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

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…

Yet Another One…

This posting is really a follow up to the previous one and many of my friends will have seen it in an email I sent out a few days back.  Unlike many people up here I still find summer to be my least favorite season followed closely by break up.  I’ve listed some reasons for my choice of which numbers 1, 3 and 4 were commented on in the previous posting:

  1. Complete lack of a dark night sky resulting in circadian rhythm upset
  2. Warmer temps
  3. Hordes of mosquitoes
  4. Ditto regarding tourists
  5. Inevitable road construction
But to this list I add the attached image which says it all!  Poor Anana blows her coat almost every year but this year has been particularly bad.  Every morning I awaken with her fur in my mouth, nose and eyes regardless of how much I brush her and vacuum; and unlike Qanuk she doesn’t sleep in the bed with me.  Good thing I love her so dearly!  She’s gonna be one svelte girl when she finally finishes which, sadly for both of us, is still a few weeks out..  The second image shows just how fur can come out using a typical ‘rake’ type brush and brushing my ‘little’ angel for around seven minutes.
Anana Blowing Coat
Poor Anana showing the remnants of her winter coat along with that so much cooler summer coat
7 Minutes of Brushing
Qanuk, my GSD, with his back to the results of brushing Anana for just seven minutes!

Mosquitoes, Tourists…and Summer Sunlight

Today, May 27th, just happens to be yet another gorgeous late morning here in the Talkeetna area; the sun rides hot and high in the azure sky while gentle WSW breezes riffle the new leaves on trees and other plants.  The temperature is already above 60°F on its way to the middle seventies; that’s perhaps fifteen degrees above normal but then that’s how the temps have been running.  After a ‘winter’ – and I use the term very loosely – sleep the landscape is once again not just awakening but flourishing.  And with this seasonal shift comes other markers of the late spring in south-central Alaska.  The mosquitoes are out in force and the village is once again awash in tourists…and there is no longer a dark night sky.

This is one facet of living in the higher latitudes I have yet to adjust to and truly wonder if I ever will come to embrace.  As with my feelings towards the weather, in general, I prefer change on a relatively regular cycle but this is no longer an option.  And it will not be until late August; for me that three and a half month period is a long time to wait.  I know I have definite biases against the almost continual sunlight of the boreal summer based mainly upon my preference for cool temps – as in high temps in the low sixties – and I’ve always been a night sky watcher.  With the advent of each new spring I find myself once again preparing for warm temps and a complete lack of a night, as in dark, sky.  Couple these understandings with my distaste for hordes of mosquitoes and tourists – not sure which I dislike more although I also understand their value to this area – and it isn’t difficult to see why summer is my least favorite season right after break up.

Sure, I recognize there are some real pluses to the extended daylight.  Plants really grow under 17+ hours of direct light and there is far more time for outdoor activities not tied to snow and/or ice.  In addition, the moderating temps allow for the cycle of life to renew itself; if in doubt just notice how many cow moose have calves in tow now.  Perhaps if I could more readily adjust my circadian rhythms I wouldn’t feel so negative towards the long boreal days..?  My first two summers in Alaska were difficult for me with respect to dealing with the long days.  I quickly learned how to seal up my bedroom against light that never really dies and is just plain bright from 04:00 through 00:00; this had to happen as I am light sensitive when it comes to sleeping.  Late last summer I read about a study suggesting a small dose of melatonin once in the morning and again in the late afternoon to early evening can help reset one’s biological clock.  In elderly folks this regime can also reduce stress and lower blood pressure when followed.  I started this in August of 2015 and based upon that brief trial I was all set to start it again with the advent of this May.

It seems a bit strange to me that I have absolutely no issues with the extended darkness of winter; I was urged to take a vitamin D supplement to combat depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but after three winters I just haven’t felt the need to do so.  And, of course, being a cold and snow lover the environmental conditions suit me to a ‘tee’ although I’m still waiting to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter.  But maybe most important to me is with the advent of very late calendar summer the night sky returns and I can once more relish the aurora, marvel at the constellations and hope for clear skies without a moon when the Leonid and Geminids meteor showers are in our astrological ‘back yard’.

