Spring Has Sprung…With A Vengeance!

Since mid-winter our somewhat unusual weather in south central Alaska has continued with what was a somewhat late arrival of spring and break up followed by an ‘explosion’ of spring-like conditions.  It was almost as though spring was trying to ‘catch up’ after her somewhat slow start.  I was still seeing snow piles in shaded areas come early June which were remnants from the very heavy snows of mid-February into early March.  These same snows left a measurable snow pack well into May.  In years past by the end of April there might be snow piles remaining but an actual snow pack was generally just a memory.  Not so this year…

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice the slow start to spring conditions; I didn’t see my first robin until the week of May 13th.  In previous years one could always hear the robin’s arrivals in middle to later April.  And in keeping with these observations of our avian friends I didn’t see my pair of nesting Tree Swallows return until early June.  Last year I’d seen the swallow box occupied by middle May.  I was thrilled to see a second nesting pair of these gorgeous mosquito eaters take up residence in another swallow box at the front of my house.  I’m hoping to see both pairs return annually to raise broods and devour the local mosquitoes.

Speaking of which it seemed to me the mosquito season was also slow in getting started although in the last week or so it has come on…in spades!  The only mosquitoes I saw through almost all of April and May were the large, slow and noisy ‘over winter’ mosquitoes that managed to survive the ‘frigid season’.  Normally, I begin to battle the new generation of smaller, faster and much quieter bloodsuckers by the middle of May.  But this year I didn’t really see many until early June.  As of this writing it appears the late spring/early summer of 2018 is going to be a banner year for the lousy little bloodsuckers.  And this is happening despite some very dry conditions to this point in June.

One indicator of spring which wasn’t at all slow in developing was the arrival of the tourists.  When I first relocated up here in August of 2013 the tourist season was running from late May through early September.  Last year there were still huge tour buses disgorging swarms of tourists in the village right through middle to late September.  This spring I started seeing the tour buses crowding the Spur in early May and by Memorial Day the village was being inundated by apparently endless crowds.  Of the many facets of the transition from spring to summer in the Talkeetna area my least favorites are the arrival of the tourists followed closely, in terms of dislike, by the rise in the mosquito density.  Both signal the onset of summer which, for me, produces true ambivalence.  While I do enjoy the seasonal shift and with the warmer temps I can get out and do more, at least until the peak mosquito periods, I am no fan of tourists or mosquitoes.  And although I am slowly getting used to the almost continuous daylight I already miss the dark night sky.  But these are all facets of life at higher latitudes and if one is to live as such one must come to terms with these conditions.

I remain hopeful the mosquito season will peak within a week and by late July the little bloodsuckers will be present in much smaller numbers; they’re around this area until the first few hard freezes which normally occur in middle to late September.  The tourists are…well, the tourists and as long as the village is okay with encouraging ever-increasing numbers I suppose I’ll just have to deal with the situation.  I’ve already slipped into the now familiar ‘avoid the village at all costs’ mode and make just two trips a week into Talkeetna to pick up mail.  The salt on this wound comes with the inevitable road construction; after not seeing much work on the Parks Highway (AK 3) last year it sure appears as if the state is trying to make up for lost time!  Currently the Parks is under construction from Mile 99 – where the Spur intersects with the Parks (aka ‘the Y’) – all the way south to Mile 89.  Within this work zone are two portions which require the use of ‘pilot cars’.  This really slows traffic progress and has forced me to make any trips south during the early morning hours on Sundays when the construction is not operating and tourist traffic is light.  The Parks needed work so I really cannot complain but I sure hope the work doesn’t take all summer!

And so the seasonal dance continues here in semi-rural south central Alaska.  I’ll miss my dark night skies, cooler temps and ‘immense silence’ while welcoming more sunshine and better conditions for outdoor activities.  As with all things in life it’s a ‘yin yang’ situation; the best advice I can give myself is simply to accept all that it is and look for the positives!

