In what I hope is a harbinger of a cold, snowy winter in semi-rural south central Alaska we saw our first snowfall from Thursday afternoon (October 20th) into early Friday morning. Although I observed just 1.75″ of uncharacteristically heavy, wet snow other areas to the south and east saw anywhere from 3″ to 9″ in the Hatcher Pass area. The SWE of the snow measured 1″ of liquid water producing 7.29″ of snow; we normally see 1″ of liquid water yielding between 12″ and 30″ of snow. However, this is not surprising given the temperature stayed a degree or two above freezing across Thursday into very early Friday morning and we saw sleet and freezing rain mixing with the snow late Thursday afternoon. The snow remains on the trees and ground as of Saturday morning but we are also seeing moderate (13-18 mph) north breezes so before long the trees will lose their snowy covering.
Here are a couple of images taken from my second floor Friday morning:
Looking west at a portion of my ‘back yard’ showing the driveway and weather station sensors Friday (10/21/16) morning
Looking ENE from one of my ‘spare’ bedrooms on Friday (10/21/16) morning; this is my ‘front yard’
In a way I feel profoundly unqualified to write this piece for although I am 63 years of age I am continually discovering just how ill-prepared I am for my advancing years. In hindsight I largely behaved as though I was ’18 and invincible’ until a foolish misstep on March 27, 2015 yielded a severely fractured left radius and ulna and forced me to recognize my own mortality. Thirty eight thousand dollars and a session of major orthopedic surgery later I began to learn just how unprepared I was for life as a sexagenarian.
Serious hardware required to repair my left elbow and left radius and ulna!
Looking back my preparations for aging were not helped by almost perfect health across my first five and a half decades; I suffered nothing worse than ‘pleurisy of the diaphragm’ – something that sent me to the hospital emergency room three times in my life – and the infrequent bout with the flu as well as a few cases of what could only have been potent staph food poisoning. As I aged I watched so many of my peers start to struggle with back, neck and joint issues while I just continued to march forward. I’d always struggled with my weight although I’d managed to remain perhaps eight to twelve pounds heavier than I should have been for most of my working life. But, regardless, I cannot damn a life of great health especially as so many out there would probably kill to experience what I did in terms of a lack of health issues.
The aforementioned accident in March of 2015 really forced me to re-evaluate just how I was living in so many ways. Because it left me with virtually an artificial left elbow along with a plate and six bone screws in my left forearm I was forced to give up any activities which involved impacts of any kind. Sadly, the one exercise I truly enjoy is splitting firewood; that is now just a fond memory. My left arm is probably 85% of what it was before the accident but for some unknown reason my left wrist – apparently uninjured in the fall – became very painful in June of 2015 and remains so to this day. I proceeded to learn the truth of something a friend had shared with me; “You do not want to be of ‘interest’ to Western medicine!”. I spent another $5,000 plus on tests including a bone scan but nothing revealed any cause for the pain. At this point my left wrist is maybe 50% of what it was before the accident and hasn’t really improved much since it first began to ache. This may well be as much recovery as I’m going to see. My surgeon gave me two choices; learn to live with the situation or undergo another surgery to remove the plate and screws. The latter is totally unknown; he cannot guarantee this will help and cannot even guarantee the operation wouldn’t make the arm/wrist worse. I’ll wait until March of 2017 and then re-evaluate my healing. Hopefully, by then, I’ll be able to make an informed choice.
But much more has changed since that March day in 2015; I still bear the mental scars of taking such a sudden, nasty fall and it has forced me to be very cautious when it comes to uncertain footing. Given all the ice we’ve experienced across the past two winters this means I rarely get outside from November through April unless I put on traction ‘slip on’s’ and use my walking staves. Even then I cannot escape a sense of dread whenever my feet slip. I also believe something happened regarding my sense of balance which was never all that great; nowadays I’m much less steady on my feet and I’m flat out unwilling to put myself more than a few feet off the ground be it on a ladder or similar.
