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

Friday, January 30, 2009

all the fuss about Mt. Redoubt

(I posted this note at a Yahoo site where I hang out with a bunch of writers. I've been asked to post it here so they can set up links to it on their blogs.)

Yes, we can see the volcano Mt. Redoubt from our porch, and, no, it isn’t in Russia. In fact, it’s just across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. Well, it’s a ways south, but it is just across the inlet from Kenai. Depending on which way the wind blows, Anchorage and the peninsula might get dusted with ash, but there’s almost no danger of toxic fumes, and certainly no danger of lava. I can’t see any of the volcanoes from where I live in Moose Pass because I’m surrounded by mountains.

Right now there’s a big fuss going on and people are grabbing up safety masks. The biggest danger is to aviation as the ash can plug and stop jet engines, and Anchorage is a major aviation crossroads. It’s very abrasive, and isn’t good for auto engines either. In 1953, when I still lived in Anchorage, Spurr erupted and covered Anchorage with two or more inches of ash. I can remember my mother vacuuming ash off her flowers. We kids thought it great fun, and played in. It did, however, make a great mess when we tracked it into the house. When it rained, it got pretty gloppy. Took several years for nature to rid us of most of it, but years afterwards, we would discover pockets of ash here and there. Plus, if you dig around Anchorage, you will come across a thin layer of ash from that eruption.

We didn‘t wear safety masks or anything, and it doesn’t appear to have hurt me (click) hurt me (click) hurt me…

I’ll tell you, there are not many sights in the world more stunning on a clear day than driving south of Anchorage along the Seward and then the Sterling highways. Leaving Anchorage, one can see across the water both Mt. Spurr and Mt. Redoubt volcanoes. From Kenai and south, Mt. Redoubt appears to be close enough to hit with an arrow, and Mt. Iliamna is also in view.

As you get closer to Homer, where I am right now in Halibut Cove, Mt. Augustine sticks its classical cone above the horizon, about eighty miles away. All four of these mountain are active volcanoes, though Iliamna hasn’t erupted for a couple hundred years at least. It has fumaroles that vent constantly, but hasn’t spewed ash or lava for some time.

Not so with the others. Augustine erupted in 2006, Redoubt in 1989, and Spurr in 1992.
They are, however, always letting us know that they are not dormant, what with their shakin’ and jivin’ and blowing off steam. All of these volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire.

Why there’s such a fuss being made about Redoubt’s imminent eruption, I cannot say. I suspect it has to do with Sarah Palin bringing Alaska into the national spotlight.

I have written a couple stories that include mention of these volcanoes. They are, conveniently, in alphabetical order in their location, with Augustine being the farthest south, and almost due west of Homer. It is 4108 ft., and is an almost perfect circular island in the Inlet, with nothing else on it. It has a classic cone shape and is quite imposing, despite its lack of height.

Next comes Iliamna, probably the most impressive of all the volcanoes in this string. It is around 10,000 ft., but is a massive mountain. Mt. Redoubt is 10,200 ft., and Spurr is –well, I forgot to write down Spurr’s height.

North of Spurr is Mt. Susitna, the most visible landmark of Anchorage. The profile of this mountain (non-volcanic) is of a supine woman with her hair stretched out above her head. Native lore says the Sleeping Lady is waiting for her warrior lover to return.

In my stories, I liken the four volcanoes to her guardians, sending blankets of ash to cover her and steam to warm her as she sleeps.

Farther south of Augustine is a dormant volcano named Mt. Katmai, located in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Its caldera now is filled with aqua water. A pilot friend of mine always wanted to land his amphibious Widgeon in the caldera. To my knowledge, he never did, but I wrote a story about that which I will post here after this.

Wikipedia has pictures and links to Alaska volcanoes, and I suggest you check those out. There are webcams also, but the site is in danger of crashing because of the hits for Redoubt.

