Mid-Winter’s Wanderings…

After a prolonged period of no creative inspiration I’m finally beginning to feel the desire to once again put some of my thoughts to the written medium.  With this said I do remain firmly in the grip of ‘mid-winter blah’s’ most likely fueled by yet another ‘winter that wasn’t’ here in south central Alaska and the fact I ran out of my Vitamin D 3 supplement two weeks back and the local store has yet to restock the product.  While I take a bariatric multi-vitamin on a daily basis I’ve found the Vitamin D 3 supplement during the winter months does improve my overall mindset and encourages a more positive outlook.  Regardless, I am already beginning to see the days lengthening and this produces a sense of ambivalence within my psyche as it signals the coming end to winter – my favorite month up here – but it also speaks to the approach of spring and another new start to the ‘dance of the seasons’.

I’ve been very busy of late as I now am the vice president on two local non-profit boards and I continue my fostering of larger and older rescue canines for the wonderful ‘AK Cat & Dog Rescue’.  In addition, come middle March I’ll be attending a CERTS (Community Emergency Response Team) training session for the local community with the ultimate outcome of establishing a CERTS presence in this immediate area.  This is something I’ve thought we needed since I relocated and I’m very pleased to see this effort finally taking form.  Just yesterday I was reflecting back on my life in general and my ‘Alaskan life’ in particular; while doing so it occurred to me just how much volunteering has become ingrained into my daily existence…

Although volunteering is now an integral part of my daily existence just nine years back this wasn’t the case.  I’d done some simple volunteering during the final five years of being ‘gainfully employed’ but working anywhere from 45 to 70 hours a week and being single left little time for such efforts.  It was only after retiring and regularly visiting my mother in an assisted living facility did I really begin to consider volunteering.  At that point I was still learning to deal with the freedom of retirement and knew I had plenty of time even though I was raising my blessed ‘little angel’ Anana (my 120 pound female Alaskan malamute) and learning just how much of a handful a Mal puppy could be!  I started my ‘serious’ volunteering at the Northville Sunrise Assisted Living facility where Mom was staying and within a short time found I really enjoyed the work and eventually was putting in 40 to 50 hours a month.  I soon learned I received so much more satisfaction and joy from this volunteering than I put into the actual efforts; it quickly began a true ‘win-win’ situation for the facility and me.  The delight I took in this work made me feel as though I was doing something truly important and I felt so much more satisfaction and pleasure from my volunteering than I received from all my paid employment across my previous 35 years.  To me, this spoke volumes as to the value I placed on volunteering.

When I relocated to semi-rural south central Alaska I had hoped to find similar volunteering opportunities with the elderly but as the nearest such facility was over 60 miles south this wasn’t to be so I sought out other volunteering options.  I became a volunteer newscaster/music show host at the local NPR outlet (KTNA) and continued this work for three years before parting ways due to philosophical differences exacerbated by a change in station management.  During those times I also began volunteering at the Upper Susitna Food Pantry (USFP) first as a ‘shopper’ and then as a board member.  I continued this for three years before stepping down.  Soon after I learned of an opportunity to join the Sunshine Community Health Clinic’s (SCHC) board so applied and was seated; last October I was elected to the vice president’s position.  I also learned of an opportunity with the Upper Susitna Senior’s Incorporated (USSI) so I again applied and was accepted in September of 2018.  On January 1, 2019 I became the vice president of this board as well.  During the late spring of 2018 my beloved Anana passed away and I was devastated but also recognized my German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) was similarly impacted and he needed a pal.  I had earlier decided if I added any more canines to my life they would be rescues.  A good friend from SCHC was a foster for ‘AK Cat & Dog Rescue’ and convinced me to try fostering canines.  I picked up my first foster in July and continue to foster to this day.

For me, the essence of volunteering is giving one’s time, energy and talents to any worthy organization or effort in need of assistance.  This favors not for profit organizations as they tend to have the shoe-string budgets combined with large needs.  With this said my first taste of volunteering was with Sunrise Assisted Living which is a for profit corporation so I’ve seen both sides.  Once I began volunteering I realized I did have some usable skills which could benefit operations seeking help and I was more than happy to offer my services for free.  In hindsight I think I missed feeling I was a part of something beyond myself and volunteering, especially with organizations that truly valued and appreciated my efforts, made me feel I was helping a worthy cause.  To this writing I have always felt I get so much more out my volunteering than I put into it; it is this realization that makes it so easy for me to volunteer.

