Seal On...A Fish Story

I like photography better than fishing. Not a popular sentiment in Alaska, I realize, but that said, I'm usually the one capturing the prized grip and grin shots of anglers holding out huge salmon like their displaying their first born—proof of their conquests to friends and family. This past July, it rained, as it often does in Southeast. But the rain was good, actually great, because if it hadn't been raining, I would have been taking photos of all the bald eagles and seals in the area, instead of fishing. I would have missed out on the biggest catch I've ever made.My guide and a contributor to Alaska magazine, Rich Culver, took me to Amalga Cove in Juneau as sort of a last resort. We had fished a few other spots, all devoid of salmon, and he wanted to make sure I got the full experience. He situated us just below the pool of a waterfall. I positioned myself on top of huge, stable rocks to cast my fly. The water boiled with fish. I considered reaching down to grab one with my hands, but that would be cheating, and was probably way harder than I envisioned. Plus, even through the murky and choppy water, I could see their teeth clearly: razor sharp and serrated.

Celebrate Alaska Native Culture

I’m a Caucasian woman of Italian descent, and I’m jealous. Not of the hardships that Alaska Natives have endured, but of their rich culture and understanding of the natural world that is engrained in their heritage—and seems to be—instilled in utero. The Native traditions and spiritual quests we (non-Natives) now revere, put on display, and at times exploit, are the same ones we once tried to strip away. Most of us visit Alaska to be a part of things missing from our ordinary, day-to-day lives. It’s not so farfetched to say that by getting closer to the land and the wildlife inhabiting it, that we are searching for what Alaska Natives possessed long before our missionaries came on the scene: a deeply felt connection to all living things. It can’t be learned or earned through an iPad app, a Starbucks latte or buying a new car. If it could, perhaps we’d all stay at home in the heated comfort of our homes binging on episodes of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix.

To Preserve and Protect

On the drive from Anchorage to Seward, I can't help but wonder: How on earth did our country decide which areas here to designate as a National Parks when everything in the state is so stunning? Seward Highway passes Beluga Point, where white whales bob and spin with smiles and translucent skin. Dall sheep scurry up sheer cliffs without pause. A moose wades across a marsh behind scrub, calves in close proximity. Glaciers carve out paths between ridges and flow into turquoise-colored lakes and rivers below mountain passes. There are plenty of pullouts, but I find it hard to stop driving when I know that something of equal or greater beauty will be around the next bend. National Park designation helps preserve wild places from development, exploitation, and extinction. It assigns a watch-dog of sorts, along with funding to ensure legal protection of those assets, to keep tabs on the flora and fauna and historical landmarks that belong to all of us, regardless of socio-economic status, gender, race or creed. One also might argue that National Parks literally put a place on the map that you might have missed in your lifetime had it not been pointed out to you as special. And yes, this means that other camera-toting tourists may crowd your serenity, but their activities (like yours) will be regulated, so that damage can be managed and assessed based on traffic and impact. Truth be told, most people will never get to experience the more remote National Parks in Alaska—Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic. Go there today, and you'll have the tundra to yourself, along with about 30,000 caribou. But the other parks, can lead to what I call, "combat photography." Luckily, in the fall, visitors taper off, and even the most popular spots can have their quiet moments.

The World at My Fingertips

I'm a "nester"—one of those people who travels in a car or on a plane with my backpack sandwiched between my feet. It doesn't matter that the space I occupy is only large enough for a three-year old, or that I can't stretch out my legs because my bag is in the way.