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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Boss of Me

I stole this photo on Facebook from Amy McMahon Hankins's Photos.  It's a photo of Seward, Alaska, about 36 miles  south of me--the closest town.

I was all set to go to Seward tonight.  Of course, it doesn’t look like that lovely photo above right now because it’s covered in snow and ice, but I was going there anyway.

I’d been planning the trip for ten days.  I had two sacks of trash loaded in the bed of the pickup truck to drop off at the dump site on the way.  I’d taken a shower, put on clean clothes, got all the paraphernalia together that has to accompany me (cell phone, camera, driver’s license and credit cards, cash, and a notebook with pen.) whenever I leave home.

I’d switched from house shoes to outdoor shoes, put on my teal colored fleece jacket, and opened the door to the truck.  I even sat down in the driver’s seat.

And then.

That darned old muse pushed me out of the truck and slammed its door.  It marched me over to the wooden pegs, yanked off my lovely teal fleece jacket and hung it up.  It pulled my feet out of the outdoor shoes and stuffed them into the indoor shoes, and marched me upstairs to the loft.

So much for the movie.  I’d really been looking forward to it, too.  “Big Miracle.”  Okay, I haven’t seen it but it was filmed entirely in Alaska, which is a big WHOOP for us up here.  A positive whoop, that is.  We’re really tired of stuff like Northern Exposure, which was filmed in Washington state, for Pete’s sakes.

And the plot?  Ah, a favorite of mine.  Three whales trapped by ice in northern Alaska.  It was a big story on the news way back when it really happened, and a bunch of folks used chain saws to cut a series of holes in the ice to lead the whales to open water.

Anyway, there I was in the loft, seated in front of the computer and my fingers flying around the keys, some of the time hitting the correct ones.  That happens when the muse is giving dictation.

This is the backstory to why I missed the movie on the last night it was playing in Seward:  I hang out with a bunch of others at Ann Linquist Writes.  She’s a writer and a writing instructor and most of us have taken courses from her.  Just for fun, she throws out writing prompts for us to feast on, write about, and post at her site.

Her most recent one didn’t say much to me for a couple days.   Then, just before I was going to shut down the computer and go to the movie, I checked her site one more time.  Several people had posted, but I try not to read their stuff before I write mine.  I read the prompt again and WHAM!  I started writing.

I stuffed some notes into a notebook, made sure I had a pen, and loaded us all in the truck.  That’s when that impatient muse showed up and said, “No movie for you tonight.”

You would think I could have finished the story AFTER the movie, right?   Not a chance.   Not when the muse is here.

Someday I’d like to be the boss of myself.

The hell I would.  I wouldn’t miss the thrill of a visit from the muse for anything.  Ever.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Intermission between Blizzards

 Before rain rode in on Chinook winds a couple weeks ago week, I had the opportunity to photograph some of the old, historic cabins and homes in Hope.

The rain and warm temperatures didn't do much to eradicate snow in my neighborhood.  Sometime during that thawing mess, another foot or so fell.

I worked Friday, once again running the mail route.   Mild temperatures, sun with warmth to it, and dry pavement.  I could almost believe.

In fact, I had to keep kicking myself back into reality.  It's still February.  More snow.  More cold.  More winter.   Knock off the wishful thinking.

Saturday was another beautiful day.  Dry pavement.  Warm sun.  Had business to attend to and all was well with the world.

The blizzard held off until I was home.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

♫ Yesterday♫

Remember that Beatles’ song “Yesterday?”

♫Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away?♫

Well, yesterday I felt the same way as I was delivering mail along the 130 mile route.  The weather was pretty nice, sun peeking through, temperatures around 30 or so, the previous day’s slop now turned to ice.

Everything was rocking right along.  Just the usual winter things like horrendous fuel bills and horrendous snow-plowing bills.  The sun was back in the valley, though with the overcast skies, you wouldn’t know it.   

I saw a bald eagle in Hope, and eight more in Cooper Landing.  The ones in Cooper Landing hang out along the Kenai River, waiting for a stray salmon carcass to float downstream.  Two eagles were side by side in a tall cottonwood tree and three more buddied-up across the river,  so close to the road I could almost have touched them.

Sorry this photo is blurry, but I was driving across the bridge and trying to grab a quick photo before traffic caught up with me.
Where the bridge crosses the mouth of the river at Kenai Lake, a few swans and their hangers-on floated at the edge of the ice while fishermen tried to catch rainbow trout.

Yes, nice day.  I was thinking about all the fun projects I wanted to do when I got home.  Instead of heading right for the post office to finish up, I pulled into my driveway for a quick pit stop.

Actually, I didn’t pull into my driveway so much as I bounced into my driveway over the more-than-a-foot-high mound of broken ice chunks the highway plow had piled across the top of it.  I had cleared a similar mound the previous day and I wasn’t happy about this one.  That stuff is heavy.

The dirty snow in the foreground was a present from the highway guys.  The dirty snow in the background is why I can't shovel the new dirty snow out of my driveway.

I added “clean the top of the driveway” to my list as I headed for the bathroom for my pit stop.  What met me there, I won’t describe.  Suffice it to say my pit stop occurred outdoors and I added “clean up the bathroom mess” and “shovel a path to the lift station” and “call the Roto-Rooter guy” to my list of projects.

I thought I had that septic line freezing problem whipped when I hung a 100watt rough service light bulb in the lift station.  That was supposed to keep the floats from freezing in place, a problem that meant the floats wouldn’t trip the “on switch” to the pump, resulting in the septic tank filling and the water backing up into the line and freezing.

♫Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as if they’re here to stay…♫

First things first.  I finished the mail route and headed home to clean out the driveway.  While I was struggling along, my friend JJ came by and offered her help.  I was reluctant, but knowing what my shoulder would be like afterwards, I let her start the path to the lift station opening.  The snow, variously like sugar with layers of ice, or wet and heavy, was four feet deep.

My 300 gallon propane tank is buried on the right.

I finished the drive and came back to help her, wading through the snow to where I thought the lift station was and starting to shovel while she worked her way towards me.

Everything seemed okay in the lift station.  The floats weren’t frozen though the bulb had self-destructed, leaving its base in the socket.  I went back to the garage to get tools and a new bulb.  That’s when the right ear piece on my VERY expensive titanium eyeglasses frame broke.

♫Suddenly, I’m not half as calm as I used to be,
There’s a shadow hanging over me,
Oh, this trouble came suddenly.♫

With needle-nose pliers, I removed the base of the broken bulb and then installed the new bulb.  Nothing.  Apparently the heat from the light had fried the socket.  I added “get a new light socket” to my list of projects, along with “go to Anchorage and hope the ophthalmologist has a new earpiece in stock and doesn’t have to order one.”

JJ finished the path and we went in the house and groused about being “property managers” all winter rather than having fun.  We also talked about our various options to cure that situation.

I added “get through this winter” to the list and also “figure out what the heck you’re going to do with all this stuff” if and when you sell this house.

Yesterday, seemed such an easy game to play,
Now I need a place to hide away.♫

Dixie returned my call and asked if I wanted Bob the Roto-Rooter guy to come over that evening or the next morning.  I told her morning would be fine.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Yeah, I still have the red bucket I peed in last winter,” I said.  There was a long pause before she started laughing

“I wasn’t expecting that.”  We made arrangements for Bob the Roto-Rooter guy to be here at 10 AM.  I grabbed my shovel and made sure there was a pathway to the septic clean-out opening.  Fortunately, that clean-out is under my front deck, which normally is an annoyance.  This time, it’s a blessing, otherwise it would be under four feet of snow and ice.

One of our many blizzards this winter actually sculpted the snow like this.  I only had to remove the newer snow to clear a path to get under the deck.

Back in the house, I put an artichoke on to boil and sat down to sulk and watch a movie on Starz.  It was a pretty good movie, Low Down with Robert Duvall as a cranky hermit trying to arrange for own funeral to be held while he’s still alive.  

Very entertaining movie.  That’s why I forgot about the artichoke, which ran out of water and incinerated the lower leaves of the tasty thistle.  I ate the rest of it anyway and decided I’d had quite enough of yesterday, so I went to bed right after 8 PM.

I’d had enough of yesterday.

PS:  Bob is going to come by next week and install a heat trace in the septic line.  That should solve that. 

My hero.

NOTE:  A wee bit of an apology to the Beatles for some minor lyrics changes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sunshine Dreaming

Right on schedule, the sun made it back to my part of the valley today.  I know that because it quit snowing long enough for the sun to peek through that notch in the mountains and give us a brief kiss.  Then it clouded over again and the forecast is for more snow.

I would have missed it if the snow plow guy hadn't been in my yard and when I looked outside:  BEHOLD THE SUN!!!

Of course.

Here are some bald eagles I saw a couple days ago.

"Sunshine on my shoulders would make me happy.
Sunshine on my wings would make e glad."

And this poor eagle with four noisy magpies around him.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Trouble with a Capital "T" and that Rhymes with Me....and Don't Forget about Ralph

Not long after moving to Alaska, my mother almost called the cops on me.  She had her hand on the phone when she saw me crossing the dirt yard of the Hale Apartments where we lived.  Such was my transgression that I have little doubt the Anchorage cops would have enlisted the Territorial Police and the U.S. Marshals in hunting me down.
Desperado Daughter

 “I almost called the police!” she yelled when she ran outdoors and caught me.   In a desperate effort to change the subject, I presented her with a salmon to cook for dinner, but the fish served only to increase her ire.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the instigator in that incident.  I’m pretty sure it was Ralph, who was so far my only friend in Anchorage.  Ralph was a year older and had lived in the U-shaped rows of apartments at the corner of 5th and Gambell longer.  Ralph knew the lay of the land.