I now laugh, as I’d wager other folks living at these latitudes do, when people from the lower 48 ask me how I can handle the extended darkness.  Most are surprised if not shocked to hear I prefer the darkness and have a much more difficult time dealing with the 20 hours of direct light we see on the summer solstice.  I think it is a matter of ‘imagination’ versus ‘reality’.  People who’ve never experienced such extended daylight think it would be fantastic to have longer days to get out and do activities.  But they fail to grasp the potential upset such long days with no real nights can and do wreck upon one’s normal biological rhythms.  I have tried to explain some of the negatives to such long days but for the most part my attempts fall on deaf ears; in most cases I think one has to spend a summer in such conditions to begin to understand it is not all bright sunny days…

I suspect folks born to these conditions are wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of the natural flow of the seasons.  In my time up here I’ve come to recognize such extremes in terms of light and dark are part of the ‘Alaskan Experience’ and fit right in with the often noted extremes in weather, wildlife and the landscape.  And, ultimately, I’m really not complaining as I realize these conditions help fuel the majesty and magic that is ‘The Last Frontier’.  Sure, if I could have my way I’d probably opt to make the long boreal days occur perhaps just in June and July but we all know the ‘value’ in wishing for things that cannot be…  After all; would I appreciate the dark and cold winter as much without the counterbalance of the warm, bright summer?  Most definitely not!  Sooner or later I’ll reach some kind of equanimity with the boreal summer; in the interim at least it does sharpen my apprehension of boreal winter!

IMG_8800

I should take a lesson from my canine companions who truly understand the value of living in the moment!

 

 

The Power of a Smile

With age I’ve come to appreciate so many of the simpler things in life such as sitting on my front porch and observing Nature in all her mystery and grace, that first sip of hot coffee on a cold early morning or the joy exuded by Qanuk – my male GSD – as he races through the boreal forest on the trail of some scent.  When one is open to such observations there seems to be no end to them and I relish identifying and experiencing all I can.  I’ve often noted the simpler these actions or situations the more pleasing they can become.  But most seem to stem from the world around me which is fine but also left me wondering why I am not the source of at least a few of my own ‘simple yet pleasing’ creations..?

Turns out I am capable of adding to the simple joy around me and by far the most powerful source for me is something I never thought twice about over the previous decades – my smile.  Since I can remember people have always commented on my smile, generally noting its ‘intensity’ and its apparently pleasing nature.  Sadly I did not smile much from my teens through my early thirties while in the grip of what I now understand was clinical depression.  Only when some internal biochemical shift occurred in my early to middle thirties did the heavy, dark cloud of this depression begin to lift and with that I became a ‘lighter’ and more outgoing optimist.  Of course my smile had always been with me but now it really did have a chance to blossom.

Across the past thirty years I’ve become more and more aware that my smile did set me a bit apart in some people’s minds and for the most part was seen as a positive.  It has allowed me to ‘break the ice’ with many a stranger and sometimes these occurrences have developed into friendships or more.  As with all such gifts it is a dual edged sword; often insecure people or those who feel ostracized or left out feel comfortable approaching me and starting conversations.  At first I was a bit unnerved by these events but with time I came to understand their basis and just went with the flow.  In so doing I learned to talk to almost anyone; developing this skill went hand in hand with my strong tendencies to verbosity in speech and writing.

As I reflect more and more on my smile I realize I have a history of using it to my advantage.  Yes, it was often a good ‘ice breaker’ but it also served to put others at ease and seemed to communicate I was a friendly and open person.  I now recognize I can readily employ my smile, along with humor, to put others at ease and this served me well when dealing with people from whom I needed something.  With the proper employment of said smile I could often ‘encourage’ someone to assist me or go that extra mile for me.  Without question this is a form of manipulation and in this context it doesn’t feel so ‘appreciated’.  However, we humans are social beings and there are schools of thought that espouse the idea all our communications generally proceed from a ‘power base’ in which one person is dominant and the other submissive.  If this is true then I’m sure I’ve employed my smile when acting from a ‘submissive’ position to help me modify the communication basis and ‘elevate’ myself.  While it is manipulation it does seem to be of a lesser degree than, say, verbally or through body language implying threats or similar.

