Alaska: State & State of Mind

The genesis of this piece involved a response to a dear friend’s lamentations concerning his move from Alaska after nineteen years and his burning desire to return to ‘The Last Frontier’ even after spending a year in the lower 48.  After he read it he saw the potential for the response to become the foundation for a blog posting.  After some brief consideration I, too, saw this potential; for his creative eye and his suggestion I cannot thank him enough!  While I’ve written on a number of different topics in the three and a half years I’ve been blogging the basis for this blog was ‘to document the learnings and experiences of one man who lived his entire previous fifty nine and a half years in the suburban lower 48 before picking up his home, saying goodbye to friends and moving to semi-rural south central Alaska.’  Given this foundation a reflection on this amazing lifestyle and why some folks ‘just do it’ seemed very apropos.

Only those whose souls have been scored by the raw majesty and awesome power of Alaska can truly understand the potent pull exerted by the amazing geography and abundance of wild animals. There are a lot of negatives to living in ‘The Great Land’ but once smitten we tend to look at them as ‘inconveniences’; kinda like the price we pay to live in such spectacular and amazing settings so alive with wildlife and so blessed with such an abundance of stunning scenery. Sadly, medical insurance is one such major ‘inconvenience’ and one which has cost me dearly since late March of 2015. I’ve even had times when I tried to imagine living someplace outside Alyeska. It was those times that reaffirmed my need to remain here in ‘The Last Frontier’ mainly because I couldn’t envision living any other place. I should’ve known this would be the case as I have no real wont to be anyplace other than Alaska and I make this statement as I go into the summer which is one of my least favorite seasons – I think I dislike break-up more – thanks to the continual light, the hordes of mosquitoes and similar hordes of tourists.

Alaska is definitely not for everyone and probably not for even a sizeable amount of people for as I’ve told so many people; “Things are just different up here”.  In a nutshell and unless one lives in Anchorage and rarely travels beyond its confines – and what a sin that would be – one must be able to handle many more potentially serious issues than a ‘typical’ person in the lower 48.  The fact that hypothermia is the number one killer in Alaska (not bears, wolves and/or moose as most tourists believe…) speaks to this concept.  A simple hike on a backwoods trail can turn deadly when the weather suddenly shifts from sunshine to cold rain and one has to make the return trek cold and wet on slippery rocks and suddenly voluminous creeks.

During my time in the lower 48 I visited almost all 48 states; rarely did I find places where it is so easy to venture just a few dozen miles outside a large population center and suddenly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  In my experience this is true in Maine, northern Michigan, Montana and a number of the states in the southwest.  But even in the aforementioned one can usually get a cell signal.  This is far from true in Alaska thanks to a minimal population which doesn’t support cell tower densities so common in the lower 48 and so many tall mountain chains.  This can be an annoyance to a problem in the summer; it can be deadly in the winter.  Therefore, it takes a different mind-set when traveling outside larger towns.  One must be prepared for all kinds of potential weather related issues (road closures, rapid flooding, high winds, brutal cold and immense snowfalls) as well as those involving a lack of ‘typical’ services like gas stations, towing services, mechanical expertise and similar.

By nature, Alaskans tend to be fiercely independent and more self-sufficient than most of the population in the lower 48.  The latter is almost a requirement as the low population density means goods and services are fewer and much further between.  While western style medicine is fairly good in and around Anchorage or Fairbanks it is much less so in semi-rural to rural areas.  Such locations are lucky if they have a small clinic and such clinics often have only physician’s assistants on staff.  There is a distinct lack of medications beyond the very basics.  As an example when I fell and severely fractured my left radius and ulna at the elbow the local clinic had nothing to give me for the pain, not even Tylenol III!  In addition, they had no splint large enough for my use so they improvised a splint and I drove myself to Mat-Su Regional in south Wasilla (against their wishes).  I was lucky our clinic had a small x-ray machine with which they confirmed my fractures.

