Friday, July 20, 2018

Getting a Masters in Mud (main article)

Many hands helped push, pull, and stabilize the hollow metal pipe and its plunger until a cylinder of mud extruded from the far end like a gritty line of decorative frosting. A slick coating of soupy mud had spewed out of the equipment as we lifted it from the water and now obscured the outer surface of the sediment core from the eager eyes of six geologists crowding into the tiny inflatable boat.

Once the sediment core was safely cradled in a custom-cut length of black plastic pipe, Annie Wong—who is working toward her masters in Paleoenvironmental Sciences at Northern Arizona University—whipped a knife out of one of her many useful pockets and began scraping away the goop. 

Striking dark and light stripes appeared in the core. We oohed and aahed. Like tree rings, these patterns record past events. Floods, droughts, fires, phytoplankton, algae, invading forests, and drifting pollen all leave their marks in the bottom of lakes. Scientists use a variety of methods to drill down into them and pull up layers upon layers of history.

This is the posed photo.

But then they just got super focused and genuinely excited about the layers in the core!
The pale layers are at least partially composed of calcium carbonate precipitated by algae called chara. They are useful for reserach, and interesting, too. Not only can you get an idea of how shallow the water was when chara was growing there, the oxygen isotopes in them can tell you about the climate history of the lake.  
For example, by aging the layers and identifying pollen contained within them, the striped core can be transformed into a story of plants recolonizing land as the glaciers melted back. That study captured my imagination years ago, and I’ve been curious about the process of sediment coring ever since. Through a series of friends and connections, I was allowed to tag along with this crew of four female geologists for almost a full week as they took sediment cores in Kelly Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. When I interviewed Abby Boak, a Junior at Mount Holyoke College about the field work, she echoed my sentiments exactly: “During class we don’t talk about HOW they come to the conclusions. I like seeing the process of how we discover things.”

Here Abby is doing the important task of cleaning "goose poop" out of the boat. While getting muddy is their goal, the grit interferes with the threads on all the pipes they need to screw together, and keeping a reasonably clean workspace is important. There are so many unsung jobs in science. The HOW is way more complicated and messy than I realized!
The HOW seems to be filled with odd tools, complicated procedures, and dirty hands. Emmy Wrobleski—a Senior at Mount Holyoke College—used a paper towel to wipe goose poop (the crew’s nickname for the soupy mud) off the core’s housing. Annie fit the matching half of the black plastic pipe over the striped cylinder of sediments and sealed the seams and caps with bright red tape. Abby helped Ellie Broadman dismantle the rest of the coring gear so we could motor back to the landing for lunch. Ellie, who is working on her PhD in paleoecology at Northern Arizona University, had just recently taken charge of this crew.

Emmy and Annie work together to package up and record data on a core.
Ellie the leader!

It was incredible to watch them work as a team. For the past 10 days they’d been doing sediment cores at a remote lake accompanied by their professors, Darrell Kaufman, Scott Anderson, and Al Werner. Now the guys had flown home and the girls were on their own. We did have one male on the crew—Ed Berg is a retired ecologist and geologist from the surrounding Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and he’s friends with the girls’ professors. He offered valuable experience and local knowledge, while being perceptive enough to realize that they didn’t need him to be a loud leader. The girls shifted seamlessly between problem-solving, joking, positive reinforcement, and nerdy science conversations.

Ed Berg provided valuable help and local knowledge. He's helped with coring before, but on his own he mostly cores peat out of bogs!
Ellie often had her hands full of either metal or mud, so Annie would feed her pieces of Luna Bars. 
It's a team effort. Here, Annie wipes goopy mud out of Ellie's hair while Ellie has her hands full with a fresh core.

Annie—her face flexing frequently from goofy grins to intense focus—seemed to thrive on problem-solving and the mechanical processes of coring. “It’s fun to think about problems on your feet,” she told me, “and we get to use lots of hardware and fun toys.” Just before starting graduate school, Annie was working at an afterschool program in Oakland, California. The kids were devastated that she was leaving, even after she told them she’d be getting a Masters in Mud.