Only across the past fifteen years have I come to understand that my smile – and, for that matter, most people’s smiles – can be a real force for good.  Smiles seem almost universally understood by humans and even many animals as a sign of peace, friendliness and openness as well as an invitation to communicate.  I’ve seen very young children, watching me from their Mom’s shopping cart in a grocery store, light up when I smile at them.  While volunteering in an Alzheimer’s facility there were many residents who showed a definite preference for being around me; the staff finally decided it was because of my beaming smile.  Sometimes when just walking in the village or other locations I will smile at a stranger and almost invariably they return my smile.  Many socialized dogs understand my smile to say I like them and mean no harm; this ultimately benefits us both as I love animals in general and canines in particular and I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t enjoy having their ears scratched.  In hindsight I’m pleased to note I’ve left a lot of happiness and comfort around me and 99% of it has come from just my smile.

Smiling is such a simple thing and an action we humans take for granted yet this response does possess a real power of its own.  But I’ve also noticed I get the best responses to my smile when it is genuine.  Sometimes I will just ‘force’ it when I’m preoccupied or not feeling particularly positive; almost always the results are much less impactful.  I much prefer to feel upbeat and positive when I unleash my smile so I’ve worked at insuring when I smile I mean it.  Doing this means I need to engender a generally positive and cheery outlook in my daily existence.  And this encourages a real ‘win-win’ situation for me; as I work to insure I maintain a generally buoyant and positive outlook I feel so much better and that’s reflected in the intensity and sincerity of my smile.

Please do not just take my word for the power of a smile; do your own research.  But here’s an interesting article from the website longevity.about.com which lists ten reasons to smile:

  1. Smiling Makes Us Attractive
  2. Smiling Relieves Stress
  3. Smiling Elevates Our Mood
  4. Smiling Is Contagious
  5. Smiling Boosts Your Immune System
  6. Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure
  7. Smiling Makes Us Feel Good
  8. Smiling Makes You Look Younger
  9. Smiling Makes You Seem Successful
  10. Smiling Helps You Stay Positive.

 Maybe now you will join with me in spreading smiles far and wide?  It’s so very simple yet it can, and does, have profound and far reaching impacts!

Lack of Writing..!

I thought it best to get something posted before my absence begins to cost me followers; hence this missive. After leading a fairly injury free life I suppose it was inevitable I was going to see the equation balance and that happened last week – in spades! 

From my 03/27/15 email titled; “Stupidity 1, Me 0”:

In a glorious display of lazy stupidity I managed to take a serious fall just outside the Talkeetna PO yesterday at noon and severely damage my left elbow. Sadly, despite there being lousy ice everywhere I managed to do this on bare asphalt! I was kinda rushing so I had slipped on my heavy boots but not tied them and just tucked in the loose laces. As I exited the door I pivoted to the left and managed to get a loose lace from my right boot caught in an eyelet on my left boot; this is akin to having a practical joker tie one’s shoe laces together. I did a great imitation of a whale smacking water after breaching and there were two people talking that caught the whole event! 

I landed very hard on my right side and have the bruises and road rash to prove it. The observers immediately came to my aid and helped me into a sitting position; at that point I agreed with them to remain seated while I assessed my condition. Initially I was concerned with my right knee as it was quite sore but within a minute I could really feel my left elbow starting to throb; I’m sure I did it no favors when the two kind people assisted me to my feet by pulling on each arm. In the four steps it took to get to my vehicle I suddenly realized I couldn’t move my left hand or any of those fingers and just trying to hold my left forearm level was a losing proposition. I was able to temporarily tuck my very painful left wrist into my vest pocket and get into the Escape using just my right arm but that was clumsy and a painful proposition; thankfully I could drive and managed to get me and the dogs back home. 

My buddy Mark showed up a bit after noon and assisted me; he also fashioned a much-needed sling. Because I’m pig-headed about personal injuries I decided to give it few hours ‘just to see’. By 14:45 my left wrist and hand were swollen to half again the size of my right wrist and hand and a nasty blue-purple color; while I could wiggle my fingers my left forearm was throbbing terribly. I decided to call Sunshine Clinic; I spoke with Amy who told me there were no openings until today at 09:40.  I told her I could wait and gave her my personal info. Silly me; somehow the realization that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep with such an injury escaped me. I spent a horrible night amassing maybe one whole hour of sleep in between yips, yelps and not few colorful expletives when I moved in the bed. 

From my 03/28/15 email titled; “And the Verdict Is…”:

I am back in Talkeetna and actually returned Friday evening after making the 130 mile round trip. I finally decided to drive myself although no fewer than six people offered to take me. My arm was so badly swollen I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be held overnight if surgery was required; therefore it only made sense to me I should drive myself. At this point I want to truly thank the amazing people in the village in general and ‘Mark of the Wild’, Kirstin Merkley and Holly Stinson in particular along with my wonderful sister and brother-in-law Sal and Gene! Mark and Holly stopped by in my absence and walked the dogs, played with them and fed them. ‘The Kidz’ loved the attention and I was so thankful so many wonderful people have shown such an outpouring of empathy and kindness!! 

