Sunday, April 26, 2015

Liitle House in the Woods

I bought the $40 annual pass for the Eagle River Nature Center and decided to go for another walk in the woods today.  My last day here was about a month ago, so I was hoping it was greening up a little bit.  The sign in at the main office said a moose was spotted here yesterday, but all I saw were moose tracks.  I took the trail a little further than I went the last time, and headed down the Iditarod trail (this was part of the long route between Seward and Nome).

The little map said that there are 3 cabins in the woods that you can rent.  Just past the Iditarod trail sign where I turned back last time, I came across a the vancancy sign for the first little woodland hotel, and decided to go check it out.

It was a litter further off the path than I thought.  Maybe only 500 feet, far enough away to have privacy from the day hikers, and far enough to make me look over a shoulder when I heard a strange was only my camera bag rubbing on my jacket, but it's surprising how quiet it gets when you are just a couple hundred feet away from others in the woods.

So here it is, one of the isolated little cabins you can rent for your own wilderness adventure.  I will mention that I passed an outhouse along the way, so pretty sure there is no plumbing.  I think if I needed a midnight restroom break out here, I might want the outhouse a little closer.

But those souls who are braver, or have larger bladders, are rewarded with this view from their patio.  I imagine you might see a bear or moose frolicking nearby if you wait long enough (presuming bears frolick when they think no one is looking).

 As my friends know well, I am a day tripper.  I did a fair bit of camping years back, but these days I am quite content to carry the smell of woods and fresh air home with me and snuggle into a warm soft bed at night  I will leave it to my backpack and hostel loving friends to let you know how the cabin is.  For now I am content to be a brief voyeur into the wilderness.  I noted fresh ash in the firepit and did feel a bit of longing to sit under the night skies with a bonfire.  The next thing I noticed was the metal lockbox and a written reminder to users to use it so that the bears wouldn't come to the cabin after they left.  I noted the glint of a candy wrapper to my right and the deafening silence, and decided to move on down the trail.  There were more trails to explore, and I was excited to get back on one that hadn't been cooked on lately.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Disputed Political Career of Stubbs the Cat

Just when I wondered what I would write about when I have no new photos to share, some interesting Alaska facts roll right across my screen.  I get a lot of cat related posts on my facebook feed.  Somehow when people see cats, they immediately think hey I need to show this to my friend.  Ideally, I had hoped when people saw single handsome millionaires they would think of me.  But no, it's just the cat facebook posts I get.  Not that I'm complaining, I kinda like the cat posts.  And today, under 21 amazing facts about cats that landed on my Facebook wall, there was an interesting Alaska fact right under amazing fact 21.

Stubbs the cat, it says, has been the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska for over 17 years.  Now this intrigues me.  Research was needed.  Here's the deal.

Stubbs the cat was born April 12, 1997.  It seems the cat, as only cats do, naturally rose to power early in life, and has been well known as the Mayor of Talkeetna since 1997.  At first it was unclear to me if this was democratic, or if the cat just assumed power as an enlightened despot, which seems more likely.  A little more digging turned up the appropriate history.  Stubbs overcame difficulties in earlier life thanks to his human parents who chose him from a box of free kittens despite his lack of a full tail (hence the name stubbs).  Fortune was on his side again just a few months later, when Stubbs was nominated for mayor as part of a write in campaign protesting the human candidates.  So it would seem Stubbs was accepted by acclimation rather than election, but he has reigned Talkeetna unchallenged for 17 years.  Here is a photo of Mayor Stubbs from his facebook page.

It has not always been easy for Mayor Stubbs.  While he receives thousands of letters, postcards, and tourists who come to Talkeetna just to meet the cat mayor, there have been detractors too.  Some dissident humans as well as the Alaska Dispatch News say that the cat is not a mayor, and that Talkeetna is classified as a historical district with 800+ residents and not technically a town so it cannot have a cat mayor.  Stubbs stoically marches around town conducting business as usual, refusing to dignify them with a response.  I think the cat gets my vote.
If the Alaska Dispatch News doesn't recognize Mayor Stubbs, they are the minority.  A quick google search shows that the attempted assassination of Mayor Stubbs in 2013 made CNN headline news
The article quotes residents who say the town is run really well.  Stubbs is recovering from his injuries, and at the age of 18, retired from local office just this spring.  I can only hope he runs for Governor next.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

I was driving into work today and a song came on the radio, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn," by Poison.  As the opening chord hit, I felt the muscles in my forehead go lax, apparently I carry tension in those muscles rather often which doesn't bode well for wrinkles.  So what is it about this song that washed the tension out of my body with a single chord?  Here is the song and video if you need a refresher.

