Thursday, August 6, 2009

Smokin' Along

I am still at engaged on behalf of my employer, filling in for a co-worker at the intersection of the Dalton Highway (aka "The Haul Road") and the famous Yukon River. Unlike most remote sites, at this facility the medic is not required to spend all of his or her time in a guard shack. Instead, we rotate posts spending 1 day in the shack, and 2 days out on patrol. One of those patrol days is incredibly boring, ensuring that no light fingered tourist steals the only bridge across the Yukon River. The other patrol day, however, is very cool as I am free to roam a good distance away from the station.

Currently there are over two million acres on fire in Alaska, and several thousand of those acres are just a few miles from this location. The smoke is acrid and thick and inescapable and I've been ill and fatigued with it for some time. In spite of the smoke I had a great time counting critters. During 1 day of patrol I saw 3 sandhill cranes, more than a dozen norther goshawks, a great gray owl (quite rare), a young golden eagle and a LOT of snowshoe hares.

Fire and fireweed are kindred species. Within a couple of years of a burn the fireweed begins to take over and for a few seasons becomes the most striking specie. Just a few years ago a massive wildfire burned north of this location, and today we have a very colorful reminder of its presence.

With burning eyes and lungs and having been engaged on the job for a longer than typical hitch, I've kind of been wishing that I might be elsewhere. Near here there is a section of pipeline where completing constructions crews regularly posted grafitti as a way of 'signing' their work. One of those 33 year old comments reminded me that though things may be a bit uncomfortable here, there are worse places in the world.

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