S: a collection of notes and photos from Alaska by Mark Clafshenkel
BC: This ol' man Thanksgiving Eve 2010
FC: Notes from Alaska 2010 my first year | Eagle River Nature Center in the Spring
1: Prologue On May 9th, 2010 I left all that was familiar and all those whom I love to embark on a new life in South Central Alaska. You know the reasons it became imperative to leave, still it is no easy thing. I fell in love with Alaska when I first visited in 2003. In a journal I kept of that trip I wrote, among immutable granite sentinels, dynamic glaciers, raging serpentine rivers and fragile ecosystems in a vast wilderness inhabited by beasts large and small, feral and tame there is room enough for me to live unbridled. It is a sentiment I have carried these many years in which I now find truth. I can not explain how living here has affected my personality, my identity but it has. Of course in my daydreams of retiring here I never had to leave anyone behind. I am saddened by the great chasm between us. I regret most the inability to share in person in the life adventures and experiences of my children. What is a life that is not shared? Who has lived that has not contributed to his own life and shared that with those around him? Questions like these compelled me to email my "Notes from Alaska", hopeful they would shorten the distance and keep us confident that wherever we may be we are family. The notes were a chance for me in words to share my thoughts and experiences, an opportunity for you all to see through my pictures my surroundings and what it is about nature that moves me. This book is a collection for me to share so that we can all remember the bits and pieces of life that made up my first year in this last great frontier.
2: Waiting for riders mid-April Walmart Wasilla AK | Hey yinz guys, just a quick email on week one with Walmart. Everyone I work with is laid back, knowledgeable and serious about their work. They have been welcoming and helpful. The customers here don't seem to mind being herded through long lines like cattle. They are patient and courteous and to the few to whom I've told I just moved here, each had their own story of how they fell in love with Alaska and had to move here. Everyone I talk to invites me to their favorite fishing hole, they tell me of their favorite places to visit, favorite places to eat and where I can try their favorite beer. Still on my first day I was nervous and overly concerned about what I might have missed by being out of work for six months. That night when I was the solo pharmacist and the pick up lines grew and grew I feared at any minute someone was going to complain and the whole place would erupt. Rodney, a tech I work with, broke the tension. He came up beside me and in calm deadpan while looking down at the counter he said he needed " a thirty count of honey roasted Percocet" for an order he was filling. When I smiled at him he told me I gotta relax- wait till tourist season he said. I asked him what's up with the zombie like customers and he said they're all tired from fishing all night. The way he tells it not even Alaskans can sleep with all the sun so they fish till there are no fish to catch. He promised to take me fishing when I get my license. The pharmacy manager, an advid duck hunter, told me he would take me to the areas best sporting goods store and point out all I'll need for life up here. My other pharmacist partner took me to Moose"s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria for pizza and my new favorite beer Prince William Sound Porter. Guess what I'm sayin' is- I'm fittin' in.
3: Hey yinz guys,Two Wednesdays ago Salmon arrived in Cook Inlet. It heralded the sportfishing season. The local early news had an in-depth, half hour look at the event. The following morning the news had a one hour in depth look at the dismal first day catch. The brave anglers that fished the choppy Inlet water under all day storms had little to show for the effort. The worst first day outing in years. The news explored the impact this would have on the tourist season. Was the Gulf of Alaska fished out? If word gets out, will any one travel to Alaska? What happened to the fish. All experts agreed Salmon should be in Cook Inlet now. Was there a new strain of Salmon Influenza that had the poor fish whirling in tight circles just outside the inlet? Was it Global warming- had it perturbed the Salmonid Biological Clock? You would have thought one day of poor fishing was a harbinger of the end of the world and annihilation of man. Also this week on my way to work the traffic guy on the radio alerted all listening motorists that a moose was down on the Seward Highway at the intersection of Fireweed Lane (right in the heart of Anchorage). The newsman urged drivers to be courteous and not park in the middle of the highway while they helped themselves to the fresh meat because it could cause a traffic jam. Take what the land gives you. People here live the idiom. I wondered about the person who hit the moose. How could any one not see a moose on the highway in the middle of town? Moose border on extra large. In the car I'm using now I could drive under a moose. I don't believe the moose left the Alaska Fur Exchange