I was going to apologize for the video....but hey, it was the 80's, it is what it is.  Yes people really dressed like that (the mostly clothed ones at least), yes we had those hats and they were totally awesome, indeed I still have a thing for guys with rock star hair but I'm trying to quit, and of course I made it to the concert.   And it's a darn nice song.  I first heard it in 1987 on summer vacation visiting a friend in Manitoba.  I loved the song long before I could relate to what it's talking about, before any of us could...but we loved it all the same.

It was the melody, the riffs, and the energies that made our barely teenage selves love the song.  But it's something different that makes made my muscles melt now.  It's a dusk walk in Kelwood, Manitoba.  A hot, sweaty mosh pit at a general admission concert with Val 6 hours away from an impending physics final.  It's watching hours of MTV and talking endlessly with Colleen.  It's after school homework and boy talk with Jolene.  It's "cruising" music in Gravelboug, SK, late night bonfires and early morning sunrises, the unusual smell of Poison perfume (Elizabeth Taylor not the band) and cinnamon Dentyne gum that I relate to high school.  It's passing notes in class, first cars, a lot of hairspray, and picking your battles and your anthems.  It's Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Skid Row, and singing your heart out.  It's the excitement of knowing your whole life is ahead of you.  Somehow when I hear that song the years fall away, and the events of the years between then and now fade into the background.  Between the notes of the song faces play in my memory, and standing in rooms it used to play are some people we never dreamed we'd lose -- I see Sara, Mandy, and Karen in Jolene's kitchen.  A sense of a time washes through me with the chorus when our worst nightmares couldn't touch the tragic reality of the future.  Now life isn't all that bad, but back then, everything and more importantly, everyone, is safe.  There was still your whole life of wonders ahead, time to record your own hit album, break out in LA, and rock the world. 

But here we are 25 years later and things are a lot different than we imagined.  Too many people lost.  Some adventures have been better than I imagined.  A change in plans happened somewhere along the way.  It had to.  Brett Michaels now looks better in spandex than I do, I need too much sleep to tour, plus I never got around to learning guitar or doing anything remotely rock star wortht, and man I am getting old...and there's that furrow in my brow again.  In retrospect, I have to give it to Poison.  It seems that every rose does indeed have its thorn.


Sunday, April 19, 2015


So while I was on that walk in the woods, I saw a couple of trumpeter swans.  These are the largest migratory birds in Alaska.  They were kind of the special attraction of the day, so I felt lucky to have a quiet view of them swimming in the creek.

It didn't take long for them to turn and start seeing what I was up to.  I didn't want to disturb them so I headed on back down the trail, feeling lucky I got a couple of photos.  Until I was leaving and ran ino a professional photographer with a telescope for a lens that made these look pretty embarrassing.  Perhaps I should stick to scenery.

And so here is one last shot from the nature center, a calm crisp spring day in Alaska.  
I am remiss to admit I am now out of photos.  I have not been out exploring much lately, there is much work to do at the real job.  I did pack my camera with the intent to go back and see if it was starting to green up at the nature center today, but a strong cold wind changed my mind really quickly and suddenly my warm desk at work didn't seem like such a bad idea after all.
It does feel weird to not be out taking pictures every weekend, but I have to remember how much there is to do when you are new to a place.  I still do not have a flawless routine of basic household management, nor do I have a stock of's a trip to the store for every item in the recipe, every knick knack.  Buy a TV...the next day go buy a screwdriver to assemble the stand.  Book the security system install, find out they can't do anything without a power bar because the outlet near the modem is already full.  Business to wrap up both here and there, and in some cases, 2 there's ago.  And just when you think you have everything set up, your new bank account thinks your rent payment is valid grounds for fraud and you find yourself locked out of your accounts and all your other payments frozen.  And the insurance company sends you a letter threatening to cancel your insurance if you don't submit an international background within 4 days....which you can't actually do in 4 days...that little gecko looked so friendly on tv.  Anyway, life is kind of a vortex of chaos, and if memory serves, it takes about 6 months before your routine is totally settled into that of a normal person.  The explorations may be a little infrequent for a while...but they will come.  My apologies in advance for a delay in seeing lovely Alaska by photo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trees of Alaska

 Alaska is known for its unique characters(an characters).  The trees of Alaska are no different.  I guess these trees have had some growing pains.  Long, cold, dark winters with moose nibbling their bark, and bears using them as scratching posts...balanced out with long hours of daylight to help with growth spurts.  But still, there are some weird looking trees up here.  Check out the pattern on the bark if this one -- it had a gorgeous geometrical pattern!

