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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Litter Notes for Memorial Day Weekend

Oh, boy.  The highway guys don't work Fridays and they have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off for Memorial Day weekend.  Plus, if I go litter-picking late Thursday, the bags don't get picked up that day.  That gave me five days to clean up litter along the Seward Highway, five days for the bags to sit beside the road where all the passers-by can see that CARE about how our road looks.

It's just a theory I have, one that I pretend keeps me from getting too discouraged.  I theorize that if people see the yellow litter bags and someone out there cleaning up, it will make them think again about littering.  And then maybe they won't.  I'll never be able to prove this theory though.

Anyway, here are tidbits from the weekend, though they can't top the bear story I wrote about previously.

This is my truck.
This is my truck parked twenty-eight miles from home.

This is my truck, parked twenty-eight miles from home, with the keys locked inside it.

: /

(Hitch-hiked, got the spares, found a neighbor at home who gave me a ride.  Thanks again, Erin.)

I found this stuff (all empty) together, discarded in a pullout.  Seriously, do these not work at counter-purposes?

I find bongs frequently, little glass bongs.  But this?  Zowie.  The beer bottle is for size comparison.  Maybe the bong was using the product above?

This is in Silvertip, my favorite area for litter-picking, a two lane highway with a bike path adjacent.  This is the nice and placid Sixmile Creek.  Just downstream from here it turns into roiling, raft-upturning Class V and VI rapids.  Like so:

I noticed the wowie in the guard rail along the bike path and thought a car might have hit it this winter.

 Not so, when I reached this side, I realized Sixmile Creek was trying to eat the bike path.  Notice the cracked pavement along its edge.

Someone had placed these well-chewed remnants of small moose antlers along the bike path.

Ah, the wild violets.  They range in color from this deep violet.....

....through lavender blue....

...oh, dear....

...I can't help it....

...here it comes....

♫ Dilly, dilly…♫

On May 31?  You've gotta be kidding me!

There were 60 plus litter bags lining Miles 50 through 66, like yellow caldelaria, when I quit for the day yesterday.  I am two miles from my goal, the rest areas in Turnagain Pass and this is the earliest I have ever been this far by two weeks.  Then I'll start working closer to home, but making the occasional run to Turnagain to "police" the roads.   My feet are holding up okay with just an occasional twinge from the complaining ankle.

Last year I set a new record by going all the way down the pass to Turnagain Arm saltwater at Ingram Creek, another eight miles away, and the end of the Silvertip Maintenance section.  With gas prices the way they are, I'm not sure I'll do that this year.  Each time I go that far takes five gallons of gas.

Total litter bags to date:  309

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

My dad,        

his flag,

and for all the others.

Litter Notes: The Inevitable Bear Encounter

It was inevitable, I knew, that one day I would encounter a bear in my travels along the Seward Highway in the Chugach National Forest.  Not for nothing do I carry a can of bear spray.
My camera is not set on zoom; it's set on macro.

Yesterday was the day I literally came face to face with Ursus horribilis..  That I'm here to tell this story means all is well with me.  Not so with the bear.

I'd finished my mile of litter cleanup for the day, and decided to visit a couple pullouts farther up the road.  This particular pullout isn't even an official one.  It isn't marked with a blue "P" sign for parking and it isn't paved.  It's just a wide spot in the road at Mile 66 in Turnagain Pass.

The wide spot in the road at Mile 66.

But Alaskans know about it and--I'm sorry to say--if Alaskans know about, there will be lots of beer cans and other litter there.  I walked to the far end of the place and started cleaning.  The embankment here is fairly shallow and I walked down to pick litter out of the brush.

As the sad old lament goes, one beer [beer can, that is] led to another, and soon I was far from the gravel and deep into the thick brush.  Had the willows been leafed out, I never would have seen the blond and cinnamon fur five yards through the brush.  I stopped dead in my tracks and watched for movement.

See my yellow bag just right of center?  That's where I came face to face with the bear.

I knew what that amount of fur covering that large a spot meant.  Was it sleeping?   "They" tell you make lots of noise in bear country so you don't startle a bear.  It'll leave, they tell you, and you might not even know how close it was.  Forget wearing bells, a savvy friend told me.  The bears think the noise is from birds and ignore it.

But, here I was in the willow brush. One leap and it would be upon me.  I wouldn't even have time to duck and cover.  Maybe I should just sneak away, back to the safety of my truck.  But, I didn't dare turn my back on it because it could awaken at any second.

I continued to watch for movement.  Something didn't look right.  I began to think it was a hide and gut pile from a hunter-killed bear.  But the hide is what they're after, I told myself.  No movement.  I crept closer.

