The still air was heavy with moisture as I hiked up the Harding Icefield Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park outside Seward, Alaska. Dense clouds hung low and fingers of fog crept up the valleys. It was typical weather for a temperate rainforest, I kept reminding myself, but gloomy all the same.
Many hands helped push, pull and stabilize the hollow metal pipe and its plunger until a cylinder of mud extruded from the far end like a gritty line of decorative frosting. A slick coating of soupy mud had spewed out of the equipment as we lifted it from the water and now obscured the outer surface of the sediment core from the eager eyes of six geologists crowding into the tiny inflatable boat.
Katie Spellman's left eyebrow arched into an exclamation point above the wide frames of her glasses. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic," she said. The room full of educators and youth leaders from rural and indigenous communities around Alaska and the Lower 48 chuckled in agreement. This eclectic and passionate group of people had converged on the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) from Alaskan communities north of the Arctic Circle, down on the Kenai Peninsula, and from the town of North Pole.
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.