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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It Takes a Tourist

I substituted as a mail carrier today and had about an hour to kill before I picked up the out-going mail at the Hope post office and headed out on the next leg of the rural home delivery route, so I drove down to Hope's main street.

The little village of Hope was once a booming gold-mining town.  Today's it a quiet, peaceful spot for tourists and fishermen at the end of a nineteen mile side road off the Seward Highway.

When I turned onto the gravel road, two vehicles were stopped right in the road, the drivers talking with each other, just the we do in Moose Pass and in small towns everywhere.  As I approached, one of the drivers moved aside so I could pass.

That's when I noticed about a dozen tourists laden with cameras, all heading in the same direction.  We Alaskans tend to get a little complacent about watching for the wildlife, but tourists with cameras flocking to a particular point is a dead give away that something was near.

So, I did what tourists everywhere do.  I parked, grabbed my camera, and followed the flock.

Ah, a moose, browsing in the wild Jacob's ladder, geraniums, bluebells, Arctic roses, and cow parsnip.

  No one said a word.  No one moved close enough to disturb this cow moose.  And for sure, no one walked down this mowed path to the outhouse.

Mama Moose was accompanied by her two twins, and all were nibbling on the lush vegetation.

You have to hand it to those tourists, despite their land yachts that clog the highways.  Without them, I never would have noticed these moose.

And, had I not seen the moose, I never would have captured this photo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stuff of the Day

Not much to say today so I thought I'd leave you with some images I took with a new camera.  The above photo was taken on the descent from Turnagain Pass towards Turnagain Arm.  This is the area where I've been cleaning up litter recently.  I am two miles from the bottom of the pass at saltwater.

The huge white plants are cow parsnip, or pushki.  The long stems contain a sap that causes skin sensitivity to sunlight and blisters for some people.

In the past week, goatsbeard has bloomed.

Here's a close up of goatsbeard:

And, finally, I have captured the correct color of dwarf fireweed:

A swan at Potter waterfowl sanctuary:

A dandelion gone to seed:

Close up of sweet yarrow blossoms:

The exquisite chocolate lily:

And, my favorite of the day, two common loons sound asleep at Jerome Lake,.  This is an interesting shot because the water of Jerome Lake is absolutely clear.  I had to position myself carefully to avoid the glare of light on the water, and then the water appeared to be green.

Remember, you can click on these photos to enlarge them, then click again for largest magnification.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Home Invaders

 Suppose one dark snowy morning you open your front door and find footprints on your snow-dusted welcome mat?  You realize instantly those prints were left there while you slept, totally unaware that something was creeping around your doors, perhaps looking for entrance.

That would give you pause, wouldn't it?  Especially when you also realize there were doors left unlocked, that the only locked door was this one.

When you go outside, you see many such footprints near your house.  And you recall something that makes such odd prints, but that was last summer and it was hiding under your front deck hoping you wouldn't notice it.

That makes you think about all the other things that  have invaded your space.  Like the yellowlegs sandpiper that threatened to nest in your driveway.....

...or the grouse that consider it their private dining room....

Or that little bandit, the nuthatch....

...the one that zips into the bird feeder and leaves so quickly you can never get a good picture of it.

Or the baby swallows with their immense appetites.

Then there are the gangs, the pine siskins that always arrive en masse, no fewer than a couple dozen at a time.

Or the red squirrel that's supposed to be gathering spruce cones and stashing them in your woodshed for winter....

 No, he has to stuff his face at the feeder, too.

Then there are the bigger invaders.  The moose that eat your birch and mountain ash trees.

The wolves that were outside your huskies's pen one night, trying to decide which one to eat.

The black bears that roam the mountains on either side.

 Or that big brown bear that's walking around the neighborhood RIGHT NOW as if he owned it, except, come to think of it, anything that big has the right to declare ownership and it'll get no argument from me.  Or from my can of bear spray.

But, the biggest, baddest predator of all has come to my yard and I'm not happy about it.

This is a sneaky predator, one you can't see until it's too late.

One that's inside this rolled-up birch leaf.

I could unroll that leaf and show you what's inside, but--believe me--you really don't want to see it.

The birch leaf rollers have come to town and they're on my birch trees.  MY birch trees.

Or, as my friend Annie put it, "They're really on a roll..."

And it's too late now.

Yeah, baby.

It's too late now
Just tell me how long did you think
I'd be your fool
And I would sit right here an' wait
For you to make up
Your mind to show up
Well, just turn around
I'm sorry it's too late now.*

Next time I go to Anchorage, I'm buying some killer chemicals.  You leave my birch trees alone, your little worms!

*It's Too Late Now
George Strait

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't Fence Me In*

Note to my former homeowner's insurance company: 

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in. 

Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in. 

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies.
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don't fence me in. 

Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in 

See there, State Farm?  I TOLD you those railings would be done this spring, but would you give me six more months?  Oh, no, you wouldn't.   Now you've lost all my business.

Thanks for trusting me, Seward Insurance Company and Umailik Insurance.

So, people everywhere, when you have great views you don't want blocked by standard railings, go with stainless steel cables  for an almost invisible deck rail system.
The birds like it.