It didn't move.  Eventually I was standing just a few feet from it.  It was definitely dead, but still something didn't look right.  Was it lying on a mattress?  What's all this cotton?  And why didn't it stink?

My eyes traveled the length of the hide to the head.  I saw teeth, but no eye socket.

A fake bear?  But this fur was real.  It had hide attached to it.

Oh, for Pete's sakes.  It was a bear hide rug.  A real one.  But how on earth did it get out here and so far from the highway?  I started filling the litter bag.  I had to go back to the truck for more bags.

The fiberglass skull itself filled a bag.  That's when I had this great idea.

Back at the pullout, I tied shut the litter bags for the highway guys to pick up when they return to work after the holiday.   I had one bag of regular litter and three bags of bear litter.  Inside the regular litter bag was the  lid from a large plastic tote.  I tried, but couldn't tie the bag shut, so I put another bag on top of it to keep the wind from sucking the paper litter out.

I believe that you should take your fun where you find it, and here's the fun part.  When the highway guy grabs the top bag to throw it in his truck and exposes the bag below it, this is what he'll see:

Seriously, even with litter one can have fun!  With blog stories, one can have even more fun.

And for the record, this is now officially the weirdest thing I have found while litter picking.

ADDENDUM:  More "bear" stories. 

The day before yesterday I was cleaning litter and had the sudden suspicion a bear was in the area.  I didn't smell anything or hear anything.  Just had a feeling.

I pulled the can of bear spray from my fanny pack and slipped it inside my safety vest for quicker access.  If there had been a bear in the area, I never saw it.

I have another "bear" story from yesterday.  I was almost back at my truck when I noticed a truck turn around and head back towards me.  It stopped where I was parked and a woman jumped out.

Lost tourists," was my thought.  Instead, the woman said, "You're the one who's out here frequently, aren't you?"

I responded that I was and wondered if they'd lost something and hoped I'd watch for it.

She stuck out her hand.  I thought she wanted to shake hands, but in her hand was a twenty dollar bill.

"I just want to thank you," she said.  "So many people really appreciate what you're doing out here."  I declined the $20.

"Please take it.  Buy yourself some new gloves or something."

Then I recalled when I gassed up the truck that morning that this was the fourth tank of gas and all for cleaning up litter.  Twenty-five gallons of gas each time at $4 a gallon, means $100 a tank times four tanks.  Gulp.  Four hundred dollars to clean up litter.

I took the twenty bucks and told her why.

Then she gave me a "bear" hug.

Totally cool.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Miscellany of May, Part One

Well, I did it.  I stalled around long enough this morning that it's started spitting rain.  Now I don't have to make up excuses for not putting another coat of stain on the new deck railings.

I did stain another section yesterday and I didn't have to weigh down the drop cloth with a half cord of firewood, either.
The big stain of stain is from a couple days ago when a wind gust flipped over the paint tray.

Holding down the drop cloth.  Yes, I stumble over the weights.

Behr calls this "clear."  I call it "sh-- brindle brown."  Actually, it ages to a nice amber glow but doesn't match the rest of my house, which was finished in that miserable "Rawhide" that got Behr sued in a class action suit.  The one I found out about too late.  Now I have to sand down my entire house and refinish it.
Yesterday afternoon at 3 PM when I left to go litter picking, this is what the thermometer read:

When I got back home, I checked the memory:

I don't know how this could be, unless the back deck was on fire.  The remote sensor is under my back deck, fastened to a shady side of a beam.   I knew it was hot where I was, but wow!  And seriously?  Ninety-eight per cent humidity?  Get real.  Maybe the fire department was there putting out the make-believe fire?

And the raindrop symbols?  Yesterday was clear and hot.

Here's a first:

Found a crushed Hohner harmonica along the roadside.  Sometimes I daydream about how things might have gotten to where I find them.  Did dad finally have enough, rip this out of some kid's hand, and toss it out the window?  Or did it fall from a bicycler's pocket as he wheeled along the bike path?

The highway department has been mowing down roadside brush.  Here, along the Tern Lake pullout which is a very popular spot for people to stop and take pictures, they've cut down the hedge of wild rose bushes

The roses will grow back, but in the meantime these little devils will have their fun.  Growing within the canes of roses, these stinging nettles used to be hidden.  The thorns on the roses kept most people away from them.  Now, they're right out there in the open.  Beware, folks.

The first salmonberry blossoms of spring.

I received this brochure in the mail yesterday.  It's from Road Scholar (nee Elderhostel).

On the front cover at the lower left is our "class photo," a group shot of a hike I took with Road Scholar last fall, complete with the sweet little dog that adopted us and accompanied us for the entire hike in a slot canyon.  Of course, we shared our water and lunch with her.

