25 December 2006 Numbered Lakes Christmas Day

The temperature had dropped to 5 below on a clear Christmas Eve. Even after the sun had been up an hour (11:00), the temperature was barely topping zero. We called Deb and Jeff and suggested snowshoeing instead of skiing. We needed effort without glide or self-induced wind chill. Plus Paul's feet had gotten cold in his ski boots the previous day at 10 degrees despite all the work he did breaking trail.

Jeff broke trail as we tromped along the springs that feed Lake 6 and over the hill to the springs that feed Lake 5. These springs had been trapped by a beaver dam for years and the pond had been dubbed Monkeyflower for the small yellow flowers found here. Then the summer before last, the dam burst. This past summer, the fine silty mud that used to be the pond bottom was covered in bright green vegetation. The salmon didn't seem to mind the change; they were still swimming up stream past the old dam.

The American dippers didn't seem to mind either. These hardy Robin-sized birds, also called ouzels, weather an Alaska winter by fishing in open water. They not only endure, they immerse themselves. They dive into the water to find their prey. We saw at least 4 dippers along the springs creeks.

Another amazing bird greeted us back in the woods as we climbed over another small ridge and descended to Lake 6. The tiny golden-crowned kinglet, smaller than a chickadee, survives the cold and finds food, but Deb had just been telling us on Christmas Eve that the ornithologists can't figure out how they do it.

Our Christmas circuit of the Numbered Lakes was complete.

Sun dog around the solar noon sun

24 December 2006 Numbered Lakes Christmas Eve

What a perfect winter if you like winter - snow, snow, and more snow, and continued c0ld temperatures. Just what we northerners think Christmas should look like.

We drove to Talkeetna on Saturday the 23rd for the Christmas weekend. After getting a fire going at the cabin. we walked farther down our driveway to our friends' Doug and Ellen to see if they had time for a walk before heading to the airport. We caught them at a good time so after sharing a holiday brew, we headed out. Several new inches of snow had fallen in Talkeetna in the previous two days, but D & E had been walking often on the route we wanted to take. Doug led in snowshoes to pack the trail a little more and the rest of us came behind with our Sorel boots. One of the best things about our property in Talkeetna are wonderful neighbors at the end of the driveway and the mile-long trail they had tracked to nearby lake #4.

That evening we went to Michele's Cafe to wish our friend Michele a Merry Christmas and to get a good dinner. Michele's son had sent her home, but we still got to enjoy a delicious meal. Back at the cabin, Paul beat me at several games of Pitch and then I trounced him at Gin Rummy.

After a leisurely Christmas Eve morning, we headed out for a ski. We planned to tour at least five of the six small lakes within a mile-and-a-half of our cabin. These lakes are numbered, not named, and are about to be designated as the Numbered Lakes Natural Area by the Mat-Su Borough, the landowner. The lakes and connecting creeks are unique because they're fed by springs. The creeks stay open most of the winter, providing habitat for over-wintering birds and fish. This area is rich because of the springs, creeks, lakes and connecting wetlands. All of this water makes the area difficult to traverse in the warm months, but, except for watching for open leads, it's a non-motorized winter recreation paradise.

The last foot of snow had fallen in the past week. With Christmas preparations and the shortest days of the year, no one had been skiing on the lakes. Paul broke trail the entire way -- from Lake 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 and the long haul back to Lake 5 -- and we wished we had chosen snowshoes over skis. But the day was beautiful, not too cold, and we were earning a Christmas Eve feast with our friends Pam and Roger and ten other guests.

9 December 2006 Christmas Cactus

Well, it was bound to happen. I've fallen behind on my weekly goal for the blog. Last Saturday, the winter sun was setting and I needed a photo for the week. One of the Christmas cactuses still had blooms -- so here it is.

30 November 2006 Tucson

Just after Thanksgiving in New York, I flew to Tucson for the Conservation Science in Practice conference of The Nature Conservancy. I hadn't been to Arizona or a similar geography in five years. I'd forgotten the other-worldliness of the plants and the unique beauty of arid climes. We were staying and meeting at a resort on the edge of the city near the mountains. Each day I walked the trails around the resort, sometimes in the chilly mornings and sometimes in the last rays of sunset.

