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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

whither thou goest....

..and whyfore dost thou not post?

Because "thou" is in Anchorage living a tale best not told in explicit language, or said words might upseteth the FCC. Sufficeth it to relate that "thou" camest to the big city to gettest one end checketh and woundest up in the ER having the other end examined by a large machine that made loud clanking noises. All in a day's (bad) humour-eth.

A once in a lifetime experience, m'dears. And that's all I have for sayeth about that.

For now. Going home on the 'morrow and staying far, far away from people with initials that stalkest thy names....like DR.

Right (write) now, I'm all poo... er, tired out. And now thou knoweth the restest of the story and aren't thou sorry thou wondered?

And RATS to all the 'oscopies in the world.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pablo sings The Beatles...

Let me take you down,
'cause I'm going to strawberry fields,

Nothing is real,
and nothing to get hung about,

Strawberry beak forever....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Human Resources

(This was the result of an online writing assignment, in which we students selected four numbers from one to ten, referenced a chart for the corresponding words, then wrote a story including those four words. I'll tell you my words later. Right now I'm posting this to get that spider off the front page.)

Gizmo was well aware that he replaced three men after he was hired by the Empress Cruise Lines. The other guys in the engine room made sure he knew, and that they weren’t at all happy about it.

They called him names behind his back, not realizing how keen his sense of hearing was. Even over the loud twin diesel engines he could hear things they didn’t want him to hear. They called him “Gizmo” to his face, though, and that wasn’t even his real name. That was fine with him. He’d been called Gizmo ever since he could remember because his real name was almost unpronounceable in English.

He was a little sorry about putting three men out of work, but he had to work too, didn’t he? Maybe if they worked out the way he did they would have the physical strength to do the things he did. Every time there was a lull in engine room repairs the other guys started a poker game while Gizmo practiced chin-ups on the overhead rigid hydraulic lines that ran from the bow thrusters to the hydraulic reservoir tank. Over and over and over, hundreds of times. Sometimes he’d swing back and forth, trying to keep the rough calluses built up on the palms and fingers of his hands so he could work on the hot engines without those clumsy gloves.

But mostly Gizmo kept his head down and his rear end up, in the manner of employees everywhere who just want to do their job and not cause trouble. His knowledge and strong body and work ethic were tailor-made for his success. He’d been taught that at the diesel mechanics vocational school he’d attended.

He was happy to have the job, even if he was lonely aboard the ship. The other guys in the engine room made attempts to talk to him in the beginning, but after a while they said they couldn’t understand him. Gizmo figured his accent was still too thick, so he’d been practicing and working on it. He’d try to mimic the words the others said, but they’d just laugh at him.

The food was great. He had no complaints about that. Gizmo was a vegetarian and the ship served lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to the crew. He could eat all the salad he wanted, too. The steward had given Gizmo an extra large salad bowl.

He had no interest in the casinos or in the poker games that sprang up in the crew’s dining room after hours, so he was able to save all his paychecks. He gave them to the ship’s purser, who put them in the ship’s safe.

The ship sailed Alaska’s Inside Passage every week, and Gizmo appreciated the spectacular scenery. Sometimes when they reached the northern port of Haines the weather would be cold and rainy. He didn’t care for that at all, because Gizmo was from the south and preferred hot weather. He wished he could transfer to a ship that sailed the Caribbean. Maybe even Hawaii. First, though, he had to prove himself on this ship before he could put in for a transfer. The cruise line had taken a big risk in hiring him and it had received lots of complaints from the Seamen’s Union about the loss of three jobs.

Gizmo fondly remembered his biggest achievement. The main propulsion engine had started leaking oil quite rapidly from the rear main seal while out in the middle of Queen Charlotte Sound. This was the only open water on the voyage and more than half the passengers and crew became seasick after the ship’s Captain shut down the engines so the men could replace the seal. Such was their hurry that the foreman told Gizmo to hold the main shaft while the men removed and replaced the seal. They had an overhead crane for such tasks, but having Gizmo hold it with his brute strength was ten times faster. Not OSHA approved, but faster.

Even the Captain and the First Mate sent their thanks down to the engine room after that feat. That made Gizmo feel warm and fuzzy, even though he knew they, too, resented him. Those unions were a problem.