Everyone is aware as we age our faculties tend to become less sharp and are ‘off line’ more often. Our physical prowess also tends to fade with the years as does our ability to fight off illness and especially to quickly recover. For some of us this means we begin to lose faith in ourselves and our abilities; needless to say this is not good. However, refusing to acknowledge aging can and does remove the ‘mind’s edge’ is also rather unhealthy as it leaves one vulnerable to making perceptual or memory related mistakes and then exacerbating them by refusing to consider one might be wrong. This is a very fine balancing act and one I’m really struggling to find that point of parity. I sense my accident and its fallout truly pushed me too far in the direction of self-doubt and uncertainty regarding my abilities. Such a shift was probably good in terms of what I was willing to physically undertake and/or endure but not so good regarding my mental faculties. With respect to the latter I feel I must come to embrace the idea that while my mental abilities may not be what they were ten or even five years back they are far from useless especially when factoring in experience. And I should be pleased I’ve learned the surety of my youth hasn’t translated into me being unable to accept the lessening of my mental capabilities. In the end a bit of healthy respect for memory ‘slippage’ and/or perceptual incongruities becoming more evident with my passing years is most likely a very good thing.
While I’ve been saying more and more often ‘this aging thing isn’t for the faint of heart’ I also recognize that regardless of its problems it does beat the alternative. It is so very important to remember these concepts on those mornings when just getting out of bed after the previous day’s exertions can be a painful process. For those of us lucky enough to live into our sixties, seventies and beyond inculcating a sense of celebrating our lives becomes more and more important. As with so many other things in life if we allow ourselves to become mired in the minutiae we lose touch with ‘the big picture’ and this never produces a positive effect. As stiff or sore as I might be some mornings I also know there’s a gel cap of Naproxen sodium in the bathroom medicine cabinet that will ease most of the pain. Regarding my slowly declining mental facilities…well, I still function and the longer I live the more experience I have to call upon! And, too, I continue to develop even more memories involving life in ‘The Great Land’…
“Oh My God, it’s full of stars”… These were David Bowman’s last words as he moved toward the monolith orbiting Jupiter at the end of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic work – “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I loved this work, as well as many written by Mr. Clarke, and I’ve never forgotten that incredulous statement made as Dr. Bowman was being prepared to ‘enter’ the monolith. Flash forward to this past week in south central Alaska and the amazingly clear nights we’ve experienced; living semi-rural I’ve been able to view the only recently returned dark night skies every night for the last six evenings and they have been spectacular!
Initially I was looking to view ‘Nature’s light show’ – the Aurora Borealis – and I was just blown away by the displays from Tuesday late evening right through early Wednesday morning. It was the best display I’ve observed since I moved up here in August of 2013 and second only to an incredible display I viewed with a friend up on The Haul Road (aka ‘The Dalton Highway’ AK 11) in early September of 2000.
Alaskan aurora courtesy Jan Curtis
But the aurora are fickle and despite forecasts from UAF of ‘high+’ (between 6 and 7 on the 0 to 9 scale) across the next four evenings I never saw any additional displays. But every night I was treated to a star filled sky; in the early evenings I could easily see the edge-on view of the Milky Way. As the night progressed I saw many of the now familiar constellations such as Ursa Major – the same depicted on the Alaska state flag – and Ursa Minor along with Cassiopeia, Cygnus and Pisces. By early morning when the air temps hovered around -6.67° C (20.00° F) the night sky was often crystal clear with the stars twinkling like icy diamonds. Although I’ve seen this sight many, many nights now it still never ceases to evoke a sense of awe and wonder to realize as I view the incredible night sky I’m looking back in time and any given point of light could be a star now gone due to novae or supernovae but the light of said destruction has yet to reach Earth. So just by looking up at the clear night sky I could easily utter those now famous words from David Bowman’s encounter with the monolith. But I feel more comfortable with a line from a favored Enya song named, appropriately enough, “Paint The Sky With Stars”:
Place a name upon the night
One to set your heart alight
And to make the darkness bright
Paint the sky with stars.
The amazing view of our spiral galaxy – The Milky Way!
