22 dec 08 Buddhist Birthday (revisited)

If we were going to spend a month in two predominantly Buddhist countries, I thought I might attempt to understand the local religion and maintain some sort of spiritual practice during our trip. I read Peace is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh several years ago and re-read it sometime in the last few years when the non-peaceful 'diplomacy' of our country was becoming personally unbearable. Last summer I studied a small pamphlet, The Mindful Quaker by Valerie Brown, for an introduction to Buddhism from a fellow Quaker. For this Southeast Asia sojourn, I brought Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Naht Hanh along in the hopes of learning about Buddhism and bringing some new perspective to my own religious tradition.

My birthday fell on a laid-back travel day in Luang Prabang in Laos, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its many Buddhist temples and pagodas. We were with four friends, two couples, from Talkeetna. The guys had signed up for an all-day cooking class; we women planned to relax, take care of some travel logistics, eat a fabulous lunch, and get a massage. I slept late so had the guest house dining room table to myself for morning coffee. That's when I read the introduction to Living Buddha, Living Christ. I met the rest of the group at a restaurant nearby on the Mekong River for breakfast and then had the rest of the morning to myself. I found a large rock under a tree on the Royal Palace grounds -- a quiet spot for meditation, reading, and reflection.

Thich Naht Hanh's openness to understanding Christianity helped me to be open to absorbing Buddhist principles. He drew parallels between the life of Buddha and the life of Jesus; this reminded me of what draws me to Quakerism. Jesus was fully open to the Light of God, similar to Siddharta's achievement of enlightenment. Jesus used that Divine guidance to determine how he led his life and how he treated others. For me, religion should be about how we live our lives on Earth, not about some reward in the next life. Buddhist precepts, principles, and practices could help me be more open to the Light, bring me closer to nirvana, and transform me into the person I'd like to be.

The Laos people and the beautiful city of Luang Prabang embodied many of the lessons that TNH wrote about -- generosity, loving-kindness, mindfulness. We rose early several mornings to watch the monks walk through town to receive food from the faithful. The giving touched me more than the receiving, which was done humbly and silently. The local Buddhists provide all the food that the monks eat. Should they sleep late one day, some monks would have less rice that day. Would there be hunger in this world if we all felt such responsibility to ensure that our neighbors were fed each and every day?

The Laos people are often called laid-back (I used the term myself in emails from the road), but that description ignores the spiritual foundation that enables these people to be so warm, welcoming, and peaceful despite a very tumultuous recent history. Paul summarized Buddhism as "Suffering happens. Be happy." I'm hoping that accepting more of Life with that thought can help me continue on my spiritual sojourn and that my 43rd birthday is the start of a more enlightening year.

I'm working my way through the 1200 photos I took in Laos and Vietnam. I'll be posting them on my Picasa site by theme and location as I go.

** Click here to see photos of Luang Prabang **

5 December 2008 World on Edge

On Friday, my friend Rose and I snowshoed the new singletrack trails at Bicentennial Park near my house. A foot of snow fell last week so we planned to pack the trails for winter bikers. A windstorm in early October felled trees all over the Hillside of Anchorage. Singletrack Advocates, the group that built these new trails, has cut out trees that completely blocked trails. Those overhanging and somewhat passable have just been marked with some reflectors (see the gray one on the left side of the photo?). The number of trees down is somewhat hard to comprehend.

I've tried to imagine what the forest must have sounded like that night, with 100 mph wind gusts and 40' - 50' spruce, birch, and cottonwoods cracking and crashing to the ground. In some places, like the one shown here, the entire root system (of 2 trees!) just lifted from the ground and went with the tree. Roots in Alaska stay within the top soil layer where the ground is thawed more of the year and where water is more readily available. Rose said that with some of the smaller trees, they were able to tilt the entire assemblage back into place.

Sometimes our lives or how we view the world gets turned on edge and we aren't sure how to set it upright again. That's happening to a friend of mine who I work with. The matter isn't life-or-death, but a matter of friendship. She thought that one of the guys she supervises was her friend and that they worked well together. He's leaving for another job and told her boss and the director that it's because working for my friend is difficult. Despite their request, and the assumption that there was a true friendship here, he refuses to approach my friend himself. She feels like she's been "kicked in the gut."

How can this situation be set right? I think it's easier to place small trees back in place. Despite the fact that we're all human, we tend to forget that other people are fragile, too. Feelings can be hurt and one of the worst is to feel betrayed by a friend. We don't need to coddle each other, but honesty with respect and sensitivity can deepen our friendships and make us, and our friends, better people. So please be honest and kind with yourself and your friends.

30 November 2008 Gratitude

At Quaker Meeting for Worship today, someone else said what I've been thinking all day: "This is the kind of day when I'm really thankful to live in Alaska." We received over a foot of snow here in Anchorage since Thanksgiving day. Some would say this is Alaska, especially the "big city" of Anchorage, at its most beautiful.

