Wintry Wisdom From ‘The Last Frontier’

Wow, what a difference a week can make!  Just seven days back we were entering a substantial cold snap that lasted four full days during which we never saw temps rise above 0° F (-17.8° C) and our lowest temp was probably a bit below -40° F (-40° C).  I write ‘probably a bit below’ because my two electronic temperature sensors stopped transmitting between -34° F (-36.7° C) and -39.7° F (-39.8° C); I did see -39.7° F (-39.8° C) on my Ambient weather station outdoor temp sensor at 05:20 Thursday (January 19th) morning but when I finally arose around 07:30 the sensor was no longer transmitting data.  Given the sun didn’t rise for another two hours I’m sure we dipped below -40° F/° C on that frigid morning.

One key learning was honored with my order of an 18” bi-metallic dial type thermometer good to -60° F (-51.1° C); I will not have to guess at low temps below -40° F/° C from this point forward.  Despite having lived in this area for almost three and a half years until last week the coldest air I’d experienced was Chicago’s record low temp of -27.2° F (-32.9° C) which occurred on January 20, 1985.  Although memory can be a tricky thing, especially across 32 years, my remembrances of that Chicago cold snap were of much colder temps.  However, I’d wager the humidity was higher in Chicago and there were winds to 40 mph (64.4 kph) which were producing wind chills colder than -70° F (-56.7° C).

Living within an immense span of boreal forest – if in doubt just look up Talkeetna using Google Maps and pull out to view the northern half of the Susitna Valley – has the advantage of really degrading wind.  We do see substantial winds off the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and The Alaska Range to the north but while the tops of the birch trees – around 35 feet (10.7 meters) in elevation – might be really swaying in winds probably gusting to 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) I rarely measure even 5 mph (8 kph) breezes at ground level.  Thus during the cold snap I saw very little in terms of wind chill.  This allowed me to replace the lithium battery in my Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station’s sensor platform in -30° F (-34.4° C) temps while maintaining complete comfort.  I’d learned the value of layering outdoor clothing when facing Alaskan winters early on.  Only my fingers became a bit chilled when I had to swap my insulated mittens for poly pro glove liners to do the actual ‘fine’ work of swapping the batteries.

My buddy Sarge installed a pair of exterior storm doors on my front and back doors during his October visit and I was impressed no end regarding their insulating ability.  I’d wager my main floor stayed at least 3° F to 5° F warmer thanks to these doors.  I haven’t seen many places that utilize storm doors up here; the most obvious issue would be any door opening out onto an unprotected area.  If we were to receive 12” (30.5 cm) or more of snow it might be impossible to open the storm door.  Thankfully my front door opens onto my front porch and hence snow build up is not an issue; when it is snowing I do try to keep the back porch cleared more often to facilitate getting the door open once the snow ceases.

I also learned a very important lesson regarding said aluminum storm doors; when the exterior temp drops to -25° F (-31.7° C) one shouldn’t touch any of the bare metal with bare skin!  Doing so produces the equivalent of an electrical shock as it almost instantaneously pulls the heat from one’s skin.  This is also true regarding the window glass; I started keeping a pair of poly pro glove liners at the front door so when I needed to let the kidz out I could put one on before pushing the storm door open.  In addition I learned that the brutal cold can have deleterious effects on internal hardware; see the following picture of what happens when ya try to force a frozen hinge to function:

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Mostly frozen main door hinge just inside the mud room

This particular hinge is part of my front door which is in the mud room.

My first winter in this area I learned of the necessity of keeping air circulating within one’s dwelling during cold snaps.  My initial inclination was to close off a couple of second floor rooms which were not in use.  Because my dwelling began its life as a cabin and has since had a number of additions, including the second floor, the air circulation is almost non-existent.  During a three day run in December of 2013 when temps never reached zero and lows were dropping to -25.2° F (-31.8° C) I entered one of the shut up spare rooms to find the windows looking as such:

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East facing window in spare bedroom on second floor after room was closed up for two days when temps ranged from 0° F (-17.8° C) to -25.2° F (-31.7° C)

Needless to say I was not happy and quickly determined it was best to just deal with the cold air coming from the unused rooms while leaving them open such that some air could circulate!

My new home is an amazing place and Alaska is always teaching me something new; I need only keep my eyes and ears open and learn of her ways.  There are many folks out there who think I’m borderline insane for seeking out such cold weather extremes; I suppose one could make such a case but then I’ve always loved the cold and, not surprisingly, loathed the heat especially when coupled with humidity.  I did venture out briefly when the air temps were below -30° F (-34.4° C) and the conditions were amazing.  The air was clear like I’ve never seen previously and the ‘immense silence’ was even more…immense!  Just breathing took on a new feeling as air at such cold temps definitely causes one’s lungs to ‘tingle’.  I remain in awe of this incredibly majestic albeit amazingly extreme state; while not for everyone those bitten by the ‘Alaska bug’ can never get enough of her magic…

Just A Typical Tuesday Morning…

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

My eyes snapped open and although I was still mostly asleep I groggily rolled onto my back and once again heard:

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

I now recognized the warning alert from my male German Shepherd Dog – Qanuk – who immediately ran down the stairs followed closely by my female Alaskan malamute, Anana.  I was now fully awake and could heard the dogs moving around the main floor based on the sound of their toe nails on the hard bamboo floor, the carpeting and then the vinyl flooring in the mud room.

