Strawberries and Perseids

Posted by Arlo on Sep 2, 2007 under Life of Arlo

A hand full of wild strawberriesIt rains a lot in Southeast Alaska, but when it’s sunny, there’s no place I’d rather be.  Besides the Playboy Mansion.
Oksana’s been struggling to get back to a 40-hour work week, but the weather was just too nice on the third weekend in August to let her spend it behind a desk.  I convinced her to pass the day with me instead, and we decided to drive out to Eagle Beach and hike around.  The tide was high and the little strip of rocky shore that remained was already crowded with people.  We decided to walk through the tall grass fields along the river.
Walking slowly, taking pictures of flowers on the shore and the occasional sea lion poking his head out of the river, Oksana suddenly stopped walking.
“I smell strawberries.” she said.
“What?  I don’t smell anything.”
“There are strawberries here!”

Eagle Glacier and Eagle River

We looked around and, sure enough, a large patch of vegetation in front of us was different from everything around it. I spotted low plants in the sandy soil, spotted red leaves among the green. When we ventured into the middle of it, I smelled them, too.

Wild strawberries on the vine

At first, the wild strawberries were frustratingly hard to find. I don’t know whether they’d already been picked clean by others or if they only grew in the shade, but we mostly only found them along the edges of the little clearing. For the next 15 minutes or so, Oksana and I ate our fill of the tiny, pale – but oh-so-sweet – strawberries. We must have picked 3 or 4 dozen.

Arlo eating strawberries

That same evening we hosted our weekly social gathering at our apartment. As the evening wound down and night descended, I suggest we go back, en masse, to Eagle Beach to watch for the Perseid meteor showers. Only three people took us up on the offer, but we had an enjoyable time, nonetheless.

We arrived at Eagle Beach just as another group of stargazers was departing. It seemed a Forest Service ranger had turned them away from the park. Even though he maintained that the beach had been closing for three years at 10pm every night, it was news to us. With a crystal clear sky above and the promise of a good show, neither group would be diverted. We all stopped at the campground to ask if we could watch from there.

Big Dipper

The caretaker made us promise not to get too boisterous or build fires outside the campground pits. If we adhered to those two rules, we could stay as long as we liked.

Our fire pit was dangerously overhung with alder branches and we had to borrow a lighter from the other group, but otherwise our fire served its purpose and kept most of the mosquitoes away. The straight-backed camping chairs we’d brought left a kink in our necks after looking up for so long, the picnic table was too hard to lay on for long, but the show in the sky made it all worthwhile. Each of us saw a couple dozen shooting stars (though never all saw the same one!) and a few of us saw one blaze an amazing trail across the sky, red for a good second before turning white, then fading away. Finally, around 1am, we climbed back into our cars and left the white hazy band of the Milky Way behind.

The weekend wasn’t over. Sunday night, despite having to work early the following morning, we decided to sit out under the stars once again. The Perseids were supposed to be at their height, and our sky was miraculously still cloudless.

That evening, four of us went to Fred Meyer, shopping for better chairs. We bought two surprisingly comfortable, collapsible recliners and one three-section ratcheting beach chair. At home we loaded up on munchies, drinks, flashlights, and blankets. Foregoing a fire, we decided to plant ourselves on the strip of land between Auke Rec and Point Louisa.

Leah, Mike, Joe, Oksana, Arlo, Karl

It was another beautiful, moonless night and the only lights were those of Fritz Cove across the water, and the occasional passing ferry or cruise ship. I’d brought my camera with me, but quickly discovered that I would have to be phenomenally lucky to capture a shooting star with it. Instead, I aimed the lens at my friends.

Leah and her flashlight

While we all sighted shooting stars and satellites, I increased my exposures to 5-minutes. Without a directive to keep still, most of us blurred into non-existence, but I did manage to capture some neat photos. The path of an Alaska Airlines jet making its final approach, the stars in the sky slowly turning, the glow of a ferry disappearing behind an island.

Alaska Airlines jet on approach

Before long, Oksana fell asleep between her warm comforter and flat beach chair. As the number of shooting stars increased, the rest of us began to lose interest. The hour was late, but no one voiced any desire to leave. We passed the time posing for the camera and painting scenes with flashlights. Just when we started to master the technique… my camera battery died. Which was all well and good, because it was already 2am and, except for Oksana, we needed to get to bed.

Ooo... Scary!

Somehow, despite going to work the next day on only 5 hours of sleep, I didn’t even feel tired. I tried to figure out why that was; I think it’s because when the sun’s out in Juneau, it tends to recharge my internal batteries, gives me a boost.

Looking back, it was a lucky, lucky weekend. Warm weather, clear skies, a summer meteor shower, and not even a sliver of a moon to obscure the stars. I could live the rest of my life in Juneau and never again experience those conditions.

Worth their weight in sugar