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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gettin' out of Dodge in the Dodge...

The template is back to the usual color so if you're just getting around to reading the following story about fireweed, you won't have to wonder what I'm talking about in that.

Anyway, Pablo and I are getting out of town in the Dodge Thursday. We're heading north to Fairbanks, passing Denali (or Mt. McKinley as y'all probably know it) along the way.
Pablo will be riding shotgun as we tow the travel trailer.

Unless I can find a wireless connection somewhere along the way, you might not be hearing from us until next week--say, maybe Wednesday. I'm sure we'll have things to tell you and photos to show, so don't forget me while I'm gone.

In the meantime, I'm leaving you with this nice bouquet of tuberous begonias that sits by my front door. It is thought (nice indefinite pronoun there, huh?) that my mother was the first to grow tuberous begonias in Alaska. The climate is perfect for the shade-loving, cool temperature plants.

Until next time,
Gully and Pablo

PS: I have tried several times to add a blank line in between paragrapahs for ease of reading. It's a no go. I really, really hate Internet Explorer 8. And I'm not too fond of Mozilla Firefox, either. I will try one last time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fireweed Fields Forever

Notice anything different about this blog today? Notice the blushing pink color of the template. No, I'm not still blushing about all the nice things Beth at Switched at Birth had to say about me yesterday. I decided to change the template color in honor of today's subject--the fireweed.

Alaska's state flower is the forget-me-not, a tiny blue and gold blossom. I suppose it was chosen because of its colors--the same colors of the state flag. But, the incredible fireweed could also have been honored. So....

...let me take you down to Fireweed Fields forever....

Fireweed along Sixmile Creek, Silvertip

From early July into September, the tall stalks of fireweed color the landscape magenta. Spread by tiny brown seeds covered with fluffy down, the seeds float on the breeze and land everywhere--even up your nose. When walking through a patch of seeding fireweed while moose hunting in September, it's best to hold your breath or you'll soon be sneezing and alerting every moose in the area to your presence.

Fireweed also spread with thick underground roots, and one plant can become a large bush of fireweed.

, A fireweed bush in my yard.

Fireweed seeds require light to germinate. They can live many years in the soil. Then, when the natural groundcover is disturbed, the seeds germinate. It is usually the first plant to colonize a burned area after a forest fire, hence its name.

Fireweed and a wildfire smoke-obscured sun.

Although it is a beautiful plant, many gardeners prefer not to cultivate it in flower beds, because it will soon crowd out everything else.

Close-up of fireweed.

Fireweed fields at Tern Lake.

It is especially noticeable on mountainsides where avalanches have knocked down trees. In the fall, these areas will be maroon and burgundy as the fireweed "tops out" and the plants become those colors. As the other vegetation turns autumn colors, the mountainsides resemble vast Persian carpets.

Closer view of one the fields at Tern Lake.

Native Americans used sprouts of spring fireweed for food. In Alaska, syrups, jellies, honey, and candies are made from it. The Dena'ina, an Native Alaskan group, used the cut root as a poultice to draw infection from boils and cuts. Because it rapidly takes over areas where the ground has been disturbed, it also healed the spot below, where an RV had run off the highway. I cleaned up a number of bags of debris from this wreck site a couple years ago--even pulling clothes hangers out of the trees.

The healing power of fireweed at crash site.

Everywhere you look this time of year, there is fireweed.

Gravel bar with fireweed on Sixmile Creek, Silvertip.

The stalks can grow to eight feet tall, as in the field below. Local lore says when the fireweed blooms all the way to the top of its stalk, or "tops out." winter is six weeks away. I couldn't get this entire field in the shot.

Fireweed fields forever...

A picture is worth...

...a whole movie.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Whew! Whew! (fanning self with Writer's Digest magazine) Boy, it's hot in here. I'm so embarrassed my face feels like I've been poking wood on the bonfire too long and too close. Either that or it's a hot flash.

I just left Beth at Switched at Birth a message telling her the same. Her blog post today is all about Gullible, and reading what she has to say made me realize what a blabbermouth I am. More than 300 posts in a year? Wow! Like I always say, I might have trouble talkin' to you in person, but put me in front of a computer and I run off at the keyboard. Occasionally backtracking to fix those dratted typos, that is, courtesy of having taught myself to type back in high school. I've been trying to count how many fingers I use when typing--it's more than two--and I think I use all of them, just not the way you're supposed to.

Those ergonomic keyboards? The ones that have the letter keys split in half so the keys for the left hand are on the left and the right hand keys are on the right and never the twain shall meet? Know what I mean? I find them impossible. My fingers are all over the keyboard, but it works for me. Except for the typos.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, running off at the keyboard. See what I mean?