I’ve offered up but a few of the differences between life in the lower 48 and that in semi-rural Alaska; there are a myriad more especially if one is living partially or completely off the grid.  Anyone doing so will confirm that such a lifestyle requires a load of energy in tandem with a broad knowledge of many areas – carpentry, plumbing, electrical, outdoor survival, food handling to mention just a few – just to survive, let alone thrive.  To someone with no interest in living in such a ‘basic’ manner those who do so seem ‘extreme’.  While I would not be comfortable in such circumstances – I really want my broadband connection, indoor plumbing and hot water – I can appreciate the lifestyle and would even be willing to try it for a time.  But then I am someone who gave up all the conveniences and ease of suburban living in the lower 48 for a somewhat more austere existence in semi-rural south central Alaska.

During my almost four years of living seven miles south of the village of Talkeetna and a half mile east of ‘The Spur’ I’ve changed in many ways; most of them for the better.  I’ve come to appreciate living on ‘Talkeetna time’, to not sweat the small stuff and to completely embrace the ‘great silence’ which surrounds me most of the year.  My lifestyle has slowed considerably and stress is something which has dropped away as well.  I love drinking a cup of coffee in my wooden rocking chair on my front porch as the sun slowly climbs above the boreal forest on a crisp October morning; watching Nature unfold about my place at any time of the day or night is a treat.  I love the fact that moose, bear and foxes are visitors to my property; I try to live in harmony with them.  I am so much more in touch with Nature because it surrounds me and drives so much of what I can, and cannot, do on any given day.  Deep within my soul I completely understand that Alaska is both a state and a state of mind…

Sure, there are ‘inconveniences’ to this life but then I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a ‘perfect existence’.  As someone bitten by ‘the Alaska bug’ the country is part of my soul now and I so love her fierce independence and incredible majesty.  And I truly respect her for to fail to do so is to invite danger and even death.  Many would consider living over sixty miles from a full service grocery store, questionable electrical service, water from a well and a septic field to be far too ‘basic’; so be it.  I remember working for a large corporation, existing on the road almost ten months a year, living in crowded suburbs of large cities, being concerned about crime and spending days every year in traffic jams; compared to my current existence this seems like a form of corporate sponsored insanity.  No thank you; I love living in ‘The Great Land’ and cannot imagine life anywhere else!

Timbers Bald Eagle

A solitary Bald Eagle surveys the Halibut Cove area in Kachemak Bay State Park & Preserve. This majestic raptor truly symbolizes Alaskan independence and self-sufficiency!

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

What Winter..?!?

It’s official; I’ve given up on the 2014-2015 ‘winter’ in south central Alaska!  Although it is just March 2nd and in a normal winter up here we’d be seeing snow and cold for at minimum another six weeks I’m betting we’ll see few snow events and those we see will be minimal (i.e. less than 6” total) in nature.  I’m sure we’ll see cold temps just as we have across the past four days but then we are already seeing regular high temps that break freezing if the sun is out even if we started with a single digit morning low temp.  Of course this reflects the lengthening days and with them the more direct sunlight but in a typical March we’d still be seeing snow and cold and that would easily extend into April.

This morning I measured the SWE (snow water equivalent) along with the snow depth for my Monday morning CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network) report; the snow depth is a piddling 12.5” and it really isn’t snow but more like saturated snow or ice.  The SWE is 3.09” which equates to one inch of water equaling 4.045” of snow.  Anyone at all familiar with snow knows that in general an inch of liquid water will produce between 7 and 10 inches of snow; therefore this ‘snow’ is indeed saturated!  Looking back over February we broke the freezing mark 17 out of 28 days; keep in mind February is the third coldest month after December and January!  That basically means 61% of the days in the third coldest month in south central Alaska saw above freezing high temps.  Many comments come to mind but perhaps the most PC is:  “That’s just wrong!”

Most frustrating to me is the simple realization that this winter will go down in the records as one of the two warmest on the books; and the competition is last year’s ‘winter’!  So for the first two winters I’ve lived in Alaska there have been two record-breaking warm and dry ‘winters’.  Lest you need reminding I moved up here to experience feet of snow and bone chilling cold; the former hasn’t happened while we’ve seen maybe five days each ‘winter’ when the temps dropped below -20 F.  I swore if I see three such ‘winters’ in a row I was going to leave here and move north of Fairbanks; sadly this would only partly improve on the conditions as even the northern Interior has seen record warmth across the past two ‘winters’.

