoyed the sound of Moose Creek tripping over the rocks & stones, and the smell of alder wood fire from the gazebo. The sky never did darken, just remained that dusky haze.
Morning started with a breakfast of hot oatmeal with raisins & brown sugar. Other choices included French toast, sausage, cold cereals & toast, bagels & pastries.

At 9:00 A, I joined others in a casual hike with our naturalist guide, Erick. We headed along the botanical trail, being introduced to local flora & fauna. One plant, labrador tea, was a pleasantly pungent sage aroma. We stopped at some structures erected to measure snowfall – 4 feet is not unusual. We were introduced to Widow’s tea (Monks’ hood) – named so I suppose due to its toxicity & legend of sourdough women serving it to their abusive spouses. I said earlier that Labrador tea had a sage fragrance – I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate – it’s a distinct, lovely fragrance & our guide indicated that’s the fragrance of the tundra. I wish there was a way to record that wonderful feeling it provides the senses.

I witnessed “lichen” (spelling mine, pronounced ‘liken’) and heard about “Freddie Fungus and Annie Algae” who took a liken (lichen) to each other, and now their marriage is on the rocks… must be a biologists’ inside joke. Horsetail grass which has a course texture (can be used as a scouring pad). Balsam & poplar trees – of course Alder wood, which is prolific. Bluebell/Oyster leaf which tastes like green beans to most, has a fish, “oyster” taste to some; Siberian yarrow which looks to me like Queen Anne’s Lace (only smaller – has a medicinal quality).
We visited Fannie Quigley’s cabin & heard of rugged survivalism & how she cooked & sold meals to the prospectors, how she managed to develop a gardening system by which boxes were elevated so as to achieve a soil depth above the frozen tundra floor. (perma frost).
We checked out a stretch of Moose Creek which housed a huge beaver lodge … or at least did earlier – seems the beaver ran out of a viable food source & abandoned his lodge. The lodge and dam stretched beyond the eye’s visibility.

We then headed out into the tundra. The ground covering under our feet was spongy moss. Imagine walking on a giant inclining sponge Erick pointed out blueberries & the difference between them & similar looking “crow berries”.

He challenged us to identify a plant known to eat mosquitos – calling it a round-leaf sun-dew. One member of our party correctly spotted & identified it, and so was rewarded with home-made chocolate chip cookies which she shared with the group. Erick then pointed out “cloud berries” (also known as salmon berries, for their color) which flourished along the floor. We sampled them with enthusiasm.

Walking back, he pointed out signs of visiting moose; prints along the trail which he thought to be relatively fresh. He pointed out a pile of moose skat, which he said was “winter skat” Of course I wanted to know what made it “winter’. As opposed to any other skat. In summer, moose diet is wetter – lots of foliage, so their skat looks more like a cow paddy. But in wither, when the snow covers the ground, their diet consists of sticks & bark. I now know more than I’ll ever need to know about moose skat .
We returned to camp just minutes before lunch, which was a great buffet of two delicious soups ( I had cream of seafood soup that was FULL of salmon!); ample breads, meats & cheeses for sandwiches; several fresh salads, chips, desserts and assorted beverages. A most fulfilling morning.

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