Posts Tagged ‘rain forest’

Whales, eagles, and salmon

August 18, 2013

The fish will never ask why

Their biology demands that they try

The end couldn’t be sadder

For at the end of the ladder

The salmon spawn and inevitably die

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went to have adventures and work in out-of-the-way locations.  After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took up a part-time, 54 hour a week position with a Community Health Center.  I’m taking a working vacation now in Petersburg, Alaska.

Life in Barrow, Alaska finds the rhythm of its heartbeat with the whale, Keosauqua with the deer.  Our home town of Sioux City, Iowa breathes with the corn cycle.  Petersburg, Alaska has its pulse with the fish, in particular, the salmon.

A Norwegian fisherman opened a cannery and founded the town about a century ago, and Petersburg has depended on salmon since.  They also catch cod, crab, shrimp, and halibut, but without salmon, the town wouldn’t exist.

Nine hundred seasonal workers came this summer to work 16 hour days in the canneries, and you can find no more than two degrees of separation between anyone in town and the fishing industry.  By the time someone finishes high school here, they have worked in that industry at some level, whether on a fishing boat or in the cannery.

Today we drove out to Hungry Point and watched the same humpback whales we’d seen in Maui.  We had brilliant conversation with two tourists from Australia.  We went a bit further down the coast to Sandy Beach and watched pink salmon desperately trying to swim upstream to spawn and eagles leisurely waiting to feed on them.

We enjoyed the spectacle, and talked to some people from Petersburg.  The rainfall ran short this summer, and the beautiful clear days have come at a price; one can’t have a rain forest without rain.  Streams have to have adequate flow for the salmon to swim.

People who live here will readily say that king, or Chinook salmon taste best, followed by red (sockeye) or silver (coho).  They speak with disdain of the pink (humpies), saying they’re good for cat food.  And no one even mentions the chum or dog salmon in terms of human food.  Yet the canneries this year will mostly process the pink salmon.

We drove out south on Mitkof Highway along the Wrangell Narrows.  We found the fish hatchery closed, and by then the good hard rain made viewing salmon swimming impossible.  On the way back to town we stopped at the Falls Creek fish ladder, which we found despite the abysmal signage.  While the rain came harder and harder we stood and looked over the concrete, manmade steps that parallel the roaring rapids.

It took a while till we knew what to look for, then the drama of the eternal struggle of life’s longing for itself played out in front of us, salmon desperately swimming against an overwhelming current to find a place to lay and fertilize eggs before they die.

No Pacific salmon survives the reproductive process.


New Zealand Road Trip : Punakaiki to Hari Hari

June 6, 2011

The greenstone’s a gem just like jade

For jewelry, for bowls, or for blades

     What it looked so official,

     Just like my initial

Was the thing that the artist had made.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to dance back from the verge of burnout, I’m having adventures and working in out-of-the-way places.  We’re touring after a month-long assignment an hour outside of quake-stricken Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island.

This morning we got off to a leisurely start to the Paparoa National Park, famous for pancake rocks and blow-holes. 

The mood of the beaches of the South Island’s West Coast differs from the beaches of the East Coast, where we started our New Zealand odyssey, as much as Big Sur differs from New Jersey.  The Tasman Sea, which separates New Zealand and Australia, generates much bigger surf than the Pacific. 

We found the East Coast rainy, but the West Coast, where parts flow with 3 meters (ten feet) of rain in an average year, makes all that greenery look positively drought-stricken.

We took the short Truman Walk down to the beach north of Punkaiki proper as the tide rose. We entered the cool zone of the rain forest and followed the path downhill out into the open where trees give way to New Zealand flax, then down the rocks to the sand.  Bethany found a piece of jade.

“Look how gorgeous this is,” she said, “and with the main attraction by the visitor’s center, I’ll bet almost no one comes here.”

In fact, the number of tourists at the Pancake Rocks increased steadily as high tide approached.  We went out on the path across the rocks and looked over the eroded, layered dolomite, feeling the ground shake as the waves pounded through the grottos under our feet.  A brief rain made me zip up my duck-hunting jacket and drove the other tourists away.  When the number of smokers reached critical mass, we left.

An easy afternoon’s drive through driving rain, past brooding mountains with low hanging clouds brought us to Hokitika, famous for greenstone and jade.

The Maori prized greenstone for its beauty and utility, and grew ceremony and custom to go with it.  Found nowhere else in the world, greenstone jewelry finds favor with Maori and Pakeha alike, and two years ago attained recognition as a gemstone separate from jade.  You don’t find the greenstone, the Maori say, the greenstone finds you; never purchased for oneself, it should only be bought as a gift.

The local Maori iwi owns the only privately held river in the country; they find jade and greenstone in the bed, and carve it for market at their shop in Hokitika. 

We walked in, and as I looked through the display case, the goose bumps hit.

Fifty years ago I combined my first and last initial into a monogram; it evolved as I finished medical school and started signing things hundreds of times a day.  Not particularly legible, but consistent and distinctive, the center resembles a treble clef.

I called Bethany over and pointed; she gasped.  The piece could pass for my signature.  The greenstone had found me, but Bethany would have to make the actual purchase.

The Maori clerk, a nurse, also works full-time at the Greymouth hospital, and in short order we fell to talking about medicine.

Their hospital has lab and x-ray.  Depending on who has the duty, surgery can be performed there, but complicated fractures get flown to Christchurch on weekends.  A top-heavy administration uses resources to make rules for the sake of rules, while such facilities as an Alzheimer’s unit lack the money for beds.

I told her that, outside the specialty hospitals, the same problems crop up in American facilities. Here, as in the US, rural areas and small towns have problems recruiting doctors.

I explained the Medical Council of New Zealand’s rules for provisional licensure the first year; the registration comes tied to a specific location, and the doc has to notify the Council before any practice move.  My registration expired yesterday, I told her, and I smiled.