Proud ‘Poppa’..?

Since May of 2014 I’ve been working towards the goal of establishing as much ‘natural’ mosquito control as I can ‘round the ole homestead.  I live within the boreal forest and given the right conditions – a mild winter followed by a wet, warm spring – the mosquitoes can be miserable.  Without question Mother Nature plays a huge part in our mosquito populations so I decided to attempt to enlist some of her handiwork in controlling said populations.  This caused me to do some basic research as to local animals that utilize mosquitoes as part, if not all, of their diets.  I discovered two potential sources of said natural mosquito control; Tree Swallows and Little Brown Bats.

Without question the Tree Swallows looked like the best option; they are voracious mosquito eaters and they are very common in this general area.  These birds migrate to the northern latitudes in middle spring – up here we see the males in early to mid-May with the females a few weeks behind – where they breed and raise their young before heading back south to winter.  I’d seen these gorgeous birds around the village of Talkeetna across summers; their bright, iridescent plumage makes them almost impossible to miss as does their extremely acrobatic flight maneuvers.  The Little Brown Bats are much less common in this area although they have been seen.  Their range includes a large portion of south central Alaska and I was surprised to learn they are year-round residents.

Not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket – pun intended – I researched the nesting and sheltering needs of both animals.  I then constructed three swallow boxes and purchased a recommended bat house.  The swallow houses were then given a tough varnish coating.  Finally, I looked to locate each of the three in places I thought the birds might find attractive regarding nesting.  As mentioned, living in the boreal forest means I lack large, open areas but I do live just 80 to 90 meters from a small lake.  I diligently located what I hoped would be good spots and placed the nesting boxes.  I then had a friend mount my bat home a year later.  And then I began my waiting period.

No Tree Swallows showed interest during the summer of 2014; I thought perhaps the smell of the rather new varnish was putting them off.  The same happened across the summer of 2015 so I assumed my placement of the boxes wasn’t suitable.  In the fall of 2015 I relocated the boxes to what I hoped once again would be attractive locations.  The summer of 2016 came and went with no activity and I was becoming disappointed.  I decided if nothing happened in the spring of 2017 I would once again relocate the boxes.

Come this spring I was just starting to look for some new locations when one morning I saw an iridescent blue flash disappear into one of the boxes!  I froze and held my breath waiting its re-emergence from the box.  Sure enough, in a minute or so a male Tree Swallow flew out of the box and into the trees to the east of my place.  I continued to remain motionless and maybe two to three minutes later I saw him fly back to the box with a twig in his mouth.  I was just ecstatic as he was obviously constructing a nest!  I watched him at work for almost a week marveling at the size of his loads.  As my Alaskan malamute – Anana – had just started blowing her coats I removed handfuls of her fur and spread it around by the tree containing the box so he could incorporate that material in his nest.  Over the next few days something definitely picked at the fur but I couldn’t verify it was the Tree Swallow especially as many other local birds will utilize the fur in their nests.

Then came the time I began to see the male spending a lot of time perched on my wind vane.  From this location he was well above the box and could survey the land all around it.  I began to see him there almost continually and I wondered if he had been evicted by his mate.  If this was the case then she was most likely incubating eggs.  I had never seen her, although to be honest the genders look very much the same unless you can observe them when not in motion, but I’d seen him try to enter the box numerous times only to give up and return to his lofty perch.  I became more and more convinced his mate was caring for eggs/hatchlings and I was thrilled.

Then came the glorious day when I saw both he and his mate perched upon my wind vane; while I watched the pair two more Tree Swallows landed on the instrument and I had my first look at the family!  I was just ecstatic!!  Since that time I’ve seen the female and at least three offspring doing their acrobatic flying around the house.  Indeed, one morning when I was walking with my canine companions – Anana, my 112 female Alaskan malamute and Qanuk, my 88 pond male German Shepherd Dog – down the driveway four Tree Swallows buzzed the dogs.  As the male was perched on the wind vane I knew the nesting pair had reared at least three offspring.

I’m hoping the nesting pair will return next spring and maybe some or all of the young will follow their lead and set up house in the other Tree Swallow boxes.  Heaven knows there is a smorgasbord of flying insects around here and most are the favored mosquitoes.  I am just so proud of that initial pair I feel like a ‘proud poppa’ myself!  Now, if I can just get the attention of some Little Brown Bats I’ll be well on the way to establishing some solid mosquito control around my place.  To this end I’ve applied some bat attractant – which is apparently made from their urine – to the ‘landing area’ of the bat house.  Here’s hoping..!