Mat-Su Regional is a state of the art medical facility staffed with some of the most professional folks I’ve ever met; I cannot thank them enough for their empathy and care! I checked in at 15:20 and by 15:25 a nurse had me in an exam room and was prepping me for the doctor’s visit. To a person the staff was aghast I’d gone 28 hours without pain meds and had driven myself to Wasilla; as soon as Dr. Grove walked in and heard I was sans meds he immediately gave me an IM dose of a non-drowsy pain-killer. They were able to get three x-ray images which confirmed I completely broke both the radius and the ulna just below the left elbow. Dr. Grove confirmed I will need surgery and gave me a referral to an orthopedic surgeon who works on elbows; he contacted this doctor’s (Dr. Pace) assistant, explained my situation and set me up to call him first thing Monday morning to set up an appointment for surgery. Apparently the fractures are bad enough each will require a permanent pin to stabilize them. Then the staff splinted the arm and fashioned a huge cast using that oxygen activated cast material which allows a form fit. The icing on the cake came in the form of 25 Percocet tablets; if this gets tougher to read it’s because I just took my second one an hour ago and I can feel the pain is decreasing as my vision blurs a bit more. I used the first one last night and I was actually able to sleep four hours!! This might not seem like much but it sure beat Thursday night when I didn’t even get an hour of sleep. 

So the plan is for me to call Dr. Pace at 09:00 AKDT on Monday (03/30) and hopefully set up the surgery for early next week. I’m hoping by April Fool’s Day I’ll be recovering and starting what will most likely be a 3 to 4 month recovery period. At least I’ll be able to return to volunteering at KTNA and working with the Pantry within a few weeks of the surgery. Running the soundboard with one hand could prove challenging as I’m already learning just how much I use my left hand but am developing acceptable ‘workarounds’. I tried to get a selfie of the massive cast but failed to do it justice. 

Here’s the hilarious kicker; I was wearing my red vest and a long-sleeved poly pro shirt but there was no way the cast was going to fit inside the shirt sleeve. The nurse had me remove my shirt and offered me a ‘paper shirt’; given it was 52 F outdoors I declined the shirt so we removed my shirt and vest. Then the cast was fitted to my arm; once it hardened we carefully slipped my vest back on. Now imagine this big fat bald guy with a huge cast wandering around downtown Wasilla in just a red fleece vest with bare arms and hairy armpits exposed for all to see! As I waited for Walgreens to fill my prescription a rather large gentleman joined the line wearing a “Hells Angels South Bay” tee-shirt; he looked me over and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ sign. Never had this happen before but I guess he liked my sleeveless look! I’m going to be modifying a number of my older short-sleeved tee shirts by making them sleeveless on the left side; who knows, maybe I’ll create a new fashion craze..?!? 

From my 03/30/15 email titled; “Not Good News…”:

Have to keep this update short as the Percocet is finally kicking in. Visited the orthopedic surgeon at 14:00 today; he had his first good look at the films taken Friday. He was not happy with the results! He said this is ‘a very severe injury’ and when all’s said and done he would consider regaining 60% of the former range of motion to be a success. The ulna has a very jagged break running the diameter of the bone; he is less concerned about this fracture. Although he couldn’t tell for sure he thinks the radius end that normally interfaces with the elbow broke into at least two pieces and probably more; if it is three or more than I will need an artificial implant at that interface. This is the fracture(s) that most worries him. He cannot say more until he cuts me and takes a look; this will happen around 12:00 AKDT tomorrow (03/31). Surgery will last anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes assuming no more surprises.

From my 04/01/15 email titled; “You May Now Call Me The $46,000 Man..!”:

I know I’m feeling better because my first thought was to send out some horrific message about losing my arm to a surgical mistake or similar given today’s date but I just couldn’t risk giving my dear friends potential MI’s or such in an attempt to be funny. I’m back home – actually was as of 19:00 yesterday – and surprisingly not doing too badly especially given the situation. My good friend Holly picked me up right at 09:30 yesterday morning and we had an easy trip to Wasilla. She is my realtor and a classic ‘Talkeetnan’; warm, friendly, down to earth and willing to assist in any and all ways to help out a friend or neighbor. Prior to making this run with me she’d walked Anana and Qanuk for me and left enough great tasting food for two solid dinners. She dropped me off at the clinic around 10:50 and spend the rest of her day, shopping reading and doing some trip planning but was right there when I was ‘cut loose’ and the nurses gave her all my release info. Poor Holly also had to get me to a pharmacy for another load of Percocet.

