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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why on Earth???

Why on earth would anyone go to the surfing capital of Alaska if that person can’t even swim, much less surf?

Why on earth would anyone go to one of the greatest steelhead and salmon fishing sites in Alaska if that person isn’t taking fishing tackle?

Why on earth would anyone go to a place that averages 145 inches of rain a year if that person lives in a place where she doesn’t see direct sunlight for three months of the year?

And, last, why would anyone go to a place where huge brown bears live when that person has a huge, profound, totally ingrained, healthy and unhealthy fear of bears?

Why, I ask you. Why?

Because the phone rang the other day and someone invited me to go. That’s why.

And it has ever-so-much possibility for adventure. That’s also why I’m scurrying around trying to locate the things I’ll need. Things like bear spray, mosquito headnet, hip boots AND chest waders, and so on. Doesn’t that sound like a fun camping trip?

So, when I could find neither my bear spray (and trust me, it doesn’t have anything to do with styling a bear’s hair) nor my net that covers my whole head to keep out mosquitoes and black flies, both of which bite, I headed off to Seward to replenish the supply.

All my gear is spread out on the dining room table and I’m hoping it’ll fit in my backpack. The hip boots and chest waders and Personal Flotation Device will go in a tote rather than the backpack. I’m taking wimpy rain gear and serious macho rain gear. Already I feel like I’m going for a month rather than eight days.

Here’s the deal: I’ll board the state ferry Kennicott at midnight in Whittier, which is accessed by driving through the longest tunnel in the world that is shared with a railroad. I’ll tell you about that later.

Twenty-two hours later, after the ferry crosses the Gulf of Alaska, we disembark in a little town called Yakutat, pop. about 500. If you look at a map of Alaska, Yakutat is on that eensy bitty strip of land that connects the main portion of Alaska to Southeastern Alaska.

We get in late, so probably the next day we’ll climb in a Beaver (it’s an airplane), fly up the bay, and land on a beach. Then we have to cross a stream and hike a quarter mile to our reserved cabin, which is a National Park service public use cabin. And my friend J.J. and I will be all alone out there--except for the bears.

All of this is in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, a 13 million acre park where three mountain ranges meet. I’ll tell you all about that later, too. With pictures.

But here’s the thing: in order to get to Yakutat, we have to cross the Gulf of Alaska. I’ve been motion sickness-free for several years now, but if this isn’t tempting the gods of mal de mer, I don’t know what more I could do.

I’ll leave you with some links and some photos near Yakutat:

A link to a surfing pix:


Link to fishing pix:


Link to rain pix:


Link to bear pix:


In the meantime, some photos I took on my way home from Seward today.

In a week or two, this pond will be covered with yellow-blooming lily pads.

Gotta go pack. Bye.

PS: not a word to Pablo, okay? He's getting suspicious, but hasn't yet caught on to the fact that he and the parrot sitter will be spending time together.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

In Memorium

Flags I've found while picking up litter along the Seward Highway.

Today, Monday, is Memorial Day, that day set aside for remembering those who served and those who gave all in defense of our country, in defense of our values, in assistance to others.

My dad didn't die in service to our country. He served during World War II and was honorably discharged. When he died late in life, the American Legion presented an American flag to my mother.

Dad's flag.

This was the day I retired a different flag, the faded flag that flies outside my house. I took it off the pole and folded it.

Then I mangled the plastic package that imprisoned the new flag, noting that it guaranteed it was 100 per cent made in the USA. Now, that's something. Seems like everything I pick up anymore has a "Made in China" sticker on it.

Then I attached the new flag to the pole and set it free.

In my litter-picking travels lately, I have come upon several roadside memorials to people who have died in accidents. It reminds me of a bus trip I was on in Mexico, south of Mazatlan. We noticed a number of memorials alongside the highway, some of them quite elaborate. Our guide said the Mexicans believe the soul lingers where the body died.

I think of that every time I'm in this area near Summit Lake.

Many years ago, a young woman driving into the direction of the camera went off the road and was killed when her car hit the only tree within a half mile. Each year I straighten the plastic cross that honors her, and each time I pass this site I think about her, though I didn't know her.

Much of it has broken away. Nearby is one of the signs the State puts up in places where there have been fatal accidents, reminding motorists to drive carefully.

A couple days later I was in this area:

Around the corner from here, I saw what looked like a pile of trash at the base of a dead tree. It was another roadside memorial, in disrepair. I started picking up the scattered, faded plastic flowers and putting them in my litter bag.

Then I saw some weather-durable items--a Mickey Mouse statuette and a small teddy bear--and decided to reconstruct the memorial as best I could. A broken cross was nearby, so I added it to the site.

I think this might be a memorial for a young child.

This is Memorial Day. I think we all have a lot of things to remember on this day.

As you finish here and move away from this site, I urge you to follow the link below to listen to a full rendition of Il Silenzio, the music from which Taps is taken. It is played by 13 year old Melissa Venema, playing with the orchestra of Maestro Andre Rieu in the Netherlands, 2008. You may have to copy and paste the link into your browser.




..and it's a sonnet. Sorta. Kinda. It's supposed to be a sonnet. And, it's a first for Gullible. Be kind in your critiques, please.

Safe Haven

I toss and turn in worry-poisoned dreams

Of shadow-shapes that prey upon me yet,

Enwrapped in sweat-soaked sheets and silent screams

Whose echoes linger so I can’t forget.

Last night I dreamt I fled from them in grief,

And when I stopped, I saw you standing there,

Your strong arms open wide offered relief,

A haven safe from nightmare’s harm and care.

I held you close and saw your smile—Robert-

Mitchum, devil-may-care—then my troubles

Were gone, as if in death you could assert

The pow’r to vanquish all our obstacles.

But dawn, the night-lived dreams cannot survive:

Our bed, a bier on which your mem’ry lies.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Puzzles, Enigmas, and Relaxation Techniques

I had a friend, a long time ago, who was a man of great intellect and outstanding success in his chosen profession. He also was a poet.

He like writing sonnets, he said, as a way to relax, to relieve stress. Had he still been alive, I would have called him a couple nights ago and told him he was stark, raving bonkers. Writing sonnets for fun and relaxation? No way.

And I knew whereof I spoke. I was trying to write a sonnet for a poetry class I’m taking online, and I was far from relaxed. In fact, there were more four-lettered words than iambic feet spewing from my mouth.

You know lyrical sonnets, right? I’m sure you’ve heard them even if you didn’t recognize them as sonnets. Along with his plays, Shakespeare is famous for his sonnets, so famous that he was able to change the established formula and develop his own format, which is now called the Shakespearian sonnet. That’s the type that was my assignment.

Shakespearian sonnets have a very specific construction:

1. They are fourteen lines long.

2. Each line is ten syllables and written in iambic pentameter, which is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. That’s called an iamb, or foot. Times five, meaning five iambs or feet per line.

So one of Shakespseare’s more familiar sonnets sounds like this: “Shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer’s DAY?” The capitalized syllables are the stressed ones. Read it aloud and you can hear the rhythm.


3. Just to make things more fun, the first and third lines have to rhyme with each other, as do the second and fourth. So, the first and third lines are called A and the second and fourth are called B, establishing a rhyming pattern called A B A B.

Ah, but then the next four lines have different rhymes, so they’re called C D C D. And the third four are E F E F. So, the two last lines are a couplet called G G.

I worked on my sonnet for three days. I scribbled and swore and scribbled some more. I tripped over feet and meter until I was figuratively black and blue. More blue than black, considering some of the words I said aloud as a way of relieving stress.

Everything I thought of wanted to be four feet to the line, or six, and sometimes three, but never five.

About the time I was wishing my friend was still alive so I could call him and tell him exactly what I thought of his choice of relaxation methods, I stumbled upon my first line of iambic pentameter. Several hours and several pages of rejected scribbling later, I finally had something that resembled a sonnet. By then it was 2 a.m.

My sonnet’s a fragile one, at best. The rhyming pattern fits, it makes a little sense, though the feet and meter need some polishing.

But, now I see. Now I understand why poets like writing sonnets, despite the rigid formula. It’s like making a giant jigsaw puzzle, creating and cutting your own pieces to form a poetic picture.

And I’ve always loved jigsaw puzzles.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't Ya Listen to Him, Dan

Here’s the thing about temptation: You never know which face it’ll be wearing when you make its acquaintance.

For instance, it could be that sly and sneaky face that inveigles itself into your life and before you know it, there’s a whole part you’d like to delete before anyone else finds out about it.

Or, it could be the one that jumps up and slams you right in the mouth. Just like it did me. And I'll tell you about it.

I was walking along up there by Summit Creek one day, lugging my big yellow litter bag and picking up beer cans and McFastfood wrappers. Nice day. Hot and sunny.

Wasn’t too long before I realized the amount of thirst-quenching liquid I was carrying wasn’t in proportion to the distance I’d bitten off. I was down to the last dregs of Coke Zero and still had a good half mile to go before I reached my truck and the bottle of water there.

Well, I started thinking about that luscious looking creek that plummeted through the culverts under the highway near where I’d parked. White water cascading over boulders, a grassy bank dappled with happy yellow dandelions. I could dump the last of the Coke Zero from the bottle and fill it with crisp, cold mountain stream water. The water’s moving rapidly. It’s exposed to the sun for long stretches. Should be okay.

As I trudged along behind the guard rail picking up soda bottles and latte cups, I thought I heard singing from off my starboard side:

Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t ya listen to him , Dan.

He’s a devil, not a man,

and he spreads the burning sand with wa-ter.

Cool, clear wa-ter…

I looked around, but couldn’t find anything that could be the source of that old Sons of the Pioneers song, but those words made me even more thirsty. I imagined feeling wobbly from dehydration. I took another sip of the Coke Zero, which by now seemed warmer than air temperature and icky, sticky, and yucky.

I saw the creek ahead of me, just a hundred yards at most. I yearned for the cold water going down my throat, washing away the glacial grit in my mouth.

Oh, Dan, can’t you see that great green tree

Where’s the water’s runnin’ free and it’s waiting there

For you and me-e-e-e.

With water, cool, clear, water…

In my mind the Coke Zero became a vile, medicinal, nasty potion. I vowed I'd make it a bit farther.

Cool, clear, water…

I tied off the full litter bag and set it alongside the pavement for the highway guys to pick up. The backpack came off so I could get another empty bag. I gazed at the bottle of Coke, put it back in the backpack. I wanted water. I NEEDED water.

I leaned against the outside of the guardrail and looked around me. I’ve always liked this stretch of the highway. There used to be an old log cabin over there where my truck is parked. It was so picturesque it could have been a perfect icon for Alaska. I thought of some of the stories Ol’ Ed used to tell about stopping at that cabin while delivering the mail to Hope by dog team.

Mountains line both sides of the valley. My husband had bagged his first moose around the corner, up in the willow thickets on that mountain right in front of me.

Black and white caught my eye—several pairs of Barrow’s Goldeneyes were paddling happily around a mound big enough to be a Class C motor home. As I realized I was looking at the mother of all beaver lodges, I spotted the tell-tale wake from a furry little brown head swimming through the pond, heading my way.

Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t ya listen to him, Dan…

I don’t need no stinkin’ Giardia, I told myself. Drink the Coke Zero and get back to the truck. There’s water there.

But, it’ll be warm and yucky, temptation whined.

Giardia. Beaver fever. Nasty little intestinal parasite.

And it’s waitin’ there for you and me-e-e, with water…

The devil made me do it. I took only a sip. Not even a mouthful. Certainly no where near what I needed to quench my thirst. I dipped it from the fastest flowing part of the creek, eyed it suspiciously as if I could see multi-legged critters in it. A wee, bitty, little sip.

If you don’t hear from me after a few days go by, you’ll know where I am. I’ll be spending my days in my bathroom, cursing beavers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Litter Picking on a Tuesday Afternoon

I went out to clean up litter about seven miles from home for a while this afternoon.

Seriously, could you ask for anything more?

This is something I found a couple days ago while climbing out of a ditch. I came upon it at the right angle, and saw a miniature monster with multiple horns growing out of its forehead.

I've also seen many emerging wildflowers getting a head start on our short summer season.

Don't ask me what they are. I could look them up, but I'm too tired right now.

This one I do know. It's a lupine.

Less than a half mile from home, I saw this very young, very shy moose. This is a creature that must have been designed by a committee.

I also saw the largest porcupine I've ever seen! It must have been three feet long. It also was very shy, and dashed off into the bushes before I could stop the truck, get out, and turn on the camera.

My, what will tomorrow bring?

Bag count: 239
Broken grab sticks: remains at 3

Monday, May 24, 2010

Some Day, When I'm Old and Gray...

Pablo and I returned Sunday night from our camping trip at Silvertip. Today I was cleaning out the trailer, ridding it of all the grit and silt I'd tracked in after filling 38 bags with roadside litter over a five-mile stretch of beautiful highway. When, lo and behold....

(To the tune of The Way You Look Tonight)

Some day, when I’m old and gray,

and I’ve given up,

I will lift a lid and then I’ll find you,

right where I’d put you away.

Yes, I’ve missed you, all those credit cards,

my Costco membership..

There was nothing for me but replace you,

‘cause nowhere that I’d looked was right.

With each year my forgetfulness grows,

hiding my SCUBA card….

And my senior pass to all the national parks,

I’ve bought two more since I lost you…

To-day, when I cleaned the camper out,

thinned down what I carry,

don’t need this casserole dish, and then I found you,

right where I’d put you away.

Let It Go

He warned me not to look,
the damage had been great,
the trauma more than I could bear.
Just let it go, he said,
and so I paused.

You must accept, he said.
He meant well for me.
Grieve today and tomorrow,
and trust it will get better
over time.

But what is worse, I ask myself?
Knowing or not knowing?
Which takes more strength?
Looking and knowing,
or not looking, not knowing?

It’s been on the news
and now everybody knows
how even great Goliath
can be felled
with a simple stone.

He warned me not to look,
but I really had to know.
And so I steeled myself,
drew a breath and looked
at my stock portfolio.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I promised Pablo the Parrot a camping trip Friday, so a camping trip it is. I keep telling myself he doesn't know today's Friday, but a promise is a promise, so today we go a couple dozen miles up the highway to pick litter off and on for several days and immerse myself in poetry and digital photography lessons. The poetry class has fired up my muse so much she had me up until 5 AM, which is why I was hoping today wasn't Friday. See you in a few days, unless I sneak home to use the PC.

In the meantime, enjoy the story of Bogie and Bacall below this note.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Smaller Picture

The things that live in my house with me are being coy these days. That’s another way of saying I can’t find a blooming thing I’m looking for.

I promised Pablo Parrot a camping trip, and it’s supposed to start tomorrow, and what am I going to do if I can’t find the things I need? Yes, Pablo likes traveling with me. He likes the truck:

And he likes the little travel trailer:

He doesn’t particularly care where we’re going as long as he gets to go. He thinks it’s ever so much more fun than being left at home.

Pablo enjoying a fabulous view of Mt. Denali (the mountain formerly known as McKinley).

But, back to those things that are hiding. I launched a concerted search-and-discover expedition this morning. I found the DSLR camera I’ve been looking for the last five days. It was right in front of my face. Well, it was right in front of my face once I put myself in the proper arena.

Ditto with the little black cords that I have to use to connect that camera and a point and shoot to my computer because my three year old computer is obsolete and doesn’t know flash cards come larger than 2gigs. Both cords also were right in front of my face.

Which segues nicely into the whole point of this story. Meet Bogie and Bacall, out on a romantic dinner date.
That's Bogie in the foreground; Bacall is in shadow.

I came across them while I was picking up litter about ten miles down the road in an area called Crown Point, so named after a gold mine that was there a century or so ago.

Neither saw me as I came strolling towards them. I stopped about thirty feet from them, and started using the zoom on the point and shoot. There’s a line of trees between them and the highway, breaking up the afternoon sunshine into vertical ribbons, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t why they didn’t see me.