Meanwhile the place I left – SE Michigan – saw record snow last winter and has seen well above normal snow along with very cold temps across both winters.  Prior to leaving I was just fed up with SE Michigan’s winters which were largely brown with 36 F temps and rain.  In fact the winter of 2012-2013 saw a record absence of both snow and cold.  I recall thinking I didn’t care what the weather did in Michigan after I departed because I was guaranteed of seeing all the cold and snow I could handle in my new home.  So much for that belief…!!

So here I sit typing this whining blog entry while looking outside, seeing bright sunshine and an air temp of 26.4 F at 12:13 AKST.  If the sunshine remains we’ll easily cross 32 F by 17:15 which is the current warmest part of the day.  It is amazing that just six weeks back it was totally dark by 17:15; the light cycle is really exaggerated in the higher latitudes.  And I am looking forward to being able to get some much-needed outside work handled once a bit more of the icy snow-pack disappears.  I gave up a lot in terms of favored weather to relocate up here; I love severe thunderstorms and tornadic weather but neither of these occur at any time up here.  I also gave up the hardwood colors of fall when moving here; while the yellows and golds of the birch and larches are pretty I do miss the reds, oranges and violets or the maples, oaks and elms.  And I really do not care for the summer and its continual light!  I never realized how much of a night sky watcher I am until I completed my first full Alaskan summer in 2014; by the start of July I was very tired of constant light with no night sky.  The real issue is such conditions will not return until middle August.  At least the summers up here are much cooler than those in SE Michigan although because I live in the middle of the boreal forest the humidity is almost as bad.

By penning this I’ve demonstrated I’m no Alaskan yet as real Alaskans just shrug off unusual weather and get on with business.  I just have a hard time when I realize now I will not be seeing the possibility for a true Alaskan winter until November of 2015!  However, beyond the weather there’s a myriad to love about my home and I really need to focus on all that and just let go of the lack of real winter weather to this point.  A few of the locals have warned me to be careful what I wish for; while I hear them I would love to see four feet of snow-pack and weeks of air temps rising to just single digits while dropping into the negative teens or even lower!  Hopefully one day I will get the opportunity before I’m too old to really appreciate such conditions.  But given what I’ve seen to date such conditions are at best very unlikely this ‘winter’.  And so I’ve plunged my imaginary fork into the ‘winter’ of 2014-2015 as it is ‘done’!

What I should be seeing when I walk to the intersection of East Barge Drive and Riven.  Sadly the unmaintained portion of EBD has bits of the gravel road surface visible through the disappearing snow and ice.

What I should be seeing when I walk to the intersection of East Barge Drive and Riven. Sadly the unmaintained portion of EBD has bits of the gravel road surface visible through the disappearing snow and ice even though it’s just now March.

Mother Nature’s Christmas Present for the Upper Susitna Valley

As those of you who follow this blog are aware the winter in south central Alaska this year has once again been mild in terms of air temps but extremely dry in terms of precipitation.  Sadly this is paralleling last winter although to this point there’s been much less precipitation and the temperatures have been much more mild.  To illustrate this I give you the following synopsis:

11/13: monthly average temp 15.5 F / days below 0 F – 8 / days below -10 F – 6 / days below -15 F – 4 / days below -20 F – 2

12/13: monthly average temp 9.1 F / days below 0 F – 12 / days below -10 F – 7 / days below -15 F – 6 / days below -20 F – 3

11/14:  monthly average temp 23.8 F / no days below 0 F

12/14: monthly average temp 21.0 F / no days below 0 F (NOTE: good through 12/25/14)

By the end of December in 2013 we had 29″ of snow pack; as of this morning we are less than half that amount with just 14.0″ on the ground.  For someone who moved to Alaska in part to experience brutal cold and feet of snow to say these first two winters have been ‘underwhelming’ is a bit like calling Denali a ‘big hill’.

But Mother Nature did bestow a gift upon the Upper Susitna Valley across Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the form of an unexpected snow event which dropped a total of 7.7″ of snow which boosted our snow pack to the aforementioned 14″.  The snow was continuous on Wednesday but rather light; on Christmas Day it was very much a ‘wave’ event with pulses of moderate snow falling briefly followed by longer periods of no snow at all.  This event was just the second snowfall we’ve seen this year dropping more than 2″.  The snow was much heavier north of Talkeetna towards the Alaska Range and dropped off  dramatically just a bit south of here.  Willow, which is 30 miles south down the Parks Highway collected just a couple inches of snow total during this same period while Wasilla which is 60 miles south of Talkeetna saw only an inch or so of new snow.

