Remembering Anana

This past Friday (May 4, 2018) I said ‘Goodbye’ to my ‘little’ angel Anana who quietly passed sometime in the wee hours of May 4th.  Anana, my 125 pound female Alaskan malamute, gave me eight and a half years of joy, love, humor and amazement.  I was privileged to raise her from an awkward, ten week old puppy to a beautiful, regal but always mischievous adult Mal.  She was my first canine after decades of no pets due to employment based travel requirements and also the first Mal I’d ever known.  The breeder warned me Mals were far different from other breeds with respect to training and developing a relationship; as such we each had a lot to learn and to teach the other.  Anana did so in classic Mal style and while I suspect I was often a source of frustration to her because I was so slow to understand her ways she was always patient and loving.  As the breeder had warned me I quickly learned to pick my battles with my growing girl as I just was not going to win every one.  As such I came to realize I developed a series of ‘understandings’ with my baby; some favored her needs while others satisfied my own.  In the end our relationship was based on trust, mutual respect and a whole lotta love.

Anana Chewing Bed 2

Anana at eleven weeks of age lounging in her new bed

I'm TOO Cute

Anana in her ‘aren’t I just too cute’ mode at three and a half months of age

Anana came to me at a dark time in my life yet she brought with her a spirit which exuded a love of life, a need for much exercise, a deep mischievous streak and unconditional love.  Just caring for her puppy needs and attempting to reach some of those ‘understandings’ really helped me to come to grips with my situation as caretaker of the family home after my father passed and Mom was living in an assisted living facility.  Anana quickly showed a love of anything on two legs and she never met a person she didn’t love.  So many folks who were initially concerned about her size quickly fell under her spell and found themselves drawn to this gentle Teddy Bear.  While living at the family home Anana became a real rock star within the neighborhood as people out walking would stop by our yard to see her and young children would come to the door asking if “Anana can play”.  When I decided to begin volunteering at the Northville (MI) Sunrise facility where Mom was staying I started bringing Anana with me.  At first I was worried because she was such an energetic and exuberant puppy but my concerns were ill-founded; Anana was instinctively slow and gentle when interacting with the residents.  She delighted everyone with her repertoire of howls and other vocalizations.  She quickly achieved the informal title of ‘Visiting Therapy Dog’ and spent the next three plus years as a fixture at the facility.  On the odd days when I couldn’t bring her with me when volunteering the first thing I’d hear as I entered the facility was; “Where’s Anana?”

Anana with Nina & Luba

Anana with Luba – a Nazi death camp survivor – and Luba’s daughter Nina in the Sunrise of Northville (MI) assisted living facility

I’m not sure Anana ever completely forgave me from removing her from her extended ‘Sunrise home’ to relocate to semi-rural south central Alaska in July of 2013.  She did love living up here and irritating the local moose population but I also could tell she missed seeing scores of people on a regular basis.  People naturally gravitated to her and whenever she accompanied me and Qanuk into the village during tourist season my Escape would be quickly surrounded by doting tourists lining up to pet her and take her picture.  Often I spent tens of minutes answering queries about my girl and waiting until everyone had finished petting Anana and taking her picture so we could pull out.  My neighbors knew her well and enjoyed her larger than life presence in this immediate area.  Anana accompanied me almost everywhere I went and she was an amazing passenger this past September when she and Qanuk made the 5,200+ mile round trip to Three Forks (MT) to pick up an R-pod travel trailer and haul it back here.  She made new friends at every motel where we’d overnight and sometimes the staff would stop by the room with treats for her and Qanuk.  She was truly a ‘people dog’!

Maybe Anana Hasn't Learned Her Lesson

My Alaskan malamute companion (Anana) was a bit too close to this moose just outside my driveway; it let her know it was time to ‘back off!’