On the last afternoon, I walked about a mile east of the resort to an arroyo. I was on a mission. When Paul and I were in Hawaii, we had searched for several geocaches. At South Point, near the Green Sand Beach (see October Hawaii blog), we took a travel bug from a cache. After we got home to Alaska, I went on-line to log our finds and found out that the travel bug had a goal to go south. We had just taken it from the farthest point south in the US to almost the farthest north (short a 1000 miles or so). But our GPS clearly told us that Anchorage was 3000 miles north of South Point.

The guy who had sent the travel bug on its way from Europe was disappointed, to say the least. I emailed him with the promise to find a cache in New York over Thanksgiving or in Arizona. I was surprised at the number of caches in my hometown of Groton, NY, but we didn't get a chance to visit there. I wish I had looked for caches along the Erie Canal because we had several pleasant walks along it. Tucson is full of geocachers, however, and I found several near the resort. Google Earth showed that it would be a pleasant walk from the resort and I wouldn't be rummaging under rocks in someone's back yard. I had to walk along a four-lane artery to get to the arroyo, but once I stepped beyond the first row of verde trees, I was alone. I found the cache beneath of pile of dry sticks under a verde tree. I logged the find and placed the travel bug in its new temporary home and then continued up the dry creek bed until backyard fences blocked my way. Back at the resort, I got online and logged the drop-off and asked whoever found the travel bug to carry it south.

Peter from Germany emailed me a few days later to thank me and to say that his travel bug was residing among many more swimming pools than it ever saw in Europe.

For more on geocaching and travel bugs, check out http://www.geocaching.com/. It can be a unique way to visit some corners of the world.

22 November 2006 Flower of the Woods

Living in a young state where everything seems to have happened in the last 100 years, one can forget that other parts of civilization are much older. Even one's own history has much more depth. I was reminded of, no, immersed in, some of my family history during Thanksgiving week.

Paul and I spent ten days with my mom and step-father outside of Verona, NY, at the Joslyn Family farm. Ephraim Joslyn moved to this location in 1800 and built the house in 1816. As he sat astride a ridge pole, one of the carpenters called it the 'Flower of the Woods' because most of the lumber came from the woods surrounding it. My great-uncle Edward Joslyn purchased it from the Joslyn Estate in 1945 and spent the following 40 years renovating and restoring the house. Some of the land is still leased out to be farmed. A family cemetary sits at the end of the driveway on the Rock Road.

Edward Joslyn was my maternal grandmother's brother. Uncle Ed never married. He spent the last 15 years of his life at the farm. His other sister, Hazel, and a cranky springer spaniel named Christy lived with him much of that time. When Uncle Ed died in 2001, the farm passed to my mom and her siblings.

I've always been fascinated by the farmhouse. When I was very young, its restoration was still a work-in-progress but we had family picnics there. We usually got to walk through the house, visiting the upper attic with the spinnning wheels and the lower attic crammed with possessions left by various relatives. Uncle Ed and Aunt Hazel finally moved in when I was in college and I visited there a couple times of year. I never did spend a night there until after Uncle Ed died. With its antiques and long history, it's a place where ghosts seem possible -- women in long dresses baking apples pies, men just in from the field smoking pipes by the fireplace.

12 November 2006 Kincaid Park

Sunday was sunny so we went to the beach.

We only found out about the Beach the summer before last. It's not exactly a secret -- everyone seems to know about it -- but yet we all act as if this isn't really a coastal city. Many people run, ski, or bike the Coastal Trail, 11 miles of pavement skirting the edge of the mudflats and bluffs between downtown Anchorage and the airport, but everyone drives south for saltwater sports. The Beach is a stretch of real sand (as opposed to silt) along the bluff below Kincaid Park, just beyond the end of the Coastal Trail.

Our first and last visit to the Beach was last October, on another sunny day. The south facing bluff caught the fading warmth of the autumn sun. We had been transported to an undeveloped beach in California.

Yesterday was just as sunny, but the November sun causes more of a mental than physical warmth. My friend Rose had told me about biking the ice and icebergs on the beach the week before. Paul doesn't have studded tires so we decided to just walk. We passed two men and a dog huddled around a bonfire. A few other couples walked along the waters edge or up against the bluff, out of the wind.

We walked about a mile to a small point and saw that the major point was still another mile away. The beach ahead was more exposed to the wind. Paul suggested climbing up the bluff to the trails on top. We topped out near the highest hill, 330 feet above the beach, with clear views of the Kenai Peninsula to the south and the Alaska Range across on the west side of the inlet.

