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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

my escort service.....

I had the pleasure of an escort service as I began the long hundred mile drive home from Anchorage this evening, after a long day of running errands. The little white blip in the water at the lower right hand corner of the photo is a beluga whale, one of at least a dozen that were making their way up Turnagain Arm with the incoming tide.

Here's a better shot of one that just came up for air, but the photo isn't as scenic. These guys are about twelve to fifteen feet long, I'd guess. They follow the schools of salmon up the Arm on the incoming tide, which is among the highest in the world--more than thirty feet.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Best Political Phone Call Ever

The phone rings. I say "hello" and can tell by the silence afterwards that it's another one of those political candidate calls. I almost hang up. For some reason I don't, and what happens next is priceless.

"Hello," says a woman's voice THICK with ummmmm......... accent? (I'm being ethnically and politically correct here, I hope.) Then she begins to read a halting, barely understandable spiel for "her" candidate. She speaks rapidly, and my brain is three or four sentences behind, trying to translate what she’s saying. Apparently she reaches the end of her written statement and asks, "Can we count on your vote for Mike Smith for U.S. Congressman,?" I'm not sure I've heard her correctly, trying to recall his name from the list of candidates that I am aware of.

"I've never heard of him," I respond.

"Oh. Well. Ummmm……. I have some information here about him," she offers.

"Wait a minute," I say as some of her previously spoken words are finally translated in my mind. "Did you say 'Florida?’ U.S. Congressman for Florida?"

"Yes, ma'am," she says.

"I'm in Alaska! Why are you calling me?"

"I don't know why, ma'am. They just told us to call you."

"Well, I can't vote for him. I live in Alaska."

"Oh. Okay," she says.

No wonder they can’t figure out who wins in Florida.

What do these mushrooms have to do with politics? Ah, just think about it. As the saying goes, "kept in the dark and fed.............manure." Actually they are some new ones I found this evening when I ran out of the house to escape the political phone calls. I spent five hours picking up roadside litter, and not a single politician was able to reach me.

Mike Smith, whoever you are, sorry, but you won't be getting my vote.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Picture from the Archives

Twenty-eight hundred 35mm slides are carefully sorted and on the folding table in my loft. This is one of them, my former cat Kitter. Very original name, huh? But, like every cat everywhere, she answered to "Kit." She's been gone a long time, this sled dog trainer extraordinaire. More about that later.
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules

I have broken my own cardinal rule. Wait, let me rephrase that, keeping in mind "honesty above all else."

I have smashed to smithereens my own cardinal rule.

Here's the rule: Thou shalt not pile stuff on the end of the kitchen counter.

Here's why it's broken: two Time, two Newsweek, one Consumer's Reports and one RCI Endless Vacations magazines; one camera case, one cell phone, a pen, and a pencil kept at hand for solving the daily Cryptoquote. Also, this week's Seward Phoenix Log, two days worth of Anchorage Daily News, complete with advertising inserts, an empty Coke Zero can, an almost empty bag of Tostitos, and a stack of brochures from the Alzheimer's Resource Agency of Alaska.

I'm not done yet.

A bag of Oreos with mint filling, some wadded up paper towels, three new paperback books, a DVD, a baggie of sweet Bing cherries, a thank you card from the young man up the road who just graduated from high school, a fanny pack, a penny, a notebook that I must carry with me at all times in case the muse strikes, unopened window envelopes that must be bills, various receipts, a newspaper article torn from yesterday's paper, and a slightly damp sweat band that I must wear when working outdoors if I want to be able to see through my glasses.

That about covers it. Literally covers it.

From what I can see, and I'm not looking too closely, that's about the worst place in the house. The laundry room floor could use a broom, and my dressing room/closet seems to have acquired some sawdust from my firewood project. Pablo is molting as usual and a colorful array of feathers surrounds his cage. Other than that, the house doesn't look too bad.

Not good enough for company, but certainly livable. If only it would rain I could stay inside and catch up on some of this stuff.

Today was certainly cloudy and threatening enough. Huge gray and black clouds loomed, but I worked outside all day and felt nary a drop of rain. I even watered lawns. Moved a cord of firewood back into the woodshed, mowed a lawn or two, cleaned up around where the carpenters have been finishing my carport, took some pictures of flowers and baby swallows, scanned the mountains for bears and goats. I chatted with a neighbor, acquired a couple new e-mail addresses so I can inflict my writings on more unsuspecting victims, unloaded my van from yesterday's trip to Anchorage and Wasilla, and went to the post office where I picked up more mail that landed on said countertop.