She was Qanuk’s adult canine figure and mentor; as such she really smoothed out some of the traditional German Shepherd Dog traits like suspicion of any unknown human and excessive barking.  But, being true to her breed, she did teach Qanuk to be very vocal and even howl from time to time.  To this day Qanuk remains one of the most vocal GSDs I’ve ever known and regularly expresses his feelings through grunts, groans, whines and other indescribable sounds.  He remains a very effective watchdog but he doesn’t exhibit excessive barking which is fine by me.  He seems to be handling Anana’s absence in stride although I do see him sometimes sniffing some of Anana’s favorite lounging areas and while outside walking I can sense he sometimes looks for his friend.  Anana was the only steady canine influence in Qanuk’s life from the time I brought him home at seven weeks of age (he is now about six and a half years old).

Buddies

Anana sheltering Qanuk on the back porch of the dump we lived in just outside Northville (MI)

I wish Qanuk could’ve learned more patience and acceptance of young children and adult males from Anana; he remains very skittish around both types of people but never aggressive or threatening.  Anana was a natural with children which is all the more exceptional as she had almost no experience with kids growing up.  While volunteering at Sunrise I would assist in taking a number of the ‘Reminiscence’ residents – those struggling with dementias – to a summer music concert in a local town; I drove the bus and served as one of the ‘wranglers’.  We brought the residents so they could enjoy some time outside observing the kids and we provided a picnic lunch.  The first time I brought Anana along I was a bit concerned about what her reaction would be to so many youngsters just being kids.  In hindsight I should’ve known better; early on a young girl walked up to us and asked if she could pet Anana who was off her lead but lying a few feet from me.  I said; “Sure” and the youngster cautiously approached Anana and petted her head.  Anana, of course, loved the attention and moved a bit closer to the girl.  I looked away just briefly to count the residents; something one learns to do on a regular basis when on such outings.  After assuring myself everyone was accounted for I looked back to where Anana had been and saw no less than fourteen children surrounding her!  Anana was lying on her side and just loving all the attention.  Many of the kids had close by parents; it was heartwarming to see their initial concern melt away to smiles as their kids petted the big black and white Teddy Bear.

Gene&Anana CU

Anana reveling in Gene’s attention; she was around ten months of age

Anana was an exceptional canine and I could go on and on about her amazing character and adventures; she was the epitome of unconditional love and probably one of the most wonderful ambassadors for the Alaskan malamute breed ever to walk this earth.  Learning to live without my ‘little’ angel is going to be a very difficult proposition but one I will embrace with time.  Mostly, I want to remember all the wonderful times we shared and celebrate the eight and a half wonderful years I was privileged to share with my ‘Anana Dog’.  It truly was mostly sweet and she was the sweetest of it all..!

Anana in Fall Leaves

My beautiful ‘little’ angel in Alaskan fall leaves…

 

It’s That Time Of Year…

Warm and dry weather has settled over south central Alaska promising the return of mosquitoes and tourists.  Late last week I killed the first mosquito of the season; it was one of the big, slow and noisy ‘over-winter’ variety but its appearance heralds the first batch of this season’s blood suckers which will be small, quiet and very hungry.  I’ve refilled the propane tank and will most likely setup the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ once the snow disappears.  For the time being it is providing me the fuel to grill on the front porch.  The kidz are reveling in getting out for daily walks with me; previously the roads were too icy and snow covered to safely walk.  I love being able to do at least half my daily 12k+ steps outside in the sunshine and fresh air!  Without question, we are into the winter to spring changeover.

Break up is my least favorite season up here as is true for many Alaskans mainly because water and the associated mud seems to be everywhere!  In this area our mud is composed mainly of gray/brown glacial silt which is extremely fine grained; it clings to the coats of my canine companions until it dries – normally, inside the house – and falls off.  I can tell their favorite resting areas by the accumulation of the floury, gray silt; while it cleans up easily there seems no end to the stuff during this season.  Not all that long ago this area was buried beneath glaciers which slowly retreated towards the Alaska Range to the north and the Talkeetna Mountains to the east grinding up rock as they moved; this explains the abundance of the material.  This glacial flour is also responsible for the clouds of dust lifted by vehicles driving on the unpaved roads; if it is windless this dust can hang in the air for minutes confirming its fine nature.  This also explains why auto manufacturers consider this to be an ‘extreme’ area in terms of vehicle wear and tear; coupled with the snow and cold the dust makes it really hard on mechanical objects.

As the spring intensifies so does the solar radiation; this, in turn, begins to heat the interior of the house with time.  Already it is unusual to awaken to an air temp in the master bedroom below 62.0° F (16.7° C); just a month back I would often arise to a brisk 58.0° F (14.4° C) or cooler.  The slow rise of the internal ambient air temperature is something I encourage in early spring but by late spring I’m already using fans to draw in the cooler early morning air, despite the high humidity, such that the afternoon temps on the second floor aren’t getting too warm.  Almost all my screens are back in place and I’ve even put up some light blocking shields in the master bedroom windows as it is remaining light until 22:45 and we will not see ‘Astronomical Twilight’ again until August 10th.  I would like to learn to sleep with the sun streaming in the windows but to this point I’ve not yet been able to make this happen.  Maybe with the passage of a few more summers..?

This will be the first year I’ll be added routines involving my 2017 R-pod travel trailer; I hauled it back here in September of 2017.  The winterization process was very straightforward and fairly simple; I expect the efforts required to get it ready for use this spring through fall will be equally easy.  With a bit of luck I’ll be able to load up the trailer, pack the kidz in the back seat of the Escape and do some camping in the Kenai Peninsula late April to early May.  With luck this should allow me to avoid the first of the real tourist crush but there’s still a lot of snow in portions of the Kenai so I’ll have to wait and see.  If I cannot get down into that area this spring I will do so come fall.  After all, I didn’t go through the epic journey of hauling the unit from central Montana to Talkeetna just to let it sit!

The moose which were almost ubiquitous just a few weeks back have largely disappeared.  I suspect this is a combination of a much decreased snow pack and the cows heading into the forest to birth spring calves.  This winter was hard on the local moose population as I’ve seen more reports of moose carcasses since February than during any other similar time frame since relocating up here.  There are the remains of a bull just about a half mile east of my place; a neighbor told me of the carcass last week.  It is common to share such knowledge amongst the locals as such situations can and do draw bears as they come out of hibernation.  Learning of the bull’s remains will cause me to alter my early morning walks with the kidz for the next few months; we’ll be walking primarily to the west.  Once the local scavengers have had time to degrade the remains it will again be fine to walk that area with the dogs.

And so the seasonal cycle is once again on display in ‘The Great Land’.  As with all things in life there are positive and negative aspects to this dance but in the long run I still enjoy the season’s shift and am looking forward to leaves again populating the branches of the birch trees and warm summer breezes.  Of course, there will always be the mosquitoes and tourists but that’s all part of life in magnificent south central Alaska… 

Almost Clear Back Roads

A look to the north on Riven showing mainly bare earth with the ubiquitous puddles.

Water Bound EBD

Qanuk contemplates a section of East Barge Drive inundated by snow melt; he is less sure on ice than Anana (my Alaskan malamute)

 

The Moose of March

The end of the winter of 2017-2018 has been full of surprises in terms of snowfall and as the spring begins to take hold yet another surprise has bloomed.  After seeing few moose during the fall and winter across the past two weeks this area is suddenly awash in the magnificent mammals!  Never have I seen so many moose in such a short period of time and their sudden appearance has made for some ‘interesting’ times.

One of the things I love about Alaska, in general, and this area in particular is the abundance of large mammals.  By far and away moose are the most common large mammals although we do see the infrequent grizzly, black bear, fox and wolverine.  Moose are common enough that I have developed some habits related to their presence such as ‘jiggling’ the front door knob before opening the door when it is dark outside to give forewarning to the large critters that we are coming out.  Even so, I’ve spooked a few moose whom were close to the front porch and decided to freeze rather than move off.  The kidz are fascinated by the moose and have largely learned to steer clear of these huge ungulates but will watch them intently.  Anana, my Alaskan malamute companion, has even tried very hard to encourage some moose to play.  Bless her heart, at times she’s given almost every canine body language signal for play but remains befuddled when the moose do not respond.  Sadly, she just doesn’t ‘cog’ to the fact moose have different body language…

Because of their presence I’ve been able to collect a lot of images of these superbly adapted mammals on the local roads and on my property.  I can only guess the reason for their sudden appearance is based upon the voluminous snow events of latter February into early March which had given this area a 60” (152.4 cm) snow pack.  With the ‘moose of March’ came a string of sunny days with high temps above freezing although overnight lows dropped into the low teens to single digits.  This dramatically decreased the snow pack and, in so doing, saturated the remaining snow.  With the cool overnight temps the snow will freeze and becoming difficult to walk through although not frozen solid enough to support the weight of a moose.  Because of the difficulty in navigating these conditions the moose, being the opportunists they are, have taken to the nicely plowed back roads to travel.  This, of course, makes them a lot more visible to we humans.

I’ve amassed a number of images from my recent encounters with these amazing animals; the following are but a few of said images:

Friendly Moose From Escape

I photographed the almost ‘friendly’ moose on East Birch Creek Road while returning from a post office run.

Maybe Anana Hasn't Learned Her Lesson

My Alaskan malamute companion (Anana) was a bit too close to this moose just outside my driveway; it let her know it was time to ‘back off!’

Driveway Moose 032318

I saw this moose from the SE bedroom on the second floor while doing my morning stepping. It napped in this spot for over three hours.

Driveway Moose WA 032318

Wide angle image of the same moose as seen from my second floor spare bedroom

EBD Moose CU

A close up of the moose on East Barge Drive almost at my driveway

Moose Traffic on East Birch

Almost a moose ‘traffic jam’ on East Birch Creek Road!

 

“Walking In A Winter Wonderland…”

I’m seated in front of my system but staring out my second floor office window at the slow but steady snowfall; I’m reminded just how much I adore this area during the winter.  Granted, we hadn’t seen much in the way of the ‘typical’ winter across my first three years but the winter of 2016-2017 did produce some solid snow and cold and this year’s winter has finally come on strong.  We saw pretty seasonable temps across most of the winter but couldn’t buy precipitation across December, January and the first half of February.  That all changed during the last half of February as we received 36.5” of snow which is 31.7% of Talkeetna’s average annual snowfall.  And this latest snow event has produced 4.25” to this point (14:27) with light snow continuing to fall.  Our snow pack is 55.5” and looks to build a bit more before this latest event winds down this afternoon.

This winter has seen the birth of a new tradition; when I arise and see it is snowing I get ‘the kidz’ out first thing, prep their breakfasts, pull on my walking clothes, don my watch cap and headlamp, grab a walking staff and head out with the kidz to enjoy an early AM walk in the snow.  This generally takes place between 05:30 and 07:00 and my walks of late have been between 2.4 and 2.6 miles requiring fifty to fifty five minutes based on the accumulated snow.  I’ve walked in as much as 6.3” of snow – even though it was light and fluffy it was still a lot of work – and as little as 1.0” of new snow.  In so doing I’ve had a chance to enjoy the semi-rural south central Alaskan early mornings with my canine companions.  Even with the headlamp I still trust my dogs to scent out moose before I blunder into one.  With this said they are not infallible so I constantly sweep the beam from my headlamp back and forth along the roadside looking for the tell-tale glimmer of a set of eyes reflecting its light.  As it is winter the only large animal I’m likely to see is a moose so it isn’t necessary to actually see these large mammals; just the glowing eyes alerts me to the need to change our course to avoid the creature.

With all the snow of late the moose are being driven onto the plowed back roads as they are so much easier to walk although the road side berms of snow created by the plows makes it more difficult for moose on the roads to get back into the boreal forest to hide or to forage.  During our walks I regularly see their scat and hoof prints along with the ‘creases’ in the aforementioned snow berms created when these large mammals depart the road.  The kidz are fascinated by the scent the moose leave behind and frequently will attempt to follow the spoor into the boreal forest which is often hilarious as the berms are deep and the dogs will sink into them sometimes almost disappearing in the snow.  To this point I haven’t had to dig either out but I could see this happening at some point.

This morning’s walk was fun in that there was only 1.5” of new snow at 05:25 so the striding was easy.  As we walked I noticed I could tell which dog made which set of tracks.  My ‘little’ angel – Anana – is an eight and a half year old one hundred twelve pound Alaskan malamute struggling with advancing age and arthritis.  Qanuk (Ka-nuk) is an 88 pound six and a half year old male German Shepherd Dog who is still a puppy at heart and lives to run.  When I first exit the front door in my walking garb both dogs are excited and joyful; Qanuk will do his version of a ‘happy dance’ supplemented by sharp, excited barking.  Anana is much statelier but I can tell she is also happy and looking to go.  During our walks I’ve come to observe that Qanuk’s tracks are well defined and are composed of just his paw prints.  Anana’s tracks also show her paw prints but as she is older and lacking mobility her paws do not rise as high during her stride and hence leave ‘drag marks’ in the snow between her paw imprints.  It is also funny to note that once we’re a mile and a half to two miles into our walk I begin to see those same ‘drag marks’ in Qanuk’s strides.  This is an indication he is getting a bit more tired which is important as he needs lots of exercise.  If the snow is much above three inches in depth Anana will only do the first half to three quarters of a mile before returning to the house and collapsing just off the SE corner of the front porch.  By the time we return she is often mostly covered in snow but in her element.  Qanuk always makes the full walk with me and would gladly do more if I was game.

Without question I’m enjoying this wonderful winter weather as are my canine companions.  I relocated to this area because of its history of cold, snowy winters so it is great to finally see them materialize.  Our early AM walks in falling snow is something we all cherish; I just wish my little angel could accompany us the entire distance!  But as someone already seeing the limitations age places upon one’s body I can relate to Anana’s situation and I go out of my way to ‘baby’ her.  With my boy Qanuk, the sky’s the limit regarding vigorous exercise..!

Moderate AM Snow 022218

Wonderful walking weather; my back porch as seen during a recent snow event

March Moose CU

This youngster wasn’t bothered by me and the kidz one whit!

Qanuk Busting A Berm

My boy Qanuk busting a berm!

Qanuk Sinking In Snow

Qanuk almost disappearing into a snow berm

Snowy Office View

The snowy vista outside my office window…

Anana Loving Her Weather

My ‘little’ angel – Anana – in her element. She loves the cold and snow of her breed’s home!

Changes…

As I find myself just three months short of completing my third year in ‘The Last Frontier’ I cannot help but look back and marvel at all that has transpired across those thirty three months.  Of course I knew there would be many trials and learnings when I set out from SE Michigan for Talkeetna but I also thought I’d pretty much planned for such challenges in the 18 months preceding the actual relocation.  But, as is so often the case, I was surprised by the number and often the complexity of so many of the demands; in addition more than a few were totally unexpected.

Coming from a history of suburban living in the lower 48 – mainly around large cities – I knew I’d have a lot of learning to do regarding semi-rural life in south central Alaska and I haven’t been disappointed.  Some were obvious like getting used to dealing with a well and septic field as versed with ‘city water and sewage’.  But others were not so discernible like trading lawn maintenance for lot conservation involving removing fallen trees and cutting up the wood to eventually serve as firewood.  I knew ‘the kidz’ would love the shift as they now have the immense boreal forest in which to romp and explore as well as a plethora of large mammals to irritate.  This is a far cry from life in suburbia where they had to stretch their legs while tethered to leashes and could really only run in local parks as long as there weren’t too many other people or canines around.

One of the biggest changes, although not unexpected, was the lack of local goods and services.  I knew this would be the case based on my many visits and I had some plans such as the purchase of a small freezer to add to my food storage capabilities.  But even so it has taken some adjusting in order to hold my trips to Wasilla and Palmer to just once every two to three weeks; I rarely make Anchorage more than six or seven times a year and two or more of these trips are to pick up and drop off visiting friends at Ted Stevens International Airport.  Yet I also recognize I have yet to deal with other situations such as basic vehicle maintenance.  There is a local shop which can handle general maintenance and repairs but they cannot replace visiting a dealer every few years.  But doing so will require planning well ahead to get an early morning appointment, get the vehicle in and then probably spend the day awaiting completion of the work.  If it should go beyond a day I’m unsure what I would do.  I could get a motel but the kidz would need someone to feed them and let them out.  I could also make arrangements for the Talkeetna shuttle to pick me up and transport me back home; I’d need them to get me back to the dealership once work is finalized.  This is the cost of living 60+ miles (96.5 km) distant from a dealership.

Learning to live with ever present wildlife has required a true mindset shift as well.  Although rarely seen grizzlies and black bears live in the general area and often pass through; signs of their passage (scat, dug up earth, scratched tree trunks, etc.) are often visible to the careful eye.  One must be very circumspect with household garbage during bear season; I store my filled bags in the mudroom until I can drop them off at the transfer station.  Any boxes, bags or similar which contained food are burned.  Moose are a fact of life in this area and I enjoy seeing them at a distance as I do all the native wildlife.  Being much more common than the bears I see them multiple times a week during the all seasons and often they are in my driveway or the immediate boreal forest.  I’ve learned to jiggle the door knob on dark evenings before I exit the house; this alerts any ‘critters’ to my pending presence.  Even so I’ve surprised a number of moose; thankfully they chose to run away!

So much can happen in Alaska, often in the blink of an eye, and the environment can be very unforgiving if one is not ready and respectful.  I’ve learned to always keep some basic supplies in my vehicle like extra clothing, gloves, matches, candles, rope, a knife, some energy bars and a space blanket.  I vary the load out based upon the season.  I learned the hard way one must be prepared for rough weather; after managing to strand my vehicle at the entrance to my driveway in a driving snowstorm I attempted to push it free wearing just poly-pro glove liners.  Given the air temp was -8° F (-22.2° C) combined with quickly saturating my ‘gloves’ has left me with a right index finger which aches when it gets even somewhat cold and can be horribly painful if it is exposed to really cold air.  Thanks to that experience I never leave the house in winter without being fully outfitted for the conditions!

These are but a few of the physical changes I’ve encountered but I also recognize some deep transformations within my psyche wrought by living in ‘The Great Land’.  I have no doubt some of these are age related but I remain sure all have been influenced by living up here.  While I was always something of a conservationist I’ve really become one since moving up here; Nature is just so ‘in your face’ where ever you turn in Alaska it’s tough not to be in touch with Nature.  I am much more circumspect regarding my outdoor activities and am extremely careful with all garbage and especially toxic waste materials like batteries.  I was ecstatic as were so many locals when recycling began in 2015.  Besides being so much more aware of my impact upon Nature I have developed a huge respect for her and really do try to live more in harmony with her ways.  And I’ve really seen a huge shift in my priorities!  Somehow so much that seemed so important in the lower 48 now just seems superficial.  I gladly take at least an hour each day – sometimes a bit less in the dead of winter – to sit in my rocking chair on my front porch and just watch Nature unfold before my eyes.  Previously I’d have wanted to be reading or listening to music but now I just want to see and hear Mother Nature in all her splendor.  My entire pace of living has slowed and I no longer try to cram all I can into each hour or day.  Very few things I do cannot wait until tomorrow if I feel like taking the kidz for an afternoon of exercise on local trails let alone pack up the Escape and head with Anana and Qanuk to the Denali Highway (AK 8) for a few days of car camping.

So much of this is known to the locals as living on ‘Talkeetna time’.  I’d heard the expression when visiting back in the late 90’s but I never understood what it meant until I moved up here.  Talkeetna time requires one just slow down a bit, take time to observe everything around you and let go of arbitrary goals and deadlines in favor of just enjoying the ‘now’.  I never really understood the importance of this concept although I embraced it from an intellectual perspective thanks to my fascination with studying the Enneagram.  It speaks to the importance of accepting that all we really have is the ‘now’ and we need to spend much more time embracing it as versed with worrying about the past or the future.  This has been a huge paradigm shift for me because I was always a planner and spent most of my time thinking about possible outcomes to my actions and how to deal with them.  Somehow that all seems so alien now…

Indeed, Alaska has engendered many changes across virtually all facets of my existence and I feel so much richer because of these changes.  I can only imagine what the next three years will bring in terms of changes and further growth but rather than plan for them or worry about learning as much as I can I think I’ll just take the few mile trip down the Spur to Mile 5 and contemplate Denali.  Somehow, when marveling at ‘the Tall One’ so much more comes into focus regarding my life…

Cloud Shrouded Denali with Top Just Visible

Denali shrouded in clouds but with both the north and south peaks just visible.

 

Family Visits ‘n Fun!

Of late you may have noticed a dearth of postings on my site; there is a reason for this and said dearth will continue into early September.  My sister and brother in law – Sal and Gene – are visiting Alaska for the first time.  They began their travels with a flight from Colorado Springs (CO) to Vancouver (BC) where they boarded a cruise which took them up the Inside Passage with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay before reaching Seward where they disembarked and spent a day visiting the sites.  Then they took a bus to Anchorage, spent a day looking around and then boarded the Alaska Railroad and traveled up here. 

Since they arrived the weather cleared up and has been warm and dry; I told them they were welcome any time and that Alaska was smiling on them!  Since arriving they’ve done the ‘Grand Tour’ on a K2 Aviation Beaver which flew them among the peaks and valleys of The Alaska Range as well as landing on a glacier.  We visited the Palmer-Wasilla area via the Hatcher Pass road, toured the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer (neat place and well worth the time), picked up great fish and meat at Mat Valley Meats in Palmer and shopped Fred Meyer before heading back to Talkeetna via the Parks Highway.  I’ve driven them around the area and they spent Saturday morning wandering the village.  Sunday they participated in my music show on KTNA; they gave their impressions of ‘The Great Land’ in general and of Talkeetna in particular in between music.  Both were fascinated by live radio and really got a kick out of seeing their ‘little brother’ make it happen.  They have walked ‘the Kidz’ multiple times each day and Sal is still trying to get a picture of the musher who takes her team up and down East Barge Drive on her ATV.  I’ve seen a bevy of moose but sadly Sal and Gene haven’t been with me but they did see a pair of moose in Hatcher Pass.  I also caught a brief glimpse of a grizzly at Mile 2.8 of the Spur but once again they were not in the Escape.

We finished baking six apple pies Sunday afternoon and gave one to my neighbor (Cathy); the remainder will go to Holly (my dear friend and realtor), the KTNA staff, the ‘ladies of the Talkeetna PO’ and another neighbor leaving one for us.  I still want to introduce them to more folks around town and get in a Mahay’s Jet Boar ride up the Susitna River.  Wednesday we drive to Anchorage to pick up a RV; we’ll return here to load it up and then head north to the Denali Highway.  As pets are not allowed in the rental RV Mark will live here in our absence and handle ‘the Kidz’.  We’ll be in Denali NP&P from Friday through Sunday and then most likely drive into the Kenai and visit Homer and the immediate area.  Then we turn in the RV the next Wednesday and we’ll have another four days here before they depart.

All told it has been a wonderful visit to this point and it there’s no reason to assume it will not continue to be great.  I am hoping they will get to see wildlife on Saturday when we take the bus in the Park to Wonder Lake.  At least they’ve already had a chance to see The Alaska Range in general and Denali, Mt Hunter and Mt Foraker in particular from Talkeetna so even if we don’t see ‘the Mountain’ in the Park it will be okay.  I’m also hoping for more moose views around here and in the Kenai and I remain hopeful they will get to see some grizzlies in the Park as well.

It has been a fantastic visit to this point so here’s hoping for more of the same!  I will be back to blogging on a more regular schedule come early September.  Here’s wishing everyone a great remainder of summer and a colorful upcoming fall..!