Qanuk’s alert continued although it began to drop in terms of volume and frequency.  As Qanuk spent most of his life with Anana as his canine role model he has incorporated a pretty fair impression of the Malamute’s howl into his audio repertoire.  But when alerting he always delivers that deep, impressive sounding GSD bark.  Funny how we learn the sound, cadence and intensity of our canine companion’s vocalizations so well we can tell what the canine is thinking regarding the nature and severity of the ‘threat’; I had a very good idea from Qanuk’s vocalizations that something had disturbed his sleep and he remained vigilant regarding said disturbance.

My right hand slipped across the .40 caliber Beretta semi-automatic in its holster on the bed stand; I hesitated but given Qanuk’s barking was now decreasing in both volume and repetition I left the handgun where it was sitting.  I rolled to my left side and saw ‘01:44’ on my digital alarm clock.  What the heck was going on..?  I’ve been awakened before by my canine companions; sometimes I cannot locate the source but often it is wildlife like moose.  I arose from my bed into the chilly 54° F bedroom air and flipped on a dim light; at my arising both Qanuk and Anana came back upstairs and into my room.  I looked out a couple of windows but even with the snow being brightly illuminated by an almost full moon riding high in the clear sky I couldn’t see anything.  Given I was up I decided to hit the bathroom; while in that room I chanced to look out the one window.  I saw a large black blob – rather like an oval with flattened ends – where no such shape should be.  It was between a couple of spruce trees on the narrow patch of land between the north side of my house and East Barge Drive.

I finished my business and decided to get a better look at said ‘blob’ so I went back into the bedroom and found a flashlight.  I then walked back into the bathroom, pointed the flashlight outside and hit the power switch.  Sure enough, as I did so I saw the ‘twinkle’ of moose eyes and I also now recognized the snout of said mammal.  At the time it seemed large so I thought it was a bull; however, when I examined the spot later that morning I decided it was a cow.  I quickly deactivated the light as I did not want to disturb the moose.  Its presence meant the kidz were not getting outside for a potty break so I went back to bed.

Once it was light enough come morning I pulled on my break up boots and wandered out to see where the moose had being lying.  Sure enough, there was a depression in the snow as well as a load of moose droppings.  I briefly wondered if this was the equivalent of a human wetting their bed and also wondered if the need to go had forced the moose on to a new bed.  The images at the end of this piece better explain the geometry of this event as well as detail the moose’s bed.  I remain fascinated by how my canine companions, closed up in house, can sense a single moose outside.  In the late spring through early fall when the house is often open I can believe scent is what they detect; however, this was a -5.4° F early morning in a house sealed up against the cold so I have to believe it was sound they detected.

I know Qanuk is hyper alert and true to his breed in needing to identify and warn of any unusual noises or scents.  But it still boggles my mind that he could hear a moose walking through 14” of snow pack and then lying down from inside a sealed up dwelling!  Granted, it was a cold, clear and silent night but still..!?!  Regardless, he was doing exactly as he should and I praised him to high heaven for being so alert and willing to warn me of something unusual.  Anana has done the same thing other times but for some reason she was largely just following Qanuk’s lead this time.  Maybe she was sleeping too soundly..?

Living solo in semi-rural south central Alaska has so many pluses but one negative is if something should happen – say, a burglar tried to gain entry to my house – I’m on my own to handle the situation.  That’s why the loaded Beretta sits holstered by my bed.  My canine companions are my first line of defense; they awaken me when something is ‘different’.  I would never want then to become ‘involved’ with any two or four legged intruder; just alert me and then come back to me.  I will deal with whatever is ongoing.  I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t have my Benelli rifled bore 12 gauge pump shotgun next to the bed as well; it currently rests in my gun rack on the main floor.  If a bear were to break into the house my Beretta would serve only to irritate it; that’s why I purchased the Benelli.  It provides protection for me and my canine companions from bears and moose.  However, I practice solid ‘bear awareness’ and have only seen grizzlies on my property once although their scat and markings are not uncommon in this area from May through October so they are around.  Under such circumstances I think the Benelli is fine where it resides.

Just another early winter morning in semi-rural south central Alaska!

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Moose bed with droppings

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Moose bed and bathroom window (small, square window in upper center of frame)

 

Time Is the Forge Upon Which Change Is Fashioned

As we are just into the first week of our new year – 2017 – I guess it is only natural to do some reflecting and reminiscing.  While not someone who enjoys dwelling in the past I must admit there are times I find it both entertaining and enlightening.  Yes, I know this runs counter to the concept I regularly espouse regarding living in the ‘now’ but then human beings are not perfect and I am true to my ‘breed’ in this respect!  As an aging male I can look back across my life and see so many stupid moves, self-destructive drives, wasted time and more than a few ‘what if’ situations; this is typical of most human beings.  But there are also a relative few moments of inspiration, creativity, extraordinary love and epiphany.  One thing that is common to all of the aforementioned is change.

