Pushing The Envelope One More Time..!

As bands of moderate rain showers sweep through this area tattooing a rhythm on my home’s metal roof I’m staring out my office windows while contemplating an upcoming major ‘adventure’ which will likely consume the entire month of September and will almost assuredly tax my endurance, creativity and self-confidence to their limits.  It has been a full year in the making and while it is a bit daunting I will be very pleased to get it underway and probably even more pleased to see it through to a (hopefully) successful completion.  At this point I feel this undertaking will be on a par with, if not exceed, my relocation from SE Michigan to Talkeetna during the late summer of 2013.  In an interesting piece of ‘synchronicity’ this trip will be undertaken in the late summer as well although it will likely extend into the early fall.

I remain somewhat uncertain as to the outcome largely because it is an undertaking of huge proportions replete with more than its fair share of ‘unk-unks’ (unknown unknowns).  In June of 2016 I made the decision to purchase a hard sided camping trailer so I could begin to explore more of Alaska with my two canine companions.  Anana, my 112 pound female Alaskan malamute, and Qanuk, my 88 pound male German Shepherd Dog, are both seasoned travelers having made the relocation up here in my Escape and are a joy to have as companions.  But to safely camp with them in many Alaskan locations a hard sided shelter is required for protection from bears.  To this point I’ve been unable to really get out and explore my new home due to this limitation.  Therefore, once I decided I needed a hard sided trailer I did a lot of research and based upon my relatively small and low powered Ford Escape I decided upon the 2017 Forest River R-pod 172.  The unit is completely hard sided but comes in with a dry weight of around 2,300 pounds which is well within the Escape’s max towing capacity of 3,000 pounds.  I had a chance to briefly ‘tour’ a R-pod over Memorial Day of 2016 when one was parked at the Tesoro gas station located at the ‘Y’; while small it had everything I wanted as in a full kitchen, fridge, shower, and bathroom.  I found there were no dealers in Alaska so I started perusing the lower 48 and found a wonderful deal at an RV dealer in Hamilton, Ohio.  I worked with a dear friend in SW Michigan to make the purchase and had him and a friend pick up the trailer and haul it back to SW Michigan where he made extensive improvements in the basic unit.

Mast_Down

My R-pod with a collapsible mast added atop which I’ll place my wireless weather station when overnighting. This work, along with much more, was handled by dear friend, Sarge.

Then, a friend of his put the R-pod on his flatbed trailer and hauled the unit to Three Forks, Montana.  This was to happen by early September of 2016 but thanks to mechanical issues with his truck he didn’t get the unit to Montana until late October; by this point it was too late for me to make the 5,300+ mile round trip to pick it up.  He was able to store the unit in his barn over winter; I had planned to drive down in mid-April of 2017 to pick it up but a leaking heater core in the Escape forced me to postpone the trip while it was repaired.  By the time this was finished it was already early May and the tourists were out in force so I elected to wait until early September to make the run.  Now I finally find myself preparing to make the 2,650+ mile drive from Talkeetna to Three Forks to finally take possession of my 2017 R-pod.

The very distances involved are a bit intimidating especially as I’ll be the solo driver with only my canine companions as company.  While they are wonderful accomplices they cannot spell me behind the wheel so I all the driving will fall upon me.  And it is telling the total trip will involve more miles than I drove on the relocation to Alaska.  While during that trip I was driving the Escape solo with ‘the kidz’ aboard I also had a friend driving a 26’ U-Haul van in close proximity; we shared overnight motel rooms and having him along meant I wasn’t really alone.  On this upcoming trip it will be just me and ‘the kidz’.  In addition, I’ve never pulled a trailer longer than ten feet and it probably weighed a thousand pounds fully loaded.  My R-pod is eighteen feet in length and when loaded with water, food and supplies it will probably tip the scales at 2,600 pounds.  It does have electric brakes which are good but I will have to configure said brakes before I start the long drive back to Talkeetna and I’ve never done so previously.  Assuming I can get said brakes properly ‘lined out’ then I will have to learn to tow an extra eighteen feet and 2,500+ pounds on a variety of roads from multi-lane highways to single lane back roads.  And then there’s the always ‘interesting’ aspect of backing a trailer into a specific spot…

The drive down to Three Forks will be a ‘speed run’; I intend to make it in a comfortable six days arriving at the farm where the trailer is stored around noon on the sixth day.  Doing so will minimize the number of nights I’ll have to pay for a motel room and insure I have plenty of time for a slow, leisurely return trip before the snow starts to fly.  I’ll be able to really learn to haul the R-pod across a variety of road conditions and varying degrees of traffic.  I’ll also have the time to learn to utilize the R-pod to its fullest extent.  I’ve rented pickup trucks with simple campers all the way to 28’ RVs so I do have some experience with using the built-in amenities like fridges that run on electricity or propane.  But the very compact nature of the R-pod means some of the gear will be new to me so I will have a definite learning curve.  This same ‘compact nature’ means me and ‘the kidz’ will have learnings regarding how we live in such close proximity.  Both my canine companions love to stretch out when sleeping and this isn’t something they’ll be able to do very well within the ‘compact’ confines of the trailer.  In addition, I’ll need to be able to navigate the narrow center aisle which will almost assuredly mean I’ll be stepping over the kidz.  I can put sheets down on the seating areas and the one bed so they can use them but it will still be a very confined lifestyle.

