"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa
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Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Kids on the Block

My dog Spike was merrily chowing down on tender dandelion shoots this evening at Jerome Lake.



Unfortunately, he was right on the shoulder of the highway.





He bristled at my suggestion that he move farther away from the traffic before he became road pizza.




I was about ten feet from him and he didn't see me until I spoke.  I guess we're too big for them to see.

Meanwhile, down at Tern Lake, the grebe was busy with its nightly ablutions.



Finally, a break in this rainy week.



Not a great photo but after a week of rain, I'll take a picture of anything that doesn't look like a rain cloud.

It was a long winter

Seems like every day we hear about someone getting stomped by a momma moose.  They're calving right now and in no mood to put up with anyone.  Two little girls stomped a couple days ago are okay but the play fort they tried to hide in didn't fare so well.

Guess it was a long hard winter for moose, too.


This photo was taken last summer in Hope.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Kids on the Block

Watching the mountain goats browse their way across the face of the mountain is like counting sheep.  So relaxing as the goats are almost stately in their progress.

Until late May.  That's when the kids are born.  After that, those little white ling pong balls are in a constant state of bounce.



The kid is following its mom at the top.


Mom and kid are at the left.  These guys are way up on the mountain (hence the bluriness from too much telephoto), out of reach of roaming bears.  The bears are down here messing with us humans right now, walking through our yards, overturning stuff, on Erin's porch.  Every once in a while we hear a gunshot from someone trying to run off a bear.

The photo below was taken at midnight two days ago.



Had to adjust the light settings to get a decent shot of the half moon.


Friday, May 25, 2012

A Slice of Life in May




Wednesday was one of those magical days in Moose Pass that makes us forget about a lot of bad weather that comes our way.  Not the unusual amount of snow this last winter, though.  With piles of snow still hanging around, it’s too soon to expect us to forget that.

But Wednesday?  Clear blue sky, temperatures in the mid-sixties, definite tinges of green on what were bare branches of deciduous trees.  That’s a fine day.

By evening, the day was even nicer, if that’s possible.  For me it was a lot nicer, because I’d spent two hours fighting my way through alders in the heat of the afternoon, wearing long sleeves to protect my forearms from scratches.  At the end of those two hours, five yellow bags full of beer bottles and cans, dirty diapers, miscellaneous food wrappers, and other assorted detritus were tied off and placed along the guard rail at Mile 52.5 pullout.

And I was once again sick of alders.

When I arrived home I didn’t collapse in front of the TV and threaten never to move again, as usual.  Instead, I started doing a few chores around the outside of my home, watering a brown lawn showing hints of new green grass, cleaning out the flower beds, and so on.

In one of those inexplicable moments of synchronicity, neighbors on both sides of me drifted onto the gravel airstrip that runs behinds our properties.  In some ways, it was symbolic—coming out of our winter snow caves to celebrate the changing of the seasons.

We ambled along the strip, noticing how summer is unfolding, watching the swallows searching for mosquitoes, and remarking about what a nice day it was.

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for,” said Bruce. 

Eight words, only eight.  But in those words he acknowledged and we understood what was unspoken.  We put up with a lot to live here.  High cost of living, nasty weather, frequent power outages, long days of winter darkness.  What the next four months hold in store, we have no way of knowing.

And because we’re long-time Alaskans and know how these things go, recognize what a clear day could mean for the night ahead, no one had to answer Bruce’s next question.

“Think it’ll freeze tonight?”




Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Surprise!

I still have piles of snow in my yard.  Granted, they are mere shadows of their former 12 and 15 foot high selves, but nonetheless, they're snow.







In my almost daily travels north to pick up roadside litter, I have watched the transition from winter to spring creep along.  There's a definite hue of light green on formerly bare trees, but I still have snow in my yard.  Earlier this month, we had new snow fall several days in a row.