What made Gizmo drop a letter in the mail was the loneliness. He longed to engage others in conversation as he had at vocational school. He wanted to discuss philosophy and technology (he’d minored in computer engineering at school) and—most of all—females. The letter was addressed to the Human Resources Department at Hewlitt-Packard, the big computer company. It was a job application.

An answer finally arrived in the mail near the end of the cruise ship’s season. Gizmo ripped open the envelope, read the message and jumped and jumped for joy. He’d been hired and was to report to HP as soon as he was laid off from his present job.

“Finally!” yelled Gizmo in his native language. “Finally I will get to talk to people.”

But even Gizmo knew the true reason why he was being hired. He also knew he’d be able to handle the work of at least three people there. He wasn’t a stupid ape like the other mechanics called him. He was a strong, proud mountain gorilla, and he knew HP wanted him because consumers who called tech support wouldn’t be able to understand him at all.


(Words: gorilla, fixing a machine, cruise ship, career change)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

for all my friends...

at Goofing Around - 14. They'll know what this is about.

For everyone else, I offer my most sincere apologies. If you can get past the creepiness, you'll notice the intricate pattern on this creature's egg sac. And, if you want to know why it's here, go to the links to other blogs. The first one is Ann Linquist Writes, GA-14. She is a former writer instructor, and she posts writing prompts for us. I can't post pix at her site. That's why this one is here. I won't ever do it again, I promise.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mismarked Packages

I am no stranger to cynicism. Early in my teen years, I pulled its protective cloak about me to keep out the twin demons of gullibility and inadequacy. As the years passed, it shielded me from ruined hopes and dashed dreams, while at the same time providing me with a persona in which I could masquerade. Not entirely, but enough so that I made it through some hard-learned lessons without consequences that were too dire to bear.

I was not oblivious to the barbed quills that shot from cynicism, the walls that isolated me, the enormous consequences of skepticism. As I moved from one small town to another yet smaller and then to another smaller still, I found the cloak becoming tattered and thin, until one day I awoke and it had vanished. In its place I found wonder and trust and a zest for life I had not known previously.

I have learned lessons in my unprotected state, both good and bad, but I also have been able to find redemption when my trust was violated.

So, when I was told that perhaps all was not as it seemed when a middle-aged spinster from Scotland opened her mouth on a British talent show and stunned the judges and audience, I didn’t care a whit. The judges or producers, I was told, pre-screen the prospective talent and knew what was coming. They were not as surprised as they acted.

I thought about Ms. Boyle’s wish to be as famous as Elaine Paige, the first lady of British musical theater. Lofty aspirations, I thought, until she opened her mouth and the first line of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables filled that vast theater with a voice as pure as goodness itself.

Alas, I hate to be the one to tell Ms. Boyle that, like another line from the song, “there are dreams that cannot be…”, but this one, too, must be set aside. As the hits on YouTube pass fifty million and counting, Susan Boyle, in a few short days, has far exceeded Elaine Paige’s fame, and she has only just begun. So, m'lady Susan, you will have to reach higher for another dream.

The lesson of Susan Boyle, a matronly nanny-like woman who projects “realness”, is not that the producers may have set the audience up to expect another abysmally wretched sham only to hear a performance that had it on its feet and clapping throughout much of it. It is not that only the beautiful can touch our hearts, or that youth is a prerequisite of stardom.

No, the lesson is that great gifts often come in mismarked packages.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Our first glimpse is of her eating a sandwich, seated in a plain room with blue-cushioned, utilitarian chrome chairs. Her medium brown hair is curled, but not professionally done. She wears a lovely gold gown, scooped modestly low in the front. She appears middle-aged, with a woman’s full figure. A numbered sticker is on her bosom, just above the scoop of the gown, perhaps a last minute concession to modesty. The number 14321. She admits to being a bit nervous. A matronly Mary Poppins comes to mind. Her number is called. She leaves the ready-room and approaches the curtains. Before her is a vast, empty stage. “I’ve always wanted to sing in front of a large audience. I’m going to make that audience watch,” she vows in a voice ripe with determination. Then, with that same determination in her stride, she walks to center stage, a microphone in her hand.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving….

