Story last updated at 2/25/2009 - 11:34 am
My most memorable wildlife encounters always seem to occur when I have no camera on hand. Watching porcupines climb trees, being in the middle of a bubble net, being almost close enough to touch a seal in the harbor - and then last Tuesday, some great avian antics.
Out at Boy Scout Beach, I finally saw an avian behavior I'd heard a lot about: crows picking up mussel shells, flying up twenty feet up so and then strategically dropping them on the rocks below to crack the shells.
Interspersed among the crows were all sorts of gulls, taking a crack at the mussels with their beaks (they didn't seem to have mastered the dropped trick). The crows cawed, the gulls squawked. None seemed to mind the others' presence.
So much for birds of a feather flocking together.
But isn't it just about the food?
Maybe it is, and maybe it extends to humans too. In past weeks, I've written a bit about what ties our Juneau flock together, and I'm starting to think that in Alaska, flocks are largely defined by what we eat and how we get it.
Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein's film "Eating Alaska" is showing this weekend in Juneau. She describes her film as a "wry quest" to understand why we eat what we do and how we get it. In Juneau, the possibilities for food run the gamut from subsistence lifestyles to dining out at sushi bars - and the desire to be close to the source of your diet (whether specific grocery stores, downtown restaurants or boat launches for fishing and hunting trips) shapes where we choose to live.
This week I read a book called "The Big Sort" by Bill Bishop. It's about how over the past 50 years, with increased mobility among our population, Americans have sorted themselves into communities that are increasingly homogeneous politically. More and more, Democrats live in overwhelmingly democratic communities and Republicans in overwhelmingly republican communities, and it's vastly by self-selection.
Bishop never mentions Alaska in his book, although I wish he would have. I kept wondering while reading: Are we sorted here?
In Juneau, the first possible "sorting" that comes to mind is between downtown and the Mendenhall Valley. If you're unaware of the stereotypes, visit akrobotics.com and watch the hilarious Alaska Robotics film, "Town vs. Valley," made a few years ago. Voting results broken down by precinct results confirm some of the stereotypes: downtown residents are more likely to vote Democrat and Valley residents are more likely to vote Republican.
So are we sorted? Are we choosing to flock with our own (political) feather?
Maybe in some neighborhoods we are. And some people might live their lives largely in a sorted community, if they live and work and play and worship in the same area with the same people.
But personally, I don't know how someone could manage it in Juneau for very long.
There are only so many things to do in any given part of town. And so many people wear more than one hat in this town that they naturally run with a variety of different flocks. People always surprise you: a businessman in a suit and tie plays in a folk band; a sculptor goes hunting on weekends.
On a typical morning, I walk the Auke Bay docks, passing a variety of fishermen, boat owners and Coast Guard members, then park among the big rigs to dash in and grab a coffee at the Valley Breeze In, and finally settle in front of my downtown office window, where I watch "regulars" walk by all day long. After work, I might cap off the evening by with an ice skate or a play on Douglas, a movie at Glacier Cinemas, or a night hike way out the road.
There's a lot to be said for living close to work, and on icy days when Egan Drive is backed up, I certainly miss the days when I lived a six-minute stroll away from the office.
On the other hand, I think spending the day in a variety of different environments is a great way to avoid getting too sorted - and this time of year, it sure helps stave off cabin fever.