Firsts for May 1st

I’ve been meaning to get this brief piece finished and posted since the first couple of days in May but ‘Mr. Murphy’ and outside commitments conspired to make that a pipe dream.  Given I now have a bit of free time after completing my last 1,355 steps – I try to put down at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour from 05:00 to 11:00 with a current target of 10,000 plus daily steps – I decided to get this piece done and posted.  My blogging has kinda fallen off across the past four to six months; not sure why other than to observe my creativity just hasn’t been flowing.  Of course, dedicating almost a quarter of each hour during the mornings to stepping does eat into my available time and the fact that I am a morning person and hence do my best work before noon only exacerbates this situation.

Anyway, as we rolled into May I was struck by some ‘firsts’ which I’d observed during this time.  Some are reoccurring while some are just new activities/observations.  One of the former variety involved observing my first American Robin of 2017 on April 24th in the early morning while walking with my Alaskan malamute (Anana) and my German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk).  Actually I heard him – I’m pretty sure it was a male as it was well up in a birch and singing loudly so probably marking territory – first and then was able to visually locate him.  There may well have been other robins around earlier but this was the first I’d heard and then seen in 2017.  For those of us who observe birds in this area the arrival of robins from the lower 48 signals spring is definitely here.

Another reoccurring observation was awakening in the wee hours of the morning of April 27th to the ‘tap-tapping’ sound of rain on my metal roof.  I love that sound but in a normal year one doesn’t hear it from mid-October to mid-November until April because most precipitation that falls during that time period is snow and the roof has a coating of ice and snow.  I look forward to many more upcoming rainy nights as I love to lie in bed and listen to that sound.  It also fascinates me to listen to the ebb and flow of the rain rate; in this area we don’t usually get a steady rain but rather experience rain bands of varying density.  This can produce what is almost a melody if the bands are spaced in a continual pattern which is repetitive.

As to some firsts that are truly ‘firsts’ on April 30th I completed 35 consecutive days of 5,000+ steps per day.  More than half of said 35 days involved putting down more than 8,000 steps and have helped me push my daily steps to their current 10,612 steps/day average.  I’m fighting hypertension and obesity so I had to find some form of exercise which I could, and most importantly ‘would’, do at least six days a week.  As of this writing I’m working on 44 consecutive days of at least 5,000 steps a day.  Much of the daily morning muscle/joint pain and stiffness is now just a distant memory and I just realized I haven’t had a bout of depression since I began this regime.  I saw no weight loss until I reached 9,500 steps per day; now the weight is very slowly beginning to disappear.  My goal is to push myself to 12,500 steps per day; given 10,000 steps is the equivalent of around 4.9 miles for me such a goal would see me putting down at least six miles a day.  I intend to continue walking at least 1,150 steps at the top of each hour between 05:00 and 11:00 in an effort to keep my system ‘energized’.  I’m aware stepping as I do it is not a true aerobic activity but it does ramp up my system and it forces me away from the monitor and into motion once an hour.  With luck as I drop more weight I’ll be able to start bicycling which will help my overall condition.  Of course, my canine companions love my lifestyle change and are now completely expectant of at least one long walk every day.  For anyone interested I use a Garmin Vivofit 2 wrist fitness monitor; the ‘Garmin Connect’ web-page is wonderful for tracking steps, calories burned, hours sleeping and similar!

A final ‘one time first’ for me occurred on April 14th when I sat in with my good friend Randy during his Friday evening classic rock music show at KTNA.  Anyone following this blog knows I spent almost three years doing both newscasts and music shows at KTNA but I decided I’d come to philosophically based parting of the ways with the station at the end of December, 2016.  While I’d done shows with other folks sitting in this was the first time the roles were reversed.  It felt great to be back behind a mic and during Randy’s two hour show we received three calls complimenting us and our performance.  All told it was a lot of fun although given it was a two hour show running until 23:00 it was a bit past my bedtime!

I put together this blog as a kind of celebration of life; not just my own but that of Nature and other folks as well.  I’ve been so blessed to experience a two decade dream of living in semi-rural Alaska but coming up on my fourth full year of such an existence I’ve noticed I’m becoming a bit blasé regarding this situation and that both angers and saddens me.  I know it is human nature to become ‘used’ to situations but I do not ever want to become ‘used’ to the majesty and splendor of my Alaskan home.  If writing this helps me re-energize the awe and wonder I feel almost daily when I walk outside and immerse myself in Alaska’s magic then it has served its purpose.  If it does so for others, regardless of where/how they live, then so much the better!

Tek Robin

An American Robin atop a black pine at Teklanika campground in Denali NP&P

Finally…A ‘Real’ Alaskan Winter!

