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

South Central Alaska Seasonal Shuffle

Outside My Office Window 091014

Fall colors in the boreal forest that make up my ‘yard’

After a warm 2016 right through the end of summer, along with a mix of dry late winter and early spring months followed by some very wet summer months, this fall has started off a bit cool which has stoked my hopes for my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter across 2016 – 2017.  I was warned by my neighbors when I first moved up here that winter can, and does, come on quickly and sometimes October sees some serious snow and cold.  In checking the history of October snows in Talkeetna I find the month averages 26.67 cm (10.5”); since relocating in 2013 I’ve seen no more than a dusting of snow in any of the following Octobers.  Maybe this year the weather will revert to more normal temperatures and precipitation..?  One can only hope!

I’ve noticed the gleam in my Alaskan malamute’s (Anana) eyes and the spring in her step with the advent of the repeated hard freezes we experienced last week; she is true to her breed and loves the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter up here.  Five of the last six mornings have seen temps drop to below -2.2° C (28° F); this morning we failed to do so only because of cloud cover and drizzle.  With this said I’d forgotten how cold drizzle/rain can be up here when the air temp is getting close to the freezing mark.  Thanks to said cold rains and some wind 90% of our fall color now carpets the ground; as is typical it was ‘short and sweet’ once again this year.  My male GSD (Qanuk) doesn’t care much about the air temps as long as he can get outside and run; this does become problematic when the air temps drop much below -17.8° C (0° F) but I’ve learned to limit the time he exposes his paw pads to such conditions.  I now have to carry leads for ‘the kidz’ when we take walks because the mushers are out with their teams pulling ATVs.

With the advent of the cooler air I find myself once again preparing for what I’ve come to know as ‘the fall routine’.  This aggregate of necessary activities has been growing each year I’ve lived in semi-rural south central Alaska and has additional items new for the fall of 2016.  There’s the ritual shuffle of items between the unattached shed and the mudroom; my battery charger/starter comes from the shed to the mudroom as does any other equipment I may need to access during the winter since every year thus far the snow pack has been sufficient to block the shed door and require shoveling to access.  The Toyo Monitor furnace checked out just fine and has been running now for six straight days; I do not recall having to do this until early to middle October in the previous falls.  The now almost seven month old gasoline in the two five gallon Jerry cans will be emptied into the gas tank of my Escape and I will refill them, and add a bit of ‘Sta-bil’, within a week.  This ensures that should the power fail I’ll have clean and ready gasoline for the generator.  I’m also trying something new this year; said generator normally sits on the front porch just outside the front door.  Given it is wheeled I plan to unhook the output power line and wheel the unit into my mudroom from November through February when it is really cold.  If I lose power during that time I need only wheel it back out to the front porch, hook up the transfer line and fire it up.  The real plus will involve the latter; it will be at least 12.8° C (55° F) and so should start very easily.  More than once in previous winters I really struggled trying to start the generator when the air temp was well below -17.8° C (0° F).

Time also to lock the windows closed and put up any ‘heat barriers’ in the upstairs ‘spare’ bedroom windows to keep their room temp air from dropping into the single digits Celsius (middle forties Fahrenheit) during cold streaks.  As is common in a house which started as a cabin and grew over time there is no good circulation into any of the second floor rooms although I did open a hole in the master bedroom floor and embedded a fan which I can reverse as needed to either pull the warmer main floor air (said hole is right over the Toyo Monitor) into the bedroom or push the cold air near the floor down into the main room.  I’ve already unhooked and coiled my water hose; it is stored in the shed.  In addition I just removed the last of my window light barriers in the master bedroom; for me this is one of the cardinal signs the fall has arrived.  I’ve pulled together all my cameras and camcorders, cleaned them of the summer’s dust and fully recharged their respective batteries in hopes of being able to catch some auroral shows this winter; I’ve done the same with my headlamp batteries.  I’ve tested the crawl space heater to insure it is functioning; while it runs very little and only when outside temps drop below -26.0° C (-15° F) for a number of consecutive days it is vital to keeping my pipes from freezing.  I’ve also deployed snow shovels to both the front and back porches.

Such chores are really not all that involved but I so enjoy them because they speak to me of the coming snow and cold.  And they also remind me of the rhythms of Mother Nature which are so very predominant in ‘The Great Land’.  Somehow it just feels so ‘right’ to have such activities dictated by the passage of the seasons.  And living in Alaska it is impossible not be aware of the season’s dance…

Autumnal Anticipations

It’s a cool, damp and dark day yet again in south central Alaska along with being the Autumnal Equinox; I’m taking a break from working a plethora of spreadsheets to look out the window.  Uncharacteristically, there’s a fair amount of wind even down close to the ground and combined with the cool drizzle – it is 43.8° F/6.6° C – the yellow and gold birch leaves are rapidly falling to the ground denuding their homes of the last four plus months.  Said leaves are forming a yellow carpet which while pretty can be rather slippery when coated with rain.  The second floor view from my office window looks south into a portion of the boreal forest which makes up part of my yard and is often home to moose as there are a number of dwarf willows intermingled with the other ground based fauna.  Sadly, most of the color change is now just a memory as the weather is feeling more and more like fall.  We have seen a morning temperature below freezing just once to this point which probably explains why these conditions seem to be about a week to a week and a half later than I remember.