I also believe my urge to volunteer has some roots in my age related retrospection which has left me pondering the fact for 55 years it seems all I did was take and take without ever giving much back.  Sure, it was easy to rationalize my failure to undertake volunteering in my twenties, thirties and forties based upon working full time and excessive business travel.  However, regardless of the reason once I reached my middle fifties I couldn’t escape the fact I felt very self-centered and greedy for not giving back anything even though life had given me so much.  In this sense, volunteering has provided me with a ‘warm’ feeling knowing that I am now giving something back, be it ever so small, instead of continuing to just take.

Finally, I know part of my impetus to volunteer stems from my need for social activity even if said need is fairly minor compared to most people.  When I relocated to this area I knew no one and so had to start all over regarding building a social/support network; I knew this would be the case but I greatly under-estimated the amount of time and effort doing this would require.  All my volunteering efforts in the Talkeetna area have really helped me meet new folks and establish new relationships; this frames yet another reason why I find volunteering to be a true ‘win-win’ situation for me.  I find it most encouraging to recognize just how integral volunteering has become in my daily life.  Given all the benefits I feel from such efforts I couldn’t be happier with my discovery of the wonder of volunteering…

Volunteering

What A Difference..!

After a very slow and mild start to the winter season in south central Alaska the last couple of weeks have done wonders in catching up with more ‘normal’ conditions.  We went from no snow pack on Thanksgiving Day – the first time in six such holidays I saw no snow on the ground – to a 21.5 inch (54.6 cm) snow pack as of this morning with more light snow coming down.  As is typical for the this area – for those wondering I live around 7 miles (11.3 km) south of the village of Talkeetna and maybe 0.5 miles (0.8 km) east of the Spur Road – our recent snow events have seen calm conditions which allows the new snow to really accumulate on any almost horizontal surface.  This makes the trees and brush look gorgeous sporting a thick layer of pristine, white snow.

Our weather conditions are much closer to what we should be seeing in early to middle December although there remains a rock hard 0.5 inch (1.27 cm) layer of ice atop the ground from earlier bouts of freezing rain and rain.  I’m pleased no end as I feared with the existing El Nino and that warm pool of water remaining in the north Pacific we might well see yet another ‘winter that wasn’t’.  Even so we have yet to see a real Alaskan snow event; one in which over 12 inches (30.5 cm) is dumped within a 24 hour period.  To this point the most snow I’ve measured in a 24 hour period was 8.8 inches (22.4 cm) on December 3rd.  I miss the truly heavy snowfalls I did experience the first few winters up here; they are truly a beautiful event at least as long as one doesn’t have any commitments requiring driving until the roads are plowed.

However, I’m not complaining as I have also seen a couple of winters when we struggled to even reach a 21 inch (53.3 cm) snow pack.  As the snow continues to fall as I write this I suspect we’re probably closer to seeing a 22 inch (55.8 cm) snow pack and our forecast is calling for on again/off again snow across the next week along with some more seasonal (i.e. ‘colder’) air temps.  The dogs are loving the weather as well; Delilah, my mostly ‘Russian Bear Dog’ – more properly known as a ‘Caucasian Shepherd Dog’ – truly loves the snow and I often see her both rolling in it and hunkering down next to snow drifts.  Qanuk, my German Shepherd Dog, has always loved snow and he really enjoyed running through the couple inches of new snow during this morning’s walk.  Even little Skye, the mix I’m currently fostering, was having great fun running through the snow and attacking Delilah and Qanuk from hiding places created by snow piles.  We’re all snow and cold lovers so this season is made for us!

I’ve included some images showing the difference in the outside conditions between Thanksgiving Day and this morning as well as some shots of the ‘winter wonderland’ that’s the Talkeetna area when it snows.  Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday and, as I know Qanuk, Delilah and Skye would agree, ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..!!’

Icy Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day 2018…plenty of ice but where’s the snow..?!?

21 Days Later..

The same view but around 21 days, and 21+ inches of snow, later…

Windless Back 40 Snow

Deep accumulated snow underscores the lack of wind!

Delilah, Skye & Qanuk at Play

Delilah, Skye & Qanuk at play!

Early AM Snow with Skye

Early AM Snow with Skye’s butt visible in lower left corner…

 

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!

“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!

