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Updated: Nov 21, 2022

The Artist Telegraph By Geoffrey C. Smith

Nature of Alaska, The Last Frontier

It will come as no surprise to those who know my artwork that nature and wildlife inspire my creativity. Many people are aware of Florida wildlife's influence on my work, but with roots in Northern California and Montana, I have been inspired by many other environments and animals outside of the Sunshine State. And this past summer, after spending my days in Alaska, my inspiration and appreciation continues to grow. Read on to learn more about the animals I encountered in the Alaskan wild!

A photo taken by award winning artist, Geoffrey C. Smith, of the Alaskan mountains and glaciers.

Alaska is an incredible place. Removed from the world, it is plentiful with millions of lakes, many of the country's tallest mountains, active volcanoes and so much more. Alaska's low population density makes it feel as though you are thousands of miles away from society. And in many ways, you really are. Alaska has so much beauty and wildlife!

A little fun fact: Alaska boasts the title as most north, most east, and most west part of the United States. The Aleutian Islands of Alaska cross the 180-degree longitude line, making this so. The federal government owns the most land in Alaska with state parks, refuges, etc. totaling over 222 million acres, about 61% of the state.

Spawning Salmon

While I was in Alaska this late summer, I observed the spawning of the different types of salmon. It was incredible! Salmon are a keystone species, meaning that they provide health to the ecosystem in a way where other species heavily rely on their existence. The nutrients they bring to the environment provide sustainable life to many others.

If you don't know much about the salmon migration, their life cycle is quite fascinating! A salmon begins its life in the riverbed. When it hatches, the salmon spends around three months, surviving off the yolk until the yolk is gone. It then becomes a young salmon fry that can swim and begin to feed. As a young fry, the salmon isn't strong enough to swim upstream. Some species stay for 1-2 years in their freshwater natal stream, others will drift downstream into an estuary, a place where freshwater and saltwater meet.

The salmon will spend up to two years here during a period of smoltification, a process of salmon adaptation from freshwater to saltwater. Salmon, and other species that go through this process, are called anadromous species. The nutrients offered in the brackish water help the salmon during this transformation. Once the salmon is ready to leave the estuary, it will move into coastal waters and beyond. In some cases, salmon don't leave the coastal waters. In other cases, they may travel up to thousands of miles away into deeper ocean waters. The salmon will spend anywhere from 1-8 years out at sea until it is time to spawn.

After years at sea, the salmon will journey back in search of the natal stream it left. Scientists believe they detect scents and chemicals as well as the position of the sun to find its way back "home". Migrating adults stop eating when they make their voyage back, in preparation for reproduction, in a process called "homing." Thousands upon thousands of salmon swim upstream, sometimes for a couple of weeks. They jump up over rocks, waterfalls, or anything that gets in their way on their way back to their birthplace.

A photo of many salmon spawning.

Sockeye salmon scattered the riverbed!

On the salmon's journey back to freshwater, the salmon undergoes a physical transformation. The males form a curved, elongated jaw known as a kype, and their nose hooks down. The salmon also develop large canine teeth and thicker skin. Their head will turn green and their bodies become a deeper red coloring due to years of eating a diet high in phytoplankton and krill.

If the salmon returns to its home stream, unscathed by fishing or other predators, the salmon will prepare to reproduce. Females create nests with pebbles and gravel while males compete with others for the females. Eventually, a dominant male will court a female. The female will lay her eggs in the nest, and the male will fertilize the eggs with its milt. A female will lay anywhere from 1,000 eggs to 7,000 eggs, but only a handful will survive.

When the male is done with the fertilization process, the female will cover the nest with loose gravel and move upstream. Due to the taxing journey to reach the spawning grounds, most salmon don't survive beyond a couple of days after their life journey is complete. However, the nutrients from the decomposing bodies are actually very beneficial to the whole ecosystem. Their bodies provide nutrients to the stream and food for other organisms in the area.

The spawning of the salmon in Alaska reminds me of the mullet run we have here in Florida. During the same time of year, thousands upon thousands of mullet spawn on the coastlines. It's interesting to see how such vastly different environments parallel in nature. These processes are vital for the health of our lakes and oceans all around the world.


Moose roam all over Alaska, but I was excited to capture some moose wandering our property! Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and the Alaska-Yukon moose are the largest you will find in the world. They can weigh up to 1,600 pounds and grow up to six feet tall! It's fascinating that such a large creature is an herbivore. Moose eat vegetation and tend to eat off trees, like willows and aspens, versus eating the low-lying grasses due to their higher stature.

