Saturday, October 31, 2015


Talkeetna.  Just rolls off the tongue. If you practice I suppose.  Either way, Talkeetna was the next stop on the list.  This is the first Alaska adventure where I pointed the car north and started driving.  The first place I stopped to pull over was near a town called Willow.  In June of this year, a couple were leaving a cabin they rented, and lit some trash before they left.  People could still learn a lot from Smoky the Bear.  The fire quickly spread to over 7,000 acres, destroyed over 50 homes in the Willow area, and I can't even bear to think of the wildlife.  This is my first view of Willow. 

In fact, 2015 is one of the worst fire years on record for Alaska.  In a typical year, 600,000 acres of forest burn.  To date this year, 5,100,000 acres have burned.  It doesn't take much for the fire to jump roads, rivers and destroy generations in minutes.  I was curious about the trees, some had a distinct orange tone rather than a scorched black tone.  I hope that means they were not killed and may sprout leaves next year.

And of course, there was still beauty.  The palette of blue sky, green grass, black and orange, and purple fireweek.  Notably, another name for the Fireweed which is known to colonize areas after a fire, is Willowherb.  Fireweed makes the Alaska landscape a little more vibrant and beautiful in the summer.  It has a history of being a medicinal herb, and makes its way into tea, jam, jellies, chocolates, syrup, and honey.  I guess there will be a good crop for the local businesses who sell those next year.

A little fireweed up close.  The sad thing about fireweed, is that it seems to only shoe up for the brief summer.  It doesn't bloom until summer, and disappears before you even realize its fall.

The next stop on the road was Talkeeta.  It's a small town, but it pulses with summer tourists, and shines with the eclectic spirit of its residents.  It was actually hard to find a place to park for lunch.  Talkeetna's downtown is a national historic site (to be clear, there are only 879 residents of Talkeenta, so it's pretty much all downtown).  If you are a Cuba Gooding Jr fan, or if you liked Disney's Sled Dogs movie, it was set in Talkeetna.

Talkeetna has made the headlines a couple of times...even CNN.  You see, it's most famous resident is the town mayor.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, Mayor Stubbs happens to be a cat.  In a quirkly little place like this, you can understand how someone would nominate their cat over the other candidates...and even how the cat would get the most votes!  Mayor Stubbs retired from office in 2014 and now spends most of his time napping in the General Store, which is right where I found him.

Mayor Stubbs having a lazy afternoon in Talkeetna
I did eventually find a parking spot -- at the museum.  I was willing to pay the low admission to get a little history AND a parking spot.  In the museum I found a map of the language distribution of Alaska;s native peoples.  I am still a bit fascinated by these languages, as so many places are named after words in these languages.  Aialik.  De'nali.  Words that are in danger of having their meaning lost.  A terrible thought to a bookworm like me.

The museum had some old relics, like this sled.  I believe this was in the mountaineering exhibit.  I can't imagine trekking up a mountain dragging this thing.

And before Obama made it official, even the signs in Alaska tell the visitors that the mountain is known as Denali, meaning "The High One."

Nagley's store is basically the centerpiece of town, and was built by the family who were considered the pioneers of this area.

The energy of the locals artisans is evident everywhere.  I popped into this shop with the decorated moose right before I tried some home-made ice cream made from a creamer powered by an early 1900's John Deere tractor.  The town sits under the gaze of the high one, Denali, and is well worth a stop on your way to Denali National Park...which I have yet to get to.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Finding Hope

It was fitting that I sat down to catch up on the blog and realized I was at this point.  I typed in the title, "Finding Hope," early this morning, started uploading the photos, and then went off to tackle the rest of my day.  I stumbled across a poster that said "Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow."  I had to truthfully say, no.  That was the easy part, answering why is always just a bit more difficult.  I have been working late, staying in, and being a hermit, not because anyone is making me, but because I chose to.  It reminded me of what always used to say in Bermuda..."what are you running away from?"  The running joke was that everyone was there because they were running away from something else, and more often than not, it was true, whether we realized it or not at the time.  I wondered if sometimes once we start running, if it just feels too good to stop.