Suggestions of Spring

The sun is not yet above the horizon at 07:51 AKDT on the Vernal Equinox – which arrived in this area at 02:29 this morning – but it is light enough to see the surrounding space which remains cloaked in a 22.0 inch (55.9 cm) snow pack although the incessant winds across March have cleared virtually all the snow from the trees.  Our maximum snow pack was 35.5 inches (90.2 cm) back in middle February but within a week or so of that time all precipitation ceased.  This dry spell, coupled with almost Chinook style winds and the longer, sunny days definitely did a number on the slowly compacting snow pack.  Yesterday we flirted with 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies but at least the winds of March seemed to have weakened to just gentle (8-12 mph or 13-19 kph) breezes.  This morning the air is calm for the first time in over two weeks.

As I stare out my second floor office window I can just recognize some suggestions that spring is not far away even here at sixty two degrees north latitude.  The exhaust from my Toyo stove, which drifts almost directly across my office window when the air is calm, is much less dense and is occurring less frequently than a few weeks earlier.  While we are seeing a -2.2° F (-19° C) air temp I’m also expecting to see an afternoon high around 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies.  The boughs of the spruce trees are beginning to ‘perk up’ a bit after bearing heavy amounts of snow from late December through middle February.  And our direct daylight is now up to 12 hours 17 minutes and increasing daily by 6 minutes 1 second!  These longer days are beginning to slowly melt the snow pack even if the air temps remain well below freezing.  Indeed, when working towards my goal of 10,000 steps/day – I’m currently around 7,800 steps/day – I have started taking a collapsible walking staff with me as the icy hard packed snow coverage on the back roads is becoming slippery especially when just a thin layer of water appears atop it.  This lack of traction is emphasized as I watch my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) perform multiple slips and slides along with a few face plants as he revels in our daily walks.  Anana, my female Alaskan Malamute, is more restrained and hence remains upright most of the time.  There is something to be said for the wisdom of age!

I finally was able to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter after three previous ‘winters that weren’t’.  I did feel the bite of -40° F (-40° C) air temps, wind chills another ten to fifteen degrees below those temps and an almost three foot snow pack that remained for at least two and a half weeks.  I was treated to intense and vibrant auroral displays across much of the late fall when clear skies coincided with the Aurora Borealis.  Having completed my fourth consecutive winter in Alaska I think I can finally claim to be a veteran of ‘The Great Land’ and its kaleidoscope of weather conditions.  But maybe most surprising to me is I’m actually ready for the seasonal change.  During the three previous Vernal Equinoxes I was lamenting the end of winter and not enthusiastic about the oncoming spring with its insects and tourists.  But now I find myself awaiting the warmer weather even if it brings mosquitoes and the inevitable tourist traffic and congestion.  Perhaps I’m finally becoming sanguine with the aforementioned as well as the knowledge that within five to six weeks there will be no dark night skies again until early September?

Before long I’ll be indulging in what has become a ritual involving preparing for spring and summer.  I’ll be swapping tools and equipment between the mud room/front porch and the shed.  The generator will be drained of fuel which will go into the Escape’s gas tank.  The battery conditioner/recharger will be stowed in the shed and I will be getting the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ ready for operation.  I’ll be smearing some ‘bat attractant’ on the entrance to the bat house which my buddy Sarge hung last October; hopefully I’ll attract some Little Brown bats and convince them to set up house and help control the mosquito hordes.  In this same vein I’ll be relocating my tree swallow houses for the third time in the hopes I can attract some nesting pairs to add to my attempts at natural mosquito control.  So many of these actions are now ‘old friends’ and form a kind of seasonal dance or celebration.  For the first time since I relocated I’ll be doing them with joy and the knowledge that regardless of what the upcoming six months may hold for me winter will again return and I will have the opportunity to experience yet another spring, summer and fall in ‘The Great Land’.

Muskeg Under Clouds

The last of the ice on muskeg a bit east of my place on East Barge Drive is disappearing in the image from spring of 2015

Just A Typical Tuesday Morning…

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

My eyes snapped open and although I was still mostly asleep I groggily rolled onto my back and once again heard:

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof…woof!

Woof, woof, woof!

Woof, woof…howl..!

I now recognized the warning alert from my male German Shepherd Dog – Qanuk – who immediately ran down the stairs followed closely by my female Alaskan malamute, Anana.  I was now fully awake and could heard the dogs moving around the main floor based on the sound of their toe nails on the hard bamboo floor, the carpeting and then the vinyl flooring in the mud room.

