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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Could We Start Again, Please

The contract ending dates have arrived.
I avoid looking at the calendar as I walk by.
How could 13 weeks possibly pass so quickly?


Sunday morning's sun shone bright and clear.
After church and Abigail's nap,
Kathleen and I planned to spend one last afternoon together.

We drove up to the college to wander among the flowers
and autumn briskness. This is where Kathleen's love of Fairbanks began,
just about the same time of year, 8 years go.
She and I were alone then as we discovered the campus together.

(On that first visit to Fairbanks, many times I asked her to promise me
she wouldn't linger in Alaska any longer than the 3 years her degree required.
Each time I asked, she simply smiled. A knowing smile.
Did she know that Josh was waiting to be found only a few weeks hence?
Did she know that she would be building a house and starting a family here?)

This time our precious Abigail joined us and charmed us with her smiles.
Josh had gone home to rest after his week of hunting.
Jack was preparing to go to work.
So we 3 ladies walked along, our emotions speaking louder than words.
Knowing our time was limited to hours, we shared an understanding
not by things spoken but enhanced by mere presence.
Kindred spirits.

This mother's heart swelled as I watched Kathleen mother her babe
with such patience and tenderness.
I respect her as a woman and mother.
Our roles have blurred as we have matured.
I will miss them both terribly but they'll be OK.
And, I suppose, so will I.
I have learned to stop asking.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Saw the Light! The Northern Lights, that is!

I have been longing to see the Northern Lights in their splendor and glory.
Arriving in late-May or June, the nighttime skies are light
and there is no way I am able to see them.
But once darkness creeps into the Alaskan skies by late August,
it is my habit to peer out the windows in the middle of the night,
hoping and wishing.
The apartment complex where I live offers a nice service to guests:
a phone call will wake anyone who requests such
when the Northern Lights are out.
I gave them my phone number.
Around midnight, just after we had crawled into bed, the phone rang.
With the excitement of a couple rushing to the hospital for an impending birth,
we pulled on warm clothes, grabbed the hats and mittens and...
brewed a pot of coffee!
(But of course, who wouldn't?)

We could see the alighted sky from our parking lot,
but wanted to best possible show without the distraction of streetlights,
so we drove to the farm less than a mile away.
We parked and waited rather impatiently for the automatic headlights
to finally shut down.
Holding our warm coffee mugs, we stood at the edge of the dark field.

A rainbow-like arch extended from east to west across the whole sky
at the direct level of our gaze.
It was perfectly even on the bottom edge and glowed a phosphorescent green.
The top of the arch widened in the center and had hazy edges.
It reminded me of water colors that have been brushed on a page that was first wetted down so that they bled upward. Quite tame and still.

We gazed intently and soon the "dancing" began.
The uneven tops of the green arch began to stretch and reach upward in shooting manner.
They exploded and jettisoned the color from greens to white to purple.
Have you ever seen a dancing fountain
that shoots jets of water upward to music?
These glowing lights flung themselves upward, stretching and expanding until they glowed beyond the dome of night sky directly above our heads.
We were flabbergasted.

Suddenly a ball of white, smoke-like cloud exploded as from a cannon
at the far right of the arch.
It raced along the curved path, turning like a bowling ball tossed down the alley
toward the pins, enlarging and gaining color as it rolled.
Once this large mass of color reached the other end,
far into the opposite horizon,
this band of color started to undulate and fold back on itself in waves.
The motion was much like a flag furling and unfurling in the breeze.
Accordion-like waves glowing in pale whites with blue and purple streaks.

The night sky was alive. Vibrant. Stunning. Glowing. Waving.
Fading and then, in a burst of energy, tossing new colors in exotic patterns.
We stood in speechless wonder for one and a half hours.
The coffee grew cold. We grew cold. But, who cared?
We were transfixed, awestruck at this display of intensity in lights.
Energy enough to activate all the electrical grids of the USA for a year in this one night.

Far more than I had ever dreamed of witnessing.
I could now leave Alaska in peace.
I'd watched the sky dance and sing without a song.
Silent music.
Phenomenal excitement.

A graceful dancer had raced between the constellations lifting a long and billowing silk scarf of delicate shades of color over her head, letting it trail behind her as she leaped and ran.
And we were there, cheering without a word,
hearts leaping within our chests to the rhythm of her steps.

How I wish you were there with us.
I took many pictures with my little camera, even a few videos.
But, upon viewing the pictures the next morning, this is all I saw:

I'm so sorry.
And so my words, limited though they are, will have to do.
I tried to describe the glory of the aurora borealis to you.
But, to really KNOW what they are, you'll just have to visit this great state of Alaska during a time when the sky darkens with night and see for yourself.
Don't bother making hot coffee.
You won't take your eyes of the splendor of the skies.

The Message of the Fireweed

Fireweed grows in abundance in Alaska.
Following a devastating forest fire, this brave plant is the first to regrow,
an encouraging green among the charred destruction.

Fireweed is also the predictor of the cherished summer season
in Fairbanks.
As summer days begin, the firewood puts out its first buds
along the tall and slender stalk.

And as the long, sun filled days continue, the buds open into blossoms,
beginning at the base of the stem and working their way upward.

Fairbanksans relish the long days of summer, playing and gardening while
soaking up this generous time of warmth and daylight.
But if one looks closely at these hearty people, sly and furtive glances
toward the tell-tale stem can be noted.

All too soon the blossoms appear on the very top only,
the withered leaves below turning into showy reds and dark pinks.

Alas, the flowers disappear completely.
About the same time the aspen and birch leaves are golden yellow
and the hills and roadsides are warmed by the colors.

Yes, summer is over.
Autumn, brief as it is, takes its place.
And the wildlife fill up on the fireweed stalks, fattening up for the
bitter, snowy days that are just around the corner.
(This moose is at exactly the same patch that Shoeless Joe is sitting in above.)
And we snowbirds pack up the car to begin the long trip southward.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Just Another Day at the Homestead

Last week Josh was away from home hunting with his dad and friends.
Kathleen and Abigail were alone so we decided to keep her company.
We had a few busy days, here's just one:
Using high bush cranberries Kathleen had picked already,
we made a batch of yummy cranberry jelly...

spent wonderful time playing with Miss Abigail...

and sheet rocked and taped the basement stairway,

often under the watchful eye of the interested boss.

We took a vote on the menu for lunch and Abigail cast her ballot.
Nothing secret about her choice!

Having hung the laundry in the sunshine, Kathleen peered out the window
to check that all was fine when
she saw this moose pacing back and forth along the fence line of the garden.

She called to us and we watched from the deck,
fascinated, until the moose decided that broccoli was just
too yummy to let a little wire fence prevent her munching.
She bent her head and lifted a long leg over the fence---

Oh, no!
We hollered as loud as we could to deter her,
but not until Jack came out banging on his metal sheetrock tools
did she retreat from the vegetables.
She and her big "baby" trotted down the driveway, but not before
trampling through the flowerbed.
Whew-close call.
Just another day of chores at the homestead--hee hee.
One final note, 2 nights later, when all in the house were sleeping, Mama Moose did return and, in silence and happiness, ate much of the produce right down to the stubs. She left behind a bent fence and lots of big hoof prints in the soft soil--and a very disappointed Kathleen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brrrr, Is This Permafrost?

Permafrost is part of this northern land.
It is just what is says-- frozen ground that never thaws underneath a shallow layer of soil.
We have become pretty good experts at identifying areas of permafrost.
There is a crooked house on a popular street that caves in toward the center.
The whole foundation is damaged. Kathleen explained that this is because a furnace was
placed in the middle of the house and the heat thawed the permafrost,
thus sinking the middle of the house.
Note to self: Never build on permafrost!

Also, the spruce that grow there are super small, their growth stunted by the inability of their roots to go down deep enough to draw necessary nutrients.
Jack is standing by spruce that are very old, they just look like baby trees.
They could be 100 years old.
See how thin and short they are?
Just imagine what would happen it they were transplanted into good soil?

And that familiar pipeline always rises above the ground
whenever its path comes upon an area of permafrost.
I wrote about that days ago in the pipeline post.
See 9/4/11.

This is called a "Drunken Forest" and is a sure giveaway
that the land is permafrost.
As the very top layer of earth thaws in summer and refreezes in winter,
the roots shift and the spruce tilt.
We had fun calling out, "Drunken Forest" whenever we spotted these.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gorillas-er, Hikers in the Mist

The drive to the White Mountains was intended to give us an amazing view of the colorful landscape from a high vista point. We packed a picnic and our hiking gear. From atop the summits in the White Mts one can usually see many miles of forested mts and valleys and even the winding pipeline. We would be above the treeline, making the view spectacular.
At least that was the plan.

But, as we drove higher and then hiked even higher, the fog closed in around us.
The colors we saw were the low lying tundra brush at our feet.
Low bush cranberries, wild blueberries and other plants I couldn't identify.

The fog thickened as we climbed and even rolled in visible sheets.

It was chilly, damp and misty.
And eerie.

We laughed and tried to guess which mountains were in the distance
but totally hidden from our view.
This certainly wasn't the vista we had planned on.

We posed for pictures and decided against the picnic on the summit.
Once there, the wind had also picked up and it was a bit uncomfortable.

Poor Abigail had a red button nose as she rode around on Kathleen's back going up and Popeye's back going back down the mt. But her little fingers were warm inside the handmade and fur trimmed mittens a friend had made her.

We turned around and headed back down the mountain, disappearing into the fog.
I imagined we were Catherine and Heathcliff on the moors in "Wuthering Heights" but maybe we were more like beasts in "Gorillas in the Mist".

You decide...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Leaf Peeping Adventure

The colors of autumn are at "peak" as we said in northern New York.
The colors here are limited to shades of yellow as there are no hardwoods
like maples, oaks and elms. The gold, orange and yellows of the aspen and birch cover the hillsides and mix with the dark green of the black spruce and firs.
My favorite season of the year, hands down!