Annie gets the biggest kick out of using the chain hoist to pull up heavy cores from the bottom of the lake!
As the crew leader, Ellie checked in regularly about people’s comfort and hunger levels, delegated tasks, gave calm instructions, and talked through procedures out loud so that the whole team could help guard against mistakes. Even after a long, cold, wet morning of sampling, and a jostled sample, the sharpest words I heard her utter were “I need to eat something.”

Annie was in charge of making sure there were always snacks on the boat. 

“It’s hard to be in charge,” I overheard Ellie say earlier. She’d just called off their first day of sampling because the wind had come up and whitecaps tossed the coring raft dangerously. Not only would the crew be in danger of injury and seasickness, but expensive tools could be lost, the equipment broken, and the cores just would not turn out as well.

Whitecaps on Kelly Lake.
The coring raft. And a loon!

“This is the first time I’ve been the point person for coring,” she explained later. “It’s nice that Darrell, Scott, and Al trust me enough to leave me in charge of their equipment. Darrell had been encouraging me to make decisions because it’s my PhD work, but it’s still different without him here.”

Different indeed. The dynamics of this female-led crew were fantastic. The is adventure felt like a combination of my childhood playing in the dirt, my experiences with high ropes challenge courses, an Outward Bound expedition, and my own graduate school years. These girls deftly faced mental challenges, physical difficulties, and a constant stream of odd problems with a significant level of joy. . . .all while gathering important data that will add to the picture scientists are constructing about past climate, weather, erosion, and life. Science is fun when you are learning to be Masters of Mud.

Emily is in Alaska for the summer! Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog:

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic

Dr. Katie Spellman’s left eyebrow arched into an exclamation point above the wide frames of her glasses. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” The room full of educators and youth leaders from rural and indigenous communities around Alaska and the Lower 48 chuckled in agreement. This eclectic and passionate group of people had converged on the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) from Alaskan communities north of the Arctic Circle, down on the Kenai Peninsula, and from the town of North Pole. For the first time at this workshop, educators from out of state had also come from Oregon, Montana, Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and Hawaii. We were all here for a week-long workshop called “Climate Change and My Community.”

Dr. Katie Spellman and Dr. Elena Sparrow explain a permafrost mystery that these participants in the Climate Change and My Community workshop are about to investigate. Photo by Emily Stone. 

To emphasize her point, Katie highlighted some of the connections we’d all just drawn on a huge concept map. Rising temperatures topped the board, but a web of lines connected to issues like thawing permafrost, diminishing sea ice, declining snow cover, vegetation shifts, and melting glaciers. Within the map were also less obvious connections: expanding marine shipping, increasing access to resources (like oil and gas), enhanced agriculture and forestry, and loss of hunting culture.

This course, run through the Arctic and Earth SIGNS program, is designed to help educators and community leaders learn more about all of those “impacts and feedbacks of a warming Arctic, braiding multiple ways of knowing and observing climate change from their elders, from satellites, and from their own observations, and making a difference on a climate change issue important to their community.” Learning about the far-reaching effects of climate change without the support of a community can sometimes send people into paralysis and despair. In this workshop, upbeat mantras like “there’s a leader in every chair,” and “your observations are truth,” seemed well-placed to inspire people toward hope and action. 

“Why should everybody care about melting permafrost?” continued Katie. For Alaskans, the answer is as practical as frost-heaved roads, tilting buildings, and failing infrastructure. For us from the Lower 48, the carbon cycle is key. Permafrost is soil that’s been below freezing for more than two years. It contains lots of stored carbon in the form of dead-but-not-decomposed plants and animals. If the soil warms and decomposition restarts, then significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane will escape into the atmosphere. These additional greenhouse gases will increase warming, which will lead to more melting permafrost and more carbon release. It’s a positive feedback loop with global impacts.

To better understand permafrost, we took a field trip to the US Army Corps of Engineers Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. Excavation of a hillside during the gold rush allowed researchers to tunnel straight into a frozen hill in 1963. We oohed and aahed over frozen mammoth bones, a mat of ancient sedges still showing a hint of green, roots dangling from the ceiling, and lenses and wedges of ice. Permafrost—when it stays frozen—is so stable that the tunnel does not need additional supports. On the other hand, thawing permafrost is about as unstable as you can get.

