25 dec 12 christmas light

On Christmas night we launched lanterns into the sky as fluffy snowflakes fell to the ground

30 dec 12 trail gnome

The clear cold fall left two days ago and warm drizzle replaced it.  Today I was trying hard to find the good in this turn of events.  My plans to ski/snowshoe/bike this long holiday weekend are on hold until this weather pattern moves out, which may not be until later this week.  Today we put cleats on our hiking boots and walked some mountain bike trails near our house.  There we found this trail gnome sitting outside his burrow playing his pipes.  He paused to smile at us as we walked past.  Thanks for the cheer on this gray day, little guy.  Hiking in the slush is better than many of the alternatives.

11 nov 12 sunny cold coast

golden sun and grasses on the kincaid coast on a cold november afternoon

10 nov 12 off kilter

The Bluedot is an unsanctioned trail across municipal lands that is a favorite of dog walkers and winter bikers.  A band of fairies spray paints blue blotches on the trees and maintains it for wind and dead fall.  The bridge that crossed Campbell Creek was made of two long tree trunks that just barely reached more than 30 feet from bank to bank.  Half of the planks that spanned the logs had fallen off.  I didn't dare cross that bridge except in the winter when snow and ice filled in the gaps.

Six weeks ago we walked the Bluedot Trail as Campbell Creek was overtopping its banks after days of rain.  The flooded creek had dislodged the bridge and deposited it along the far bank.  We walked upstream following another foot path to the Old Rondy Trail.  We returned a week later and the water was still high.  At the Old Rondy bridge, the water was less than a foot below its deep steel beams and rushing past the abutments on which they rested.

Today we hiked Bluedot again to see how the creek had changed.  We were surprised to find that the trail fairies had built a new bridge downstream from the old.  The logs bow down from each bank in a sway over the creek.  The planks cover the entire length of bridge.  A biker crossed just after we did.

Thank you to all the folks who care for Anchorage's trails.  The winds and rains have kept you busy this fall.

27 oct 12 ice patterns

Every year or two the conditions are perfect for ice skating in southcentral Alaska.  Temperatures dip below freezing before any appreciable snow falls.  The last twelve days have provided those conditions - clear skies, cold days and colder nights.  This past weekend we ice skated on 3 lakes around Talkeetna, and after work today we skated at Potter Marsh in south Anchorage.

I skated mostly with my eyes down so I could see the patterns in the frozen water. Cracks that curve instead of forming a straight line. Corkscrews and propellers along cracks. Bubbles trapped in action. Dark stars radiating into white ice*. Perfect circles on the surface. Hoar frost patterns under the surface. A new phenomena in every glide.


*Ned Rozell explained 'lake stars' in his Sunday Anchorage Daily News column.

29 sep 2012 blue dot for bhikkhu

Once upon a time there was a little dog who loved to hike.   One day the little dog found a big bone at a Kenai campsite. He spent many happy hours gnawing on this bone.

One day he no longer could hike, and eventually chewing on the big bone was too hard.  Today his people hiked the Blue Dot Trail for him and left his big bone, with a bright red ribbon, under a birch tree for another dog to find and enjoy.

 In memory of little bhikkhu
a dog who loved bones
especially when they were bigger than he was.

29 jul 12 summer color

I'm waiting for the big winds on a dreary day in Anchorage.  I'm behind on editing and posting photos from the summer so I decided to start with the annual garden tour by the Anchorage Garden Club. 

11 aug 12 sun in the sound

Anchored in South Surprise Cove looking north to the glaciers of College Fjord

july clouds in the sound

We were surprised to find a bit of March lingering in a valley while on our July holiday.

A cozy anchorage between Little Mink and Mink Islands in Port Nellie Juan

wing-on-wing down Passage Canal - the end of our July holiday in the Sound

1 jul 12 nearing the first bend

Unbelievably, it's the first of July already, and my last entry reads to me like the taper before the big event. Here are a few photos of the race that is my Alaska Summer 2012.
We attended the Alaska Botanical Gardens' Gala event.  Paul submitted a cedar Japanese Snow Lantern this year. About two dozen artists included works of many media.  I liked this metal spiral that had been carefully centered over a young plant.

We took Blossom to Whittier mid-month.  The weather was unmatched on Solstice Weekend.  Endless sun and wind for sailing. 
I visited Cordova for the first time this past weekend with two former co-workers.  We had sunny weather the first two days and more typical Prince William Sound weather the last two.  South-central Alaska seems blanketed with lupine this year.  Here is a roadside bouquet down the beach from the lodge where we stayed.

28 may 12 off to a good start

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start to summer, and in Alaska, that typically means the start of a race to cram as much Life as we can into the many hours of daylight we have.  I've taken a different approach the last few years.  Instead of scrambling to pack up for a long weekend of camping/boating/rafting/get-out-of-town and driving north/south with half of Anchorage, I stay home.

Paul still does an overnight raft trip on the Susitna River with some friends.  I do miss that raft trip but I must express a measure of self-satisfaction and calm as he shops for food, pulls camping gear out of the garage, and scurries around to get north to the put-in on time.  All that will come for me for trips that we do together this summer.  I prefer to start my summer at a slower pace, to savor the longer days, the warmer weather (hopefully), and my time outside in a quiet neighborhood.

I concentrate on gardening on this long weekend.  This is the recommended time to plant most vegetables and flowers in our area, and it usually takes me most of the weekend to do so.  This year I'm behind on cleaning up perennial flower beds because of the tendonitis in my shoulder, so there's been extra weeding and raking to do.  If I can get most of the weeds this weekend, I stand a chance of staying ahead of them despite the fact that we'll be gone almost every other weekend this summer.
Soon I'll be caught up in maximizing my use of the daylight even though it often requires ignoring the fact that the weather may not be very summery.  Maybe you really do need to live through six months of cold, white landscape and dark to understand how 70 can be considered hot and 80 is a reason to close offices.  After this winter of record snow and prolonged deep cold, I'm still amazed at how green the scene is and how warm it feels.

Summer in Alaska is so much more intense than anyplace I've ever lived and it's hard to explain the intensity or the appeal of it to others.  While talking to my mom this morning, I mentioned that the high yesterday was 48 with a constant drizzle, and that the clouds clearing overnight brought the temperature down to 38.  She said, "And you like living there?"  I echoed that question when she said she was on her way to watch a Memorial Day parade in the sunny muggy 80 degrees of central New York.  It's hard to explain that 50 in the sun early this afternoon felt about 20 degrees warmer than that drizzle yesterday.  And could she imagine that by late afternoon 58 on the deck would entice me to sit outside with my feet up, wide-brimmed hat on my head, sipping my first cojito* of the summer?

Summer is off to a good start in Anchortown.

* cojito: my version of a mojito = Midnight Sun Lemon Fizz, club soda, shot of tequila, and mint from the garden

18 may 12 bike to work day

The Nature Conservancy Bike Commuters
I hadn't been bicycling since late February.  Sometime that month I went over the handlebars on my friend's snowbike, which likely brought on the tendinitis and bursitis in my shoulders that has taken months to heal.  A few weeks ago the physical therapist and sports doc said that I could start riding the trainer and build up to riding outside.  I found the trainer to be more difficult than I had expected and not much fun either.  Bike to Work Day became my goal -- even though it was scheduled for a Friday when I don't normally work. 

Eventually I built up the time on the trainer and reached the next step - half an hour riding outside.  I enjoyed a sunny ride on the Campbell Creek trail several evenings before Bike to Work Day.  Riding all the way to work would be a slightly bigger leap in time than the doc prescribed but I thought the break at the half hour mark might help.  That would be the Bacon Station - a favorite stop for Paul and me at last year's BtWD.  Alas, we got there too late to partake of bacon or cinnamon rolls or free beer coupons but they were still handing out a few chocolate chip cookies and the lack of food was made up by the dozens of cyclists still hanging out on a sunny spring morning.