Anyway, if you want to see what has me so humbled, go on over to Beth's wonderful blog and read what she has to say:


And add her site to your Bookmarks because it's well worth the time. She's a remarkable writer whom I predict will one day be quite famous. (Who? Whom? Is she the object or the subject and which one uses..... let's pretend I never brought it up...)

And, while you're there, be sure to check some of the destinations under her navigation bar. Don't miss the Longleaf Bar and Grill. It's a civilized, non-barbaric, socially-acceptable version of Gullible's Greasy Spoon.

Oh.... now that gives me an idea. Gullible's Greasy Spoon.... hmmmmm..... If only I knew how to add that to my blog. (Want to know what this is all about? Today is the day I promised myself I would do housework...)

Gullible Finds the Twilight Zone

(No photos with this one. You wouldn't have wanted to see them.)

I was walking alongside the highway a week ago, picking up litter, when I came upon the carcass of a large brown bird. I picked it up with my gloved hand and turned it over and over, trying to identify it. It apparently had suffered extreme trauma to its head, because that portion of its anatomy was simply unidentifiable.

The whole carcass was completely desiccated, nothing left but feathers and bones. The only clues to its species were the light brown mottled feathers, the sharp talons, and a wingspan of close to thirty inches.. I thought perhaps an owl or a hawk of some kind, perhaps even a female willow ptarmigan, though the carcass seemed to have a very short, almost non-existent neck.

The next night I was once again picking up litter near that area, and thinking about that bird. Then another thought crossed my mind: I haven’t found any dead song birds this summer. A short time later I found the body of a junco.

Two dead warblers were lying in my path the following evening, as well as a dead red squirrel. The next day, a sea gull and two sparrows. Suddenly, I was back in the early 1960s when I worked as a newspaper and then a radio reporter. Odd things would happen then, inexplicable things. Occasionally, I just seemed to KNOW things.

I vividly recall walking into a courtroom once—the courts were my beat—and I suddenly knew everything that happened during the morning’s testimony. I could almost hear the voices. I’d been ignoring the other peculiar events, writing them off to coincidence, but this one got my attention.

Sometime later, during my radio days, it occurred to me that the city hadn’t seen a murder lately. The next evening found me at the scene of a murder-suicide. And one New Year’s Day I was heading home and “we haven’t had a big fire for a while” popped into my head. Two days later the biggest fire our main street had ever seen was blazing away, water freezing to the firefighter’s clothing and hoses.

That was too much for a twenty-one year old to handle. Too many such incidents scared the daylights out of me, and I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t only foreseeing these things, but could I be CAUSING them? I vowed to ignore every peculiar incident from then on, to not give them any credence. And I did, though the neighbor lady was startled that I knew she was pregnant, and employees wondered among themselves how I seemed to know certain things.

A couple years ago in an online writing class, we were given a choice of sentence beginnings to write five hundred words. I chose the one that began, “Pat knew for a long time that a clairvoyant gift was….”


The Knowing

Pat knew for a long time that a clairvoyant gift was both a boon and a curse. Or was it ESP? Or, maybe she was a psychic. Maybe psycho. Whatever, it was scary to be under its spell.

This wasn’t like the games of childhood, when she always won playing Clue with her brother and sister. She was older than the two of them and that probably accounted for a lot. Maybe it was her powers of observation that gave her the advantage when Jim made a mark on his paper after asking about Col. Mustard when they’d already eliminated the knife and the conservatory. But, this wasn’t a game at all. This was real-life-kick-you-in-the-guts Clue.

She always seemed to “know” things. She could sense what was coming, what someone was going to say. She could feel what had happened in a room the moment she walked into it. There was that time in court when she entered after the trail had been in session for over an hour…and she KNEW! She could almost hear the words that had been said. The judge had looked at her in an odd way as she stood rooted in place just inside the swinging doors.

He knew this wasn’t her usual demeanor. She usually slipped in quietly, quickly made her way to the press bench. This time, though, she had stood immobile long enough to draw attention to herself. They didn’t know she’d just slammed into a hot concrete wall, was on fire with something approaching terror.

And that whole block on Fourth Avenue had burned down after she thought there hadn’t been a big fire in a while. That murder-suicide? She’d thought about that one, too.

Was she clairvoyant? Or was she CAUSING these things?


The instructor didn’t like that much. She asked me to write something that wasn’t so “grizzly.”

