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

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!

Tale of Three ‘Winters That Weren’t’

Once again the incredible power of Mother Nature is on display in ‘The Great Land’ as we are now seeing a bit over fourteen and a half hours of direct sunlight each day and that is increasing by six minutes with each 24 hour cycle.  This amazing land truly amplifies seasonal shifts to the point they become almost mind boggling.  Just eleven weeks in the past we were struggling to get a mere five hours of sunlight yet now the sun doesn’t set until 21:18 AKDST after rising at 06:47 AKDST!  By the time we make the summer solstice on June 20th we’ll see 19 hours and 55 minutes of direct sunlight with the sun rising at 04:05 AKDST and setting at 00:00 AKDST yet this is just ten weeks from now.  It is indeed a wild roller-coaster ride in terms of light and dark but one which folks living in the higher latitudes are all too familiar.

Talkeetna is easily three weeks ahead of past ‘norms’ for weather conditions as we’re already into break up with open water appearing on lakes, ponds and streams.  The gravel back roads are almost completely free of snow and ice and some are even dried to the point vehicular traffic generates dust.  We have wildly varying snow cover based mostly on the extreme amount of ice generated last November into December; ice just does not melt as quickly as snow.  Currently I’m estimating 80% snow cover but that figure involves the boreal forest which surrounds this area; any surface which is relatively free of tree cover is almost bare regarding snow and ice.  And this trend models the past winter which was probably the mildest in terms of temperatures in Alaska’s history.  In addition the precipitation was also extremely low making this winter and subsequent ‘early spring’ almost a carbon copy of the previous period.

In fact, the past three winters have been the mildest on record for the state thanks largely to the huge blob of warm water apparently anchored in the Gulf of Alaska – it is running 1.5° C to 2° C above normal – and the record sized El Nino of the past two years.  I suspect this could well be further evidence for a warming climate although I also know that three warm winters does not a trend make..!!  Because I am a ‘weather weenie’ with a bit of a scientific bent I collect daily meteorological data from my Davis Vantage PRO 2 weather station and often review this data.  In so doing I created the following analysis of the past three winters:

3 Winters

I chose the five month period from November through March as that has covered the main ‘winter’ months although five or more years back I would have also added April.  This fact by itself speaks to the warming and subsequent shortening of the recent Alaskan winters.  The small amount of data I reviewed has suggested a number of trends.  The average mean temp across the aforementioned five months by year shows a slow increase (+3.4° F) while the number of days with temps below 0° F shows a slow decrease (11 fewer days) across the same period.  Interestingly, February shows up as the coldest month based on my data yet historical records show January is normally the coldest month in this area with December a close second.  The chart showing the monthly mean temps shows amazing variation; only the line for the winter of 2014-2015 shows anything close to what one would expect.  The trace for 2013-2014 does show cooler temps in December and February but January is extraordinarily warm beating January 2016’s mean temp by 7.1° F and January 2014’s mean temp by a whopping 15.2° F!  Meanwhile, the line for 2015-2016 shows December was the coolest month – as predicted by the historical data and averaged across the previous roughly 70 years to be 11.3° F* – but then the temperatures just continued to warm across January, February and March.  None of these years showed an average January temperature equal to the historical 9.9° F monthly average.  Maybe most telling is the historical mean temp for March is 21.6° F yet the mean temp for March of 2014 was 23.4° F (+1.8° F) while that for March of 2015 was 25.0° F (+3.4° F) with last month’s figure even warmer at 28.5° F (+6.9° F).