Oh, I should explain. If you look at a map of Alaska, find Cook Inlet, named appropriately, because Capt. James Cook “discovered” and explored it. At the upper end of the inlet, it splits into two arms, or fingers. Anchorage sits on the point between those two fingers. All the volcanoes are lined up on the west shore of the inlet. Try Google Earth.

Thee are some excellent photos and links at virtual-geology.info/vft/2004-claire/katmai.htm

(Please note that this writing in no way is intended to lessen the danger of volcanic ash to seniors and people with illnesses of the respiratory tract.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

roads less traveled...

Beth and her husband, with Maggie the Labrador retriever close by, walk through their home, putting it to sleep for the night as they make their way to the bedroom to put themselves to sleep.

They turn off lights, unplug strings of miniature lights on the three artificial Christmas trees that continue to compliment their home late in January. The trees have been there since right after Thanksgiving. Beth writes, “They are as real to us as the
Velveteen Rabbit.”

And that sentence, like much of the writing at her
Switched at Birth blog, rekindles a memory in me. In the book The Velveteen Rabbit
, which has become a classic children’s story, Margery Williams tells a tale of the power of love to transform a toy stuffed rabbit into a real rabbit.


“Have you ever read The Velveteen Rabbit?” asked my house guest. I replied that I had not, nor had I ever heard of it. He hesitated, obviously wanting to say more, but perhaps unsure of my reception. Then he said, “Things speak to me.”

I kept, I hope, a straight face. I’m not sure what surprised me more, hearing those words from an ex-Marine in his seventies or that I understood what he meant. This certainly was a road less traveled, so I decided at once that I would take this trek.

“I saw the box of crayons. The unopened ones. They’re sad because they aren’t being used. They don’t feel loved”

Oh, definitely a road less traveled. I wondered if there were even a path there. I didn’t know this gentleman very well. He was a longtime friend’s companion, and they were spending a few days at my home. I knew, though, that he was a very spiritual individual. The crayons of which he spoke were a collector’s tin box of sixty-four classic Crayolas, including rare and discontinued colors. The cellophane wrapper still enclosed the box, though I had accidentally torn it one day.

The unused crayons, he said, cried out to him for help. I forget much of what he said. I suppose I was stumbling along that lesser used road in the yellow wood that Robert Frost wrote about and didn’t have the brain power to retain everything he said. I really didn’t want to unwrap the box.

I keep serviceable crayons and coloring books in a desk drawer for the girls from across the road when they come to visit. They are fascinated with the crayon sharpener, which they feel obliged to use after a few strokes of the crayon. There is much more sharpening than coloring done during these visits. They always sit at the dining room table, near Pablo the Parrot’s cage, to do their coloring and sharpening. Pablo likes the brightly colored crayons, and keeps saying, “Hello? Hello? Hello?” That’s his way of asking for one, which he never gets.

But the others were a pristine set, a collector’s set, and I wanted to keep them that way.
When my friend and her companion left to go sight-seeing for a few hours, I took the cellophane off the Crayola box, opened its lid, and set a coloring book next to it. When they returned, the gentleman was very happy and assured me the crayons now felt loved.

Three months later, I unwrapped a birthday gift from those friends, a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. I left their apartment, drove the hundred miles home, and read the story after I went to bed. I lay awake thinking for a long time. While I thought it a fanciful tale, with perhaps a subliminal message to children to take care of their toys, I also was very aware of my tendency toward anthropomorphism, the assigning of human feelings and characteristics to animals and sometimes inanimate objects.

The next morning, after donning my winter gear for the daily search in the snow for the morning paper, I opened the door and stepped out onto the covered walkway of my house. There, in the new snow that had drifted onto the concrete, were the oh-so-visible tracks of many snowshoe hares, as we call the long-eared rabbits in Alaska. Many, many hares, or at least one very busy hare. I had never seen them before on this part of my five acres, and certainly never on the walkway.

Now, every winter since, I see the tracks of long-eared velveteen hares that hop up my walkway to the door, veer to starboard to bypass the flower box, then continue on their journey under the large rear deck. And every time, I am reminded of the power of love and of how taking a road less traveled can sometimes make all the difference.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Just had to share this evening's sunset at Halibut Cove... Click on it to enlarge it to full screen.

okay, I get it now....