Fall colors in the boreal forest that make up my ‘yard’
After a warm 2016 right through the end of summer, along with a mix of dry late winter and early spring months followed by some very wet summer months, this fall has started off a bit cool which has stoked my hopes for my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter across 2016 – 2017. I was warned by my neighbors when I first moved up here that winter can, and does, come on quickly and sometimes October sees some serious snow and cold. In checking the history of October snows in Talkeetna I find the month averages 26.67 cm (10.5”); since relocating in 2013 I’ve seen no more than a dusting of snow in any of the following Octobers. Maybe this year the weather will revert to more normal temperatures and precipitation..? One can only hope!
I’ve noticed the gleam in my Alaskan malamute’s (Anana) eyes and the spring in her step with the advent of the repeated hard freezes we experienced last week; she is true to her breed and loves the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter up here. Five of the last six mornings have seen temps drop to below -2.2° C (28° F); this morning we failed to do so only because of cloud cover and drizzle. With this said I’d forgotten how cold drizzle/rain can be up here when the air temp is getting close to the freezing mark. Thanks to said cold rains and some wind 90% of our fall color now carpets the ground; as is typical it was ‘short and sweet’ once again this year. My male GSD (Qanuk) doesn’t care much about the air temps as long as he can get outside and run; this does become problematic when the air temps drop much below -17.8° C (0° F) but I’ve learned to limit the time he exposes his paw pads to such conditions. I now have to carry leads for ‘the kidz’ when we take walks because the mushers are out with their teams pulling ATVs.
With the advent of the cooler air I find myself once again preparing for what I’ve come to know as ‘the fall routine’. This aggregate of necessary activities has been growing each year I’ve lived in semi-rural south central Alaska and has additional items new for the fall of 2016. There’s the ritual shuffle of items between the unattached shed and the mudroom; my battery charger/starter comes from the shed to the mudroom as does any other equipment I may need to access during the winter since every year thus far the snow pack has been sufficient to block the shed door and require shoveling to access. The Toyo Monitor furnace checked out just fine and has been running now for six straight days; I do not recall having to do this until early to middle October in the previous falls. The now almost seven month old gasoline in the two five gallon Jerry cans will be emptied into the gas tank of my Escape and I will refill them, and add a bit of ‘Sta-bil’, within a week. This ensures that should the power fail I’ll have clean and ready gasoline for the generator. I’m also trying something new this year; said generator normally sits on the front porch just outside the front door. Given it is wheeled I plan to unhook the output power line and wheel the unit into my mudroom from November through February when it is really cold. If I lose power during that time I need only wheel it back out to the front porch, hook up the transfer line and fire it up. The real plus will involve the latter; it will be at least 12.8° C (55° F) and so should start very easily. More than once in previous winters I really struggled trying to start the generator when the air temp was well below -17.8° C (0° F).
Time also to lock the windows closed and put up any ‘heat barriers’ in the upstairs ‘spare’ bedroom windows to keep their room temp air from dropping into the single digits Celsius (middle forties Fahrenheit) during cold streaks. As is common in a house which started as a cabin and grew over time there is no good circulation into any of the second floor rooms although I did open a hole in the master bedroom floor and embedded a fan which I can reverse as needed to either pull the warmer main floor air (said hole is right over the Toyo Monitor) into the bedroom or push the cold air near the floor down into the main room. I’ve already unhooked and coiled my water hose; it is stored in the shed. In addition I just removed the last of my window light barriers in the master bedroom; for me this is one of the cardinal signs the fall has arrived. I’ve pulled together all my cameras and camcorders, cleaned them of the summer’s dust and fully recharged their respective batteries in hopes of being able to catch some auroral shows this winter; I’ve done the same with my headlamp batteries. I’ve tested the crawl space heater to insure it is functioning; while it runs very little and only when outside temps drop below -26.0° C (-15° F) for a number of consecutive days it is vital to keeping my pipes from freezing. I’ve also deployed snow shovels to both the front and back porches.
Such chores are really not all that involved but I so enjoy them because they speak to me of the coming snow and cold. And they also remind me of the rhythms of Mother Nature which are so very predominant in ‘The Great Land’. Somehow it just feels so ‘right’ to have such activities dictated by the passage of the seasons. And living in Alaska it is impossible not be aware of the season’s dance…