In front of the audience, on a raised dais, two men and a woman are seated, as if in judgment of her. Actually, they are there to judge her. One man speaks, a very well-known man who is famous for cutting, sarcastic comments and straight talk. He calls her “darling” when he asks where she’s from. He verges on being obsequious. She explains she’s from a collection of small villages, known as West Lothian. It takes her a moment to recall the word “village,” which only adds to the surreal ambience of this scene. She says she is forty-seven, and jeer-like groans escape softly from the audience.

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted…

She comes from a musical family in Scotland, one of nine children. She has worked in community service and is a “keen” church-goer. She is unemployed, “but looking,” and lives with her cat as her companion. She has been singing since she was twelve, in her village, in karaoke clubs, her choir.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dreams to shame…

She has always wanted to be a professional singer, but says she’s never had the chance. This night, she hopes, will change that. And then she says she wants to be as famous as Elaine Paige, the First Lady of the British musical theater. It seems an impossible dream for this woman. Muffled snickers are heard, and eye rolls come from the well-known man seated before her. The other two keep their faces expressionless, perhaps being polite.

And still I dreamed he’d come to me
That we would live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather…

The three judges before her seem skeptical, resigned to a few minutes of embarrassing amateurish singing. She seems unperturbed. Looking to stage left, she raises her thumb, the signal to start the recorded music. A button is punched and the opening bars begin. She stands with the microphone to her mouth, a serious expression on her face. And then, just before her cue, her face is suffused with a cheeky smile, her eyes bright and impish. She knows something we don’t.

She starts to sing, and she is transformed….

I had a dream my life would be
So different than the hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...

The final notes are lost in cheers and clapping. Two of the judges are on their feet, giving her a standing ovation along with the audience, which has been standing more than it has been seated. One judge remains seated, but a previous camera shot says it all: elbows propped on the table, chin in his hands, wonder in his eyes. He breathes a huge sigh and a smile appears. He could be a young man in love, gazing upon a fair princess.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving...

She blows a kiss to the audience, then turns and walks towards the curtains at stage left…

Not so fast there, Susan Boyle of West Lothian. Your dream is alive and well. Your mother, the one you promised, would be proud of you. The world is in love with you, cheeky grin and all. You can stop looking for work now. You were sent to this earth with a gift of singing, and may you do so the rest of your days.

Ms. Boyle says she is “gobsmacked” at the reaction to her performance.
To see and hear Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent:

(Lyrics of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” by Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boubil, and Claude-Michel Schoneberg, adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I can't get no-o-o...

I feel like a used woman. I feel sullied, defiled. At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get no respect! In the morning or any other time, either.

(And yes, it hurt to write “no respect.” “Any” wanted to jump in with a stiff scrub brush and a bottle of 409 to scour away that ungrammatical “no.” I wouldn’t allow it, because when one is paraphrasing a world-famous song, one should stick fairly close to the original.)

The source of my discontent is not some ill-considered one night stand, but rather the sole reason for a trip to my local post office, six miles down the road. I had two envelopes to mail. One contained a check to the Infernal Internal Revenue Service for the balance of my 2008 income tax, and—in the second—a check for the first of four estimated tax payments for 2009.

Wednesday, April 15, is the official deadline for paying income taxes. We can get extensions, but those extensions are only for the paperwork, not the money. We have to send in the money with the request for an extension. There’s something really mind-bending about that. I mean, if you've filled in the Form 1040 enough to find out how much tax you owe, why not just send it in with the money?

Across the nation Wednesday there will be activities rarely seen in the U.S. According to the pundits and talking heads, conservatives (the right) will assemble in grass roots protests. That’s rare, because usually it’s the liberals (the left) who are seen protesting. One never sees conservative college students on a rampage in protest of whatever is their cause du jour.

I have a feeling, though, that tomorrow will bring a blend of conservatives and liberals to those protests that are labeled Tax Day Tea Parties. I’ll inject a bit of history here, because I know I have readers abroad who might not be aware of the historical implications in the name.

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 in Colonial America was not really about a tax on tea and an increase in the cost, even though tea was an important staple to the colonists. The protest was more about "enough is enough." The British Parliament had given the East India Company a monopoly on tea shipments to the colonies, but set a duty on the product. While the colonists would be getting their tea cheaper than before, they felt that by purchasing the tea and thereby paying the tax, they would be acknowledging the British Parliament’s right to tax them. The rallying cry was “no taxation without representation,” because the colonies indeed had no elected spokesman in Parliament.