Finally. A lesson I should have learned many, many years ago finally sank in. I’ve certainly been exposed to this lesson often enough to have figured it out. And, I’ve been subjected to testing from pop quizzes to final exams, which I’ve found is when I really learn.

In spite of all of that exposure, it took a Halibut Cove resident named Kevin and his distinctive glasses to turn on the light of learning so it could shine into the darkness of my thick skull. I first met Kevin last year aboard the Stormbird, which is the tough old vessel that delivers mail to and from the cove every Tuesday and Saturday. The Stormbird also carries passengers, most of whom are residents of the cove going to Homer for a few hours to take care of personal business, pick up groceries, and so on. While almost all the year-round folks here have boats capable of crossing Kachemak Bay, there is one big difference: nothing stops the Stormbird, not the tides, frozen harbors, hurricane-force winds, or blizzards.

For a small annual fee, these people can ride the Stormbird as often as they want. The day I met Kevin, he was with his wife Lucinda and son Bowman. After a great time talking NFL football with Bowman, Lucinda invited me and my traveling companion Patti to dinner at their lodge. This was last January, and the lodge was in hibernation mode until spring.

Kevin was very quiet during the meal, sitting at the head of the table and barely saying anything until I began asking him questions about boats, and the Stormbird in particular. Then he was a treasure mine of knowledge. I knew just enough about things nautical not to make a total fool of myself, or, if I did, Kevin didn’t let on.

After the table was cleared, Kevin sat at the other end with a laptop. On his face were the most colorful glasses I had ever seen, with vertical stripes of varying widths and hues of reds, oranges, and yellows as the predominant colors. I was quite amused with this silver-haired man wearing such colorful glasses, as they were not at all what one would expect to find on a tough, hard-working Alaskan.

He was looking at Google Earth on the laptop, and his subsequent conversation was non-stop as he showed us the wonders of the world through the magic of electronic technology.

A few days ago, I saw Kevin again. This time he and Bowman were getting lengths of rope from my host’s shop to tow a runaway boat shed back to the dock from which it had broken loose during a storm last week. Again, Kevin was wearing colorful glasses, but this time the stripes were in various hues of blue, with aqua being the most prominent. Decidedly colorful.

I mentioned his other glasses, the red ones, and he told me he still had them but was trying not to wear them out.

Today, I have been thinking a lot about Kevin’s choice of eyewear. The reason is that my reading glasses have now been missing for twenty-four hours. I have retraced my steps about a dozen times from the last point of possession. I cannot find them. In order to write this, I have borrowed a pair of store-bought 3.50 magnifiers with thick black frames that my host conveniently left on his desk.

As I ready to start yet another search for my cute little reading glasses—the granny style with thin gold frames that are almost invisible when hiding—I am coveting glasses with frames like Kevin’s. Colorful, readily visible, easy-to-spot frames, the kind that leap out from hidden crevices and shout “HERE I AM!”

I’m due for an exam and a new prescription soon, as soon as I get back to town. And I reckon you know what kind of frames I’ll be looking for now that I’ve finally learned that lesson.


Three hours later.

I stepped out onto the deck to take a photo and snagged my tee shirt on a door catch, tearing a hole in it. I went downstairs to my bedroom to change, then came back up to do some more work. I couldn’t find the borrowed black framed glasses, so I went back downstairs to look for them.

On the floor at the bottom of the bed were my tiny gold framed glasses. They had been missing twenty-seven hours. I am really happy to have found them. Now, if I can just find the black framed ones….

Sunday, January 25, 2009

the tides, the fog, and Halibut Cove

“The fog comes in," wrote the poet Carl Sandburg in one of his most famous lines, “on little cat feet.”

Sandburg’s poem, which, like most modern free form poetry, contains no rhyming words and is constructed so that each line modifies and expands the preceding one:

The fog comes in
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over the harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on
back to crossroads.