Several days passed, during which I debated whether or not to post this story. Then, picking up litter again, I scraped the remains of some unidentifiable run-over mammal off the shoulder of the highway. It reminded me of this story that I had written last week. Five steps later, I found a dead finch. The next evening, three magpies and a larger bird like a spruce grouse, a snowshoe hare, and two porcupines.

It’s only been in the last couple years that I have allowed myself to consider these events. I still have no answer. I tell myself that those birds I found were there because it’s that time of summer when young birds are fledged and have fatal collisions with vehicles. There’s no way I could have caused their deaths.

Could I?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Suasive Summer Blowdown

Hard on the tail feathers of departing swallows,
Mother Nature arrives with one of her blows.
Must be PMS, I say as I look
at the wind sock flying straight out on its hook.

She rampages through here, that wicked conjurer,
flinging plastic deck chairs in haste before her.

Nemesia and lobelia cling to the lee side
of the basket, where they hang, now where they hide.

She bullies young birches, to my sadness I found,

..and flings tall fireweed almost to the ground.

And then, in apology for her windy outbreak,

directs symphonies of motion, just for our sake,

And in a sensual 'coup de grace,'
brushes the seed heads of soft cotton grass.

As she circles and swirls and twists all about
I think I hear voices, but I am in doubt.
There's nobody near, just Pablo and me.
But still there's that voice, saying to me:

"Sorry 'bout the deck chair," it says with chagrin.
"Sometimes I get clumsy when I play with the wind.
I brought it to give the young swallows a lift,
that's all, I promise, it was only a gift.

"My bad on the birch, I know they're your fav.
I guess it's impossible now to be saved.
But think how much easier for you to mow;
there's another left standing beside it, you know.

"The wind brings the rain to water my land,
You know it was dry, the soil like sand.
I have a confession, 'bout this turbulent air:
The squirrel grass tickles when I run through its hair."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Parting is such....

....sweet sorrow....

"Cheep, cheep. Cheep, cheep."

There was something plaintive about those cheeps that caught my attention. I was used to hearing the young violet/green swallows clamoring for goodies their parents brought to the nest, but this cheeping carried more angst than an appetite for a mosquito.

"Cheep, cheep. Cheep, cheep. I’m scared. It’s too far."

A single fledgling, body stuck out of the nest opening to its wings, watching the swirling, diving aerobatic maneuvers of the other swallows.

"Okay, this time. No, okay, this time. Okay, okay. Now… One, two, thr...."

And out of the nest he flew with far more flutter than flight. Down the driveway, out of the trees to the unobstructed air over the air strip. Dozens of swallows came to cheer him on, pulling on a wing or tail feather to show him how to gain more lift and control, celebrating his first time out of the nest. He flew a hundred feet in a straight line from nest to dead tree branch, but at least half again that far counting the ups and downs and turn-arounds.

“You did it, Charlie, you did it. See, I told you we could fly."

"No more for me, Heckle. I’m not moving from this spot."

"C'mon, Charlie. Look at me. Watch me fly!"

"Heckle? Heckle, where are you?"

"Hey, you guys. Huey, Dewey, Louie. Have you seen Heckle?

"He’s flying over there, Charlie. That’s what we swallows do. We fly."

"Not me. I’m staying right here."

"Nobody can make me fly if I don't want to."

"Hey, guys? Stay a little closer, huh?"

"I’m not gonna do it. Mom? Dad?"

"Oh, pooh."

Yes, my dears. Parting is such...............


.........a freakin' disaster!!! Now they've all gone and left us to be devoured by mosquitoes and tortured by those miserable little biting black flies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Walking Forward, Looking Back

The restaurant manager was answering a question about company policy to her young employee. The lad was of a certain age, denim baggy about his hips and ankles, earphones noosed around his neck, ball cap with the restaurant’s logo embroidered on the front, except in his case the front of the cap was pointing behind his right ear.

“You can wear the cap any way you want,” she said, “as long as you walk in the same direction the bill is pointed.”

A momentary look of incredulity filled the lad’s eyes, and then a soft smile pulled at the corners of his mouth as he straightened his cap and went back to work. I stood by, silently admiring the manager’s gift of employee-employer relations.

Dress codes notwithstanding, there are times we should walk in a different direction, let the bill of our cap lead us into terra incognito, or, at the very least, look in our rear view mirrors. There are things back there that are well worth it. I have in mind stunning late-evening views and photographs I would have missed had I not looked in my rear view mirror while driving, and the scenes that would not have photographed well at all, but were worthy of the time to pull over and look.

Something I would have missed, had I not looked back.