Still and all we desperately need the moisture so any snow is welcome!  We sure hope we see a lot more across the next few months; otherwise this area will be indeed dry for the second straight spring and break up.  While it makes the latter much more bearable overall it does not bode well for the local wildlife or the boreal forest.  In trying to keep up my ‘always find that silver lining’ philosophy if the drought continues at least the mosquito hordes should be somewhat less come spring.

If I’ve learned anything in Alaska it is that Mother nature will do as she will regardless of what we humans might desire; at best we need to just get sanguine with her ways and appreciate what we do receive.  I know many folks in the lower 48 are mighty happy they’ve seen a winter much more mild than the cold and snow of last year’s winter season.  As it is I’m still waiting to see a real Alaskan winter.  With that I’ll leave you with some images from the past couple of days; Happy New Year to one and all!

'The Kidz' - my Alaskan Malamute Anana and my GSD Qanuk - really do love the snow and cannot get enough of frolicking in the white stuff

‘The Kidz’ – my Alaskan Malamute Anana and my GSD Qanuk – really do love the snow and cannot get enough of frolicking in the white stuff

Anana checking out the Christmas Eve snow while I'm prepping to move the Escape and then knock the snow off the tarp

Anana checking out the Christmas Eve snow while I’m prepping to move the Escape and then knock the snow off the tarp

Christmas morning with 'the Kidz'; we're south of the ole homestead clearing the new snow from the sat dish

Christmas morning with ‘the Kidz’; we’re south of the ole homestead clearing the new snow from the sat dish

Christmas afternoon looking west towards my home and the Escape's 'garage' seen on the left side of the image.  We saw repeated snow bursts which were pulses of moderate snow followed by a period of no snow.

Christmas afternoon looking west towards my home and the Escape’s ‘garage’ seen on the left side of the image. We saw repeated snow bursts which were pulses of moderate snow followed by a period of no snow.

Hearty Insects & Beautiful Spring Weather

In keeping with the ‘winter that wasn’t’ and the mild fall our break up has come earlier than usual and now spring is in full bloom.  We’ve seen five consecutive days of high temps in the fifties along with abundant sunshine.  The icy roads have finally surrendered to the warm sun’s kiss and now they are mainly just muddy although the higher points have also dried off to the point they are becoming dusty.  I see the ‘average’ highs in April for Talkeetna are around 46 F but we’ve been easily five degrees above this value; interestingly the average low is listed as 26 F and we’ve been right on that mark.  We’re approaching 16 hours of daylight on this Earth Day but the eastern sky begins to lighten around 05:10 AKDT and there’s faint light in the western sky even at 22:45 AKDT.  More and more bare patches of earth are visible in the boreal forest although anywhere the winter’s snow was heaped such as the sides of the local roads there are still piles of wet, rotting snow and ice.  While walking my dogs yesterday late morning I took the following image from around intersection of East Barge Drive and the Spur; it’s looking east down East Barge towards some foothills of The Alaska Range which are still solidly cloaked in white.

Image

Every day I see more and more returning birds and I’m hearing more Red Squirrels as well.  The moose remain absent after being virtually ubiquitous the last ten days of March and the first few days in April.  I suspect the cows are back in the forest birthing their spring calves; with this underway the appearance of the local bears cannot be far off.  As soon as the low temps stop dropping below freezing I will hang my Hummingbird feeder; actually given the amount of sugar in the water I could hang it now as the high concentration of soluble solids will depress the freezing point of the water based mixture quite a bit.  Today I hope to place at least one of my Field Swallow birdhouses; I need to get them up so the returning swallows can hopefully build their nests within them.  All told spring has definitely ‘sprung’ for Talkeetna and the timeless dance of the seasons continues in full force.