I was admitted and in the surgery waiting area by 11:50 but due to ‘situation’ with a credit card of mine this required an extra ten minutes. I’ll share what happened in the hopes none of you will be blindsided in the same fashion. I’ve had an AmEx Gold Card since ’81 which I used strictly in times of emergency. Its last use was during my relocation up here (August 2013) when I discovered many places in central and western Canada did not accept Visa; in this case it saved me as I racked up charges in the $4k range for food, lodging and fuel. I had used it to cover the roughly $3,900 in charges from Friday’s visit and was planning to fund the surgery and all associated charges on it as well. However, the card was refused for additional $19k Tuesday afternoon at the hospital. After borrowing the hospital phone and having one of the wonderful desk folks write out the AmEx security phone number for me – as I pointed out they told me to bring nothing but the clothes I was wearing so I’d left my reading glasses and cell in Holly’s car – I waded through seemingly endless menus and finally contacted a warm body wherein I explained my situation; my card did indeed have a ‘stop’ on it. Here’s what I didn’t know; such cards are not  open-ended and have permissible charge limits based on credit scores and the use of the card the previous 6 to 12 months!! Based on how I used the card there was no activity the previous 19 months so this caused some limits to kick in.  Because my credit score is 802 AmEx was able to authorize an additional $17.5k; this allowed me to cover almost all with the now maxed out Gold Card and pick up the remainder with my ‘regular use’ Visa. 

Anyway, I spent maybe 10 minutes in the surgery admitting room and then was brought in and prepped for the work. By 12:55 I was wheeled into the operating room and things became a bit ‘fuzzy’ as they had to double the initial dose of painkillers to get me under enough to insert the tube and start the general. I know the anesthesiologist was a bit concerned because this was my first experience with a general so he had nothing to work from regarding my reactions.  I’d had just one surgery previous to this one; it was to remove my tonsils and adenoids when I was 6 years old and ether was the anesthetic. Apparently I did okay and really enjoyed coming out of the general although I had to finally see the bright red ‘socks’ on my feet which were hanging off the end of the gurney to recognize I wasn’t dreaming and I had just undergone surgery. 

Sadly I really did manage to do the number on my poor elbow; the radius had four fragments broken from its surface which interfaces with the elbow. This was two too many to repair so the fractured end of the radius was cleaned and resurfaced and then an artificial surface was molded into the elbow and the terminus of the radius which was further reinforced with a small plate and screws. The estimated 90 minute procedure ballooned to almost 200 minutes but the real ‘pain’ – pun intended – will be final billing. I did have everything covered yesterday by noon but was based upon no implants and around 90 minutes of surgery. 

Not much I can do at this point except know I’ll get a huge write off on my 2015 federal taxes. I’m working hard to cultivate that ‘it’s only money’ perspective but I also know I’ll be forced into some major revisions in my financial planning thanks to this ‘experience’. And, of course, I’m trying very hard not to dwell on the fact this entire sad affair was initiated by being in a hurry and not following Mom’s teachings regarding tying one’s shoelaces!!  So it goes…

By this point you should have a pretty good idea of what happened to me and why my blogging will be minimal for the next month or so. In keeping with always seeking that ‘silver lining’ at least I’ll have lots of material for my blogs once I can again type with two hands..!!!

My Canine Companions

It is another rather warm morning here in south central Alaska with mostly cloudy skies and the promise of still more of the same in terms of warm temps and no precipitation across the next week. Given spring officially begins tomorrow mid-afternoon the odds of seeing any honest winter weather continues to dwindle. Sure, we could see a snow event or another few days of much below normal temps but as the sun continues to ride higher and higher in the sky every day all trends are towards the upcoming spring. 