Such a recent example of change occurred on December 28, 2016 when – after a day and night of extensive reflection and consideration – I elected to severe my ties with KTNA in terms of support and volunteering.  As most of you know I truly loved doing live radio so this was hardly an easy or straightforward decision.  Indeed, after cementing the decision I’ve experienced many hours of self-doubt and rigorous introspection.  Yet it has now been eight days and despite all the above and my own bent to question my ulterior motives when having made such a weighty decision I remain convinced it was the right choice.  I continue on an emotional roller-coaster regarding the KTNA situation; that’s exacerbated by last Wednesday being the first time I’ve missed my music shows.  Volunteering has become a lynch-pin in my daily existence; I went for three months without doing so back in August of 2013 but I had just relocated up here and I had a ton on my plate so I didn’t miss it; prior to that you’d have to go back to March of 2010 to find me not involved in volunteering.  So basically I went seven years with at least one volunteering stint in my life and it has been almost three years since I’ve been handling two volunteering efforts coincidentally.  I’m going to remain open to what volunteering possibilities exist but I’m not going to rush into decisions.  I know I will add another volunteering effort again with some function in this area; I get far too much out of volunteering to walk away from the function.

I knew this would be an impactful decision but knowing this to be the case ‘intellectually’ doesn’t mean one is prepared for the emotional and spiritual impacts.  I thought about my decision across the past week almost constantly and it has intruded upon my dreams during those nights.  It really has been a tough time but then I knew I wasn’t going to break a three year relationship, which included me being named ‘Volunteer of the Year’ for 2015, without some grief and pain.  And, as expected, I’m second guessing my decision even though I know it was the right one.  The GM called me the day I resigned but I answered via email and have kept that as our means of communication.  She did make a couple of halting attempts to get me to reconsider but I also believe a lot of her impetus is based on the fact the Saturday Evening Announcement program (I did this in addition to my two hours of music on Wednesday afternoons) is extremely difficult to cover.  You need someone who is reliable, a year round resident, willing to give up part of their Saturday evening and able to handle the broadcast and any potential issues with no additional help onsite.  Such a volunteer is indeed tough to find as sadly it is the first requirement that is often not present in potential volunteers.  I harbor more than a bit of guilt about deserting my listeners; I just hope they understand my motives.

My impetus to give up my live radio ‘career’ stemmed from an ideological break with NPR in general and KTNA in particular.  As such, it was based on ‘principles’ and often such decisions are the toughest to resolve and then put into place.  I was never completely comfortable volunteering at a NPR outlet because I do not believe any form of mass communication should be funded – even partially – by the government which really means by the people.  And, to me, NPR has a decided liberal lean which is something I do not share.  But I also recognized what the station did, and does do, for the local communities in terms of reporting on dangerous situations, weather, local events and local news.  When I was volunteering and supporting KTNA it was these functions I really backed.  All the other radio stations in this general area pretty much end their coverage in Wasilla and that’s 60 miles south.  With the current crisis in Alaska’s budget and across the board financial cuts KTNA is going through changes.  Most of the former staff were either riffed (reduction in force) or retired.  One of the latter was the GM; his replacement came on-board a few months back.  Since that time I’ve seen more and more movements to the left in the station; it was this perception and a confrontation with the GM regarding some requirements I had been bending that finally caused me to completely re-evaluate myself with respect to supporting KTNA.  In hindsight this was probably the infamous ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.

So I’m now beginning 2017 with a major change in my life and it has not been one which I welcomed.  However, in trying to always find that silver lining in every dark cloud I’m working to remain open to any positives.  And, to this point, I’ve found a few.  I dedicated at least 3.5 hours a week to KTNA related efforts; I now have that time to devote towards improving my blogging and/or finally starting to write a book among other potentials.  And the $25/month I was donating will now be ‘fleshed out’ with an additional $15/month and split between supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the ASPCA.  Finally, this huge shift in my lifestyle has opened up the possibility of additional volunteering in this area.  I never imagined I would make such a decision but then maybe it was time to move on..?  I gave KTNA three years of service and support; they allowed me to discover how much I enjoyed live radio and embrace this love.  For me, that’s a very equitable exchange…

And so it is I find myself moving on with my life while continuing to collect learnings and working to discover new opportunities.  In my case three years of volunteering and supporting KTNA finally culminated in a major shift in my life.  I’m trying to remember that all change is beneficial and positive energy can arise from even negative situations; I need ‘only’ remain receptive to such energy.  So once again I’ve re-espoused that ‘time is the forge upon which change is fashioned’!

KTNA Studio Desk Shot

Someplace I’ll remember with great fondness – the KTNA Broadcast Studio