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Hiking Old Woman (which Liam used to call “Old Lady Mountain”)

I read this section in Scott Russell Sanders’ Writing From The Center recently and was inspired to hike up Old Woman with the boys. We had such a good time that we went up again this Sunday.

“Most of our children spend a year in grade school studying the history of their home state. Shouldn’t they spend as least as much time studying their home ground? Let them take walks, handle stones and leaves and dirt, watch squirrels and bats and bugs, pore over photographs and fossils and maps, feel the land in their bones. We grown-ups could explore along with them. You don’t need a degree in biology to listen for geese honking by overhead, to see burst milkweed pods loose their down seeds, to run your fingers over the ledges in roadcuts, to watch a storm blow in from the horizon, to sample water from a creek, to discover in any of the countless details that make up the life of a place.”

book review published in the Anchorage Daily News


Book guides Alaskans through Kodiak’s unique flora

Daily News correspondent

(07/24/10 17:26:50)

On a recent gray, rainy day at our fish site on Kodiak, my husband carried the mail up from the skiff. Inside a slightly soggy envelope from my mom was a present, Stacy Studebakers’ field guide, “Wildflowers and other Plant Life of the Kodiak Archipelago” (Sense of Place Press, $25).

The book is the first comprehensive field guide for this region of Alaska.

The field guide was a day brightener, literally. It’s organized by flower color. Hundreds of brilliant photos (365 species) in a sturdy, bound 6-by-9-inch field guide allow quick identification. Insets of flower close-ups or plants at different lifestages help clarify. The result is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. The bright pink wildflower on the book’s cover is a Kamchatka thododendron, Studebaker’s favorite because it thrives on windswept sea cliffs and mountains. I imagine we’ll appreciate the vivid pages as much on dreary winter days as on July hikes.

This first edition of “Wildflowers” could be called a life’s work. Studebaker has lived and worked in Kodiak since 1980 as a teacher, naturalist, and environmental advocate.

For the field guide, she chose from 15,000 photos she has taken in the last 30 years. She has been studying and photographing coastal flora since 1973.

Many photos came from her plant inventory trips to remote locations on the Kodiak Archipelago for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Kodiak Island includes very diverse ecological zones. Mossy spruce forests at the north and eastern end of the island ascend to alpine ridges before dropping into the drier west and south coasts along the Pacific and Shelikof Strait. The guide applies to a large region of coastal Alaska — from Southeast to Southcentral and the Aleutian chain.

The field guide is useful for naturalists, parents, hikers and teachers, but it’s also great for kids. “Teaching your children to notice and appreciate the living world around them is one of the best gifts you can give them,” Studebaker writes in her introduction.

Our 3-year-old son Liam can open the book to the right color and with a little help he matches the photos to the plant. Flowers are much more cooperative than birds for an early exercise in identification.

In just a few minutes’ walk from the cabin, Liam spotted wild geraniums, nootka lupines, chocolate lilies and yellow paintbrush. They may be flowers I could name without a field book, but as we waded through the tall green grass, Liam also noticed the round beads of water cupped in lupine leaves, a mustard white butterfly (Studebaker includes photos of insect pollinators) and the sound of bees, the loudest noise at that moment. The gift of the field guide is the awareness we cultivate when we stop and spend time getting to know the things living quietly around us.

Then it was back to the usual beach play — climbing rocks, throwing rocks, shoveling rocks — but I noticed forget-me-nots growing on the cliff above us, a favorite wildflower of mine, not because they are the Alaska state flower, but because my husband used to tuck them into his letters to me before we were married.

In the field guide, a synopsis of each plant provides the common name, the scientific name accompanied by the abbreviated name of the scientist who first described and published it, and the plant family it belongs to.

There is also a measurement and detailed description, worldwide distribution, habitat, and snippets of natural history and folklore.

The photos and written description provide enough information about stems and leaves to learn key characteristics that will help identify plants when they are not blooming.

“The numerous landscape and habitat images scattered throughout, and the inclusion of many ‘non-flower’ species (grasses, sedges, willows, ferns) make this book stand out among other popular floras for our region,” said Carolyn Parker, a research and field botanist and plant taxonomist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Museum of the North Herbarium.

The book also includes a brief history of Kodiak botanists, geological and floral history, as well as an interesting discussion of Kodiak’s unique glacial refugium during the late Pleistocene. (This is a mountainous area that remained uncovered by glaciers which extended from the Alaska Peninsula into the ocean far east of Kodiak.)

Kodiak is called “The Emerald Isle” for its inviting green mountains and lush rain forest. But the summer season is fleeting, and slogging through it when plants are alive can be difficult.

Hiking off the trails in Kodiak is more easily done in the spring, before plants push up through the soil, add green leaves and bloom, or in the fall, when vegetation has fallen over with the first frosts. But this book will likely inspire beginning and experienced botanists alike.

For those willing to put on bug dope and endure scratched-up arms on a trek to find the famous lady’s slipper orchid, or deadly monkshood, or the glacial refugium’s alpine forget-me-not, this book is an excellent tool for learning about all of the flora along the way.

laundry & lists

Twice now, with a year or more in between, I happened to open Good Poems to Tess Gallagher’s

“I Stop Writing the Poem.”

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives

or who dies, I’m still a woman.

I’ll always have plenty to do.

I bring the arms of his shirt

together. Nothing can stop

our tenderness. I’ll get back

to the poem. I’ll bet back to being

a woman. But for now

there’s a shirt, a giant shirt

in my hands, and somewhere a small girl

standing next to her mother

watching to see how it’s done.