Alaska

The wolves of Rome

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

This week, various media agencies reported that the most iconic of all predators, the wolf, had returned to areas surrounding the ancient and still great city of Rome.

Two wolf pups were photographed frolicking in a reserve area for birds. For centuries, the predators were hunted to near extinction in Italy. The iconic predator also is celebrated in Italy’s history in the myth of Rome’s founding.

Capitoline Wolf statue, Sienna, Italy

The Romans credited the creation of their city to the kindness of a mother she-wolf, who nursed the infants Romulus and Remus, who had been left to die in the wild. According to the legend, the pair would go on to establish Rome. The wolf also is celebrated in many other cultures, through art, myth, and folklore.

Rome’s founding story is celebrated in statues called the Capitoline Wolf, first erected in Italy in the 11th and 12th centuries. I saw several such statues, in Sienna and Florence.

At the most basic level, Rome’s creation myth is literally connected to sucking the breast of a feared carnivore. The almost primal connection to something feared and revered is woven into Roman identity. For anyone familiar with that history, Rome went on to conquer and absorb all other cultures and civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, stretching from the highlands of England to the hot sands of modern-day Iraq to the Nile valley, as far south as southern Egypt.

I photographed these statues in 2006 during my travels in Italy, mainly because I feel a strong personal connection with wolves. I had some of the most memorable encounters with wolves in the wild in Alaska, when I lived there between 2004 and 2010.

During one spring mountain run, I met a wolf mom and her pups. They approached me, curious as pups are. Their mom whimpered, trying to signal them back to safety. She was a loving mother. Humans fear them because they have, I think, more dignity than us in many ways in how they care for each other.

 

 

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Fourth of July, Alaska style…ah the memories

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Fourth of July is always a great time to enjoy the outdoors and the incredible nature in Alaska. Many Alaskans who live in its largest city, Anchorage, celebrate by going to Seward for the annual Mt. Marathon race. This is a 3.1-mile race, with an elevation gain of 3,022 feet, and slopes average 34 degrees. This all takes place above the breathtaking scenery of Resurrection Bay, where sea otters and orcas can be spotted from the boat and even the shore.

Up to 10,000 people will gather in the city’s historic downtown for the start and finish of the state’s most famous mountain race–and there are many mountain races. This contest is the shortest of the state’s “official” mountain races, but one of the most grueling, because of the sheer verticality of the climb and the risk of injury.

One year an older male racer who likely never should have competed went missing and his body was never recovered. Another year a man suffered brain trauma during a terrible fall near the end of the descent. So this is not a race for sissies and people who do not respect and understand the mountains. A bunch of my friends always competed, and I went a number of times during my six years living in Anchorage.

The race pictures seen here are from 2009 and 2010. The 2010 shot features the top three female runners: hometown favorite and champion Cedar Bourgeois, Olympic skier Holly Brooks. and Olympic skier Kikkan Randall. That year, Bourgeois won her sixth race in a row (tieing a course record), with a personal best of 51:48. All three of these racers are among the state’s finest athletes ever. Randall and Brooks have competed for the United States Nordic Ski Team in the Olympics.

The other pictures shown in the gallery come from the Forest Fair, a laid-back carnival and craft fair held during the Fourth of July weekend in Girdwood, the scenic town at the base of the Chugach Mountains about 45 miles from Anchorage. It celebrates its 41st year right this summer. I loved this event. The setting is unbelievably gorgeous.

Sadly, in past years, the local yahoos–and they are many, and awful–became so rowdy and engaged in so many drunken and destructive behaviors, organizers wisely shut the event down. If you go the the Greal Land (aka Alaska), don’t worry about the bears. Make a lot of noise, and you will be perfectly fine. Happy Fourth of July, Alaska!

Roger Gollub: doctor, leader, mensch

A year after the utterly senseless killing of the best man I have ever known, Dr. Roger Gollub, I decided to pay tribute to him around Westchester Lagoon, in Anchorage. I put these signs up on a cold November Saturday, in 2009. It is where Roger often went for walks with his dog, Sophie, and it is where we spent some memorable moments walking and talking about nothing in particular at all. I cannot claim to have known him that well. But I still miss him, and so do hundreds and hundreds of his former patients, coworkers, family members, and friends. Thanks for everything, mensch!

Fall in the Chugach Mountains

Let’s be clear. I will say that fall in Alaska is as good as it gets for autumn colors. I still cannot believe the colors of red blueberry bushes on the hillsides, birch trees firing up the forest canopy, and the orange and red underbrush. I took all of these pictures in Fort Richardson and Chugach State Park, both just outside of Anchorage. (Chugach State Park is more spectacular than most National Parks in this country by a country mile, if you ask me.) I do not miss the winter at this stage of my life, as of today, but I do miss the fall, all days of my life. See more of my photos of Alaska on my Alaska photo gallery. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Tok, gateway to the ‘Great Land’

By far, my favorite sign in the world, I think, is this one that greets visitors as the drive in on the Al-Can Highway from the Yukon and arrive in the first junction and town in Alaska, called Tok. Go straight, you arrive at Fairbanks. Head left, you come to Glenallen, and then on to Valdez or Anchorage. Do not be fooled. Tok is also a graveyard of dreams, where many who dreamed of a better life, or escaping their problems or the law, or perhaps a Permanent Fund Dividend check without working for it, busted. Alaska is filled with dreamers and also broken dreams. It is what makes it Alaska, and I still love it so. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Girdwood, Ak.

About 30 miles from Anchorage¬†you’ll find Girdwood, which is one of the prettiest places in the entire world. From there, follow the signs to the old placer mining gold operation known as Crow Creek. Today it is a popular tourist attraction. I visited the mine in May 2005, so time to trot out one of the old pictures. I loved this place. But, I loved tons of places in Alaska. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Kotzebue, Alaska, spring 2008

I visited Kotzebue, Alaska, just north of the Arctic Circle, in 2008. It was a fabulous trip to the largest city in northwest Alaska. I ate beluga whale and was treated with great hospitality by residents. This was a work trip, and one of my most memorable visits to Bush Alaska during my six years living and working in the Great Land. Other photos from the 49th state can be found in my web site’s Alaska gallery.

Kayaking in Prince William Sound

In July 2010, I took a fabulous and sometimes soggy kayaking trip to Blackstone Bay, in Prince William Sound, one of the most amazingly beautiful landscapes in the world. I went with my former neighbors, J & D, and benefited from their years of wisdom gained paddling as a team. There are few better ways to cut yourself off from technology, enjoy life’s precious moments, and feel humbled by natural beauty. (All of these were taken with a small hand-held Canon, converted to B&W using Lightroom.)

Inuit identity in the circumpolar north

In 2007, I attended the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Barrow, which brought together the different Inuit groups, spanning the circumpolar north from Russia, to Alaska, to Canada, to Nunavut, to Greenland. The Inuit are distinct culturally, linguistically, and historically. Having traveled widely in Greenland and Alaska, this was abundantly clear in many of the ways these cultures express their identity and relation to the sea. Here are two perspectives on how closely linked Inuit culture is to its traditional hunting lifestyle, in this case hunting, killing, eating, and utilizing whales. You can also find other photos I have taken of Greenland and Alaska on my web site (www.rudyowens.com).