Sis Sal fitting glacier boots for walking on the glacier

Sis Sal fitting glacier boots for walking on the glacier

Heading to the Beaver!

Heading to the Beaver!

Hatcher Pass mine and vista!

Hatcher Pass mine and vista!

A cow moose and two yearling calves on the Spur

A cow moose and two yearling calves on the Spur

Data screens at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, AK

Data screens at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, AK

Finally…I Be Alaskan!

Some of you may have noticed my ‘public name’ has changed from ‘Newbie Alaskan’ to ‘Forever Alaskan’. Given it has now been two years since I pulled into the driveway of 15158 East Barge Drive with a 26’ U-Haul van in close pursuit I decided it was time. Long time Alaskans have told me that one is not a ‘real’ Alaskan until they’ve weathered two winters. I chose to extrapolate that to living in the state for two consecutive years which will happen as of August 5, 2015. Admittedly, the two winters I’ve experienced were extremely mild and much less worse than a cold winter in SE Michigan but that is not by choice as I’d kill to see a true Alaskan winter. Sadly, with the record El Nino currently in the Pacific I’d bet this coming winter will again be very mild and dry in Alaska. Not much to be done; Mother Nature has her own plans and we are just along for the ride.

Across these two years I’ve seen a lot and learned even more particularly regarding life in semi-rural south central Alaska. So much of the aforementioned learnings deal with not just surviving but thriving in this area; these were magnified for me because this is the first time I’ve lived semi-rural. Without question many of these learnings are pertinent to this area like bear safety, seasonal preparations, dealing with tourists and understanding the local weather and its trends but there is also a lot of information which pertains to just living away from a population center. While I do have electricity and broadband my water comes from my well and my waste water goes to a septic field; both these were new experiences. I love not having to deal with a lawn but I’m also discovering that even the boreal forest on my land needs some attention from time to time. Most goods and services require a 120 mile round trip drive to the Palmer-Wasilla area and, as such, require planning ahead to maximize the time spent in this area.

I’ve developed many interests which were mainly inconsequential when living in suburbia; I love to sit in my rocker on the front porch and just soak in the ‘immense silence’ while watching Nature unfold around me. Wildlife watching is indeed much more dramatic up here because of the presence of moose and bears along with a secretive local wolverine. There are a bevy of birds most of which I’ve had to learn as they are completely different from those I watched and fed in the eastern half of the lower 48. And, yes, I must admit to feeding ‘my’ birds year ‘round which is not supposed to happen – at least during bear season – as it can attract the local bruins. However, I’ve been very careful to clean up and I only use one small feeder. As I’ve never previously lived within earshot of a lake I’m truly enjoying listening to the loons on Question Lake giving voice in the mornings. Sky watching, particularly at night, has always been something I enjoy but up here it becomes a real obsession because of the clear, dark winter nights.

Without question I’ve become much more of an extrovert simply because when one is living rural opportunities for social interaction can be rather limited. And, too, I had to give up my volunteering with memory impaired elders simply because no such facilities exist in this area; the closest are in the Anchorage bowl. But this has led to me expanding my volunteering efforts to the likes of live radio at KTNA and supporting – and finally sitting on the board – of the Upper Susitna Food Pantry. Both opportunities have given me lots to do and allowed me to make new friends and contacts. They have also allowed me to really stretch my ‘comfort zones’ which is never a bad thing! I’ve noticed that as I age it becomes harder and harder to really step outside one’s comfort zone so anything that can serve to make this happen is most welcome.

I suppose if I had to sum up my first two years in this majestic state the concept of a ‘learning adventure’ keeps coming to mind. And if I had to select an image from my rather voluminous collection that best illustrates what I so love about Alaska it would be the following:

Christmas morning 2015 with 'the Kidz'; we're south of the back of my place clearing the new snow from the sat dish

Christmas morning 2015 with ‘the Kidz’; we’re south of the back of my place clearing the new snow from the sat dish