I knew Alaskan insects were a breed apart in terms of being hearty since June of 1997 when I observed live mosquito larvae swimming in a small pool of water collected in a depression on a piece of ice in Denali NP&P!  Sure, the air temp was in the upper forties and it was sunny but that water had to be just above 32 F.  In the lower 48 one rarely saw insects in action while snow remained on the ground but this is definitely not the case in Alaska.  While writing some email over the weekend I happened to glance outside my office window on a late albeit sunny Saturday morning; to my surprise I could see numerous winged insects of various sizes fluttering about in the warm air.  When I really started observing I quickly counted fifteen flying insects just in my field of view and I know there were many more.  Even more surprising was having to brush away a mosquito yesterday early afternoon as I was working around the front porch.  One wonders how these little beggars survive night lows in the middle twenties but they must manage as once it warms up during the day they are very active.  Yesterday I took the following image of the sensor platform of my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station mounted in my front yard.  Notice the unbroken snow in the background; it’s still around a foot deep in that section of my front yard.  If you look closely at the solar cell area you can see a large fly.  It was largely immobile soaking up the sun but when I caused a shadow to pass over it the fly did indeed take flight.  It never ceases to amaze me just how tenacious Nature can be; life will find a way even under harsh and demanding circumstances!

Image

 

Break Up, Spring Chores & My Front Porch

As the weather is once again gorgeous today I initially decided I’d get the dogs out for a walk.  However, break up is in full swing and I quickly found the roads to be extremely treacherous in terms of traction; I was using one of my snow shoe poles and even with this tripod stance I almost fell on butt a number of times.  After just 0.4 miles I threw in the towel and slipped and slid my way back home.  Given the gorgeous weather – 48.5 F with clear skies and abundant sunshine – I just couldn’t go back inside.  Therefore I decided to get with the whole ‘spring cleaning’ idea and I started moving lots of empty boxes onto the front porch:Image

As you can see from the image I amassed a goodly quantity although many were already residing on the porch.  The gentleman that clears my driveway of snow buried my burn barrel in the process so I haven’t been able to get to it since November 10th.  Because the bears were in hibernation I could stack boxes smelling of food on the front porch; the local foxes and even the wolverine didn’t bother any of them.  Now, however, its time to once again become ‘bear aware’ and hence I need to get the cardboard out to the burn barrel and burned very soon.  I do not want to encourage the local bruins to hang around my front porch in search of food.

I already have a challenge in this respect; if you look at the furthest distant porch support pole and look to where the cross member meets it you’ll see a small sunflower feeder I hung last fall – it even has a Chickadee perched on it.  This has become very popular with the local Chickadees, Nuthatches, Tit Mice and Downy Woodpeckers and hence I do not want to stop using it as a bird feeding station.  However, this could well attract bears and that’s not acceptable so I’m conflicted as to what to do.  Short term I’ll leave it in place but I will have to monitor any and all wildlife activity around it; if I see bear tracks or other signs I will have to move it or discontinue feeding until the bears return to hibernation.

Looking to the lower portion of the image and bit left of center you see a large wooden box with bird houses set atop it; that wooden crate shelters my generator which is wired into the house circuitry.  I built three swallow houses from plans on-line and I set them atop the generator enclosure to varnish them before I mount them in nearby trees.  According to what I’ve read I need to keep them widely spaced and attached to birch tree trunks at least 12 feet in elevation.  I’m hoping to entice field swallows into nesting in them because they are voracious mosquito eaters and the insect season will soon be upon us.  With a bit of luck these natural insect controls will work with my ‘Mosquito Magnet’ which I’ll soon be setting up and operating in an attempt to keep the numbers of blood sucking insects in check.  I’m also going to set up mosquito netting around the porch just to ensure I have a mosquito/black fly free area to sit on and enjoy the Alaskan solitude.  I’ll be installing the latter once the rest of the snow melts away.

Right in the lower center of the image is my rocking chair; since I was varnishing the bird houses I figured I’d put a coat on it as well.  I brought it inside during the winter but now will be leaving it on the porch with the milder weather.  I’ve always been a ‘rocker’ even as a child and I discovered last fall that it’s almost heaven on earth to be able to sit on my front porch here in the boreal forest surrounding the Talkeetna area and rock while I observe all the wildlife and the environment.  In this sense I really am ‘the old man in his rocking chair on the front porch’!  The dogs were grateful for the chance to remain outside after their abbreviated walk although I did have to shoo the always curious Qanuk (my male GSD) away from the rocker a few times; I did not want to have to try to clean varnish out of his coat.  In addition he’s been shedding his coat for the past ten days and I really wanted to keep the amount of dog fur ‘preserved’ in the varnish to a minimum.

