"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
John Muir

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where there's smoke there's fire...

I wish I had more actual facts for you, but the phenomenon surrounding forest fires is quite unique up here. As dwellers of the "lower 48", you will never hear a frantic news report of massive amounts of acres burning in Alaska. This doesn't mean it isn't happening, quite the contrary. 100,000's of acres of forests burn every summer. It is nature's way of renewal. But since personal property such as large homes and neighborhoods aren't often affected, these massive fires are not newsworthy.

They DO affect those who live in Interior Alaska, however. At times there can be several fires burning in different areas surrounding Fairbanks. This one was about 12 miles away.

Fairbanks sits in a large "bowl" or valley between 3 mountain ranges.
These fires burn for weeks and even months. Firefighters work to control each fire on the ground and from the air, but they can't be extinguished easily and weather conditions and barometric pressure play a large part in the size and intensity. This has been a rather rainy summer so the fires are not so terrible. But this road that looks like fog is settling in it is actually full of smoke.

I took this picture driving home from Kathleen and Josh's house one evening. The reddish clouds in the foreground are smoke. If you could smell the air, you'd be shocked at the thick odor of the smoke. Sometimes it can be detected by smell rather than sight.

This intense smoke is hard on anyone with breathing problems. The hospital I work at has a whole smoke policy and air purifiers line the hallways and the doors remain closed when the smoke is especially thick.
Even though some have been burning for months, these are rare days of wind patterns that cause the smoke to linger down low like this. You can tell the sun is peeking out from below the smoke because the trees are illuminated.

Here is the late afternoon sun barely able to penetrate the gray smoke. I thought this was an eerie but neat picture.
Don't be misled, we have only had a handful of days that look (and smell) like this. Most of the summer has been clear and full of sunshine and fresh air.

Driving home from Anchorage last weekend was a glorious, sunny evening. But the burning forest fire was still evident in the distance. Do you see the white fluff in front of the mountains but behind the valley of green spruce? This particular fire began June 3. Almost 3 months of burning. The winter snows will eventually extinguish the flames and next spring new growth will appear among the charred trees and ground. The heat explodes the pine cones and seedlings burst out. God's recycling program.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Little Houses for Big People

Tucked on nearly every corner or abandoned parking lot are these little "houses". The size of storage sheds or very small one-car garages, they are open for business as espresso or ice cream shops. I don't know where they get their water or even power as some are really in isolated spots. I don't even know if they are open year round or just summer...

Rarely is one seen without a drive-up customer or even a line or waiting cars. I get a kick out of the clever names. The forget-me-not is the state flower. This little shop is connected to a more permanent structure (howbeit not much larger) with a couple of little tables. The walls are covered with cups and bric-brac of the little flower like you see on this sign.

The Mocha Moose Express minus the car. Hmmmmm. What's up with that?

And my favorite name--"Espresso Yourself". I had to wait several minutes as I stood posed across the street with my camera. The car being served was blocking the sign. As it pulled away the young woman working there closed the shutter--I think she saw me and figured I was stalking her or something.

This little house is actually a dwelling. The dark log home in the front is most likely over 100 years old and who knows the age of the addition. There are several of these pioneer homes scattered throughout the city. The front door is so short that most folks need to stoop to enter, but not ALL of us.

This darling cabin belonged to a man who refused to sell when the city bought this area to build a big, new visitor center near the river. He finally died and the city fathers decided to keep and maintain the cabin as a sample of the original homes. Many have been relocated to a place called Pioneer Park where they are used as gift shops and museums.
The gardens are always fantastic in Fairbanks.

This is a candy shop down near the airport. What a unique marketing strategy!
I've always loved doll houses and dreamed of having one in my backyard as a child, so I am enthralled with the variety of these "little houses" all about town.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Can't You Hear the Whistle Blowin'?

The Alaska Railroad (AKRR) comes into Fairbanks frequently, crossing city streets often. One such crossing is near where I live and a couple of others are not too far beyond. I know that the whistle signal for a road crossing is "2 long--one short--one long". The low whistle pattern can be heard in my apartment as a soft, low sound. It is melancholy and speaks to me of travelers coming with cruise groups or nighttime engineers carrying tons of oil across the miles. I love the sound, especially during sleepless nights. I find it soothing.

Due to the surge in tourism from cruise ships, Fairbanks recently built a new train station. I visited it the other day.

Inside are posters of the scenic routes such as we took last weekend into Seward. Through the high, snow-capped mountains, it climbed over 1000 feet above sea level and then then returned back down.

This is a painting of the AKRR at Turnagin Arm along Cook Inlet, named for the infamous Captain Cook. This spot is called Beluga Point and Beluga whales are seen feeding during high tide. The tidal depths here are recorded as some of the most changeable in the world.

The AKRR Club has created an amazing display of scenes from Denali, Fairbanks and Nenana with little trains running in all directions. This scene includes the Midnight Hot Air Balloon ride that I can see most late nights from my window. I thought how Cash and Gigi would love to watch the busy little trains running on their tracks.

And this great photo was taken by Kathleen last week as we journeyed from Anchorage to Seward and then back later in the day. The scenic trip was 4 hours each way. Although the rhythmic clickety-clack tried to lull us to sleep, the beautiful scenery out the large windows kept us awake and alert. We saw icebergs, bear, moose, eagles, glaciers, and a phenomenal sunset as we approached Anchorage that night.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

My adventurous mother

I won't publicize my dear mother's age, but it's impressive that she decided to visit Alaska by flying up all by herself from Florida 2 weeks ago. We realized that her presence, as well as baby Abigail's, made us 4 generations of Levison women.

We took her on a long journey to Anchorage and then the scenic train ride to Seward. She viewed seals, sea otters and glaciers for the first time. Quite different from steamy Florida's climate, Kathleen made sure she had wool hats and scarves.

Even majestic Mt McKinley did not hide behind the usual clouds, but glowed in the sunshine for her to see.

Amazed at the spectacular Alaskan flowers and famous giant cabbages that weigh over 50 pounds, Mum asked, "How could you cook that?"

We enjoyed walking around my apartment complex and admiring the abundant flowers.
I took joy in her enthusiastic attitude.

A trip to Fairbanks wouldn't be complete without visiting the pipeline.
So we did...

Here we are together at the McKinley Princess resort--this friendly bear representing the men we had left at home.

The resort had rows of comfortable chairs all facing the a wall of windows--the view clearly of Mt. McKinley only 40 miles away. This is the largest mt. peak in North America. Though Kathleen has seen it before and was checking out Oprah, Mum was excited at the beauty.

Checking out an Athabascan Indian skin house, Mum agreed it looked cozy but she prefers her house with plumbing and lights, thank you very much.

We spent an afternoon on the big touring riverboat and laughed at the dog team demonstration.

Although lacking the barking, furry team, Mum was anxious to get the feel of the dog sled that has won the Iditarod race more than once. She figured she'd try it only if the temperatures stayed above freezing!
Mum left on a big jet this morning. I will miss her positive attitude, her enjoyment of life, her sweet smile when I came in from work each evening. For 84 (oops-I let it out!), she is the most beautiful and remarkable woman I know. I thank God she is part of my life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's a Natural Resource Specialist?

What or who is a Natural Resource Specialist?
Someone who works for the State of Alaska in the Department of Natural Resources,

whose office walls are covered with maps of Alaska, To Do lists,

and plenty of hefty files.

It's our Kathleen! A busy and hardworking woman...

who pauses in her day to offer a hug to her visiting Grandma.
I know that doesn't give many details of her job description,
but it was the simple way I viewed her office today as we dropped in to say hi.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ahhh, the toil of laundry day

I work at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, a Banner hospital.
This "candy machine" is just one reason why I am so pleased to be working here.
Upon arrival at the hospital early each morning, I flash my ID badge in front of this pad...

and a perfectly clean, pressed, and folded set of scrubs appears in a slot. I pull them out and voila! I'm ready to put them on and go to work.
I'm proud to be an RN. It took a great deal of effort to earn that title and I like being recognized for the position. The white neckline band on these scrubs identifies me as an RN and distinguishes my role from other hospital employees.

At the end of the day, tired and ready to head home, I simply drop the set of scrubs I've just worn into these bins and a thank you message appears.
I offer a casual, "You're welcome" to the screen and head out to my car, knowing there will be a fresh new set of scrubs waiting in the morning.

The hospital joins all of Fairbanks in celebrating FLOWERS all summer long. Many pots just like this one are scattered among the picnic tables where we can sit outside to eat our lunches. Like I said, I am pleased to work here.

Just thought I'd add another little picture of me in my scrubs. My romantic husband decided to thrill me by having a dozen roses delivered to the Pain Treatment Center where I was working. The white rose in the center was a significant but personal message. I was pretty excited and a coworker got this pic on her phone.
Thanks again, Jack.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Golden Days

In late July Fairbanks annually celebrates its history with a grand parade. This is part of the Golden Days weekend. Fairbanks became a city when gold fever led thousands of pioneers and sourdoughs up here seeking their fortunes.

Pedro was the first man who discovered gold in Fairbanks, not far from where Josh and Kathleen live. Those hills are still full of gold, they say. This fellow represented Pedro and held up a large chunk of "gold" and followed by his hard working mule.

This happy fellow is busily working his claim, gold dust in his eyes.

There were so many floats and entries. This is perhaps the longest parade I have ever seen. I sincerely believe that the whole town was at the parade, either marching or watching !

This fellow's truck had all the supplies an old miner might need (and then some!).

I don't know just where the tradition of the rubber duckies came from, but for $5 or $10 Fairbanksans (and us transients) can buy a little yellow rubber duckie and seek cash fortunes. At a specific time in the afternoon several thousand little ducks are all dumped out of a net from a bridge upriver. They bob happily along and the first ones to reach the 1st Street bridge are the winners, offering their "owners" thousands of dollars.
PS-My little guy didn't bring me 2 cents. But it was exciting and fun to watch it happen.

Here is Nanook, the great polar bear mascot of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The hockey team actually skates out from under him at the games.

Bush pilots are still a big part of Alaska as many villages and towns
can only be reached by air. This is a very dangerous profession and the death rate quite high. The pilot in this plane really IS a bush pilot and this is his plane.

We see small bush planes overhead often each day. I thought these girls on roller blades with planes on the sticks were clever.

Courageous women pioneers were surely a part of this area's history. This loaded truck was driven by a woman in honor of the ones who went before. That pioneer spirit certainly isn't in MY genes.

And who would ever expect to see an Eskimo Elvis?
Not me, but here he was, sharing the love.

PS-Notice the bib I'm wearing? Tammy and I did the Golden Mile race for the Literacy Council. Well, it was the exact parade route scheduled for 1 hour prior to the start of the parade. I don't run, unfortunately, and Tammy and I walked the route. Never dreamed that it only had 200 participants and the streets would be lined with tons of people all set up waiting for the parade. I think maybe 190 of those in the race were runners so, no matter how fast we walked, we were at the very end and pretty much alone, walking down the middle of the streets. To make matters worse, some old fashioned Model-T cars were behind us, honking all the way. We really thought we were going to be run over by these old cars. The crowds cheered us and we were mortified. I hope the Literacy Council appreciated our efforts because I'll never do that again!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Moose hunting

When in Alaska, one is always on the alert for moose. They are huge creatures and it is best to avoid a conflict with them as they usually win. Especially dangerous when driving on dark roads (which I've not yet experienced due to the long days of light thus far). But I keep an eagle eye out to catch any glimpse of the large but shy creatures. It's quite thrilling.

This is the one that didn't get away. He is stuffed, and I don't mean with fresh leaves.

This moose was peacefully taking a drink along the road and didn't mind one bit that we stopped the car for a photo op.

We spotted this moose along the road to the hot springs. She has a baby in the grass along the riverbank. All we could really see were the baby's ears twitching but she kept close watch.

And then I discovered this moose living in the parking lot of my apartment!
Wow. Lucky find. Looks a bit like a cousin to Bullwinkle.

His goofy smile is on the roof of this little car--I think it's a Mini Cooper. Am I right, Hillary?
That would make him................ready??? A Mini-Moose.
(OK, you can stop laughing now...)