store right there on the corner and just leapt into oncoming traffic as if he dropped from the sky out of no where. No, some driver, late for work, driving in excess of the speed limit, texting a message and talking into his Bluetooth while eating a McSandwich of breakfast flavored fat ploughed right through the animal. In the same news report the arrival of Salmon to Clam Gulch was announced. As an important public service the newsguy reminded us that if we were going to fish Clam Gulch, please don't park on or fish from the one lane bridge that spans the gulch. Again, traffic jams. He also added that all persons camping along the water and anglers fishing from the tidal flats should be mindful of the Tides and Times Tables. Seems every year some number of people lose their lives to the tides. The angler fishing from the tidal basin is having a good day. Each cast yields a fish. It's well into the long afternoon before his nagging shoulder causes him to take a break from fishing. He looks down and that's when he notices the Tide's return he finds too that he is knee deep in the silt. If he can't loose himself, he will be swallowed by the impartial water. Nothing personal man, just nature. | Ptarmigan coming to grips with new property owner
4: Rodney went to Clam Gulch this Memorial Day weekend. He invited me to join him but it was my misfortune to have to work this weekend. There will be another time. Rodney is fishing for sport this weekend with friends and family. The Alaska Native Heritage Council grants him the right to also fish for subsistence. Our co-workers chide him for his unfair advantage, calling him a "dip-netter" derisively. I think it's envy with a little good natured ribbing. Who wouldn't want an opportunity to fish without restriction? Rodney grew up along the turbulent Naknek River. His old man constructed a fish wheel right in front of their home. Imagine a Ferris wheel in the river. The buckets rise up carrying fish and water overhead. On the back sweep the bucket is tripped and it's content spills into a slough. The water drains back to whence it came leaving the fish to harvest. In the spring and summer when the Naknek was pregnant with Salmon, Rodney worked early to late with his family. The harvested fish were gutted and filleted into strips at the fish table then hung on racks to dry in the midnight sun. Once cured the strips of salmon were stored in a cool, earthen cache.He tells me as a boy he hated the biting black flies and stinging insects that swarmed him as he tried to help. He would run off crying and flailing his arms only to be brought back to the fish table and put back to work by his dad. He recalls by the time he was a teen he became inurred of the pests, able to work diligently under a poncho of black flies. I think on the same day at the same time we were fishing from the barges on the Mon only to torture whatever Carp or Catfish we may have caught. | Three AM Knik River
5: Well, it is tourist season here. Noticed some campers and Travel-Alls on the road this week. Not to be out done the locals loaded up their RV's and trucks and hit the road as well. Got behind, beside or past more than a few of them burdened with canoe or kayak, decorated with bikes or carry tops and with boat, waverunner or four wheeler in tow. Boy, they sure got there toys up here. Lines got longer at the pharmacy this week. Now I can tell our regular customers from the visitors. The vacationers are the antsy, head swiveling, toe tapping, I'm gonna stare you down man ones while our regulars are still calm as Hindu cows being led to slaughter. One arm outstretched with money in hand the other outstretched arm with hand ready to accept some kind or another honey roasted medicine as they advanced zombie-like. Speaking of tourists- I'm still one. The other morning I left the house way early to find wi-fi and coffee before work. Sunrise is at 5:10am right now and usually the sky is bright and sunny for the morning drive to work. This day had started overcast with the sun just piercing the clouds around 6am. I'm looking up at the mountain range on my left as I always do while driving this stretch and I see sunlight reflecting pink-orange off the bottom of a cloud bank. The snow capped peaks just below were lit up in Day Glo orange and pink. It was surreal. It was Alpenglow to be exact. I wanted to note the time (6:33am- so said the car), look for a landmark and a place to pull off. I look down level with the road and there is a marsh in the foreground. Seaweed green pools surrounded by sienna and ochre sedges and in the near distance spring green spruce gave way to the blue-gray mountains. I wanted to park on the highway! I wanted to photograph the scene, to run across the marsh through the copse of conifers, scale the mountain and roll down the psychedelic snowy hillside! Caught up in my reverie, eyes wide, mouth agape, I didn't realize my foot came off the gas pedal completely. I'm coasting to a standstill and this obnoxious, blaring horn from a mud-clad, knobby tired, 4wd truck that nearly collided with me as the fist shaking driver speeds by, snaps me out of my stupor. My heart got stuck in my throat. Up so high I could taste it. I had the where with all to speed up but I was trembling, the coursing blood pounding in my head was all I could hear and all I could think was- I'm gonna have a heart attack?! I came all the way up here to die? | Storm approaches the Little Su and me on Archangel Trail in Hatcher's Pass
