Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Bear Necessities

I still have a lot to sort out before I can really say that I am all set up, that I know my new city, that I am "Alaskan."  There is a lot to do, both at home and at work, and I have a long way to go.  I guess the most important thing to do is to sort out the bare necessities of life.  Who better to ask than the masters of life in Alaska...the bears!  So by watching them, I hope to figure out the bear necessities of my new life in Alaska...but maybe they are the bear necessities of life in general.
Bear necessity number one.  Don't let life get you down.  Sometimes you can feel a little glum, and a little tired when trying to squeeze a whole year into a few short months of long summer days.  Take a little mid-day bear nap.  The world is less overwhelming when you have you bear-beauty rest.

Number Two on the List.  Life in this remote and rugged old gold town can feel a little rough some days.  Don't forget to take some time out and spoil yourself, that's also a bear necessity.  This picture reminded me that I too need to take some time out and book a pedicure and a massage.  I wonder if I can bring this little guy along too.

Bear Necessity number three.  You can't take it all too seriously.  Sure, you have to put your effort into doing your best every day, and there are plenty of things to get stressed out about.  But don't be afraid to let that little grin out even when you are literally between a rock and a hard place. 

Bear Necessity number four.  "Smile, and the world smiles with you."  And that's all me and Forest Bear really have to say about that.

Bear Necessity number five.  Don't be afraid to stop and smell the roses.  Even if they're just imaginary roses.

Exercise is Bear Necessity number six.  Explore alternative sports, like rock climbing...or skydiving...I think bears would like that.

Fake it until you make it.  Bear necessity number seven...exude confidence.  Not only does it make you look very attractive to the other humans...but we all need someone to believe in us...even if it's only ourselves at first.

Bear necessity number eight.  When you want something, leave no stone unturned.  You never know what you will find!

And don't bury your head in the sand.  Even ostriches look silly doing that.

Bear Necessity number nine.  Everything is better with a friend...burdens are less heavy, joy is even lighter.  Take time to share with that special somebeary.

These two are like two peas in a pod.  Two very very large furry brown peas with claws and teeth.

Bear Necessity number ten.  Take a little time out now and then to watch nature in all its splendor.  Look at this bear watching the cute elk and humans behind the fence.  I am sure it did a little good for his soul to watch those dangerous bipedal beasts in the background, a chance to observe a fearsome species while kept safe from them by a fence.  He probably knows they are not safe to come across in the wild.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bathtime for Bears

Sometimes it's hard for a bear to get a little privacy.  On my last visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, I was happy to see my favorite furry celebrities enjoying the Alaska sunshine.  I was hoping they would be out where I could see them, and they did not disappoint.  However, it appears my timing was off.

I had arrived for bear bathtime.  This bear waded into the water and seemed to sit its bear butt down and enjoy a good soak.  He looked a little lonely at first.

But after a moment I realized this bear was quite happy for the alone time in a nice cool pond.  He sat and soaked for a while...

Then took a little dive and snorkel a bit further down, which got somewater in his ears and led to a smiley shake-it-all out moment.

But not a moment later, it was back to diving, bubble blowing, and swimming about.  I felt like I had caught a very special moment with my soaking wet bear friend.

Eventually the effort paid off (for the bear), and he dove down to the bottom of the pond and pulled up a very large bone which he proceeded to nibble on while floating on his back.  Bears are very interesting to watch...playful, strong, animated.  I am going to have a lot of fun visiting this place over and over while I am here!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homeward Bound

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.  Wise words.  As an expat, it's hard to tell where home is when someone asks.  Home is where you grew up.  Home is where your family is.  Home is that city where you have roots because your forever people are there.  Home is where the property you own is.  Home is where you are.  Then as my friend Steve said, you can have several spiritual homes.  So when someone asks where home is, I often don't know if I should say Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Bermuda, or Alaska.  They are all home, for all of those reasons.  Today I am talking about this home...the place I lay my head when exhausted.  My sanctuary.  The place my cats live.  That home is in Alaska.  And as homes go, Alaska is anything but humble. 
There is something about this spot in the Eagle River Nature Center that always draws my eye.  The blue grey hue of the mountains which look just a little unreal under clear skies, and stark and ancient under grey skies.

The thick yellow matted grass that lies atop what I know to be marshes all around the area.  These narrow shallow streams that I was shocked to learn are the salmon breeding grounds I had heard so much about...they seem too small, too slow, and too remote to be the starting and ending place of the legendary salmon (interesting fact -- salmon travel from these freshwater streams to the ocean and adapt to salt water.  They live in the open ocean for about 2 years before swimming back to the freshwater streams...their bodies readapt to freshwater, and by following scent and chemical signals in the water, they return to the exact, specific stream they were each born in...presuming nothing eats them along the way of course).

The little marsh below may look cold and a little static in this photo.  But somewhere just out of sight in that range there is at least a moose, maybe a bear calling this their humble home for the day.

Nothing seems "soft."  I confess I watched a little "Project Runway," in the past, and never really got what Heidi Klum was always going on about with fabrics being "hard" or "soft" in the esoteric sense.  Well, I am starting to get it now.  When I look at these pictures, they are all pretty to me...but they are all "hard".  The trees have a little less foliage, more needles than leaves.  There is more definition on the wood.  As peaceful as each scene is...each is more "hard" than "soft."

This one may be a little hard and a little soft at the same time.  Probably sounds better when Heidi Klum says it.

In this last one, I just loved the reflection of the log, and the deep shades of blue in the scene.  I loved Bermuda and all it's warm azure blues.  Alaska is navy blue, occasionally icy blue.  It reminds me of a color my Grandma loved most in her paint sets...cobalt blue.  She would have liked my Alaska blues.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Bear Meadow and The Little Voice

 So on that last, wonderful and so far rare day off from work, I was taking a walk out at the
Eagle River Nature Center.  I found the little cabin, and began walking back from the cabin to the main trail.  Alaska is mossier than I thought when you get into the woods.  Don't get me wrong
I like it, but I guess I didn't expect the carpet of green on the rocks and trail in the spring.

Back on the beaten path, there was a pretty wide swath of trail blazed out, and a pretty regular stream of people going through.  Because I am ever so cautious and smart-like-that, I decided to take the road less travelled and cut over to what is called the Dew Mound trail where there would be less people. 

Now this was more like it.  A little more like what you expect in the wilderness.  Alaska seems to have a lot more yellow-green than forest green right guessing there is more greening up to come, but the color palette was interesting all the same.

After a few hundred yards, the sound of children, barking dogs, and people faded away.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  THIS was what the woods were supposed to sound like.  The trill of birds.  The snapping of a branch.  Followed by the deafening chatter of the little voice inside my head.  "You really are far away from everyone now."  That's right little voice, and this is just how we like it.  "You remember last time we came you promised to buy bear spray...but we don't have bear spray."  Relax little voice, we will pick some up next time, it will be fine.  A moment of peace.  "We've been walking for an awfully long time, and this trail doesn't seem well used.  You know if there was a bear it would be hard to see here."  Shhhhh...little voice....this is not the time....we are probably half way between the old trail and the new.  "You did notice on the map that this trail makes up the north boundary of the area called Bear Meadow right?"  Shut up little voice, you are not helping things.  "Did you hear that?"  Freeze frame and a nervously analytical moment.  Just the swooshing of the camera bag against the jacket in this very very quiet wood I told the little voice.

I will say I was a little relieved to hit Dew Mound Trail.  No bears were sighted, and hopefully no bears sighted ME.  Next time we will have the bear spray.  On Dew Mound Trail, I turned back to the nature center hoping for the wide open clearing.  I was met with a well defined trail...with thick brush growth right up to the edges of the trail, making any depth of vision virtually impossible.  It also didn't leave a lot of space should one meet up with an unexpected critter on the trail.  By this point I was missing the sound of those voices, and I wasn't sure if it would feel less eerie to turn back and go back through the silent untraveled woods, or plug along the moderately travelled thickly encroaching wood ahead. 

Forward felt less creepy, so on I went.
And on and on and on.  Finally after some distance, I heard some bells jingling!  Bear bells!  Fellow hikers were coming my way.  A big dog came charging down the path and jumped up on me, slobbered a bit, and instilled a bit of general chaos to the scene.  "Nice to see some other people," I said to the oncoming dog-led group.  "You're pretty brave walking alone," they said.  "Pretty stupid" the little voice said.  Touche little voice, I said, as I turned and took a snapshot of the view behind me and I headed back to the nature center, the car, people and civilization.  Next time we'll have bear spray on board I told the little voice...and stop being such a chicken.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On Becoming a Morning Person

I have spent my whole life hating mornings.  We all have our individual body clocks that march to a circadian rhythm of their own beat.  My clock has always like the quiet of night.  I remember crawling out of my crib as a toddler in the dead of night and roaming the house, even occasionally sneaking outside on the farm while all the big people were asleep.   6am is the time when I am in my deepest sleep, snug and warm with dreams racing through my head.  I hate hate hate that weekday morning alarm clock that robs me of the kind of wake up I have always liked...lazy, warm with the sun streaming into the room.  8 am workdays have always been a struggle, a necessary evil in this life.

Turns out up here in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun, that people have a rhythm of their own as well.  On my first day at work I came through the door at 7:45 and felt a little wave of panic.  Everyone was already there hard at work.  I checked to make sure I had the time zone right, but yup, I was indeed 15 mins earlier than I planned, but clearly the last to arrive.  When I asked my colleagues in my area what time they usually started their shift, I had to stifle a grimace when I heard "I clock in at 5:45."  "6 for me."  In the spring and summer here, you can have 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sunlight to play in.  It appeared I was going to have to face the alarm clock even earlier.  And so that night I set for alarm for 5am with dread.

When the alarm went off at 5, I got up, turned on the coffee, got dressed and headed to work.  I think I made it the whole way there before my body and brain realized we weren't just getting up for a middle of the night glass of water.  The day went pretty smoothly, but I headed for bed by 10, a lot earlier than I have gone to bed in years.

Next day, same thing.  That need for snooze alarms and feeling of absolute lethargy were missing.  It seems that getting up before I hit that "dead to the world 6 am phase" is not nearly as bad as waking up after it hits.  I have held on to some of my routines...I still like to hit the snooze button at least three times, despite years of clear evidence showing that no real rest is gained in these furtive, pitiful  5 minute intervals.  The cats have a routine too.  At the exact moment of the third alarm when I make a move to get up, the normally antisocial cat runs to the light of the phone and snuggles in for an ill timed attempt to cuddle.  One day it will be the demise of me and I will wake up at 10am, several hours late for work, and have to explain that the cat made me do it.  But so far I have made it.  I think I have even gotten used to it.  The other day I stayed pretty late at work, so decided to sleep in til 6.  I was rewarded by seeing moose on the roadside on the drive to Anchorage.  I was pretty excited to spot my first moose in months...but then I got to thinking that maybe I was just up earlier than the moose on all the other days, which is somewhat unsettling, because I started to wonder if the moose was getting more sleep than me.  Moose envy?  Maybe a little.  But in the end, early mornings are better than plain mornings, but with 18 hours of daylight, who can even tell?