At a certain time in the evening, between twilight and nightfall, comes a special light that makes everything stand out in clear and crisp detail, much like a black and white Currier and Ives print. It is my favorite time of day for stopping whatever it is I’m doing, and simply looking at my world.

A couple days ago, I joined three long-time friends in a nostalgic reproduction of a favorite watering hole that burned to the tundra many years ago. We sipped glasses of light beer as we exchanged bear and fish stories. We were right at home in this place, young again as if all those years had not aged us but only made us wiser. Other old friends felt near even though they are scattered across the country. Amidst the sawdust and peanut shells on the floor, the tree stump stools polished by the many, many backsides that have perched atop them, and the bar counter that is canted downhill and threatens to slide your beverage away in an river of beer and foam, I basked in the old-shoe comfort of friendships that span almost a half century, more at ease with them now than I have ever been.

I moved away from the small village where we had bonded, and lost touch with these friends through the years, some for a few years, some for decades. But I always knew they, and the many others in our circle, were out there. Marriages, divorces, deaths, changes in circumstances, changes in professions—all the things that life gives and takes—betided these friends, and me as well.

Two of these friends had once been married to each other. They sat side by side now, once lovers, today good friends. The third person was a fellow about whom I once entertained thoughts of being more than friends. Our paths didn’t lead in that direction, and now I am happy that we have, instead, an easy and relaxed friendship.

We joked about our ages, the problems we encounter, the joints that need repair and replacing, the cataracts and hearing losses. We ranged in age from 67 to 82, yet we are all vital and active. The eldest still flies his own small airplane, the next is busy selling real estate and recording CDs of his music, the third retired and then last year commenced a new career as a substance abuse counselor. Then there’s me, the youngest by a year, finding adventures everywhere I turn, whether it is in the writing I do, hot air ballooning in the Australian Outback, swinging from a zip line stretched between giant trees in the rainforest of Ketchikan, or simply picking up litter beside a busy thoroughfare.

I have a couple years yet to go before I turn 70, but I am more excited about that than I was about turning the magical age of 21 and being old enough to vote and (legally) drink. Eventually the conversation turned to technology of the day: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and the like. “I think of Twitter and tweeting as gossip,” said the subject of my long-ago daydreams.

“Well, yes, I suppose. But those things have their place,” I replied, thinking of how I check the Facebook pages of friends and relatives to see what they are doing, when I have nothing to write at the moment.

“Of course you’d say that. Women like to gossip,” he teased. To which I responded that I’d never heard so much gossip as when my husband and his friends met for their morning coffee klatch at the local restaurant.

“That’s different,” he replied. “When men do it, it’s called ‘shooting the bull.’”

So we sat there, gossiping and/or shooting the bull, laughing and joking and enjoying the company of friends as close as family. I noticed other patrons occasionally watching the four of us, perhaps listening to our stories and laughter, with somewhat wistful and amused expressions on their faces, expressions that seemed to say they hope they enjoy such laughter and good friends when they reach our ages.

As I prepared to leave, I tried to hand the bartender money for my drinks. “They won’t let you pay for your drinks,” she said.

“Thanks, guys,” I said. No response. “Thanks, guys,” I said again, a bit louder. Nothing. “THANKS, GUYS!” I repeated, loud enough for the entire bar to hear.

“Huh?” said my imaginary would-be Romeo of yore. “Did you say something?” And everyone laughed with us.

We all stayed longer than we had intended, hugged each other as we parted. As I drove away in the direction of the highway that I would take a hundred miles south to home, I thought about that late evening light, the light just before it gets dark, when everything stands out in crisp and clear definition. We are at that time in our lives, I think.

We four walked through life in the direction our cap bills were pointed, but always, always, paused to look back. Now, in the defining light of our evening, we see clearly what it means to have long-time friends we love.

Trail Lake near Moose Pass

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Waiting until the coast is clear...

I waited until the coast was clear—after the Fourth of July weekend. Hopefully, the hordes of holiday visitors had emptied out of this end of the road town on the Kenai Peninsula. In case you haven’t heard, Seward, Alaska, is THE place to be on the Fourth.

There’s a traditional parade, usually with an Iditarod dog team pulling a wagon or cart, the streets are lined with vendors, baskets of beautiful blooming flowers hang from old-fashioned lamp poles on the main street, and there is not one single spot of land left on which you can park an RV or pitch a tent. Everybody is there.

Except me. I chose to stay home and not aggravate my self-diagnosed agoraphobia.

