Monday, March 28, 2016

Letters to Heaven

I think today that heaven will be abuzz with with messages.  So many people sending thoughts and prayers and wishes.  Of course there is a steady stream of traffic of those messages throughout the year.  But on this day, when you, Laramie, and Brooke were gathered up by the angels and taken from us, the world stops a bit as we all remember our last goodbyes.  And you three were loved by so many.

I cannot focus all of the things I wish and wonder, I will need so many letters to heaven over the years.

Dear Jaycena,

It seems like so long since we have talked.  How are you doing in your new place?  I wonder if you have birds, and bunnies, and horses, and cats since you always loved them so.  Can you see the Saskatchewan sunsets and the waves of wheat moving in the slow summer winds from your place?

I wish I had a new picture, so I know how you wear your hair now that you're 23, and is your favorite color still green?  I could use your help finding some new music for my ipod, and I wish you could play me your new favorites and tell me about your adventures.

I'd like to hear about where you've been and the things you've seen.  I wonder if you can go anywhere and see anything.  I like to think you visit us lots, and hear what we say to you.  I hope you are with us as often as I think you are.  Do you see your great grandma's a lot?  What about those cats of mine?  You have so many friends and family with you now.  But still so many to check on back here, especially that little brother of yours, who is doing just fine I must say.

I don't need to say I wish you were here in person.  I'm sitting at the kitchen table at Grandma's, how many hours we all spent around this I couldn't guess.  But it feels like you should be in the chair across from me, with your feet up, in some cozy sweats and a T-shirt telling me about your life, and we could tease whoever wandered by next.  Because if you were here I think everyone would be gathered up, and there would be lots of people to tease.  I wonder if you'd be making your chili, and if french fries would need to be on tonight's menu.  It's a great day to sit on the couch and watch a movie and sip hot chocolate.  I think about these simple things, things that could be called a waste of time, because these are the little moments that a life is made up of.  I could make grand statements and proclamations, or quote literary giants as I sometimes do, but none of them talk about how I would trade away anything I have for an afternoon of quiet nothingness with you in Saskatchewan today, the simplicity of a movie and a shared bag of ketchup chips.

I would like to invite you to come stay with me -- to walk a piece of the Iditarod trail and see the Balto statue, to see the bears.  But then I wonder if you'd still rather go to New York.  How I'd love to take you there.  There's even a Canadian lululemon there, if you still like that style.

I wish I knew what you should be doing here on earth today, where you had chosen to live and what work you were doing.  After seven years, I know some of your thoughts and plans would be different, and how can I guess where it would have taken you?  Sometimes it bothers me more than others...not knowing these simple things.

"Take me away I need the sand and the waves the sunset and let's not forget those warm autumn days"

I just wanted to tell you I miss you and love you.  I want to ask when I'll see you again, and if you'd be visiting soon?

Love Beetle

It would be a short and simple letter, because I would write again soon.  I would be hoping see you soon too.  Right now am I remembering you smiling in Punta Cana and we drew funny pictures in the sand that the waves would quickly wash away.  I would hope we could go to a sunny sandy beach again soon, if I could hope for such things.

I think a lot today about your mom, and Laramie's mom, and Brooke's mom.  I know they have their own letters to send to heaven.  I think of all your friends and special people who I know feel today as deeply as we do.

I wonder many of the same things for Brooke, and for Laramie.  What special things would they love, where would they be today.  And yes, I wonder about their hair too.

So heaven has more than its share of special angels.  I wonder why they were needed there so soon.  But I do believe we carry them with us always.  And the pieces of us that broke and were lost are carried with them where they are.  And so in that strange way, which is never quite enough, we at least become whole again...on both sides.

Love, always, and forever.

"If you hear this where ever you are just know I need you here.  I need you near me now no matter what I do.
I will always carry you in my heart.  You'll always be my shooting star."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Admiring Eklutna Lake

On the list of nearby beautiful places with beautiful names that I had been meaning to go see is Lake Eklutna.  At the end of the road, in a quiet campground, sits this vision of serenity.

I have no idea who the couple in the picture were, but they had claimed the place first and after some waiting I realized I was not going to get a peopleless picture of this place.  However, with all the signs warning of a black bear that had been approaching campers (hence the quiet campground), it might not have been bad to have had some other people around.  Sadly, the bear was shot 3 days later near this site.  In Canada, the park and campground areas are much less than Alaska, and manned by rangers who will close the campground and try to keep people and bears apart, and you cannot bring a gun into those parks.  Alaska, and America in general, is less regulated than Canada, for better or worse (worse is you're a bear I guess).  Anyway, here's a nice picture of the scene and some strangers.

I was again a little in awe of how green Alaska is.  The grasses are lush and thick, and life swirls vibrantly around you at every step.

Alaska is beautiful.  Somedays there just aren't enough words to describe it.  Every place is a little different.  100 feet from the parking lot and you feel like you are in the middle of the wilderness.  I guess you are.  There are pockets of us humans in the vast Alaska wilderness, but this is truly mother nature's last stand.  I saw something on a news story over the weekend. One photographer in Anchorage has done one portrait a day -- for 5 years.   He has captured people from all professions, ethnicities, and walks of life.  He says he has noticed one thing is the same in all of his subjects, one Alaskan quality.  The people of Alaska are strong, one way or another.  Be it the stark environment, a tough job, a quest, or something inside that drove them to this land or ties them to it now, strength of character shines through.  This is a special place, worthy of these special characters.

To me, moments like this are invaluable.  I believe the human soul needs a break from all of the other people, and a chance to be removed from them and look at something bigger than the lives of man.  Even New Yorker's get this, and Central Park is one of the biggest testaments to this idea.  But from the shore of Eklutna Lake, place like Central Park, surrounded by city on all four sides, start to seem more like a zoo.  No pollution, no encroaching noise, just little old you, and a piece of the world the way it was meant to be before we remodelled it.

The only sounds were a gentle lapping of water against the shore, the frequent buzz of some very large dragonflies, and the skipping of stones from the stranger couple a little further down the shore, and the sky was amplified, one perfect blue one above and its equally blue mirror reflection on the lake.

We had to get one of Shibby at the lake for the Alaska Vacation Album.

Or maybe two....

The only problem with using this as a backdrop is it's so big, you can't get it all in the frame without making your subject too small to see.  So I took a few more to capture the color set of the day, just of the green and the scene.

This morning however, it's a different picture.  After a very mild winter, we got a fresh snowfall yestereay.  I would say at least a half a foot.  I don't mind so much, better on a weekend than a weekday for the commute to work, and it will help get some much needed moisture to all the forests and grasses.  Less snow equals more forest fires in Alaska, with 2015 being the worst fire year on record.  So here's the view today.  But it won't be long until the summer views posted above are back, and hopefully I will have some more visitors to explore with this summer!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beluga sunset

It seems Alaskan sunset is on the vacation to do list for guests.  That can be a bit tricky in "the Anchorage Bowl" or "the Valley" where you are surrounded by mountains.  You have to make your way to a "flat spot" with a clear view of the horizon.  I have been told Beluga Point is the place to do this.  Fortunately Shibby and I were driving back to Anchorage after a great meal at Seven Glaciers atop Alyeska when the sun started to set (which happens about 10:30 pm that time of year).  As we wound north on the Seward highway, we began to catch glimpses of the orange glow around the bends.

We didn't quite make it to Beluga Point before the sun started to dip below the horizon, so we stopped at the first safe pullout we could find.  The pictures actually don't do it justice, so I am going to have to do this over one day.  I come from Saskatchewan, know as the land of the living skies, and I have rarely seen a sunset to rival those in Saskatchewan, which usually treat you to the most beautiful pinks and purples in the sky.  The sunset we saw in Alaska on this day, however, was incredibly golden, and the sun seemed larger than usual.  Maybe it was an illusion, maybe the mind sees things differently after such a great day of seals and otters and glaciers and flowers and 5 star dining, but I was surprised to look at these pictures and see the little golden orb in the frame.  At the time, it was magnificent!

I liked the neon green of the weigh station encroaching on the scene.

Shibby's Alaska vacation was nearing the end.  I figured she needed a sunset yoga pose on the side of the road, so after bugging her, she finally complied.  I think it's a nice picture!

You can see a lot in the long summer days of Alaskan summers.  It was a good day.  It has taken me a lot of months to make my way through all the pictures, and find the leisure time to blog lately.  So much that as I post these August pictures, big fat spring snowflakes are falling outside my window this morning.  I have been here now just over a year.  It's been a wonderful, busy, crazy, beautiful kind of year.  I am feeling grateful today...for what might be one last snowfall to give our forests some extra moisture, for the quiet of the streets on snowy days, for a morning off to sit back and enjoy the memories before the next round of adventures begins.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Alyeska Flora

The grounds of the hotel Alyeska are gorgeous.  They dance with the color and movement of the mountain wildflowers...and maybe a few transplants that were too pretty to resist planting.

The lilies may be transplants to Alaska, like so many of us, but the thrive in the summer days.

Flowers in Alaska tend to be tiny and intricate..bursts of color made of dozens or hundreds of little flowers, rather than one big flower.

I have no idea what these are, but they look like whimsical and curious enough to be from a land of pixies and fairies and such.

Alaska favors flowers that bloom in purples, and indigo's and blues.  The twisting petals remind me of little dancers.  Alaska flowers are beautiful.

These little buds remind me of snails, or delicate violet seashells, they have a special beauty that is both delicate and hardy.

I am not sure if this is the same plant with white flowers rather than blue, but it was just as pretty.

The little snail-like buds eventually unfurl into these flowers.  I am exceptionally drawn to them, but I  am beginning to think this is Alaskan monkshood.  Also known as wolf's bane, mouse bane, women's bane, aconite, devil's helmet, and the Queen of All Poisons (yes, seriously).  It's an acute poison, fatal in 2-6 hours if ingested.  The poison is also readily absorbed from the skin, so picking it is a really bad idea.

It's beautiful though, whatever it is.  I like how the flowers on the bottom left look like butterflies.

There are splashes of other colours too -- like this yellow.  And yes, I spelled colour with a u on purpose, I am exerting my Canadianess here.  I need a few outlets for my repressed superfluous vowels whilst living in the USA.

This splash of soft pastel pink has the little flowers delicately splayed into a virtual cotton candy for bees.  I loved how soft it looked.

Love how the petals twist and spiral, making each flower ever so subtly unique.

Sometimes it's nice to stop and smell the flowers for a day or two.  Happy I had a chance to, and looking forward to some more long summer days very soon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Alyeska Highs

I have a lot of favorite places, some sunny, some sandy, some rocky, some fields of green.  They are vastly separate, but they all have one thing in common.  They give you the feeling like you are standing at the edge of the earth as you know it.  On this August day, Shibby and I stepped off a gondola and came across this couple and their dog, doing just exactly that thing.

They were overlooking the Hotel Alyeska in the long light of an Alaska summer's eve.  The title may be misleading.  Alyeska is the local ski resort, and one of the poshest places I have found up here so far.  This is literally the tallest viewpoint in the area.  And, it is technically part of Girdwood, a reputed hippie style town, so "Alyeska highs" can be referenced in other ways in this part of Alaska (marijuana is legal in Alaska, so long as you neither buy nor sell it, which may explain why the garden supply aisles at the local WalMart are so expansive despite our long winters).

For a moment I had to stop looking for Heidi and the goats and realize I wasn't living a moment from the old movie "Edelweiss."  It's a special thing to witness an Alaska summer.

The hills are steeper than you realize when their snow is all gone.  You can hike it, you can bike it.  And I would have when I was 20.  Even when I was 30.  But it seems there is a paradigm shift somewhere between then and there, when you start to realize the inverse relationship between bravery and longevity.  Finding your happy place between the two is the key I think.  It wasn't a decision I had to make, standing there 4 days after knee surgery (does a scooter wreck dodging a tiny rat terrier count as bravery?  I think it took a few years off my live so it must).

There is a great view of the ocean on the 'backside' of Alyeska.  Sometimes people will come here just to watch the bore tide.  What's a bore tide you say?  It's a rush of seawater flowing back into an inlet after low tides, which can be particularly dramatic around the full moon.  Think of it as a wave, but instead of a wave that rolls in, gets drawn back out, and followed by another, it's a wave that rolls in and keeps rolling for 25 miles uninterrupted before it reaches shore.

But the real reason we found ourselves atop Aleyska was tradition.  Fancy dinner night, a must when time allows and the adventures have been good.  So on top of Alyeska is a wonderful dining room, it's called Seven Glaciers and it is fabulous.  We went all out with a lobster bisque, steak, and crab legs.  The only regret was being too full to try the famous Baked Alyeska.  I shall return, specifically for that I think.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Whittling Away Time in Whittier

 Whittier, Alaska has a reputation for being quite literally cut off from the rest of the world.  In fact, there are a lot of places in Alaska like that.  And there is something about just exactly that that keeps the residents, well, resident   These are not places for the plastic of pop culture...Kardashian watchers are in short demand, but bird watchers seem to have some representation.

Sometimes the scenery here is so big, and when you are looking across an expansive range that goes for miles and miles, you forget how many animals are just hanging out doing their thing in the background.  A zoom lens on a small section of rock near this waterfall shows just what we are missing.  Sometimes the big picture is actually in the smallest pixel of the whole view.

Somehow I didn't think "waterfall" when I first started thinking of Alaska.  But waterfalls, big and small, sprout up everywhere here.

Whittier is surrounded, by water, mountains, and the world outside.  But it manages to keep it all at bay somehow.

I look forward to returning this summer, to go back to the little pub in the hotel and watch the light glint off the waters again, and maybe take that same boat ride out to see some more otters and seals, and maybe a whale fin or two.