Worthington Glacier near Valdez is still shaping the earth around it. In this raw land, creation is still clearly evident.
In the evening of March 27, 1964, tectonic plates shifted beneath Prince William Sound, Alaska. For over five minutes, the earth shook south central Alaska like a terrier shaking a rat in the second largest earthquake ever recorded (9.2 on the Richter scale). Anchorage was almost leveled and communities like Seward and Valdez nearly disappeared in the 40-foot-high tsunami waves that followed. Hundreds of people lost their lives and the face of the land was changed forever in places.
My first trip to Alaska was in 1969, just five years after the devastating quake. We went to Valdez, a completely new city about five miles from the original townsite. My grandfather’s friend took us to the old town and showed us the devastation still evident in huge fault lines, lifeless building foundations and more.
When we visited the same old townsite last week, most of the destruction from that terrible day had been removed in the ensuing 50 years. Signs marked the locations of former buildings and a plaque registered and commemorated a long list of the victims. But the frightful damage had healed or been hidden behind vegetation.
It was a reminder that humans build their societies around the presumption that the status quo is the natural state and the world won’t change. We have paid the price for that when we have built on fault lines, the slopes of volcanoes, within flood zones and on beaches subject to hurricanes.
The process of creation is still very much alive and Alaska is a great place to see it in action. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the southeast corner of the Alaskan mainland, is a good example. It is a land of extremes. It has the greatest concentration of glaciers in North America, with fully 33% of the park covered in glacial ice. Yet, Wrangell-St. Elias NP also has 12 volcanoes. Mt. Wrangell, at over 14,000 feet, is the highest and largest active volcano in the United States outside Hawaii (you can read more about our visit to Wrangell-St. Elias NP by checking out my blog at www.nature-track.com/nature_blog). These two opposing forces continue to shape the landscape as they have for thousands of years.
We stopped by the Worthington Glacier near Thompson Pass on the way to Valdez. We stood on ground populated by birches, aspens and Sitka spruce that was covered by the glacier on my visit 50 years ago. The work that the Worthington Glacier, just one of hundreds in Alaska, has completed over its significant lifetime is staggering. A huge U-shaped valley has been carved out below the glacier and melting reveals more each year. The mountains are young and fresh, still jagged from relatively recent glacial shaping.
It is interesting that in many places in Alaska, rivers crest twice during a summer season. The first occurs in the spring when ice and snow from the past winter melt, just like any other mountain system. But in late summer, rivers rise again as glacial melt peaks, sending millions of tons of rock, ground to a fine powder, downstream to build deltas and change river courses.
At one point during a boat ride into the Valdez Arm of Prince William Sound, I counted eight narrow waterfalls cascading off a single mountain into the bay. There is water everywhere here and natural erosion continues to help shape the landscape. This is a much slower process than an earthquake, but it can be just as dramatic. Think Grand Canyon if you don’t believe me.
Change is a process and the earth will never be done. Some of the coming changes are predictable, but most are not, either in timing, magnitude or duration. All we can do is hold on and enjoy the ride.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho