Today is a resplendent, sunny Southeast Alaska fall day – not atypical for the month of September but certainly not expected weather either. I have taken advantage of many beautiful days this summer, and I finally had to force myself to stay at home to do some much needed reading for school. However, I cannot fully escape the draw to the world outside. My home, it turns out, is as perfect a construction of bird blind if ever I have seen one. The windows on the first floor rise from the floor to well above my height (not saying much, I know), so I can sit for hours and watch as different birds frequent the numerous shrubs and trees in my backyard – a yard which is already renowned for its record Black-capped Chickadee and Anna’s Hummingbird sightings.
If I sit quite still from the small balcony that extends just beyond the loft that seconds as my bedroom, I can listen to the scratching of Juncos on the ground below and watch as the shrubs tremble and shake with their movement. I like imagining their labyrinthine paths through these shrubs, a world in and of itself that I will never enter. If I am lucky and I look very closely, every now and then one of these small sparrows will materialize before my eyes, and I am able to watch it for a few minutes as it continues about its business. While reading about the developing field of Ecopsychology, which studies the effects on our species of an ever-degraded environment, and a new term called Solastagia, which describes grief for our changing landscapes, I was serenaded by a familiar sound, raucous and shrill. “That certainly is a strange-sounding Steller’s Jay,” I thought to myself. I have been hearing it intermittently throughout the day. Upon closer inspection, a Black-billed Magpie appeared from the yellow-green cottonwood leaves! This is a sound I heard when I head east to the sagebrush habitat of the Methow Valley on the east side of the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State. I had completely forgotten that this bird winters here in Gustavus, and it was so very out of place for me in this realm that I could not place it. Watching it fly across my yard and out of sight was equally strange; I am so accustomed to searching farm fields and desert for this massive, magnificent corvid.
Gustavus, you never cease to amaze me!
It is interesting reading about these fields within sustainability. I spent a good deal of my first year at Prescott College diving into these realms, and here I sit in a community on the edge of wilderness but not immune to these changes. One inevitable change has been in the works since my arrival to Glacier Bay – the construction of a ferry dock in town that will allow the Alaska Marine Highway ferries to stop, dock, and let the vehicles roll. The town is divided on this issue, as it is on countless others. There are folks who believe this ferry spells the beginning of the end for small town life as it exists here in Gustavus. Others see this change as an economic opportunity. I am thankful to have arrived before the ferry, before the fall. It will be interesting to return to Gustavus on board the first ferry to travel from Bellingham, Washington all the way here. While it saves me some money on the expensive move to Alaska, which I pay for out of pocket as a newly anointed permanent government employee, I admit I would prefer to see Gustavus remain as it is, even if it means dishing out many more hard-earned dollars.