2 days ago - Saturday, another blur. I woke up wasn't quite sure where I was. Another minute to brush away the fog of multi-day, multi-locaiton filming and I remembered we were in the comfort of the Tenakee Lodge. A nice place considering how remote it's location was. And beside many neighboring houses, this was palatial. I was up first and noticed how calm the water and sky were. I immediately grabbed the camera and tripod, slipped on my shoes and ran across the road to Art's place where i set up on the deck overlooking the receding tide just feet away. I set the camera to record in time-lapse in hopes of capturing the far shore fog as it crept over the hills and valleys then began my ritual of coffee injection, gear preparation and wondering where our next meal would come from. Luckily for us Art offered up some cereal, a simple pleasure I often miss when traveling. After many days of restaurant pancakes and eggs I welcomed the more healthy oats. It was time to head out and begin another fast paced day of filming as much as possible. While I was breaking down the camera and getting it ready to transport a raven flew over my head. At first I heard it and was startled at how close it sounded but once I looked up and saw it was 20' above I wondered how it could seem so loud. Then a gul flew by and I could hear the air pushing down off it's wings like I've never heard before.
A sort of "Swooosh, swoooosh..." I looked 360° around and realized there were no motors running, no cars, no planes. Nothing but the wind complimented by the fizzing waves lapping on the barnacle covered rocks revealed by the low tide. I know I'll remember those sounds for a long time and will wish I had kept the camera running even tho the perfect shot with perfect sound cannot relay the magnificent silence and beauty of that moment.
After a brief discussion we decided to drag our gear including the large bag of dolly, tracks and mini-crane (weighing in at an even 50lbs) into a skiff and motor off to find what is by many, considered the tallest (and most likely oldest) Spruce still standing in the Tongass. On the way we passed seals, porpoise and whales in the distance. Art had a GPS with coordinates so we figured it wouldn't be a problem.
When we arrived near the spot Art circled the skiff and looked a bit confused. He announced as we sat 30' off the shore that this was the spot. It was clear we'd have to bushwack into the woods and hope for the best. Looking at the thick brush hiding all points of entry to this old growth forest I couldn't help but worry about possible bears just inside the trees. It was another Jurassic moment but we followed Art who confidently led us towards what had looked like one hell of a tall tree from the shore. I couldn't believe how thick with vegetation, moss and Devils Club the forest floor was. This is Devils Club
It's huge and nasty and hurts like hell when it pokes you. It's roots are slippery and Art took a tumble into a patch of it. The guy didn't make a peep. Clearly a local. Curtis and I were more like "Dude!... Ouch!... @#$@!!!"
I could hear and see water everywhere, in kettle ponds, sponging out underfoot, running down trees, over all things there, even overhead in thick mist that moved in and around the forest like a ghostly blanket. We got a solid interview using the mini crane until the tripod head snapped off. All said we lugged the dolly tracks and crane around all of South East Alaska for 3 shots. I hope they're worth that effort. The tree behind Art was beyond description, even for a wordy guy like me.
It had somehow escaped the loggers saws where as this guy was not so lucky.
You can see the notch where the logger would have inserted a "Spring Board" to climb up on and then cut through as the flared base would have required twice as much effort.
We roared back to town, recharged batteries and dumped footage to my computer and backup drives then walked down to meet with Walter, a 99 year old Tlingit who has lived in Tenakee for his entire life. Before he let us set up, he interviewed me. He clearly was testing me to make sure I wasn't too much in one direction (no logging) or the other (clear cutting) which luckily is where my client stands, in between the two. I haven't been on the spot like that in a long time but I spoke honestly from my heart then shut my mouth. He didn't answer right away. In fact it seemed like it took quite a while for him to finally gesture to my camera bag and say in a decisive voice, "Ok, set up your stuff"
Walter spoke of his people's life before the white man came and claimed their lands. Sure you've heard it before but to hear it from a guy who witnessed it - my eyes were welling up with my own guilty embarrassment being a 'white man' as he spoke. He was adamant about seeing the land as a resource but also quickly pointed out how disgusting and destructive the clear cutting is. He touched on the youth of today having little respect for anything but themselves and said something to the effect of "How can they have respect for the land and water when they never go outside?"
When he saw I was running low on questions he promptly said, "Ok, that's it". He waived his hands and was done. I turned off the camera. He was a powerful man and I don't know what he thought of me but I was in awe. I could likely make a film based solely from his stories.
We continued down the road of Tenakee and met with Ken, a guy who flew helicopters for 22 years then retired in Tenakee stating, "I've lived in the cities and have no need for all that crap. So I live here now." This guy is huge, like 6'4" and 250. He's runs his own small scale mill and is a great example of what's wrong with the system. Ken was also concerned that we were not going to use his words to make the forests off limits to logging, even tho he cannot take a single log out of that forest since his operation is SO small. He relies on wood that makes it's way to the water. He'll get it off shorelines and drag it back with a skiff or make a float. Then he cuts the wood and sells it locally. The Forest Service doesn't have the manpower or desire to deal with such small allotments or so it was explained to me so he lives surrounded by resources he cannot touch.
Ken is also an amazing artist. His woodshop was immaculate and superbly organized. One look at the bowls and vases he makes show how talented he is. His wife is also talented in the art of brewing award-winning beer. This guy has got it going on!
We made our way back to the docks hoping the settling fog would not crowd out our ride back to Juneau and we got lucky.
Something I'll surely miss - getting around via float plane
Once we landed back in Juneau we bid our absolutely amazing guide Butch, adieu and checked back into our hotel. It was pouring so the option of getting another bike ride in wasn't so appealing. We opted for some quick gift shopping since these trips are when I do all my Christmas shopping. For myself I picked up a sweet silver bracelet with a native carving of a killer whale, the spirit of the traveler - seemed fitting. Then we scored some terrific sushi. A few short hours to repack our gear then sleep and we were in the airport yet again. Delayed planes, terrible food and numb legs. Travel days suck.
Now I'm back in DC jet lagged and melancholy. Good to be home for sure but it makes me think why do I live here? Trying to tell friends will be hard - how can you describe the absolute quiet of that land in a crowded, loud bar? No way. I'd rather just smile and say something like
"Alaska is still wild. The people are friendly and happy. The land is untamed and rich but not without controversy or need for better management which will only come from more people being aware of this amazing and eternally endangered place. So get involved. The fate of the Tongass is in the hands of those who care about it most."
Which in essence, is the goal statement of the video.