6: It has been pleasantly warm of late. Spring however ephemeral has blossomed to summer. I see people at Wal-mart buying flats of annuals, gallon containers of perennials and six packs of vegetable plants. They buy kiddie pools, beach towels and sand boxes. They come to the store in tees, shorts and flip-flops. It is in the low to mid seventies after all. They are out and about all hours. I drive past a public use area in front of Big Lake at 10pm and see people sun-bathing, tossing frisbee, biking and picnicking. Hey, I think you read too fast- I said SUN-BATHING AT 10PM! Crazy. Four wheeling is popular around Wasilla where I live. ATV's travel parallel to me on dirt trails that in the winter host snow machine travel. The first few times I see clouds of dust ahead of me to the side of the road I'm driving, I think- Uh-oh accident ahead, fire?, tornado?, Superman got drunk again and crashed out of the sky? Naw, just some four wheeler headed my way. People of all ages, male and female all seem to enjoy fourwheeling along the road that takes me to my house. It does look look like fun. There are hills, jumps, high banked turns and mud holes to drive. But I must be getting old, something about riding in a cloud of dirt doesn't appeal to me. I think of Pigpen from Peanuts. The other day there were four ATV's parked at the Tesoro Gas Station about a mile from my home. It is the local hang out. Leaning against the side of the building, by their four wheelers, dressed in tees, jeans and black boots four grandma aged Athabascan women with their gray hair pulled back and pinned down shared laughter and conversation while smoking Pall Malls and drinking from paper cups. Okay, I don't know they were Pall Malls but it sounds good- it's a tale not a documentary. Yeah, it's different up here. Could yinz imagine mum four wheelin' with the girls? | Hatcher Pass Lodge end of the park road
7: There is a rooster within earshot of where I live. I think roosters in this state must be confused. This poor fellow by me greets the morning a few times every day and a few times each night. I think the hens he governs might like to buy him a watch. Otherwise it is quiet and peaceful at my home. In the mornings I like to walk down to the lake to see if the grebes and loons have arrived. After work I like to sit out on my deck and let the day settle around me. By 10pm or so the intensity of the sun begins to wane as it approaches the tree line. The chirping of birds becomes more vibrant at this time too and I look among the bunches of Birch Trees hoping for a wildlife encounter. I've been smiling to myself more and more these nights. Partly cause there is no one by me to smile at and partly because I'm allowing myself to accept my happiness. Can't help thinking this is how it was meant for me, thinking this wave I'm ridin' now is gonna be a long one and I don't particularly care where it takes me-just gonna enjoy the ride. Sometimes sittin' out on my deck at night I imagine God, standing over me from heaven. His arms folded across his chest and one sandaled foot is raised so that I'm in its shadow. He's thinking- maybe I gave him too much, maybe I can't trust him, maybe, now just maybe I made a mistake about this one. He's contemplating whether or not He should squash me like a bug right now. By his side Jesus, or some other good soul, has a hand on God's shoulder and is whispering in his ear "Hold back now. Wait. Let's just give him some time. Let's see what he does with it." | Red Necked Grebes | Lilly Pads my corner of Paradise Lake
8: Hey yinz guys,This past Wednesday I took a ten minute drive from my home to Hatcher Pass. In anticipation of Mason and Elsa arriving over the weekend I wanted to see if the hiking trails were free of snow. They were. I took a eight mile hike on Archangel Trail and the views were spectacular. When I mentioned to my co-workers I hiked the trail they asked what was I packing. Nothing. They admonished me for being so green that I tromped off in grizzly country without any type of deterrent. They tell me this time of year bears are quite active. It got me thinking. They recommended a hand gun. A big pistol like a 357 or 40 ACP. They say no one will give you trouble for shooting a bear regardless the season. The idea of killing a bear gives me trouble. The guides and many other people use Bear Spray. I checked out the spray in sporting goods stores. In bold red lettering the can boasts its spray is effective from 30 feet. Well the can is awfully proud of itself but I think- thirty feet? That’s ten yards. I don’t know if I got the sand to stand still in front of a charging bear and wait till he’s 30ft or less from me. I’ve been practicing in my yard, sighting an object then trying to estimate how far it is from me. I’d want to be awful sure I got a good measure of thirty feet in the field. And too the can says it deters bears. I’m thinking what exactly do they mean deter? The bear is gonna stop