I didn’t.  I was only six years old.

But I’m ahead of myself.  In order to get into trouble, I had to get to Alaska from Detroit, and that’s where I’ll start this tale.

My mother had long wanted to live in Alaska, so when her brother-in-law Ross was transferred to Anchorage by the CAA (predecessor of the FAA), I’m sure she heard the news with much chagrin.  In the spring of the following year, word from her sister Agnes that the railroad was hiring if they could be in Alaska by June 15, 1948, had Mom and Dad packing up for the move north.  Whether it was by letter or a “by appointment” phone call made from the Alaska Communications  System office in the Federal Building on Fifth Avenue, I really don’t know. 

All I got out of the whole deal was that I was going to live in an igloo.  That’s what all the kids in my first grade class told me.  I’d given most of them chicken pox, but that’s beside the point.

A long journey by train to Chicago was followed by an even longer flight in a DC-4 (I think).  We landed in Canada to refuel, then Fairbanks, and then at Elmendorf AFB.  A large box of chocolates, a farewell gift from relatives, accompanied us on the trip.

I’m positive it wasn’t the chocolates that made me sick shortly after our plane departed Chicago because I’ve eaten many chocolates since then and never gotten sick.  Instead, it was the first indication that I suffered from an extreme propensity to motion sickness.  Too bad for the other passengers on that airplane.

Next thing I knew, we moved into a tiny one bedroom apartment with Ross and Agnes and my dad went to work for the railroad.

That’s where I met Ralph Daniels, the only other kid even close to my age, and we became fast friends.  As I said earlier, Ralph was older by a year and had lived there longer, so it must have been his idea to wander over to 3rd Avenue and down the steep, wooded bank to Ship Creek and the Alaska Railroad yards.

I don’t remember how far we walked toward Cook Inlet, or how long we were gone.  Time means nothing when you’re having an adventure, but it must have been a fair distance because we had to have been walking the clay tidal banks of  Ship Creek where we acquired the fish.  Actually, if I recall correctly, we were on the way home when said fish presented itself to us.

That fish, a bright red, snaggle-toothed humpy, was well on its way to becoming one with the muck in which we’d found it lying fins up, so to speak.  All I knew was this was one of the prized salmon I’d heard the grown-ups talk about.  Ralph and I decided to take it home and tell them we’d caught it.

I suppose the state of the fish’s deterioration had much to do with my mother’s reaction when she spotted me after many hours of unauthorized absence.  Never mind that she had been having visions of me lost forever or maybe even dead, she now had a daughter reeking of decomposing fish.

Ralph and I must have been sentenced to yard confinement after that, because our subsequent adventures consisted of tying a string to a tin can and tossing the can onto the dirt road that was 5th Avenue.  Late afternoon was prime time for traffic coming from the direction of Merrill Field, so that’s when we tossed our can as far as the string would reach and waited for a vehicle to run over it and smash it flat.

We spent a lot of hours choking in the dust or dodging mud puddle splashes, but no vehicle ever ran over the can.

In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing there weren’t any railroad tracks close by, as I’m sure Ralph and I would have put pennies on the tracks to see if the train would derail.

Sadly, my life of crime with my partner Ralph was cut short that summer when SOMEBODY set our apartment on fire and we had to move.

I had nothing to do with that.  And neither did Ralph.

After the fire at the Hale Apartments.
Alley side.  Somewhere in that mess was a little white "piggy bank" in the shape of a Bible.  Now it rests in the old city landfill, along with the 12 silver dollars it contained.

Desperado Dad, my role model.  Looks like it ran in the family.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sunshine Chimera

I stand in the afternoon sunshine, eyes closed, jacket unzipped, no hat or gloves.  In my heart, there dances a chimera.

With the rays of the sun warming my face, I am almost  beguiled into believing that winter is soon over, is almost a season well on the way to being chased out of town by the lengthening daylight and the rising temperatures of spring. 

Reality clamors for attention in a more sensible part of my brain, but I ignore it until the loud click of the gas nozzle indicates my truck is full.  That rude interruption into my fantasy brings me back to the Costco gas station in Anchorage, the reality of  $3.74 a gallon gasoline, and that the day is February 7 in Alaska.  February, mind you.  In Alaska, I repeat.

I replace the nozzle and the gas cap and look around the Costco parking lot.  Everywhere I look,  Alaskans are acting like it’s spring.  No one wears hats or gloves.  Jackets and coats are unzipped.  Chimeras can’t be seen but I’m guessing there are many hanging out in this snow covered lot today, all working their way into receptive and willing hearts and minds. 

The temperature?  In the high twenties.