Philadelphia and New York refused to allow East India Company boats to land. In Boston Harbor, three tea-laden ships tied up, but the colonists refused to allow the cargo to be unloaded. On Dec. 16, 1773, some two hundred men disguised as (American) Indians swarmed the ships and cast all the tea overboard into the harbor. Parliament retaliated with the Intolerable Acts law, which closed the Boston port, among other things.

Tensions heightened, rebellion was fomented, and less than three years later, the colonies declared their freedom from Britain with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. War followed, and the struggling thirteen colonies eventually prevailed. In a nutshell (or should I say “teabag?”) that’s a brief history of the meaning behind the Tea Party name.

The protests of April 15 are not so much about taxation without representation, though some on the right feel unrepresented in the predominantly Democratic administration, but what is being done with that money. As are many around the world, Americans are hurting financially, and the future looks bleak. Candidate Barrack Obama offered a change from the grueling eight years of the previous administration in Washington. He is a charismatic man, an exceptional speaker. He campaigned on promises of no earmarks, reformed health care, no raised taxes on the less fortunate.

Soon after being sworn in, he signed a massive earmark bill. “Old business,” he called it. Wait a minute. He’s the one with the ultimate red pencil. Also, many of his appointments to certain offices have been embarrassed with tax problems—the lack of paying their due taxes.

And then there are the bailout packages, the free flow of money regurgitated to the very companies that helped get the financial world in this mess. And while average Americans face home foreclosures, job losses, anorexic retirement accounts, and belt tightening budgets, the fat cats are partying hearty and getting monumental bonuses paid with that bailout money. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, who was confirmed only after a huge hullabaloo because he had not paid all his taxes, had the opportunity to nix those bonuses, but did not.

And that, I believe, is the crux of the Tea Party protests, not “taxation without representation,” because we are represented. We are represented by politicians who are spending like drunken sailors. They have indebted this country for the next three generations, and there seems to be no end in sight.

I am trying very hard to give President Obama some leeway, as I have all American Presidents. I tell myself they must know ever so much more than me, that they must be making the right decisions, that they must have the good of the country in their hearts. But, criminy, somebody has to keep a tighter hold on the checkbook.

Wasn’t it Vice President Joe Biden who, during the recent campaign, said paying taxes is patriotic? Sorry, Joe, I don’t feel the least bit patriotic. I feel disgruntled and ignored: “Just pay up, then go away until your next payment is due.”

That’s the reason I feel used and disrespected. I’ve had to curtail my spending, keep a watch on my pennies, incur no debt. Washington should do the same.

What the heck! Let's have a party!

(I apologize --but only a little-- for this politically themed posting. I try to do it infrequently, but as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." There. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

Monday, April 13, 2009


Word's not even in the dictionary, it's so new. Had to go to Wikipedia to make sure it was spelled with two "tees." Outtakes. Funny lookin' thing it is, gets funnier the longer one looks at it. Thing is, it's the word for losers, the ones that didn't make the final cut, didn't make the grade, the extras. With that in mind, here are the photos of eagles that didn't make "The Birds of Halibut Cove."

I don't know what this one is, frankly. Bald eagles look like a lot like golden eagles until they're around three years old. Then they develop the distinctive white head and tail.

The eagles are everywhere in Homer, everywhere one looks, they are perched on something.

Checkin' out the dumpsters for a quick nosh...

Almost always there will be one atop the Salty Dawg Saloon's lighthouse...

This is mostly a photo of a small portion of the small boat harbor, but over on yonder breakwater are dozens of eagles.

Like this....

And there you have them--the outtakes from The Birds of Halibut Cove. Raw, no Picassa make-up, just as they came from a little point and shoot camera.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Roosters

EVERYONE has seen pictures of Easter chicks. Have you ever seen any of Easter Roosters?

Boy, these photos had to have been taken at least twenty-five years ago. The big white handsome Cornish cross rooster, appropriately named Rooster, was my buddy. He would come to the door and cluck until I came out to pet him. He followed me everywhere, like a dog. Speaking of which, the cat and all the sled dogs left him alone.