The view from my office window on the Autumnal Equinox, 2016

Even with the windows closed I can hear the dulcet tones of my wind chimes; it occurs to me I haven’t heard much from them this year but then the thick boreal forest which I live within and stretches for tens of miles in every direction does an excellent job of stopping the wind.  It is not uncommon for me to see the tops of birches and spruce – around 35 to 40 feet (10.7 to 12.2 meters) – swaying many feet off center while there is almost no air moving at ground level and even smoke from the burn barrel rises only slightly off vertical.  The sky continues its multiple day run of ragged overcast birthing drizzle along with the occasional rain shower.  Indeed, we’ve seen 0.96” (2.44 cm) of rain across the last 48 hours.  September is this area’s second wettest month of the year averaging 4.2” (10.67 cm) but this September we’ve already seen 4.78” (12.14 cm) of rain which is 113.8% of normal.  We still have eight days left in September and we’re forecast to see rain across most of them so it is very likely we could well see 150% of ‘typical’ monthly rainfall.

I, along with most of the locals, am wishing for a ‘real’ Alaskan winter across 2016 – 2017.  The previous three winters have set records for the warmest and driest on record.  I long to see 5 feet (1.52 meters) of snow pack and taste the raw cold of a -35° F (-37.2° C) morning; while these might seem extreme in a ‘typical’ winter in south central Alaska they are almost ‘normal’.  Heck, I’d even deal with a daylong electrical outage if it were caused by a snowstorm dropping 20” (50.8 cm) of fluffy Talkeetna snow.  But, as we all know, Mother Nature will do as she will and we’re just along for the ride.

With the advent of autumn I’ve begun my ‘winterization’ routines; this being the fourth such repetition I’m beginning to get the routine down.  If the snow holds off for another seven to eight weeks I hope to get a number of blown down trees cut up, sized and stacked for seasoning.  My buddy, Sarge, will be visiting for a couple of weeks in mid-October and we have a number of large projects scheduled like building a wood shed and creating my long time longed for ‘aurorium’ from which I can view the aurora borealis in comfort.  There a myriad of other smaller projects as well but by the time we’re done I hope to be at a point whereby I’m done with ‘home improvement’ efforts for a while and can instead concentrate on ‘home maintenance’ work.

There’s a comfortable rhythm in this lifestyle; one tied so closely to Nature.  My Chickadees, Red-Breasted Nuthatches and similar are now at the feeders continually and I’d guess 85% of the black oilers they select are going into cracks in tree bark and similar as stored food for the upcoming winter.  They are also much more vocal when the feeders are empty; while the Nuthatches will dive bomb me chattering away I swear if I held out my hand a few of the Chickadees would alight and scold me vociferously.  I was seeing lots of moose a few weeks back but now that hunting season is open they are nowhere to be found.  I suspect the bears will soon begin to head up to higher elevations seeking dens in which to sleep away yet another winter.  And the days are really becoming shorter now; within a week or so I will remove the last of my light barriers in the master bedroom in anticipation of clear evenings enhanced by the aurora.  This flow just seems so natural and peaceful.

Alaska is an amazing place and one which is so closely tied to Nature; I love living up here as do my canine companions Anana and Qanuk.  I so enjoy watching Anana come back into the house after her morning ‘constitutional’ to take care of business when the temp first drops below freezing; she has a spring in her step and a glint in her eyes.  Qanuk just goes with the flow; as long as he gets outside to run once a day he’s happy.  I am blessed to have both of them with me up here and they are a huge part of my life in semi-rural Alaska.  And they continually remind me of the importance of living in the ‘now’; no need to worry about the past or the future – just enjoy ‘now’.

Sadly, I have to get back to my spreadsheeting but I also have a warm and peaceful feeling as I hear my Toyo Monitor furnace grumbling as it comes to life.  It has run just twice last week; prior to that it was late April when it last fired up.  I know I’ll be hearing a lot more of it in the coming weeks and I’ll be supplementing it with some now seasoned firewood in the wood burning stove Sarge and I installed last October.  The wind continues to blow the yellow and gold birch leaves around under a dark, ragged cloud cover.  Mmmm, this I just another wonderful Alaskan day..!


A view of the unmaintained portion of East Barge Drive perhaps 0.6 miles east of my place; I took this image a couple days back when walking ‘the kidz’

What’s That Up In The Sky..?!?