We aren’t out of this yet, I remind myself as I pull the receipt out of the slot and look at the total.

Seven more weeks in which the temperature can easily slide way below zero, seven more weeks in which several feet of snow can fall, seven more weeks of winter.  April?

April’s a crap shoot.

One never knows what April can bring.  It can be gentle; it can be ferocious.  Or, as Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worse of times.”  That’s April.  Schizophrenia in nature.  The only sure thing about April is that in thirty days it will be May, and May is much more reliable.

The drive into Anchorage was reality itself.  In the space of five miles along Turnagain Arm, there is one vehicle sideways in a snow bank, and holes where five others had been.  Black ice coats the asphalt, invisible ice formed by sudden warm temperatures after weeks of below zero cold.  I switch to four-wheel drive for better steering and braking.

The chimera refuses to leave.  It dances over my shoulder like a sun dog as I drive through Anchorage to the far side of town.  All the errands on my long list  are crossed off, all but the most important:  Visiting a housebound friend, and delivering groceries and a prescription to her.

She greets me at the door with a hug and I watch her walk back into her condo living room.  She walks better than she has in more than a year.  Four weeks after hip replacement surgery, four weeks after banishing horrendous pain from her body, and she walks with confidence.  Her voice is free of the pain, her face is free of the pain, her body is free of the pain. 

She is a new person and one with a bright future.  I leave the springtime chimera with her, where it belongs, and drive home to Moose Pass.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Polar Bear Journals, Ch. 15, The Big Dog

When Dave Daley told his wife he wanted a team of sled dogs, she said, “You better figure out how to pay for them.”

So he did.

One of those ways resulted in the busing of a couple dozen of us to his dog lot outside of Churchill, Manitoba.  We were on a Road Scholar trip called Lords of the North and had spent the four previous days spotting and watching three dozen wild polar bears.

Now, on our last full day in Churchill, we were greeted by a pack of howling dogs.  And the Big Dog himself—the inimitable Dave.  With a line of blarney that belies his Metis (French and Cree) heritage, Dave entertains tourists with a humorous and educational spiel before giving them rides on either sleds or a carriage, depending on snow conditions, or the lack thereof.
The One and Only Big Dog, Dave Daley.

I was looking forward to this, being a retired dog musher myself.  I was curious about advances in equipment, feeding methods, and training styles.  And the dogs.  Very much interested in the dogs.

Then I met Dave and suddenly I was in my own dog lot twenty years ago, stuffing straw in dog houses, cleaning up their deposits, and giving lots and lots of hugs.  Dave talked  for quite a time before we went outside to actually meet his dogs and to be introduced to the various equipment involved in running dogs.

Harnesses ready to go.
Before that, however, the inevitable subject of what happens with dogs that can no run with a team, or who are terminally sick or injured, in a land where the nearest veterinarian might be hundreds of miles away.

 That’s when Dave won my heart.  And made me cry.

He spoke of spending time with the ailing dog, telling the animal how much it was loved and appreciated, and how much it will be missed.  Then, Dave said, he asks the dog to return in spirit to the dog lot, to be with them always, either in spirit or in another dog.

That’s when the tears ran down my face.  I remembered long ago dogs I loved with all my heart and how much they are missed to this day.
Dave and his sleds.

Big Dog's dog lot.
Dave is the originator of the Hudson Bay Quest race, patterned after the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races in Alaska, which he would very much like to enter some day.   His race involved travel on the ice of Hudson Bay and the likelihood of polar bear encounters, so when they blazed a completely on land routes, he breathed a sigh of relief.  While there remains a chance of a bear encounter, the odds are now far against it.

Donna and Kathy.

For those snowless times.

That evening, Dave came to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre and spoke to our group.

Dave and his bear gun.
 His family has lived in Churchill for several generations, and has known the bias against descendants of the First Nation peoples.

When he was a child, his mother kept telling him he was descended from the French voyageurs and he was not allowed to learn the traditional language and practices of his Aboriginal people.  Now, however, Dave is considered a community leader and teaches the town children in the old ways.
Yes!  Boy, do I miss this view.

He has received many awards for his volunteers efforts. A couple years ago Dave ran hid dogs from Churchill to Winnipeg, a distance of about 750 miles, all in the interest of promoting Manitoba.

With his wife Valerie, he owns and operates Wapusk General Store  in downtown Churchill.

Wapusk General Store, owned and operated by Dave and his wife.

Painted boulder outside the store.

But Dave wasn't done with us just yet. 

The next morning, most of us would board a Calm Air turboprop plane, bound for Winnipeg and our connections from there.  Dave has worked for Calm Air for many years as an aircraft mechanic.  Dave would be on our minds for a long time to come, as would the staff at Churchill Northern Studies Centre, the town and people of Churchill, and those magnificent polar bears of Hudson Bay.

Our ride to Winnipeg.