The sun peeked through a couple times, adding dramatic lighting to the landscape and I watched in awe for a while and marveled at what a beautiful valley this is. I watered hanging baskets of flowers, rolled up hoses, mowed the now-empty dog pen where generations of sled dogs once lived and were protected by the fencing from porcupines, moose, bears and wolves.

No rain.

Funny thing about rules: there are always exceptions. Right now the exceptions are about six inches deep on the end of my kitchen counter.


Monday, August 18, 2008


My lawn is hosting a mushroom convention...

These guys were probably part of some Goth movement....

These provided the comic relief. They were trying to see how many mushrooms could grow in the same spot... Most got a bit bent out of shape from the crowding....

These could be the sergants at arms--very orderly....

This puffball was shy, lingering out of sight of the others....

You first... No, you first....

Then there was this handsome devil.... Had all the girl mushrooms drooling....

Did I mention? Standing room only.....

There are over 500 varieties of mushrooms in Alaska, and many of them look almost identical so it's hard to know the good twin from the evil twin. The puffball is the only one I know for sure.

This guy, however attractive he might be, is bad news. He wasn't invited....

Mule Headed

Included in today’s batch of e-mails was one with the subject “I need your help.” I opened that one first, always ready to jump to the aid of a friend. It turned out to be a joke, but it led me in strange directions.

Over the attached picture was the same heading, “I need your help.” The photo was of a woman posing in front of a mirror, a woman who looked much like the way I perceive myself on my very worst days —alarmingly lumpy in all the wrong places. The reflected image, however, was of a svelte and stunning beauty. The punch line read, “I’m trying to find out which store sells this mirror!”

That got me thinking about the way we perceive things, for the better and for the worse. Inevitably, due to things I encountered recently, it made me think of the things we see and hear and don’t know what to make of, those things that are mysterious and bizarre and so very inexplicable. Those things that go far beyond reason and logic, and lead us to imagine another kind of world right here on earth. This is a story about dogs and mules and two women to explain why my thoughts took a road less traveled.


My step-daughter Diane is a horse/mule/dog trainer extraordinaire. Now in her fifties, she has been practicing this avocation since early childhood. She can be a no-nonsense woman with her head planted squarely on her shoulders, but she also has the perception of an artist, that ability to look within a subject to see what’s inside so that her drawings reflect the personalities and traits of the animals she draws. That ability has other benefits—it has given her the gift of bonding strongly with many of her animals, of reading their moods, and of communicating with them. She stops short of anthropomorphism— the ascribing of human traits to animals— but even she has been given to wonder.
A couple years ago Diane took her 14 year old dog Princess to a veterinarian to be euthanized. The blue heeler-Australian shepherd cross was blind, senile, and incontinent. The vet checked over the little blue merle dog, offered some sage advice, and Diane left with her Princess still alive. “She still had joy in her life,” Diane explained.

“She would get into the chicken pen, probably to suck eggs, and then forget her mission. I watched her standing confused, like she was trying to remember why she was there—chickens, chickens, something about chickens. The chickens all ran about in a flurry of feathers. Then Princess remembered. Chickens. Of course! Chase the chickens. She’d come strutting out of the pen and I could see her thinking, ‘I’ve still got it. I’ve still got it.”

In the meantime a very private woman I’ll call Lena contacted Diane about boarding and training her mule Matilda. Lena knew of Diane’s training reputation, and thought she would be the best person to work with an animal that hadn’t been ridden in several years.

“Do you talk to your animals?” asked Lena.

“Oh, of course,” replied Diane. “I’m always chattering to them.” Then she looked closer at Lena. “But, maybe not in the way you mean,” she added, “although with that red mule Ruby I swear I can almost hear her asking, ‘Me. Take me. I want to go. I’ll be good.’”

Even a teenaged girl who works as a stable hand for Diane has “heard” Ruby asking to go riding, says Diane. “This girl is functionally autistic, makes no eye contact with anyone. She is very, very intelligent, but is withdrawn from other people, yet she seems to have an almost spiritual connection with the horses and mules.”

So the short, wide mule named Matilda joined the other stock at Diane’s. As was her custom, she gave the mule lots of attention the first two weeks, brushing, petting, and teaching her the manners she needed to be around people. Diane told Lena that she would like first right of refusal if she ever decided to sell the animal.

One day Diane and her husband were camping with horses, mules and multiple dogs in the cooler elevations of Arizona. Diane watched as Princess wandered off a distance from camp, then appeared to be lost. She retrieved her several times, but could tell that the little dog was failing. On the trip out, they stopped the truck to get the dogs out of the pickup bed and put them in the air-conditioned cab for the drive through the desert to home. Princess was missing. It became apparent the dog had tumbled out of the truck and had perished under the wheels of the horse trailer.

Diane got into the truck and cried for her favorite dog. At home she continued to mourn, withdrawing from the other animals, paying them no attention except for their basic care.

“I pull away when I’m hurting,” she said. “I feel like they’re all plucking at me, wanting little bits of me. I can’t do it.

“It hurt too much to loose one,” she says. “I couldn’t bear the thought of it happening with another. Her violent death was too much.” Eventually she noticed that Bonehead, a large, rambunctious yellow Lab, had taken refuge under a travel trailer and refused to come out except to eat. He spent day and night under the trailer. Diane thought he was mourning the loss of his little companion also.

Bonehead was not known for his intelligence, but for his lack thereof. He swallowed his tongue one day while rolling on his back, and almost choked to death before Diane administered a canine version of the Heimlich maneuver. Another time he came close to suffocating himself when he stuck his head into a potato chip bag. Only the timely arrival of Diane’s husband prevented that. Mostly Bone was known for being excitable, and only the foolhardy spoke to or petted the Lab, which then exploded into a frenzy of barking and drooling and uncoiling energy.

Lena arrived one day at the stables to visit. She gave Diane a greeting card. Inside the card was a message from Princess, said Lena. The words told Diane that when “you sit under the tree in the shade, and put your hand down at your side, that’s me you feel in your hand.”

“There is no way,” says Diane, “that Lena knew of that habit of mine, to sit under the tree and pet Princess’ head. No way.”

“While you’re here,” said Diane to Lena, “I would like you to talk with Bone. He spends day and night under the trailer, and I’m worried about him.”

Lena knelt beside the trailer and called Bone out. Then she told Diane to leave so she and Bone could talk. Diane looked at the yellow dog that was now sitting calmly between Lena’s legs as she squatted on the dirt.

“The look on his face—and he was looking me straight in the eyes—was like he was saying, ‘Yeah. We need to talk.’” After a while, Lena called Diane back. The dog continued to sit quietly while Lena scratched the back of his neck, but he stared at Diane, who was astounded at how quiet the dog was being.

“Bone thinks you don’t love them anymore, that you don’t want them any more,” said Lena.

“The look on that dog’s face was like the words were coming directly from him,” said Diane. Feeling somewhat silly, Diane approached Bone and spoke to him. She told him she did love them all, and that her sadness was for the loss of Princess. She reassured Bone of his place in her life. The dog sat unmoving, calm and peaceful, listening, and looking into her eyes.

“That was amazing,” she said. “I’ve never seen him sit so quietly.” Bone never again went under the trailer.

Then Lena told Diane that Matilda the mule said she liked it here, though she didn’t like to be called Matilda, preferring “Tilly” instead. She also said, “Everyone here is so busy, and she wishes you would spend more time brushing her and petting her like you did in the beginning.

“And, Tilly says you whacked her,” said Lena. Diane was astonished, and not until much later did she recall the incident. She had been trying to coax Tilly into a canter instead of the jarring fast trot the animal insisted on. Exasperated, she snatched a branch off a tree they passed, and swatted the mule on the haunches.

Eventually the day came when Lena told Diane she wanted to sell Tilly. Facing the expenses of her daughter’s upcoming wedding, Diane put Ruby up for sale, asking a high amount, and told Lena of her plans to finance Tilly’s purchase.

“Is that the one that talks to you?” asked Lena. When Diane nodded in the affirmative, Lena said, “You can’t do that. You can’t sell that one. Keep Tilly, and pay me when you can.” Thus Tilly became a member of Diane’s herd, and became known as Two Ton Tilly, though whether she has told Lena of this nickname, we aren’t certain.

Upon hearing these tales, I suggested that Diane revise Tilly’s nickname to “Tattletale Tilly.”


Curiosity drew me to Tilly’s stall one day before my return home to Alaska. I stood for several minutes, petting the mule, looking into her large brown eyes and wondering. I thought of Lena, whom I’ve never met, communicating with animals. I thought of dogs I’d owned that understood full sentences of words and reacted appropriately.

“Go give Jeanne a kiss and I’ll give you a caramel,” said my husband one night as he lay beside me in bed eating the candies. He was speaking to a handsome husky, my dog team leader, with whom I felt a bond that approached the mystical. Blue-eyed, white and silver with touches of black, and believed to be a small part wolf, the dog immediately walked around the bed, licked my cheek, and returned to Ken for his caramel. He also begged one for his sister Bashful.

I was reminded of Bobby, the sulphur crested cockatoo I once owned. Though he parroted words he heard often, how did he know to use them in the correct context when he said, “Whatcha doing, Bobby?” as I crossed the room to get something off my desk. Then, with the object in my hand and heading back across the room, he said, “Whatcha got there?”

I thought of our long-haired Weimaraner that shivered and shook so much on trips to the vet that it would be almost impossible to examine him. Then one evening as he lay near me in the living room, he struggled to raise himself on one front leg. I knew something serious was wrong. His silver-beige eyes, the same color as his coat, stared directly at me for a couple hours, conveying a message I did not want to hear.

The next day we took Sterling on his last trip to the vet. Unable to stand, mostly likely from the effects of a stroke, the large dog remained quiet on the stainless steel gurney as I stroked his head and back. He knew it was time, and he accepted it.

I recalled the evening I was working on the computer in my loft. Sterling was downstairs with my husband, whose cognitive abilities were rapidly declining during his final illness. Suddenly the dog came up the stairs, paused at the top and stared at me. It was obvious that he wanted my attention, and when I stood, he turned and started down the steps. He made sure I was following, then led me to my husband who was having difficulty with something. A short time later, the same scenario was repeated.

People speak of dumb animals, and claim they have no powers of reason, that they have no human-like feelings. They claim animals cannot communicate except in the most basic of ways, such as begging for food or dropping sticks they want thrown. I think they are missing something wondrous. At a certain level, I think animals do communicate. I also think that the closer the bond, the more receptive we become to that communication.

Do I believe animals can “talk” to a special few? About that I am ambivalent. I neither believe it whole-heartedly nor dismiss it as rank anthropomorphism or imagination. I am, however, open to the possibility because wouldn’t it be a much more wonder-full world if it were true?


April 9, 2008 Gullible

Saturday, August 16, 2008

vitamin D deprivation

Maybe it was Vitamin D deprivation.
Perhaps it was time to go bonkers after two days on the computer.....

When the light coming in my loft window suddenly became
a lot brighter at mid-afternoon, I shut down the computer, changed into my litter-picking clothes, and grabbed the camera. By the time I wore myself out filling five bags with highway litter, it was nearing 8 p.m., and the sun was painting masterpieces on the mountains. We've seen very little of that sun this summer, and we are certainly sun-deprived.

This little black-billed magpie, only a few months old, joined me as I cleaned up the pullout at Summit Lake. I think he was looking for a hand-out. All I had were empty beverage containers and the remains of someone's Taco Bell meal. He scolded me and took off.

What ever the reason for this light show, I'm glad I was out there in it. Lack of sun, too long indoors, gray gloomy skies all "summer" long. What was it?

Perhaps it was just what I thought it was.........some enchanted evening.

Click on these photos and they will enlarge to full screen. Then drown in them, blanket yourself with them, feast on them....
This is where I live. This is where I belong.

Friday, August 15, 2008

today's food for thought....

Here's a quote from Alexander Smith. It was the Cryptoquote puzzle in today's newspaper:

"Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others and the delight in the recognition."

Hmmmmm......... I am thinking now of two loves. The first, more than 45 years ago, was so overwhelming and magnetic that I can recognize nothing of myself in him, even to this day.

The second was the man I married--the one I thought completed me. He had qualities I thought I lacked, like common sense and good judgment. It worked.

Strange and mysterious thing, that "love."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Aussie Journals, Ch. 11, A Pictorial Essay on the Kiwi

The Kiwi is a totally usele… uh, I mean, totally unique bird purported to live only in New Zealand. Much like Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Loch Ness Critter, sightings of the usele…uh, unique Kiwi bird are anecdotal.

Its champions insist that the usele….ahem, unique Kiwi is seldom seen because it is semi-nocturnal. Rumored to be the size of a chicken, those who claim to have actually seen a Kiwi bird report that it is covered in bristly, hair-like feathers. In other words, brown and fuzzy. And, they say, it lays olive-green eggs.

Further reports allege the...excuse me, unique bird has two inch long wings, which ARE useless. It has no tail. Some of the more preposterous witnesses say the bird’s nostrils are at the end of its very long beak, and that it has only three toes on each foot.

Statue of the legendary Kiwi bird Kathy Hart photo

Bird fanciers report that the female lays an egg one-quarter of her weight (which can reach nine pounds), and then the male takes over with an eleven week incubation, which pretty much shoots his summer, wouldn’t ya think? Then, they say, if the female comes back and lays another green egg, the male has to sit tight even longer.
After all this care, neither parent feeds the fully-clothed chick that emerges, though Dad, probably weakened by sitting all that time, sticks around to make sure junior eats—after it finishes digesting all the yolk in its stomach. Moreover, these researchers claim, these usele…unique Kiwis can live up to twenty years!

New Zealanders are adamant that the Kiwi bird exists, and its likeness is found everywhere,

Motor Coach Kiwis Kathy Hart photo

even on the rear engine hatches of motor coaches. Souvenirs featuring the Kiwi bird have flooded the market, and I suppose if enough people actually believe there really IS a Kiwi bird, then some day it might come to pass, kind of like wishing on a star or before you blow out the birthday cake candles.

Tee shirt design with Maori influence. Gullible photo

It is, however, generally accepted that there is only one way to prepare a Kiwi, should one actually catch one, that is, and have the nerve to eat the national bird of New Zealand. The process, though involved, is relatively simple.

Complete instructions, with pictures, appear

Gullible photo

Leaving Home

When your house falls down in a pile of sticks around you and you have no insurance, I suppose it’s a good time to leave and start a new life. That’s exactly what happened to a neighbor youth this week.

One day, there he was, everything fine and dandy and the next….well, all was in ruins. Mom and dad were nowhere to be seen, off on a lark of their own now that the kid was grown up enough to be on his own. I wonder, though, if they had something to do with the house falling apart or if nature alone played the starring role in that.

To be sure, the kid had matured and was capable of making a living for himself. I mean, how long did he figure he could just sit there day after day, waiting for mom and dad to bring him rabbits and squirrels and voles and shrews? Maybe even a young duckling now and then? The folks had to eat, too. Yep, it was time for junior to fend for himself.

Oh, he resisted. My neighbor Rose saw him make a futile attempt to patch up the nest before most of it tumbled over the cliff in his front yard. I suppose it was hunger that finally drove him to leave. Or maybe it was the few fine days of sunshine that made us all want to spread our wings and soar over this magnificent country.

Anyway, he finally took that first step. Just leaped off the cliff and spread his wings, now fully fledged and made for catching the updrafts that inhabit these mountains.

We can put away the spotting scopes for a while, or train them on the mountain goats or bears that roam the mountainsides. It was a wonderment, though, watching the parents construct the nest and line it with dry dead grasses, take turns sitting on the egg, seeing the chick's stark white head for the first time, marveling at the adults rending game and feeding it to him, holding our breath as the black bear circled the cliff top and bottom trying to get to the nest. Then, as his brown feathers began to grow, he sat on the edge of the stick nest and surveyed his kingdom. Maybe those eagle eyes watched us in return.

Farewell and fare well, little golden eagle. May you always have the wind beneath your wings.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Such a pity....

Such a lovely neighborhood where I live:

Trail Lake, Moose Pass, Alaska, this afternoon.

Too bad the same can't be said of all the neighbors....

Poisonous amanita mushroom at left and the prickly-tempered porcupine below right.

Note the dusty brown bear front paw prints on the panel warning about bears on this trash dumpster with its bear-proof doors.

And what is this to the right? Could it be the poisonous Red Elderberry?

Left we have an alien life form--a variety of stinkhorn known as mutinus caninus. It smells much worse than it looks.
Right is the king of thorns--the Devil's club.

Ah yes, stinging nettles to the left, the poisonous baneberry below right.

Such a pretty flower, the monkshood. Too bad it's poisonous.

Hey!!! Not so fast there. WE DON'T HAVE SNAKES OF ANY KIND!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

coming attractions.......

Coming soon to this Blog right here.....Gullible Goes Postal!!! Stay tuned for all the exciting news and revelations! Fully illustrated! Action captured by surreptitious cameras! Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Gullible Goes Postal!!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

a peek at the approaching harvest...

Mother Nature turned a cold shoulder on Alaska this summer. Day after day of gray clouds, month and after month of lower than normal temperatures have us yearning for sunshine. This afternoon, on one of the rare days of blue sky and warm sun, a walk through my yard revealed that Mom Nature didn't forget her wild berries. Here's a peek at the ripening harvest.

Black currants.

Watermelon berries at left.

Lots of currants yet to ripen above.

Blueberries above and red currants, right.

Lowbush cranberries (or lingonberries). (left)

Crowberries (also known as mossberries), right.

In the meantime, it is the season of the fireweed. These are over six feet high.

On the mountain in the background, there but unseen in this photo, mountain goat kids graze with their herd, black bears and brown bears seach for edibles, and moose browse on willows and birch. In the cleft of a rock face, a golden eagle is almost fully fledged and yearning to soar.