on a dime, sit on his ass wiping tears from his eyes and think “Now, what did you do that for?” The charging bruin is gonna do a sharp 180 and veer off into the woods? Or will the pepper spray merely slow him momentarily before he bowls me over, turns back on me and with his right arm puts a cross bar over my chest and with his jaws cracks my skull like an egg and laps up my brain. The bear would think, “I love humans- crunchy with a creamy center!” The other alternative is a necklace of small cow bells. No shit, they sell these wearable jingle bells to hikers all the time. The idea is the bear will hear you coming and yield the right of way. I’m sure bears have good hearing, still, I know how I am in the woods. I imagine this big ol’ bear in the middle of a berry patch stripping branch after branch of leaf, thorn and fruit and devouring it all. The only thing he’s thinking is “More, more, more please.” I know when I’m hiking in the woods and come across a berry patch I tone down and tune out all other distractions. It’s just me and the berries. I move deeper and deeper in the patch. I just can’t get enough sweet berries. A bruin among a patch of berries is never gonna hear me jingle belling along, at least not till we both reach for the same berry. The bear is gonna look heavenward. He’s gonna think “Meat! Thanks!” | Mountain Spring near Fish Hook Trail
9: There have been few good, news tidbits I‘ve heard of these past weeks. By sheer co-incidence I learned of a bear attack in Anchorage just a day after my last Notes From Alaska e-mail. A biker ( a pharmacist by bizarre co-incidence) was attacked along the riverside trail in Campbell’s Creek Park as he was on his way to work at Providence Hospital. The biker managed to get himself to the hospital ER and is expected to make a full recovery despite being severely injured. City Council members were inflamed and they along with tourism representatives called out the Fish&Game for stocking Campbell’s Creek with Salmon which undoubtedly attracted these nuisance bears. Fish&Game retaliated that fisherman have as much right to use of the park as bikers, picnickers and out of state visitors. After a week of backbiting between the factions the Fish&Game put its foot down and stated they will not elicit use of animal control officers to anesthetize and remove bears from the area nor will they stop their stocking efforts, instead they implore continued education of people entering indigenous specie areas as to the dangers of wildlife encounters and how to prepare/fend off attacks. A week later a second bear attack was reported, this time in a remote non-tourist bush area where the attacked man was able to shoot the bear. The bear disappeared into the bush and the man was life- flighted by helicopter for emergency care. Again, the man is expected to survive, there was no word on how the bear made out. Sports fishing is still very poor this year though they have opened the Kenai (under the weight of tourism promotion) to sport fishing. Stirring even more trouble and hot debate among fishing guides, tourism directors and the state, the Fish&Game is going to construct a fish weir at the mouth of the Kenai and Cook Inlet and trap and retain six thousand King Salmon. Fishing guides and tourism promoters are irate that the state would do such a thing that would severely impact the local economy. Never the less the Fish&Game is adamant about keeping 6k Kings unmolested to ensure spawning and future generations of the salmon. Lastly, because fishing this season is so bad the state announced a “Fish for Free Weekend” statewide program. This weekend it was held in Anchorage. Where? Why Campbell’s Creek alongside the riverside trail naturally. | Clearing skies over Chocolate Lillies and me on Reed Lakes Trail
10: Reflection Lake | Evening stroll August | Reflection Lake Sunset and rain clouds
11: September Autumn glow | Reflection Lake twenty after moonrise | November | I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. Henry David Thoreau "Walden's Pond"
12: Hey yinz guys, Well a few weeks got behind me. It has been quiet out here. I had an eight day marathon of ten hour work days that really put this old dog to the test. I keep reminding my superiors while I am the new guy I am also the old guy. The seven days off that followed the marathon were great yet uneventful. It rained every day of the seven though some days it was only scattered sprinkles. The rain kept the temperature in the high 50’s to low 60’s though it seemed warmer to me. Rodney and I did get out to fish. We fished the Deshka River, about a forty minute drive from my home. Actually, we fished the mouth of the Deshka where it meets the Susitina River, known colloquially as the Big Su. We accessed the confluence by way of his buddy’s boat. A 15 minute thrill ride at top speed, that put a chill through my very core. Still it was a great scenic ride. At this point it was sunny where we started with dark looming skies over where we were headed. At various points along the way eagles would scream from their treetop aeries then dive out into the sky above us and circle and swoop. Beavers slapped their tails in disgust and dove for deep water as we waked out their dams and two moose from different shoreline areas presumably munching fresh algae were sent charging into the dense forest. As soon as we shut the boat down and anchored ourselves in position the rains came. Then they went, then they came and went again. So it was for the entire twelve hours we were on the water. After a period of drenching rain the sun would push the clouds away and shine radiantly. The intense heat warmed me quickly, it was like sunbathing on a Hawaiian beach. And so it became a ritual of putting on rain gear and bracing for the storm and peeling off clothes when the sun threatened to set you on fire. When the sun was out the woods were alive with animal chatter, there were frequent aerial shows overhead from eagles and terns and you could here the comforting sounds of casual banter among the fisherman in other boats. When it rained it was morbidly quiet and eerily still. Water was the only noisemaker. Waves slapping the sides of the boat, the kerplunking of your bait being swallowed by the drink and the annoying pattering of rain on everything. The drops fall on my hooded head roll off the nylon brim slide along my prodigious nose then the perilous leap to the toe of my boot- it was mind numbing. Still it wasn’t bad. What was bad was we didn’t catch a single fish. None of us. Not even a hit. Bobbing like a cork in our anchored spot under the rains my mind went adrift. So many and so varied my thoughts it was if the rain had made my brain soggy. Diffuse and remotely related ideas liquefying with awareness of my surroundings left me dream-like and listless. The perpetual cast and retrieve of the chrome Blue Fox Spinner seemed more reflexive than intentional and on the occasions when I became stuporous the retrieve slowed and the lure would tick bottom or run into a weed and I would violently set the hook. The heavy, multi-hooked lure would fly out of the water and come whizzing toward us sending us to our knees. I could sense the damned thing flying past my ear just before it would crash into the gunwale behind me. “Heh-heh, just keeping’ ya on your toes. You know them big-ins hit just when you lose your attention.”, I would lie by way of explanation.
13: A Stairway to Heaven summiting the peak of April Mountain April Bowl Midnight on the Summer Solstice | I have become jaded living here, whenever I see a handful of tourists I think, man it is crowded today. It really upsets me to see litter and dog waste on the trail, I think what next, are they gonna tag the glaciers and mountains with graffiti? I traversed a spiny arete to a four thousand foot peak and what do you think I saw? Cigarette butt. I could've jumped.
14: On Saturday I got the dogs out for a hike. Mason loves the alpine tundra. He is as sure footed as a Dall sheep and lumbers upward and onward as powerful as a bear. I keep them leashed in the parking areas but when we get some distance from the trail head I let them go. Under the threat of rain we hiked onward and upward into the clouds and fog that hung heavy and low. And I saw Elsa come into her own. Unleashed up in the tundra grass she ran in great circles coming to me frequently just to check in and for a pat on the head. Then she’s off again coming in fast and low toward Mason she entices him to chase. It is both a pleasure and an amazing thing to watch the two of them play chase so boldly, gracefully and at such great speed in looping arcs and tight moguls thousands of feet up on a mountainside. I am jealous. Elsa is a edge walker and rock scaler. She lopes along the edge sniffing at meadow wildflowers and looking out at the view as if she can appreciate the scenery. She comes upon a large boulder, one of dozens strewn haphazardly in the high mountain trail and she climbs upon it. She is panting and smiling with some great canine satisfaction. She leaps off the rock and charges downhill full out like a race horse or grey hound turning the last quarter to the finish line. Low and sleek with virtually no drag she fluidly speeds downhill to a tiny rivulet of glacial water trapped in a natural culvert. She hits the water and speeds upstream, spray leaps up all around her. She stops on a dime takes a dainty sip of water then lies in the meadow flowers and looks up to me with a broad smile on her face. The big guy roams every inch of alpine meadow following criss-crossing grids borne of animal scent. He is on his own- off the reservation man. Instinct and heritage have overtaken him. He chases and torments the marmots brave enough to make their presence known to him. He thunders across the broad rocky plateaus pivoting his whole body this way and that avoiding moss covered boulders and leaps out onto the knife-edged arete. I yell “Get off there lunkhead before you fall” He’s off like a shot up over the next rise long before Elsa or I can reach him. I make the rise and look up at him on the next precipice. At the edge, he’s not looking at scenery. He’s stretched out and standing tall, nose up he looks skyward. Looking up at him I think- he is majestic. I wonder if he can sense from where it is he comes. He is so absolutely at home and perfectly happy in these mountains I think he must know he is Swiss. Den gutes Berner Sennenhund, ja!
15: Only different thing in the neighborhood is a moose. Mason loves the moose. The first morning we saw her (I think she’s a cow only because she’s antler less- could be bull moose drop their antlers in summer like deer) I had the dogs on leash for a quick pee (not me, the dogs). Elsa sat and looked quizzically at the animal I stopped and stared quizzically too, Mason bellowed. His deep intimidating bark only eliciting a long look from the moose. When the animal made eye contact with Mason, he got in his puppy stance. Chest on ground, front legs splayed out before him, ass up high with tail wagging he invited the moose to play. He wanted to make friends. How cute. What a stupid dog! Everyday we go moose hunting around the house- it’s pure joy when the boneheaded dog finds moose nuggets. Seeing the moose in their yard is a different story. Most times we’ll spot her in the tall grass down by the lake, sometimes though, she hides among the Birch trees. If its odd for me to see a moose attempting to hide behind a tree it downright freaks the dogs out. First they can’t believe it, they do a double take, sometimes they do a double take twice. They raise their hackles and ears. Noses go straight up in the air and they huff moose scent in deeply. They stand still and so tall it seems they’re on tippy-toes. They move away voluntarily, gingerly prancing (yes, like a horse) with tails at half mast but never taking their eyes off the beast. Last night the dogs are dozing in the kitchen and I’m noddin’ off in a chair and all hell breaks loose. Mason’s thunderous, vicious barking startles the shit out of me, then Elsa is frantically barking they are scrambling all over the kitchen trying to get a toe-hold on the laminate. They are in a frenzy barking, baring teeth jumping toward the dining area window and they got me scared out of my wits. I think we’re under attack, somebody’s breaking in. I’m tryin’ to get my fat ass out this stupid $9 Wal-mart special lounge chair and I got chills running up my spine, my hair is standing on end as I round the corner and look out the window. There’s Bullwinkle’s big ol’ head looking in at us. Well, I find it’s no use trying to get the dogs to settle so I slide open the door to the deck and yell at the stupid moose. “Get the hell outta here ya dumbass! Go on git!” The moose looking a little amused walks off eventually but not before leaving the boneheaded dog a fresh pile of nuggets to play with. Thanks moose. | Bullwinkle
16: Spirit Houses St. Nicholas Russian Orthodix Church Eklutna AK | Twice before when visiting Alaska I had tried to gain access to a cemetery by a Russian Orthodox Church that had spirit houses. Both those times the place was closed so I couldn't tour the cemetery but I got my chance when we went there during Bella's visit. When the Russians converted native Alaskans they adopted some of their ceremonial traditions. Parishioners who have passed are allowed to be interred under spirit houses if they choose. First the grave site lies barren 40 days which I took to symbolize Christ's 40 days in the desert. After that family members are allowed to place brightly colored ornate spirit houses on the graves. The spirit house traps and protects the deceased's soul. They allow the house to weather and deteriorate naturally at which point native Alaskans believed the person's spirit was freed to rise to heaven. It was cool and creepy.
17: Hey yinz guys, man, it has been awhile since I sent out some notes. Last Thursday, the 19th, the weather guy said we broke a record for consecutive days of rainfall. Thirty two days in a row of clouds-n-rain! The weather expert then predicted a rain free, sunny weekend starting Friday. Friday, when I got out of work at 930 pm the sun was radiating brilliantly in my face, it was pouring down rain and behind me in the sky opposite the sun was a huge double rainbow. On the way home the setting sun gave a peculiar fireworks display of garish pinks, oranges, lemon yellow and violet. I was kicking myself for not having my camera. Without reservation it was the best sunset of my life and the huge double rainbow was tremendous. The next morning I was really upset with myself when it dawned on me I could have taken a picture with my phone! The dogs and I started Saturday off early with a little fishing. Very little. Went to a nice little park with a maze of medium sized lakes that held both stocked and native trout and dolly varden. I'm reeling a dolly into shore and the boneheaded dog is prancin' and spinnin' and barking and I can't figure out why- he doesn't know what's happening. We are on a cut bank so I gotta yank the played out fish up and onto the ground. When Mason sees the fish flopping on the ground he backs way the hell up and crouches down, wide eyed and ready. Damn dog is scared of a fish. I can't resist teasing the brave Sennenhund. I draw close to him with the fish wiggling in my outstretched hand and my companion and protector gets up and skirts backward this way and that barking, hackles raised and concern in his eyes. I laugh at the fraidy cat as I toss the fish over my shoulder and back into the drink. Suddenly lughead charges forward after the fish. What the hell was he thinking? Fetch? Well, lardbutt tries to stop on a dime at the edge of the bank but he's got way too much momentum and he does a nose dive into the lake. Next, we go to a beachy area along the Knik River. It is sunny and bright and not unlike walking a east-coast shoreline. Elsa is in and out of the water while the great one trots along the coarse sand parallel to her. When she darts in the water the big guy goes into a slide and sprawls out in the sand. He rolls on his back and wriggles in the wet sand. They come to me shaking glacial fed river from their fur. What, is the dope trying to pretend he's in and out of the water too? What a nut. The three of us are in a playful mood and we play chase and I have them fetch the random pieces of driftwood we come upon. Then I get a bug up my ass. We are not far from Pioneer Falls and I decide it's time to see the falls up close. We head into the woods and are twenty yards in and I'm down on my hands and knees working up a sweat, trying to clear a path through the overgrowth of Devil's Club. Talk about the king of jagger bushes, Devil's Club stands about 5 feet tall and has wide plate sized leaves covered with millions of sharp pins. Under each leaf where stem meets branch there are 3-4 inch fang like thorns in groups of three. The plant body itself is covered with needles like cactus. I take a moment to comprehend. A half hour ago we are sunning ourselves along the river and now I'm hot grimy and wet and stuck in a enchanted briar patch from "Grimm's Fairy Tales". Maybe Mason isn't the only dumbass in this trio. We are further up now climbing over slippery rocks and under mostly a tangle of willows and something catches me. Sight, sound, sensation or premonition I don't know, but I look up and see a big hairy, button tailed ass move into the heavy cover of willow. Bear! Man, your heart hurts when it stops. I gotta force air from my lungs through my mouth to get it going again. I know I saw a black hairy ass. Grizzlies are tawny to reddish this time of year. It's gotta be a black bear. At most 600 lbs of feral beast. At least it's not 1000lbs of claw and fang. Could be it doesn't know we are just below it. Could be he's sitting in the thicket thinking "What the hell is that following me?" Checkmate and it is my turn to move, so that's what we do. We get the hell outta there. In my haste to get in the truck I forget to post the sighting. It's trail etiquette to add any sightings to posted signs at the trail head, but when we get to the trail head I'm not thinking about courtesies. Safely driving away I wondered how many other hikers may have neglected to post a sighting in their speed to leave the area.
18: Autumn's golden light knee deep in the Little Susitina River | September camoflage | "...behind him were the shades of all manner of dogs, half wolves and wild wolves urgent and prompting... So peremptorily did these shades beckon him, that each day mankind and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why...". Jack London "Call of the Wild"
19: Foggy daybreak a Fall morning on the Palmer Hay Flats | Hey yinz guys, It has been quiet here.We are a good month past Autumn, in the transition of seasons though Winter has been threatening. The weather guy called the unusually long (2 weeks) Fall our weather redemptiom for the lousy summer. Albiet fast, the two weeks of pleasant weather and color were enjoyable.The end of Autumn was abrupt, heralded by an earthquake the day before the strong winds came. That was a Wednesday, Thursday the winds gusted to sixty seven miles an hour and were perfectly horizontal. I came home that night to no power. The wind raged on horizontally for a week consecutively. I was told to expect the winds and dramatic change in temp but I had never experienced such merciless in your face cutting to the bones winds. I much prefer the 32 days of consecutive rain to the 7 days of biting strong winds. So a month ago it was warm, sunny and smelled of mature earth and woodsmoke. The air was frenetic with human activity and I wanted to fish more, hike more and explore a few new places before it was too late. However pernicious, there is a blanket of snow creeping down the mountains and even a greenhorn like me knows it won't be long before there's snow underfoot.
20: Ice Floe on the Knik River at sunset | Sticks | Ice water
21: Spruce and Lavender Eklutna Tailrace December | Hey yinz guys, it has been some time and quiet if not routine since my last note. Suddenly I find it is Christmas Day. Wow, that was fast. I decided the dogs and I would take a hike on the Gold Mint Trail, up in Hatcher’s Pass.Shouldered by the mountains we walked into the soft, purple light of the morning along the snow packed trail I began to imagine I was walking up the aisle of a great cathedral. I was overcome with the sense of something sacred. Hallowed ground even. My diminutive being was scaled down further by the vastness of frozen sub alpine tundra and yet for all I knew the dogs and I could be the only living thing in this cemetery of trees. The happy little warm center of alive to which this desperate world clung. It’s remarkable. Dead trees coming to life from winters grasp year after year after decades. Water with enough harnessed energy to flow onward in sub zero temperatures and though there’s no evidence this day there are wild animals, birds and fish that emerge from the dead of winter as if reborn each year in Spring’s vitality. Maybe it’s a miracle. For the denizens of this geologically young and wild environment though it’s merely the day to day routine- surviving conditions that could kill and flash freeze me in a matter of hours. I know it is because of my religion but I can’t help believing that all I see and experience and all that is the life we live is divined by some entity. I was moved to kneel. I wondered to which god should I genuflect? Luna glowing warmly on her descent above my left shoulder or weak Helios clambering up the dark side of and spilling helplessly over the snowy peaks on my right. Poor, fatigued sun can barely rise eleven degrees off the serrated horizon, it is the robust moon that is the guiding force now in the long dark winter.
22: Dawn's Rainbow Eklutna Lake in October | On this Christmas morning I was overcome with a primal urge to run amok in the wide open wilderness. So, I did. I lumbered hither and to untill my heart cried time out and my lungs stung from sucking cold air.I bent over and huffed and puffed to catch my breath and I caught a glimpse of the dogs watching me. They smiled politely at me but otherwise had a expression of sheer puzzlement. I could only imagine what was passing through their heads. “What the hell was all that about?” “It was like something bit him in the ass and all hell broke loose.” “And he’s always telling us to be quiet, then he’s off whoopin’ an’ hollerin’ like a lunatic.” “Did ya see him bouncin’ off the trees? The big idiot, knockin’ snow down all over us.” “And when he fell, the roar of obscenities crashing through the air splintered the tranquility like broken glass. Then the uncontrollable laughter as he rolls over, gets up and takes off again.” Geez, talk about slow, I thought I was gonna have ta drag his tired old ass all the way to the truck.” “Well, he’s not very bright or fleet footed and graceful.” “Clumsy dumbass if yer askin’ me. I’m just glad there are no other animals out here. I’d be so embarrassed if we came upon another animal with him runnin’ loose like that.” “I know, but don’t ya just wish sometimes ya could understand what he’s thinking?” Currently I’m comfortable traveling at 45 mph on a serpentine ribbon of ice in a kinda controlled slide. Surprisingly there are numerous motorists that are still hell bent at driving 70 mph into Anchorage.It seems most make it but frequently I see an out of control vehicle spin off the road when attempting to pass we more cautious drivers. First the long slide as the ass end of the vehicle tries to pass the front. The vehicle looks back at us as it begins a wide graceful pirouette which quickly becomes a violent spin. Most often it’s the tail end that goes off the road first, as it gets swallowed up by the deep snow in the cavernous roadside ditch the car up-ends and flips longwise on it’s hood. I’m getting good at recognizing make an model by their underbellies.
23: Farewell Sun a November day around 4PM in my backyard | Coming down a grade toward the Palmer Hay Flats I see a semi haulin a double trailer in the distance wriggling like a snake all along the road. I got off the gas and slowed much as I could to give the poor guy plenty of room but them two trailers were teeter tottering in opposite directions like a sinus wave. It’s simple harmonics, man, you know what happened. The rearmost trailer tipped too far and fell to its side, the other followed suit and tore the cab from the road. The behemoth went in a long, long, long slide on its side off the road and threw up a giant plume of ice and snow. I’m blinded by the sudden white-out and stupidly weigh on the brake. I felt the rear end of the truck loosen up and start to slide so I got the hell off the brake and over steered hoping to recover as I continued forward blindly on to what I hoped was still the twisting road bisecting the flats. By the time I regained visibility I was past the wreckage and there was already a host of cars pulling over to aid and assist. It laid there for three days before they got heavy equipment in there to winch it out piece at a time. Peace, Mark | Come friends tis not too late to seek a new world Push off and sitting well smite the sounding furrow For my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset and baths of western stars till I die. It may be the gulfs will wash us down It may be we'll reach the Happy Isles and dine with Achilles And though we are not that which in our youth could move mountains, we are what we are One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find and not to fail Lord Alfred Tennyson " Tales of the brave Ulysses"