Given the location of Three Forks – a bit southeast of Helena – on the return trip I’ll be entering Alberta (Canada) via I 15 and heading north on Canada Route 4 to Canada Route 2.  But just outside Calgary I’ll be making a detour on Canada Route 1 into Banff National Park and visiting this park as well as Lake Louise and then taking Canada Route 93 north into Jasper National Park before taking Canada Route 16 to Canada Route 40 and finally Canada Route 43 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway.  I plan to spend at least three days in Banff and Jasper national parks and possibly more depending upon the weather and the tourists.  Wildfires are also a concern; British Columbia is seeing very dry conditions and a myriad of wildfires raging across its southern extremes.  These fires could easily cross over into southern Alberta and that’s where the aforementioned parks are located.  Once on ‘the Highway’ I’ll be stopping at numerous places of which Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park is just one location.  I plan to take time to visit so many of the locations I had to speed by on the relocation trip in early August of 2013 due to my buddy’s time constraints.  The beauty of a travel trailer – or any RV – is the ability to stop in any acceptable location and spend time be it a few hours or a few days.  Of course, it is a requirement to not trespass on private land and this is a tenant I respect with all my being.  I’ve seen too many witless tourists just pull onto someone’s property in Alaska to overnight; this is rude and of questionable safety.

Once I make Tok I plan to take ‘the cut-off’ and follow the Alaska Highway to Delta Junction, then head north on the Richardson Highway (AK 4) to Fairbanks and pick up the Parks Highway (AK 3) which I’ll drive back south to Talkeetna.  While this looks rather convoluted on a map and isn’t as short as heading onto the Glenn Highway (AK 1) from Tok I’ve driven the Glenn Highway many times and remember all too well the myriad of hairpin turns, narrow single lane roads and difficult driving conditions.  I cannot imagine driving that route pulling an eighteen foot trailer!  The ‘Fairbanks loop’ adds another 180 miles to the trip but involves much safer roads lacking the tight turns and extremely difficult passing issues encountered on the Glenn Highway.  I’d rather take a bit more time and get myself, my canines and my vehicles back to Talkeetna in good shape than risk the shorter but less ‘driver friendly’ Glenn Highway route.

It should be obvious from the aforementioned monologue I’ve already invested a load of time into researching and planning this adventure but I also know so many factors like the weather, road conditions, traffic, wildfires and similar can make chutney of the best laid plans in the blink of an eye.  I will have my copy of ‘The Milepost’ with me as well as my Garmin GPS unit and a list of websites offering travel info in Alberta and British Columbia.  However, there are a very limited number of routes to get me from The Alaska Highway to Three Forks (MT) so I will have to be very aware of the conditions and also have at least a plan ‘B’ – if not a plan ‘C’, ‘plan ‘D” and similar – in my back pocket.  While this is a huge undertaking for a solo sixty four year old man it will offer incredible scenery, amazing wildlife, exceptional experiences and opportunities to meet a bevy of new and interesting folks.  Assuming I have internet connectivity at the places I overnight I plan to send out updates on my progress and share some of my best images and experiences.  If all goes according to plan I should be pulling out of my driveway fully loaded before 06:00 on Sunday, September 3rd.  Let the adventure begin..!!!

R-pod Door side

Another view of my R-pod this time from the ‘door’ side

R-pod inputs

An image showing the many inputs/outputs of the R-pod

 

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.

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

Finally…A ‘Real’ Alaskan Winter!

I suppose I’m creating this piece as much to remind me of the winter to this point – one which I’ve thoroughly embraced as my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter – as to share with you some thoughts and images.  Without question this winter has been extreme and, no surprise, I’ve learned quite a bit more about typical Alaskan weather conditions in the winter months (November through mid-March).  As I write this piece I’m seeing overcast skies with an air temp of 34.7° F (1.5° C) after never dropping below 32.8° F (0.4° C) overnight.  Yesterday saw light morning snow become briefly heavy in the early afternoon before mixing with and finally changing over to freezing rain and then just rain.  For a while conditions were very severe in terms of visibility and traction on the Spur.

I’ve talked with long time locals who claim freezing rain used to be very uncommon and when it did occur it happened as fall slipped into winter and again when winter finally released its grip and acceded to spring.  Yet during my four winters up here I’ve seen the dreaded stuff every winter.  But I’m really not complaining as this has been a much more typical south central Alaska winter and in being so we’ve seen extremes.  Just three days back I saw -14° F (-25.6° C) in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna and the next morning my large circular bimetallic outdoor thermometer showed -19.5° F (-28.6° C) which was verified by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station.  But these temps pale next to the string of four days from January 17th through January 20th when we saw lows on January 18th of -32.1° F (-35.6° C) and on January 19th of -41.3° F (-40.7° C); the high on the 18th was -20.1° F (-28.9° C) and on the 19th we saw just -15.5° F (-26.4° C).  Our snow pack was a healthy 32.5″ (82.6 cm) before yesterday’s mess; even though we received 1.5″ (3.8 cm) of heavy, wet snow the warm temps and rain really did a number of the snow depth compressing it to 26.5″ (67.3 cm) which I reported to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network) this morning.  Looking out my office window I can see water dripping from the snow and ice atop the roof; given there’s no direct sunlight this is due only to the warm temps.

Here, then, is a collage of recent images reflecting my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter; hope you enjoy:

cool-downtown

A view of my Escape’s dash showing a fairly cool Saturday morning in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna

snowy-village

The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow

20-sunrise

Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th

anana-qanuk-in-heavy-snow

Anana and Qanuk enjoying a brief burst of heavy snow outside our place

anana-disappearing-into-snow

A very snowy afternoon on East Barge Drive with Anana (center of image) just disappearing into the snow

anana-by-thermometer

Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!

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)