Here’s most of the 2014 KTNA volunteers gathered in front of the studio for a group shot taken during the ‘KTNA Volunteer Appreciation Picnic’ held on June 12th. Many people have asked what I look like as I’ve mentioned the image I use as an avatar is from 2003; therefore I decided to post this picture. I’m the fat head in the back row with the shaved head and red shirt and vest.
Yet another milestone in my Alaskan adventure occurred this past Monday afternoon when the faint albeit unmistakable sound of distant thunder reverberated through the boreal forest. This is the first time I’ve heard thunder in my new home and it was most welcome! If there’s one thing I really miss from my time in the lower 48 its the seasonal presence of thunderstorms in general and severe thunderstorms in particular. As a very young child I remember being terrified of both lightning and thunder; I actually dreaded the steamy hot July and August evenings in SE Michigan because such weather often brought on thunderstorms. I’m forever grateful to my father for finally taking me out on the family home’s back porch as a thunderstorm approached and explaining just what was happening; we talked about the genesis of the storm, the lightning being the precursor to thunder and he taught me to estimate the distance to a storm by counting the seconds between a lightning flash and its resultant thunder. I never again feared thunderstorms and, indeed, grew to absolutely love the phenomena to the point I regularly walked in such storms. In hindsight probably not the wisest thing to do but I loved feeling the energy and power of the storm all around me. One time I remember actually feeling a weak electrical shock from a close by strike; I never wear shoes when I walk in such storms as they just become saturated and dead weight. And on a couple of occasions I’ve smelled ozone from a very close by strike; these events always included that incredible ‘flash-boom’ effect of a truly close lightning strike in which the flash and resultant boom are virtually simultaneous.
Anyway, the thunderstorms I’ve seen up here – mostly on radar or satellite – are pale comparisons to the gully washers of the SE or the incredible towering cumulonimbus of the plains storms but at least they are around. Indeed, there is now little call for the weather spotter training I cultivated while living in the lower 48. I still do participate in CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow reporting network) and I have sent in reports of extreme weather to the Anchorage NWS office during a winter storm but I do not expect to do as much in these areas as I did while living in the lower 48. Yet there’s no shortage of fascinating meteorology up here and I’m in seventh heaven re-learning so much of what I took for granted as ‘immutable knowledge’ regarding the weather. Weather in the higher latitudes is quite different from that found in the middle latitudes so this a fertile area for learning’s; it’s just a great coincidence that I’m fascinated by meteorology in general.
Another area of great interest to me, and one of which I know little but am working to improve, is that of geology and the physics of earthquakes. Prior to relocating to Alaska I had minimal experience with earthquakes and found them to be curiosities which might occur every decade or so. This changed a bit while I was employed with The Clorox Company as its headquarters is in Oakland with its technical center located just a bit further east in Pleasanton; as such I did experience more tremblors while visiting the west coast. Even so noticeable shifts in the earth were still just a curiosity. With my relocation to south central Alaska the frequency to which I would experience tremblors has changed dramatically as I’ve felt three very pronounced seismic events since moving up here and that’s been just 10 months. This past Monday afternoon a magnitude 7.9 event occurred in the Aleutian Island chain which prompted a short-lived tsunami warning; no damage was reported. While we did not feel anything up here the folks in Anchorage could feel just a bit of that event. I knew prior to moving up here Alaska was the most seismically active of the fifty states but I had no idea just how active it is; if you’d like to get some perspective visit this website: http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/recent/macsub/index.html. It’s run by UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and is the clearinghouse for information on Alaskan seismic activity. Indeed, a quick perusal of the current data shows 79 events recorded for Wednesday, June 25th as of 12:18 AKDT. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting a copy of the activity map for June 25th at the end of this piece; it was copied as of 12:32 AKDT. Granted, most are very small as in the magnitude 1 to 2 range but this still illustrates Alaska can truly be ‘seismically active’. This is the only place I’ve heard sound associated with seismic activity; back in the winter a magnitude 5.9 event was accompanied by two very loud ‘booms’ which actually awakened my soundly sleeping Alaskan Malamute (Anana).