So my early terminated walk did bear some fruit in getting the house cleared of boxes and getting coats of varnish on the swallow homes and my rocking chair; that’s kinda how it works up here – if you cannot do something because Mother Nature has other ideas ya just go with the flow and find something else to do.

Break Up Begins…

In conversations with my realtor and good friend Holly she’s often stated that break up is her least favorite time in Alaska; in talking with other Alaskans I’ve heard this same lament.  In my ignorance I wrote a while back I couldn’t see how it could be any worse than last September and October when we saw 191% and 292% of normal rainfall for those months.  Hah, once again Alaska has shown me I’d best just keep my mouth shut and my eyes and mind open at least for the first few years I’m up here because I’m discovering why break up is not such a great thing to endure.  While its great to see the sun climbing higher and higher in the sky and the temps slowly warming as the ice and snow begin to give way they leave behind a real mess as evidenced by this image taken at the intersection of the Spur and East Barge Drive maybe 0.4 miles from my home.

Image

The remaining snow is really more rotting ice than snow and its often very slippery.  The ruts in the above image are six to ten inches deep; while my Escape is hardly a true off-road vehicle it does have a relatively high ground clearance and I bottomed out driving through this mess earlier today.  The remaining ‘ice pack’ is heavy with water and truly tests the waterproofing of hiking boots.  My trusty pair of mid-weight hiking boots went through the winter snows keeping my feet warm and dry but just 30 minutes of slogging through this mush and I could feel the beginnings of water seepage on my socks.  I do have a pair of ‘break up boots’ which are really just knee-high rubber wading boots; I can see where these will be coming in very handy across the next few weeks.

More and more areas of bare ground are appearing especially during sunny days; the sun is already strong enough that it can melt the snow and ice even if the air temperature remains a bit below the freezing mark.  Of late the temps have been dropping into the single digits by early morning but rising into the upper thirties to middle forties by late afternoon.  This morning we’re seeing a bit of snow but as of 08:38 AKDT the temp is 31.1 F on its way to 40 F so whatever small accumulation of snow we get will melt especially if the current light snow turns to rain.  The cooler overnight temps re-freeze the melted snow and ice and this makes morning walks a bit slippery; this morning it was downright treacherous as there’s maybe 0.4″ of fluffy snow covering the roads and the ice.  Of late I’ve taken to carrying one of my snow shoeing poles with me on every walk simply because a tripod is more stable than a bi-pod.  The dogs just love to get out and run regardless of the conditions although the slippery surfaces have caused a few hilarious ‘crash and burn’ events especially when they are playing while running.  I can see that until the snow and ice completely melt the footing will remain questionable and one must often devote more attention to the ground and its condition than is normally true while walking.  The birds are beginning to re-appear with the most notable being Trumpeter Swans again populating the marshy lake area just outside Talkeetna.  The moose were very common across the last week in March and for the first few days in April but now have completely disappeared.  I suspect the cows may have returned to the forest to birth their spring calves; if this if correct than the grizzlies should soon be emerging from their hibernation as they are in sync with the birth of the moose calves.  This allows them the opportunity to get a solid meal of protein which they need after hibernating all winter.  In addition many of the sows will have their own spring cubs and that’s always a bit of a concern as grizzly sows are very protective.  Once bear signs have been confirmed I’ll be carrying my ‘Counter Assault’ pepper spray for a month or more when walking the dogs.  While it’s a rather uncommon treat to see a grizzly in the wild around Talkeetna it’s hardly a rare occurrence and if one is observant there are grizzly signs all around this area in season.  The reappearance of these apex predators just means that all us locals have to once again be ‘bear aware’ and ensure that any sloppy habits from the winter like putting garbage outdoors are corrected.  I do enjoy living so close to so many large mammals and that’s part of this area’s charm; we humans are really the trespassers into the kingdom of the grizzly and moose and hence we should learn to co-exist with these magnificent animals.

The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive

The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive