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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Lost (and Found) in the Translation

[Note: Just for the heck of it, I decided to illustrate this post with photos of a mural painted on the side of a boat house in Halibut Cove. I think its whimsy is comfortable with anything I have to say below.]

I have an itchy trigger finger. There is a direct correlation between the severity of the itch, the length of my bucket list, and the wholly imaginary amount in my wholly imaginary travel budget.

Factor in that I spent most of the winter at home and this cold and dreary April, and you can understand why every e-mail from a travel company receives my whole-hearted attention and my trigger finger itches to click on "enroll in this tour."

Like the one I received just yesterday, the one that caused me to spend several hours in front of the computer looking up hotel reviews.

I have a big, mega-monster, budget-blowing trip planned for this fall. I’m giving Elderhostel a try for the first time. They have changed their name to Exploritas, hoping to appeal to a younger clientele also. I’ll be going to China with them, as well as another country whose name I am instructed NOT to mention on my visa application.

Visiting that-country-which-shall-not-be-named has been a childhood dream, and I blame that all on my dad, who used to entertain us kids with wild tales of things mystical and metaphysical and paranormal. My mother called them “his kooky ideas.” I thought them fascinating.

With the disparity of beliefs in the household, I think I kept a balanced perspective. I tried to apply a kid’s logic to anything he said, but I also had a burgeoning imagination as well as a fledgling writer’s sense of creative license, and his tales snuggled right up to that imagination and poked my creative license on the funny bone.

But, oh, how I longed to visit that-country-which-shall-not-be-named. I was only seven years old when the young spiritual leader of that-country-which-shall-not-be-named escaped in a night-time adventure, but I remember hearing about it on the radio. I remember listening to Lowell Thomas Sr., that world-wide adventurer, talking about that-country-which-shall-not-be-named, and then daydreaming about going there.

So, I am. And that’s why I got my itinerary and researched reviews about the various hotels I’ll be staying in when I’m in China. Some of them were written in Chinese characters. I found the Google translate button on one review, and this, in part, is what popped up:

“But the hotel’s architectural style is very general, may be green would be better, may be that Chinese buildings are like this bar,…” it read.

And then came the best line of all. “…internal to the external kind of lost.”

I love it.

It’s so Zen-like, so (pardon the ethnic cliché’) inscrutable. “Internal to the external kind of lost.”

I think I’ll print it out and tack it to the wall above my computer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bits 'n' Pieces

Can't See the Trees for the Forest:

I was taking a picture of the clouds parting at the far neck of Resurrection Bay. Not until I checked the image on the LCD screen did I notice the three dark blobs in the tree.

Three immature bald eagles, not yet feathered with white heads and tails.

Guess Who's Expecting:

You can get into an awful lot of legal trouble approaching an eagle's nest, but no one ever told the eagles not to build their home next to a busy highway. This one is at the head of Kenai Lake, near Snow River. What a view she (or he) has.

With this (below) I officially declare winter down and done, but what to call this cold, windy, gray time that isn't spring? El Nino is departing after bringing us a mild, snowy winter, and Mother Nature seems exceptionally hormonal because of it. When I looked at the temperature yesterday afternoon, I almost wept for joy. This is a high mark for the entire year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Words Fail Me...

The world's most colossal African Violet has perked up since the sun's been back in the valley. That's a half-gallon ( or its metric equivalent) orange juice container beside it. In the eight years I've lived with this plant, it grew from an itsy-bitsy sprout to 16 inches high from the counter, eighteen inches across, then sprouted a young 'un, threw the young 'un out of the pot when it reached maturity, and sprouted another.

Two days ago, I filled these bags with litter at the Tern Lake pullout. See what's in front of them today?

Solar Deficiency: C'mon, baby. Let's light this candle!

I walk around with my head down a lot--looking for litter. I see a lot of tracks--animal, avian, etc. But this is a first. There were half a dozen of them. I flipped through my cerebral index files trying to figure out what kind of an animal left a five-toed track. All of them were the same--five toes, pad shoving up sand behind it, no evidence of a heel. Now, why would someone be walking around on the balls of their feet half-way up the curve at the Seward Highway leg of the Tern Lake junction?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Magic Lantern Show, Winter

The sun at break of day appears,

to soften moving shadow-shapes,

resurrect the life on earth,

and warm the very souls of men.

And when the eventide is nigh,

by way of promise to return,

bestows a magic lantern show,

cast in shadow, cast in light.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Visitors in the Valley

It's amazing what you can find out about your neighborhood by going for a walk. With the past two days acting like maybe we'll have spring and summer after all, I put on my safety vest, grabbed my picker-upper-stick and some bright yellow litter bags, and hit the roads.

Down at Tern Lake, the summertime tourists are arriving. See those black specks near the edge of the ice?

Here they are. A pair of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks. Another pair took off when I approached. And there were some mallards farther along the lake.