Qanuk’s alert continued although it began to drop in terms of volume and frequency.  As Qanuk spent most of his life with Anana as his canine role model he has incorporated a pretty fair impression of the Malamute’s howl into his audio repertoire.  But when alerting he always delivers that deep, impressive sounding GSD bark.  Funny how we learn the sound, cadence and intensity of our canine companion’s vocalizations so well we can tell what the canine is thinking regarding the nature and severity of the ‘threat’; I had a very good idea from Qanuk’s vocalizations that something had disturbed his sleep and he remained vigilant regarding said disturbance.

My right hand slipped across the .40 caliber Beretta semi-automatic in its holster on the bed stand; I hesitated but given Qanuk’s barking was now decreasing in both volume and repetition I left the handgun where it was sitting.  I rolled to my left side and saw ‘01:44’ on my digital alarm clock.  What the heck was going on..?  I’ve been awakened before by my canine companions; sometimes I cannot locate the source but often it is wildlife like moose.  I arose from my bed into the chilly 54° F bedroom air and flipped on a dim light; at my arising both Qanuk and Anana came back upstairs and into my room.  I looked out a couple of windows but even with the snow being brightly illuminated by an almost full moon riding high in the clear sky I couldn’t see anything.  Given I was up I decided to hit the bathroom; while in that room I chanced to look out the one window.  I saw a large black blob – rather like an oval with flattened ends – where no such shape should be.  It was between a couple of spruce trees on the narrow patch of land between the north side of my house and East Barge Drive.

I finished my business and decided to get a better look at said ‘blob’ so I went back into the bedroom and found a flashlight.  I then walked back into the bathroom, pointed the flashlight outside and hit the power switch.  Sure enough, as I did so I saw the ‘twinkle’ of moose eyes and I also now recognized the snout of said mammal.  At the time it seemed large so I thought it was a bull; however, when I examined the spot later that morning I decided it was a cow.  I quickly deactivated the light as I did not want to disturb the moose.  Its presence meant the kidz were not getting outside for a potty break so I went back to bed.

Once it was light enough come morning I pulled on my break up boots and wandered out to see where the moose had being lying.  Sure enough, there was a depression in the snow as well as a load of moose droppings.  I briefly wondered if this was the equivalent of a human wetting their bed and also wondered if the need to go had forced the moose on to a new bed.  The images at the end of this piece better explain the geometry of this event as well as detail the moose’s bed.  I remain fascinated by how my canine companions, closed up in house, can sense a single moose outside.  In the late spring through early fall when the house is often open I can believe scent is what they detect; however, this was a -5.4° F early morning in a house sealed up against the cold so I have to believe it was sound they detected.

I know Qanuk is hyper alert and true to his breed in needing to identify and warn of any unusual noises or scents.  But it still boggles my mind that he could hear a moose walking through 14” of snow pack and then lying down from inside a sealed up dwelling!  Granted, it was a cold, clear and silent night but still..!?!  Regardless, he was doing exactly as he should and I praised him to high heaven for being so alert and willing to warn me of something unusual.  Anana has done the same thing other times but for some reason she was largely just following Qanuk’s lead this time.  Maybe she was sleeping too soundly..?

Living solo in semi-rural south central Alaska has so many pluses but one negative is if something should happen – say, a burglar tried to gain entry to my house – I’m on my own to handle the situation.  That’s why the loaded Beretta sits holstered by my bed.  My canine companions are my first line of defense; they awaken me when something is ‘different’.  I would never want then to become ‘involved’ with any two or four legged intruder; just alert me and then come back to me.  I will deal with whatever is ongoing.  I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t have my Benelli rifled bore 12 gauge pump shotgun next to the bed as well; it currently rests in my gun rack on the main floor.  If a bear were to break into the house my Beretta would serve only to irritate it; that’s why I purchased the Benelli.  It provides protection for me and my canine companions from bears and moose.  However, I practice solid ‘bear awareness’ and have only seen grizzlies on my property once although their scat and markings are not uncommon in this area from May through October so they are around.  Under such circumstances I think the Benelli is fine where it resides.

