Rock & Roll – Mother Nature’s Style

At 09:51 AKDT this (September 25th) morning a magnitude 6.24 earthquake occurred centered 60 miles WSW of Talkeetna at a depth of 62 miles; at that time I just happened to be in a warehouse in Palmer picking out the donated food I would be hauling back to Talkeetna. I was standing on the concrete loading dock when all the overhead doors that were down began to tremble as if being buffeted by a heavy wind. My fellow volunteers and members of the local food banks looked around in stunned silence; for the first 10 seconds no one knew what was happening but very quickly the more experienced folks said; “Earthquake”. About that same time a couple of the warehouse employees raced out doors and headed into the parking lot.

About that same time I felt the heavy concrete floor began to rise and fall in a sine wave motion indicative of the event’s ‘S’ waves; by this time I was already moving to the closest open overhead door so I could stand in the doorway until the tremblor ceased. The entire event last a bit more than 30 seconds and was the most powerful earthquake I’ve yet to experience. In looking over the thickness of that loading dock floor it still boggles my mind that it can actually float and rise and fall in periodicity with the waves from the seismic event. It was a bit disconcerting to watch the faces of the folks with more than 20 years of living in Alaska; to a person there was some fear borne of the concern that this one might be ‘a big one’. From what I can determine this generally means anything at or above a magnitude 7.0 so in this case we were quite a bit short of that threshold. Still and all it was yet another amazing display of Nature’s power.

When I arrived home after dropping off my food at the Pantry I discovered a number of items had been shifted around but no real damage. The event did cause the dual monitor set up on my main system to get knocked askew – no surprise as they are bolted to the wall – and pushed around some items on the desk but that was about the extent of any effects. The large CO2 tank I have in the utility room I use to carbonate a multitude of beverages was still standing just fine but then it is chained to the wall studs just in case something like this takes place. The dogs didn’t seem to be any worse for wear; as I wasn’t at home I didn’t have a chance to see if they showed any response before or during the event. Last November’s magnitude 5.4 just awoke Anana from a sound sleep but Qanuk was sleeping upstairs and while he did come running down to the main room I think that was from the effects of the event rather than some precognition.

Alaska is the most seismically active of the 50 states and in just my thirteen months of living up here I’ve now experienced two events in excess of magnitude 5.3 and a number of smaller tremblors. Being a ‘flat lander’ from Michigan I’d experienced just a couple of very minor earthquakes growing up although while living around 70 miles ENE of Saint Louis I did awaken to a magnitude 4.6 event early one morning. This was the product of the notorious New Madrid fault line which uncorked a real doozey back in the early 1800’s – estimated to have been magnitude 7.1 to 8.0 – which caused the Mississippi River to reverse its flow for a few days. I’d experienced a number of relatively small events in the California Bay Area with most being between magnitude 4.0 and 5.0. My time in the Bay Area did teach me to seek out doorways in the event of a quake and stay away from windows. I guess the training did sink in as once I realized it was indeed an earthquake I immediately looked for a door way.

Earthquakes are a part of life in Alaska and as such most folks just endure them and get on with life. I must admit to being fascinated when I can feel the earth shifting beneath my feet and experience other effects common to fairly powerful seismic events. But I’ve also seen imagery of the damage and destruction even a magnitude 6.4 earthquake can inflict so I am aware of the potential for serious issues from such occurrences. Being ready by knowing safety rules and taking the necessary precautions at home are really about all one can do in preparation for such events. I still must admit I am fascinated by the geology and physics involved in such events and especially of the incredible power of our Mother Earth!

Fall Sure Comes On Fast Up Here..!!

Even though this is my second fall – and, yes, I know fall technically starts on the Autumnal Equinox which is still eleven days out but it sure feels like it’s fall – I’m still amazed by just how rapidly the season arrives in this area.  Just two weeks ago everything was varying shades of green; now when I look out my office window I see this gorgeous display:

Gorgeous patchwork of fall color created by 'ground level' plants common to the boreal forest

Gorgeous patchwork of fall color created by ‘ground level’ plants common to the boreal forest

As bright as the image appears it was actually raining lightly from overcast skies when I took this picture earlier this morning.  In addition the birch trees are rapidly changing over to yellows and golds; the dwarf dogwood are already showing their bright red berries which contrast so starkly against their still dark green leaves although soon said leaves will shift to a bright red color as well.

With August and September normally being the two wettest months the mushrooms are abundant; I wish I knew much more about the various types as I suspect some are edible and I do love my ‘fungus’ but I also know enough to steer clear of them as without the required knowledge and experience one could well end up dead from sampling them.  Here’s a few of the myriad of types I see around my place:

I often see 'shrooms growing in bunches no doubt due to earlier growths dropping lots of spores

I often see ‘shrooms growing in bunches no doubt due to earlier growths dropping lots of spores

There's definitely a lot of 'fungus amongst us'..!

There’s definitely a lot of ‘fungus among us’..!

Many are just plain pretty in terms of coloration!

Many are just plain pretty in terms of coloration!

No surprise the 'shrooms would like growing new the moose scat!

No surprise the ‘shrooms would like growing new the moose scat!

