Each spring, Alaska experiences a phenomenon known as “Melt-out,” when all the collected snow finally begins to melt, sending sheets of water downhill and generally making a mucky, muddy mess out of everything. Usually this occurs near the end of April or even early May. This year, however, is different. The recent eruptions of Mt. Redoubt spread volcanic ash all over the south-central part of the state. That ash, now laying on top of much of the snow in the area, is acting like a solar blanket, transferring the heat of the sun into the normally reflective snow.
We may still have some snowfall left this year, but the damage has been done. We’re starting to see patches of ground where there has only been snow since October. It’s going to be really messy for a month, but then we get to enjoy the Alaskan summer!
The snow is doing just fine where the ash didn’t stick to it, making a big patchwork of white splotches and sunken gray sections all over the place.
It even works on a smaller scale, melting around small bits of white snow, leaving little towers.
Or leaving fragile glass-like footprints, suspended above the melting snow.
To finish up the story of the last eagle feeding last week, I was sent down by the Homer Tribune to take some pictures of the ceremony. I’m working as a freelance photographer and outdoor/sports writer for them now, so that’s pretty cool. I’ll post some scans when I get published.
Anyway, we went down to the Spit, expecting some sort of ceremony and statue for Jean Keane. What we found was more akin to a yard sale, with tables full of dwarf and frog statues, animal skulls, and wood carvings.
Unsurprisingly, since Jean fed the eagles daily, everything was covered in bird poo.
Eventually, the organizers brought out a box of fish, and started feeding the eagles. There are always a few eagles hanging out on the Spit, but within minutes of opening the box, the air was filled with dozens of giant birds. A few fish were tossed on the roof of Jeans house, and suddenly we were surrounded by swooping eagles.
Most of the fish were tossed out towards the beach, where the eagles would either swoop down and grab the fish, or land and try to grab what the swoopers missed. The wind was coming from that direction as well, so I got hit more than once by fish juice and eagle crap. Delightful!
I shot some video before switching back to stills, so here you go. Sorry about the wind noise, but that’s what it was like.
Unfortunately, none of the pictures got published, since the Trib was hoping for more memorial service and less eagle crap. Oh well.
Flash forward to yesterday. Around 6am, one of the sled dogs started barking. This particular dog is slightly neurotic about Nature, and tends to bark when the wind picks up, or if snow is falling, etc. So we just ignored him. At 7:45, I woke up and thought the light coming through the windows looked weird, so I got up and looked outside. Here’s what I saw:
My exact thoughts: “Oh…crap. Must check AVO (Alaska Volcano Observatory) site!”
Sure enough, Redoubt had erupted at 6am that morning. And not only had it erupted and spewed ash 50,000 feet into the sky, it was accompanied by thunder and lightning emanating from the ash cloud. No wonder it set off the dog! I wonder if it was as spectacular as this eruption in Argentina?
I got dressed and hurried out to feed the dogs before the ash started to fall, and finished feeding in record time. Before sealing up the house, I took a few more pictures.
This is looking northeast from the dog yard:
And this is looking southwest, towards Homer:
And another view, from the driveway, looking west:
Looks ominous, doesn’t it? Luckily, we had a steady wind coming from the northeast, which drove the ash cloud out over the bay before it could reach us! Not a single bit of ash fell on us yesterday, though Homer got hit pretty hard. We went into town last night to go a drama slam, and town looked like someone had dumped a giant bucket of dusty sand over everything.
Redoubt has now had over 5 major eruptions in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve heard that it might continue like this for months. In a week or so, we’ll be moving to a place in Anchor Point, which faces Redoubt on the coast, so I might actually get some eruption shots! (More on the move later, when I wrap up my Bucket List series)
You may or may not know that Homer is well stocked for bald eagles. The Daily Show even did a segment about it a few years ago (which is no longer available on the Comedy Central site, for some reason). A local resident, Jean Keane, fed them for years from her home on the Spit.
Jean died early this year, and the town council voted to end the eagle feedings at the end of March. This past Friday was designated as the final feeding day. I’d never been to one of the famous feedings, so we packed up the dogs and drove down to the Spit.
I’ll go into more detail about the whole experience later (it’s late here, and I’m really tired), but when the guys started flinging fish out onto the beach, the air was filled with eagles. Here are some of the pictures I took.