Considering all that, this evening I drove down to Tern Lake to take photos of ducks, if any were close enough to the shore.  I spotted what appeared to be loons far out on the lake.  I parked, rolled down the window, and turned on my camera.

Suddenly:



The photo took away my breath.  It's summer.

Oh, yeah, the loons were out there.  This shot of one used up all my available telephoto so it isn't clear.



Closer in, a mallard couple:



And, a first for me at Tern Lake, a red-necked grebe:



Armed with the knowledge that it was summer at Tern Lake, I went home a looked a little closer at my own yard.



This wild shooting star is going to bloom any day and it's still too early to transplant annuals.

Shooting star buds.

On the north side of the house, the wild ferns are sprouting.

 



And the pansies from a couple years ago have reseeded themselves again.  In fact, one has already bloomed, a little viola-sized bloom, but still--the snow just left here last week.



Ah, well, there are some healthier looking pansies about to bloom.



Down south, my friend Shirley has flowers all over her yard.  In Arizona, I imagine everything's dried up by now.

Here in Moose Pass, I still have snow in my yard.


In Alaska, summer waits for no man.  It's going on 11 PM as I write this.  It's still daylight here.  The sprinklers are watering the brownish-green lawn.  I just went for a walk with the neighbors on each side of me in warm sunlight.  I can count the goats on the mountain with my naked eye.




Super telephoto here.

It's summer, snow or no snow.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Romance Recessed

I was going to name this post coitus interruptus.  Had every intent to do so.  Then I realized I didn't know if swallows did it on the fly, so to speak, like eagles do.  Perhaps they choose a more earth-bound venue for propagating their species.   So, in the interest of accuracy, I chose the lame title above.

Propriety had nothing to do with changing my mind.  Nope.  Not at all. 

Okay, maybe a little.

Anyway, I was slouched in front of the TV last night, unwilling to move for anything.  I'd overdone it a bit in the litter-picking category.  A crash against one of the huge front windows changed my mind.  I struggled to get myself out of my comfy nest.

Once standing, I saw two swallows lying on the front deck, obviously the source of the crash noise.



The late evening sun caught those iridescent blue feathers.  The swallow above seemed to be the most alert after impacting plate glass.  

The one below had its head down for a long time, and I feared for its life.  







Forty-five minutes later.




Finally the one that seemed the most stunned flew onto the rail just above the other.  I watched them for a while, hoping they would both fly away before a magpie came looking for dinner, and look what came calling.




This is an Arctic hare, also called a Snowshoe hare, almost completely transitioned from pure white to its summer coloring, except for those big ears.


This afternoon when I came home from another mile of litter-picking, I saw this nibbling along the side of my driveway.




At first I thought it was a hare very late in its transition.  Then I realized it was a  domestic rabbit.  They are larger and have shorter ears.





 You two should consider swapping ears.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alder Bashing at Its Finest

Alder "trees" are the default brush of Alaska.  Disturb the natural ground cover and alders will grow there, over-taking everything in its inexorable path to conquering the world.

That is particularly true along the Seward Highway, where alders consume the down-slopes of all the scenic pullouts .  Add human litterers to the mix and what you get isn't pretty.  It's beer bottles, diapers, and other litter trapped in the minefield that is alder brush.

Take this nice pullout along Canyon Creek at Mile 50.5. 



The scenery here is wonderful and this is a favorite photo-taking stop for tourists.  It's also a favorite littering spot, and I am of the opinion that most of the littering isn't done by tourists but by residents, otherwise there wouldn't be so much every spring before the tourists arrive.   I reached this spot Monday and cleaned up the litter between the guard rail and the first line of alders.


It's a fairly long pullout with a steep slope covered with alders that are just beginning to sprout leaves.  Once the leaves are out, I don't go into the alders, so this is the perfect time to clean up this area. 

I've found the best thing to do is find a RELATIVELY clear spot and climb down to a bench.  Then I fight my way along and up through the alders, picking up all the litter I see.  That consists mostly of beer cans and bottles.

Standing at one point on the flat bench, holding the camera level to try to show the steepness of the slope.  The road is about 40 to 50 feet up.  If you look under the left side of the alder in front, you can see a round gray thing.  It's a ceramic pitcher with a broken handle.  I used it as a marker for where I'd left off the previous day, after it fell out of the litter bag and rolled downhill.  Behind me on this bench are another 20 to 30 feet of litter-trapping alders.


Alders are good for smoking salmon.  That's about all I can think of.  It's their growth pattern that drives me crazy, the branches growing outwards and upwards and intertwining with its neighbors.  There is no such thing as walking between the alders, regardless of what you think you see in these pictures.




You fight your way into the middle of one clump, pick up all the litter you can see, sometimes forcing a branch down and stepping on it to fight into the center of the next clump.

It's difficult enough to weave and fight your way through these things.  Add a full litter bag to the equation and you will soon be using your complete vocabulary of profanity plus few made up on the spot.


These photos don't do justice to how maddening alders can be, probably because I had found a spot where I could stand up straight and take photos.  I'd already cleaned this area, so you don't see any litter.

Every day since Monday, I have stopped at this spot and cleaned another stretch.  Thus far, I have filled eight bags with litter and the rest area looks fairly decent.  There's more out there, but I have now reached Mile 53 and two more rest areas covered with alders.

My ankle didn't want to walk these slopes last year, so there are two years worth of litter over the sides of all these rest areas.

I should arrive at the Hope Junction, Mile 56, Sunday, if I hold to a mile a day plus rest areas.  That's 20 miles from home, plus 4 miles of the Sterling Highway.  Once I'm at the Hope Junction, there are only two more rest areas with steep slopes, one with spruce and one with alders, until I reach my stopping point at Ingram Creek, Mile 76.

So why do I do it?  I can't stand litter.  Plus, I think if people see a nice clean slope it might occur to them that littering isn't acceptable, no matter how far out in the wilderness they might be.  There are other reason having to do with respecting the country and having tourists discover what awful litterers some "Alaskans" are.  I hesitate to even call them Alaskans.

Filled bag count so far: 177.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rewards

When last we saw our idiotic stalwart heroine, she was caught in a raging blizzard little snowfall while picking up litter in the Mile 50 area of the Seward Highway.

Those white things are snow flakes, just before it got a lot worse.

The large flakes buried dusted Gullible and obscured the litter she was trying to capture. 

The next day, Gullible returned to the scene of the snowstorm to continue her singular purpose.  What a difference a day makes.  The photo below was taken close to where the above photo was shot.


Same spot, different weather.


When she arrived at the point where she'd finished the day before, she glanced down at a steep slope and observed what had not been there the day before:

Dandelions.

Lupine ready to bloom.

So, the question is, did bloom because their yard was clean of litter, or what?



Some people wonder why I continue to spend so much time and money (for gas) and most of the summer doing this, covering fifty miles or more, going back over sections again and again.  The flowers above are part of the reason.

I can see what I've accomplished, and that's a big thing with me.   Once a woman turned around, came back to where I was working, and insisted on giving me $20 for gas money.  It came on a day when I'd computed my gas costs so far that summer as nearing $500.

Another is that I really hate litter and there's a great reward in seeing the landscape when it's free of litter.  I'm outdoors in beautiful country and the exercise is good for me.  While I get filthy with dust and mud and some nasty substances, the rewards are many.

I find useful things, like this nifty little gaff hook and a rubber strap, two items I just happened to have in the truck still.  I have the world's largest collection of found rubber straps, I'm sure, and I'm getting very particular about which ones I save. I also have a nice collection of golf balls. 



And there there's the odd reward:



No, I didn't find it in a ditch.  A friend stopped on his way home from Anchorage and gave it to me.  It couldn't have come at a better time.

Yes, Virginia, you can have your apple strudel and eat it, too.

Monday, May 14, 2012

If Mother Ain't Happy...

You know the saying, "If mother ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"?  Apply that to Mother Nature and you'll have an idea of what's going on in my part  of Alaska.

Yesterday, Mother's Day, I was happy engaged in a favorite activity along a favorite part of the Seward Highway.  Mile 50--wide grassy slopes on each side of the highway, a good place to be with Sunday traffic and all.

A bit chilly, a bit breezy, and I knew what to expect.  Just as I reached my most favorite part and the widest grassy slope, MN started with  the snow thing again.  No biggie, I figured, it won't stick and it won't last long.

The white things aren't rocks.  It's snow.

Moments after I took the photo, it snowed harder with larger flakes.  It stuck on the ground.   It stuck on me.  Did I quit?

Absolutely not.  I'd worked my way to this area after lots of alder-bashing in the far reaches of the above photo and I wasn't about to let a little snow mess with me.  I gathered up all the litter I could see, wondering what the passing drivers thought about the nutso with the orange safety vest trying to find litter in a heavy snow.

Too funny, and I was laughing out loud at the absurdity of the whole thing. 

Sure enough, as the sun tried to burn through the overcast, the snow ceased and what was on the ground and me melted.  By this time, I was on the other side of the highway.

And look what I found:




Flowers for Mother's Day.  The first wild flowers of the season. 

Wait.  Just what IS the season anyway?  And what's up with Mother Nature?  After record snowfalls this winter, she's stuck in a groove, I guess.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Signs of Life

 While I work on Part Two of Que Sera?, I want to give you images of things I've photographed in the last few days.  No moon shots, however.  Not with rain and snow.

We're coming out of our snow caves as the white stuff recedes.  Feels good to get outdoors and walk around without snowshoes.

I drove into Anchorage last Friday to load up on groceries.  Along Turnagain Arm, the wind surfers were out.   Traffic was too heavy to pull over and stop so these were taken over the shoulder on the fly.




Driving home , I spotted  a frenzy of seagulls along the water line in Turnagain arm.  I pulled over to take a picture.  That's when I saw the bald eagles getting down and dirty in the muck and clay of the Arm.




Ah, but look what I also saw.  A bore tide rolling in.   This was a small one, perhaps less than a foot high.


.


The birds are after a school of hooligan, a smelt prized for its oily content.  I was hoping that further down the highway there would be hordes of people out dip-netting for the small fish.  Rolled in dry corn meal and fried in butter, they're good eating, but once in a decade is enough for me.  They're better smoked.  Old-timers used to dry them and burn them in place of candles.

Hooligan are ridiculously easy to catch.  Stick a fine mesh net into the water and they swim into it.  They're only 8 to 10 inches long and have a curiously dry skin.  No slime.




 The birds kept right on fishing, probably hoping the rolling bore tide would roil the fish to the surface for easier catching.







Note the eagle standing in the muck.




This man,  who had waded into the cold water hoping the bore tide would be high enough to surf it, was disappointed.  Standing next to me as I photographed all this was a young man who HAD surfed the bore.  "July," he said.  "You don't have enough water under you until July."  I'll take his word for it.


Down the highway ten miles or so, where the hooligan fishers should have been but weren't, momma and her year old male calf browsed on willow branches.  I pulled over and took photos until momma decided it was time to move.




 



 


At Tern Lake this weekend,a handsome Northern Pintail ....



...joined a merganser couple in a small pond.  That's the female merganser--the one with the wild red "hair-do"-- on the tussock. 




 In a different spot, this bald eagle posed for pictures.









As soon as it flew off,  these two landed in the same spot.  I want to say they're Green Winged Teals, but the photo isn't clear enough to make identity certain.  They could be a subspecies called Aleutian Green Winged Teals.  Then again, they might be something entirely different.  I can't find the identifying green patch on their wings.





And now for today's living room photos:




 A male Pine Grosbeak.....




....and five Mountain Goats.