Relishing one of those rare we-both-have-the-same-day-off, we packed Kathleen, Abigail and Shoeless in the car and headed out to do some leaf-peeping.
We drove north on the Elliott Highway that becomes the Dalton Highway,
otherwise called the Haul Road. The route to the Arctic Circle and on to Prudoe Bay
some 400 miles beyond us.

Trucks have the right of way on this 2-lane winding road and we sure saw plenty.
The ones heading south were covered with mud from the unpaved areas of the Dalton.

It's quite isolated on that long stretch of road...
(This sign at the intersection is actually speaking of services in a western direction.
There will be no services to the north until the Yukon River Crossing and that isn't much,
to be kind in my description.)

...so when they see this sign, the truckers obey!
The sign advertises the Hilltop Cafe, offering food, showers, fuel and
its famous Mile-High Pie! Lots of varieties baked every day.
Understanding the needs of the lonely Haul Road trucker, there is a glass-enclosed
area of the little restaurant with some long tables just for the smokers.
A funny message printed on the door reads:
"Please don't tap on the glass. It frightens the truckers."

The ride to the White Mountains wasn't all that long,
but my fellow backseat passengers just couldn't stay awake.
I just love this picture of these two who have become good friends this summer.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Looking for changes.

That subtle change I wrote about in a recent post is no longer.
Subtle, that is.
We took a drive to one of the highest points in Fairbanks the other day.

Ester Dome offers a 270 degree vista of the Tanana Valley, the flats beyond
and the Alaska Range and Brooks Range even farther.
Patches of yellows and golds flecked the green land we viewed.

With binoculars in place, Jack spied some lingering smoke curls from
lingering spotty forest fires and details on several of the tallest mountains in the Alaska Range, including Mt. McKinley, otherwise called Denali.
Evidences of early autumn were visible in all directions.

Back in the fields where we are living, the Sandhill Cranes continue to arrive and eat.
The wheat and barely fields are golden.

Their noisy calls fill the fields and skies.

When they take to the air the sound is deafening.
Within days from now the skies will be silent but for the sounds of
some remaining geese stalling around a wee bit longer.

Kathleen's well loved and tended garden continues to thrive.
Pumpkins grow rounder by the day with splashes of orange among the green.
Broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, beans, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, parsley and lettuce grow with such abandon that it's hard to find spots to walk amidst them all. I've gardened for years but never even thought of trying to grow celery. Kathleen's is tall and sweet and there are dozens of heads getting taller each day.
She dedicates time each day to freezing, canning and drying it all--
trying to cheat out the killing frost soon to come.

And we eat very well!
Abigail especially enjoys a sweet cherry tomato.
She can pierce it with her 2 tiny, but sharp, teeth, then sucks it,
smashes in and gums it.

Fresh and organic, Kathleen generously shares the harvest with her parents.
Except for a random mushroom or two, this whole stir fry meal consists
of yummy vegetables from the Klynstra garden.
Eat up and enjoy, for the days are numbered...
And we do!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An (Almost) Perfect Day

I called this an "almost" perfect day because there really is NO day
on this earth that is totally perfect.
But we recently had one that came close...very close.
Rated a 9 out of 10.

It began by joining Josh, Kathleen and Abigail for worship service
at the church where they were married.
After church we walked the ramp onto the Tanana Chief, a paddleboat
that offers brunch during a pleasant trip down the Chena River.

The day was glorious with bright blue skies and white mounds of white clouds.

The riverside view of the houses and businesses is interesting and unable to be seen
any other way. We relaxed after brunch and admired the homes, decks, slips and
waterfront patios with umbrellas and lounge chairs.

Several houses had hydroplanes parked in their yards. Planes are a common means of transportation since many villages and towns are not on the "road system" and fly-in only.
Relaxing and fun to look at these houses and dream.

Our thoughtful little Abigail studied the red paddlewheels and didn't seem bothered
by the mist that sprayed off of them. I just know she will become an engineer someday.

We floated right by the deck of the Princess hotel where Jack works.
It was full of diners enjoying the sunshine just as we were.
Jack enjoyed waving to them rather than taking their dinner orders--
enjoying his day off completely!

After our river cruise, Josh and Kathleen headed home to give Abigail a nap.
We just couldn't bear to go indoors on this amazing day so we rented a kayak to
return to the very same river we had just been on.

The arrangement of the rental is a sweet one--
we paddle downstream until finally arriving at a waterfront restaurant,
then get picked up by van with a boat rack.
The current is strong enough to carry us slowly and leisurely.
We did very little paddling, to be honest.
Only enough to avoid crashing into decks, brush or ducks.
And avoid the jet skiers!

We mostly stayed awake to enjoy the views, however.
Now here is one never before seen in Fairbanks, Alaska!
Thank goodness for people with good senses of humor.
Three hours later we docked our kayak and pondered dinner.
The outdoor deck of a local restaurant fit the bill and we feasted on prime rib and seafood
on that now familiar Chena River and Sunday sunshine.
Definitely a 9 out of 10 day!