Male Tree Swallow atop my weather vane

A male Tree Swallow perched atop my weather vane in the back yard

The Kidz in snow outside the house

Anana and Qanuk frolicking in the snow; just above the front porch along the ‘long’ side of the house you can see the bat house tucked under the eves.

Diabetes: Desperation or Deliverance?

As some of you may have noticed my blog postings dropped to zero across June; to be quite frank I’m unsure this trend will not continue.  On May 24th I received the results of a routine blood workup and the results truly threw me for a loop!  My previous blood screening was on March 30, 2015 just prior to reconstructive surgery on my severely fractured left radius and ulna; it showed no abnormalities other than some very slightly elevated cholesterol values.  However, the latest results showed an A1c value of ‘14’ and a blood glucose (BG) value of 383 mg/dL; my A1c in the previous blood sample was ‘5.5’!!  I was crushed to learn I now was a diabetic dealing with late onset Type 2 diabetes.  Just three months earlier I was diagnosed with hypertension and had been working via meds and lifestyle changes to get that under control.  But now I was hearing from my doctor I had two months to get my BG values down into the 95 mg/dL to 115 mg/dL range or we’d be having ‘the i-word’ discussion.  To say I was in shock would be a bit like calling Denali a ‘big hill’.

For three days I remained in denial just unable to grasp what this meant and paralyzed by the concept of being insulin dependent.  Then I finally retreated from my fog, decided I had no choice and immediately started clearing the house of all high carb foods especially those composed of simple carbs.  I needed almost a week to complete this process during which my canine companions feasted on ice cream, peanut butter and crackers among other items.  From some friends who were dealing with the disease and from a couple of diabetes forums on-line I began my education regarding the disease while awaiting the arrival of my Bayer ‘Contour Next USB blood glucose meter’, lancets, test strips and similar.  To my surprise I learned managing diabetes starts with managing one’s carbs; calories just don’t factor in.  I’d tried the Atkins Diet in the 90’s without success as I just couldn’t handle cutting my carbs (CHOs) to double digit grams per day.  While I have a real sweet tooth I discovered far more than sweets I craved starch while on the diet; I truly missed breads, rolls, corn, peas, most kinds of squash, potatoes and, of course, the sugars from apples, bananas, oranges, pears and similar foods.  Knowing this I girded my loins to once again face their absence but this time I was driven by the fear of becoming insulin dependent rather than just trying to lose fifteen pounds.

I’ve now put in a month of monitoring everything going into my mouth – yes, even water and no CHO foods – and 24 days of morning testing of my BG levels.  About two weeks into this lifestyle change I met with a nurse at the local clinic to review all my data.  Being rather AR coupled with a love of analyzing data via spreadsheeting and graphing I had kept fastidious logs and she was very pleased.  I talked with her about dietary options, ‘substitutes’ for high CHO foods and how this was going to become not just a diet but a complete lifestyle shift.  I’d already made such a dramatic lifestyle change when, after starting my hypertension meds, I began a program of stepping and within seven weeks had worked myself up to between 11,500 and 13,000 steps/day, every day.  Now I was faced with another major lifestyle shift; the days of unfettered or even controlled consumption of simple CHOs were history!  I made these lifestyle modifications not because I wanted to but because I had to do so.

For me, and I’d bet this is true of other ‘new’ diabetics as well, the most frustrating thing about the disease is its ‘person specific’ nature.  Sure, ya know you have to monitor and control your daily CHO intake but just what is a ‘good’ amount of daily CHOs?  I found some info on a medical hospital website suggesting for someone of my size and weight somewhere around 140 grams CHOs/day was a good number; I set this as my target.  Hah, eating this many carbs kept my BG levels in the 160 mg/dL to 180 mg/dL range!  I visited a couple of online diabetes forums and found many attendees claimed to being forced to drop their daily CHO intake to under 50 grams CHOs to really make a dent in their numbers.  Seeing this I decided to set my daily limit at 40 grams CHO/day.  Success!!  Within five days my morning (fasting) BG levels were in the 95 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL range which for me was a huge shift.  For the first time since given the diabetes diagnosis I was feeling I could beat this disease through just diet and exercise.

Then I learned of the ‘person specific’ piece of the puzzle.  I’ve come to recognize managing the disease isn’t just about total daily carb intake; it is also about the kind of carbs, how your body deals with said carbs and even when you eat these carbs.  Because of this I’ve started a ‘Do Not Eat’ list of foods I’ve learned will really spike my BG values.  My first experience with this concept was when I was just craving something sweet so I had two tablespoons of Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter in the evening.  At the time I was trying to hold to an under 140 grams CHO/day target; those two tablespoons contributed 38 CHOs and I finished that day at 151 total grams of CHOs.  But, much to my chagrin, when I did my morning ‘stick’ the next day my BG had jumped from 254 mg/dL to 283 mg/dL!  I was flummoxed until I remembered hearing that everyone is a bit different regarding how their bodies handle certain sources of carbs.  I had just seen evidence that my body couldn’t deal with all the sucrose in the Jif!  That remains entry number one in the aforementioned ‘Do Not Eat’ list.  This also reinforced the importance of logging everything one eats in excruciating detail until you have a good understanding of foods with ‘good’ carbs versus those with ‘bad’ carbs.  I’m also beginning to understand that time of day can play a definite role in the next morning’s BG reading when consuming carbs.  I can get by with a single slice of bread but only if I eat it early on like right after I do my morning stick which is around 07:00.  If I wait until noon or later it will elevate the next morning’s reading.

And, finally, there’s the natural variability of one’s system to toss into the mix.  I’ve seen a couple readings which were elevated for no discernible reason.  Wonderful, on top of all the other puzzle pieces we can now add the dreaded ‘unk-unks’ (unknown unknowns)!  But this is all part of managing diabetes.  One must be very aware of one’s dietary regime and understand the impacts – negative and positive – that our food choices have upon our bodies.  Just a month into this lifestyle shift I already look back fondly to the days I just tried to stay roughly aware of my daily calories in an effort to exert a modicum of control over my weight!  But I’ve also learned about the very real damaging effects diabetes can produce and I want no part of those along with insulin dependence.  So I’m struggling to manage my late onset Type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise along with Metformin HCl.

To this point it appears I am succeeding although I still struggle with ‘peaks and valleys’ regarding my daily BG levels; I often joke the graph is beginning to resemble a profile of The Alaska Range.  Most of this is due to my continuing learning process regarding what are my body’s ‘good’ carbs versus ‘bad’ carbs.  Sadly, this is a very tedious and slow process but if one wishes to learn about the aforementioned one can only change one variable at a time regarding foods, total daily CHOs, time of day consumption and similar.  For now I appear to be able to hold my daily CHO intake to a minimal 40 grams; this means a very restricted diet and often leaves me feeling a bit weak and spacey in the morning as well as dealing with fatigued legs when I start my stepping.  But I can push through these inconveniences and if I just eat something like a few ounces of fresh strawberries these symptoms disappear.  At such a level my weight loss, originally initiated when I started doing 9,500+ daily steps, has really accelerated.  I desperately need to lose more weight both for the diabetes and especially for the hypertension.  However, I do not believe I can hold this daily CHO level for a long time – and it probably wouldn’t be healthy even if I could – so my current plan is to continue this limit across the next few months while I learn what constitutes my ‘good’ carbs versus ‘bad’ carbs.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even drop another 15 to 20 pounds!

If there’s any real value to this lengthy piece I hope it will encourage others out there dealing with Type 2 diabetes to really try to manage the disease via lifestyle changes.  If I can do so – and believe me, I’m the poster child for ‘age accentuated inertia’ – then anyone can!  At least, for those who are younger, you are more flexible regarding making major lifestyle shifts.  A friend and fellow diabetic shared something with me which really resonated; she said ‘as diabetics we do not seek what works but rather what doesn’t work’.  This is so spot on!!  If my morning BG level is in the acceptable range I probably will not review what I ate the previous day but if it is above that 125 mg/dL limit I will pore over my food logs seeking an explanation.  To this point I’d have to say the desperation brought about by my diabetes diagnosis has now turned into a kind of deliverance; deliverance from an unhealthy lifestyle and habits.  If I can live out my ‘golden years’ in better health and with more lust for life simply by eating better and exercising more than my diabetes diagnosis could truly be my deliverance…

Alaskan Skies & Weather

A number of readers of this blog have commented on the images I sometimes include with a posting and quite a number of folks have expressed real amazement at some of the collages I’ve blogged.  A recent reader shared some thoughts with me; from these grew the idea of creating this piece which is really a blog regarding Alaskan skies and weather scenes.  This was very difficult to create simply because I have so many beautiful images of The Last Frontier’s skies and unusual/extreme weather.  I believe my initial perusal left me with almost sixty images; from these I managed to winnow it down to ‘just’ thirty six and from there down to the following 18 images.  I will most likely do another such posting down the road and include the remainder of the final 36 images which just failed to make the cut.  So, for your enjoyment, I offer you eighteen images of ‘Alaskan Skies & Weather’…

GunsiteMountainSnow2.jpg

This is Gunsite Mountain just north of the Glenn Highway.  If you look closely at the ‘dished’ area you will see a tiny square notch with the overcast gray sky visible beyond; hence the mountain’s name.

The Spur after the storm.JPG

A portion of ‘the Spur’ which runs from the ‘Y’ (intersection of the ‘Y’ and the Parks Highway also known as AK 3) to the village of Talkeetna after an overnight early spring snowfall

SR Basin-taiga XC.jpg

Savage River Basin in Denali NP&P on an early September afternoon.  The taiga and tussock tundra are in full fall color; this image has not been manipulated in any manner and I wasn’t using any special filters.  It is just this colorful!

Lil Cloud That Could.JPG

I spied this ‘Little Cloud That Could’ on the Parks Highway just outside Houston.  I don’t know if the rain was reaching the ground but I’d never seen just a single small cloud in an almost clear sky trying so hard to make rain!

AK 11 Orange Trees CU.JPG

Hill side fall color along the Elliot Highway (AK 2) between its junction with the Dalton Highway (AK 11) and Fairbanks.  Notice the small line of orange colored trees just a bit above and left of center; such color is rare up here due to a dearth of hardwood trees.

Thunderstorm Outflow at Fish Lake.JPG

Classic thunderstorm out-wash above the float plane docks on Fish Lake around Mile 9.5 on the Spur.  The thunderstorms were forming along the Talkeetna Mountains to the east.

Timbers Red Sunset2.jpg

A fiery red sunset over Kachemak Bay as seen from the front porch of a magical little cabin in Kachemak Bay SP&P named ‘Timbers’.

Timbers-Fog.jpg

The same view as above but on a different day and time.

NL2.jpg

The incredible Aurora Borealis as seen from a neighbor’s place perhaps six miles north of my home.  The late fall/early winter of 2016/2017 featured amazingly clear skies and intense auroral activity.  Many nights I lay in bed and just watched ‘Nature’s Light Show’ for hours.

RichardsonHighwaySnow4.jpg

The eastern Alaska Range as seen from a pipeline access pull out on The Richardson Highway (AK 4) maybe thirty miles south of Delta Junction.  It was early September of 2000 when this image was captured looking SSW and a brief snow event had occurred across the night.

AK 11 Alyeska Pipeline Into Fog WA.JPG

Split layer fog is relatively common in Alaska and this is a classic shot of said weather phenomena.  Just left of center is the Alyeska pipeline with the road splitting off to the right.  This was taken somewhere along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).

Foraker Forming Lenticular Cloud in AM.JPG

Mighty Mount Foraker (17,400 feet in elevation) is tall enough to form its own weather as evidenced by the lenticular clouds forming above its peak.  This image was taken from the Spur around Mile 5.

AK 11 Alyeska Pullout Sunset 6.JPG

A ‘molten’ orange-red sunset taken from a pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11) just a bit north of Coldfoot.

MtIliamna Sunset.jpg

A majestic early September sunset above Mount Illiamna which is a four peaked active ‘strato-volcano’ exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation.  The image was taken at Stariski SRS and is looking west across Cook Inlet.

DaltonHighway-Sky.jpg

The huge Alaskan sky as seen from a gravel pit pull-out along the Dalton Highway (AK 11).  My buddy was using his video camera to capture the same ‘big sky’ effect.

Blowing Snow on Spur.JPG

It’s Alaska so ya gotta have one image of snow falling, right..?  This was taken in January of 2017 as I was driving south down the Spur from the village to my home.

Clouds Then Mountains CU.JPG

Close up of an unknown glacier in the Kenai Mountains with a thick cloud layer almost cutting off the tops of the mountains; the image was taken from the foothills around Homer and looking across Kachemak Bay.

Denali in Morning Alpenglow adj.JPG

Mighty Denali (20,287 feet in elevation) cloaked in morning Alpenglow as seen from the famous overlook on the Spur.  From this point the village of Talkeetna is just another couple miles up the road.

 

Alaska: State & State of Mind

The genesis of this piece involved a response to a dear friend’s lamentations concerning his move from Alaska after nineteen years and his burning desire to return to ‘The Last Frontier’ even after spending a year in the lower 48.  After he read it he saw the potential for the response to become the foundation for a blog posting.  After some brief consideration I, too, saw this potential; for his creative eye and his suggestion I cannot thank him enough!  While I’ve written on a number of different topics in the three and a half years I’ve been blogging the basis for this blog was ‘to document the learnings and experiences of one man who lived his entire previous fifty nine and a half years in the suburban lower 48 before picking up his home, saying goodbye to friends and moving to semi-rural south central Alaska.’  Given this foundation a reflection on this amazing lifestyle and why some folks ‘just do it’ seemed very apropos.

Only those whose souls have been scored by the raw majesty and awesome power of Alaska can truly understand the potent pull exerted by the amazing geography and abundance of wild animals. There are a lot of negatives to living in ‘The Great Land’ but once smitten we tend to look at them as ‘inconveniences’; kinda like the price we pay to live in such spectacular and amazing settings so alive with wildlife and so blessed with such an abundance of stunning scenery. Sadly, medical insurance is one such major ‘inconvenience’ and one which has cost me dearly since late March of 2015. I’ve even had times when I tried to imagine living someplace outside Alyeska. It was those times that reaffirmed my need to remain here in ‘The Last Frontier’ mainly because I couldn’t envision living any other place. I should’ve known this would be the case as I have no real wont to be anyplace other than Alaska and I make this statement as I go into the summer which is one of my least favorite seasons – I think I dislike break-up more – thanks to the continual light, the hordes of mosquitoes and similar hordes of tourists.

Alaska is definitely not for everyone and probably not for even a sizeable amount of people for as I’ve told so many people; “Things are just different up here”.  In a nutshell and unless one lives in Anchorage and rarely travels beyond its confines – and what a sin that would be – one must be able to handle many more potentially serious issues than a ‘typical’ person in the lower 48.  The fact that hypothermia is the number one killer in Alaska (not bears, wolves and/or moose as most tourists believe…) speaks to this concept.  A simple hike on a backwoods trail can turn deadly when the weather suddenly shifts from sunshine to cold rain and one has to make the return trek cold and wet on slippery rocks and suddenly voluminous creeks.

During my time in the lower 48 I visited almost all 48 states; rarely did I find places where it is so easy to venture just a few dozen miles outside a large population center and suddenly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  In my experience this is true in Maine, northern Michigan, Montana and a number of the states in the southwest.  But even in the aforementioned one can usually get a cell signal.  This is far from true in Alaska thanks to a minimal population which doesn’t support cell tower densities so common in the lower 48 and so many tall mountain chains.  This can be an annoyance to a problem in the summer; it can be deadly in the winter.  Therefore, it takes a different mind-set when traveling outside larger towns.  One must be prepared for all kinds of potential weather related issues (road closures, rapid flooding, high winds, brutal cold and immense snowfalls) as well as those involving a lack of ‘typical’ services like gas stations, towing services, mechanical expertise and similar.

By nature, Alaskans tend to be fiercely independent and more self-sufficient than most of the population in the lower 48.  The latter is almost a requirement as the low population density means goods and services are fewer and much further between.  While western style medicine is fairly good in and around Anchorage or Fairbanks it is much less so in semi-rural to rural areas.  Such locations are lucky if they have a small clinic and such clinics often have only physician’s assistants on staff.  There is a distinct lack of medications beyond the very basics.  As an example when I fell and severely fractured my left radius and ulna at the elbow the local clinic had nothing to give me for the pain, not even Tylenol III!  In addition, they had no splint large enough for my use so they improvised a splint and I drove myself to Mat-Su Regional in south Wasilla (against their wishes).  I was lucky our clinic had a small x-ray machine with which they confirmed my fractures.

I’ve offered up but a few of the differences between life in the lower 48 and that in semi-rural Alaska; there are a myriad more especially if one is living partially or completely off the grid.  Anyone doing so will confirm that such a lifestyle requires a load of energy in tandem with a broad knowledge of many areas – carpentry, plumbing, electrical, outdoor survival, food handling to mention just a few – just to survive, let alone thrive.  To someone with no interest in living in such a ‘basic’ manner those who do so seem ‘extreme’.  While I would not be comfortable in such circumstances – I really want my broadband connection, indoor plumbing and hot water – I can appreciate the lifestyle and would even be willing to try it for a time.  But then I am someone who gave up all the conveniences and ease of suburban living in the lower 48 for a somewhat more austere existence in semi-rural south central Alaska.

During my almost four years of living seven miles south of the village of Talkeetna and a half mile east of ‘The Spur’ I’ve changed in many ways; most of them for the better.  I’ve come to appreciate living on ‘Talkeetna time’, to not sweat the small stuff and to completely embrace the ‘great silence’ which surrounds me most of the year.  My lifestyle has slowed considerably and stress is something which has dropped away as well.  I love drinking a cup of coffee in my wooden rocking chair on my front porch as the sun slowly climbs above the boreal forest on a crisp October morning; watching Nature unfold about my place at any time of the day or night is a treat.  I love the fact that moose, bear and foxes are visitors to my property; I try to live in harmony with them.  I am so much more in touch with Nature because it surrounds me and drives so much of what I can, and cannot, do on any given day.  Deep within my soul I completely understand that Alaska is both a state and a state of mind…

Sure, there are ‘inconveniences’ to this life but then I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a ‘perfect existence’.  As someone bitten by ‘the Alaska bug’ the country is part of my soul now and I so love her fierce independence and incredible majesty.  And I truly respect her for to fail to do so is to invite danger and even death.  Many would consider living over sixty miles from a full service grocery store, questionable electrical service, water from a well and a septic field to be far too ‘basic’; so be it.  I remember working for a large corporation, existing on the road almost ten months a year, living in crowded suburbs of large cities, being concerned about crime and spending days every year in traffic jams; compared to my current existence this seems like a form of corporate sponsored insanity.  No thank you; I love living in ‘The Great Land’ and cannot imagine life anywhere else!

Timbers Bald Eagle

A solitary Bald Eagle surveys the Halibut Cove area in Kachemak Bay State Park & Preserve. This majestic raptor truly symbolizes Alaskan independence and self-sufficiency!

Firsts for May 1st

I’ve been meaning to get this brief piece finished and posted since the first couple of days in May but ‘Mr. Murphy’ and outside commitments conspired to make that a pipe dream.  Given I now have a bit of free time after completing my last 1,355 steps – I try to put down at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour from 05:00 to 11:00 with a current target of 10,000 plus daily steps – I decided to get this piece done and posted.  My blogging has kinda fallen off across the past four to six months; not sure why other than to observe my creativity just hasn’t been flowing.  Of course, dedicating almost a quarter of each hour during the mornings to stepping does eat into my available time and the fact that I am a morning person and hence do my best work before noon only exacerbates this situation.

Anyway, as we rolled into May I was struck by some ‘firsts’ which I’d observed during this time.  Some are reoccurring while some are just new activities/observations.  One of the former variety involved observing my first American Robin of 2017 on April 24th in the early morning while walking with my Alaskan malamute (Anana) and my German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk).  Actually I heard him – I’m pretty sure it was a male as it was well up in a birch and singing loudly so probably marking territory – first and then was able to visually locate him.  There may well have been other robins around earlier but this was the first I’d heard and then seen in 2017.  For those of us who observe birds in this area the arrival of robins from the lower 48 signals spring is definitely here.

Another reoccurring observation was awakening in the wee hours of the morning of April 27th to the ‘tap-tapping’ sound of rain on my metal roof.  I love that sound but in a normal year one doesn’t hear it from mid-October to mid-November until April because most precipitation that falls during that time period is snow and the roof has a coating of ice and snow.  I look forward to many more upcoming rainy nights as I love to lie in bed and listen to that sound.  It also fascinates me to listen to the ebb and flow of the rain rate; in this area we don’t usually get a steady rain but rather experience rain bands of varying density.  This can produce what is almost a melody if the bands are spaced in a continual pattern which is repetitive.

As to some firsts that are truly ‘firsts’ on April 30th I completed 35 consecutive days of 5,000+ steps per day.  More than half of said 35 days involved putting down more than 8,000 steps and have helped me push my daily steps to their current 10,612 steps/day average.  I’m fighting hypertension and obesity so I had to find some form of exercise which I could, and most importantly ‘would’, do at least six days a week.  As of this writing I’m working on 44 consecutive days of at least 5,000 steps a day.  Much of the daily morning muscle/joint pain and stiffness is now just a distant memory and I just realized I haven’t had a bout of depression since I began this regime.  I saw no weight loss until I reached 9,500 steps per day; now the weight is very slowly beginning to disappear.  My goal is to push myself to 12,500 steps per day; given 10,000 steps is the equivalent of around 4.9 miles for me such a goal would see me putting down at least six miles a day.  I intend to continue walking at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour between 05:00 and 11:00 in an effort to keep my system ‘energized’.  I’m aware stepping as I do it is not a true aerobic activity but it does ramp up my system and it forces me away from the monitor and into motion once an hour.  With luck as I drop more weight I’ll be able to start bicycling which will help my overall condition.  Of course, my canine companions love my lifestyle change and are now completely expectant of at least one long walk every day.  For anyone interested I use a Garmin Vivofit 2 wrist fitness monitor; the ‘Garmin Connect’ web-page is wonderful for tracking steps, calories burned, hours sleeping and similar!

A final ‘one time first’ for me occurred on April 14th when I sat in with my good friend Randy during his Friday evening classic rock music show at KTNA.  Anyone following this blog knows I spent almost three years doing both newscasts and music shows at KTNA but I decided I’d come to philosophically based parting of the ways with the station at the end of December, 2016.  While I’d done shows with other folks sitting in this was the first time the roles were reversed.  It felt great to be back behind a mic and during Randy’s two hour show we received three calls complimenting us and our performance.  All told it was a lot of fun although given it was a two hour show running until 23:00 it was a bit past my bedtime!

I put together this blog as a kind of celebration of life; not just my own but that of Nature and other folks as well.  I’ve been so blessed to experience a two decade dream of living in semi-rural Alaska but coming up on my fourth full year of such an existence I’ve noticed I’m becoming a bit blasé regarding this situation and that both angers and saddens me.  I know it is human nature to become ‘used’ to situations but I do not ever want to become ‘used’ to the majesty and splendor of my Alaskan home.  If writing this helps me re-energize the awe and wonder I feel almost daily when I walk outside and immerse myself in Alaska’s magic then it has served its purpose.  If it does so for others, regardless of where/how they live, then so much the better!

Tek Robin

An American Robin atop a black pine at Teklanika campground in Denali NP&P

Spring Collage

In what was the swiftest transition from winter to spring I’ve yet witnessed across my four winters in ‘The Great Land’ we now find ourselves solidly into spring and starting into break-up.  Just a couple weeks back this area was experiencing daytime highs in the low to middle twenties and night time lows in the negative single digits along with a 32” (81.3 cm) snow pack; now we’re seeing daytime highs in the low to middle fifties and a heavy, dense snow pack of 10.7” (27.2 cm).  I’ve already killed many mosquitoes but to this point they’ve been those that ‘over-wintered’ apparently by hiding in decaying organic matter before the snow accumulated which generates enough heat for them to survive.  They are large, slow and noisy mosquitoes and hence easy to locate and kill.  As soon as we see much in the way of standing water within and around the periphery of the boreal forest these insects will lay eggs which will soon hatch into larvae that will become hoards of the much small, much quieter and far more ravenous mosquitoes I so abhor.  So it goes; this is south central Alaska…

As the snow dwindles and the temps rise so, too, does the daylight.  As of this writing (04/13/17) we’re already seeing 14 hours 41 minutes of direct light on our way to 19 hours and 55 minutes come the Summer Solstice on June 20th at 20:24.  Even without all these cues I’d know spring was upon us simply by observing the rather ‘flaky’ nature of my female Alaskan malamute (Anana); her behavioral changes are no doubt driven by hormonal shifts and while I’ve seen similar changes in other canines she really becomes wacky.  She is much more aggressive towards other animals – but she remains so loving of anything on two legs – and she is starting to ‘cock her leg’ when she pees.  She is also becoming even more headstrong than usual – I know of no other breed which is natively so headstrong – and she refuses to listen to me much at all.  Because of this I can only walk her at times when there are no other people with dogs out and about or I have to keep her on her lead.  I hate doing the latter as she spends much of our walking time sniffing out wildlife spoor and similar as well as running after Qanuk, my male GSD.  Assuming this spring is like all those previous this phase will last for maybe three to four weeks before she reverts to her generally mellow and regal self.

With the advent of spring I’ve taken to walking both dogs in the early morning hours when the air temp is still a bit below freezing and the ground frozen.  This area was once buried under glaciers and as the ice retreated it ground up inestimable rocks leaving behind a fine gray silt often called ‘glacial flour’.  This ‘almost dust’ clings to anything wet and the dogs are very skilled at getting their coats damp by breaking ice and wading in puddles.  The muddy result is almost impossible to remove with a wet towel; it has to dry and then slowly fall off their coats.  When walking them in the afternoon when the ground is soggy they are covered in dirt and I generally force them to spend 90+ minutes in the mud room after we finish.  This allows maybe 50% of said mud to fall off but that still leaves more than enough to make my floors ‘crunchy’!  Not that I needed the assistance but I can easily locate all of Anana’s favorite sleeping areas just by looking for the layers of gray silt she leaves behind.  This is life with two large canine companions in semi-rural south central Alaska.  It can be a pain but I wouldn’t do without my two family members just because of a bit of mud!

I’ll leave you with a collage of recent images and a few from previous springs as well; I hope you enjoy the beauty of Alaska’s spring!

EBD,Break Up & the Kidz

The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive

Mud Room floor

There’s about three times as much ‘glacial flour’ on the mud room floor as seen in this image

Roof snow and ice on driveway

This is why Alaskans are careful about where they park their vehicles during the spring thaw!

Cloud Capped Denali Awaits Climbers

‘The High One’ – Denali – is capped with clouds and blowing snow as he awaits the crush of climbers due to begin in a few weeks

Matanuska Glacier

The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from the Glenn Highway in early April

Front Porch Colorful Sunrise

A beautiful Alaskan sunrise greets the rapidly disappearing snow pack

Suggestions of Spring

The sun is not yet above the horizon at 07:51 AKDT on the Vernal Equinox – which arrived in this area at 02:29 this morning – but it is light enough to see the surrounding space which remains cloaked in a 22.0 inch (55.9 cm) snow pack although the incessant winds across March have cleared virtually all the snow from the trees.  Our maximum snow pack was 35.5 inches (90.2 cm) back in middle February but within a week or so of that time all precipitation ceased.  This dry spell, coupled with almost Chinook style winds and the longer, sunny days definitely did a number on the slowly compacting snow pack.  Yesterday we flirted with 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies but at least the winds of March seemed to have weakened to just gentle (8-12 mph or 13-19 kph) breezes.  This morning the air is calm for the first time in over two weeks.

As I stare out my second floor office window I can just recognize some suggestions that spring is not far away even here at sixty two degrees north latitude.  The exhaust from my Toyo stove, which drifts almost directly across my office window when the air is calm, is much less dense and is occurring less frequently than a few weeks earlier.  While we are seeing a -2.2° F (-19° C) air temp I’m also expecting to see an afternoon high around 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies.  The boughs of the spruce trees are beginning to ‘perk up’ a bit after bearing heavy amounts of snow from late December through middle February.  And our direct daylight is now up to 12 hours 17 minutes and increasing daily by 6 minutes 1 second!  These longer days are beginning to slowly melt the snow pack even if the air temps remain well below freezing.  Indeed, when working towards my goal of 10,000 steps/day – I’m currently around 7,800 steps/day – I have started taking a collapsible walking staff with me as the icy hard packed snow coverage on the back roads is becoming slippery especially when just a thin layer of water appears atop it.  This lack of traction is emphasized as I watch my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) perform multiple slips and slides along with a few face plants as he revels in our daily walks.  Anana, my female Alaskan Malamute, is more restrained and hence remains upright most of the time.  There is something to be said for the wisdom of age!

I finally was able to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter after three previous ‘winters that weren’t’.  I did feel the bite of -40° F (-40° C) air temps, wind chills another ten to fifteen degrees below those temps and an almost three foot snow pack that remained for at least two and a half weeks.  I was treated to intense and vibrant auroral displays across much of the late fall when clear skies coincided with the Aurora Borealis.  Having completed my fourth consecutive winter in Alaska I think I can finally claim to be a veteran of ‘The Great Land’ and its kaleidoscope of weather conditions.  But maybe most surprising to me is I’m actually ready for the seasonal change.  During the three previous Vernal Equinoxes I was lamenting the end of winter and not enthusiastic about the oncoming spring with its insects and tourists.  But now I find myself awaiting the warmer weather even if it brings mosquitoes and the inevitable tourist traffic and congestion.  Perhaps I’m finally becoming sanguine with the aforementioned as well as the knowledge that within five to six weeks there will be no dark night skies again until early September?

Before long I’ll be indulging in what has become a ritual involving preparing for spring and summer.  I’ll be swapping tools and equipment between the mud room/front porch and the shed.  The generator will be drained of fuel which will go into the Escape’s gas tank.  The battery conditioner/recharger will be stowed in the shed and I will be getting the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ ready for operation.  I’ll be smearing some ‘bat attractant’ on the entrance to the bat house which my buddy Sarge hung last October; hopefully I’ll attract some Little Brown bats and convince them to set up house and help control the mosquito hordes.  In this same vein I’ll be relocating my tree swallow houses for the third time in the hopes I can attract some nesting pairs to add to my attempts at natural mosquito control.  So many of these actions are now ‘old friends’ and form a kind of seasonal dance or celebration.  For the first time since I relocated I’ll be doing them with joy and the knowledge that regardless of what the upcoming six months may hold for me winter will again return and I will have the opportunity to experience yet another spring, summer and fall in ‘The Great Land’.

Muskeg Under Clouds

The last of the ice on muskeg a bit east of my place on East Barge Drive is disappearing in the image from spring of 2015