Moose are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females of the moose family have different characteristics. The males grow much larger than the females and produce branched bones, known as antlers, while the females do not. During their reproductive years, the male moose will grow larger and greater racks of antlers as a way to attract the females. Each year after breeding season, the males lose their antlers because their testosterone levels drop due to the decreased daylight, but the antlers still grow back the following year.

We saw moose all over the place!

Did you know moose are great swimmers? They can hold their breath up to a minute underwater. They are able to swim 6 miles per hour and can go up to ten miles in distance without stopping. Moose can even dive down almost 20 feet underwater! Moose are even known to swim in the ocean, between islands, as they search for food. Swimming allows moose to forage for aquatic plants rich in nutrients once the winter ice melts. Being in the water also provides moose some safety from being attacked by predators because it is hard for predators to sneak attack in the waters. They are truly fascinating animals!

Though moose are not carnivores, they can be quite dangerous due to their size and aggression when provoked. They will charge other animals or even humans to protect themselves from perceived threats. Similar to a mama bear, moose are very protective of their offspring. It's always important to never be too close to these large animals and make sure they aren't intimidated by you.


Have you ever seen a bald eagle in the flesh? It was great to see many bald eagle families perched on trees outside our home. This American icon is a dime a dozen in Alaska, though that hasn't always been the case. In the 1970's, these majestic birds were considered endangered. The use of pesticides like DDT accumulated in the environment where the fish the eagles fed on became contaminated. The eagles reproduction was affected when their eggshells became too thin and would break during incubation. Thankfully, DDT has since been banned in the United States, and the eagle population has recovered and sustained growth. They were removed from the endangered list in 2007. Currently, Alaska has the largest population of bald eagles in the United States, found mostly on the coast and on offshore islands.

Bald eagles thrive in Alaska!

Aside from bald eagles, golden eagles are another species of eagle that resides in Alaska. Golden eagles are large birds, like bald eagles, and can weigh over 10 pounds. The main difference between bald eagles and golden eagles is most obviously the color of the feathers on their heads. Golden eagles also have smaller beaks with black tips instead of solid yellow like bald eagles. Sometimes golden eagles are called booted eagles because their feathers cover their legs to the tops of their feet. Bald eagle feathers stop a few inches above the tops of feet.

Though many people believe the bald eagle and golden eagle are closely related due to their commonalities, the two birds are actually quite different from one another. Bald eagles are considered more of a fishing bird while golden eagles are more closely related to hawks. Juvenile bald eagles can easily be mistaken for golden eagles because it takes a couple of years for the feathers on their heads to become completely white. Both birds share the same family- Accipitridae.


Did you know that bears are considered one of the most intelligent land animals in North America? Bears are amazing mammals! They have large, complex brain structures with superior navigation skills when compared to humans. Alaska has a variety of bear species on its land- black bears, brown bears divided into grizzly bears and coastal brown bears, and polar bears call Alaska home!

While I observed the salmon spawning, hungry bears lingered by the river, taking every opportunity to feed off the salmon that swam upstream. I watched as brown bears dove into the water in order to try to capture salmon with their claws, many of them successful in their attempts. Some were not as fortunate. Regardless of the outcome, it was incredible to watch the bears in action! The salmon spawning plays a key role in bears to bulk up before winter hibernation.

Bears feeding on salmon in the rivers.

We saw a mama bear with her three cubs on the river. The cubs played with each other, pawing at one another on the shoreline. The mama bear lunged into the river in search of salmon to feed herself and her cubs. I enjoyed observing this family, and how the cubs interacted with each other and their mama bear. Not so dissimilar from a couple of young children playing while their parents fish the waters for dinner.

Bears are extremely smart animals and their intelligence is known to be comparable to higher primates. Think about, for instance, trash cans in mountain towns. Bears have good problem-solving skills. This is evident since humans have had to create bear-proof trash cans. These cans ensure that bears don't grow accustomed to eating in the human populated location they would find food in otherwise. Bears are also known for their use of tools, utilizing branches and scratching their backs.

Some people ask me if I had concerns with such close proximity to these bears. The truth is, the bears are more interested in feeding on salmon than thinking about humans fishing nearby. However, it is important to be careful and know how to manage these situations. I have had a lot of experience in the wild so I know how to ensure my safety as well as others around me. If you visit Alaska, I recommend you seek out a guide who can help you navigate the terrain!

A little fun fact: According to National Park Service, Brown and grizzly are common names for the same species; the difference between the two is geographic location, which influences diet, size, and behavior. Those that live in coastal areas are called brown bears, while typically inland bears that have limited or no access to marine-derived food resources are called grizzlies. Both have a distinctive large shoulder hump, long curved claws, and a wide head with a concave profile, often described as "dish-faced." In Alaska, both coastal and inland bears are of the subspecies Ursus arctos horribilis, and generally we refer to them all as brown bears, although either term is acceptable.

The Hungry Little Bear was created partly by my children about a coastal brown bear.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the wonderful animals I saw while I was away in Alaska! I am always grateful to experience animals in the wild. While I was there I created many Alaskan works of art, if you wish to see a few, please click here to link to my website.

Be Well, Be Loved,

Geoffrey Smith

Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.


Updated: Oct 20, 2022

The Artist Telegraph By Geoffrey C. Smith

Life in the Amazon

I'd like to reflect on my time in the Amazon and draw attention to the lives of the indigenous people who live there. To say life in the Amazon Rainforest is different would be an understatement. As I journeyed deep into the Jungle, I felt as if I was transported back in time with each step in.

Specifically, my observation of how the native people lived in harmony with the natural environment, in rhythm with nature's calendar, reminded me of our how our ancestors navigated land before modernity. I came to realize that there are many lessons we can take from the tribes of the Amazon who still live in within that framework and how they reconcile their living environment with Mother Earth's natural cycles.

An indigenous boy watching us pass by.

Our guides, Guillermo and Renzo, taught us all about the Amazon people. They explained that more than 400 indigenous tribes live throughout the Amazon! The indigenous tribes are like guardians of the Amazon Rainforest who have populated the Amazon for millennia. There were at least a million people surviving in the rainforest until contact was made with the Europeans in the 16th century. Once this contact with the outside world occurred, the population of the indigenous people dramatically declined. Historians estimate the number is somewhere around 90% within the first hundred years of European colonization! Contact with outsiders brought disease, persecution, and other strife to the native peoples, which ultimately killed many. It's a sad truth in history, and no wonder some tribes choose to stay away from the modern world.

Today, as I am writing this blog on Aug 30, 2022, the news came out announcing the last remaining member of an un-contacted indigenous group in Brazil has died. He was nicknamed 'Man of the Hole' because it was thought that he dug holes as a way to trap animals or to hide from others. For years, he had been the last remaining member of a tribe that was wiped out by ranchers and illegal miners in the 1970's. What happened to his tribe was unconscionable. 'Man of the Hole' had since survived on his own up until last month. His body was found covered in macaw feathers in a hammock outside his straw hut. It is speculated that he put the feathers of a macaw on himself when he realized he was dying.

Homes on stilts off the Amazon River. You can clearly see how high the water rises here. The front porch of this home becomes their dock during the rainy season (March through July).

The Amazon River runs through the rainforest like a highway. As such, everything revolves around the river. They revere it and live harmoniously with the land. For the people of the Amazon, everything in their world revolves around water. Houses are built on stilts to protect from the water to withstand the annual flooding during their wet season. Outside their homes are platforms/patios that will double as docks during those times. Since the Amazon floods every spring, the locals must have their homes prepared for the influx of water. Not every year is matched in water levels. Some years are more severe than others, however, the locals still must be ready for anything.

In Iquitos, indigenous people commute in busses or drive around in little motor cars that are almost like a hybrid between a motorcycle and a car. They zip and swerve around each other.

Ways of life in the Amazon Basin vary. Some indigenous people live a sustainable existence, like their ancestors thousands of years before them, obtaining clothes, food and medicine from the forest. Villages outside the cities are remote. Most of the tribes have had contact with the outside world, but they continue to live their lives utilizing the ancient practices of their ancestors. Other groups of people there have a modern lifestyle, living in city centers like Iquitos. Many people earn a living through tourism, fishing, farming and/or hunting.

Our guides explained that the indigenous people we observed rely on radio and cell phones to stay in touch with the outside world. Areas have cell towers, and some families will have diesel generators as well. From afar, we saw many indigenous people tending to their homes while their children played along the riverside. The children were barefoot but dressed in modern clothing.

A treehouse where shamanic rituals occur. Westerners will travel down here to participate in ceremonies with local shamans in order to heal.

Myth and magic have circulated through the Amazon for centuries. Legends of Chuchuhuasi and Pacaya Samiria are shared amongst the people. Stories are told of a hidden city called El Dorado. Ancient shamanic rituals and plant medicines are performed deep in the forest. The religious practices of the Amazonian people are very important to them, and often involve using various forms of hallucinogens as part of their practice. Even Westerners will make the voyage south to the rainforest in order to attend ceremonial rituals intended for healing.

As travelers in the post-COVID world, we were unable to interact closely with the indigenous people while we were there, but we enjoyed waiving from afar when we passed by. I was fascinated to learn about the way they lived. In Florida, we have tried to bend water to our will. In the Amazon, the locals accept the natural world as it is. They make it possible to thrive in both dry and wet seasons, living with nature's changes. They have learned to sustain their lives with the rise and fall of the water. I think there's a lesson we can learn from their symbiotic relationship with nature.

Learning about life in the Amazon was enlightening while also mysterious. There is much hidden away from the modern world, beneath the rainforest. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to explore the Amazon Basin. It was so wonderful to experience this secluded part of the world with my father and my wife. We met amazing people along the way that we enjoy keeping in touch with. It was a truly incredible trip.

Be Well, Be Loved,

Geoffrey Smith

Want to hear more about our trip? Click here to explore the wildlife we observed on our trip in the Amazon!

If you're interested in the travel company we used to plan our adventure, check out Natural Habitat Adventures. If you book with them, please let them know I sent you!

Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.


The Artist Telegraph by Geoffrey C. Smith

The Wildlife of the Amazon

Sunset over the Amazon River.

At 90 years old, my father had seen many incredible places across the planet. He is the epitome of a 'world traveler,' but he had still yet to visit a notable place in South America- The Amazon Rainforest. Because of this, my wife and I had the opportunity to take the journey with him for the trip of a lifetime. A trip to one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet... Check out some of the amazing animals we saw while we were there!


Pink River Dolphins

A pink river dolphin pops out of the water to say hi. Notice how its coloring is more grey on top of its head while the body is pink. Each dolphin is unique in the way its color transforms.

Have you heard of the pink river dolphin? Also known as boto, this dolphin's history is a story about evolution. Years and years ago, the river was disconnected from the sea, which caused the river dolphins to be trapped in the Amazon Basin while others escaped roaming the oceans. Eventually, the sea and river came back together again, but the river dolphins had evolved to adjust to the freshwater environment. Because of this, they differ from grey dolphins. Pink dolphins developed characteristics like longer snouts, larger bodies and brains, and melon-like heads compared to grey dolphins. And over a period of time, the river dolphins' bodies will slowly turn light pink. How the coloring evolves is different for each river dolphin; they don't all look the same.

South Americans respect the pink river dolphin immensely. Many myths and legends surrounding the pink river dolphins have been passed down in their culture. They consider the botos to be sacred and believe it to be bad luck to eat them. Many myths surround these beautiful creatures. One popular legend suggests that the pink river dolphin morphs into a handsome man at night and seduces the village women. If you are interested in more myths about the botos, Click here!


Brown-throated Sloths

A brown-throated sloth hangs off the tree in the Amazon Rainforest.

Sloths hang off the tree branches throughout the rainforest. Sloths are arboreal creatures who can't move very fast on the ground. They are actually the slowest moving mammals that exist! Their long claws are what make movement challenging, with the average speed of a sloth at one foot per minute. Interestingly enough, sloths are actually good swimmers despite their slow walking speed!

Though sloth's personal hygiene is questionable, their lack of hygiene is actually a characteristic that offers them safety from predators. Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with algae and mold. The sloth's fur provides an environment for algae and mold to grow and thrive. In return, the algae and mold provide a green camouflage that protects the sloths against predators like jaguars, snakes and eagles. Wouldn't be my most ideal protective layer, but you have to take what you can get!


Rhynochonycteris hang upside down, off trees near the water, undisturbed by the sunlight.

Have you heard of these daytime bats? Most bats are lunarphobic, meaning they avoid bright light. Rhynchonycteris, or proboscis bats, are a bit different! They are unencumbered by light, so we were able to catch sight of them in the daylight. These bats blend into the thin tree trunks, almost becoming synonymous with the trees. They hang upside down while they sleep during daylight, out for the world to see. These tiny mammals measure about 6 centimeters long and enjoy situating themselves by the water in low-land tropics like you see above. A little fun fact: bats are the only mammal species that flies!


Green Anacondas

A green anaconda "tastes" the air, taking inventory of its surroundings.

Watch your feet! Green anacondas slither the forest floors and swamps throughout the Amazon. While underwater, anacondas can hold their breath for up to ten minutes on just a single breath! Interestingly enough, they are sexually dimorphic, which is characterized by their size. The female anacondas have the ability to grow much larger than their male counterparts, sometimes up to 30 ft!

Anacondas aren't venomous creatures. Rather than relying on venom to hunt, they instead wait to pounce and wrap their bodies around the victim, tight enough to suffocate them. They have the strength of up to 90 PSI, which is similar to the weight of 9,000 school buses- their jaw strength or bite strength is up ten times that! Anacondas will eat many things, including reptiles, fish and mammals. If they eat something big enough, they can go months without needing to eat again due to their slower metabolism.

Anacondas don't have any natural predators. Their biggest 'threat' is actually that of human fear. Humans have feared the size of these snakes, figuring they should attack, or otherwise be attacked. Anacondas are also hunted by humans for their skin to turn into leather or use as decoration.


Channel-billed Toucans

A toucan strikes a pose for the camera.

About 450 different bird species call the Amazon Rainforest their home. It was surreal to see birds like the channel-billed toucan above, or others like the scarlet macaw, less than 10 feet away. The range of their colored feathers is stunning! Though we were able to get close to the toucans, it's not often you'll see them wild in the jungle.

The channel-billed toucan can live up to 20 years. They survive on a diet of fruit, insects, frogs and other small reptiles. Toucans cannot speak like parrots, but they do have their own way of communicating. They are known to chatter and click their beaks at one another. And toucans are actually known to be one of the noisiest birds! Their bills were originally thought to be large as a way to attract mates. Now scientists are linking the size of their bills to heat regulation.


Red-Backed Poison Dart Frogs

A red backed poison dart frog smiles for the camera.

Various kinds of amphibians traverse the Amazon Basin, many of which are poisonous. Measuring just under 20 millimeters, this red-backed poison dart frog can still cause a lot of harm to some species despite its small size. Some types of poison dart frogs are more dangerous and toxic than others. For the red-backed poison dart frogs, they don't manufacture any of their own poison. Instead, their poison is created from their diet, which is composed of termites, mites, ants and beetles. They have quite the diet, don't they!



Known infamously as the stinkbird, the hoatzin is a special species found only in the Amazon Rainforest. These birds have the nickname stinkbird because they give off a bad odor due to their digestive system. Their system is made up of multiple chambers, which causes the food they digest to ferment while in their bodies. This digestion is referred to as foregut digestion. A strange connection: they happen to digest their food similar to how cows do. Hoatzin eat mainly plant material, with the exception of some bugs and insects that happen to be on the plants.



We encountered many butterflies while we were there. Watch one land on my camera!


Amazonian Squirrel Monkeys

Monkeys eating fruit.

It's no surprise that many of the species in the Amazon are arboreal or tree dwellers. Arboreal mammals are capable of adapting to the Amazon's dynamic ecosystem between the wet and dry seasons. Amazonian monkeys are no exception. Collectively, the Amazon Basin has more than ten different types of monkeys, ranging from squirrel monkeys to pygmy marmosets.

Squirrel monkeys, like those pictured above, are little busy bodies! They scurry around the jungle's understory, avoiding raptor predators like hawks, vultures and eagles wherever they can. Squirrel monkeys will eat fruit, insects, and lizards, which are most abundant from May to October.

Observing the monkeys was intriguing because they operate similarly to us. We watched the monkeys as they fed on fruit and climbed through tree branches high in the sky. Their opposable thumbs make them seem most human to me! What do you think?

I know I will always remember the wonderful time in the jungle, spent with my father and my wife, and all the new friendships we created during our time there. Exploring the diverse fauna of the Amazon Basin was an incredible experience! Although deforestation poses a huge threat to the future of these amazing species, I am hopeful humanity will turn this area so all these inspiring lifeforms will thrive.

Be Well, Be Loved,

Geoffrey Smith

Want to hear more about our trip? Click here to learn more about the indigenous people who call the Amazon Basin their home!

If you're interested in the travel company we used to plan our adventure, check out Natural Habitat Adventures. If you book with them, please let them know I sent you!

Comment below, or email me your questions and/or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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