Our snow actitivies today were mostly moving the white stuff around our property. We skied and snowshoed the last three days in Talkeetna, so today we were both content to shovel, snow blow, split and haul firewood, feed the birds, and photograph the back yard.

Mentioning those activities reminds me of some other things I'm thankful for -- a talented husband and skilled friend who recently installed the woodstove that has become my new "pet" (constant feeding and tending); a healthy household budget that means we don't have to think too hard about buying food and stuff; great friends who are family on holidays like Thanksgiving; and good health to be able to enjoy this great state.

I hope that you feel blessed this Thanksgiving, too.

23 November 2008 Nostalgia

The blog had to wait until I finished my two nostalgia projects. One was a present for me -- a memory book of little Alex and her 19 years in my life. The other a present for Paul to celebrate his 50th birthday. He has been very patient since I showed him a preview back on his birthday in late May. Once summer hit, I just couldn't see spending daylight hours sitting at the computer. Then September and October were so crazy busy. November -- had to finish before we take off for a winter sojourn. So I chained myself to the computer most of Saturday and finally hit the upload button on Sunday.

To see a preview of Paul: The First 50 Years, click this box:

By Paul's Family & Fr...

15 November 2008 Five seconds of fame

Bocce on the beach in Tebenkof Bay Wilderness Area in SE Alaska

Assuming that I'm like most people, I will admit that occasionally I google my name to see what comes up. If that fiance who dumped me in college wants to know what would have happened if he'd taken that road, what would he read about me? My last name is extremely common, however, so typing my name alone doesn't bring me up in the top 20 (I'm too lazy to click farther than that). Adding 'Alaska' to the search brings up quite a few hits related to my job. But will those from my distant past even guess that I did almost a 180 in my career AND moved to Alaska? To get my blog to come up, I have to type in so many search words as to be ridiculous.

If you've had similar disappointing experiences while googling yourself, you might understand why I was very pleased to find out that my blog was the 6th hit when Paul was googling something other than me the other day. Back in May 2007 I posted about playing bocce on a gravel bar in the Susitna River. Paul was googling to find out the meaning of the Italian word 'palino,' which is the name of the small ball tossed at the beginning of each bocce round.

Why does Google think I'm a bocce expert? It doesn't. Seems that Paul and I both misspelled 'palino.' Google gave Paul the option to correct his mistake, and he soon clicked on "did you mean 'pallino'" and found the answer to his question. Thus my 5 seconds of extremely minor fame with the guy I've spent almost half my life with. But if you can still surprise someone, albeit unintentionally, that you've lived with that long, it's a good thing and gives you something to talk about on the morning commute.

I tried his google search as soon as I booted up my computer at work. 'Palino' - no Corinne blog but an Italian article about Sara Palino, governor of Alaska (ugh!). 'Palino' and 'bocce' - still no blog. Ah, the vagaries of Google and the fruitless search for 5 more seconds of fame.

9 November 2008 Winter Access

Paul lands ably from a triple lutz at Potter Marsh

One of the great things about winter in Alaska* is the ability to go almost anywhere. There's a lot of wetness in Alaska. In the winter, most of it freezes, so lakes, wetlands, and streams become paths to new places. Last weekend, we skated at Potter Marsh on the south end of Anchorage. This mile-long marsh hosts ducks, geese, and gulls in the summer. In the winter, it's a series of ice pools in a maze of grass and shrubs. Yesterday we skated at Lake 5 near our Talkeetna cabin. Eagle, fox, and vole tracks criss-crossed the light snow cover of the lake. The ice provides new hunting grounds for them. Today we hiked through the wetlands between two ponds to reach the Bartlett Hills.

Alaska becomes even bigger in the winter.

*Other great things about winter in Alaska:
~ amazingly long sunrises and sunsets (i.e. alpenglow all day)
~ stars and northern lights
~ skiing, snowshoeing, skating, biking
~ Christmas lights for 6 months
~ clear skies
~ no bears to avoid
~ no mosquitos

Gratitude and Hope

Thank you to my fellow Americans who participated in an historic vote yesterday. My generation will enter the White House in January. People of color know they can achieve all the American dreams. I am more hopeful for our country than I've been since September 10, 2001.


Please send our Governor home!

I'm having a hard time with my goal to keep my blog Palin-free. Here's my plea to friends and family in battleground states (Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania): send the pitbull guv back to finish out her first term as governor. Maybe she'll be ready to be VP, and possibly President, in 4 years. She isn't now. With the crisis our country is in, we need more than a hockey mom in the oval office.

Wouldn't Tina Fey look good sitting on this bench with the Chugach Mountains behind her? You may be the key to making that happen.

18 October 2008 Big Wild Nature

Anchorage adopted a new slogan this summer: Big Wild Life. The local wildlife read the press releases and soon starting playing their role in a bigger and wilder way than the city marketers had planned on. In late June, a teenage bike racer was mauled by a bear during the wee hours of a 24-hour bike race in the large city park near us. This was the first mauling in Anchorage's history, surprising given how many bears inhabit the parks and fringes of the city, which consists mostly of open military land or Chugach State Park. Wildlife experts and the city recommended staying away from trails along the creeks running through the wilder parks in town, especially Rover's Run, the site of the attack.
The bears continued to be seen more than in previous summers. A sow with two cubs charged runners in two separate incidents. We learned that we had been in the same spot as one of those charges about 15 minutes before the runner was there. We never saw the bears but this was a reminder that the bears are always there -- they're just usually avoiding us as much as we'd like them to. Diva rides were somewhat modified to avoid the creeks and obvious bears. Then a second mauling happened on Rover's Run in early August and the city closed the trail.
Other trails in the park follow the branches of Campbell Creek or cross it, so anyplace is potential bear territory. I strapped bear spray into my water bottle cage, as I do every summer, and rang my bike bell often as I biked there, whether alone or with others. Luckily, I never saw a bear.

Yesterday Paul and I wanted to ride in the park and decided to see if Rover's Run was open yet. Officially, it is open, but it's current condition suggests that the city's slogan should be Big Wild Nature. A recent windstorm brought gusts near 100 mph in some parts of town. We rode the lower half of Rover's, about 1 mile, and had to climb over, under, or around half a dozen downed trees. We skipped the upper half because we heard that over 20 trees had fallen across the trail. The windstorm must have scared the bears away; we didn't see any tracks in the thin layer of snow.
We crossed Campbell Creek several times on other trails and were turned around at it once when a little used trail, new to us, just ended at the creek. At one bridge, I looked down to see bear tracks in the snow on a gravel bar. We explored a new mushing trail and followed day-old moose and bear tracks. Despite the snow, the bears are still grazing and preparing for the winter nap. A hunter in the Anchorage 'burbs legally shot a large boar in his backyard this week.
All the bear activity this winter re-aroused the debate about whether or not wildlife has a place in Anchorage. For some people, it would seem it does as long as it doesn't act too wild. For many of us, we live in Alaska because of the wilderness and the wildlife. Anchorage's parks allow us to experience that on a daily basis and remind us what a special place we are blessed to inhabit. We have to recreate in the city parks like we would in the state park and more remote parts of the state. Big and wild wildlife is everywhere. Respect it, try to avoid it, and if you're lucky, you'll see it from a safe distance.

26 September 2008 Eklutna Gold

We gambled and it paid off. My friend Jo-Ann reserved the Serenity Falls Cabin at the far end of Eklutna Lake months ago and weeks before she fell and tore her rotator cuff. After surgery at the end of June, she asked if we'd mind if she pushed the cabin reservation back from the 2nd weekend of September to the last. That's pushing winter in these parts but how can you say 'no' to someone who's hallucinating on pain killers and not going to bike all summer? She thought she could be back on her mountain bike by the end of September. We rode out in a pouring rain a year ago September so how much worse could it be if we postponed?

We also froze last year with a small supply of wet firewood. So I was up early on Friday to deliver dry firewood to the concessionaire, Dan, who could motor it 12 miles out to the cabin. The lake was shrouded in fog and Dan reported it was 31 degrees. Paul and I returned to the trailhead at 1:00 to meet Jo-Ann, Rose, Bev, and Gloria . Bikes, trailers, and panniers were loaded for two nights at the cabin. Paul was just along for a daytrip. The morning fog had burned off and the clear blue skies allowed the sun to warm the air.

In a summer that had few consecutive days of sun, we didn't think the weather could last. But it did. We took advantage all we could. On Saturday we hiked toward the glacier until the trail disappeared at a cliff and the only route necessitated crossing the glacial river. Back at the cabin, the rest of the crew and more daytrippers arrived. We all grabbed a spot on the sunny back porch and ate a leisurely lunch until the sun went behind the mountain. After dinner we walked down the road and along the river and returned to the cabin for dessert and star gazing, the first of the fall.

On the ride out on Friday, we felt so grateful and lucky to be biking along the lake in the sun and fall gold. We said we were blessed, we were fortunate, we were being rewarded for sticking it out through the rain the previous year and the dreary summer of 2008. We were still saying all of those things on Sunday when we biked back out. The Saturday crew left before Rose, Jo-Ann, Gloria, Bev, and I. We all seemed reluctant to leave this weekend that still seemed unbelievable. After we loaded bikes and gear into the cars, we walked down to the lake edge to sit in the sun just a little longer.

We are blessed, we are fortunate. We have good friends, good health, kind husbands waiting at home, and we bike in golden Alaska.

To see more photographs of the weekend in Eklutna:

20 September 2008 Golden Fall

There have been just a few good things about the rainy summer
  • the grass didn't grow much so Paul didn't have to mow twice a week, more like twice a month
  • the seeds, seedlings, and transplants at my restoration project thrived with the constant rain
  • and the fall colors have been absolutely spectacular and seemingly endless

I haven't posted any fall colors on this blog, so I looked at the Divas blog to see if my memory is right. Did fall really last all of September? And indeed, yes, by the second week the dogwood was a deep red in some parts of the woods and the birches were starting to turn yellow. In the third week some leaves were falling while other birches were just hitting their stride. Even in the fourth week, as the ground was carpeted in golden leaves, some birch trees were just starting to shift from green to yellow.

Those bike rides, and others commuting home from work or around the park on weekends, were like riding through liquid golden energy. I felt an energy that only comes after a long period of darkness. Even though those Diva rides were often cloudy and moist evenings, the golden leaves substituted for the sunlight I've craved all summer.

For months I kept wondering why staying in Alaska all summer had seemed like such a good idea in previous years. But on those bike rides, I couldn't stop saying to myself -- you live in the most beautiful and amazing place in the world.

Back in the spring as green up rolled across southcentral Alaska, a colleague commented that for two weeks in the spring, no place in the world is as beautiful. I'd have to say, for the month of September, no place is as golden and rich with life.

14 September 2008 Summer in a sphere

All summer I've been wondering why I bother as I moved spindly tomato plants in pots around the living room. Some of them began the summer on the deck, but it soon became obvious that they needed some warmth if they were going to do anything. With a remodel project also happening in the living room, they often seemed more trouble than they were worth for anticipated weak returns.

I'm not sure how it started -- before I knew it I had 8 potted tomato plants vying for space in the living room with the house plants and the basil I grow there every summer. On the one warm day we had in July, I took them all outside in the hopes that a passing bee would fertilize them and produce some fruit. Then when the cool temperatures returned, in they came and I shook them often in hopes they'd self-fertilize. By the first of August, half hadn't set any fruit and they moved to the compost pile. By the end of August, I began to wonder if any of the fruit was going to ripen with all the clouds.

This week my limited patience paid off and I think the living room will be full of potted tomatoes again next year. These three kinds of cherry tomatoes - in red, orange, and yellow - are the best I've tasted in years. Even the vine-ripened tomatoes that I've been buying from a local greenhouse all summer can't compare.

These tasty little spheres are one of the few hints that it's been summer in Alaska.

31 August 2008 Sealife Wash

In lieu of a long boat ride in pouring rain, we went to the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward to see Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, seabirds, fish, and other creatures of the sea. Our timing was good and we saw trainers work with the sea lions, seals, and seabirds. After these sessions, I sat in front of the tanks and was able to tune out the noise of children and adults around me. I don't know if it was the acoustics or the dimly lit sitting area, but I felt like I was underwater, where all sounds are muffled and motion is fluid and smooth. The slow movement of the fish and repetitive paths of the mammals was calming.

That's sort of the feeling and mood I try to get when I'm sitting in Quaker Meeting. One week after our visit to Seward, I was trying to tune out sounds of traffic and restless children today and turn my thoughts to a conversation started online by some Friends. The topic is religious differences, within Quakerism and with other religions. Some want the children in our Meeting to learn just about Quakers while others talked about the value of understanding other people to reduce conflict in the world. I'm in the latter camp.

As the national elections heat up, rhetoric is turned up a notch with the goal of drawing distinctions and separating one candidate from the other. The focus is on difference, and not what makes the candidates similar. If we could understand how similar we all are, our differences wouldn't have to lead to name-calling, bickering, conflict, and war.
If the campaign season has you down, and you're not a Quaker, I recommend 15 minutes in front of a tank of slow-moving fish to quiet your mind and restore equilibrium to your view of your fellow Americans.

29 August 2008 State Fair

As the national media started pouring into Alaska, we piled into our little Subaru with my parents and made our annual pilgrimage to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, only a few miles east of Wasilla. Dad and Kay had come to Alaska at the end of summer just to see the fair. We were a bit nervous that it would live up to their expectations, based on our tall tales in years past of huge vegetables, endless bunnies, and all-things Alaskan.

The veggies did not disappoint. The largest we saw was a 907# pumpkin! We also watched part of the Great Alaska Weigh-off, always entertaining with cruciferous limericks and tales of triumph over slugs and moose. My favorite, however, were the vegetable people.

The livestock barn did have two disappointments. Only a quarter or so of the bunnies we normally see were on hand. We were either too early or too late in the week to see all breeds. Another highlight for me each year is the days-old litter of baby piglets.* The pregnant sow was alone in her pen, lying heavily on one side, still waiting to deliver her babies.

Small-town values were on display at the fair, despite the buzz of the day's news. Nothing can stop the parade of 4-H exhibits, quilt shows, carnival rides, and canine stunt dogs that defines the Alaska state fair. A few days later, I went to the Anchorage Daily News website to learn more about that day's big bombshell. I was heartened to see that the top item was not an unplanned pregnancy, but the birth of the piglets at the state fair. The world may be focused on Alaska, but Alaskans are focusing on what it means to live in a state that feels like a small town.

* some of you may remember I've featured that photos of the piglets the last two years. if you want to see them again, go to Aug 07 or Sep 06.

27 August 2008 Biking Dad

Not many 40-something women can call their dad a stud. Mine is. As we were biking a 28.5-mile tour of Anchorage's bike paths and routes today, I decided he was as good if not better a biker to tag. None of my non-blogging bike friends even responded to my tagging. I thought about tagging my friend Jeff in Talkeetna (who dreams about pugslies) but he'd probably think these questions are silly. Dad likes silly questions and may be amused by answering them. Hey, he braved moose and crawled under the Seward Highway to do all of the Campbell Creek Trail today; he's a sport and a dad willing to indulge his daughter.

Dad and moose at Taku Lake, Campbell Creek trail

Dad biking the Campbell Creek Trail under the Seward Highway

Biking Dad:

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?
The one I’ve got – Trek FX7.5. Because it’s the perfect old man bike.

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why? Why would one be confined to one bike route? I can’t conceive of that being a possibility in my life.

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike for the rest of her / his life? Probably a close relative. Or the person who made up this questionnaire.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded? Only one because that’s all I can afford and it’s a good well-rounded bike to do many things. No mountain biking but it does road and trail quite nicely.

Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent. Only at the gym. It doesn’t look comfortable to me at all.

Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss? No, but I wear the shorts.

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why? Ice cream. Why? Because you made me choose.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it. Anything but what you’ve asked so far.

You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do? I’d ask you if you have your bear spray with you because I wouldn’t be riding near bears at any other time.

21 August 2008 Butte

Our regional director came to Alaska for the first time for the big annual board meeting. My director asked me to show her the Mat-Su one day. He said that Karen was fit and active so I looked for something to do other than driving around all day. I've never hiked up Bodenburg Butte and thought it might give her a good overview of the Palmer and lower Valley area. The trail description said 'steep' and 'challenging' but it's only 1.5 miles so how bad could it be? Most of those trail descriptions are written for couch potatoes, anyway, right?

Thankfully, Karen is fit and enjoys hiking. She did mention recovery from ACL surgery last year but didn't suggest we turn around when the trail continued to head almost directly uphill with suspect footing on exposed geoblocks. I hadn't known that the visiting VP of Human Resources would be joining us when I picked the itinerary but she too was game for climbing to the top of the Butte. Two of my co-workers and two visiting photographers also huffed to the top.

From the top we had a good view of the farmland in the Butte area, the Knik and Matanuska Rivers, the Knik Glacier, and the rain storm approaching from the south. Back on the forested slopes we stayed mostly dry. We had earned a huge lunch at a new restaurant, Turkey Red, in Palmer.

16 August 2008 Resurrection Bay

Ahh, nothing I like more than a forest of dead trees. Some have thought my photographic fascination with leafless wood a bit odd. Landing on this spit at the north end of Fox Island and finding this standing dead forest was a pleasant surprise for me. I'm guessing that the land subsided over time or suddenly due to an earthquake and that the trees died as salt water became their only water source.

Despite the dead trees, this little spit is full of life. The fireweed was vibrant, along with tall beach grasses cow parsnip. At the end, four black oystercatchers wandered along the rocks and plovers dashed along the waters edge.

10 August 2008 Susitna River

On Friday we boarded the flag-stop train in Talkeetna (locally dubbed the Bud Car due to appearance, not refreshments) for the hour ride to Gold Creek. There the conductor deposited 7 of us and a lot of camping and boating gear beside the tracks. We ferried the gear down a steep embankment to the Susitna River bank. Gold Creek flows in just upstream of the railroad bridge.

We were an odd flotilla -- raft, Feathercraft single kayak, Klepper double kayak, and an Aerius inflatable kayak. One way or another, we all floated back down to Talkeetna in 2 days of floating. We ended up camping 2 nights on an exposed sandy-gravelly island because Saturday was so rainy, no one wanted to pack up to move to a better spot. Despite the weather, it was a very relaxing day of bocce, reading, visiting, napping, rock collecting, and eating. A beach vacation, Alaska style.

5 August 2008 Mushroom Eyes

Thanks to a field trip with Jon and Rose, Paul and I are getting our mushroom eyes.

Last evening I went for a little walk and run around the neighborhood. I found a large bolete (in the center of the photo) before I even left the yard. The next one, slightly smaller, presented itself half way through the outing.

This evening, we biked home from work through Bicentennial Park. Within a 100 yards of leaving the paved trails, Paul spotted some mushrooms. Half our harvest came from that spot. The rest of the ride was slow -- we were either watching the sides of the trail for more boletes or scanning the creek banks for bears.

Not all of these beauties made it into the saute pan. I found a few maggots in the trimming and cutting. And one turned blue so we threw it out.

We had another delightful dinner composed mostly of local foods -- mushrooms with herbs from the garden and a spinach salad from the garden with cucumber & radish from a Palmer farm. This meal was delicious, though not the exquisite feast that Jon prepared. Again, the satisfaction was increased knowing that we had gathered and grown much of it ourselves.

30 August 2008 Bike tag

I am sitting here waiting for a furniture delivery, listening to a call-in show on blogs, and pedaling through bike blogs. I'm taking the cyber-journey because Rose tagged me (something I've never heard of before) and it involves a bike quiz. I'm such a casual biker that I'm more than a little intimidated and want to see what the 'real' bikers answered. Looking at other people's blogs and following their favorite links is also a great way to procrastinate and hope that something will come up before I have to face the challenge.

So the mattress sets arrived, I painted the back door, checked work email, hemmed a pair of pants, folded laundry, ate dinner, and went for a bike ride (to get in the mood) and now it's time to play tag.

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be? I currently have an 18-yr-old touring bike, a 12-yr-old mountain bike with front suspension, and a 3-yr-old mountain bike with full suspension. There are many more options out there that I’ve never experienced (e.g. pugsley, 29er, etc.) I guess for my riding, I’d go with a full suspension mountain bike, maybe with lock-out suspension, and have 3 sets of tires -- mountain treads for the trails, slicks for commuting & touring pavement, and studded tires for winter riding. And can I have someone on call to change the tires at a moment’s notice to switch from one use to another?
If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why? I’m going to copy Rose here just a little bit. I haven’t been able to do it much this summer, but I really enjoy my summer commute to & from work. It takes me through part of the Campbell Tract and Far North Bicentennial Park and then along the Chester Creek Trail. On the Hillside, I usually have the trails to myself in the morning, and surprisingly, often in the evenings, too. Then on the Chester Creek trail in the morning, retired people are walking their dogs and looking so pleased to be outside. Other bikers on their way to work are enjoying the heady smells of the May Day trees or the surge of energy that will help to carry them through another day. I don’t think I’d be able to do the hill up to our house for the rest of my life, but most of this route would be doable for another few decades. (At 70, my dad bikes 100 miles a week!)

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike to ride for the rest of her / his life? Maybe someone without much money and they can only buy one bike? Apartment dweller? Just plain mean?
Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrow-minded? Here, I am completely copying Rose’s answer. She said it so well: “I do ride both, but I prefer riding my mountain bikes. I love riding through the woods on the trails, getting away from the noise and the traffic and seeing a little nature.”
Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent. No, I haven’t. If there was a free demo, I’d try it. But I’ve never had much interest. It doesn’t look that comfortable or stable to me.
Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss? Guilty on the triathlon but not the floss (tho’ I do use it, despite what my dental hygienist might say). I swam, biked, and ran the Gold Nugget Triathlon twice (2004, 2006). A great way to get in shape but my knees don’t like running, I hate being tied to the pool schedule, and there’s so much else to do besides training so the triathlon itself doesn’t hurt too much.

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why? This is just about ice cream, right? Not gelato, sorbet, Rabah’s lime & lemon creamy concoctions? If so, I can do without ice cream (and my butt says I should unless I’ve ridden a lot of hills in the previous 12 hours). Now if the question were about pesto and bikes -- that would be a harder choice.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it. What bizarre twist of fate or parallel universe would make you choose between ice cream and bicycles? The divas just rode Spencer Loop in its entirety. Even though I had a big bowl of pasta with pesto and a salad before the ride, I was hungry half way through. Lots of hills so I’ve just scarfed down (while thoroughly enjoying) a few scoops of Haagen Daaz vanilla with Matanuska Rubie’s Rhubarb-Raspberry sauce. Yum!
You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do? All depends on the circumstances. Usually the bear has seen me first and is already running away when I see it. When I’ve seen the bear but it hasn’t seen me, I’ve stopped, stood as still as possible, grabbed my bear spray if I’ve got it, and waited until the bear has passed from sight. Depending upon which way it has gone, I turn around or continue on the trail ahead.
Now, tag three biking bloggers. List them below.
Here’s a problem … the few biking bloggers I know have already been tagged. I’m guessing that tag-backs are not allowed in this cyber-game. The funniest bikers I know should be blogging but aren't … so I’m tagging Jamie and Jo-Ann and punting on a third. If J and J answer the questions, I’ll post them.

24 August 2008 Peace, art, and nature in the city

Paul and I pedaled the Anchorage Garden Tour, an annual tradition. Our friend Kathy from Talkeetna joined us for the 25 mile ride through Anchorage neighborhoods and along the Chester and Campbell Creek trails. We strolled through 10 gardens in various parts of town. The theme this year seemed to be woodland oases and art in the garden. I came home with a couple of favorite photos and many ideas on how to add more art to the garden.