A few notes about Bike to Work Day in Anchorage:
~ Paul and I had to revise our route through a neighborhood because a moose was feeding next to a bike trail that cut between two houses.  Not that unusual an event in a typical bike commute here.
~ The temperature was only 36 when we left the house.  When we reached the main street outside our neighborhood, three riders were coming down the hill.  One in shorts and another in a T-shirt.  Brrr.  There was ice in the wooded wetlands near the university.
~ Only four of us were at the office on Friday and we all biked.  Emily had taken her little boy to the bacon station in an early morning ride, and Marcus stopped there with his daughter on the way to daycare.  Jessica bike-jored in.  Her sled dog Circe pulled her on a wild ride that doesn't sound like something for the faint-of-heart.  My commute was the longest - 11 miles - and  I sported the 'company colors.'

6 may 12 unexpected color

Until the deciduous trees leaf out, the Alaska spring landscape is a study of browns and grays with the muted green of the spruce.  Flowering bulbs can be found in the warm places near buildings, but the wilder places are almost colorless.  So this bright patch of green and red caught me by surprise when we were looking for birds near Talkeetna recently.  The pond we were walking around is known as Hugo's Pond for the homesteader who dammed up a small creek that flows from here into Sunshine Creek.  Springs also feed the pond so it becomes ice free earlier than other lakes and ponds in the area.  These plants (I don't know what they are) are growing on rocks in one of those springs on the pond's perimeter.  I put aside my curiosity about the shorebirds on the other side of the pond to explore this unexpected vibrancy in the otherwise dull landscape.

29 apr 12 glimpses of spring

A fast spring thaw continues here in Anchorage with snow melting about a foot per week in the yard.  The white and dark green world of our long winter is slowly transforming with the emergence of large swatches of brown ground and old gray snow berms.  A few bright spots of color are peeking out at the margins - the daffodils and muscari up against the south side of the house, the rhubarb on the snow's edge in the garden.

In the morning, the songs of robins and ruby-crowned kinglets greet me and Bhikkhu as we walk down the driveway to get the paper.  The newly exposed ground presents the little dog with new smells and old ones that were muffled for many months.  My less sensitive nose is slower to notice the earthier smell of spring.  What I notice is the warmth.  Even 30 in the morning feels warmer now than it did at midday a month ago. 

The promise of summer will soon be fulfilled.
The melt is somewhat uneven depending upon sun exposure and dark objects. In the last week over a foot of snow had melted around my meauring stick yet the snow was still over a foot deep in many parts of the garden.

22 apr 12 transitions

The snow continues to melt fast enough that I felt confident that any seeds I planted would have an outside home this summer.  Several flats in the living room window are sprouting with lettuce, cabbage, radicchio, broccoli, tomatoes, and a multitude of greens.
A foot of snow melted since last week!

4 apr 12 spring thaw

The snow retreated from the south foundation only two weeks ago and the tiny heads of the muscari are already pushing through the dead leaves.  Slowly the snow level is dropping in the rest of the yard.   The depth varies around the yard, from a foot in the south yard to three at the garden to four around the driveway.  The driveway is almost clear of ice except under the deck where it remains cooler and the sun can't reach.  Almost all of the snow slid off the roof in the last week.   Only a thin shelf on the flat dormer roof continues to simultaneously melt and inch its way over the eave, leaving us to wager on whether it will teeter off or disappear first.  Warm temperatures are melting this record snowfall quickly.  We've never seen a winter like this, though, so I'll try to track the thaw progress until it's all gone.

this flamingo will be tracking the snow depth by the garden gate - 3' today

Here's the yardstick for the rise and fall of the snow - compare to the zenith less than a month ago

7 april 2012 breaking the record

Just when it looked like spring was going to be dry and sunny, the clouds came in and the snows returned.  Yesterday we broke the record for the snowiest recorded winter in Anchorage by almost 2".  We've got something to show for all that shoveling and plowing.

18 mar 12 going for the record

There's nothing like a little competition for people to see the silver lining in a long, snowy winter.  Everyone is hoping for just another few inches of snow so we can break the all-time snowiest winter record from the mid-1950s.  The record is 132.6"and the official snowfall in Anchorage this winter so far is 129.4".  We're one snowy day away from the record.

As I mentioned in my first post about the snow back in January, we receive  more snow in our part of town because we're closer to the mountains than the official site, the airport, is.  I don't know how much snow we've received up here but I know how much is on the ground.  Below are two more photos of our yard for comparison to two weeks ago and January.  The above photo is the signage at the end of our street. 

The sky is cloudy this evening and the forecast calls for scattered snows this week.  Soon that record will belong to the Anchorage citizens of 2011-2012.  And all the slow commutes, aching backs, and narrow streets will be worth it.

Mount Snowmore!  Paul's overhead reach is 8'.

Now we've got a snow fence around the garden

4 mar 12 snow update

The snows continue to fall every couple of days, and Anchorage is nearing an all-time record.   Here are updates to the photos of our yard that I posted in January plus two new ones.

the vegetable garden.  Paul keeps a path open to the compost bins.  The top of the snow is at my chest.

The top of the pagoda is that bright snowy bump just right of center. 

Bhikkhu in the tunnel that is the path to our back door. His back is about 12" tall.
Bhikkhu in the driveway.  The far snow wall is chest height.  If I raise my hand , I can touch the top of the wall on the left.  The pagoda is to my left.

3 mar 12 iditarod parade

There are many unique aspects to life in Anchorage.  Dog mushing, arguably our most popular spectator sport, epitomizes that Alaska ideal of self-sufficiency against the harsh climate.  Thousands of people line the course of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race as it winds 11 miles from downtown Anchorage to the Campbell Tract, just a few miles from our house.

Paul and I decided to get to the finish in an Alaskan way. We drove to a close trailhead and cross-country skied a couple of miles to the finish chute.  Despite the falling snow and low clouds obscuring the mountains, the climate didn't feel very harsh today with temperatures in the mid-20s.  Alaskans of all ages and a few tourists were hanging around trucks where the mushers who had finished were loading their dogs and sleds for the trip north to Willow and the real start of the race tomorrow.  The well-known mushers, most who finish regularly in the top ten, were answering questions and posing for photos.
Everyone wants to be close to the trail to cheer on the mushers.  The ceremonial start is more of a parade than a race.
We skied along the route, opposite to the mushers' progress, and stopped along the way to watch and take photos.  We eventually found ourselves on the other end of the Campbell Tract where the mushers were emerging from several miles in the woods with few spectators.  We watched and clapped until the last musher, a rapping rookie, passed. 

We skied to the Campbell Creek Science Center to play Iditarod trivia and listen to a long-time musher talk about the first Iditarod race 40 years ago.  Dan Seavey is mushing the trail this year to promote the race, dog sledding, and the trail.  His son and a grandson are also mushing dogs to Nome this year.
Happy Dogs! Though these leaders might have been a little warm with their jerseys encouraging the immunization of Alaska kids

When we left the science center, it seemed that everyone had gone home.  A lone moose stood on the trail near where we had watched the last mushers.  We saw no people on the ski back to the car.  That's life here in Anchorage on the edge of the last frontier, it could be 65 dog sled teams coming through town, or it could be the absence of any people on a trail within the city limits that contain a quarter of a million people, that reminds you that the wilderness and pioneers aren't very far away.

Karen Ramstead's team is always handsome though usually nearer the back of the pack on the trail to Nome.