I suppose I’m creating this piece as much to remind me of the winter to this point – one which I’ve thoroughly embraced as my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter – as to share with you some thoughts and images.  Without question this winter has been extreme and, no surprise, I’ve learned quite a bit more about typical Alaskan weather conditions in the winter months (November through mid-March).  As I write this piece I’m seeing overcast skies with an air temp of 34.7° F (1.5° C) after never dropping below 32.8° F (0.4° C) overnight.  Yesterday saw light morning snow become briefly heavy in the early afternoon before mixing with and finally changing over to freezing rain and then just rain.  For a while conditions were very severe in terms of visibility and traction on the Spur.

I’ve talked with long time locals who claim freezing rain used to be very uncommon and when it did occur it happened as fall slipped into winter and again when winter finally released its grip and acceded to spring.  Yet during my four winters up here I’ve seen the dreaded stuff every winter.  But I’m really not complaining as this has been a much more typical south central Alaska winter and in being so we’ve seen extremes.  Just three days back I saw -14° F (-25.6° C) in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna and the next morning my large circular bimetallic outdoor thermometer showed -19.5° F (-28.6° C) which was verified by my Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station.  But these temps pale next to the string of four days from January 17th through January 20th when we saw lows on January 18th of -32.1° F (-35.6° C) and on January 19th of -41.3° F (-40.7° C); the high on the 18th was -20.1° F (-28.9° C) and on the 19th we saw just -15.5° F (-26.4° C).  Our snow pack was a healthy 32.5″ (82.6 cm) before yesterday’s mess; even though we received 1.5″ (3.8 cm) of heavy, wet snow the warm temps and rain really did a number of the snow depth compressing it to 26.5″ (67.3 cm) which I reported to CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network) this morning.  Looking out my office window I can see water dripping from the snow and ice atop the roof; given there’s no direct sunlight this is due only to the warm temps.

Here, then, is a collage of recent images reflecting my first ‘real’ Alaskan winter; hope you enjoy:

cool-downtown

A view of my Escape’s dash showing a fairly cool Saturday morning in ‘downtown’ Talkeetna

snowy-village

The Spur heading out of Talkeetna cloaked in heavy snow

20-sunrise

Cool sunrise at my place on Sunday, February 12th

anana-qanuk-in-heavy-snow

Anana and Qanuk enjoying a brief burst of heavy snow outside our place

anana-disappearing-into-snow

A very snowy afternoon on East Barge Drive with Anana (center of image) just disappearing into the snow

anana-by-thermometer

Anana by the thermometer which is reading much milder temps!

First Snow Of The Season!

In what I hope is a harbinger of a cold, snowy winter in semi-rural south central Alaska we saw our first snowfall from Thursday afternoon (October 20th) into early Friday morning.  Although I observed just 1.75″ of uncharacteristically heavy, wet snow other areas to the south and east saw anywhere from 3″ to 9″ in the Hatcher Pass area.  The SWE of the snow measured 1″ of liquid water producing 7.29″ of snow; we normally see 1″ of liquid water yielding between 12″ and 30″ of snow.  However, this is not surprising given the temperature stayed a degree or two above freezing across Thursday into very early Friday morning and we saw sleet and freezing rain mixing with the snow late Thursday afternoon.  The snow remains on the trees and ground as of Saturday morning but we are also seeing moderate (13-18 mph) north breezes so before long the trees will lose their snowy covering.

Here are a couple of images taken from my second floor Friday morning:

first-2016-snow-back

Looking west at a portion of my ‘back yard’ showing the driveway and weather station sensors Friday (10/21/16) morning

first-2016-snow-front

Looking ENE from one of my ‘spare’ bedrooms on Friday (10/21/16) morning; this is my ‘front yard’

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.

 

Zero Degrees Celsius At Sixty Two Degrees North Latitude

The recent Labor Day weekend was gorgeous here in south central Alaska with three days of azure blue high pressure skies, abundant sunshine and highs in the lower to middle teens with morning lows from -2 C to 0 C. This was a refreshing change from the rather mundane weather across most of August and hopefully is a promise as to a ‘normal’ fall and especially winter this year. Granted, it was just a bit early to see freezing temps here in Talkeetna as it is more ‘normal’ to see frosts occurring around now with the actual freezes waiting until the second half of September but such conditions are far from unheard of in this area. My canine companions loved the cool morning walks; indeed, my female Alaskan Malamute (Anana) had a spring in her step and was running like I haven’t seen since last winter. Concurrent with this cooler weather darkness has once again returned to the night skies and I found I truly missed its presence across the previous three months! It was wonderful to once again see stars within the darkness. The seasonal dance is once more underway after seeming to have stalled during the summer and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’m now almost a month into my second year of rural living in south central Alaska and I find I am loving the lifestyle even more; it just feels ‘right’ to be starting to work on a bevy of chores tied to the approach of fall. With the demise of the mosquitoes midway through August the propane tank on my ‘Mosquito Magnet’ obligingly emptied itself so I disconnected it and stored it in my shed. I’m just finishing cleaning and winterizing the main unit and soon it, too, will find its winter resting place in the shed. I pulled down my hummingbird feeder; it never attracted any of the ‘flying jewels’ but in July the Swallow Tailed Butterflies made good use of its nectar. I will probably not bother hanging it again next year but who knows; hope does spring eternal!