It is kinda sad that within another couple of weeks the deciduous trees will be largely bare and the ground colors faded away to dull browns and greens in preparation for another winter.  But given my love of the winter season up here I just view their passing as Mother Nature offering up one last blast of color before the blues, greens and whites that dominate the winter season.  We are about two weeks ahead of where things were in terms of the color change last year; this season is much closer to ‘typical’ and has truly served to highlight just how aberrant were last fall’s warm and wet conditions.  While I do miss the vibrant reds, oranges and purples of the hardwood trees in the lower 48 the low growth on the taiga and tundra do produce a beautiful carpet in the fall.  Here’s an image from the Savage River basin within Denali NP&P that exemplifies this coloration:

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

Zero Degrees Celsius At Sixty Two Degrees North Latitude

The recent Labor Day weekend was gorgeous here in south central Alaska with three days of azure blue high pressure skies, abundant sunshine and highs in the lower to middle teens with morning lows from -2 C to 0 C. This was a refreshing change from the rather mundane weather across most of August and hopefully is a promise as to a ‘normal’ fall and especially winter this year. Granted, it was just a bit early to see freezing temps here in Talkeetna as it is more ‘normal’ to see frosts occurring around now with the actual freezes waiting until the second half of September but such conditions are far from unheard of in this area. My canine companions loved the cool morning walks; indeed, my female Alaskan Malamute (Anana) had a spring in her step and was running like I haven’t seen since last winter. Concurrent with this cooler weather darkness has once again returned to the night skies and I found I truly missed its presence across the previous three months! It was wonderful to once again see stars within the darkness. The seasonal dance is once more underway after seeming to have stalled during the summer and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’m now almost a month into my second year of rural living in south central Alaska and I find I am loving the lifestyle even more; it just feels ‘right’ to be starting to work on a bevy of chores tied to the approach of fall. With the demise of the mosquitoes midway through August the propane tank on my ‘Mosquito Magnet’ obligingly emptied itself so I disconnected it and stored it in my shed. I’m just finishing cleaning and winterizing the main unit and soon it, too, will find its winter resting place in the shed. I pulled down my hummingbird feeder; it never attracted any of the ‘flying jewels’ but in July the Swallow Tailed Butterflies made good use of its nectar. I will probably not bother hanging it again next year but who knows; hope does spring eternal!

Last winter I learned an important lesson regarding the snow pack and my shed; even though it is more than a foot off the ground by December there was so much snow it was impossible to open the door. As I use it for storage this was a real problem; I could not get to items I needed and hence had to awkwardly wade the snow and shovel just enough away to get the door open. In hindsight we saw just 33% of the ‘typical’ snowfall last winter so this year I’m planning ahead and digging out items I know I’ll need like snow shovels, snow rake, battery charger/starter and similar. These will be staged on the front porch or in the mud room for easy access. I’ll return items like my bicycle, pump and ground pads to the shed. This will ensure I have the items I really need at the ready before the snow flies.

I also drained the gasoline in the generator and changed the oil. I took the three full five gallon Jerry cans of gasoline I’ve had on hand since last fall (Yes, I added Sta-bil to each just after filling!) and emptied them into the Escape’s fuel tank. I’ll haul all four can to the gas station, fill them up, return them to the house, add Sta-bil to each and empty one into the generator’s tank. This way I’ve cycled the gasoline and will have fifteen gallons on hand for the upcoming fall and winter. Last season I had all four cans filled along with the generator but given I used just one can across the period I think having three full cans as back up is probably sufficient.

I finally removed the sun shields from the master bedroom windows and replaced the screens; it was wonderful to once again have fresh air flowing in that room! I’ll leave the screens in now but will also be prepared to apply the 3M film once it is truly cold again. With the cool weekend I discovered my Toyo furnace is functioning just fine when I accidentally left a few windows open Friday night. I awoke early Saturday morning to a ‘strange’ noise; until I really became conscious I didn’t realize it was the Toyo firing up! Not being a fan of heating the great outdoors I immediately jumped up, threw on some clothes and proceeded to locate the three windows I’d left open and close them. Given the -0.5 C outdoor air temp I wasn’t surprised to see the main floor air temp was 9 C. Definitely a bone headed maneuver on my part but at least this did prove the Toyo is ready for the upcoming cold.

Thinking about last winter and some procedures which didn’t really work well I’ve some new plans of action. The dogs normally use the back door to access the back porch and then the back yard; I didn’t keep their path well shoveled initially and then I had a huge issue with icy steps. This year I’m getting my butt outside any time we have more than a few inches of new show and clearing it while the dogs are outside; my goal is to keep their access route clear of any ice and snow. Speaking of ‘the kidz’ I have booties for my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) as he had real issues with the extreme cold last year; his paws eventually cracked and bled as did the areas between his pads. I now know I have to control his outside exercise based upon the air temp but the booties should also help. Anana suffered no issues which isn’t a surprise given this is the home of her breed but I will be checking even her tough paws on a regular basis.

As I measure daily precipitation for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network) I will also need to keep the path to my snow board – it’s located on the SW corner of the back porch railing – open and as free from snow as possible. And, if we get any truly monumental dumps I will need to have access to the back yard such that I can shovel an area for the kidz to take care of their business. I’ll also insure I have a large broom staged by the back door as last year the snow was often light and fluffy and hence could be ‘broomed’ away. I’ve also rearranged my winter ‘ditty bag’ to fit into a milk crate which will go back into the Escape soon; it contains everything I’d need to get by for a few days if stranded by winter weather while out on the road.

These are just a few of the ongoing tasks one undertakes when preparing for the seasonal shift in this area. I truly enjoy them as they are reminders of last year’s fun in what winter we had and also a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter. All around me there are signs of this change; the birch are beginning to change into their yellow and gold colors and the taiga/tundra is already shifting to that majestic patchwork carpet of gorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens. There’s a feeling of increased activity within the boreal forest as the inhabitants prepare to either move to warmer areas or hunker down for the winter. In the lower 48 fall was always my favorite season; based on my 13 months of living in the Talkeetna area I’d say winter is now my favorite month with fall right behind it. But more than anything else I feel my essence reverberating in harmony with the seasonal changes and this seems to release more energy and appreciation of Nature’s wondrous dance…and what a partner she is!!

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color