April 27th, 2004

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Mirkwood

(Day 2)
Attention Peter Jackson: we have found Mirkwood for you! Mirkwood has skeletal leafless birch trees, pallid in the mist, and diseased skinny fir trees whose branches splay out feebly. The two grow so closely that in places a child could not get between them. It has swampy fens with dead vegetation. In some of the fens, some violently red algae grows on the rocks beneath the water, so that as you are driving by them, you suddenly realize that the marsh flows blood-red. In addition, the marshy ground buckles and freezes an unpleasant curdled yellow. There are blotchy bulbous lichens in gray and brown and pallid green. It is lovely and hideous at once, and the presence of giant spiders would not surprise me in the least.
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The ice age of 1000 years starts with a single winter

(Day 3)
We just saw a glacier! First on this trip, a tiny little one, maybe five to ten feet thick and two hundred feet long, with its own snowpack and jagged crevasses. It was the same milky translucent blue of larger glaciers, a color one usually expects to see in frosted plastic drinking glasses or bubble wrap.

I wanted to pat it on the morraine and say, "Don't worry, one day you'll smash Fort Nelson flat."
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and AWAAAAAAAAY!

My vegetable love

(Day 3)
Correction: the weird skinny trees are not diseased or starved. They are Alpine Firs, Abies lasiocarpa, evolved to keep their trunks arrow-straight and their branches short and stiff so that they never catch enough snow to be broken. They move very oddly - when the wind blows, the branches don't bend. The entire tree rocks back and forth, in a way that somehow reminds me of rattling bones.

We're also seeing a lot of paper birches, which are pale white, smooth of bark and entirely without leaves at this time of year. Bonedance forests, ice and snow and alpine firs and pale white birch.

I'm identifying trees using an ancient dog-eared copy of A natural history of Western Trees, written by one Donald Culross Peattie in 1950. Does anyone write natural histories anymore? The language is, er, well... let me show you. This is what he has to say about birches and alpine firs:

Paper birch delights in the company of somber and militarily erect conifers, as if to set off its dryad-like charms of exfoliating soft bark, of daintily pendulous branchlets, of light green and vivacious foliage. It loves to grow around cold clear lakes where its smooth limbs will be reflected in the water like a bather's.

We are easily entertained, Perhaps it's the long hours driving.
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Caribou!

(Day 3)
Biology we have learned from pictographic "animal crossing" road signs:

  • All caribou have malevolent red eyes without iris or pupil. The ones we saw must have just had their virgin sacrifice or eaten the tasty chocolate-covered soul of the pope or something. They seemed pretty mellow and did not sprout tentacles and menace us.
  • Hitting a mountain sheep with your car will make the front grille explode in a comic-book-style starburst. And knock over the sheep.
  • Deer are always leaping over something. When they don't have anything else to leap over, deer leap over the extra six dimensions postulated by string theory. Their two front feet never actually touch the ground. Perhaps they have antimatter hooves.
  • "A fed bear is a dead bear." Apparently there is some sort of bear mafia, and the ones that turn federal witnesses meet, er, accidents.
  • Moose are black from head to toe. Despite the fact that there is a sign warning of moose crossing every fifty feet or so along the alcan, we haven't seen any yet. This leads to one obvious conclusion: moose are ninjas, masters of invisibility! Nobody told me Canada was so cool. I wonder if they're locked in a titanic power struggle with the bear mafia?


Critters actually seen: stone sheep, caribou, deer. We haven't seen any of the archetypical eternal mafia vs. ninja combatants.
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