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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Subtle Shift

There has been a shift.
Subtle, as always.
I have to turn on a lamp before going to bed at night.
My toes are chilly heading out to work early mornings
and I may have to give up wearing sandals.
Jack now turns on his headlights while driving home from work.
Small but meaningful changes.

I sense a desperate longing to e-x-t-e-n-d each day into far more hours.
My fingers hesitate turning the next page on the calendar--to September.
The geese and Sandhill Cranes are gathering in huge flocks, drawing those
photographers with lenses as large as periscopes on a submarine.
The flowers-ah! the myriad of flowers- are at their finest,
massive and bright and pretentious in their abundance.
I want to gaze on them and believe summer is NOT ending,
there are still weeks left of this beauty,
these velvety green lawns,
blue skies and puffy white clouds,
warm sunshine,
vegetables flourishing,
shorts and T-shirts...

But then I hear the call of the geese flying overhead each morning and evening,
honking in that melancholy sound that stirs something within me.
Even as I write this, they are flying overhead in V's--
practicing, warming up, strengthening their wing muscles.
If only their flights were silent it wouldn't be so bad.
But that calling to one another--
it speaks to me of wood fires,
soup simmering on the stove, blankets airing on the clothesline
after being folded away during the warmer months,
replacing the bathing suits and towels that have hung on that line for weeks.

Autumn. My favorite season yet so hard for me these past 3 years.
The brief bittersweetness of it means I will be packing up to leave Alaska.
A place I have learned to love, especially for the dear and special people
that will remain here after I leave.
Be still, you silly geese.
Linger a bit longer, lovely sun.
Trick me if you must. Let me stay in denial just a bit.
I'm not ready to go yet...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prince William Sound Sights

Excited for our trip out into the Prince William Sound,
we dressed warmly and boarded the
Stan Stevens ship for our 9-hour cruise.
It was cool and foggy in the mountains surrounding the harbor.

There were lots of eagles in the harbor.
We saw them fly overhead and perch in the tall trees along the water.

The Port of Valdez, where we watched the large tankers filling with oil,
is the exact point where that 800 mile pipeline ends.
There are 3 areas for ships to be filling simultaneously.
The fuel you are using in your home and car right now may very well
have come from this place.

But these lazy old seals don't give a care about the tankers or fuel.
They enjoyed lounging on the buoys and barely raised their heads
as we sailed by.

Hours later we drew close to the glacier, recognized by the large chunks of ice
floating by. The seals and gull looked up to check us out and then lay back down.
A few slid off the ice into the cold (brrrrr) waters.
Those big chunks of ice banged against and under the ship and I had some
fleeting thoughts of the Titanic--!

The personality of the sea otters was charming.
They were really interested in us and the boat.
The otters don't have the fat that the ice-lying seals have and need to
keep moving in the cold waters, so they roll often-a total 360 turn.
Some of the mothers held a baby on their chest with little front flippers.
When they roll, I wonder if their babies first get a chance to hold their breath.

The Steller Sea Lions lounging on rocks and roaring at one another.
The roars were fierce and sounded like 4-legged lions.
They eat at night and just hang around and growl during the day,
much to our entertainment.

The blue of these waters were stunning!
The Caribbean waters are also very blue, but not quite this shade.
We knew the glacier was very near.

Our Captain turned off the motor and we sat silently, only 1/4 mile away
from the Meares Glacier. An advancing glacier, it protrudes 250-300 feet above the water
and another 150 feet below.
In the quiet, we heard rumbles and cracks that sounded like loud thunder
as the ice shifted and moved. We also saw some big chunks of ice break away and splash into the water, an action known as "calving".
Glacial ice is a dazzling blue because the water molecule absorbs all of the colors in the spectrum except the blue.

One of the shipmates scooped up a chunk of glacial ice that could be 1,000's of years old.
I held on to it happily, not minding that it was freezing my fingers.
If we look cold, we were! After all, we were next to that giant wall of ice.
I wish I had pictures of all the amazing wildlife we saw, but just couldn't do it.
I can tell you that we also viewed little puffins and huge humpback whales.
It was a day of marvelous adventures!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Proof That We Really DO Work at Our Jobs

I know that the blog posts are all about our fun adventures.
Someone said, "What? Yet another festival? Is that ALL you do up there?"
The truth is that we work hard at our jobs.
Jack spends 5 or 6 evenings each week as a waiter
and I work as a nurse 11-12 hrs/day each 4-day week
and often am "on call" on the weekends.
We both come home pooped and with sore feet.
But, would you really want to read posts about our jobs?????
Or about our tired backs and feet?
I think not.
The times in between the hospital and restaurant are the exciting ones.
That said...

We have seen the signs most everywhere.
They are especially coveted when the parking lot is jammed
and the weather unpleasant.
Because they are the convenient, close-in ones.
We may even watch surreptitiously to see who actually parks there.
Do you know what I am talking about??

Those parking lot spaces marked "Employee of the Month".

In our little household of 2, this sign holds a lot more meaning these days.
Why, you ask?
Because we personally know the benefactor of this honor and privilege.

My man, teacher by trade for many years, is willing to tackle new challenges
in this post-teaching era of his life. (I can't even list them all.)
But waiting tables, or "serving" as it is more properly termed, is a brand
new job for him. It involves many totally new skills
such as timing the appetizers, rolls and entrees correctly besides
ironing his shirts and pants and wearing an apron every night!
Rookie that he is, the managers of the Princess Lodge chose him from over 350
(count 'em!)
other employees at the lodge to be identified as
Employee of the Month!!!!!!!

With that honor comes the reserved parking spot,
the shiny pins for his shirt,
a letter from the president of Holland America/Princess-
Alaska and Yukon Land Operations in Seattle
and this framed certificate!
For what more could a new server ask?

Best part: he received this award because of his
"outstanding attitude, work ethic and team spirit".
I am so proud of him.
He usually is serving people on an Alaskan cruise-those his own age.
He could easily switch places and be the one seated at the table.
He took on the challenge of this new job with gusto just 2 months ago
and proved that a positive attitude and willingness to work hard pay off.
I don't mean financially, but in a more powerful, intangible way.
To earn recognition enough to be rightfully called,
Employee of the Month.
Way to go, John Davis!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Copper River

Good things come to those who wait.
We'd waited several weeks and behold, our schedules meshed
and we both had Friday and Saturday off!
Time to head south on the Richardson Highway to the coast,
our destination the Port of Valdez.

We followed the pipeline on its last 400 miles to its terminal point.
The trip's scenery was--again, I am at a loss for words.
I've worn out marvelous, beautiful, and breathtaking...
I feel I am at one with this earth, a part of the mountains, the lakes, the tall firs,
cascading glacier-fed waterfalls and meandering rivers.
In the midst of this wonderful scenery, no words are needed.
We gazed upon God's creation out all the car windows,
silent much of the time.
Sighing. Reflecting. Feeling small. Alone yet not lonely.

The Copper River was named for the mineral found in abundance there.
In its time, in made this area wealthy.
Today it is just lovely, the mining industry gone.

Located in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park
(the largest park in the USA, twice the size of Switzerland and
with taller mt peaks from 4 separate mountain ranges),
we spent the night at the Copper River Princess Hotel.
Though the clouds hid most of these high peaks, we studied the poster
and searched for shadows of the snowcaps in the distance.

True to the other Princess Wilderness Resorts we've been in,
this one also had a theme.
The fireplace mantle, outer walls, registration desk and trims were of copper.
The lamp in our room had a copper base.
Very nice touch.

The resort is tucked high on a private road and rather hidden.
The back wall was all windows facing the mountains.
Its window boxes overflowed with color and variety.

These are the restaurant windows, mountain-viewed and trimmed with
an array of flowering planters.
The deck tables were inviting, but the chill in the air drew us indoors to the crackling fire and soft chairs facing the vista.

We'd had mostly rain on the trip,
but the sun made a welcome appearance late in the day.
We took the opportunity to zip up our warm coats and even put on some gloves
and venture out to admire the grounds.

How special to have this time together in a new place.
A new adventure.
And much more in store for the next day when we'd follow that
pipeline for 100 more miles.
Can you look behind us and see both the Copper River and the pipeline?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chena Hot Springs

An hour's drive away,
a drive through mountains, trees, rivers and ponds,
the road ends.
Chena Hot Springs waits at the end, inviting all to relax.

These natural hot springs are good for the body and soul.
The spout in the center cools the water temp down a bit and makes rainbows from the sun.
Locals say it's best in mid-winter when darkness and steam mix in the colored lights and hair freezes above the hot waters.
We liked it fine on this sunny day.