I took myself on a long walk to think it out.  Walking or running always cleanses my mind and soul a bit.  I realized I haven't been doing enough of any of that.  I have been letting the too energy vampires win.  I haven't given enough time to thinking, feeling, and processing.  Life is cyclical, there are gains, and there are losses.  Above all there must be balance.  And I realized I have lost mine.

Balance is a skill, and like all others, it takes training for it to be effortless.  I did a little of that training today.  I took that walk, I hooked up that BBQ (finally) and cooked a great meal, framed some pictures, and sat down with the blog again.  It's time to get back to the story, and more importantly, to living the story.  And where the story starts again, is finding Hope.

So where does one find Hope in Alaska?  Well, from Anchorage you take the Old Glenn Highway towards Seward.  Past Turnagain Arm, past the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, you find a turnoff.  If you are someone who reads the blog regularly, you might remember a winter blog where I mentioned that across the ocean, at the base of a mountain, you could see a couple of white rooftops on an otherwise uninhabited landscape.  They are the remainder of Hope, a once thriving town near a very hot gold mine in the earliest days of the goldrush in Alaska.

Shibby and I set out to find Hope.  It was past a river, past a bridge, on a windy little highway in the middle of a wilderness wonderland.  When we finally made it there, the first building to greet us was the renowned "Discovery Cafe."  Also the first permanent structure we had seen in about an hour.  We pulled in for a tasty lunch on the patio.  The food was good, but I think it's the setting that made it taste so much better.

Hope turned out to be a very very small town, full of hidden treasures!  A block or so past the Cafe is a little museum.  For such a rugged land, Alaska has such delicate little wildflowers.  When they take over metal and steel, it is done with a gracefulness that has a beauty of its own.

Yesterday is clearly gone.  What remains is surprisingly unobtrusive.  Today we leave concrete, steel, and pavement in our wake as we race through time.  The items left behind in Hope seem to have been left by a species with a gentler touch than our own, which seems so improbable given that the life was so much harder in comparison.  Hand crafted wheels, workbenches, and cabins hold an almost tangible sense of the people that once stood with them.

The museum is a collection of three or four buildings, and a bit of an unexpected surprise for the day.

The second surprise was an old fellow in a lawnchair as we drove up, sitting patiently, waiting to see if anyone might drive in that day and want to try their hand at panning for Alaska Gold.  Patient he must be, because in the hour or so we were there, no one else drove by.  I thought it would be hokey, but Shibby wanted to try panning for gold.  So "Goldrush Peck," sold her a $20 bucket of dirt and showed her the ropes.

Now if you notice the watch on Peck's hand in the photo above, you will see that it's pretty unique.  Definitely an original, it seems he does know how to pan for real gold.  The story of Peck is that his grandfather put him to work in a gold mine at the age of ten in Oregon.  Here he shows Shibby how to shake, rake, pick, and slosh your way through dirt.

But low and behold, Peck still knows how to find the gold, because Shibby left with what I am quite sure is more than $20 in gold in today's values!

The next gem we found was this -- the Seaview Cafe, which I have seen in pictures and been looking forward to photographing myself.

There is something about this rusty tin roof on this painstakingly clean white building, with what looks like a hand welded "Cafe" sign that just calls to me.  The photos I have seen did not have so much traffic about -- it seems that a lot of people were in town to do some camping, fishing, or beer drinking at the Seaview Bar.

Since we had just had lunch at the Discovery Cafe, we did not go to the Seaview Cafe.  Shibby got a picture there though, and then we headed along the little walk to the next doorway.

The Seaforth Bar.  The museum told us that this was actually the oldest pub still in operation in Alaska.  The twenty-something year old bartender didn't know if that was true or not.  I prefer to believe the museum staff and say we did stop in for a pint at the oldest pub in Alaska.

We ordered a beer from the Alaska Brewing Company, but they were out.  So we had a King Street, which made me smile, since that is one of the few street names downtown in good old Bermuda.

Hope is a popular destination for bikes it seems.  There were a lot of fancy bikes out front, and a busy, slightly rowdy patio crowd.

I definitely asked for permission before photographing their bikes, and to my surprise they were quite happy to let me admire the bikes.  I was a little afraid of reliving that scene in Smoky and the Bandit, but all went well.

Last look over the shoulder at another favorite little spot in Alaska.  I would definitely book a nearby cabin and spend a summer weekend here with some guests in the future.  Hope.  It's a good place to get to!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

And A Lazy Saturday for All

Sometimes you just have to throw in the towel and RELAX...full capital letter relax.  Recharge the batteries.  Rejuvenate.  Even if you are a forest critter.  Shibby's first visit to the Wildlife Conservation Center was one of those kind of days.  It seemed like all the little residents were enjoying a Saturday that was even lazier than ours.  The little red fox was combining  nap with the warmth of the rays in a comfy food bowl in his enclosure.

This baby fawn sauntered out of a little shed made for shelter to walk around in the sunlight for a little bit.

But before long she decided to go join her other fawn friends, the littlest of whom was having a nap in a natural hidey hole.

It took the three little ones a few minutes to decide who should get which spot, and they seemed to all switch spots several times before settling on the final nap location.

This one woke up with bedhead.  Soooooo cute.

In then end they decided it was better to set up to nap together instead of spread out through their range.

This bear used the long grass to keep mostly out of view.

This bear decided to spend some time floating on his back, wiggling his toes, and making water bubbles...also in spots where tall grass afforded some bath time privacy.

He did swing by to give us a view of his wet butt while he surveyed the range to find the best nap spot for the afternoon.

I think this was when Shibby really started enjoying her Alaska vacation.  Wednesday was jet lag day.  Thursday was make sure your anesthetized host stays alive day.  Friday was ok...but Saturday she finally got to see the best kind of Alaska residents...bears and moose and elk and lynx and foxes and caribou, and eagles, and more.  Even if they were just hanging out and getting their relax made for a good day.

And in the gift shop...perhaps the best Alaska T-shirt ever.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Baby Steps

We had been turned back from the Nature Center the day before due to a bad accident.  So we set out again the next day.  Another beautiful summer day on Turnagain Arm awaited us.  The drive afforded lots of time to catch up on all the stories that had not been shared yet.

Of course we had to pull over a few times and just soak up the scenery.  The ocean was glittering like the jewel it is, definitely photo worthy.

 It takes just over an hour to get to the conservation center (it might take less if I ever manage to make the whole drive without stopping for photos...I kinda hope the day never happens that I don't feel so inclined).  Once there, the first stop was to see some of the new babies.  The whole herd is protective of the little guys.  This female had no problem giving us the tough girl stare as if to make sure we didn't intend to bother them too much.  She can't help if her best mean look is adorable.

A few minutes later a baby emerged from its hiding spot beneath a log!

As soon as the little guy ventured out, everyone closed rank around to make sure the baby would be in the safest spot.

Momma gave encouraging muzzles to greet her babe.

 And presumably the proud papa let out a warning to all around that he had antlers and would not be afraid to use them.

 Walking on stilts is tough.  Mom was around to help give a nudge forward...and offer a little support if the momentum accidentally carries backward.

The two aunties hang back, gossiping, grazing, and girl talking.

Seriously, it takes a lot of confidence to get those disproportionate legs all going in the right direction at the right time.

But like most things, the task at hand is made easier with a friend by your side.

Now they have the hang of it.

 A tender moment with a proud momma for the bigger baby.

He is getting big enough to wander along on his own.

But his little cousin still needs some gentle help.

Looks like a scene straight out of Bambi.

Mom helps the littlest one take just a few more steps.

Then rewards her with a kiss on the head for making it all the way across the clearing.

It's nice to have days when you can just stand and watch the simple things in life.