Down the road a ways, I saw a moose had crossed the road. The cell phone's for size comparison. Moose have a split, pointed hoof.

Then I found the tracks of two snowshoers--and I don't mean the long-eared hares that are turning from white to brown and hopping all around the yard. I have no idea why their tracks are left in the gravel.

And then there's this little fella, who left no tracks I could find.

Saved the best for last. So, I was walking along and saw these tracks. All those scuffed up boot tracks in the lower right are mine.

And, a closer shot.

And a real close shot with my cell for comparison. No doubt--wolf tracks, and recent. Two days ago it rained pretty hard, and the rain would have washed out the ridges between the pads.

Either wolf, or someone has a monstrous St. Bernard in the valley.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Road Hazards

(Don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.)

My list of things I wanted/needed to do in Anchorage finally got so lengthy that I went Wednesday. I had new errands, old errands, and even older errands—those things I crossed off on previous trips, thinking I could always do them next time.

But, this isn’t a story about my trip to do errands. This is a story about road hazards.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the biggest road hazard out there would be seeing something like this appear in front of you like magic:

Well, that’s certainly the most fearsome road hazard, the ever-present possibility of having a half ton of unhappy moose in the driver’s seat with you. Even when you have time to react, you can’t always count on those long-legged, big eared critters turning away from you. They have an annoying habit of being unpredictable and a penchant for playing chicken with moving vehicles

This photo below, considering some of the other situations I’ve been in, is a relatively safe encounter, but is after it jumped of the way-too-close forest, ran in front of me as I stomped on the brake with both feet, came to a stop, found the camera in the mess threatening to slide off the passenger’s seat, and turned it on.

Setting aside critters for the moment, there are Alaska’s famous frost heaves that are especially prevalent in spring

And the numerous pot holes and pavement damage caused by constant freeze/thaw cycles.

At this time of year, the mountains are sloughing off their winter blankets, like this spot along Turnagain Arm, south of Girdwood. This happens to be a pipsqueak of an avalanche, most of which piled up on the railroad tracks above the left side of the highway. By the time I reached it, railroad and highway crews were already on site. This particular avalanche site comes from high up a narrow slot in the mountainside and slides frequently. Once the snow reaches the tracks, its spreads laterally, then spills over the bluff onto the two-lane highway.

In the following photo, the dirty snow is from earlier slides, the white stuff on top from that day’s slide. This was taken while driving, so the quality is inferior. Two dozers are directly overhead on the railroad tracks, but not seen. Gives you an idea of dimensions here.

Here the dozers are pushing snow off the tracks and over the bluff, onto the roadbed.

Then, a front end loader scoops up the snow…

… and dumps it over the guardrail on the water side of the road. The guard rail damage is from previous avalanches.

Avalanches are pretty hard on trees, too. It makes clearing away the snow even more difficult. And, the crews will only clear avalanches during daylight hours so they can tell if another is coming down the mountain.

Then, there’s the scenery. Road hazards come in many guises, like mist-shrouded Mt. Redoubt, an active volcano across Cook Inlet:

Here’s a rainbow stretching from one side of Turnagain Arm to the other. It’s real faint, almost ethereal:

Even lighting conditions draw the eye. Here, I’m being rained on, while dramatic lighting in the clouds across the Arm take my eyes off the road.

A couple miles closer to Anchorage, right where I expect it, is another road hazard:

A Dall’s sheep (shortened by usage to Dall sheep), grazing alongside the road. These are the only wild white sheep in the world. They prefer south-facing, steep, rocky mountain slopes. There’s a natural mineral lick here, and the small band of sheep are frequently seen at this spot. During tourist season, it’s a dangerous area because of cars suddenly veering off the road onto the shoulders, and people with cameras darting into traffic.

This is probably a female, though I’m guessing because of the narrow horns, and I didn't want to interrupt its meal to ask. Adult sheep stand almost three feet at the shoulder, females weigh up to 150 lbs, and males up to 250 lbs. The horns of males are thick, and by eight years of age will form a full curl and more, spreading outward as they grow.

Not all road hazards occupy the highway right-of-way on the ground. Here’s a road hazard near Ninilchik farther south on the Kenai Peninsula. See the large dark spot in the cottonwood tree closest to the highway?

This is what it is:

A bald eagle, waiting for its mate at their nest.

And, over in Cooper Landing at Kenai Lake, I saw this one day recently:

You can’t see what I was looking at in that picture, so I cropped it:

Four trumpeter swans that spent the winter around the lake. Their thick down, with their huge feet curled up against their bodies, keeps their feet toasty warm with body heat.

Then they decided to fly:

I didn’t interrupt their nap. I was using a 200 mm lens to take these shots, and was quite a ways distant.

I’ve saved the best for last. The following photo reveals what are positively the very worst road hazards for anyone anywhere in Alaska, bar none. Take it from personal experience, the following have the potential for causing more accidents than any critters or other hazards on the roads and highways of Alaska: