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

Wintry Wisdom From ‘The Last Frontier’

Wow, what a difference a week can make!  Just seven days back we were entering a substantial cold snap that lasted four full days during which we never saw temps rise above 0° F (-17.8° C) and our lowest temp was probably a bit below -40° F (-40° C).  I write ‘probably a bit below’ because my two electronic temperature sensors stopped transmitting between -34° F (-36.7° C) and -39.7° F (-39.8° C); I did see -39.7° F (-39.8° C) on my Ambient weather station outdoor temp sensor at 05:20 Thursday (January 19th) morning but when I finally arose around 07:30 the sensor was no longer transmitting data.  Given the sun didn’t rise for another two hours I’m sure we dipped below -40° F/° C on that frigid morning.

One key learning was honored with my order of an 18” bi-metallic dial type thermometer good to -60° F (-51.1° C); I will not have to guess at low temps below -40° F/° C from this point forward.  Despite having lived in this area for almost three and a half years until last week the coldest air I’d experienced was Chicago’s record low temp of -27.2° F (-32.9° C) which occurred on January 20, 1985.  Although memory can be a tricky thing, especially across 32 years, my remembrances of that Chicago cold snap were of much colder temps.  However, I’d wager the humidity was higher in Chicago and there were winds to 40 mph (64.4 kph) which were producing wind chills colder than -70° F (-56.7° C).

Living within an immense span of boreal forest – if in doubt just look up Talkeetna using Google Maps and pull out to view the northern half of the Susitna Valley – has the advantage of really degrading wind.  We do see substantial winds off the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and The Alaska Range to the north but while the tops of the birch trees – around 35 feet (10.7 meters) in elevation – might be really swaying in winds probably gusting to 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) I rarely measure even 5 mph (8 kph) breezes at ground level.  Thus during the cold snap I saw very little in terms of wind chill.  This allowed me to replace the lithium battery in my Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station’s sensor platform in -30° F (-34.4° C) temps while maintaining complete comfort.  I’d learned the value of layering outdoor clothing when facing Alaskan winters early on.  Only my fingers became a bit chilled when I had to swap my insulated mittens for poly pro glove liners to do the actual ‘fine’ work of swapping the batteries.

My buddy Sarge installed a pair of exterior storm doors on my front and back doors during his October visit and I was impressed no end regarding their insulating ability.  I’d wager my main floor stayed at least 3° F to 5° F warmer thanks to these doors.  I haven’t seen many places that utilize storm doors up here; the most obvious issue would be any door opening out onto an unprotected area.  If we were to receive 12” (30.5 cm) or more of snow it might be impossible to open the storm door.  Thankfully my front door opens onto my front porch and hence snow build up is not an issue; when it is snowing I do try to keep the back porch cleared more often to facilitate getting the door open once the snow ceases.

I also learned a very important lesson regarding said aluminum storm doors; when the exterior temp drops to -25° F (-31.7° C) one shouldn’t touch any of the bare metal with bare skin!  Doing so produces the equivalent of an electrical shock as it almost instantaneously pulls the heat from one’s skin.  This is also true regarding the window glass; I started keeping a pair of poly pro glove liners at the front door so when I needed to let the kidz out I could put one on before pushing the storm door open.  In addition I learned that the brutal cold can have deleterious effects on internal hardware; see the following picture of what happens when ya try to force a frozen hinge to function:


Mostly frozen main door hinge just inside the mud room

This particular hinge is part of my front door which is in the mud room.

My first winter in this area I learned of the necessity of keeping air circulating within one’s dwelling during cold snaps.  My initial inclination was to close off a couple of second floor rooms which were not in use.  Because my dwelling began its life as a cabin and has since had a number of additions, including the second floor, the air circulation is almost non-existent.  During a three day run in December of 2013 when temps never reached zero and lows were dropping to -25.2° F (-31.8° C) I entered one of the shut up spare rooms to find the windows looking as such:


East facing window in spare bedroom on second floor after room was closed up for two days when temps ranged from 0° F (-17.8° C) to -25.2° F (-31.7° C)

Needless to say I was not happy and quickly determined it was best to just deal with the cold air coming from the unused rooms while leaving them open such that some air could circulate!

My new home is an amazing place and Alaska is always teaching me something new; I need only keep my eyes and ears open and learn of her ways.  There are many folks out there who think I’m borderline insane for seeking out such cold weather extremes; I suppose one could make such a case but then I’ve always loved the cold and, not surprisingly, loathed the heat especially when coupled with humidity.  I did venture out briefly when the air temps were below -30° F (-34.4° C) and the conditions were amazing.  The air was clear like I’ve never seen previously and the ‘immense silence’ was even more…immense!  Just breathing took on a new feeling as air at such cold temps definitely causes one’s lungs to ‘tingle’.  I remain in awe of this incredibly majestic albeit amazingly extreme state; while not for everyone those bitten by the ‘Alaska bug’ can never get enough of her magic…

The Double Edged Sword of Warm and Dry

Spring ‘sprung’ about two to three weeks early across most of Alaska and with it has come uncharacteristically warm and dry conditions. Many of the locals love the warmth – across the past three days Talkeetna has seen highs running +5 F to +10 F above normal – and are particularly enamored of the lack of mud so common during the spring and break up periods. Indeed, I noticed that across the past couple of weeks driving just 25 mph up and down East Barge Drive produces a dust cloud. In the past such conditions have not appeared until the middle of May if not a bit later. Of course the warmth is just a continuation of the above normal temperature regime Alaska has experienced since the summer of 2013 but now the lack of moisture is becoming a trend as well. As with so much in life, in general, and with Alaskan life in particular this is indeed a double edged sword. 

I’ve enjoyed the drought conditions this spring mainly because my two dogs – Anana and Qanuk – are not dragging as much mud and glacial flour based dust into the house. This is a real plus as in previous springs and falls they are often relegated to the mud room for hours after a walk in the hope a bit of the aforementioned detritus might remain on the floor as versed with being carried into the house in general and into my bed in particular. They are not fans of this requirement even though their food and water resides in the mud room. In addition the lack of moisture appears to be slowing the appearance of the annual hordes of blood sucking mosquitoes and no Alaskan will quarrel with such fallout from the dry conditions. If we’re really lucky maybe we’ll see relatively low numbers of the blood thirsty little beggars this season..? One can always hope! 

Warmth is something I do not favor but above normal temps have been the rule in Alaska since I relocated in August of 2013. I have been able to leave windows open the last few nights although I have deactivated the Toyo furnace as the early morning lows have been right around the freezing mark.  I do this to allow the house interior to drop into the low to middle fifties such that when the sunshine returns and elevates the outside temps into the low sixties the interior of the house rarely climbs above 62 F during the day. Because I spend the winter months living at 60 F anything above 65 F starts to feel warm to me; sadly I am all too aware I will once again have to acclimate to 70 F temps as the season unfolds. One negative I noticed about leaving the windows open for multiple days and nights; this morning I awoke to hear two of my interior fire alarms chirping because the relative cold had caused the battery voltage to drop too much. Still and all it has been a boon to be able to open windows and allow the warm and dry outside air to circulate freely throughout my place. 

However, the warmth – especially when coupled to the drought conditions – does have some very potentially negative aspects of which wildfires are probably the most ominous. It seems strange to me that this area could be in a drought when there remain so many lakes, rivers and streams but given this past winter’s snow pack was just 22% of normal and that follows a snow pack of just 30% of normal across the winter of 2013 to 2014 coupled with just 33% of normal precipitation in March and only 20% of average precipitation in April it is no surprise. Sadly we are primed for a bad wildfire season which is based in below normal precipitation in this area across the last year and a half and the well above normal air temps which often foster below normal humidity levels. While most of the locals are cognizant of this potential many of the tourists are not and it takes just one careless camp fire or one smoker flicking a butt from a moving vehicle (why do so many smokers consider the world to be their personal ashtray..?!?!) to ignite a wildfire. By this point the local roadside growth should be greening up but as of yesterday the sides of the Spur remain brown and very dry. 

I have often wondered about this immediate area should a wildfire take hold; the village and most of the outlying areas have just one road to get the local populace out of the area – the Spur. And it runs only from the village south to the Parks Highway (aka AK 3); hence it has just one outlet. Should a fire take hold close to the ‘Y’ – our term for the intersection between the Parks and the Spur – many of us could find ourselves cut off from road access to the Parks and the outside world. Sure, we could walk or use ATVs to make the relatively short trek west to the Parks but that would mean taking only the clothes on our backs and our four legged companions. Needless to say this would not be a good situation but it is something all of us need to keep in mind. All the more reason to stay aware of Red Flag Warnings and be vigilant when burning garbage in our burn barrels as it is much easier to prevent a wildfire than have to fight one. 

So despite all the pluses this warm and dry weather brings to us it also bears the seeds of potential destruction and, as such, is indeed a double edged sword…

No, I Don’t Live In An Igloo..!

Across the year and a half I’ve been blogging a number of folks have asked about my living quarters; more than a few made jokes about me living in an igloo. Actually the exterior of my place has shown up in a number of my blogs but I thought it might be interesting for some folks to not just see the exterior of my humble abode but the interior as well. This builds on a January 2014 post which showed just a couple of interior images. With this written here are a few images of my much-loved new home seven miles south of Talkeetna:

The front of my place after a good snow; this was taken Christmas Eve of 2013

The front of my place after a good snow; this was taken Christmas Eve of 2013

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

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

Looking east down the hallway into the mud room and the front door

Looking east down the hallway into the mud room and the front door

The hallway opens into the kitchen with its north facing picture window

The hallway opens into the kitchen with its north facing picture window; that blue towel is blocking the intense summer light which floods in through the glassed in door and the pair of west-facing windows just to the left of the door

The main room with the dining nook off the image to the right

The main room with the dining nook off the image to the right

Aforementioned dining nook; I may well install a wood burning stove in this area come October

Aforementioned dining nook; I may well install a wood burning stove in this area come October

Looking down the steep stairwell; the small rectangle at the bottom is the Toyo fuel oil stove which heats the entire house!

Looking down the steep stairwell; the small rectangle at the bottom is the Toyo fuel oil stove which heats the entire house!

Guest bedroom is on the second floor in the NE corner; there is a similar room but loaded with junk on the SE corner and the master bedroom in the NW corner

Guest bedroom is on the second floor in the NE corner; there is a similar room but loaded with junk on the SE corner and the master bedroom in the NW corner

The tiny office which I've stuffed to the gills!

The tiny office which I’ve stuffed to the gills!

My front porch looking abnormally clean..!

My front porch looking abnormally clean..!

The Escape inside its 'ShelterLogic' enclosure; those are large wind chimes on the left side of the image which hang just outside the front porch but under the eves

The Escape inside its ‘ShelterLogic’ enclosure; those are large wind chimes on the left side of the image which hang just outside the front porch but under the eves

‘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…

Soft Rain…

Ahhhhh yes, its something I’ve grown intimately acquainted with across these last two months and something which I will have to learn to embrace – rain. I’ve reported 11.62″ of rain to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow Network) since I activated this station with the start of my broadband service on August 22nd including the previous 24 hours of rain and it continues to rain steadily in the dim, Friday morning light. To be honest such rain fall is far in excess of what’s ‘normal’ for Talkeetna but regardless this immediate area sees far more rain spread across more of the seasons than I’m used to seeing. In this sense if I am to prosper up here I will need to learn to live ‘with’ the rain. I’m already less inclined to write off outdoor activities ‘just because its raining’; in this sense I guess I’m going to have to learn to live as those in the Pacific North West who do not allow rain to interrupt their daily routines. I’m learning this is far more of a mindset than anything else, at least assuming one has the required apparel and gear. I learned during my trip years (Sept ’96 through Sept ’05) to expect clouds two out of any three days and rain one out of those same three days. Because of this I’m well outfitted for the conditions and so I am capable of largely continuing my routines even as it rains.

The dogs are a bit of an issue because while they will gladly endure the rain to run and play on the dirt roads and in boreal forest they often return wet, grimy and stinky. Here again the Alaskan way of life has an elegant answer – the mud room. My front door leads into such a room which is small, tiled and has a second door opening into a hallway which leads to my kitchen. I can keep the dogs in the mud room until they have a chance to dry themselves; if they are particularly muddy I can assist with the cleaning process via some towels. Its handy this room also holds my stacked washer and dryer; damp and dirty towels go directly into the washer! To be honest Anana and Qanuk really don’t get all that dirty mainly because the soil up here is so very rocky. This entire area was covered in glaciers not all that long ago – at least in geological terms – and as glaciers expand and retreat they grind up stones and boulders and drop the debris. Dust can be quite an issue up here when its dry because of something called ‘glacial flour’ which is the finely ground remnants of said rocks and boulders. Its possible to see this glacial flour in the run-off from glacier fed streams and rivers; it makes drinking from such water sources most unpleasant unless one allows the silt to settle first. If its concentrated enough it will keep fish from inhabiting the waters because it effects their ability to use their gills efficiently. This area would have very poor soil for growing crops because of all the stones which range from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of cantaloupes and larger. However, the preponderance of this rocky soil means it can rain inches for days and yet have relatively dry ground within just a day of sun and no rain. In SE Michigan an inch of rain would have meant muddy, wet dogs for days afterward; up here there’s no such penalty.

My sense is that in becoming ‘Alaskan’ one has little choice but to become much more aware of, and if successful in tune with, Nature. I quickly learned on my many trips that the weather dictates so much of what transpires in ‘The Great Land’; if in doubt witness the gates just south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway (AK 1) which can close off the only road going into the Kenai Peninsula when the avalanche danger is too great along the Turnagain Pass area. Also understand that a majority of Alaska is accessed only via air or sometimes water; surprisingly the best time to travel to many of the bush villages is in the dead of winter when the streams and rivers are frozen and form natural highways. Such areas are almost impassable in the late spring, summer and early fall. As the state has become more technological man has attempted to challenge Nature in many areas with only limited success. The most obvious is the Alyeska Pipeline which opened a route from the North Slope to Valdez on Prince William Sound; this remains as one of the engineering marvels of our time. But the cost of maintaining this pipeline is rapidly growing prohibitive; indeed, when constructed in the middle 70’s it was given a 25 year life span based upon the extreme effects it faces in terms of weather and geological forces. It remains economically viable today only because of the relative scarcity of easily accessible oil. For the most part Alaskans have learned to work with Nature and have developed an understanding that some battles are just better left unfought; bush pilots know this far too well. They often will push the envelope but only in certain areas and even then many will not survive. The native Alaskans understand the need to work with Nature all too well and have developed a legendary stoicism when it comes to their climate and weather. Its some of this same stoicism I’m learning with respect to the environment; work with Nature and abide her many moods but do not challenge her directly unless you are willing to pay her price!

And so I find myself once again listening to the soft rain striking the metal roof on my dwelling; I’ve grown to truly enjoy that sound. At first when I’d awaken in the morning and hear it I would not be happy because it signaled another day trapped in the house. But now I love to lie in bed upon first awakening and really listen to the sound; there’s much I can learn from Performing this simple act. Slow, steady rain most likely means I’ll see rain for a prolonged period that while not heavy will be continual; rain that fluctuates in intensity over just minutes most likely means a heavier rain but for a shorter period and also likely breaks in the precipitation. The former also indicates little to no wind while the latter indicates a stronger and more definite breeze. Yet always it sounds so peaceful and relaxing… Once I can see the sky the clouds speak much regarding the rain as well; the undefined featureless gray sheets of nimbostratus (Ns) mean light to moderate but steady rain probably for a long period of time while the more textured and varied Ns indicate more occasional precipitation with definite variable intensities and will most likely see some changes in the near term. So much to learn and so much to be taught by just watching the sky and listening to the rain!

But its these learnings I seek both out of necessity and based upon a fascination with weather and its part in the natural experience. Herein lies an answer to a question many people have posed to me since I first expressed my desire to live rural in Alaska; “Why would you want to pull up roots and start all over again in someplace so different and far removed from what you’ve lived with all your life?”. I can honestly state that when I ran the numbers in January of 2012 and realized I could make an Alaskan retirement a reality I was initially ecstatic; however, with time the enormity of this proposed life style shift began to really sink in. I had a wonderful situation in terms of lifestyle in SE Michigan; volunteering at Sunrise of Northville had shown me I really enjoyed volunteering and especially loved working with the elderly in general and the memory impaired in particular. I regularly put in 40 to 50 hours a month volunteering and the staff and residents of the facility became my ‘second family’ after Mom passed. I truly looked forward to my volunteering especially as I could bring first Anana and then Anana and Qanuk; how cool was it to be able to bring your dogs with you to ‘work’..?!?!?  I forged many deep and tight relationships while volunteering and I knew that most of those wouldn’t survive the pending relocation. Without question this made my choice one of the most difficult I’ve ever faced; in the end I had no choice but to practice something I’d learned while caring for Mom in her final year of life – act completely from the heart. I spent many sleepless nights ruminating over the decision, carefully weighing all the pros and cons, imagining most likely scenarios and then the worst cases; I drew up lists and made diagrams of the pluses and the minuses yet I couldn’t come to a decision. Finally I picked a quiet Sunday morning when I was awake far too early to just practice a bit of yoga to help relax my muscles and then engage in a bit of TM to relax my mind. Once I resurfaced I looked as deeply into myself as I could manage and asked a simple question without any trappings and devoid of any ancillary thinking or feeling; “What do YOU want, Bill?”. Surprisingly the answer came immediately and upon a foundation built of stone and years of dreams and desires; I wanted to live my dream of retiring to Alaska!

This finalized my decision but it also required I now really consider just what such a move would mean in all areas of my life.  Thankfully because of my many trips and a fascination for reading about ‘The Last Frontier’ I’d accumulated a good, basic knowledge of Alaska and what it would take to live rural in the state.  Once I decided I was going to pursue this dream there was never any question; living in Anchorage or Fairbanks was not an option.  I was going to live rural; with this said I also knew in Alaska there are many degrees of ‘rural’ and I also knew I wanted something roughly in the middle of that scale.  There are many who live up here year round without electricity, many more have no phones and a lot of these folks shun their fellow man.  This was far too extreme for me; I knew I was too social a being to cut myself off from people and I lacked the skills, the desire and the mindset to live without some creature comforts like electricity, a phone and broadband.  By the same token I did not want to live in a town or even a typical residential subdivision; I wanted land around me that was mine and neighbors that were no closer than a tenth of a mile and mainly invisible.  I also knew roughly where I wanted to live based upon my many previous trips; in the end it came down to Homer on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula or Talkeetna.  For a few days I wrestled with the decision but finally I realized I loved the Interior of mainland Alaska and Homer was just too far removed; hence, Talkeetna was my choice.  Working with these initial parameters I just happened to luck out in finding Holly from McKinley View Realty; she played a huge role in making this happen for me.

Once I had made the decision and started researching homes I also knew I was in for a huge learning curve; even then I didn’t realize just how large this would be.  But understanding this helped me realize I would need to be completely open to everything I heard from Holly and the locals regarding living in this area; to this end I spoke with the owners of ‘The Susitna River Lodge’ at length while staying there in early April on my house hunting trip regarding living in Talkeetna.  Thankfully they and their friends they introduced me to were all too happy to share their experiences and knowledge.  At this point I couldn’t have been happier; I was in Alaska talking to Alaskans about living in the state while locating my new home!!  I truly became a sponge and soaked up everything I heard because at the time I felt it more important to have such knowledge available.  At a later time I could sort out what was worthwhile.  I feel I’ve been as successful as I have to this point – and I have a long way to go and hence my ultimate success is not assured – because I was willing to put aside any preconceptions and just listen.  I’ve incorporated so many of their suggestions and observations into my new lifestyle and often these have been things I would not have thought of on my own or more likely would’ve learned the value of ‘the hard way’.

Okay, for some I’m suspect this might have been somewhat informative but still didn’t really answer the root question I posed earlier.  I’d come to a point in my life at which I recognized I’d become ‘comfortably numb’; I had a routine, comfortable existence in which I was stable but not really happy.  I did feel very good about my volunteering; it is an awesome experience to know that I made a positive difference in an Alzheimer’s victim’s existence – even if for just a moment quickly to be forgotten – and gave them just a modicum of happiness!  If I could find such an opportunity up here I’d drive an hour each way to continue being able to do so; sadly the only assisted living facilities are in the larger cities and most of them do not have sections for the memory impaired.  But I had no other real purpose in my life and I was definitely beginning to ‘let go’ of a lot.  There was a small part of me, a bit of my core, that hungered for a real change, something undeniable and huge in its scope.  I felt I wanted to be challenged by something outside the ‘usual’ stuff like managing my retirement, getting through the day and raising some four legged companions.  Relocating to rural Alaska fit these desires to a ‘T’; a huge lifestyle shift with a myriad of new learnings required just to safely exist and the opportunity to live just a few hours from my ‘soul home’ – Denali National Park & Preserve.  Given all this how could I not jump at the chance to live this dream..???

So it is I find myself looking once again out my office window at the now bare birch and aspen dotting my 2.43 acres of boreal forest at Mile 7.1 of the Spur; the rain continues its quiet, peaceful tap, tap, tapping on the roof.  The featureless overcast prophesies a rainy day and the 36.4 F air temp councils gloves and sweat pants when I take the dogs out for a walk.  I suppose I’d prefer a sunny day but I can not only deal with the rain I now enjoy it; its become an old friend whispering of the incredible cycle of life that’s so predominate up here.  Without it there would be no boreal forest and without that this wouldn’t be south central Alaska.  And that would truly be a shame…