Just another early winter morning in semi-rural south central Alaska!

img_1249

Moose bed with droppings

img_1250

Moose bed and bathroom window (small, square window in upper center of frame)

 

Mosquitoes, Tourists…and Summer Sunlight

Today, May 27th, just happens to be yet another gorgeous late morning here in the Talkeetna area; the sun rides hot and high in the azure sky while gentle WSW breezes riffle the new leaves on trees and other plants.  The temperature is already above 60°F on its way to the middle seventies; that’s perhaps fifteen degrees above normal but then that’s how the temps have been running.  After a ‘winter’ – and I use the term very loosely – sleep the landscape is once again not just awakening but flourishing.  And with this seasonal shift comes other markers of the late spring in south-central Alaska.  The mosquitoes are out in force and the village is once again awash in tourists…and there is no longer a dark night sky.

This is one facet of living in the higher latitudes I have yet to adjust to and truly wonder if I ever will come to embrace.  As with my feelings towards the weather, in general, I prefer change on a relatively regular cycle but this is no longer an option.  And it will not be until late August; for me that three and a half month period is a long time to wait.  I know I have definite biases against the almost continual sunlight of the boreal summer based mainly upon my preference for cool temps – as in high temps in the low sixties – and I’ve always been a night sky watcher.  With the advent of each new spring I find myself once again preparing for warm temps and a complete lack of a night, as in dark, sky.  Couple these understandings with my distaste for hordes of mosquitoes and tourists – not sure which I dislike more although I also understand their value to this area – and it isn’t difficult to see why summer is my least favorite season right after break up.

Sure, I recognize there are some real pluses to the extended daylight.  Plants really grow under 17+ hours of direct light and there is far more time for outdoor activities not tied to snow and/or ice.  In addition, the moderating temps allow for the cycle of life to renew itself; if in doubt just notice how many cow moose have calves in tow now.  Perhaps if I could more readily adjust my circadian rhythms I wouldn’t feel so negative towards the long boreal days..?  My first two summers in Alaska were difficult for me with respect to dealing with the long days.  I quickly learned how to seal up my bedroom against light that never really dies and is just plain bright from 04:00 through 00:00; this had to happen as I am light sensitive when it comes to sleeping.  Late last summer I read about a study suggesting a small dose of melatonin once in the morning and again in the late afternoon to early evening can help reset one’s biological clock.  In elderly folks this regime can also reduce stress and lower blood pressure when followed.  I started this in August of 2015 and based upon that brief trial I was all set to start it again with the advent of this May.

It seems a bit strange to me that I have absolutely no issues with the extended darkness of winter; I was urged to take a vitamin D supplement to combat depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but after three winters I just haven’t felt the need to do so.  And, of course, being a cold and snow lover the environmental conditions suit me to a ‘tee’ although I’m still waiting to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter.  But maybe most important to me is with the advent of very late calendar summer the night sky returns and I can once more relish the aurora, marvel at the constellations and hope for clear skies without a moon when the Leonid and Geminids meteor showers are in our astrological ‘back yard’.

I now laugh, as I’d wager other folks living at these latitudes do, when people from the lower 48 ask me how I can handle the extended darkness.  Most are surprised if not shocked to hear I prefer the darkness and have a much more difficult time dealing with the 20 hours of direct light we see on the summer solstice.  I think it is a matter of ‘imagination’ versus ‘reality’.  People who’ve never experienced such extended daylight think it would be fantastic to have longer days to get out and do activities.  But they fail to grasp the potential upset such long days with no real nights can and do wreck upon one’s normal biological rhythms.  I have tried to explain some of the negatives to such long days but for the most part my attempts fall on deaf ears; in most cases I think one has to spend a summer in such conditions to begin to understand it is not all bright sunny days…

I suspect folks born to these conditions are wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of the natural flow of the seasons.  In my time up here I’ve come to recognize such extremes in terms of light and dark are part of the ‘Alaskan Experience’ and fit right in with the often noted extremes in weather, wildlife and the landscape.  And, ultimately, I’m really not complaining as I realize these conditions help fuel the majesty and magic that is ‘The Last Frontier’.  Sure, if I could have my way I’d probably opt to make the long boreal days occur perhaps just in June and July but we all know the ‘value’ in wishing for things that cannot be…  After all; would I appreciate the dark and cold winter as much without the counterbalance of the warm, bright summer?  Most definitely not!  Sooner or later I’ll reach some kind of equanimity with the boreal summer; in the interim at least it does sharpen my apprehension of boreal winter!

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I should take a lesson from my canine companions who truly understand the value of living in the moment!