His shadow was Sidekick, colored like a Rhode Island Red but with a rose comb. Sidekick didn't want anything to do with petting. He just wanted Rooster gone so he could have all the hens to himself. Rooster died an accidental death one winter after choking on a tomato core. Afterwards, Sidekick became mean and frequently attacked me when I went to feed and water in the coop.

"Hit him with the back of your hand," advised my husband after another attack. I did. Before I could get my hand back, Sidekick had hit me in the neck. I hit him again, and instantly Sidekick was sitting on my shoulder. I gave up, and found Sidekick another home.

I still miss Rooster.

And those little spruce trees in the picture? Here's what they look like now. The house in the background is now gone.

When we first moved here in 1977, I could decorate those spruce with one string of Christmas lights each.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Punch Drunk

The storm lurched in like a prize fighter, throwing right jabs and left uppercuts as spruce trees bobbed and ducked. Then, punch-drunk and exhausted, it fell to the canvas where it was covered with two inches of fresh snow.

(Now, what in blazes am I going to do with that? Sometimes I just have to get some words out, and then I'm stuck with them. Someday, maybe, I'll find an appropriate venue for those words. In the meantime, I'm freeing them to gambol about in cyberspace. Anyway, that's what it was like here a couple nights ago--lots of brawn and bluster all night long, but all played out in the morning.

Maybe I can save it for the next Bulwer-Lytton contest, the annual bad writing contest. You know: "“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The "Birds" of Halibut Cove

Jay pulls the bridge control to reverse and the powerful 8V-71 Detroit Diesel engine heaves the square stern into the ice. The “Stormbird” is underway.

Three hours before, the green and white steel-hulled vessel had bullied its way into the Homer small boat harbor, breaking ice before it as it motored towards its tie-up spot at the bottom of Ramp One. Now, beginning its return voyage across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove, it once again has to break up the chunks and floes of ice that have refrozen into a solid sheet several inches thick in the calm water of the harbor. Unable to pivot because of the ice, Jay backs the sixty-eight foot vessel between the rows of slips where pleasure and work boats are tied. Once in a major traffic lane, the Stormbird is able to turn and head for the open water beyond the mouth of the breakwater.

The Stormbird, intrepid connection to Halibut Cove.

“This is soft ice,” says Jay, referring to the floating mass of ice that chokes the harbor exit. “I like this ice.” The “vee” prow of the boat pushes aside the soft ice as the Stormbird leaves the harbor. Both tidal and wave actions keep these ice floes floating free of each other today, though there have been days when the Stormbird has to fight its way through a solid mass of ice, reversing and ramming forward a few feet again and again.

"Soft" ice at the entrance to the Homer Small Boat Harbor.

On the lee side of the rocky breakwater that protects the harbor from almost constant northeasterly winds, scores of bald eagles watch the progress of the boat. More eagles perch on masts, handrails, light stanchions, rooftops, pickup truck beds, and the lighthouse of the Salty Dawg Saloon. An eddy of eagles circles a couple hundred yards away on the western side of the Homer Spit, a gravel bar that divides Cook Inlet from Kachemak Bay. The dozens of soaring birds wait for Jean Keene to appear with their daily rations. Jean feeds the eagles of Homer for so many years that she is an institution here.

The eagle welcoming committee on the breakwater in Homer.

Her funky waterside dwelling, driftwood d├ęcor and reputation as The Eagle Lady draws photographers and tourists to this town that proudly promotes itself as “the end of the road.” She was granted special dispensation to continue feeding the eagles as long as she lived, as normally such feeding activity is not allowed under law. (Update: Sadly, Jean died earlier this year, and her assistant was allowed to feed fish scraps to the eagles until the end of March. Now, the eagles must fend for themselves.)

A bald eagle keeping an eye on the Homer Small Boat Harbor...and everything else.

Across the water to the west, beyond the mouth of Cook Inlet, Mt. Augustine pokes its conical shape above the horizon. Eighty miles distant, it is the first of four active volcanoes that punctuate the western mountainous edge of Cook Inlet

The bay is in a good mood today, not dead calm, but without white caps, large swells, or floating chunks of ice. Only two waves break on the bow, sprinkling the passengers riding on the foredeck in the sunshine for the five nautical mile trip to the cove. The boat is licensed to carry fifty passengers. Most of the passengers are residents of Halibut Cove and are so familiar with the Stormbird that they help out wherever needed. They buy annual passes on this boat that is their lifeline to the mainland and the highway system with its access to groceries, supplies, health care, transportation, and the sundry necessities and conveniences of modern life. Taking the mailboat to town is a social event in the cove, a time to make plans for get-togethers and catch up on how everyone’s doing.