This next tree looks like it had a rough life.  The roots are barely underground, it has probably wintered several generations of critters small and disturbingly large, and it might have also been hit by lightning at some point.  Poor tree.
Not many steps later I came across "interpretive dance tree."  Lithe roots, graceful backward arch and twist, with branches...raised to the sky to catch the sun.
Then there was daybed tree...the days of growing leaves and providing shade have passed this tree by...but it was thoughful enough to turn itself into a soft, mossy daybed should an errant bear need a nap.
And of course I love my fungi and had to snap a photo of these little mushrooms....

...and this little one that looked like a lost seashell...or maybe I have just spent too much time in Bermuda.

So these are the trees and this is the little valley they call home, nestled away at the end of the road and the beginning of the wilderness just outside of my new mountainy small town home.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Walk In the Woods

I've mostly been occupied with working and getting the new place set up.  But every once in a while I poke my head outside into this cool new environment.  Getting the time to both head outdoor and post about it is a bit more than my current schedule allows though.  I am sure it will slow down soon enough.  So a couple of Saturday's ago I decided to head out to the Eagle River Nature Center and see what that was all about.  To get to the Eagle River Nature Center, you pull off the Glenn Highway at Eagle River, and follow the river along Eagle River Road, until the road runs out.  Pretty straight forward directions actually.
Following Eagle River to the Eagle River Nature Center
There is a lot of pretty on the way, but not many roadside pullouts.  I may have mentioned Alaskans like to tear down the road in giant 4x4's going 70+ miles an hour, and are likely armed, so I do my best not to hold up traffic on the road, and kept going, stopping only at the one possible turnout.  I snapped a quick 360 degree view...towards the nature center is above in the first picture, along the road is seen here below.

And this next picture is just the other side of the road, but it still manages to be pretty.

It only a few miles from Eagle River to the Nature Center...maybe 12...and it is quite literally the end of the road.  So, the Alaska wilderness  is just 12 miles from my door.  Through here, moose and bear roam, and the salmon will run come spring.  On this spring day, I decided to take my first walk in the woods in my backyard.  For $5 a day or $40 a year, you start right from the parking lot at the visitors center on a gentle path that winds down to the river.

There are 2 viewing decks...from the first one I saw the spring celebrities of the nature center, 2 trumpeter swans that had stopped in a couple of weeks earlier.  If you look carefully, you can see them swimming in the creek below.

The creek is very shallow in places...with thick dense grass, but apparently the salmon come through here in June.  I was surprised that this narrow and shallow waterway would be one of their pathways.

There are several miles of trails around the nature center.  My knee tweaked between the 1 and 2 mile I sadly limped back to the car.  I guess is it going to take a long time to explore Alaska at this pace...but I will do my best :)  If nothing else, I got treated to a new view!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lies They Told Me About Alaska

When I said I was moving to Alaska, there were a lot of things I heard over and over.  While everyone thought it sounded really cool, the same things kept coming up.  The cold.  The dark.  How ridiculously expensive it is.  "It's not going to be that bad," I said.  "Anchorage is coastal, like Vancouver but just further north, so it's actually warmer than the prairies in winter.  And those inflated prices might be for the more remote places like Prudhoe Bay, but not where I am going."  Many times I discerned a sideways glance after saying this...I could almost hear the inside voices saying "Mmmmmmhmmmm, you'll see."  To be fair, I did go into this a little blind, and am probably in a small minority of people who have never seen a single episode of any of the Alaska Reality TV shows...not even Deadliest Catch, which even the people up here watch and talk about.  I did pull up the anuual max and min temperatures for Anchorage before accepting the job...warmer than Edmonton was all I figured I really needed to know (that, however, did not turn out to be the case).

2 months in, I think I have been vindicated on a few of these issues.

The cold.  I expected some pretty miserable days arriving in February.  Not so.  I have yet to see a snowbank (although I have spied a few glaciers, but that's a different thing entirely).  The temperature is rarely below 0C.  I haven't seen my mittens since the day I spent outdoors watching the Iditarod start.  To be fair, Alaska has been shockingly short on snow this year...but even if there was more snow, Anchorage does not get -30C with wind chill as part of their normal winter temperatures.  -20C is just another  yukky winter day in Western or Northern Canada, but it would be an unusually cold in Anchorage, where the average cold winter day is -1 to -15C.  It really isn't that cold in Anchorage.  And if you go to Juneau, the average winter low is no more than -5C.  Alaska is really big, and I think people forget that.  Yes, the northern edge of Alaska where Prudhoe Bay sits has winter temperatures averages that range from -30 to -10C.  But the difference comparing the climate of Anchorage to the climate of Prudhoe Bay is like comparing the climate of Calgary to the climate of Whitehorse.  Alaska is a really big place.  And...the part I went to is really not that cold.  Really.