Bogie was enjoying the entrée—fresh wild greens. Bacall was dawdling over her salad, so Bogie ambled right towards me.

Check out the cool Mohawk on Bogie.

Eventually Bacall finished her salad and came looking for the entrée.
When she reached me, I switched the camera over to video record because I wanted to record the noises they were making. Bacall was whimpering "mmm-mmm-mmm". Bogie was making deeper-toned noises, kind of "uhn-uhn-uhn," which I interpreted to mean, “Don’t bother me. I’m eating.” Some romantic.

I have been trying every day to upload those videos with the noises. Those two porcupines were very vocal, especially Bacall. But, despite using every straight-forward and every sneaky weapon in my mini-arsenal, I have yet to be successful at that uploading.

At one point, Bacall came within two feet of me and was moving closer. I stepped back and she sensed the movement, quickly turning her back to me. That’s the business end of a porucupine. She held that for a few seconds, then relaxed, and moved towards Bogie.


He was still eating, absolutely oblivious to me standing less than five feet from him.

Porcupines on the highway usually wind up being road pizza, but these two survived that day

I know because I continued on my way and found Sarah Palin lying face down in a ditch.

Her campaign poster, I mean.
Face down.
In the ditch.

So, when I came back on the other side of the highway, Bogie and Bacall were nowhere in sight. A lot like the things that live in my house.

I have a theory about Bogie and Bacall, though. I think I was too big for them to see, like the chickadees that land on you while you’re spreading peanut butter on the bird feeder. They’re looking for the peanut butter and they have no idea you’re in their world.

That’s not an excuse the still-lost little coin purse, the one with the images of wolves on it, that contains my extra flash cards and batteries can use however.

PS: If you're wondering about this whole Bogie-Bacall thing, and how I know which was who and who was what, well, I was profiling.
Totally based on behavior.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Tails

This fanny pack, plus a bright orange and yellow safety vest, is what I wear litter picking. See the silver water bottle? It's called a Kleen Kanteen, and I love it.

It was given to me by Glenn and Jen, a thank you for keeping Koa fed and entertained for a few weeks one winter while they vacationed some place warm.

Remember Koa? She's the long-legged dog I swear is part giraffe, who de-tailed Pablo parrot one day when I let Koa in and forgot Pablo was out of his cage. I'm not sure who instigated the fight, but I have reason to suspect a little green and yellow bird might be the guilty culprit. When I remembered and raced upstairs to see if the bird was still alive, I found all these feathers acattered around the carpet.

Other than having a sore tail from de-feathering, only Pablo's ego was hurt.

Post-partum mini-tail

Tail feathers

Koa was suitably chastised.

But back to the Kleen Kanteen.

It has a lot of things going for it:

It's much better than the plastic soda bottles I had used.

It's the right size at 27 oz.

It's made of food grade stainless steel.

It's non-toxic.

It's lightweight.

Ice cubes can fit in its wide mouth.

It's dishwasher safe.

It's stronger than my tail bone.

On the downside:

It's stronger than my tailbone.

I found that out by falling on it while trying to back out of a brushy ditch.

Ever since then I've been sitting down very, ve-e-e-e-r-r-r-y carefully.

Stupid bone connected to de tailbone...

[litter bags filled so far this year: 161
grab sticks broken so far this year: 3]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Look Who I Found Lying Face Down in a Ditch!

Well, well, well. What ever could this be?

Oh, my. If it isn't ol' Half-Term herself.

Oh. Did I say "WHO I found lying face down in a ditch?"

Dearies, pardon me. I so meant to say "WHAT I found lying face down in a ditch."

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I was tired. My feet hurt, my shoulders ached, the skinless spot on my right foot was starting to sting again. My hands didn't want to carry the heavy bags anymore. Plus, I was cold.

I was also fed up with walking through brush that was cut too high, leaving stiff, scratchy willow and alder stumps between a foot and sixteen inches high. Stumps just waiting to trip me up, snag holes in the yellow bag I was carrying, and otherwise confound my efforts to pick up litter in the ditches through the small village of Moose Pass today.