Of late I’ve noticed my female Alaskan Malamute, Anana, has been ‘asking’ to remain outside in the back yard after being let out to take care of business. Her method of communicating this to me is to remain standing or lying down on the back porch after I open the door and allow her pal Qanuk, my male German Shepherd Dog, inside. She is such a good girl and will stay put as long as a moose or similar doesn’t enter her field of view so I often oblige her. Qanuk, being true to his breed, prefers to be close to me and will rarely remain outside longer than he needs to handle his business. Seeing a definite uptick in Anana’s requests while her routine remains largely the same – she, like most other canines, prefers routine in her existence – started me wondering if she was recognizing the winter was waning and with it would come the end of cold and snow. One wonders if there are ‘new’ odors that she now identifies with the coming of spring or is it the string of warmer days? This was her second ‘winter’ – such that it was – but she is plenty observant and smart enough to recognize such signs and remember them after just a year’s exposure. 

Raising both a Mal and a GSD I’ve had ample opportunity to compare and contrast the two breeds which are pretty close to being polar opposites in so many areas. Anana lives to be a member of our pack and the most effective means of disciplining her when she’s broken the rules – and since reaching adulthood at 2 years of age this hardly happens – is to quarantine her away from me and Qanuk when she’s inside. This really makes an impression on her and with her incredible memory the point is always remembered. Qanuk responds to the more conventional verbal dressing down; he lives to please me as well as run and play with mankind’s great creation – at least as far as he’s concerned – the tennis ball. He, too, is a wonderful companion and rarely causes me issues except when he gets excited about going outside. He literally turns into something akin to the Tasmanian Devil we all viewed in the Bugs Bunny cartoons; his excitement is that powerful. While generally a very careful boy inside when truly wound up his big tail will find many things to knock over. However, after almost six years of raising canines most everything that can be broken has either met that fate or has been placed such that they are impervious to doggy tails and hype. Indeed, he gets so excited if we’re going for a car ride I have to command him to ‘tinkle’ before we board; otherwise in his excitement he’ll forget and then he becomes very anxious once in the car. Never before have I seen a canine that has to be commanded to empty his bladder before car rides but then Qanuk is a unique canine in many respects. 

As Talkeetna is known as a ‘dog village’ – witness no leash laws even in the village itself – my canine pals are in a great place and the fact that we’re surrounded by boreal forest and live semi-rural is generally a plus for them. I say ‘generally’ because Anana does miss being around so many different people; in Dearborn (MI) while I was caring for my folk’s place I fenced in the back yard and gave her the run of that area. She very quickly developed a string of neighbors whom during walks would stop by the fence and greet her often with treats. She was a true ‘rock star’ at the Northville (MI) Sunrise Assisted Living Facility and she owned the title ‘visiting therapy dog’ because she was so friendly and willing to interact with any of the residents. In general Anana loves anything on two legs and I’ve often said she would let any human into the house and probably help carry out any of my stuff if asked. It’s this love of humans that makes Mals ineffective watch dogs and Anana lives up to this breed trait in spades! Since relocating here she no longer has a neighborhood of folks to visit her and as there are no assisted living facilities at which I can volunteer she doesn’t have that means to greet new folks. In this sense she may not be all that pleased with our new home. Of course this is a dual edged sword as up here she can roam free and rarely has to deal with a lead. She has virtually endless acres of boreal forest to explore and handfuls of moose to chase. I do try to get her into the village fairly often and allow her to wait for me outside the PO where she eagerly greets the locals. 

Poor Anana cannot understand why every human doesn’t respond to her as she does to them with affection and love. She doesn’t understand that at 115 pounds she is a very big girl and although she is truly a teddy bear even I, with my love for and understanding of canines, would initially be wary of her if I didn’t know her. I’ve seen folks literally tremble with fear when she runs up and looks for attention; she just cannot believe any human wouldn’t love her like she does them. Qanuk, on the other hand, is very cautious around new people and remains to this day very nervous around adult males. The latter is completely my fault in terms of his socialization. I brought Qanuk into our pack while volunteering at Sunrise and once he was old enough to get control of his needs I started bringing him into the facility with Anana. Such facilities are staffed by almost entirely women. I never realized that because of this and Qanuk’s nature he became ‘okay’ with women but drew a very real line between the genders and hence never really came to know adult males outside myself and my brother. To this day he is very cautious around adult males and children; the latter I could understand as he saw very few while maturing. I do not want him to be so concerned about adult males and hence am beginning to introduce him to as many adult males as possible in the hopes I can socialize him a bit more towards males. He is fine with women but then in Sunrise that was almost all he saw. 

I expected Anana to really revel in her new Alaskan home especially during the winter but much to my surprise Qanuk has been the one to really take to pounding through the deep snow. Anana is smarter in that she allows Qanuk to cut a trail and then she will often follow. Given her height and build she fares better in the snow when the depth is over 18” but Qanuk is still the one I see pounding through the virgin snow. Some of Anana’s reticence to broach deep snow might be based on my poor ‘little’ angel suffering two major surgeries within 6 months of each other.  At the age of just two she blew out her right knee and required a TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) which is a serious surgery in which the tibia is broken and leveled and then reattached via a plate and screws. The injury is the equivalent to tearing an ACL in a human being. She required a full six weeks to recover from the worst effects of the operation and she really never completely recovered until we moved up here. Then, six months later she blew out her left knee and had the same procedure; this time I knew what to look for and caught it early so there was less damage but it was still six weeks of Hell for her. Luckily my vet recommended a fantastic surgeon and he really worked wonders. In all the two procedures cost me just over $8,000 but given it was my companion I would’ve paid many times that amount as the only other option would’ve been to put her down. I’d say she recovered maybe 95% of her original abilities which is incredible given the severity of the procedures. For anyone in SE Michigan needing a wonderful animal surgeon I cannot recommend Dr. Kyle Kerstetter (www.michvet.com) enough; he and his team were incredible! As I’ve often kidded thanks to him I own ‘The Eight Thousand Dollar Dog’! 

As we approach the seasonal shift I am once again looking forward to being able to get out with my canine companions. I’ve come to realize that my walks in this magnificent land are enhanced by my canine companions; they function as extensions to my ears and my nose. I love to see either or both of them stop suddenly and raise their muzzles skyward as their noses work overtime to identify a scent. They almost always see wildlife before I do and I suspect this is largely based upon their hearing coupled with their incredibly sensitive noses. More than once they’ve shown me scat, kill sites and similar I’d have never noticed without their help. They truly enhance my outdoor Alaskan experiences and it is just great to have a couple of pals along on outings. 

They are both indoor dogs so we spend lots of time inside; both have adapted wonderfully to living in a human’s ‘lair’ and they’ve had to learn a lot of rules. Anana has never raided the garbage can and Qanuk has only done so twice; he’s learned to steer clear of this by watching Anana. Never have I known canines who wouldn’t raid a garbage can when it smells of meat, fish or chicken. They have their favorite spots; for Anana it’s the coolest place while Qanuk just wants to be someplace he’s comfortable but can see me. Anana sleeps by my bed but Qanuk sleeps in it maybe half the night.  He’s actually very ‘civilized’ in that he doesn’t steal the blankets or take more than half the bed. I’ve never fed them from the table so they know not to bother me when I’m eating but I do give them infrequent table scraps as a treat. 

All told I couldn’t ask for two better canine companions and my new life in Alaska has been immensely enriched by their presence. They are truly my family now that my sister and brother live thousands of miles to the south. Up here everyone has at least one dog so they helped me integrate into the community by meeting other people and their dogs.  And I rely on their incredible senses while outdoors as they can sense natural events and wildlife much sooner than me.  We’re all aging and our needs are shifting but to this day all they ask of me is shelter, food, a bit of attention and some play; I get back endless unconditional love, the very definition of ‘agape love’, and the companionship generated by another organism who truly does love to just be around me! Talk about a ‘win-win’ situation…

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana and Qanuk playing in fresh snow early in January, 2015

Anana at around twelve weeks of age.  Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Anana at around twelve weeks of age. Even then I could see the mischievous glint in her eyes!

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Qanuk at around eight weeks of age

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Anana and Qanuk playing; Anana was always very gentle with him until he reached puberty

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

Qanuk and Anana on East Barge Drive in early September

'The Kidz' are playing tough!

‘The Kidz’ are playing tough!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16" of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

Qanuk and Anana braving 16″ of fresh snow; they really love Alaskan winters!

My poor 'little' angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

My poor ‘little’ angel finding some comfort in my bed after returning home from her second TPLO surgery

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down.  This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps.  I'm sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps.

An incredible adaptation to Arctic cold, the Mals grow thick fur that sprouts from between their pads when it begins to cool down. This remains all winter and then disappears with warming temps. I’m sure this gives the pads protection against ice and very cold temps. Nature is just so awesome..!