Just an hour back I noticed something strange; the windows were actually appearing ‘bright’ and when I peeked outside I could see shadows!  A look upward gave me the reason; the sun was actually visible!!  I was quite pleased to see it once again and for me that’s unusual as I favor cloudy, cool weather.  But this has been a very wet August to this point in semi-rural south central Alaska.  This is Monday, August 15th and it has rained every day this month accumulating 4.18” as of 07:00 this morning.  While August is our wettest month the average monthly rainfall is 4.5” which means we’re already at 92.9% of said monthly average yet we are just 48.4% of the way into the month.

 Here are some signs of a wet August and the coming fall:

Leaves Floating on 'Shrooms

Some already yellow birch leaves floating atop a couple of dying mushrooms


Typical 'Shroom with Non-typical Shadow

Typical ‘shroom for this area with a non-typical shadow!

Female Spruce Grouse on EBD

Female Spruce Grouse on Easy Barge Drive; when they begin to appear you know summer is winding down

Early Signs of Fall

Not sure what the plants are but when the leaves begin to turn brilliant red fall is not too far distant

Very Wet Boreal Forest

Very wet boreal forest; the shimmering effect on the plants is due to being coated with rain drops

Moose, Bears, Dogs & Fall

The continuing run of mostly clear days followed by clear nights has definitely played a major role in dropping the 24 hour average temperatures across the past couple of weeks. This was best illustrated with this morning’s low of 5.2 F under clear skies; this is actually a bit lower than Talkeetna’s average January low temp of 6.0 F. Yesterday’s mean temp was a cool 16.9 F which is a value I’d expect to see in December. Of course the continually shortening days are playing their part as well; today we’ll just eight hours and thirty five minutes of direct sunlight which is a decrease of five minutes and fifty seconds from yesterday. All this is combining to bring a real feel of winter to south central Alaska even though calendar winter doesn’t begin for fifty three days.

With the cooler weather I’ve finished up all my preparations for winter and now eagerly await the snow and real cold. On these cool October mornings I can really feel winter in the air and I’m not the only one. My Alaskan Malamute, Anana, once again has a real spring in her step and is beginning to wander further afield requiring more consistent vigilance on my part when we’re outdoors. I’ve seen her exhibit this trait more strongly with the advent of cold; she is without question true to her breed. I do remain a bit concerned about my German Shepherd Dog, Qanuk, who lives to run and be outdoors; so much so he will forgo coming inside when his paws are beginning to suffer from the cold and snow. Last season he bled from all four paws and I quickly learned I had to limit his outdoor activity based upon the air temp. Poor guy struggled across all of April to beat back the infection and heal the area between his pads. Then, in early July, the condition struck again requiring a vet visit and much more drastic steps to finally kill the infection and heal his paws. I have booties of the kind used by the local dog teams and when the snow begins I will try to get him to wear them. I plan to let him outside, tether him to a corner pole on the front porch, ‘suit him up’ and then take him out for a long run. I’m hoping he’ll build the association between putting on the booties – I already know he will hate wearing them – and getting a good run in the cold and snow. The things we do for our four legged companions..!

Qanuk and Anana getting tough in the back yard; although they can really mix it up they are the best of friends

Qanuk and Anana getting tough in the back yard; although they can really mix it up they are the best of friends

A welcome change across the past couple of weeks has been a sudden resurgence in the local moose; I believe I counted just three sightings across May through September which was extremely low. Last year I saw at least ten moose from just August through October and a pair were in my yard. In addition although we saw moose in the boreal forest at least once a week during our 2013 walks this year I’ve seen a moose just once and that was the one Anana irritated and consequently had to run for dear life. Across the last three weeks in October I’ve sighted five moose including this guy awaiting his chance to cross ‘the Spur’ a few miles south of my street. When he realized I had stopped and was taking pictures he ambled across the road and into the forest.

Young bull moose patiently waiting his turn to cross the Spur around 10 miles south of talkeetna

Young bull moose patiently waiting his turn to cross the Spur around 10 miles south of Talkeetna

Bear sightings have been off as well this year; to this point in 2014 I’ve seen just two grizzlies and a black bear. To this point I’ve read only one ‘bear alert’ for Talkeetna on my Friday evening KTNA newscast and that was in the spring. Even the bear sign has been more dispersed and fewer in number. I suspect weather plays a role and given the locals tell me this year’s crop of tourists was by far the most they’ve ever seen I suspect this might be influencing the wildlife living and foraging patterns as well. I certainly hope this is not the beginning of a trend as while I have great respect for all the local wildlife I also take immense joy from just observing it from a safe distance and seeing signs that it’s around the immediate area. For me Alaska just wouldn’t be Alaska without the large ungulates and bruins.