By Co-owner Michael Wald
I went for a walk this overcast and windless afternoon around the head of the bay near where we are
staying, 10 miles from the town of Haines in Southeast Alaska. On the way back home from the fresh water spring under the enormous Sitka Spruce, my 3-year old son was quiet long enough for my ears to catch a faint but familiar noise from down the inlet. There were no birds in sight but the sound of the Long-tailed Ducks instantly transported me to the arctic coast. Long-tailed ducks, formerly known by the apt and descriptive but derogatory name Old-squaw or the Inupiat onomatopoetic name Ahalik are small and hardy sea-ducks that breed across the arctic and winter from the Aleutians to Southeast Alaska.
We often see them on isolated lakes in the Brooks Range and they are nearly constant companions along the Beaufort Sea coast in the summer. I have spent many an arctic night around driftwood fires watching and listening to these black and white ducks feed and rest among the rotting summer sea-ice. We (Michael and Sally and our two boys) are spending January through March watching a friend’s homestead here in Haines, as a sort of trial run for where we would like to spend our “off-season” when we are not guiding and running Arctic Wild. After more than a decade (3 decades for Sally) living in Fairbanks year round, I wondered if I would miss the deep dry cold, the proximity to the endless wilderness of the Interior and Brooks Range, or our wonderful
community of friends, many of whom are involved with Arctic Wild. I have also been feeling sheepish about fleeing the cold rather than enjoying the winters charms. In contrast many have suggested that if we are going to run from the cold we should go a whole lot further than Southeast Alaska (Mexico or Hawaii). But today standing on the beach hearing the long-tailed ducks calling “ahalik ahalik”, I thought that maybe they and we have found some ideal winter habitat. I don’t really want to be the cliché snow birds, but following the sea ducks’ example might be a wonderful life for our family. We miss our friends in Fairbanks but I am loving spending time on the water paddling and fishing, and skiing among the big trees of Southeast Alaska is a treat. Winter is speeding by; we know that we will head north to the arctic just as soon as the ducks tell us it is time to go.