National Geographic : 1956 Jun
Photographing Northern Wild Flowers Traveling by Plane, Car, Canoe, and Afoot, an Adventurous Amateur Captures the Beauty of South-central Alaska's Natural Gardens BY VIRGINIA L. WELLS 809 T AM going to photograph the wild flowers of Alaska." That was my ambitious and naive statement in the spring of 1947, when my husband and I moved to Anchorage. Now I smile at such a dream, for, although that goal is not impossible, I shall probably be a very old woman by the time I have reached it. For years now I have been photographing wild flowers in south-central Alaska, one eighth of the big Territory. Fortunately, my husband and I both love the out-of-doors. So we spend every summer week end we can in search of natural gardens where beautiful flowers in wild, unsullied surroundings await my camera's quick eye. Last summer we visited Katmai National Monument, which the National Geographic Society helped establish. In wild anticipation I took every piece of photographic gear I own. From Anchorage we flew southwest across Cook Inlet toward the snow-covered Aleutian Range, skimming close enough to Redoubt Volcano, it seemed, to reach out and scoop a handful of snow from its gleaming flank. Where Rocks Float and Wood Sinks Across green and rocky fingers holding fast to blue inlets we scudded, passed Iliamna Volcano, which puffed steam at us in warn ing that the old fires were not yet dead, and headed toward Augustine Island, a perfect cone of a mountain, aloof and alone in the sea. Turning inland, we approached a rolling plain dotted with lakes and interwoven with tiny threads of streams. To the right I could see bottle-green Iliamna Lake; to the left, the glitter of Lakes Coville and Grosvenor. After a brief stop at King Salmon, we boarded a small floatplane and 20 minutes later swooped down on Naknek Lake and came to rest at Brooks River Camp. "Brooks Camp is known for rocks that float and wood that sinks," John Walatka, the manager said, showing me some beautiful petrified wood and pointing out pumice stones, lighter than water, that littered the beach. It was too late in the afternoon for pictures, but I could not resist searching for flowers on the beach. Near high-water mark I found the small lavender beach pea-but not a single other flower! After breakfast next morning we set out on a path that led through patches of scrub wil low, open places of shoulder-tall grasses, spruce woods, and at times along the river bank. There I saw red, or sockeye, salmon by the thousands, darting from hole to hole. Occasionally the river's soft singing would erupt into a wild thrashing, and I could see dozens of the big fish rolling and flashing in the shallow water. Country for Huge Brown Bears At every grassy place I felt a small nudge of fear at what the trail's next turn might bring. A river full of salmon is sure-fire at traction for bears. I could just imagine a huge brown carnivore rising suddenly out of the tall grass to tower over me with paw raised for the fatal blow (page 770). Suddenly, from the top of a small hill, Brooks Falls burst into view. The water broke into white foam against the rocks, mak ing this giant watery step look like a white ribbon pulled across crumpled green cello phane. The falls would win no prize for size, but I was impressed by their symmetry and the wild beauty of the setting (page 814). Several fishermen in bright jackets were casting flies into deep pools below the falls. Near by I found a Fish and Wildlife Service man checking the salmon in the fish ladder, built to help the fish climb the falls. "The salmon gather below the falls by day," he told me, "and try to jump them in the evening or at night. Making a six-foot vertical leap up a tremendous current is no simple feat, so most of the fish eventually find their way up the ladder." At noon hunger drove us back to camp, but later we started again for the falls. I was a little depressed, having seen only some lav ender Jacob's-ladder, common around Anchor age (page 816). What flower photographer wouldn't be? We entered the spruce woods Indian-file. Suddenly my husband stopped and pointed.