Last winter I learned an important lesson regarding the snow pack and my shed; even though it is more than a foot off the ground by December there was so much snow it was impossible to open the door. As I use it for storage this was a real problem; I could not get to items I needed and hence had to awkwardly wade the snow and shovel just enough away to get the door open. In hindsight we saw just 33% of the ‘typical’ snowfall last winter so this year I’m planning ahead and digging out items I know I’ll need like snow shovels, snow rake, battery charger/starter and similar. These will be staged on the front porch or in the mud room for easy access. I’ll return items like my bicycle, pump and ground pads to the shed. This will ensure I have the items I really need at the ready before the snow flies.

I also drained the gasoline in the generator and changed the oil. I took the three full five gallon Jerry cans of gasoline I’ve had on hand since last fall (Yes, I added Sta-bil to each just after filling!) and emptied them into the Escape’s fuel tank. I’ll haul all four can to the gas station, fill them up, return them to the house, add Sta-bil to each and empty one into the generator’s tank. This way I’ve cycled the gasoline and will have fifteen gallons on hand for the upcoming fall and winter. Last season I had all four cans filled along with the generator but given I used just one can across the period I think having three full cans as back up is probably sufficient.

I finally removed the sun shields from the master bedroom windows and replaced the screens; it was wonderful to once again have fresh air flowing in that room! I’ll leave the screens in now but will also be prepared to apply the 3M film once it is truly cold again. With the cool weekend I discovered my Toyo furnace is functioning just fine when I accidentally left a few windows open Friday night. I awoke early Saturday morning to a ‘strange’ noise; until I really became conscious I didn’t realize it was the Toyo firing up! Not being a fan of heating the great outdoors I immediately jumped up, threw on some clothes and proceeded to locate the three windows I’d left open and close them. Given the -0.5 C outdoor air temp I wasn’t surprised to see the main floor air temp was 9 C. Definitely a bone headed maneuver on my part but at least this did prove the Toyo is ready for the upcoming cold.

Thinking about last winter and some procedures which didn’t really work well I’ve some new plans of action. The dogs normally use the back door to access the back porch and then the back yard; I didn’t keep their path well shoveled initially and then I had a huge issue with icy steps. This year I’m getting my butt outside any time we have more than a few inches of new show and clearing it while the dogs are outside; my goal is to keep their access route clear of any ice and snow. Speaking of ‘the kidz’ I have booties for my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) as he had real issues with the extreme cold last year; his paws eventually cracked and bled as did the areas between his pads. I now know I have to control his outside exercise based upon the air temp but the booties should also help. Anana suffered no issues which isn’t a surprise given this is the home of her breed but I will be checking even her tough paws on a regular basis.

As I measure daily precipitation for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail & Snow network) I will also need to keep the path to my snow board – it’s located on the SW corner of the back porch railing – open and as free from snow as possible. And, if we get any truly monumental dumps I will need to have access to the back yard such that I can shovel an area for the kidz to take care of their business. I’ll also insure I have a large broom staged by the back door as last year the snow was often light and fluffy and hence could be ‘broomed’ away. I’ve also rearranged my winter ‘ditty bag’ to fit into a milk crate which will go back into the Escape soon; it contains everything I’d need to get by for a few days if stranded by winter weather while out on the road.

These are just a few of the ongoing tasks one undertakes when preparing for the seasonal shift in this area. I truly enjoy them as they are reminders of last year’s fun in what winter we had and also a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter. All around me there are signs of this change; the birch are beginning to change into their yellow and gold colors and the taiga/tundra is already shifting to that majestic patchwork carpet of gorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens. There’s a feeling of increased activity within the boreal forest as the inhabitants prepare to either move to warmer areas or hunker down for the winter. In the lower 48 fall was always my favorite season; based on my 13 months of living in the Talkeetna area I’d say winter is now my favorite month with fall right behind it. But more than anything else I feel my essence reverberating in harmony with the seasonal changes and this seems to release more energy and appreciation of Nature’s wondrous dance…and what a partner she is!!

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color

The valley area around Savage River Station in Denali NP&P seen in early September color