I guess I could say there’s rarely a dull moment in this amazing state I now call home and I like it this way. We’re looking at the potential for some heavy rain across the next 12 to 18 hours; we need moisture so it is welcome although it will put a damper on riding my bicycle. But in true Alaskan fashion I’ll just substitute an extended walk in the rain with the dogs; they don’t mind the rain although they won’t like having to remain in the mud room for a few hours after we return so they can dry off and I can take a couple of shots at removing a bit of that glacial silt and dirt that is ubiquitous to this area. These kinds of adjustments are becoming almost routine and I like this realization as it means I am definitely becoming an Alaskan!
On Saturday, June 21st at 02:51 AKDT we arrived at the Summer Solstice; in the following image I fought off the mosquitoes to get a picture of my place just a couple hours after that time which I figured was close enough! The view is looking west from my driveway and includes my Alaskan Malamute (Anana) who makes a living always being in the way; I found it interesting to note the bright sections of the lower western sky seen through the boreal forest (just above the Escape) that surrounds this area. It almost appears as though the sun had just set but in reality it was already 40 minutes past sunrise!! For those interested Talkeetna experienced a sunrise on Friday, June 20th at 04:05 AKDT and saw the sun set at 00:00 AKDT on June 21st for a total of 19 hours 55 minutes of direct sunlight. This will continue for the next four days before the daylight slowly starts to diminish as we advance towards the Autumnal Equinox. With the passing of this annual event I’ve now seen all the equinoxes and solstices in my new home; a kind of milestone for my Alaskan existence.
Talkeetna just loves the Summer Solstice and there were many small celebrations of the event; a number of locals indulged in playing softball without any lights – they weren’t needed – well past midnight. Most of the local facilities had some kind of celebration with live music being a favorite. I’m sure more than a few drank to excess but then given how light it was it would’ve been easy to walk home or even hitch-hike on the Spur as folks were still driving around at that time. Up here hitchhiking is a safe means of travel and I regularly pick up locals on the Spur as well as the occasional tourist or visitor. I didn’t hear of any issues which was good but not unexpected. During my Friday evening newscast I did read a warning regarding a grizzly which had just killed a moose calf at the northern tip of Christiansen Lake between the water and Christiansen Lake Road. This lake is just to the east of the Talkeetna Airport which is located in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna. The grizzly was expected to remain in the area for a while so locals were being warned to give the area a wide berth; I also used the announcement to remind folks that its once again time to be ‘bear aware’. Across the next five months I’m sure KTNA will broadcast some similar warnings as well as information on specific verified sightings of local grizzlies. At the ‘KTNA Volunteer Appreciation Picnic’ on Thursday, June 12th I spoke to a volunteer who was riding her recumbent into town for her music show when a young grizzly boar popped out of the weeds right at the railroad crossing on the south edge of town; she said it thankfully just looked at her and strolled off south on the tracks. Large wildlife is a way of life in this area and so no one gets too excited about such situations unless there’s aggressive activity tied to the sightings.
Anyway, because I was up early I did get the dogs out for a 35 minute walk; thankfully I applied my ‘Deep Woods Off’ before heading out as even with this repellant there was a cloud of mosquitoes buzzing around me and they followed me the entire time. While I do find the hoards of tourists a bit irritating they cannot hold a candle to the hoards of blood thirsty mosquitoes; even the dogs get fed up with being buzzed by them and will snap at them when they fly close enough. In general they are immune to the flying ‘vampires’ thanks to their thick coats although the insides of their ears and their bellies do get bitten infrequently. I was pleased we did get in the early walk as the overcast thickened and by 08:00 it began to rain; just drizzle at first but it soon strengthened into a steady albeit light shower which lasted all day. We need the moisture so I was happy when I could report a 24 hour rain total of 0.49″ to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow reporting network) in my 07:00 daily report this morning. With the rain and a temp hovering in the upper 40’s this was a bit cool for a Summer Solstice but not too bad. Interestingly it was a far cry from Friday afternoon’s weather which was blazing sunshine with a peak air temps of 73.1 F which is easily five degrees above normal.