And so do I.

*  Lyrics and music by Cole Porter from a poem by Bob Fletcher.  Made famous by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Roy Rogers and a host of other recording artists.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Running Away

That kid down the road got his name in the newspaper this week.  Again.   For running away.

And his name wasn’t in the police log, either.

The view most runners get of Miles.

No, my neighbor Miles got a big shout out for running up a mountain and running away from everyone in his age group, plus a passel of adult men.  In fact, as the Anchorage Daily News reported, “The performance of the day among teenagers in the race that covers three miles and gains 3,400 feet of elevation on Bird Ridge was Miles Knotek, 16, who finished seventh among men in 42 minutes, 43 seconds.  That placed him just 3:19 behind [the] winner.”

Miles is in the center, shirtless, blue shorts. Photo by Heather Williams

I’ve climbed that ridge.  It isn’t an easy climb and I was walking, not running. 

Then, Miles was congratulated by none other than Brad Precosky, who is a six-time champion of the Mt. Marathon race held in Seward every Fourth of July.  I think Miles has Brad’s number and two years from now when Miles is old enough to compete in the men’s division, Brad better hang up his shoes or stay out of Miles’s way.

I try to keep track of Miles’s latest accomplishments.  He posts all this stuff on Facebook.

Now, why would a seventy-ish woman follow the Facebook page of a sixteen-year-old high school student?

Because he’s my neighbor, because we share interests in writing and photography? 
Miles:  I've rediscovered my love of writing stories, especially ones about adventures in running!
By Miles Knotek
For a glimpse into how teen-age life in the twenty-first century differs from my own in the 1950s?
                Miles:  runnin' mountains and reading Harry Potter all day every day!
Miles:  had a really fun day hanging with michael and shredding a sick new line. and then got called to get a roadkill moose! all 4 quarters and 2 backstraps for my first time butchering a moose! 
Miles:  loves the beginning of winter! Got my sled out for the first time and my cross country skis. Fall is still here though with the brown bear tracks in the snow.
To learn of his remarkable achievements?
Miles in front, photo by Nikki Wray
Miles:  had an awesome weekend at regions coming back with three second place metals. 
Feet from the top.  Photo by John Collins

Miles:  had a fun day racing Government Peak! Finished in 7th overall and 1st in age group with a time of [52:30]. A lot tougher than I thought it would be!
Greg: … I checked the race archives and you now own the fastest time for anyone age 20 or younger! You beat your closest competitor today by 2 1/2 minutes. Wow.
Cole:  dude for government peak you got the time that Brad Precosky  got last year, … which is pretty damn amazing
Miles Knotek runs to the finish. At 16, Miles' time of 52:30 is the fastest time so far recorded by any runner 20 or under for this race. Photo and cutline by Holly Brooks.

For his philosophical insight? 

Miles [quoting from a Harry Potter book]:  "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
-Albus Dumbledore
Miles:  An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets, he must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.
-Emil Zatopek
Miles: the good side of 40 degrees in [D]ecember is being able to go for a run in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt.
The humor? 

Miles:  Felt like Farley Mowat as I ran half naked through the tundra today with a bunch of mountain goats.

Ray:  dances with goats?  Haha.

If you are on Facebook, you know that you are privy to your friends’ postings plus their friends’ responses.

Miles and his friends speak of music, like most teenagers.  They post links to their favorite artists and to songs that resonate with them.

They upload photos showing their arms draped over each others shoulders.  I smile when I look at these photos and imagine that in a couple decades, they will view these pictures with the same nostalgia as did generations of men and women before them.

Miles on right with Jaz, left, and Tannen, center.

Here’s where they break from the norm, here’s where these teenagers who are my extended neighbors differ from teenagers in Anytown, USA.

Those photos?  The photos of high school pals, posed with seemingly dislocated fingers signaling the signs of their times? 

Miles in center with friends Sam and Jaz.

They’re taken on top of mountains.  These aren’t sissy mountains, either.  These mountains spring up from the earth with no foothills to anchor them.  These mountains mean business.

They hike up these mountains.  They put climbing skins on their skis and climb up these mountains.   

Miles.  Photo by Jaz Odhner

They RUN up these mountains.  They use snowmobiles to get to the bottom of mountains, then strap on their skis and climb up!  No couch potatoes here.

Photo by Miles

So, yes, I follow Miles on Facebook for all the above reasons—to keep in touch, to listen in on their humor, enjoy their friendships, and to learn their philosophical views.
But there’s one more reason, one very special reason.  I follow Miles so I can listen to the poetry in a young man’s heart.
Miles:  just had probably one of the raddest shreds of my life! Climbed all the way up this chute to the rocks and looked up to see a mtn. goat checkin' me out! Along with 15 ptarmigan fluttering around the cliffs.
Miles:  can't wait to go to Hawaii to get away from this horrible winter and to come back to skiing a golden god.
Miles:  likes being able to get off the school bus, slap on my climbing skins, climb up a mountain, and ski down with a headlamp and under the stars...

Photo of Miles by Jared Lindquist