A week before, on the evening of July 1st, I thought I might join the festivities this year and report on them through this blog. So, I’d hitched up my little light-weight travel trailer and driven the thirty-six miles to Seward. After getting squabbled and sworn at by some old grouch who said I was camped in HIS parking spot, then paying $20 to park in a dusty gravel parking lot, Pablo and I headed for home, and Seward saw no more of us until July 7, when I had some errands to run down there in that little town by the seaside.

And that’s why I won’t have any pictures to show you of the main reason folks go to Seward on the Fourth: the Mt. Marathon race. If you want to know about that, go online to www.adn.com. That’s the Anchorage paper that ran extensive coverage of the footrace up and down the 3200 foot mountain. Instead, here’s a couple pictures that show the mountain and the course. Look for the light brown “Y” shape on the mountain. Those are the up and down paths. These photos are a little obscured because of smoke from wildfires.

Also, clicking on each photo will enlarge it so you can see more than your ever wanted to see.

Look for the faint light paths in the shape of a "Y."

What I do have to show you, though, is what I came across in Seward AFTER the big weekend. First I should tell you that a big high pressure system had parked itself over this part of the state a week prior, and the weather was pure heaven. It certainly was too hot to be running up and down a mountain for fun and/or fame, and the cooling breeze that the contestants usually could count on near the top of the mountain instead felt like getting blasted with a hair dryer on high. That might explain why the front runners in both the men’s and the women’s races collapsed near the finish line, and the second persons in line won each race.

But on the 7th, the high was still in place and the day even warmer than before. On the way to one of my destinations, I passed the historic Ballaine House, now a lodging establishment, which sits in a prominent place on “Millionaire’s Row.”

Ballaine House Lodgings

Then I turned and passed the Liberty Theater, where thirty years ago I could have purchased a Green River soda to drink with my popcorn while I sat in the eclectic seating and watched a first run movie. Playing that night: “Ice Age.” Most appropriate on this hot summer day. I love this little small town movie house, owned and operated by my friends Skip and Marie. Somehow it makes me feel like a teen-ager again, perhaps because it reminds me so much of Saturday-afternoon matinees at the long gone Empress theater in Anchorage where I grew up.

I looked down the main street. The large building at the end by the water is the Alaska Sea Life Center. It’s primary purpose is scientific research, but is does have a number of exhibits of marine mammals, fish, etc., for the public to see. The sail shape at the right covers the marine bird exhibit, where you can see various marine birds, then go downstairs and watch them “fly” through the water.

Main street of Seward

When I parked in front of City Hall, I saw something I’d never seen before: every window capable of being opened was propped wide open, and fans were blowing in many offices.

City Hall, widows agape.

Then I decided to see what the waterfront campgrounds looked like. A block from City Hall, I turned onto the road that skirts the city along the shore. There’s a milepost marker commemorating the official start of the Iditarod Trail—not the race itself, but where freight bound for

the gold fields was unloaded and then carried by dog team, horse, foot, and whatever into the far reaches of the territory.

Nearby is a memorial marker of the trail, in memory of a young Jr. Iditarod friend of mine, who died tragically young after hitting his head while running his team on the beach of Cook Inlet.

I passed the kids’ playground,and the skateboard park, empty on this hot and sunny day but for one young fellow, with requisite knit cap. He's really hard to find, slouched on the far wall about in the center.

Then I reached the RV park. This is an unbelievable sight. No people in fleece jackets huddling in their RVs. Instead, they’re searching for a breeze while sunning in folding chairs along the salty shore.

Something unusual caught my eye and I drove into the RV park. Little did I know then that “unusual” was to be the catch word of the day. At first, I though it was a three-wheeled car, a la Isettas and Daks, but this turned out to be something else entirely.

This is an enclosed motorcycle. Here’s a shot of the inside:

I was hooked. After taking the photos above, I saw this on my return to my car:

And this wildflower mosaic on the restroom building:

Then, a shade chair with canopy, a satellite TV receiver on a picnic table, a “tricycle,” TWO satellite receivers and enough equipment to require a semi to haul it all, folding chairs for a large audience, a doggie pen of “ornamental wrought iron,” another decorated dumpster, and a walking/biking path that actually had so many walkers and bikers on it that it was causing a traffic jam at the intersection.

Chair with canopy
Enough seating for a very large family

TV antenna on picnic tableLe tricycleTwo satellite TV antennae, and enough eqipment for an extended residential visit.

Decorated dumpster

Bike path traffic

Wrought iron doggie pen

After waiting a few weeks for all the walkers and bikers to pass, I pulled across and stopped my car. There was one more thing I wanted to take a picture of. This sign:

My very favorite sign in all of Seward. More about this some other time.