I’m slowly learning to exist up here in the warmer months but without question I prefer the winter to what I’ve seen thus far during this fledgling summer. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the continual light; it never even gets ‘dark’ from early May through early August; the best we see in terms of ‘darkness’ is what’s termed ‘civil twilight’. Since late-May its been possible to read a book outdoors at 02:00 without any additional light. When I’ve had some trouble sleeping I’ve taken the dogs for walks around this time without issue although since the bears have become more common I’m no longer doing this because they are more active during times we humans tend to be absent and 02:00 is definitely such a time. Thus far my single small sunflower seed feeder has remained untouched by anything larger than a Red Squirrel along with the Chickadees, Nuthatches, Juncos and woodpeckers its set up to feed. Even so I always look out the front door window before I exit onto the porch as its possible it could attract a bear. Alaska Fish & Game recommends not putting out bird feeders and water sources during bear season so I am flying in the face of that wisdom but I also want to encourage the birds to hang around so I’m just going to give it a go for now. If I get any sense it’s attracting bears let alone see any evidence of bruin activity it will be immediately taken down. I have to be very circumspect regarding my burning; anything with a possible food odor has to be stored inside the house until I can immediately get it to the burn barrel and thoroughly incinerated. I’ve been told every year someone loses sight of this necessity and ends up with a frightening bear encounter. I think we all get a bit lax from November through early May when the bears are hibernating. I did get my front porch netted in but I’m not satisfied with the fragile nature of the netting especially with two large dogs so come fall I’m going to purchase rolls of actual screening which is much more robust and redo the job. I was hoping to get by with the cheaper and lighter weight stuff but that just isn’t cutting it. Getting the dogs inside without bringing in mosquitoes is something I still haven’t mastered. I do force them to remain briefly in the mud room; often any ‘tag-alongs’ will fly off their fur and I can then swat them or use the concentrated pyrethrin spray to knock them out. Leaving just one lousy mosquito alive in the house will make for a bad time at night; I’ve learned its much wiser to take them out ASAP.
Without question I learn something new almost every day regarding living in rural south central Alaska; providing I live for another few decades I might actually get to the point where I’m fairly well experienced in such a lifestyle. I do know for sure this majestic land will never stop surprising or amazing me; Alaska truly is ‘The Great Land’ just as the Athabascan people named her…’Alyeska’!
Last Thursday the staff at KTNA held their annual ‘volunteer appreciation picnic’ and I was impressed no end with the great food and wonderful companionship as well as some truly memorable live music. I’d guess there were maybe 60 to 75 folks in attendance; the staff set up a large tent to cover the food and a myriad of tables and chairs. They cooked a variety of hamburgers, sausages and vegetables to order which went well with all the ‘fixin’s’ and, of course, a couple of pony kegs of locally brewed beer. We even managed to get a group picture of the current bevy of volunteers who help make KTNA the ‘Voice of the Susitna Valley’. My neighbor Larry was there and played his electric guitar with another gentleman who was very skilled on his acoustic guitar. As good as these folks played when Kayti sang with them it was just incredible. She’s obviously a very young woman but she has a very strong voice and she was equally adept at rock, blues and jazz vocals. She could sing most song’s lyrics from memory. I know there is a plethora of artistic talent in the Talkeetna area but in my estimation Kayti should be singing for some group touring the US! Even the weather cooperated with overcast and cool temps with just a brief period of misting. The locals told me last year the air temps were in the upper eighties; I’ll take the upper fifties we saw this year any day!!
All told this was a wonderful time and a great way for KTNA to thank us volunteers for our time. Personally I’d continuing doing what I do for the station without such a great ‘reward’ but it did feel good to know our efforts are appreciated…
The studio and the picnic with the huge grill in operation
Kayti (red jacket) singing with Larry to her right
Great people, great food, really great music and a fantastic Thursday afternoon!!