Participants in the Climate Change and My Community workshop gather for a safety talk before entering the US Army Corps of Engineers Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. Photo by Emily Stone.

Excavation of a hillside during the gold rush later allowed the US Army Corps of Engineers to tunnel straight into a frozen hill in 1963. Important science has been done in the Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility. Photo by Emily Stone. 

For some in the class, permafrost is more than a field trip. It has a direct impact on their lives. Ken Stenek has been the high school science teacher in the town of Shishmaref for 19 years. This town of about 700 people is located in northwestern Alaska on a barrier island that’s only one-quarter of a mile wide in places. Tilting utility poles are a visible sign of unstable ground due to thawing permafrost in Shishmaref. That’s just the beginning, though. The effects of climate change are so dramatic here that this little town has its own Wikipedia page where the main topic is global warming.  

Thawing permafrost in combination with declining sea ice means that their roads are at risk, their coastline is falling into the Chukchi Sea, and the airport landing strip—their main connection to the world—is at risk of becoming inaccessible. Despite the intense storm damage this little town has sustained, they’ve been unable to get FEMA money because of a lack of data. Ken is working to change that.

A few years ago, Ken worked with Dr. Kenji Yoshikawa, a professor from UAF, to install a frost tube. This ingenious device consists of a PVC pipe sunk several meters into the ground and strung with a clear plastic tube filled with colored water. To monitor the depth to permafrost, you can simply pull up the tube and measure where water meets ice. One student raised their hand to ask Kenji, “Is permafrost thawing even in undisturbed areas?” He replied, “It is becoming THE disturbance in some areas.”

Dr. Kenji Yoshikawa demonstrates how to record the depth to frozen soil using a frost tube he installed on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Photo by Emily Stone.

Many places seem to be near a tipping point, where they are just barely staying frozen. These frost tubes are useful monitoring tools. NASA agrees. Several years ago, they worked with Kenji to add frost tubes to their GLOBE protocols. The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is an international (118 countries!) science and education effort that provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process. Teachers gain access to tools, supplies, sampling protocols, lesson plans and support. Kids participate in meaningful, hands-on science, and NASA uses the data to ground-truth its satellites. Learning about the various GLOBE protocols was a major part of the workshop. As the week progressed, teachers were making plans for their students to study the timing of green-up and berry ripening, snow depth, rainfall, air temperature, soil moisture, cloud cover, and more.

Teachers and youth leaders from rural and indigenous communities use an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of a soil sample. Photo by Emily Stone.

Near the end of the week we took a few minutes at the beginning of class to revisit our concept map. Students integrated layers of new learning, and the web of connections grew even messier. “There is an immense amount of knowledge in this room,” one of the facilitators declared. Very soon there will be an immense amount of knowledge—as well as hope and action—outside of this room, too. After all, “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

Emily is in Alaska for the summer! Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog:

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Wildflowers in Denali

Frost sparkled on the picnic tables at the Alaska Geographic Field Camp in Denali National Park and the thermometer still read 30 degrees Fahrenheit even though the sun had risen four hours earlier at about 3:00 a.m. In pairs and trios, ten women bundled in puffy coats and winter hats emerged from tent cabins tucked into the white spruces and converged on a small yurt where Susan, our Alaska Geographic naturalist, had just brought out the coffee.
Alaska Geographic runs several types of educational programs in Denali National Park. Susan—a recovering microbiologist—was our host for this course. 
Over hot cereal topped with pecans, cranberries, and yogurt, we discussed our plan for the day. The cold snap had fueled doubt among us students that we would find many wildflowers blooming in alpine areas. Carl Roland—botanist for Denali National Park—just smiled knowingly. Spotting a small, white flower with a bluish cast to the undersides of its six, cream-colored petals gave me hope, though. Carl identified it as windflower—Anemone parviflora—and we put the first species on our list for the Wildflowers of Denali field course.

By the time we arrived at the place where Tattler Creek intersected Park Road, abundant sunshine had raised the temperature considerably. Here, Carl pointed out a yellow anemone—Anemone richardsonii—hiding under the willow shrubs. Then we crashed uphill through thickets of thigh-high dwarf birch with dime-sized leaves, stopping often to look at new plants.