Several passengers ride in the bridge cabin with Jay. More are in the aft cabin, sampling the pastry that Lucinda supplies every Tuesday. Today it’s oatmeal bars. Last week it was oatmeal cake, and before that oatmeal cookies. Oatmeal, she says, helps settle the stomach and prevent seasickness. Forty-five minutes after departing the harbor, the Stormbird slips into Halibut Cove alongside an isthmus that forms a natural breakwater. Jay turns the wheel to port and eases the Stormbird to the long wooden dock.

Bridge of the Stormbird.

Passengers begin unloading their luggage, groceries, building supplies, fuel cans and tanks. Also unloaded is the U.S. mail, the primary reason the Stormbird sails every Tuesday and Saturday. Alongside the steel ladder that provides access to the bridge is a U.S. Postal Service emblem with its familiar red, white and blue colors and stylized image of a bald eagle. Cartons and bags and boxes are placed in the ubiquitous plastic fish totes seen everywhere in Halibut Cove.

The USPS emblem on the side of the Stormbird.

Kay, the contract postmaster for the cove, grabs the rope on one tote and pulls it over the snow-covered dock to the floating post office. By this time almost all of the passengers have disappeared, either dragging their own totes to their homes, or loading them into skiffs for transport to other areas of the cove accessible only by water. Though the two dozen full-time winter residents of the cove receive mail only twice a week, there is no stampede to their mailboxes. They will return later in the afternoon, after Kay has had time to sort the incoming mail.

The floating post office and its sign.
In these last days of January the sun is climbing higher in the sky, clearing more mountain ridges each day and bringing more minutes and hours of sunlight to the snow-mantled cove. Comparing the increasing numbers of minutes with others in the cove is a popular pastime. They relish these lengthening minutes, looking forward to the long days of summer when it never gets dark though the sun slips behind the mountains to the west. Along with that longing, though, is the knowledge that those long days mean tourists, more boats and floatplanes.

During the summer months the number of residents swells to seventy-five plus weekenders. Tourists visit the cove daily, eat at The Saltry, stay at the several lodges, attend creative workshops at Stillpoint, and get their caffeine fix at the floating espresso stand. Fishing, hiking, kayaking, or just leaning back and relaxing draw many. Craftsmen of all types live in the cove—woodworkers, writers, artists in all media, including octopus ink. For some that increased activity is their lifeblood—the commerce it brings to the cove. For others, it’s days of frenzied activity that they enjoy, while at the same time looking forward to the tranquility of winter.
Otters playing and eating at the edge of an ice pan.
For now, the final days of January, the cove is quiet. The Stormbird is at rest, tied securely to the dock . Sea otters float on their backs noshing on mussels and clams, nudging their sleeping, floating pups with their heads. Sea birds and ducks paddle about, leaving gentle wakes behind them. In the spruce trees, on rocks jutting above the landscape, or circling on updrafts, large black birds with white heads and tails keep eagle eyes on Halibut Cove and all its inhabitants.

The cove at rest.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On a Sunday afternoon....

I'll be lazing on a Sunday
Lazing on a Sunday
Lazing on a Sunday afternoon....

I go out to work on Monday...

My neighbor taking off in his Super Cub on the airstrip behind our houses.

By the light....

of the silvery moon...
9 p.m. tonight. Natural daylight and a full moon rising.
9:30 p.m. Still daylight. Love these long Alaskan spring and summer days. We're gaining almost six minutes a day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Waiting for the impossible...

Waiting for the Impossible

Ever since I stumbled into my sixties I’ve had this image in my head, a black and white photograph of my maternal grandmother. I didn’t know her very well, as is the case with many kids who lived in Alaska back in the Forties and Fifties, and were separated from their relatives by thousands of miles.

Grandma lived with another daughter, but during my early high school years, in the late Fifties, she came to live with us for a while. My mother usurped my bedroom for her to use. That was my pink and gray Elvis Presley-decorated room. I’m not sure Grandma appreciated my Elvis posters.

