Greetings from Girdwood!

June 28, 2009

Girdwood (population 1,794) rests at Mile 90 on Seward Highway, nestled between Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest. It’s home to the fabulous Alyeska Resort, which must be insanely crowded in the winter. I’m renting a room in a cozy condominium literally at the foot of the slopes! Potential visitors, take note: the Food Network named local restaurant the Double Musky Inn’s pepper steak the best in the U.S. (I’m still a vegetarian, though!)

I spent my first few days settling in at AWCC, meeting my neighbors, visiting information booths along Seward Highway, and configuring my mail at the post office. Of course it’s no surprise to those who know me well that I also scouted out the Girdwood Library. Its hours are a little spotty, but I’m happy for the unexpected opportunity to check out DVDs and books with my $10 Anchorage Municipal Libraries Non-Resident membership. I’m also fortunate for the über-thick sleep mask Maggie picked out with puffy black padding underneath the eyes. How curious it is to fall asleep before the sun sets!

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Waterfalls to the Left of Me, Mudflats to the Right: Seward Highway

June 27, 2009

National Geographic Traveler ranks Seward Highway among its top twenty drives of a lifetime. The National Scenic Byways Program designates it an All-American Road. This two-lane highway south of Anchorage runs along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, and even on a rainy Tuesday its spectacular views caught me stopping for pictures about every ten minutes. Mountains literally meet the ocean, and the highway snakes along the same level as the sea. I even saw snow falling on the distant Chugach Mountains! The banner atop my blog is a photograph from a gorgeous sunny day along the stretch from Girdwood to AWCC.

My silver PT Cruiser!

My silver PT Cruiser!

A lovely view!

A lovely view!

Mudflats in Turnagain Arm... I will write more about its extreme tides soon!

Mudflats in Turnagain Arm... I'll write more about its extreme tides soon!

Portage Lake on a sunny day near the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center... the lake still has some giant floating icebergs left over from winter!

Portage Lake on a sunny day near the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center, where giant icebergs still float left over from winter!


Mountains in my Rearview Mirror: Anchorage

June 27, 2009

For the past 104 years Fairbanks has hosted the Midnight Sun Baseball Game on June 21. Alaska receives more than nineteen hours of daylight in the summer, and on the longest day of the year the Fairbanks baseball field has no need for artificial lights.

I landed in Anchorage on Monday afternoon, June 22, the day after the summer solstice. After gulping an espresso and browsing through the airport’s information center, I hauled my three bags with two hands to the taxi stand and arrived at Enterprise downtown. Within a few hours’ wait, my economy-size reservation upgraded to standard due to a car shortage— Enterprise is completely sold out until July 2.

My most anticipated part of the entire summer was this very afternoon— taking the rental car on its first drive. I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I zoomed in upon the layout of Anchorage on Google Maps from my dorm room in California. I memorized all its major streets— such as Northern Lights Boulevard and 4th Ave— which definitely helped me acclimate to the city immediately.

Fortunately, I was thrilled to find myself comfortable behind the wheel, in a driver’s seat with one large cigarette hole. I easily navigated through Anchorage, which reminds me a lot of Saginaw, and discovered Boston’s restaurant for a cheap pizza topped with defrosted Alaskan lobster. That night, I made my final phone calls to friends and family— as there will be no AT&T tower to provide reception in Girdwood.

The next morning I stopped by the post office, printed some graduation pictures at D&M One-Hour Photo on the corner of Arctic and 36th, downed a double espresso at Kaladi Brothers, and toured the largest REI I have ever seen. Most excitingly though, I spent nearly two hours grocery shopping at CARRS-Safeway, and signed up for a maroon discount card with the white state of Alaska on the front. I’m really looking forward to cooking for myself this summer, and thoroughly enjoyed hunting for nutritious, healthy foods on a very tight budget. Choosing olive oil was tricky, I splurged on fresh parmesan cheese, and didn’t even think about the singular $3.69 avocado.

Now it’s off to Girdwood. Armed with Middlemarch, personal finance books, Planet Earth, Photoshop, and plenty of creative writing exercises, I should be able to avoid cabin fever during these long and bright Alaskan nights.