Besides, I was still aching a bit from yesterday’s litter picking. I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard lately, trying to finish this area before I head north into the mountains where the walking is easier.

The wind has been blowing all week and the sun has been a no-show. I’ve been wearing a long-sleeved thermal shirt over my tee shirt, and a Carhartt jacket over that. Even the bright orange and yellow safety vest adds some protection from the wind. Then I wear a sweat band on my head, for its original purpose as well as to keep the tips of my ears warm.

Eventually, perspiration dampens the back of my tee shirt as I climb up and down steep ditches, dragging a bag quickly filling with beer bottles, plastic, aluminum, and paper, and I strip off a layer. Then I get chilled.

So that’s how things were going as I walked the bike path adjacent to the two lane highway through town this afternoon. Across the highway from me, two young boys were playing with their bikes in Clarence’s yard. Every dog in town was barking at me, making Clarence’s words hard to hear.

Finally, “We saw a rabbit!” came through loud and clear in the high-pitched voice of an excited young boy. Those long-eared snowshoe hares are everywhere this year, which probably explains the abundance of coyote sign and wolf tracks I’ve been seeing. The hares have lost almost all their winter white fur, and are now close to being totally gray.

Funny thing about hares—they always want to be on the opposite side of the road when they see you approaching. Moose seem to share the same instinct.

I trudged on another couple hundred yards, then came back on the opposite side, the side no almost no shoulder and lots of sharp, cut-off brush in the ditch. When I neared Clarence’s yard, he told me again about the rabbit. There was a plastic bag snagged in an alder bush at the edge of his yard, and I asked him to get it for me. He came back with the bag and a couple aluminum cans.

His young friend, a blondish boy about the same age whom I’ve never seen before, stopped his bike in front of me and said, “Thank you for what you’re doing. I love you.”

Suddenly, my feet stopped hurting. Suddenly I wasn’t chilled. Suddenly it was all worthwhile.

Friday, May 14, 2010

But I Didn't Swear an Oath

Raindrops tapped at my windowpanes. Rogue winds whistled around, looking for a way to burgle my house. That infernal alarm clock went “beep, beep, beep,” the kind of high-pitched noise you can hear long after you deliver a roundhouse right to the snooze button.

If ever a morning was made for staying in bed, today was the one. If ever a morning was made for going back to bed after one got a glimpse of the weather, this most certainly was the one.

Outside temperature was down to 37 degrees and the new snow line uncomfortably close on the mountains. Ah, to slip back between the still-warm sheets, pull the covers over me and cocoon till noon. Gather the blanket tight around my neck to prevent any stray finger of cool air sneaking into my bed.

Not to be, though, not at all. And all because some bloomin’ over-achiever decided this should be the unofficial creed of the U.S. Post Office: And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, not the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds.

Sigh. It isn’t the sworn duty of postal carriers. They don’t have a creed. But like show business, the mail must go on. Besides, I’d given my word, and as a credentialed letter carrier I was sworn to deliver mail instead of going back to bed on a cold, rainy, windy Friday morning.

This was a double-layered long-sleeved day, a rarity for me. And off I went on the 130 mile route.

I drove through mixed rain and snow flurries through the higher elevation of Summit pass, then descended to the Hope road where the soft chartreuse of new leaves blanketed the forest. Drop off mail, wait an hour, pick up mail, drop off mail, back-tracking all the way to Tern Lake, then taking the right hand road to Cooper Landing.

There were absolute, positive signs that this is summer.

Rafters on Sixmile Creek, survivors of the Class V rapids.

Equestrians saddling up at the Resurrection trail.

Little rascal sorrel chewing on her partner's rein.

Businesses closed for the winter are open, yards being spruced up. Litter pickers with big yellow bags cleaning up the roadsides.

And finally, the proof positive: A boat, an RV, and a toy box, all heading south to the Kenai Peninsula, the summer playground of Alaska. This is a higher elevation and probably a week behind Hope in greening-up. This is very close to where I live.

It’s good for me to get out of the house. I know that. I know that even though I so wanted to go back to bed this morning. And I would have, except for two things:

My word for one. And that wretched unofficial postal creed.