I don’t remember much about her, except she was very solemn, didn’t talk much, and stashed candy in her (my) chest of drawers. She had white hair, and wore housedresses and those sturdy black shoes. I’m not sure what they were called. I am quite positive that Grandma never wore a pair of slacks, and absolutely not a pair of jeans.

The thing I recall the most clearly about Grandma was how OLD she was. At the time of her prolonged visit, she was in her mid-to-late sixties. She had lived a hard life in northern Michigan, raising six kids (I’m not even sure about that). The kids would have been in their teens during the years of the Great Depression.

My mother placed a small rocking chair in Grandma’s (my) bedroom, and Grandma would sit and rock and eat her candy. I, at my bulletproof age of sixteen, vowed I would never get that old. Not as old as sixty-five, and certainly not past that. Sixty-five was the cutoff point for me.

My grandmother died while I was still in high school. My mother went to Idaho for her funeral. I skipped school while she was gone. My little brother snitched on me. I was new at the school-skipping thing, and it never dawned on me I should have asked my speech teacher if I’d missed an assignment. As a result of that missed assignment, and the “F” that showed up on my report card, I almost didn’t graduate from high school because speech was a required subject. Or so threatened the letter that was sent to my parents.

My mother worked equally as hard raising us in Alaska. Money was scarce, and we lived paycheck to paycheck on dad’s wages, though much of it went into building a log home. I always thought she looked younger than her years. Of course, mom always insisted she was twenty-four, so it wasn’t until she died that I discovered her true age.

I have a color photograph of her when she was in her late sixties. It was taken by a professional photographer—the kind who signs his portraits in gold ink. The photo is in soft focus, blurring the lines and wrinkles on her face, many of which I am sure bear my signature. She also colored her hair and wore jeans. Well, really, if you’re going to live out in the woods in Alaska, jeans are the only sensible article of clothing.

No housecoats for my mother. Jeans and blouses went very well with the drawknife used to peel bark off logs. I don’t recall her shoes. Mostly I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the evenings, soaking her feet in a pan of hot water. Then she used a razor blade to carve off the corns and calluses that tormented her. Her feet were ruined, she said, because she had to wear hand-me-down shoes from her elder siblings.

She, as I said, had lived a hard life growing up, and as a result didn’t put up with much from her eldest daughter. That daughter was the very same one who had sacrificed her Elvis Presley bedroom for Grandma, which shows how useless that sacrifice was for bargaining purposes. I was one of those kids who awoke every morning with an imminently terminal disease that precluded any thought of going to school that day, and a double disease on Sunday mornings when the neighbor lady was waiting to drive us to Sunday school. Terminal diseases meant nothing to hard-hearted mom, and off to school and Sunday school I went.

I guess it was all for the best, because apparently going to school and Sunday school cured all those diseases and I was fine enough to play outdoors when I got home. I never tossed my cookies when I was sick, which was the only proof positive of illness accepted by my mother. Or pox. Pox were good. I used that one in first grade, though, and getting chicken pox twice was impossible. I do, however, recall many miserable days sitting through classes with a sore throat and reeking of Vicks Vapo-Rub. There were no such things as decongestants back then. No NyQuil, no Contact, though I do remember when those miracle drugs hit the stores. By that time I was out of school and on my own as far as getting up in the morning.

And then there’s me, the eldest. The one who embarrassed my mother in front of her co-workers after she returned to work in the Sixties, with a simple little thing like my whole-hearted involvement in a romantic scandal. Shoot, back in the repressed early Sixties, scandals were a dime a dozen, and the adventure I had is pretty common these days. I was the one who gave up her white collar work and went to live in a small town of less than a hundred people near a fledgling ski resort. The one who ran dog teams. The one who took SCUBA lessons even though she couldn’t swim. The one who kept moving farther and farther away from civilization. The one who didn’t settle down and get married until she was almost forty.

Mom had long ago stopped hoping I’d act like a lady, but then what could she expect from a kid who spent half her childhood in trees?

Now I’m the same age they were when their photographs were taken, and I am struck by the differences. My mother waited as long as she could for me to grow up. Then, nearing eighty, she couldn’t wait any longer.

I’ll tell you, some kids never grow up:

Riding a camel in the Australian Outback.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Coming out of hibernation....

(Oh, baby, I thought you were lost,
Oh, baby, I thought you were gone.
Oh, baby, I was so worried
my computer froze,
the server snagged
before I could save,
I almost died, but
Oh, baby, here you ar-r-r-r-re.)

Today, for the first time since winter plopped down on us impertinently early last October, I think there's a chance that breakup's coming. For those of you who don't live in Alaska, and have no idea what "breakup" means, it's that time of year when winter begins to ebb and the land comes out of hibernation.

Snow melts, refreezes, melts, refreezes, ad nauseum. Roadbeds thaw haphazardly, parts warming, parts staying frozen in shady areas. Asphalt buckles and heaves into bumps known as frost heaves. Pot holes form and tires and vehicles break up when they hit a puddle and find it bottomless.

Lakes, creeks and rivers thaw--their ice breaks up. People come out of their houses for megadoses of Vitamin D directly from the sun, rather than those little white capsules in a brown bottle from Costco that our doctors tell us all Alaskans need. Ice fishermen chase Dolly Varden and Rainbow trout. Hikers, joggers and walkers are everywhere.

And the bears start to stir in their winter dens. A week ago in Anchorge, a man was treed by an early rising black bear boar, who has since signed his own death warrant by chasing other people and getting into garbage wherever he finds it. He'll be a goner as soon as the fur and feathers guys spot him.

I was the substitute mail carrier today, taking the mail from the Moose Pass post office to the Hope post office, picking up their out-going mail, delivering mail through Cooper Landing, and then returning to Moose Pass with all the out-going mail. Along the way, the signs of the times were sprouting alongside the highway.

The sign below warns of icy conditions through the Silvertip area. This is mostly due to melting snow running across the highway into shady areas, and refreezing. All the gray below comes from two sources: the crushed gravel that's full of glacial silt used to sand the highway, and a recent dusting of volcanic ash from the erupting Mt. Redoubt.

This sign warns of frost heaves ahead. Really, I think one sign each at the beginning and end of the highway should be sufficient. By June many of the bumps will have subsided, but right now it's like riding a roller coaster out there, particularly in places where there are underground springs and naturally occuring wet conditions with poor drainage.

Before I left on my route this morning, I took this picture from my back deck. The large white triangular areas near timberline are avalanche fans.

Here, in close up, are those avalanches. The patterns and contours of the snow fascinate me. I couldn't give you a scientific reason why the snow stops in such an uneven finish, but I have a theory that has much to do with resistance and the bullying effects of still moving heavy snow above that resistance. The exposed terrain has no such contours.

Those ridges and valleys in the slide are quite tall and dramatic, but I'm not going to go over there and measure them for you. This is the perfect time of year to wind up under new ones. Just take my word for it that they're much taller than I am.

Here's another slide just off the Hope road.

And another. Most slides that appear like this seem to be from heavy snow, rather than the light powder snow that creates a huge fluffy snow cloud in front of it as it plummets down the mountain. This snow moves like wet cement, and its power is deceptive.

Note the lip that runs along the very top of this mountain. It's called a "cornice." It's created by wind blowing and packing snow into these overhanging dangers. Cornices break off for various reasons, resulting in spectacular snowslides.

With such a spectacular day, I thought about getting one of the deck chairs from storage and putting it on the back deck. But, also out there is a slight breeze, and that breeze belies the temperature on the thermometer. So, instead of sitting in a green plastic Adirondack chair and adding to the sun spots on my cheeks, I'm in my nice, warm, sun-filled loft telling you that there's hope, hope that winter's grip is softening. I, for one, am ready for it to be gone. I am in great need of summer, and if I have to suffer through mud and slop and avalanches closing the roads and filthy vehicles, well, that's the price we pay.
We pay it because in a couple months we'll forget all about the trials of winter and remember why we live here when we see things like this:

Ahhh, I can't wait.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Symphony in Ahhhhh

Tap-tap.... Orchestra ready? And one....and two....

Ahhhhh, aren't they cute?

Ah, shucks....

Ah, c'mon. It's April, for pity's sake. Have some. Pity that is.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh....that feels sooooo good....

AH! Well, now.

Aaahhhh-some !!!