Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birdwatching in the Yukon

Here is a list of some of the birds we almost certainly did not see in the Yukon but which The Yukon Bird Club insists are to be found there:
Cackling Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Common Loon
Eared Grebe
Northern Harrier
American Coot
Lesser Yellowlegs
Wandering Tattler
Red Knot
Ruddy Turnstone
Little Stint
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
Red-necked Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Glaucous-winged Gull
Red-legged Kittiwake
Northern Saw-whet
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (I kid you not!)
Western Wood-Pewee
Say's Phoebe
Northern Shrike
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Magnolia Warbler
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Lazuli Bunting
Hoary Redpoll
Pine Siskin

Always a Local Angle

In 1968 I was in Anchorage looking for a summer job and also for a way to avoid the adulthood seemingly implicit in having graduated from the University. Word spread through the small hostel where I was staying that a nearby bookstore had free doughnuts and coffee. With my usual gift for decorum I was down there in a flash, downing beignette after beignette. The occasion for the freebies was that a Republican candidate for senator was signing books he had "written" with a ghostwriter.

What I knew about Alaska politics was that in 1964 its distinguished Senator, Ernest Gruening, had been one of only two Senators to vote against Lyndon Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The Resolution was a response to reports of North Vietnamese attacks on the destroyer USS Maddox. It quickly became clear that the reports were false, but the Resolution, authorizing Johnson to fight the Vietnam War, was not repealed until 1973. To me, a Berkeley Bolshevik, this made Gruening a hero. Sadly the voters of Alaska thought otherwise.

I had assumed that Gruening had voted "no" both out of conscience and also because he had a safe seat. Running against an incumbent with a safe seat is the definition of a crank candidate. That is who I assumed the Anchorage businessman with the fake book and the real doughnuts was.

Out of curiosity and to draw attention away from just how many doughnuts I was downing, I got into a conversation with the would-be Senator. Which quickly became a debate. It was and is my judgment that I easily trounced the candidate on every issue we discussed. He was sputtering. I knew well enough that I was a 21-year-old loudmouth fresh out of college, and that anybody who could not handle me easily did not belong in any elected position, let alone in Washington. But doughnuts are doughnuts and they were on his tab, not mine.

The election was won by a Democrat who beat Gruening in the primary, Mike Gravel. On December 11, 1968 the other Alaska Senator, Bob Bartlett died. On December 24 the Republican governor appointed Mr. Doughnuts to the remainder of Bartlett's term.

His name was Ted Stevens. He is now the longest serving member of the US Senate, formerly the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, currently its ranking Republican, and has just been indicted on corruption charges.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I am pleased and amazed that I am able to have this good a summer at 61 years old.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Boy Who Cried ".....

I feel like the boy who cried, "beautiful!" once too often and lost his credibility with the villagers. I have written and spoken so glowingly of the scenic delights I have ridden through that I feel I can scarce be believed when I tell you that Kluane in southwestern Yukon is by far the most beautiful. The St. Elias mountains are Canada's highest and arguably most beautiful. Lake Kluane is a preternatural aquamarine, apparently because of suspended glacial flour, or perhaps dissolved minerals. Lake Louise and nearby Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta are similar. The latter two are justifiably visited by millions annually, and Lake Louise has a famous hotel on its shores where the Queen stayed. Kluane Lake in the past few years has acquired a nice RV park/campground on its shores (where I write) and is driven past by thousands, visited by perhaps hundreds.

I suspect that the disparity is due to the relative remoteness of Kluane and to the shortness of the summer tourist season. The area is not without recognition though. The Canadian Parliament has made it a National Park and UNESCO has made it a World Heritage Site.

From my tent I have a view of a beachfront of purple-violet Yukon fireweed and an almost oceanic lake of shocking aquamarine. At sunset, around 11 pm, the sky was violet and the clouds getting the last rays were burnished gold. It was a good day.

There are two of us. My traveling companion, whom I met on the road in British Columbia, is Florent Prisse, a 24-year-old Swiss architecture student who will start school in Lausanne in September. He is genial, strong and fit, and a formidable mountaineer and outdoorsman. He is however a neophyte bicycle tourist. I have been bicycle touring for 30 years and know all about it. We get along surprisingly well. His English is quite good, vastly better than my French.

We expect to emplane in Anchorage, he for Geneva, I for San Francisco, the first week in September.