This species of yellow anemone grows on both sides of the Bering Strait from Russia, through Alaska and Canada and into Greenland! 

It was a relief to climb out of the brushy ravine and emerge onto the open tundra with low growing mats of vegetation. Turning to look around at the snowcapped peaks of the Alaska Range, I reflected on how far I’d come since leaving Wisconsin.

Glancing down, though, I spotted the familiar ovate leaves and bell-shaped flowers of a blueberry bush. With a blueish cast and more rounded shape, these leaves did not belong to the common Wisconsin species of lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), but its cousin, bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum). Still familiar to me, I’d come to know this plant while canoeing in northern Minnesota and wetland monitoring in Maine. Someday I’ll travel to Iceland, Scotland, Scandinavia, the Alps, Russia, and Japan to visit my little friend in all of those places.

This pattern is known as circumpolar distribution. Bog rosemary, bearberry, cottongrass, twinflower, and stiff clubmoss are some other of my favorite Northern Wisconsin bog species who share a similar global range. Their adaptations to severe cold, short growing seasons, and other challenges help them thrive both at high latitudes (circling the North Pole) and high altitudes further south. If you tilt a globe and look at it with the North Pole in the center, you also see that there’s a lot of land up there. Plants don’t recognize international boundaries.

This species of blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) is rarely found in northern Wisconsin, but it is actually widespread around the top of the globe—a pattern known as circumpolar distribution. Map from
Beyond the blueberries, a scattering of creamy flowers with bright yellow centers nestled into a mat of hearty, dark green leaves. These rose-relatives are called mountain avens. Immediately I thought about my friend Caitlin who did her graduate research on flowering phenology across the continent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mountain avens are her favorite flower.

This species, Dryas integrifolia (as well as the two anemones we saw earlier), is considered “amphiberingian,” which means that its distribution spans the Bering Strait in North America and northern Eurasia, but doesn’t extend into Greenland or Europe. The Bering Strait was a land bridge that connected Alaska to Russia when sea levels fell during times when more of Earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice. Plants, animals, and even people may have used this temporary travel route. Because it was ice-free and kept relatively warm by the ocean, it was also a refuge where plants could escape the grind of glaciers.
Mountain avens is a tough but beautiful flower of the tundra and alpine areas. While hiking in Denali we often walked over dense carpets of its leaves punctuated by its blossoms dancing in the breeze. 
Sunshine warmed us on the tundra, and we spent hours on our knees and bellies identifying carpets of alpine flowers. I needn’t have worried that we find enough to look at—these plants know how to make the most of a short summer.

As we crashed back through the brushy ravine of Tattler Creek, Carl pointed out ruffled leaves and fuzzy buds that would soon bloom into a bear flower—Boykinia richardsonii. This showy stalk of white flowers is a remnant of Alaska’s Tertiary Period forests. It has been growing here for more than 2.58 million years—since mammals became dominant and the continents moved into their current locations.

In Denali, there are 233 plant species—29 percent—who are considered circumpolar. Throughout the park, sparsely vegetated alpine areas support higher plant diversity than lower, warmer places with higher productivity. Doesn’t that seem backwards? Shouldn’t the higher, colder, more extreme environments support fewer plants?

The key here is that during the past 300,000 years, treeless, steppe-and-tundra-like landscapes have been a constant. Other habitats—and their plants—disappeared. The plants that stuck around at the edge of the glaciers were pre-adapted to the conditions in the current alpine zone. They may not have always existed right here on the slopes above Tattler Creek, but their journey to get here would have been a whole lot shorter than mine.

Emily is in Alaska for the summer! Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog:

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Natural Connections From Juneau

An eagle was soaring over the ocean as I pulled into the parking area at Eagle Beach north of Juneau, Alaska. After grabbing my camera and notebook I hurried over to the white-haired man dressed in a naturalist’s uniform of fleece jacket, hiking pants, and a big backpack with tripod hanging off the side. As I reached my hand out to introduce myself, I noticed that his beige baseball cap had a hummingbird on the front.

The mouth of the Eagle River snakes through gravel and out into the Lynn Canal north of Juneau, AK. Frosted peaks in the Chilkat Mountains tower above the scene—a collage of natural connections. Photo by Emily Stone.
Bob Armstrong has written more than 27 books about the nature of Alaska. He left his studies at the University of Washington early because the brand-new Alaska Department of Fish and Game was hiring biologists. After 20 years he retired so that he could follow his own research interests.

“Do you mind if we kinda go slow along the edge here and look for crab spiders?” Bob asked as we made our way down the strawberry-blossom-lined trail. Crab spiders are one of the species that caught Bob’s interest after he retired. In one of his many investigations using his two GoPro cameras, he recorded their activities. I was happy to help him look, since I’ve been fascinated by these beautiful critters, too. Crab spiders are smooth, not hairy, and they can change slowly between yellow and white in order to camouflage themselves on their floral perch. They don’t need to build a web, because they just nab insects attracted to the flower.

Sometimes crab spiders capture bees or other pollinators—I witnessed that earlier this spring—which can be detrimental to the flower’s chance at getting cross-pollinated. On the other hand, if a flower comes under attack by a “florivore,” (an insect that eats flowers), it can pump out extra volatile chemicals—this spider’s version of the Batman Signal—and a spider may come to the rescue.

Passing by the gnarled trunk of a small alder, Bob stopped to look at it thoughtfully. After a minute I asked what he was looking for. “These are red-breasted sapsucker sap wells,” said Bob. “They are the first story in my Connections book.” Just like yellow-bellied sapsuckers in the Midwest, these colorful birds drill shallow holes into tree bark and either lap up the sap or eat the insects that are attracted to the sugar.

“The wells they drill are thought to be a critical early-season food source (both sap and small insects) for migratory hummingbirds, which may even time their arrival with that of sapsuckers,” wrote Bob in Natural Connections in Alaska.

This beautiful book, co-authored with Mary F. Willson and available as a PDF on his website:, is the reason I’d contacted Bob. I’d been tipped off that he’d written a book with almost the same title as mine, and he’d been gracious enough to say ‘yes’ when I asked if he’d go for a walk with me to talk about the natural connections of Alaska. I became even more excited to meet him once I talked with the naturalist guide Tim Hemme in Ketchikan, and Tim mentioned Bob’s books, too.

The sapsucker wells were no longer active, so we meandered out onto the gravely floodplain of a glacially fed river. The rich-brown, bell-shaped flowers of chocolate lily nodded above patches of green. Tim had given me their name, and from their color I’d deduced that their pollinators are flies or beetles. Bob pointed out bright yellow pollen dusted on the insides of the petals, and mentioned that blow flies crawl in—attracted by the scent of rotting meat to match the maroon color—and pick up those grains on the backs of their heads.

Chocolate lilies look beautiful, but smell like rotting meat. The combination
of their color and scent attracts flies as pollinators. Photo by Emily Stone.
Being near the river got Bob talking about fish, and about all the observations he’s made with waterproof GoPro cameras. He’s used a dive weight to secure one into the rocks a low tide, then allowed the camera to do its magic while the tide came in. Later, when the tide was out again, Bob collected the camera. Among other things, he captured underwater images of seals playing, as well as sleeping on their sides, eyes closed.

“Do you want to see beach marmots?” Of course I did. We looked for crab spiders as we walked. Instead, I spotted an iridescent blue-green fly on a strawberry flower. Bright yellow pollen bedecked a patch of hairs behind its head. “That’s the blow fly with chocolate lily pollen,” confirmed Bob. I was struck by its beauty.

This iridescent blow fly sports pollen from a chocolate lily on its furry head, even while foraging on a wild strawberry blossom. Flies and beetles are more common pollinators than bees in chilly Alaska. Photo by Emily Stone.
The water-washed beach graded into a thick field of grass and flowers, and those butted up against the rocks of the highway bank. We sat quietly in the sun-warmed grasses and watched the rocks for movement. Before too long, the white snout, brown face, and bleach-blonde fur of a hoary marmot poked out of a crevice, and another one scurried below. We could have watched them for hours. With the endless daylight of the north, it was hard to tell that the hour was getting late, but our watches indicated that more than a couple hours had passed.

