"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fretting about the Birds

The temperature was a bit nippy yesterday and I fretted about the welfare of the birds that have to deal with it.   I kept telling myself they are built to withstand the cold, otherwise they would have migrated with their distant cousins to places where the temperature isn't 23 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Nonetheless, it was an occasion for extra provisions for the magpies, Steller's jays, pine grosbeaks, chickadees both black-capped and boreal, and the red-breasted nuthatches that visit my front deck.

Fluffing up their feathers to create warm air pockets is one way they stay warm.  The colder it gets, the rounder the birds get.  

Yesterday, there was a new indicator of cold affecting birds.

Meet Frosty the Steller's jay.

Even the black-capped chickadees found some surfaces too cold for their tootsies.

Some took it in stride.

And others, if they get any rounder, their feathers will be sticking straight out.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Soothing the Savage Beast

All this month I have been engaged in the War of the Printers.   That was as unwanted problem to come in the middle of a major project I am working on.

Thankfully, there is surcease from the battles.  It comes in the form of birds that visit my front deck to partake in the black oil sunflower seeds, the shelled and chopped sunflower bits, and the peanuts that fill the bird feeder and decorate the railing on the deck.

Steller's jay.

My problem with printers actually began a year ago when the one I had started leaving white lines through photos.   I tried all kinds of fixes and none worked.    Figuring it had reached its built-in obsolescence, I purchased another.

The new one operated fine for a brief time, but then it began to queque the print demands, leaving "communication" lost error messages, and printing white or black lines through  photos.

I never before appreciated how cute these boreal chickadees are until I had a lens that would take a good close up photo.

I'll make this brief and not describe the various skirmishes--and there were many--with several printers purchased and returned.   I'd rather look at bird photographs.

Quite a shallow depth of field when thhe bird's eye is in focus, but not its feet!

Male pine grosbeaks.

At length, I tried my old printer again.   With a new print head and genuine HP cartridges it began working fine.   Skirmishes over, the war won, and flocks of birds.

Does it get any better?

Boreal chickadees

Black-capped chickadee

Female pine grosbeak

Red breasted nuthatch

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Not Hapuna Matata, but Fata Morgana

Leaving Anchorage at sunset a couple days ago, I was treated to two optical phenomena.    The first was alpenglow, which is seen on the horizon opposite the sunset.

In the above photo, the mauve color on the mountains and above it is alpenglow.

A few miles down the road, near Potter, the sunset was well into its show.   The mountains far across Cook Inlet had looked peculiar to me as I was driving into Anchorage several hours earlier,but once I arrived in town and went about my errands, I forgot about them.

My primary focus was on the intense colors reflected on the water in between the ice floes in Turnagain Arm.

Across Cook Inlet, Mt. Redoubt stood in splendor.

It was then that I again noticed the unusual silhouettes in the mountain range across the water.     The mountains don't look like that, I thought.

No, they don't, because I was seeing a classic mirage known as a fata morgana.

No, these are not crisp photos you're looking at.    That's a mirage, people.   In the foreground, the brilliant orange is reflected on water between large masses of ice as the tide moves out of Turnagain Arm.

Wikipedia can describe to you the science behind this mirage.   I give you the color.

Finally, things got back to normal as the sunset ebbed and I drove towards the end of Turnagain Arm.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dipper Daze

Formerly called Water Ouzels, now called American Dippers, these little gray birds have fascinated me the past few months.   I visit them and watch them going about their lives almost every day.   With my camera, of course.

This is The Charmer:

I feel charming.....

Oh, so charming.....

It's alarming how charming I feel...

And so pretty I hardly can believe I'm real....

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Moment That Took My Breath Away

One day I was window shopping in a small town in New Zealand and came across a journal for sale.  It had a quote on its cover that caught my eye.

It read, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”—Anonymous.

I have since adopted that as my mantra.   Well, that and the one about sliding into the grave sideways, totally worn out and shouting “Holy shit!   What a ride!”

I turned 75 in November, meaning that I am now three-quarters of a century old.   That’s a good impetus for introspection, a time to consider those moments when I was suspended in time and waiting for my breath to return.   One of the most indelible occurred in Tibet while I was on a leaky “river boat” crossing a wide river called the Yarlung Tsangpo.

I noticed a woman as we approached the primitive boat landing to board the craft.  Her image was striking; her age impossible to determine.  Wooden benches along the hull provided seats, as did a wooden structure amidships.  Whether it was luck or fate—or perhaps serendipity—that woman and I wound up seated across from each other.

She never looked at me that I noticed, while I tried not to stare at her evocative face.   Her colorful striped apron told me she was married.  Other than that, she was dressed all in black, except for her shoes.   They were bright yellow sneakers.

One of our group was a red-haired gregarious lady who was seated next to the old woman and attempted to engage her attention.   The woman smiled.

Soon the young Tibetan boy seated next to me moved to sit with his father on the stern and the old woman crossed to sit beside me.   At first, she remained silent.

Then, in a move that took my breath away, she lifted my right hand and placed hers next to it.  I noted, of course, the obvious difference in skin color.

And then, I noted the similarities.   Both were hands that had known hard labor, both showed the wrinkles of time, both had knuckles that indicated arthritis.   The longer I looked, the more I realized how alike we were.

And that is what I wish for you and all the people of the world on this first day of 2017—moments that take your breath away.  

Yes, we have differences, sometimes deep and profound things on which we disagree.  But if you take the time to look, you will see how similar we are, how we all hope for good lives, for friendship, love, and respect.

On a special note, I will never forget that woman and how she had the courage to communicate with me through our hands.   I hope someday the Tibetans will have their country, their religion and customs, their true Dalai Lama back, and that China will leave Tibet before it is too late.

A boat similar to ours is crossing the river to an ancient Tibetan monastery.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Victor Creek: Slot Canyons, Alaskan Style

The smartest thing I did today was file a flight plan.   As for the rest of the day, I should have stayed home and acted my age, because whatever Brownie points I earned for the flight plan were far offset by all the stupid things I did today.

BUT!   Had I done thatstayed home and acted 75I would have missed out on a very pleasant adventure.

What started it was a photo some friends posted on Facebook.   It showed the family, all decked out in winter clothing and holding hiking poles, as they were hiking on Victor Creek.   Yes, “on” is the correct preposition, as I will explain.

Victor Creek is the Moose Pass version of Antelope and other slot canyons in northern Arizona and southern Utah.  But those canyons don’t have creeks running through them, unless there had been recent rain on Salt Lake City or another upland place, in which case all that rain becomes torrents rushing through those slot canyons with the power of those water cannons used in hydraulic mining, and woe unto whomever is in one of those canyons because they shall perish from the earth.

 Not to worry about Victor Creek.   The creek runs year-‘round.  The Forest Service has built a nice hiking trail that parallels the serpentine bed of the creek.   But that’s for summer, for hiking or fishing or even some prospecting.

During the winter, especially after a cold spell like the one that just ended, Victor Creek itself comes into its own.   So, when I saw that photo of my hiking friends, I decided to hike up Victor Creek.   I knew almost nothing about it, except that there were supposed to be some good photo ops.

I didn’t know where to park, where to start, or much of anything else, so this would be a journey of discovery.   I donned my jeans, hiking boots, and a fleece jacket and set off down the road with only a point and shoot camera.   Three miles from home, I realized I had forgotten to take my ice cleats and hiking stick.   I also figured I might not be dressed warmly enough, though the temperature was a nice balmy 27 degrees.

Victor Creek, as seen from the highway bridge.

So, I went home, put on a lightweight fleece shirt and a pair of North Face fleece snow pants, and hit the road.   Along the way, I thought about a friend who had tripped over his shoelaces in the Dubai airport and broke his hip recently.  It took him several days to get back to the US, and a nother few days before surgery.

I considered taking my cell phone with me, but I didn’t know where it was exactly and I also doubted there would be cell service in the creek.   No problem, because I forgot to take the cell anyway.

Instead, I stopped at a friend’s and filed my flight plan, letting her know where I was going, that I was alone, and that I’d let her know when I returned.   Then I found a spot to park near where the creek flowed under the Seward highway, looked for footprints along the creek and saw none, so I started walking up the Forest Service trail. 

My hiking stick gave me fits.   It would not lock into place.  My fleece gloves have a light-weight liner and as my hands started sweating, the liner would pull out when I withdrew my hands, thus making the gloves a bother putting back on.

I found the spot where people had dropped down the bank onto the creek, and took a nice photo.  Then, thinking I could frame it better, I started to take another.   I got a “no memory” message from the camera, and I quickly realized that the extra battery and SD cards I usually carry in the truck were at home in my camera bag.

My first photo after dropping down to the creek.   After that, no memory left on the SD card.

A prospector's shelter.

Well, I’d check this out and go back tomorrow, I thought.  And off I went, walking on ice shelves hanging over the flowing water underneath.   The farther I went upstream, the deeper the canyon became and the more fantastic the ice falls were.

The path went through this beautiful ice column.

Standing in the small opening next to the ice column.

I reached a spot where those who had gone before me had longer legs than me and I knew I couldn’t step up that high (on ice), so I crossed to the other side and made my way along a narrow shelf against an ice fall.

The dark area in upper left is a large rock overhang.

The big lump of blue ice on the left is where I tiptoed past this spot.    The others went up and over the lump at right.

On and on I went, thoroughly enjoying myself.   I deleted a bunch of photos on the SD card and made room for new photos.  In doing this, I managed to fog up my glasses, and get my fingers cold and sweaty at the same time.   Once I got the right glove back on and the finger liners back in the fingers, I didn’t want to take the glove off again to take photos.   Note to self:   It is impossible to take a photo while wearing thick gloves.

You can see the narrow path through the center of this slot.   That gives a size perspective.

At length, I reached a large area of boulders.   Once again, the path climbed a high boulder.   I crossed the creek again and found a way through a maze of boulders where the creek thundered under the ice.  I picked my way through Volkswagen-and-Hummer-sized boulders, until I realized that the tracks I was following were canine.  Whether dog or coyote, I have no idea.

Ahead, the canyon got steeper and I couldn’t see a way through so I turned back.   And fell in.   And somewhere along the line, I tripped and fell onto my hands and knees, somehow bumping my thigh against something hard and un-giving.

Caught a drop of water falling from the icicle.

The boulder field.

Almost the end of the trail.   I crossed under that log sticking up and picked my way around the next boulder, but that's as far as I could go.

It's hard to judge, but that earth-colored ice fall must be 50 to 70 feet long.

A spot I’d just traversed failed and one foot went through the ice into shin-high water.  I realized another dumb thing I’d done:  I’d worn cotton socks instead of wool which keep your feet warm even if wet.

By this time, I was very, very warm.   And sweating.   My glasses were hopeless so I put them in my pocket.   My wet foot never did get cold, so I lucked out there.

Eventually, I made it back to the trail head and drove home, where I called my friend and closed my flight pan.   That left me free to go over my photos and contemplate just how big that aching bruise on my thigh is going to get.