Life without Anana

With the recent passing of my beloved Anana I’ve once again learned the grieving process is not the same for everyone and the pain of loss can be extended far longer than one might assume to be ‘normal’.  Another facet of my grieving involves doing routines or rituals which were associated with the recently departed; I think I get some catharsis by doing so.  It was this inclination which encouraged me to take a walk up the unmaintained portion of East Barge Drive to the crest of Bonanza Ridge which the locals also call ‘Exercise Hill’.  I’d made the hike many times in my first few years living up here as this ridge is maybe six tenths of a mile (0.97 km) east of my house.  It appears to involve an elevation change of around 300 feet (91.44 meters) and this happens in a fairly short horizontal distance hence its local moniker.

Icy Road Up Bonanza Hill

Qanuk & Anana at the start of the unmaintained portion of East Barge Drive heading up Bonanza Ridge

Anana, Qanuk and I had made the crest many times and sometimes walked further east to some of the small clumps of houses; we did so in muddy spring conditions, hot mosquito ridden summer afternoons and cool overcast autumn days.  Last Thursday saw a partly cloudy early morning with gentle (8-12 mph or 12.87-19.31 kph) breezes and an air temp of 42° F (5.56° C); as such it was a perfect morning for a walk.  I was missing Anana and wanted something to occupy my attention so a trip up Exercise Hill seemed like a good choice; it would be the first time I’d made the trek without my ‘little’ angel so doing it would mark a ‘first’ since her passing.  I put on my walking gear, grabbed my walking staff and Qanuk and I headed out.

Hot Anana at Riven-EBD

A very warm Anana at the start of ‘Exercise Hill’ road

The walk to the swamp at the base of Bonanza Ridge was familiar territory and we covered that in no time even with its rolling terrain.  I was pleased to discover there were no mosquitoes or similar in the swampy area; this bode well for our climb!  Qanuk ranged far out in front of me and crossed back and forth as I continued up the ever-steepening incline.  As mentioned this portion of the road is unmaintained and the surface is often composed of loose rocks which can make footing a bit tenuous.  I carefully picked my way through some of the rougher sections while Qanuk continued to range further and further out in front of me.  I could tell he was impatient with ‘his’ fat old human who just couldn’t make the climb with any speed!  Thanks to my fifteen months of daily stepping – I now target 12,000+ daily steps – my legs didn’t have issues with the climb but my aerobic conditioning just wasn’t up to the same standard.  I was forced to briefly stop twice to catch my breath; this further frustrated Qanuk whom now was running down to me and then back up the ridge (Oh, the strength and energy of the young..!).  But I persevered and finally made the crest of the ridge.  Even with the cool air I was sweating profusely and made a note to myself I needed to start adding some real aerobic conditioning.  I paused for a time to take in the views and throw a stick for Qanuk.  We then walked a bit further east onto the Borough maintained portion of East Barge Drive; the walking was much easier on this segment.

Qanuk on Exercise Hill Crest

Qanuk at the crest of ‘Exercise Hill’

I took some time to reflect upon the beauty of the suddenly green boreal forest against the blue sky, the snowy ramparts of the Talkeetna Mountain foothills to the east and listen to the songs of numerous birds.  I watched Qanuk spending so much time investigating all sorts of odors and noises; while doing so it occurred to me without Anana he was exhibiting many more of his German Shepherd Dog traits.  When Anana was with us he could rely on her nose and ears to share in checking out the ‘wilds’ but now it was completely up to him.  As we started back down the road towards home I watched Qanuk more closely; he was much more alert than ‘normal’ and was continually leaving the road to investigate all kinds of signals.  I came to realize just how much influence Anana had upon his behavior; her Mal characteristics really ‘smoothed out’ a lot of his GSD traits like being hyper-alert, protective and barking to alert unknowns.  I remembered back to the first six months after I brought Anana home; that awkward puppy had so much to teach me and I needed to understand her motives and drives.  I had raised a number of GSDs before work related travel forced me to forgo such companions for over three decades so I did know a bit about canines but the breeder was so spot on when she warned me Mals were not like ‘other’ dogs!  I had to re-learn a lot of what I thought I knew regarding canines in order to do justice to Anana’s upbringing.  This was a slow and often frustrating process but probably more so from Anana’s perspective than my own.  However, we slowly learned from each other and eventually came to understand what battles we could fight and which were best left unchallenged.