The water spout here is a most powerful massage.
Ahhh, the shoulders turn boneless.

The surrounding grounds offer cabins, an ice bar with glasses made of ice, sled dog kennels,
geothermal energy tours, antique vehicles like this original snow machine
(Do we dare tell him this old rusty clunker needs more than some snow on the ground to actually go anywhere?),

and Mama Moose and her little one who roam around the hot springs pond
to munch on the gardens and delight us all.
Can I find the word to tell you how relaxed I am after soaking
in Chena Hot Springs?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Garden Musings

Last summer I posted pictures of these phenomenal Alaskan flowers
for 3 days and was told I overdid it. So, I am trying very hard to contain myself
and not post so many pics. But, it's hard...very hard.


Late summer is here in Fairbanks and the amazing flowers are wow-ing us!
The downtown flowers are stunning,

The hanging pots heavy and huge, some of them almost touching the ground,

Colors spectacular and vibrant.

UAF (Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks) has a garden near the campus
and we decided to visit it and enjoy some quiet time among its beauty.
Ponds, bridges, trees, benches and flowerbeds abound.

The delphinium were over 6 feet tall and toppling over from the recent rain.

But their colors were brilliant, even so.

The patches of mixed flowers were my favorite.
It was a lovely, peaceful time.
I wish you had been with us.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Take Me to the Fair

Tanana Valley Fair is in town.
Ferris wheels, corn dogs, tractor pulls, and cotton candy.
The theme of the 80th fair here in Fairbanks:
Northern Nights and Midway Lights.

We met Josh, Kathleen and Abigail there one sunny afternoon.
Abigail was all eyes as she viewed her first horse.

The Tanana Valley Fair offers the fun of most fairs I've been to:
4-H animals like these cozy, fat pigs,

and sheared sheep--but this one is wearing purple spandex.
(He looked a bit embarrassed as if to say,
"This really isn't the color I was born with.")

But there were some regional interesting differences.
We watched a dance show by Native Y'upik Indians.

we were offered fried Alaskan halibut and reindeer hotdogs
along with elephant ears and ice creams.

Our baby girl sits among the winning giant cabbages.
The largest one weighed in at over 60 pounds
but our 18-pound baby wore the blue ribbon (for a few minutes, anyway!)

Saturday night's closing ended with spectacular fireworks.
They proudly are called "the earliest fireworks in the Interior"
and were scheduled at 11:00pm. Though the picture isn't very good,
you can see that the sky still isn't totally dark yet, even then.
Fairs are fun, wherever they are.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Late NIght Walks

In midsummer, when the days are sooooo long and the evening sun lingers way longer than in most places, the shadows are wonderful!
I took this picture around 10:30 pm right behind my apartment.

We stay in a wondrous place surrounded with park-like grounds.
We are so grateful for the beauty abounding out our door.
The bird sanctuary for the migrating geese and sandhill cranes is hundreds of acres
of fields and woods with trails meandering through it.

Rather hard to get a clear picture while that huge sun dominates the sky.
But the night was late when I walked the fields. Just a few birds were here a few weeks ago,
but that will be changing once August gets underway.

Our summer jobs are on opposite shifts and I am sleeping when Jack gets in late at night and he is sleeping when I leave early in the morning hours. We don't meet in the middle.
On the few nights when I don't have to get up work early the next morning,
I wait expectantly for Jack to come home from work, sneakers on.
(Does anyone call athletic shoes "sneakers", anymore? )
This is when we head out for our midnight walks.

This is our time to reflect on the day, admire the colors in the midnight sky, and slow down our breathing. We are most blessed to live in this particular place with beauty, nature and tons of open spaces right out our door. The colors of the midnight sky change with each walk.

There are displays of flowers all over these grounds, like this one in an antique wagon.
The landscaping is wonderful and the flowers are growing bigger and brighter every day.
We walk along, holding hands, talking softly about our life and our gratitude for this moment.

"Bedtime" is a rather ambiguous term in this Land of the Midnight Sun.
We laughed to see these young boys playing with their dad at the playground near us.
It was AFTER midnight when we took their picture.
School opening before long will be a shock to these little guys.
In the past 2 weeks we've seen a big change in the sun's angle.
There are even hours of dark tucked somewhere around 2 AM.
6-7 minutes of light is lost daily. Our midnight walks will be coming to an end.
I hate to see them go. Please stay a bit longer, Mr. Sun.