And surprisingly, the rain held off until we had seen the last garden! Then it poured on us most of the way back across town and up the Abbott hill.

20 July 2008 Alex loved the garden

We buried Alex today near the vegetable garden and under the birch trees she used to sit below. I designed the memorial marker, Paul built it, and I finished it. It's more of a shrine than a memorial, I suppose, with the trinkets and photograph. We did have a brief ceremony, ending with a Guiness toast and a sprinkling of the brew on the fresh dirt. She liked Guiness and I could never set a glass of it down lower than the counter if she was near.

That's one of her dishes underneath, next to a piece from the ceramic bird bath she used to drink from in the garden. I left it out too late into the fall last year and it broke when the water froze. I'm not a superstitious person but that incident did make me wonder if Alex would live to another summer. Hanging near the dish is a yarn 'Eye of God' that I made at a Quaker retreat one month after her death. I was thinking about her quite a bit that weekend. I like to think that she's moved on to another plane where she's keeping somebody's lap warm and licking their eyebrows.

The little kitty is a goofy statue covered in tiny shells. I picked it up from a free table because it made me smile. I tried to give it to a friend who was going through a rough break-up at the time, but she didn't appreciate it and it ended up back with me. Alex made me smile, too, so there the two kitties are together. The shell kitty is wearing Alex's last collar. I found the red heart recently at a gift shop and placed it there for all the obvious reasons.

I planted nepeta (cat mint) at the base. I wouldn't mind seeing one of the neighbor cats drinking from the bowl and rubbing the nepeta. The garden seems so lonely.

19 July 2008 Campbell Creek Gorge

The clouds shrouded the tops of the mountains so we decided to explore our 'backyard.' Rose had mentioned a gorge trail in her New Year's post and I had been curious ever since. We've hiked, skiied, biked, and snowshoed the various parts of the south side of Campbell Creek gorge. Today we would circumnavigate the gorge, using various trails in the municipal and state parks and one mile of the road to a subdivision far up the hill side.

We never get tired of exploring these huge parks in Anchorage. Bicentennial Park, Campbell tract (federal), and Chugach State Park abut each other and are connected by multiple trails. These provide many options for day trips with just a short drive to a trailhead. Today we biked to Bicentennial Park and descended to the Campbell tract. We noticed many single track trails heading off into the woods. Some we have wandered off on to see where they go. Today we speculated about the unknown trails but didn't have time for exploration. Another day, when the clouds are low, gas prices too high, or we're just too curious.

12 July 2008 Decision Point

Here's how bad the weather has been in Anchorage this summer -- we had to go to Prince William Sound for sunshine. On Saturday, all the Anchoragians at the Whittier harbor putting in boats for fishing or kayaking (like us) were giddy with the cloudless skies. The weather service hadn't told any of us that the weather was so good in the Sound. We went down because the winds were going to be light and it was only forecast to rain on Sunday. We couldn't believe our good fortune as we neared the tunnel to Whittier and the clouds disappeared. After the sunny day, we didn't mind the clouds rolling in Saturday evening and the sprinkles on Sunday morning. We had finally found summer in Alaska, if only briefly.

1 July 2008 Coastal Wash

The other day a friend gently pointed out that I hadn't posted anything recently. I wish I could use the weather as an excuse. Today turns out to be a perfect day to spend a few hours at the computer ... no sun reflecting off the screen ... too wet to do much outside unless you're a duck. So I started editing my photos from our trip to Southeast Alaska earlier this month. I'm probably misusing an art term, but I call these washes -- sky and land reflected imperfectly in the ocean.

My life typically feels like an imperfect reflection of how I want it to be ... how I treat other people, my contribution to my community and passions, the artfulness of my existence, how lightly I live on this earth. On the trip I read a small booklet that relates Buddhism to Quakerism. I found the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path* to be very encouraging as a mental and spiritual framework for making my life more accurately reflect my vision of it. The First Noble Truth is that sorrow and suffering exists. To be born, to live, to die, I will have to suffer. Some pain is beyond my control (so try to accept it); some is my own making (so try to figure out how to prevent it). The Second Noble Truth is that the latter suffering is due to desire or craving. I am not very materialistic but I certainly have desires that can make me unhappy.

Sometimes friends give insight that it would take years to figure out on your own. I took some quiz that concluded I was a perfectionist, which I didn't accept because my house isn't the cleanest, I forget to get a haircut, etc etc. So I was saying how the quiz was stupid and my friend John said "you're a perfectionist in that you want everything to proceed perfectly." And I realized he was right. I want everyone to operate in the way that I've defined as correct for a happy society -- to be polite, kind to children and pets, clean up after themselves. Soon I also concluded that my need to control situations to achieve that version of perfection often made me anxious and unhappy (suffering for me) and annoying (suffering for others).

Insight can help you understand yourself but change often comes slowly. The Noble Truths are another way to look at what I already know and have been working on for over a decade -- let other people be, help as I can, but don't think I can control anything outside my own body.

Sometimes controlling what's happening in my own mind and body seems to be beyond my control. That comes back to that first kind of suffering ... whether it be the physical aches and pains from getting older, melancholy on passing 40, or the heartache of losing a faithful companion. These are parts of being human and may be peculiar to the genes and chemistry that make me who I am both physically and emotionally. I don't know which of the emotional sufferings are beyond my control (chemical) and which are self-induced (craving). Which is why the Buddhists would say to meditate and the Quakers would say to seek the Light to answer those questions. In my own imperfect way, I'll keep trying to sharpen that reflection.

* Scroll half way down this page to read the 4 and 8: www.oldpathsangha.org/3.html

28 June 2008 Kake

an old cannery in the southeast Alaska town of Kake ... stories later about our sailing sojourn

19 June 2008 Eklutna Flats

My first fish passage restoration project just wrapped up. For 8 days, I drove about 55 miles north of Anchorage every day to watch three culverts be replaced with large arched pipes. Twice a day I drove past the Eklutna flats, about halfway, and watched the wild irises coming into bloom. The weather was mostly cloudy and cool, but finally, on my last trip the sun was out and the irises were fully in bloom.

This beauty is very tempting. Some of us crowd into the small turnoff on the side of Alaska's busiest highway to photograph the flowers. Others pull off to dig some up and take it home. I'm not sure who owns this land, but I've read that it's illegal to dig up these irises. Even so, as I walked amongst the flowers I stepped into holes where irises used to be. One of the landowners at the restoration project mentioned driving down to Eklutna to dig up irises to plant in one of the areas along his driveway that needs to be revegetated.

We can't all take this beauty home with us except through photographs and other renderings. If just 1 in 10 passersby pulled over to dig up a few to take home, this iris bounty would be gone in one season. Those who stop to cut bouquets also reduce the number of blooms for others to enjoy and prevent new irises from seeding.

I struggle with the desire to own beautiful objects versus enjoying the moments that I have to admire them. Not only irises but also clothes, pottery, jewelry, art, even lovely places in Alaska. We are such a covetous society. But owning something doesn't make it any more beautiful. In fact, some ownership, like that of the irises, can decrease the beauty and mar or prevent the experience for others. The irises are awesome not just for each exquisite bloom but for the number of them. What if we valued sharing over hoarding? Could that make the experience even richer?

8 June 2008 Alaska spring green

Already the bright greens of the Alaskan spring are starting to deepen, but a week ago, spring green was still leaping out of the fall's leaves and from the tree branches.

As a colleague of mine said, for two weeks in the spring, there is no place on Earth more beautiful than south-central Alaska.

Diverse life on a birch tree

6 June 2008 Sure Sign of Spring

This mama and her twins rested in our neighbor's backyard for an evening.

31 May 2008 Living is an art

Living is an art; it's not bookkeeping.
It takes a lot of rehearsing for a man to get to be himself.

Joe in The Time of Your Life
by William Saroyan

25 May 2008 Susitna Spring

South-central Alaska is turning bright green with fresh leaves on trees and shrubs and renewed grass in lawns. Some ornamentals, like my apples and lilacs, have barely budded yet, so the transformation from the black-and-white winter isn't complete yet. Once I remove the remaining leaves from my flower beds, they should start to show more green, too.

I'm finally emerging from 'the winter of my soul,' too (ok - a bit dramatic). Thanks, little Alex, for hanging on until late winter so I'd have the new life of spring to revive me. Anne Frank is correct that Nature brings solace. We spent two cool, cloudy, windy days on a gravel bar on the Susitna River this past weekend. I didn't do much other than eat, sleep, talk, and huddle around the camp fire. I'm not sure what happened, but I passed some sort of grief threshold. Now my gratitude for caring for and being cared for by a 12 lb calico outweighs the emptiness of not having her here (most of the time).

22 May 2008 Tree hugging

Spring has been very slow to arrive this year and we've been busy with who-knows-what. I'm behind (again!) on the blog and I'm low on inspiration for musings and photogging. I've been indulging myself to do whatever I want (within reason) for a couple of months now as I adjust to life without a furry beast. I've been looking through photo albums and finding some favorite photos of our little family in the last 20 years. Today I'm posting one of Paul, looking blissful with a big tree in NE Arizona. Im hoping to feel that way now that the weather is turning warm and I'll be out in the sun more playing or gardening.

The big guy turns 50 on Monday and I haven't been completely devoid of creativity. Most of my creative juice has been pouring into an Alex scrapbook and a surprise for Paul's birthday (but I can't tell what just in case he ever reads my blog).

We're headed out for the first camping trip of the season with an overnight float on the Susitna River. I'll take the camera and actually remove it from the bag this weekend. The leaves finally emerged this week and Alaska is blanketed with bright green. Maybe I'll even get a little inspired while gardening this afternoon and snap a photo or two of new life.