6 November 2006 Prospect Heights

Ours was the only car in the parking lot on Monday evening when we parked at the Prospect Heights trailhead to Chugach State Park. We had thought that someone else would be walking or skiing under the full moon. We had chosen this trailhead so we could quickly get to treeline and be able to look over a large valley to the moon above the mountains on the other side. We climbed along the western rim of the valley, stopping occasionally to try to capture the moon and the scene on camera. The only signs of human life were the planes flying high above to the south on their way to the airport.

The trail ended at the Powerline, the most direct route back to the parking lot. The lights of Anchorage lay below us. A fog was rolling in from the inlet. We quickly descended to the trailhead. Ours was still the only car in the parking lot.

4 November 2006 Anchorage

October ended with the first snows and November started with clear skies and cold temperatures. Except for morning fog, the sky has been mostly cloudless. With only 8 hours of low-angle light, temperatures do not vary much from day to night. At our house the temperature has hovered between 8 and 12 degrees for days.

Often interesting cloud patterns are associated with spectacular sunsets, but I find these clear sky sunsets just as beautiful. And more peaceful. As the sun moves behind the mountains across Cook Inlet, the sky overhead deepens to a dark blue, then indigo. A thin band of orange forms over the mountains. And between the indigo and the orange is a perfect gradation of the color scale.

28 October 2006 Lake Five

Winter has arrived. October was fairly mild right up until the end. A half inch of snow on the night of the 25th slowed and foiled traffic around south-central Alaska. Nights had been below freezing for almost a week and some of the smaller, shallower ponds, like Lake Five, were forming a thin layer of ice. Just enough to support a little snow. Another 18" of snow and the wetlands surrounding the lake will be covered with white and the inlet will no longer be a ribbon disappearing into the woods beyond. Only the salmon fry sheltering in its calm waters will know that a flowing stream exists under the layers of snow.

18 October 2006 Green Sand Beach

For the second time, Paul went to Hawaii to help our friends Pam and Roger build a house near Pahoa on the Big Island. His job this time was to finish wiring their house and an added bonus for them was that he installed their first sink on his last afternoon of work. By that time, I had been there for 3 days. During the days I had set up my own personal retreat of reading and meditating. In the evenings the four of us went to dinner together.

On our first full day of play together, Paul and I drove to the most southern point in the US. Then we hiked a little over 2 miles northeast to the Green Sand Beach. The rough four-wheel drive road traverses gentling sloping hills of grass covering orange clayey sands. With its exposure to thousands of miles of ocean and lack of trees, this part of the island is known for its winds. On this day, however, we welcomed the light breeze that we caught at the top of each rise. The sun was intense and there was no relief until we reached the cliffs above the beach.

Down on the beach, we settled under a small rock overhang to cool off and escape the sun. Some local teenagers provided entertainment as they tried to boogie board in the crashing surf. The waves would knock people on the beach off their feet and move 30 pound rocks along the sand. One man's t-shirt was ripped off his body when he fell down. Paul swam out just beyond the breaking point and floated easily while the others struggled against the force of the waves.

8 October 2006 Apple Harvest

About four years ago, I adopted an apple tree at an annual tree give-away event in Anchorage. I don't know for sure what kind they are, but the varieties that year were Norland and Parkland. Apple trees don't produce for several years, so I was excited last year to get almost a dozen small apples. This year I thought I had hit the jackpot -- more than four dozen! The photograph doesn't give a sense of scale, but the largest apple was about the size of a racquet ball. I ate a few raw because they did have a good sweet and tangy flavor. Then cooked up the rest with some highbrush cranberries for a few jars of cranapple butter.

6 October 2006 Rippy Trail

On what looked to be a dreary Saturday, I drove north to join the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers for an outing on the Rippy Trail. In south-central Alaska, the "valley" commonly refers to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which is composed of two large valleys formed by the Matanuska and Susitna Rivers. The Mat-Su Basin is the location of my primary project at The Nature Conservancy.

The Rippy Trail angles across an eastern flank of the Chugach Mountains just above the lake and wetland complex of lower Jim Creek. Strong winds in the previous week had knocked most of the leaves off trees in Anchorage, but these hillsides seemed to have been protected. We started walking below large old cottonwoods, and the air was golden with the many leaves still fluttering above us. As we gained elevation, we left the moisture-loving cottonwoods and moved into groves of birch trees in fall colors. From a bluff we could look out over Jim and Swan Lakes, seeing some of the namesake birds that hadn't flown south yet. At the Jim Creek crossing, coho salmon still trying to reach their spawning grounds parted to let hikers pass through.