Marmots and Snow in June: Mt. Rainier National Park

June 27, 2009

We spent a glorious day hiking through Mt. Rainier National Park! The highlight for me was viewing three marmot pairs emerge from their burrows into the snow.

Two prepared girls!

Two prepared girls!

So much snow at Paradise!

So much snow at Paradise!

During our earliest hike I felt like Lucy exploring Narnia for the first time.

During our earliest hike I felt like Lucy exploring Narnia for the first time.

Francisco, Maggie, and I brave the snowy "trail."

Francisco, Maggie, and I brave the snowy "trail."

Can you find the marmot on the right? It was such a treat to observe these creatures... I'd never seen one before!

Can you find the marmot on the right? It was such a treat to observe these creatures... I'd never seen one before!

Crossing glacial water on the way to Carter Falls!

Crossing glacial water on the way to Carter Falls!

Carter Falls

Carter Falls


Seaplanes, Ferries, and Mist: Seattle

June 27, 2009

A week before flying up to “the last frontier,” I visited my cousin Maggie Smith in Seattle. After years of childhood summers digging in the sandbox in our ruffled polka-dotted bikinis, it was surreal and a little bit bittersweet to see Maggie dominating professional life in her business suit! Following three celebratory weeks of pub nights, champagne toasts, commencement weekend, and farewells, I was relieved to spend the first few days away from Stanford sleeping and reflecting upon my college graduation. Somehow California’s landscape has felt abrasive to me, and I took comfort in Washington’s ocean, sailboats, and lush evergreens. Seattle reminded me of Sydney with its beautiful homes sprawled around Puget Sound on tiny islands and peninsulas. I’m grateful for Maggie’s thoughtful hospitality, and very happy for the time we spent together— no longer as little girls selling homemade bracelets in front of our grandmother’s house, but as young adults.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls

The Space Needle

The Space Needle

The Space Needle

Atop the Space Needle: What spectacular light at sunset!

Atop the Space Needle

Atop the Space Needle

Seattle Public Library

The Seattle Public Library

Pike's Place Market: Home of calla lilies, root beer honey sticks, flying fish, spinach lemon herb fettuccine, and the first Starbucks!

Pike Place Market: Home of calla lilies, root beer honey sticks, flying fish, spinach lemon herb fettuccine, and the first Starbucks!

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market jumbo lobster tails!

Pike Place Market jumbo lobster tails!

Pike Place Market calla lilies

Pike Place Market calla lilies

Aboard the ferry to Bainbridge Island

Aboard the ferry to Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island marina

Bainbridge Island marina

Bainbridge Island roses

Bainbridge Island roses

Seattle upon return: What gorgeous light!

Seattle upon return: What gorgeous colors!

Seattle upon return: Again, what great evening light!

Seattle upon return: Again, what great evening light!

• Smith cousins, this one’s for you: A Wild Cherry and Coke 7-11 Slurpee on our last night together!

Smith cousins, this one’s for you: A Wild Cherry and Coke 7-11 Slurpee on our last night together!


Summer 2009

June 25, 2009

In January 2004, Nature magazine released an explosive study asserting that by 2050, 15-37% of the 1,103 animal and plant species the nineteen authors examined will be “committed to extinction” if anthropogenic global warming persists. Stanford conservation biologist Terry Root estimates, “We’re standing at the brink of a mass extinction in which probably 25% of the world’s species will be extinct by 2100.” She continues, “If there are between three and ten million species— no one knows for sure— that’s a lot of species to go extinct.” How many of these will be animals? The 2008 IUCN Red List, the most respected inventory of endangered and threatened species, catalogs 10,955 creatures currently affected by climate change, habitat loss, unsustainable fishing, pollution, disease, or invasive species.

During my graduation weekend in mid-June, I was disappointed that the majority of messages focused on the importance of saving humanity. While I believe in improving the lives of those less fortunate, I would like my role in this world to be to strive to make our planet a better place for all its inhabitants— humans, animals, the air, the mountains, the sea. I don’t want to limit my phenomenal education to forwarding our race, but instead work to conserve and protect all ecosystems, resources, and species. Perhaps this sentiment is radical or naive, but I really do believe that animals and the environment deserve our equality— which as humans we have the capacity to guarantee.