All of this information serves mainly to suggest that Alaska has seen a dramatic warming of its winters since 2013 and to this point I do not see anything indicative of a change to this trend.  The recent El Nino should subside, it is already showing some weakening, and that will help allow for cooler winter temps but until the warm waters of the northern Pacific Ocean either equalize or move away from the Gulf of Alaska I suspect we will continue to see much above normal winter temperatures.  The real question in my mind is how much of the Pacific warming is due to climate change?  Without question much more study and analyses are required before this question can be answered.  As someone who loves snow and cold I’m not at all optimistic regarding our near term winter conditions.  If there is a silver lining to this pattern it could be such warm and dry winters bring about an early thaw and snow melt.  This, in turn, allows the water from the snow melt to sink into the floor of the boreal forest or evaporate before it can form the small, shallow pools the mosquitoes use for breeding.  I suppose if I cannot see those much sought after -30° F air temps or that four foot snow pack at least I can enjoy a spring, summer and fall sans those nasty little blood suckers…

*Historical weather data courtesy of NWS and ‘climate-zone.com’

Vernal Equinox Vexations

Although it is actually St. Patrick’s Day as I write this piece my thoughts have already drifted forward this week to Friday, March 20th which is the Vernal Equinox or at least it will be at 14:44 AKDT here in Talkeetna. For me this is a much more significant date as I have no known Irish blood and I long ago gave up the need to drink green beer all day long especially as I usually had to go to work the next day. This Vernal Equinox will be the second one I’ll experience since I relocated to ‘The Great Land’ in August of 2013. This is meaningful to me because many of you have asked when will I no longer be a ‘Newbie Alaskan’; I arbitrarily decided that after I’ve experienced two complete years in my new home it will be time to update my moniker. As such I have just the upcoming spring and summer before that time occurs. Okay, one could make a case for me not having actually experienced a real Alaskan winter, let alone two, but that is not my fault; I was here and ready but Mother Nature had other ideas.

With the approach of this equinox I find myself once again trying to prepare for what it means; the beginning of some of my least favorite seasons. Indeed, I find the spring up here to be my least favorite season followed closely by summer. There are a myriad of reasons for my feelings but the single largest centers on daylight or, more accurately, the inevitability of almost 20 hours of direct sunlight by the Summer Solstice. Already we are seeing 11 hours and 56 minutes of direct light and that will reach 12 hours and 14 minutes in just three more days before maxing out at 19 hours and 55 minutes on the Solstice which falls on June 20th. To many people it will seem strange that I find so much light to be a negative; for them I can only present this scenario – there is no night sky, no stars and no aurora from mid-May through mid-August! Initially I do not mind the ever-increasing light but by late June it is wearing thin and by mid-July I’ve had enough. I know I’m a sky watcher and that’s especially true of the night sky but somehow it escaped me that I’d be doing without for almost a quarter of every year!

Some folks find it strange I can be so negatively affected by long periods of light yet have no issues with just five hours of direct sunlight in December. Indeed, most folks I’ve spoken with think that much darkness would drive them insane but I don’t even notice it until I begin to see the days lengthening in early January. Of course other factors come into play; the darkness happens during winter and I live for cold and snow. The lengthening days promise the coming of mosquitoes and tourists; both are aspects of Alaskan living I’m still coming to grips with and not all that successfully at least to this point.  I have learned how to deal with the mosquitoes – it’s called ‘Deep Woods Off’ in copious quantities along with long-sleeved shirts and long pants – such that I am beginning to develop a somewhat sanguine outlook regarding these little bloodsuckers. Last year I learned that the best way to minimize the impact of the tourists is to completely avoid the village from May through early September just as the locals do. We basically surrender the village to the masses during that time period knowing that without those tourist dollars Talkeetna would not be half the place it has become. What I have yet to discover is a way to ignore all the noise they create. One of the joys of living here is the ‘immense silence’ that surrounds us in the off-season; sadly this disappears as the numbers of tourists increases. And along with the warmth comes the ever-present dust; this entire area sits on land that was riddled with glaciers which have since retreated.  In so doing they grind up stone and earth and create a very fine dust called ‘glacial flour’ and it is everywhere. This is a dual edged sword as the abundance of this material allows water to quickly drain away which helps make break up less muddy and wet. But said ‘flour’ is blown around by even a light wind and if there’s a way to keep it out of one’s home I have yet to learn the secret.

So all told it shouldn’t be a surprise that I so favor the winter and find some aspects of the warmer months a bit less than ideal. But life in Alaska is really all about making compromises; far more so than anywhere else I’ve ever called ‘home’. Because I so love the semi-rural lifestyle, the majestic landscape, the incredible wildlife, the wonderful albeit quirky people and that amazing winter night sky I am okay with having to deal with mosquitoes, noisy tourists and dust come the spring and summer. There were a myriad of possible retirement locations I considered before settling on Talkeetna and almost all of them in the Lower 48 would have been much cheaper in terms of the COL but I had been well and truly bitten by the ‘Alaska Bug’ in the fall of 1996 so once I realized I could retire up here there were no other options for me. And as I continue to settle into this lifestyle and learn more and more about me new home I am always reminded that just like life, Alaska living is all about making choices and living with the consequences. As such I think I can deal with some mosquitoes, noisy tourists and dust..! 

How would you like to see this kind of light at 04:07 in the 'morning'..?  This was the Summer Solstice +2 hours in 2014.

How would you like to see this kind of light at 04:07 in the ‘morning’..? This was the Summer Solstice +2 hours in 2014.

‘Sourdough’ Here I Come…

Heading into my second year of living in rural south central Alaska I’m feeling better prepared in terms of my preparations for the pending winter and also much more settled regarding the likelihood of major surprises with respect to living conditions. With this said I also know full well Alaska is nothing if not unpredictable and often full of surprises many of which are downright nasty. I’ve been humbled enough times during my previous 14 months to recognize I need to remain aware of what goes on around me and practice the incredibly important ‘art’ of being prepared. A simple example of this is the now routine practice of rotating the front door handle back and forth a couple of times before venturing outside onto my front porch. Doing this allows any ‘critters’ the chance to recognize something ‘human’ is ongoing and most likely depart from the immediate area. I learned this routine the hard way when I inadvertently surprised a large cow moose early one morning last March when it was still dark outside. I was running a bit late for a Pantry trip and was rushing; as I popped out the door I saw a large dark shape no more than 20 feet in front of me. I froze; it snorted and took off in the opposite direction. I knew it wasn’t a bear as it was still too early in the season but that hardly made me feel any better because an irate moose is just as dangerous!

Yet I do feel this winter will see me much more comfortable with respect to living in my home and correspondingly saving money on fuel oil and electricity. My college buddy Sarge is finishing up a two week visit and we’ve been busy; there’s an additional layer of R30 insulation in the attic and there’s a large hole cut into the second story floor just above the Toyo stove on the main floor. Said hole has a custom built (Thank You Sarge!!!) cluster of four ducted DC fans which are reversible and variable speed; these have dramatically increased the convection loop between the first and second floors. Previously there was virtually no exchange of air which allowed the second floor to become quite cool in the dead of winter and far too warm during the summer. Just since the unit was installed a week back I’ve seen the air temperatures in the master bedroom and one of the two ‘spare’ bedrooms increase from 59 F to 63 F and that’s with no change to the Toyo’s thermostat and no decrease in the air temp on the main floor. We also did a much better job sealing up the two external doors; this has made quite a difference in the mud room. I can now leave it open to the rest of the house as it is just a couple degrees cooler; previous to the sealing work it would be anywhere from six to nine degrees cooler based upon the outside temp. Being able to leave it open to the main floor is important because the dog’s food and water station is in the mud room; last year I had to move it once the snow arrived and given they are not careful eaters and drinkers I had dog food and water all over my bamboo floor. We also assembled a 12’ x 20’ x 8’ ‘ShelterLogic’ steel tube and tarp enclosure for my 2011 Ford Escape. It’ll be great to get it out of the weather especially during the winter months; already I’ve enjoyed not having to scrape frosty windows in the early morning. These are but a few of the myriad of home improvements we’ve made during his visit.

He’s also mounted a set of ‘moose lights’ – folks in the lower 48 often refer to these as ‘driving lights’ – to the front of my Escape. In a stroke of genius he wired them into the bright beams relay for the headlights such that they are operated in tandem with the high beams! This simplified the wiring and negated having to run wiring through the firewall for an independent switch. It’s a given if I’m operating the moose lights I’ll be using the high beams as well so I love this elegant solution! Because I will be making my first series of trips for the Pantry in the dead of winter this year – I started volunteering with them in early March of this year and hence missed making the runs to Anchorage and Palmer in December, January and February – I really do not have a feel for the conditions. But I do know there are moose all along the Parks Highway and the first 40 miles of that road between the ‘Y’ and the outskirts of Wasilla have no lighting of any kind. Using those 130 watt pencil beams to light up the sides of the road far out in front of me could well save me from colliding with a moose during the cold dark of a December or January morning.

With all this said I’m feeling pretty good about improved living this upcoming year. Given this current late summer into middle fall period I’m already seeing just how aberrant last year’s weather was across this same time frame regarding temperatures and precipitation. It has been much drier and cooler which is much more in line with the ‘typical’ conditions for the period. Along with the weather shift I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the much lower density and activity of the local insect population. During the late summer and through early November the mosquitoes were a continual bother requiring long sleeved shirts and ample applications of ‘Deep Woods Off’ if I was to be outdoors for even a few minutes. This year the mosquitoes disappeared by the third week in August; they were replaced by two weeks of black flies but these vanished around the second week in September. After that I’ve only had to deal with gnats which while annoying are much easier to tolerate. And across the past week the weather has been gorgeous with clear to partly sunny days running high temps in the upper thirties to low forties and crystal clear nights with lows in the upper teens to twenties. Consequently I’ve observed the aurora on a nightly basis and really enjoyed the meteorites which have been so prevalent across the last five days. While the auroral displays have been mono-colored – pale blue – and rather subdued I’m not complaining as given the past week I’ve seen more aurora than I did all last winter! We’ve even seen a couple of dustings of snow although most of us are chomping at the bit to see winter really move in and unload.

All told I’m truly looking forward to my second year in this magnificent state; according to the locals once I make it through my second winter I’ll officially be a ‘Sourdough’. Like most ‘Talkeetnans’ I’m hoping for a long, cold winter with more than the average five and three quarters feet of snowfall. Of course Mother Nature will do as she will and we’re just along to observe and participate in her seasonal dance. So in accordance with this observation all I can say is; “Let’s Dance..!!!”

Reversible, variable speed ducted fan assembly in office floor

Reversible, variable speed ducted fan assembly in office floor

ShelterLogic 20' x 12' x 8' enclosure for Escape

ShelterLogic 20′ x 12′ x 8′ enclosure for Escape

Latest Airborne Scourge

Now that summer has officially arrived it’s no surprise there are a few annoyances tied to the season; the two leading the ‘annoying’ category are the mosquitoes and the tourists.  I’ve written about the latter ‘ad nauseum’; the ambivalence I feel towards the masses are shared by all the locals.  Tourist dollars keep Talkeetna healthy but to get those dollars we must deal with hordes of RVs, trailers, fifth wheels, campers and people strung out along Main Street.  The latest insults are those that feel it’s okay to walk down the center of the Spur in town and Main Street; they might move for traffic or they might not.  This is just plain irritating and more than once I’ve wanted to lay on the horn and give the real stragglers a good push but I’ve reigned in my frustrations and remained ‘civilized’ while waiting them out.  The only solution I’ve found to this point is to avoid going into the village as much as possible; without question we just surrender Talkeetna to the tourists from mid-May through mid-September.  More than once I’ve longed for an over-protective moose cow with a spring calf to wander into the village; the tourists are dumb enough to want to pose ‘up close and personal’ with the wildlife and that would no doubt winnow down their numbers!

However, by far the most annoying summer insult are the masses of mosquitoes.  There seems to be no end to their number but I have noticed an ‘evolution’ to their population.  In mid-April through mid-May they were mainly the large, slow-moving variety.  I’ve speculated these had to be carry-overs from the previous year given their size as there’s no way they could grow so large in such a short time especially as the night-time lows were still solidly freezing any liquid water.  I’m guessing these critters find a way to survive the winters maybe by hiding in decaying vegetable matter which gets covered with snow; the slow decay releases enough heat to allow them to keep from freezing solid.  Once the spring sun melts off enough of the snow pack they once again take to the air and begin the mosquito season.  By early to mid-June their numbers appear to dwindle; perhaps they are not built to live for two full seasons?  If this was the end of the story it would be great but sadly this is not the case.

They seem slowly supplanted by very small versions of themselves; I’d guess the smaller mosquitoes are maybe one fifth to one eighth the size of the large ones.  However, they are even more voracious and what they lack in size they make up for in sheer numbers.  Based upon their smaller size they also appear to have a number of advantages over their larger kin.  They are much harder to hear and its virtually impossible to feel them land upon one’s bare skin.  As such they are a real pain to keep at bay.  I’ve yet to discover a means to keep them from coming in on the dog’s coats which means I’ve now adopted a new routine.  Any time the dogs have been outdoors, regardless of duration, I keep them in the mud room for maybe fifteen minutes and then I enter with my trusty can of ‘Country Vet Fly Spray’ which has a fairly potent pyrethrin content.  I briefly brush the dogs watching for any departing mosquitoes and then give each of them a spritz of the spray.  The spray is approved for food surfaces and hence is not toxic although I’d prefer not having to use it at all.  Then I let the dogs into the main house, give them another fifteen minutes and start a ‘search and destroy’ mission.  Without a doubt I will find and kill at least five additional mosquitoes.

Even doing all this does not insure a mosquito free dwelling; I learned a month back that its wise to make a final pass through the main floor just prior to crashing with the same spray.  I give each corner and all overhangs a brief spritz of the spray before heading upstairs to my bedroom.  This pretty much guarantees I will get a good night’s sleep sans mosquito bites; in the morning I clean off all the mosquito corpses on the window sills.  Of course with each new morning we begin the entire process anew.  I’m just thankful I’ve discovered ‘Deep Woods Off’ which is the only product I’ve tried that keeps the outdoor mosquitoes at bay when I’m outside.  It is 25% DEET and while the substance is supposed to be safe when used as directed I still am not a fan.  But then I’m not sanguine with running the risk of exsanguination every time I walk outside either; given the options I’ll use the DEET.

Not that I needed another reason to favor the Talkeetna winters but this issue surely supports my love of the snow and cold.  I can deal with -25 F air temps by just dressing properly; the only way to attempt to deal with the hordes of vampire-like mosquitoes is to employ chemical repellents and cross one’s fingers.  Given the mosquitoes and the tourists I have yet another couple of solid reasons to yearn for the first hard frost…

A Soggy Summer Solstice…

On Saturday, June 21st at 02:51 AKDT we arrived at the Summer Solstice; in the following image I fought off the mosquitoes to get a picture of my place just a couple hours after that time which I figured was close enough!  The view is looking west from my driveway and includes my Alaskan Malamute (Anana) who makes a living always being in the way; I found it interesting to note the bright sections of the lower western sky seen through the boreal forest (just above the Escape) that surrounds this area.  It almost appears as though the sun had just set but in reality it was already 40 minutes past sunrise!!  For those interested Talkeetna experienced a sunrise on Friday, June 20th at 04:05 AKDT and saw the sun set at 00:00 AKDT on June 21st for a total of 19 hours 55 minutes of direct sunlight.  This will continue for the next four days before the daylight slowly starts to diminish as we advance towards the Autumnal Equinox.  With the passing of this annual event I’ve now seen all the equinoxes and solstices in my new home; a kind of milestone for my Alaskan existence.

Image

Talkeetna just loves the Summer Solstice and there were many small celebrations of the event; a number of locals indulged in playing softball without any lights – they weren’t needed – well past midnight.  Most of the local facilities had some kind of celebration with live music being a favorite.  I’m sure more than a few drank to excess but then given how light it was it would’ve been easy to walk home or even hitch-hike on the Spur as folks were still driving around at that time.  Up here hitchhiking is a safe means of travel and I regularly pick up locals on the Spur as well as the occasional tourist or visitor.  I didn’t hear of any issues which was good but not unexpected.  During my Friday evening newscast I did read a warning regarding a grizzly which had just killed a moose calf at the northern tip of Christiansen Lake between the water and Christiansen Lake Road.  This lake is just to the east of the Talkeetna Airport which is located in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna.  The grizzly was expected to remain in the area for a while so locals were being warned to give the area a wide berth; I also used the announcement to remind folks that its once again time to be ‘bear aware’.  Across the next five months I’m sure KTNA will broadcast some similar warnings as well as information on specific verified sightings of local grizzlies.  At the ‘KTNA Volunteer Appreciation Picnic’ on Thursday, June 12th I spoke to a volunteer who was riding her recumbent into town for her music show when a young grizzly boar popped out of the weeds right at the railroad crossing on the south edge of town; she said it thankfully just looked at her and strolled off south on the tracks.  Large wildlife is a way of life in this area and so no one gets too excited about such situations unless there’s aggressive activity tied to the sightings.

Anyway, because I was up early I did get the dogs out for a 35 minute walk; thankfully I applied my ‘Deep Woods Off’ before heading out as even with this repellant there was a cloud of mosquitoes buzzing around me and they followed me the entire time.  While I do find the hoards of tourists a bit irritating they cannot hold a candle to the hoards of blood thirsty mosquitoes; even the dogs get fed up with being buzzed by them and will snap at them when they fly close enough.  In general they are immune to the flying ‘vampires’ thanks to their thick coats although the insides of their ears and their bellies do get bitten infrequently.  I was pleased we did get in the early walk as the overcast thickened and by 08:00 it began to rain; just drizzle at first but it soon strengthened into a steady albeit light shower which lasted all day.  We need the moisture so I was happy when I could report a 24 hour rain total of 0.49″ to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow reporting network) in my 07:00 daily report this morning.  With the rain and a temp hovering in the upper 40’s this was a bit cool for a Summer Solstice but not too bad.  Interestingly it was a far cry from Friday afternoon’s weather which was blazing sunshine with a peak air temps of 73.1 F which is easily five degrees above normal.

I’m slowly learning to exist up here in the warmer months but without question I prefer the winter to what I’ve seen thus far during this fledgling summer.  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the continual light; it never even gets ‘dark’ from early May through early August; the best we see in terms of ‘darkness’ is what’s termed ‘civil twilight’.  Since late-May its been possible to read a book outdoors at 02:00 without any additional light.  When I’ve had some trouble sleeping I’ve taken the dogs for walks around this time without issue although since the bears have become more common I’m no longer doing this because they are more active during times we humans tend to be absent and 02:00 is definitely such a time.  Thus far my single small sunflower seed feeder has remained untouched by anything larger than a Red Squirrel along with the Chickadees, Nuthatches, Juncos and woodpeckers its set up to feed.  Even so I always look out the front door window before I exit onto the porch as its possible it could attract a bear.  Alaska Fish & Game recommends not putting out bird feeders and water sources during bear season so I am flying in the face of that wisdom but I also want to encourage the birds to hang around so I’m just going to give it a go for now.  If I get any sense it’s attracting bears let alone see any evidence of bruin activity it will be immediately taken down.  I have to be very circumspect regarding my burning; anything with a possible food odor has to be stored inside the house until I can immediately get it to the burn barrel and thoroughly incinerated.  I’ve been told every year someone loses sight of this necessity and ends up with a frightening bear encounter.  I think we all get a bit lax from November through early May when the bears are hibernating.  I did get my front porch netted in but I’m not satisfied with the fragile nature of the netting especially with two large dogs so come fall I’m going to purchase rolls of actual screening which is much more robust and redo the job.  I was hoping to get by with the cheaper and lighter weight stuff but that just isn’t cutting it.  Getting the dogs inside without bringing in mosquitoes is something I still haven’t mastered.  I do force them to remain briefly in the mud room; often any ‘tag-alongs’ will fly off their fur and I can then swat them or use the concentrated pyrethrin spray to knock them out.  Leaving just one lousy mosquito alive in the house will make for a bad time at night; I’ve learned its much wiser to take them out ASAP.

Without question I learn something new almost every day regarding living in rural south central Alaska; providing I live for another few decades I might actually get to the point where I’m fairly well experienced in such a lifestyle.  I do know for sure this majestic land will never stop surprising or amazing me; Alaska truly is ‘The Great Land’ just as the Athabascan people named her…’Alyeska’!