The dark.  Granted I arrived in February and the shortest day of the year for daylight hours in December 21.  However, for those of you pitying me on those terrible winter days to come where I never see the sun, fear not.  Even in Anchorage, they shortest day of the year has 5 hrs and 28 minutes of daylight, 1 hr and 10 minutes less than Edmonton.  It is Barrow, Alaska, located 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle which descends into long winter darkness...67 days without the sun.  It is the northernmost community in the world, and rather surprisingly, has a population of 4,373 people.  I guess they like the quiet.  After December 21st, Anchorage gains almost 6 minutes a day.  So today, April 11th, we have 14 hours and 19 minutes of daylight.  On June 21st, we will have 19 hours and 22 minutes of daylight.  That may sound like a lot, but it's just 2 hours more than Edmonton.  So the light and dark are not a drastic change.

The expense.  I actually earn less $/hr in Alaska than in Canada or Bermuda.  But income tax is lower than Canada, and, there is no sales tax in Alaska.  That's a nice treat when you are buying a coffee, or Nick knacks, it's a decent perk when you are looking at fuel and groceries, and it's just phenomenal when you consider the difference on large items, like furniture or a new vehicle.  Items are NOT more expensive just because you are in Alaska.  Anchorage is within a 9 hour flight of 90% of the industrial world.   FedEx has a major outpost here.  I ordered a part for a machine at work and it arrived the next day.  Sending a parcel is less than a third of the cost the Canada Post charges.  Starbucks is a universal constant for prices it seems.  But in the grocery stores, I am smiling with glee at the prices.  Asparagus for $1.99 a pound, $1 for a fresh baked loaf of French Bread.  $2.99 for an average block of cheese.  Bananas $0.89/lb.  Some things are the same.  But overall, it has been pleasantly surprising on the wallet so far.

So, those three myths are officially debunked.  Here are some other neat things I have learned so far.  For example, Vitamin D comes in the 5000 IU size.  I was De-Lighted (pardon the pun).  There are a lot of airplanes.  Statistics are that 1 in every 5 Alaskans has a pilots license.  There is always a plane or helicopter going by, and quite often flying very low over your car coming in for landing.  This was a first for me though.  At a stop sign and yielding to the airplane on the right.

 There is goes...

Alaska has some interesting tourist products.  The Ulu knife, muskox wool apparel, and salmon everything as evidenced by this below.  Alaska...beyond the myths...wacky and wonderful thus far.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter

Happy Easter...or Habby Easter as I proclaimed this morning with a slight cold.  It was snowing when I woke up.  Great giant soft clumps of snowflakes blanketed my deck, low clouds obscured my mountain view.  I don't know how my body knew, but it flat out decided to get a cold in advance of the snow.  I had to turn down a dinner invite and stay at home with a few handfuls of vitamins and the building quantity of left overs in my fridge.  But that's how it goes sometimes I suppose.  I really enjoyed the snow coming down, knowing that my little plants were safely indoors, and I wasn't going to be on the roads.  Then it dawned on I going to have to shovel?  In APRIL?  Those Bermuda years have made me a little soft when it comes to snow removal.  Fortunately, it made a quick pretty scene, and melted away.  That left me with only one work related task...pulling the new vacuum cleaner out of the box and taking it for a spin.  Vacuum cleaners are another one of those things that have come a long way in the many years since I have bought a new upright.  After much dithering, I settled on a Hoover Air Lite with WindTunnel 3 Technology.  I started it up, and I have to say, it's a really good vacuum.  Considering the carpets were professionally cleaned 2 weeks ago before I moved in, and there is no visible need to vaccum....the little dirt container was looks like a giant dust bunny in there...not sure where it found all of that.  Panthers don't really shed much, and it was sort of carpet colored, so hoping my carpet doesn't develop any bald spots in the next couple of uses.  The Panthers were not pleased with the vacuum at all, they tore out of the room and hid somewhere, which much to both of our displeasure, turned out to be under the new couch...which I only discovered when stuffing the vacuum under the edge of that same couch.  It's times like these I think I am a bad kitty mom...I thought they would hide downstairs.  I am not going to be forgiven for a very long time.
And so I did not go on any adventures today...but that's OK, I still have pictures from previous adventures.  This sunset at Turnagain Arm has a nice Easter feel to it.

This is the last in photos from the day at the Conservation Center.  Coming home there were still places along the coast with heavy fog.

I thought it was kind of neat that the sky and mountains were completely obscured by blankets of cloud and fog.

But it made the light so much softer and gentler as it faded away for the day.

It was just pretty.  Like I hope your day is.  Wishing you all a Happy Easter, wherever you are and however you mark it.