The skies were gray, but the trail was bright.

29 September 2006 Anchorage

The temperature finally dipped below freezing Friday night. This is the time of year when we gardeners nervously watch the weather forecast, the skies, and the thermometer and try to predict the first hard frost. There are so many micro-climates in Anchorage that the forecast alone is not reliable. On Friday afternoon, I weeded a perennial bed while the sky shifted from cloudy to sunny to blustery. Alex moved among her usual garden spots -- bird bath, celery row, tall grass -- and back to the deck while I cut bouquets of dahlias (still blooming!), yarrow, bee balm, calendula, golden rod, and nepeta. I decided the clouds would keep the frost at bay for another night, as the newspaper predicted, and hurried inside with the flowers as a light rain began to fall. While Paul and I took a long walk in the evening, the skies cleared completely. I quickly draped a cloth over the lettuce before heading to bed. Thankfully the frost was light, the vegetables are hardy, and I didn't lose anything to that first frost.

23 September 2006 Dahlia

I was slow to put my dahlia tubers into pots this spring, partly due to too many other things going on and also because I wasn't sure that they had survived the winter. After several weeks on the deck, I was just about ready to stop wasting water on the dirt and add the tubers to the compost bin, when tiny green shoots emerged. The plants didn't grow as tall as in past years, but did develop many leaves. The buds set so late that I didn't expect to see any flowers this year. Then last week, when just about everything else in the yard has turned to fall fashions, the dahlias started blooming. What a treat as the yellow birch leaves fall and termination dust sits on the top of the mountains. I think I'll plant them late next spring, too.

10 September 2006 Glen Alps

On Sunday morning we drove to the Glen Alps trailhead of Chugach State Park, about 5 miles away and 1000 feet above our house. In less than 10 minutes from our house, we're out of the spruce and birch forest. From the trailhead, we walk through the farthest-north grove of mountain hemlocks, small gnarled trees that sprout purplish cones in the summer. This was the view when we left the hemlocks.

We walked about 45 minutes on a very muddy trail to the bottom left corner of the photograph. I had hoped to head up that valley to see more of the fall colors, but other responsibilities pulled us back to the parking lot and home.

9 September 2006 Big Lake

Our last sailing day of the season was under sunny skies and characterized by constantly changing winds. We spent a total of 3 hours on the lake in three sessions. Each session started with strong winds, which is why we left shore, and 2 ended with almost dead calms. We spent the last 20 minutes of the last session skulling and paddling back to the dock.

1 September 2006 Alaska State Fair

On Friday we left work at noon for our annual pilgrimage to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska. Many people probably think we're a bit nuts about the fair. We go every year, despite the fact that we don't have children to take. And we don't go on any rides. We don't know when we'd find the time. It takes us 6 - 7 hours to cover just the "basics," as we see it, of the fair.

We usually show up hungry for lunch. We have already reviewed the food vendors list in the program that came out in the newspaper earlier in the week, and we have our favorite food booths, too, so with a minimal amount of browsing, we head to a booth to buy lunch. This year we started with gourmet tamales. With our appetites sated for a while, we pull out the events schedule and highlight the shows we want to see. A small corral usually features some trick dog show featuring pound puppies. We always see that. The animal barn sometimes has some interesting presentations. One year the Milking Parlor was hosting a display of skunks. We really wanted to see a skunk get milked (but hoped to get a seat at the back of the bleachers). We were more than a little disappointed when it turned out that the skunk was not being milked and was a very shy, old albino skunk who didn't really want to come out of its kennel.

Once we get to the animal barn, we look at all the goats, cows, sheeps, and pigs and their offspring. The baby piglets are always a highlight. Sometimes they're only days old. From the large livestock we move into the rabbit, covey, and bird area. We look at every bunny. Every bunny. One of us is obsessed with bunnies. There's also a morbid fascination in reading the judge's comments about the bunnies. Breeds have different categories. It's hard to know whether to react happily or mournfully when a "meat" breed gets a comment about 'not enough fat.'

Just beyond the small animals are the bees. Have you ever talked with a bee keeper? Talk about being obsessed with a hobby. We spent almost an hour one year learning about bees from the volunteer in that area.

And then we get to another highlight of the fair -- the big vegetables. This year local farmers and gardeners set world records for kohlrabi and a couple of other vegetables. The winning vegetables and runners-up are displayed on a stage at one end of the room. The crowd in front can be quite dense and generally unmoving. People look at every cauliflower head, read the weight of each beet or carrot, and have their pictures taken with the pumpkins. At 6:00 the Cabbage Weigh-off began. The largest cabbage, at 79 pounds, was grown by an 11-year-old girl. She comes from a long line of large vegetable growers and won last year, too. Contestants name their cabbages and write poems for the contest.

The fair also hires buskers who perform around the grounds. The juggler was not only talented with knives and bowling pins, but incredibly funny. We went to two of his shows and were happily surprised to find that he did a completely different routine, juggling and jokes, both times.

Between all the shows, we walk by all the booths. We usually look at the pottery and wood working tents. Paul looks forward to the political oddballs who say that drivers licenses are unconstitutional and that the state of Alaska doesn't really exist. A new booth this year was promoting one very popular idea here -- www. endalaskadaylightsavings.com. We watch a round or two of the Rat Race, where a gerbil is trying to get down a hole on a large roulette wheel. It's a fundraiser for some local charity.

Like most state fairs, the Alaska one has exhibit halls for all things agricultural and homey. Every year we walk through the Future Farmers of America hall, often learning things I never knew, from raising livestock to the bad effects of meth. Next is the building with the baked, canned, and brewed products (but no tasting!). Then the arts building, with wood workers and quilters practicing their crafts, and a show every hour of the most incredible quilts. The final section of the building contains hundreds of photos and paintings entered in contests. Every kid gets ribbon.

All of this sightseeing and learning can be tiring and create quite an appetite. Sometime during the afternoon, we get an ice cream cone and later a roasted corn ear. We go to the birch syrup industry shack to load up on birch syrup, caramels, blueberry sauce, and mustard made with birch syrup. For dinner this year we had scallops wrapped in bacon on a skewer and crab cakes.

We ended the day watching the sun set over the Chugack mountains while listening to Pele Juju, a women's band from San Francisco, in the amphitheater.

21 August 2006 Prince William Sound

This is Prince William Sound -- lush spruce forests down to the waters edge; massive glaciers flowing down from the mountains to the waters edge; deep blue waters of long narrow fjords.

Oh, I should say that this is Prince William Sound on about 1 in 2 days. On those days, the sky is just a little paler blue than the ocean, which has a slight ripple on it. But the next day, the sky and water could be equal shades of gray, and the wind could be whipping the ocean into waves 2', 3', 6', and 8' high.

The latter were the conditions on the day we had scheduled to get dropped off by a charter company at the Paulsen Bay cabin. The charter operator called into the office from about 12 miles out to tell us that the winds from the north were whipping up waves 6' - 8' high and that he suggested we come back the next day. The cabin faces north and he thought that unloading on the beach would be difficult. So we came back the next day. I took this photo about 30 minutes after arriving. A slight breeze from the south caused a slight ripple to move across the small bay. The glaciers of College Fjord, about 15 miles to the north, seemed only a few miles away.

But even on a day like this, the weather can be fickle. We assembled our folding kayaks and headed deeper into Cochrane Bay, the arm of the Sound we were on, to see some birds and the sights at its end. A little headwind going that way, but we looked forward to a tailwind on the way back. At the end of the bay, we saw a pair of black bears fishing for pink salmon and a large flock of gulls hanging around for salmon bits and we waded a braided glacial stream to see a waterfall. When we returned, the wind had shifted from the northeast and we had a headwind going back to the cabin.

The north winds returned in full force the next day, along with heavy rain, and we hunkered down in the cabin. I awoke to the sound of heavy rain and slid deeper into my sleeping bag with that delicious feeling that there was just no reason to get up. One of our traveling companions, visiting from Cincinnati, spent much of the day trying to interest the spawning pinks in a lure. Paul and I did puzzles, read, napped, and ventured out in the afternoon to pick ra

19 August 2006 Anchorage

After 10 days of rain (yes, I'm counting), the sun finally broke through a few times today. This is the evening sky (after a little hail); but the clouds were broken when we woke this morning and then in the afternoon, the sky over west Anchorage was clear. We've had a cool and cloudy summer, but the last 10 days have finally delivered all the rain that we incorrectly felt that we were getting. We're still down on moisture for the year, but already ahead for the month.

When I say it has rained the last 10 days, that's not been constant. But the sky has been cloudy and if it's not raining now, wait 20 minutes and it probably will be. OnThursday, I decided to ride my bike home from work. From my office downtown (which is roughly in the northwest corner of Anchorage), I could see the mountain slopes behind my house on the southeast side. The clouds were high and it hadn't rained all afternoon, so I thought I had a pretty good shot at making the 12 miles without any precipitation. I talked to Paul at about 5:45 to let him know my plan and to confirm the weather at home. He said it started raining 5 minutes after he hung up. The rain hit me at about mile 4 and continued to soak me with a steady downpour to within a few miles of home. I couldn't see the mountains the entire trip.

The weather today was even more wacky and changeable. Sun peaking through this morning but strong winds. The weather radio predicted gusts of 35 mph, and the birch trees often bent to the point I thought they'd break. By late morning a low cloud was engulfing west Anchorage and heading rapidly toward our house.* By noon it was pouring. Then two hours later, clearing skies on the west side had us all singing again. After running some errands, I came home thinking I could harvest some vegetables and take care of some weeds and slugs (which have loved this weather). It started to rain almost immediately. At 6:20, the sun was shining so I headed out to pick raspberries and strawberries. At 7:20, a heavy rain mixed with hail chased me in. I took this photo from the deck around 8:30.

Tomorrow morning we head out to Prince William Sound, one of the wettest places in this part of Alaska. And it's having a particularly wet summer. A kayaking trip there last year inspired us to buy heavy duty rain gear. We've rented a cabin for 3 days and our drybags have 3 games, 1 book of hard Sudokus, and 2 long novels, just in case.

* We're at about 800 feet on the east/mountain side and Cook Inlet and sea level are on the east side. Our house faces west-northwest, so we've got a decent view of the west side of town from our deck.

8 August 2006 Chulitna River

We rafted the Chulitna River for 4 days/5 nights with Talkeetna friends. We put in near Broad Pass on the clear waters of the East Fork just after noon on Sunday. Later in the afternoon we stopped briefly at the confluence of the Middle Fork for the fly fishermen to try their lines. Several of us bathed in the pool in front of our first camp site and dried quickly in the warm morning sun on Monday. Not far downstream the silty waters of the West Fork joined the East Fork. We camped at the mouth of Ohio Creek on Monday night. Despite much eating and imbibing that evening, the rafts left heavier the next day with buckets full of colorful rocks. On Tuesday afternoon we ate lunch at a gravel bar and swam in a clear water pool fed by small streams off the hillside. We dubbed the day the hottest of the summer.

We woke to light rain on Wednesday morning and darkening skies. We had camped just above the Fountain River and planned to explore by foot for a while before breaking camp. But the arrival of rain prompted us to break camp and leave quickly, perhaps too quickly as most of us hadn't gaged how cool and wet the day would be. We were a cold bunch as we rafted into a head wind and driving rain. The rain had lessened when we pulled over near the Coffee River and set up a tarp over the kitchen area and a large screened tent. We had called Wednesday the wettest day of the summer because the rain didn't stop after we left camp, but Thursday would prove to be wetter. Thankfully the wind lessened and with the previous day's lesson, we were better prepared. Half the party took out at the bridge near mile 135 of the Parks Highway where a truck had been left at the Princess Lodge. The rest of us continued to float to Talkeetna, where the rain was light and the air warmer.

30 July 2006 Anchorage Garden Tour

On the last Sunday of each year the Anchorage Garden Club hosts a free tour of local gardens. The gardens are located throughout the city and range from new flower beds created by novices to well-established gardens tenderly cared for by master gardeners. A few years ago we decided to ride our bicycles from garden to garden. We found it a wonderful way to combine several favorite activities -- biking, gardening, touring homes, route finding, and exploring new parts of our town. Now biking the garden tour is a marital tradition that trumps just about any other activity happening on that Sunday, no matter what the weather. This year we pedaled 27 miles around town and saw 13 gardens. Eight of those were in one neighborhood. The rain that had threatened since morning arrived in the later afternoon as we received a private showing of one backyard garden. We rode home in a downpour.

(In the photo, Paul is sniffing the blooms of some Maltese Cross which was almost as tall as he.)

29 July 2006 Birches and Masts

Where do the birches end and the masts begin?

19 July 2006 Powerline Pass

For the past 7 years my Wednesday evenings from April through September have been devoted to riding with the Wombats of Anchorage (Women's Mountain Bike and Tea Society). I've become a much better mountain biker by riding weekly with the 'bats and have made some great friends. We meet at various trailheads around Anchorage, mostly riding in two large municipal parks. These parks offer rooty dirt trails through birch and spruce groves. My favorite ride of the summer, however, is up Powerline Pass. We drive to the edge of Anchorage to a trailhead in Chugach State Park, the huge park to the east of Anchorage. We pedal half a mile through a grove of twisted mountain hemlocks to reach the rocky four-wheel drive road that heads up the treeless valley to the pass. The road is closed to vehicles in the summer. Few hikers walk more than 2 miles out the road, and few bikers go up there. So soon we have the trail and valley to ourselves. We turn around about 5 miles out at a tundra lake up against a ridge.

The openness of the valley and pass are a welcome change from the trees of Anchorage. I love the forests of Alaska, but we're often in them at home, at our cabin, on our camping and kayaking trips. So many of our Colorado trips took us to the high country. I don't realize how much I miss those alpine tundra landscapes until I'm in this valley, able to see miles around me. In the summer we often see moose on the other side of the valley. One winter while skiing here, I saw a wolf loping along high up on the hillside. He embodied the free feeling I had, high in these mountains, yet only a few minutes from my home.

(This year someone discovered this huge boulder next to the trail and those with good upper body strength pulled their bikes up for photos. That's not me in the photo -- I'm taking it of course. That's my friend, Jamie, who was born the same week I was in 1965.)

15 July 2006 Cruciferous

Even though it seems like July has been nothing but rain, with continual cool temperatures and clouds, we had received less than .05" of rain during the month. Wednesday and Thursday seemed like summer had finally arrived, with high temperatures hitting 75 and clear sunny skies. But the clouds returned early Friday morning and by afternoon it was as dark as it's been since early May. The rain started late afternoon and continued through the night and into Saturday morning. It rained 1.6" and now we're more than an 1" ahead of the normal month-to-date precipitation. The weather may have changed our Saturday plans, but the vegetables, trees, and lawn seem happy with the soaked ground. Greens seem just a little more vibrant today and leaves are shiny with the moisture.

2 July 2006 Big Lake

On Sunday afternoon the sailing club took up a collection for fireworks. The only town, and four stands, that sell fireworks in southcentral Alaska are less than 10 miles away. Fireworks on the 4th of July really don't have much oomph in a place where the sun just barely sets behind the horizon from about midnight to 4:00 am. But the skies cooperated this evening when heavy clouds moved across the sky, blocking the sun. The kids, with some adult supervision, set up the fireworks on a gravel pad just off the end of the dock. Most of us sat around the campfire a hundred feet away and oohed and ahhed as the colors burst against the backdrop of gray clouds. The fireworks show lasted about 20 minutes.

And then the sun dropped below the clouds and gave us its rendition of 4th of July fireworks.

1 July 2006 Venus of the Primrose

We found Venus in a souvenir shop in a Tuscan village in May 2005. She now graces a stone in the primrose garden behind the house. This spring the primroses seemed to be bowing down to her, subordinating their beauty to hers. She took their obeisance in stride, as any goddess would.

22 June 2006 Morrison

After Telluride we drove back to the Front Range to visit family. One of the highlights was an outing to Morrison with Anne, Dylan, and Nell. After a filling lunch at the Blue Cow Eatery, we went to Bear Creek park for a hike. Dylan hunted for crayfish in the creek and the rest of us tagged along for the adventure.

17 June 2006 Telluride Bluegrass

We attended our 8th Telluride Bluegrass Festival. As always, we stayed in a condo that John reserved, and lost out on rooms with private baths to John and Julie and festival divas, Cindy and Pat. Jim Gavin (the man hiding behind his hand) slept in line to get us the usual primo tarp location.

For some, like John and Julie, Telluride is about the music, the people, and the setting.

For others, like Paul, it's about the festival food -- hippy stir-fry, breakfast burritos, New Belgium ales, and a new-to-Paul taste treat -- the flank steak.

9 June 2006 Matanuska River

About a dozen people from the Matanuska River Watershed Coalition rafted the Mat River one cool June day from Chickaloon to Palmer. Along the way we viewed old and more recent attempts to control the course of the river. The earlier pioneers tried cars along the banks. The Department of Transportation now uses boulders and riprap where the Glenn Highway runs along the river. We saw homes that are losing the battle with the river, going from river-view to river-front to river-at-the-door. This large glacial river will continue to do what it has done, meander through its valley with its heavy load of glacial silt.

The day started with the promise of clearing and sun but turned progressively colder as we neared Palmer. The upriver wind became stronger and stronger. The oarsmen were pulling hard to move us against the wind and avoid gravel bars. The river becomes increasingly braided after passing through a canyon just upriver from Palmer. We eventually passed under the Old Glenn bridge and scrambled up the bank to the waiting van and trailer.

28 May 2006 Denali

You can't have a blog with photos of Alaska and not have one of Denali.
On Memorial Day weekend we did the traditional overnight float of the Susitna River from Talkeetna to the Parks Highway bridge with a bunch of our Talkeetna friends. The weather was windy but sunny. While the rest of the crew played bocci or croquet, I experimented with my new digital camera, including this shot up river to Denali. The other mountains are Foraker and Hunter.

24 May 2006 Alex

The first picture with the new digital camera -- Alex reading the instructions to me. She is such a brilliant cat! Can you believe she's 17? She's kept her girlish/kittenish figure all these years.

1 July 2005 Canning River

Our last camp was about 20 miles from the Arctic Ocean. We hiked on the tundra on the last full day and saw a young wolf and a grizzly sow with two yearling cubs sliding in a lingering patch of snow. We circled back around the river, crested the last rise, and found thousands of caribou on both sides of the river. Here on our last day on the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we had finally caught up with a large band of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. One group was walking single file across the aufeis, appearing to have crossed from the east side (our side) of the river to the west side. They passed a group of 50 that were laying the ice. On our side, hundreds were grazing on the northern extension of the tundra bench we were camped on two miles to the south. They made a pastoral scene spread out along the green field. As we scanned and scoped the west side, we saw hundreds of caribou moving south along the river and hundreds more on the plain farther west and north.

I crawled into my tent that night wearing fleece from head to toe. I woke up at 1:40 am and the chill Arctic wind of the day before had finally stopped. I crawled out of the tent to river and fog. On the other side of the river, I could see a dozen silhouettes of caribou moving up river through the fog. I woke again at 6:40 when Lisa told me that caribou were crossing the river near camp and going up a stream drainage near by. Within minutes they were all up the drainage, though hundreds still moved south along the west side.

24 June 2005 Marsh Fork

I went on a 10 day natural history trip to the Marsh Fork of the Canning River for members of The Nature Conservancy. As the TNC representative and supposed naturalist, I talked to the members about The Conservancy's work and goals in the Arctic and helped with natural history as I could. The real naturalists and river guides were Wilderness Birding Adventures (that's Bob and Lisa in the photo). Our first layover day was at the base of this canyon and the holy grail of birding for that day was to be the gray-headed chickadee. After a leisurely breakfast of pancakes, we all headed out on a hike. We started out wearing sandals so we could cross the creek, then changed into hiking boots. About a half mile up, we crossed back over the creek to access a waterfall inside a cave. Then back across the creek and up a steep, rocky slope to the top of the canyon wall. Near the top of the slope, Ted or Lisa spotted the gray-headed chickadee. We all parked ourseves on the slope and watched two chickadees flit about in the willows.

August 2003 Prince William Sound

We rented the Harrison Lagoon cabin in Port Wells for 3 nights. Jim and Kathy, Doug and Ellen joined us. The day we paddled to the fjords was bright, hot, and sunny. D&E swam, very briefly, amongst the icebergs where we lunched.

July 2001 Katmai

We spent a weekend at a ranger's cabin in Amalik Bay on the coast of Katmai National Park. Paul's official duties as Chief of Maintenance were to upright the outhouse that a bear had turned over and to determine what parts were needed to repair the heater in the cabin. Those tasks took about an hour. We spent a day kayaking around to the islands that protect the bay from the full force of winds and surf of Shelikof Straits. The islands had sandy beaches backed by dunes covered with blooming lupine.