Avalanches in Goatlandia
Yesterday (20210304), avalanches were triggered above the Thane Road runout on Snowslide Creek. Several folks posted impressive video from the Sayéik (Douglas) side. To my surprise, I could see and film part of the activities from my goatwatching station on Behrends Avenue, 2.8 miles away.
Living just above the Highschool, making daily observations of ‘Goatlandia’ since October, I’m naturally more interested in avalanche potential on what I call ‘Nettleslide’ (in preference to commemorating deceased white bankers). The recent level-5-extreme-risk evacuation got all of us in Áak’w & T’aakú Aaní thinking seriously about bad-things-coming-downhill. But my odds of actually witnessing or filming snowslides here are rather low. Homes in Nettleslide runout keep intentional triggers off the table. So my best proxy is preemptive activities southeast of the City, where you can pretty much count on exciting shows. These planned detonations are good previews of what can and will happen naturally here in Goatlandia. And they shed light on what life is like for Oreamnos in and on the fringes of our aldery ‘bowling alleys.’
Miners named Snowslide Creek for good reasons in 1894, and we can thank them for not adding yet another “commemorative” IWGN (important white guy name) to our maps. But its prior Lingít name is way cooler—one of my favorite examples of how intimately the old ones knew their environment. Marie Olson and Cecilia Kunz told us Dzisk’w liu kaadi translates snowslide [or cleared place] of the little owls—and I suspect the connection is with Peromyscus keenyi, our northwest-coastal deer mouse.
I’m an avid student of Southeast wildlife habitats, but it wasn’t until my third decade of rainforest studies that I recognized slide-alder runouts as mouse factories. They’re not popular campsites, even in summer after starting zones melt clear and dangerlevel drops to 1-Low. But when I finally, with misgivings, spent several nights in one, our floorless tent was steadily ransacked by the frenetic little buggers. Not surprisingly, we heard 3 different species of small owls staking claims to the edges of this rodent cafeteria.
But how did folks before Sibley guides and Cornell-Lab audiofiles make that connection? How many small owls have you seen in your lifetime? Think about what the name Dzisk’w liu kaadi is telling us, about the community of master-naturalists who fished and gathered and gardened on Séet ka (Gastineau Channel) 300 years ago!
Dzisk’w liu kaadi has much the same aspect, slope, ‘header’ configuration and vegetation as Tʼóokʼ dleit
ḵaadí, nettleslide—and both are beloved by goats as well as deermice. For the past 2 weeks, as our neighborhood felt more and more like the wrong end of a firing range, I’ve searched in vain for Jánwu. That may not be due to any high degree of avalanche awareness on their part. A soberingly large percentage of Kevin White’s telemetered goat mortalities have been avalanche related (more females than males). On Shee (Baranof Is), lacking wolves, that rate doubles! More likely, I rarely find goats during considerable-&-high-danger forecasts from Urban Avalanche Advisory because snow lies deeper in open foraging zones during those times, forcing Jánwu into shady, hungry understories.
Kevin sent this and some other photos out to friends and goat biologists this winter, launching an erudite online discussion of goats and avalanches. On the one hand (like wolves) snow and falling rocks kill goats; on the other, (like wolves!) they’ve shaped Oreamnos into the animal we admire, creating and maintaining the habitats that sustain Kag̱áak, mouse, and Jánwu. In winter, when high alpine Lingít Aaní is caked in snow, dleit ḵaadí chutes and runouts at low-to-middle elevations are probably unsurpassed as foraging habitat.
Thanks to Kanaan Bausler for the nadir view in my slideshow, right after the snowcloud settled on Dzisk’w liu kaadi.
Placename sources: My primary source is Our grandparents names on the land (2012), however this has no atlas-dot near the miners’ “Snowslide Creek” Dzisk’w liu kaadi comes from a 1991-92 list prepared by Marie Olson from research with Cecilia Kunz:
“Slide area, south of Juneau, is called Dzisk’w liu kaadi. dzisk’w means a small owl and the rest means a cleared place. 9/25/91 and 2/9/92. CK says Haines has a place called dzisk’w ku kil’i.”
From Lance Twitchell’s Tlingit Dictionary: ● dzískʼw owl: great horned owl ● x̱éex̱ owl: small owl ● dleit ḵaadí snowslide: snow avalanche