This summer, I received generous support from Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service and the Earth Systems Program to work at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage Glacier. AWCC, a 160-acre wildlife sanctuary, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through public education. As its website explains, AWCC “provides refuge for orphaned, injured and ill animals; cares for animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild; and educates visitors about Alaska’s wildlife.” Indeed, almost 200 injured or orphaned animals such as bears, moose, bison, elk, deer, caribou, musk oxen, coyotes, foxes, bald eagles, great-horned owls and porcupines deemed ineligible for release into the wild by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game permanently live there. Visitors may observe, photograph, and learn more about them— a quarter of a million visitors per year, that is.

My project will address AWCC’s need for revision of its Adopt-an-Animal program materials. The program enables individuals, families, schools, scout troops, churches, clubs, or businesses to sponsor an AWCC animal for one year through a tax-deductible donation. Contributions pay for the animal’s food, daily care, and quality veterinary attention, therefore allowing the center to meet other operating costs and continue its valuable public education programs.

I will design an informative brochure about the Adopt-an-Animal program, individual information sheets or brochures about 8-12 of the animals available for sponsorship, and a 24”x36” sign to advertise the program. These materials will reach a wide audience of curious AWCC gift shop visitors considering an adoption donation, and also inspire current benefactors to renew their adoption donations with tangible information about their contribution. Each individual information sheet or brochure will include written commentary about the animal along with photographs of the animal— and after a year poring through thousands of National Geographic volumes, I’m excited to begin!

Personally, I intend this project and firsthand experience to strengthen my practice of wildlife photography and environmental journalism, expand my awareness of biodiversity conservation, and sharpen my knowledge of the complexities of Alaskan wildlife conservation. By the end of the summer, I hope to be able to clearly articulate why I believe biodiversity conservation is essential— better than the muddled, from-the-heart justification I attempted above. My summer work on behalf of animals will be a tremendous opportunity for me to put my education into action, dedicate myself to service, and gain a solid understanding of how I can contribute to wildlife conservation before I begin my master’s courses.


Benvenuti!

June 25, 2009

As a child I played with plastic miniature jungle animals like elephants and tigers as often as I dressed up Barbies and American Girl dolls. I hung Ranger Rick blue-footed booby posters along my bedroom walls and searched for salamanders in the backyard. And I grew up surrounded by the menagerie of alternative pets my parents assembled for their allergenic offspring— including an Amazon parrot, Chinese box turtle, brown poodle, zebra fish, and neon tetras. In college I minored in Biology, but soon realized that I don’t want to determine how many breaths an elephant seal takes in one minute— I just want to ensure its ability to breathe.

Biology gave me crucial science background; Comparative Literature furthered my writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills; and film, photography, and Art History courses strengthened my artistic expression. I captured the beauty of San Francisco’s sea lions in slumber as well as the vivid birthing and breeding season of Año Nuevo’s elephant seal colony, and also made a short film about Bay Area dog adoption. My junior fall in Australia was remarkable, as memorizing fish species through illustrations in books certainly cannot compare to observing cleaning stations on the Great Barrier Reef. I focused my research project on how photography can promote wildlife conservation, and carried out a survey that found people are most attracted to images of mothers and baby animals. During my senior year, I conducted a quantitative and rhetorical analysis of National Geographic magazine’s wildlife articles and imagery for my honors thesis— research that helped me identify the qualities of successful wildlife stories and photographs.

Given my passion for biodiversity conservation, I’m staying at Stanford to complete a master’s degree in Earth Systems with a specialization in environmental communication. I fervently believe in the transformative power of words and images, and hope to learn effective methods of engaging humanity in wildlife conservation through an interdisciplinary combination of ecology, photography, and writing courses. The program will take about two years, and I’m really looking forward to more time in the Bay Area during this next phase of my life.

With this blog I hope to share my adventures, observations, and thoughts as I discover how I can best contribute to biodiversity conservation in the years ahead.