As I headed west on East Barge Drive towards home I realized I was going to have to go through another ‘realignment’ process with Qanuk but at least this time it would mainly be just remembering so many of those former learnings.  As I considered this concept I remembered all those wonderful times with Anana along with all the hilarity and love she brought into my life.  My ‘little’ angel has been removed from our lives for just three and a half weeks yet in some ways it feels like forever.  I will never forget ‘my girl’ but I also owe Qanuk the best life I can give him and that means once again becoming aware of ‘my boy’s’ wants, needs, desires and requirements.  It is a task I take seriously as well as a labor of love.

Bonanza Ridge Looking East

Looking east from the crest of Bonanza Ridge; the foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains are just visible wreathed in snow

 

Bonanza Ridge Looking West

Looking west from the crest of Bonanza Ridge

  

Remembering Anana

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

Anana Chewing Bed 2

Anana at eleven weeks of age lounging in her new bed

I'm TOO Cute

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

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

Anana with Nina & Luba

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

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

Maybe Anana Hasn't Learned Her Lesson

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

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

Buddies

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

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

Gene&Anana CU

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

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

Anana in Fall Leaves

My beautiful ‘little’ angel in Alaskan fall leaves…

 

It’s That Time Of Year…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost Clear Back Roads

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

Water Bound EBD

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

 

A Really ‘Good’ Good Friday!

Friday, March 30 2018 will definitely be a date I remember and will do so with both joy and not just a modicum of pride.  I had scheduled an A1c test at the clinic; it was about time as I’ve been getting them every three months since my initial diagnosis of late onset Type 2 diabetes back on May 24, 2017.  At that time I tested a ‘14’ for my A1c and a real time blood glucose test showed 375 mg/dL.  To say I was devastated would be the mother of all understatements!  However, after a couple of days of a ‘pity party’ followed by a few days of denial I finally faced this fact, started researching the condition and began making preparations to really change my lifestyle.  It began an honest odyssey during which I learned so much while experiencing the frustrations, joys and confusion almost any diabetic knows only too well.  But the fear of insulin dependence drove my efforts; in hindsight it was amazing what fear can do when properly channeled!

By the next A1c in late August I saw a 6.0 and was ecstatic; across the next seven months I saw a 5.8 and, most recently, a 5.7.  I was pleased no end with these results as was my wonderful doctor (Dr. Joan).  As an aside I’ve always been distrustful of physicians in general and especially those espousing ‘western medicine’.  I believed far too many were in the practice only for the money and were willing pawns of ‘Big Pharma’.  I also believed most followed the ‘disease de jour’ concept and, if allowed to run enough tests, would always find a malady that had to be addressed.  Dr. Joan is none of these!  She is a warm, knowledgeable, caring and understanding physician who honestly listens to what I share with her.  I’ve never spent less time than 15 minutes in conversation with her at any of my appointments!  This is so refreshing after experiencing the ‘assembly line’ practice of so many doctors.

I expected Friday’s appointment to just be a blood draw and A1c test but it had been maybe four months since I’d seen a provider and I was encouraged to schedule such an appointment.  As luck would have it Dr. Joan had an opening just a half hour after my appointment for the A1c so I signed up.  During the exam I was weighed, had my feet examined, had my BP/pulse measured and answered a number of health questions.  When I saw Dr. Joan she was very pleased with the results.  She told me I had ‘healed myself’ regarding the late onset Type 2 diabetes and could now stop my daily blood glucose testing and just monitor as I saw fit.  I can also decrease my A1c testing to just twice a year.  The icing on this cake is the fact I have now halved my daily dose of Metformin HCl and, if my next A1c is 6 or lower, I can cease taking the medication all together! My BP measured 122/82 mm Hg which was very good given I had been seeing 160/115 mm Hg readings a year earlier when I was first diagnosed with severe hypertension.  While the medications I take helped the fact I exercise daily in the form of counting my steps and I’d worked hard to lose weight were probably the main drivers behind this decrease in my BP.  I’d shown a loss of another ten pounds across that four month period which meant by the clinic scales I had dropped almost sixty pound in the preceding year.  As Dr. Joan told me most patients my age only lose such large amounts of weight via bariatric surgery, so shedding so many pounds was remarkable in and of itself.

She was very interested in just what I was doing to have turned around my health situation so dramatically in a year’s time.  She knew about my 12,000+ daily steps but I filled her in regarding my low carb lifestyle – I eat between 95 grams and 60 grams of carbs a day and almost all are my ‘good’ carbs – and we talked about my learnings.  I shared I’d discovered I could indulge myself once a week with some ice cream with chocolate sauce without negatively impacting my blood glucose or my slow but steady weight loss.  I reiterated my ‘bad’ carbs were anything containing either starch or fructose.  The latter means my selection of fresh fruit is very limited but I do love the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries I can consume.  Sadly, any breads, rolls, crackers, potatoes, corn and similar are just plain ‘off the menu’.  But I’ve found a wonderful pasta substitute in ‘Miracle Noodles’.  Although a bit pricey they are an amazingly delicious pasta substitute and the firm also markets a variety of rice using the same component (shirataki noodles) with the same almost no calorie or carb content.

We also briefly touched on my depression which is now just a distasteful memory.  I’m still taking 50 mg of Sertraline (Zoloft) daily and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Along with some counseling this combination appears to have vanquished the depression although mine has a history of coming and going in cycles.  Because of this I’m not about to proclaim I’m ‘cured’.  However, if taking the daily Sertraline prevents a re-occurrence, or even mitigates the intensity and duration if it does reappear, then it is well worth the cost.

Given all the aforementioned it isn’t difficult to see why I felt this past Good Friday was really a ‘GREAT’ Friday.  But more importantly, I discovered that I can take control of my physical situation and affect sweeping changes for the better.  I learned that diabetes is different for almost everyone and hence the only way to manage the condition is by putting in the required effort up front to do the research and then to meticulously monitor one’s dietary intake across months while doing daily blood glucose tests.  Sure, it is a long and often frustrating process but in doing so one will learn so much more about their body.  But perhaps most importantly I discovered I could ‘cure’ myself of a condition which affects millions of people and causes a myriad of negative side effects like increased chance of heart attacks, vision problems, foot issues and weight problems.  I had no idea I would get to this point; back in July or August of 2017 I figured I’d be testing my blood glucose level almost daily for the remainder of my life and always be concerned about my next A1c.

So if there’s anything I’d like a reader to take away from this piece it is simply this; “You are never too old to affect sweeping lifestyle changes!”  It is possible to incorporate such changes for the better and actually make them a part of one’s life.  Sure, I will never stop regulating my carb intake and I have to steer clear of those pesky starches and fructose containing foods but if one can view making such a commitment as a pledge to a healthier lifestyle it eventually becomes acceptable.  Of late I’ve told a few folks that getting that late onset Type 2 diabetes diagnosis in May of 2017 was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me; most cannot understand how I can make such an assertion.  It is simple to me; doing so forced me to seriously examine my lifestyle, face up to my situation and dedicate myself to making sweeping lifestyle changes which have allowed me to lose weight, shape up, eat healthier and feel so much better.  So who says ya can’t ‘teach and old dog new tricks?’…   

The Moose of March

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

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

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

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

Friendly Moose From Escape

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

Maybe Anana Hasn't Learned Her Lesson

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

Driveway Moose 032318

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

Driveway Moose WA 032318

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

EBD Moose CU

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

Moose Traffic on East Birch

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

 

“Walking In A Winter Wonderland…”

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

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

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

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

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

Moderate AM Snow 022218

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

March Moose CU

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

Qanuk Busting A Berm

My boy Qanuk busting a berm!

Qanuk Sinking In Snow

Qanuk almost disappearing into a snow berm

Snowy Office View

The snowy vista outside my office window…

Anana Loving Her Weather

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