Hoary marmots live both in alpine areas and along the beaches of Alaska. Photo by Emily Stone.
Back at the parking lot, I thanked Bob for the walk and handed him a copy of my book. He said he enjoyed the walk too, and added “I can think of only one other person on Earth who can stroll that slowly and look at things.” It was, indeed, a natural connection.

Alaskan naturalist and author Bob Armstrong has an incredible wealth of knowledge developed from years of good, old-fashioned observation. Photo by Emily Stone. 

Emily is in Alaska for the summer! Follow the journey in this column, and see additional stories and photos on her blog:

For 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. Come visit us in Cable, WI! Our new exhibit: “Bee Amazed!” is open.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A continuation of Ketchikan...(bonus post)

Despite only carrying my camera and a rain jacket, the Lunch Creek Trail was calling my name. I decided to forgo a backpack full of water and snacks and just hike.

The density of life was stunning. Every tree was covered in moss, covered in the climbing rhizomes of bunchberry, covered in moss, lichen, blueberry, fungi, etc. Every stump had either a little grown of blueberry leaves glowing in the peeking sunlight, or a full-on tree with gnarled roots stilting it up and anchoring it down.

The hike paralleled a river with numerous small waterfalls (the biggest falls were down by the beach.) 

The sound of water rushing and water dripping made me need to pee, of course. As I squatted off to the side of the trail I was tempted—for just a second—to use the large thimbleberry-like leaves for toilet paper. In the Boundary Waters, thimbleberry leaves are prime wilderness toilet paper. Luckily I remember in time that these plants, although having similarly shaped a leaves, are not thimbleberry. Devil’s club isn’t even related to thimbleberry, though, it’s a closer cousin of wild sarsasparilla. And, it bears spiky thorns on its stems and even the ribs of its leaves. Ouch!

I walked through huge patches of western skunk cabbage. Their crazy spathe and spadix flowers were covered with little Ocellate Rove Beetles mating, pollinating, and feeding. I also spotted two different white banana slugs—a rare color most often seen around Ketchikan (according to Bob Armstrong).  Wikipedia: “The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long,[5] and weights of 115 grams (4.1 ounces).”

The best part of my hike was when I popped out in to an opening and discovered myself in the middle of a muskeg. So many old friends to greet! So many new friends to identify!

The bright pink flowers of bog laurel were first to catch my eye.

The inrolled leaves of Labrador tea were unmistakable, although smaller than at home.

The frilly flowers of deer cabbage (a new one for me) were covered with the same Ocellate Rove Beetles and also a bee-mimicking fly. I did not see any actual bees doing the pollination up here, but this pair of beetle and fly seemed to be everywhere. This flower is in the family Menyanthaceae, related to Bog Buckbean I’ve seen in Wisconsin. It also grows in Japan, as does bog buckbean, which I did not see here.

A beautiful sedge reminded me of wetland monitoring in Maine.

A stalk of white orchids caught my eye through the green.

White flowers clearly related to marsh marigold lined the boardwalk. Later identified it as: Caltha leptosepala, the white marsh marigold, twinflowered marsh marigold, or broadleaved marsh marigold.

A new species of starflower – later identified as the Arctic starflower (Trientalis europaea L. var. europaer) also caught my eye. It grows in Scotland and Northern England as well, and is the provincial flower of Värmland province in Sweden.

Many different species of blueberries and huckleberries were in bloom all along the trail!

And I even saw round-leaved sundew on a rotting log in the sphagnum!

I heard the lifeguard-whistle-like calls of varied thrushes all along my hike, but only saw this one. It had a beak full of insects for its babies! I also heard a barred owl, with mixed feelings.

I’ve seen many little leaves and flowers that I can only guess are related to Pyrolas (shinleaf) from back home.

The bunchberry I saw had bracts that were greener than ours, and flowers that were darker in the center. It might be Cornus suecica or a cross.

Wikipedia: “Where Cornus canadensis, a forest species, and Cornus suecica, a heath or bog species, grow near each other in their overlapping ranges in Alaska, Labrador, and Greenland, they can hybridize by cross-pollination, producing plants with intermediate characteristics.”

After my hike I headed back into town, met Tim for dinner to interview him, and then watched a lovely sunset over the ocean from right down the shore from my campsite. Ketchikan is beautiful!