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.