In Halibut Cove this afternoon, the fog comes in with the tide, so slowly that the only way to see its progress is to turn away, then look again a few minutes later.

Eventually the skim of snow-dusted ice is no longer attached to the gravel shore, but floating freely on the water, smooth and unbroken.

Atop a distant ridge, a large home is swaddled in fog, its edges soft and indistinct as the camera captures it through a gossamer lens. In the foreground, sun peeks through fog to illuminate winter vegetation.

Then the fog rises to swallow the trees.

Now I am embraced by fog, the only one here in this magnificent place.

And there’s one perfect way to modify an afternoon in the fog: homemade minnestrone soup, whole wheat crackers, extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar, sliced organic Braeburn apple, and a glass of icy-cold pure mountain springwater.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

...a walk with gerri....

I tell people I’m here in Halibut Cove to house-sit for friends while they vacation. While that’s certainly true, it isn’t the whole truth. The real reason I’m here is to open the door for Gerri, who--lacking height and opposable thumbs—is unable to open said door for herself.

Gerri is a cat, a very beautiful cat with long hair and blue eyes and a thick winter coat. She likes to go outdoors first thing in the morning. If I miss that magical time, an arbitary moment known only to her, she will come to my bedside and let me know that I blew it again. This morning when I was shaken out of bed, it wasn’t Gerri’s doing, but a 5.7 magnitude earthquake centered fifty miles west of here. Nothing was hurt around here, or at least I haven’t yet discovered anything broken or tumbled, and really, a 5.7 in a mere vibration to those of us who had the (mis-)fortune to be here in 1964 for The Big One.

Anyway, I got up before Gerri this morning and had to call her from her chosen resting place. Off she went on her excursion for a couple hours. Just as I was slipping on my boots with the steel cleats for maneuvering and staying upright while walking on ice, she returned and deigned to accompany me on a walk as I took care of my daily rounds. I should have known who was really doing the deigning.

She is in charge of this place. Should you doubt that, just take a walk with her, as I did. She always leads, five-inch wide tail struck straight up in the air.

She gets a little impatient if I lag behind and certainly has no patience as I carefully make my way down the ice-covered hills. "I could have taken a nap, as slow as you are," she complains.

There are wonderful things to be seen here, marvels of nature…

...as long as you remember….

…what this walk is all about.

From exquisite views of the cove….

…to exquisite views of Gerri…

At some points one can see across the isthmus of the cove’s island….

…well, sometimes one can see the bluffs of Homer across Kachemak Bay. Take my word for it this time.

Everywhere there are artworks of nature…

…interspersed with artworks of man…

…interspersed with Gerri….

…who knows what this walk is really about…

"Follow me, "she says….

"I’ll show you one of my favorite places….

My birds… Mine... all mine...

The boat’s okay…

…and the skiff is fine. Watch the orange tape around the skiff. It’s an electrified tape to keep the otters out… "

Gerri and I parted company on the return walk. She had more places to visit.

Lest I had any doubt as to what this walk was all about, here’s all the reminder I needed:

Hope you enjoyed your walk with Gerri...

Friday, January 23, 2009

the many worlds of wood...

I am a lover of wood.

I love wood in all its many forms and uses, from the beauty of this lakeside paper birch...

..to the determination of this spruce....

...and the longevity of this mature tree.

From the burning glory days of early autumn...

...to the subtle days of late autumn....

....to the the depths of winter....

and even in death....

...wood has the power to hypnotize the senses...

I love wood when it creates homes that welcome...

.... homes that swaddle baby swallows...

...and provides a resting place for young gulls.

I love wood when it creates works of art....

...works of Noel...
....works that turn a roadside weed into a beauty...

... accents wild roses...

... gives sustenance to lingonberry and dogwood....

...works of practical use...

...works of stunning practicality...

.....or is simply wood.

I love to think of a tired goldminer sitting in this chair, resting and daydreaming......

...and of communicating with others....

I love wood when its silhouettes create art in the early evening...

...and in the Midnight Sun of a long summer day.