Frost sparkled on the picnic tables at the Alaska Geographic Field Camp in Denali National Park and the thermometer still read 30 degrees Fahrenheit even though the sun had risen four hours earlier at about 3 a.m. In pairs and trios, 10 women bundled in puffy coats and winter hats emerged from tent cabins tucked into the white spruces and converged on a small yurt where Susan, our Alaska Geographic naturalist, had just brought out the coffee.
An eagle was soaring over the ocean as I pulled into the parking area at Eagle Beach north of Juneau, Alaska. After grabbing my camera and notebook I hurried over to the white-haired man dressed in a naturalist's uniform of fleece jacket, hiking pants, and a big backpack with tripod hanging off the side. As I reached my hand out to introduce myself, I noticed that his beige baseball cap had a hummingbird on the front.
The Tongass Highway wound north out of the remote town of Ketchikan, Alaska. To my left, rocky beaches and protected coves showed themselves through a light mist. To my right, densely forested hills climbed out of sight into the fog. Just before the northern terminus of the Tongass Highway, I pulled into the small loop road of Settler's Cove Campground.
Bliss. It was warm enough to wear shorts, but the mosquitoes hadn't hatched yet, and the spring ephemerals were blooming. Days like that are rare in the Northwoods. So I kidnapped Mollie, the Cable Natural History Museum's new curator, to show her Juniper Rock overlook on the North Country Trail.
Emily Stone Warm days in early spring are just delicious. In the Northwoods, it is a rare delight to walk slowly through the warm woods. Fall and winter require a certain amount of movement to keep fingers and toes warm and summer hikes are often chased by mosquitoes. There is one brief period, though — after the sun has strengthened, the wind has mellowed, and chilly nighttime temps are keeping the bugs at bay — when you can saunter comfortably.
It's been a long, snowy winter, but when a rainbow of bees invaded the museum it started to feel a little bit like spring. The bees aren't living of course; they are larger-than-life photographs that make our exhibit hall feel alive. We owe big thanks to Sam Droege at the USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab who has taken all of these photos and made them available to the public.
Fresh snow highlighted every twig, and more flakes floated down as we hiked through the Rainbow Lakes Wilderness Area on the North Country Trail. This intrepid group of women calls themselves the NCT Navigators, and they meet almost every Monday (when the mosquitoes aren't out) to hike a section of trail. Most of them have completed the trail's 100-mile challenge. Most of them are retired, too, and I count myself lucky to fit in a hike with them even a few times a year.
Awooooo! My best impression of a wolf howl rose over the crunching of snowshoes and little voices. Gesturing to the group of third graders from the Hayward Intermediate School, I invited them to howl back. The choir that responded sounded nothing like wolves, but it was music to my ears nonetheless. So was the expectant silence that followed, since these kids were wise to the fact that I'd howled to get their attention.
It was late in the afternoon by the time we'd completed the scenic drive through Yosemite National Park. We'd been distracted by the looming face of Half Dome, panoramic views, lunch by a sparkling stream, neon green wolf lichens and the sweet, butterscotch scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pine bark. My cousin Heather and I had already visited Yosemite on previous trips (separately), though, so we pushed eastward toward a new destination.
The last bit of rare solstice sunlight glimmered through barren trunks and across unmarked snow drifts as I clipped into my skis. A few puffs of clouds caught the rays and turned pink against a gold and lavender sky. The highest boughs of a white pine grove glowed warmly despite the chill, and I glowed warmly, too, as I kicked up the first steep hill. As the sinuous trail swooped through glacial hills and mature forest, my stride became a joyful rhythm.