And then overnight, the soft and subtle chartreuse of early summer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Oh, those little blue pills...

Oh, my goodness, don't I love those little blue pills.

I think about how diminished my life would be without them, what I would be missing had they never been invented, and the dismay is unfathomable.  Would life still be worth living?

Thank goodness Costco sells them in the giant economy bottle.

The waiting for one to kick in is almost unbearable, but it certainly adds to their allure.

And then...

the rush of ecstasy...

the wave of release..

the relief from pain...


Yes, pain.

I'm talking about Aleve. 

You know,  naproxyn sodium, the over-the-counter pain relievers for my aching feet.

What did you THINK I was talking about?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why, Two

Why, you might ask, would I park my very nice Toyota Sienna mini-van in the garage all winter and instead drive my Dodge Dakota mid-sized truck?

The Toyota is exceptionally nice, with leather seats, automatic doors, even a video player with fold-down TV screen for the rear seat passengers.  It gets 26 mpg.  Other than a battery-draining problem right after I bought it, it has given me no trouble.

The truck is very nice, a crew cab, has four wheel drive, and gets 16 miles to the gallon.  It likes to spend about $1500 worth of time in the repair shop almost every year.

 So, why?

This Dodge Grand Caravan pictured below is the reason.

I came across this vehicle this afternoon on my way to my current litter-picking site.  It was parked in a pullout, with no one in the car.

A hundred yards up the road, two women from Cooper Landing were parked on the shoulder of the highway.  This is what they were doing:

Mmm-hmm.  They were dressing out a road-killed moose cow.

Here's a few more photos of that mini-van with the sloping hood.
The perfect profile for scooping up those long-legged critters.

This driver was lucky.  Often the moose go right through the windshield into the driver's lap.  Note the moose hair on the windshield.  Some of it was actually embedded in the cracked glass.

Later this evening I was heading home and stopped at this same pullout to pick up any new litter.  A fellow was there, getting ready to tow the Dodge home.  This is what he told me:

The moose had come down a steep, brush-covered embankment which hid her approach to the highway.  She was no farther than twenty feet from him when he first saw her and didn't have time to react.  His five year old son was in the rear seat.  Neither were injured.

A number of people stopped.  The driver of the Dodge used a pistol borrowed from a passing trucker to dispatch the suffering moose.

Like most of us who have lived in Alaska for a while, we've all had close calls with moose.  What's important, as the father said, "My boy's alive. He's my only child.  My boy's alive and unhurt."

This is one of the reasons a number of Alaskans drive trucks and large SUVs.  This is the reason my mini-van stays in a heated garage all winter when moose/vehicle collisions are more likely to occur because of the darkness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Once in a while, after a spell of nasty weather or a particularly frustrating day, it's good to have reminders of why I live here.

This photo was taken at 9:30 PM, an hour and a half before the sun will slip behind the mountains.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

: /

When I'm working on something, I resent interruptions.  I want to continue doing what I'm doing, regardless.

That doesn't mean I don't take breaks--rest breaks, snack breaks, potty breaks are all okay.  It's stopping what I'm doing and having to do something else that annoys me and makes it difficult to get back to the original project.

Sunday I spent more than six hours picking up litter at a pull out and a mile and a quarter of highway, filling 14 bags with litter and the lawn rakings that somebody had dumped at the pull out.   The nearest dwelling is 30 miles away, so why would anyone drive that far to dump dead grass, leaves, and twigs here?

Anyway, I was pretty tired Sunday night and looking forward to sleeping until 8 AM.  Dave was going to show up at 9 to continue working on the deck railings.

I should have known better.  The carbon monoxide detector in my bedroom chose 6:15 AM to tell me its battery was running low.  After I unplugged it and ripped the battery out by its miserable roots, there was no going back to sleep.

Ever so much fun to use with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Today I'm taking advantage of the first decent weather we've had in more than a week--sanding down the cedar framework for the hand and guard rails around my extensive deck.  I took a break to get some water and use the garage bathroom, which is when I discovered the igniter element for the contraption that heats my house and supplies domestic hot water had failed.

Rails with one coat of finish.  Two or three more coats and then we'll be stringing the 1/8th stainless steel wire in the framework.

No biggie, I thought, intent on getting back outside to finish sanding and put a coat of sealer on the cedar.  Just takes a minute to change, after I  find the right size of nut driver.  With five choices in hand, I opened the door to the internal works, tried all the nut drivers, found the right one, and removed the igniter, dropping one of the tiny nuts that holds the igniter in place.

There was no place for it to go yet it took five minutes of flashlight and careful exploration by hand in the tiny compartment before I located it.  I vacuumed the chamber, inserted the new igniter and put on one of the nuts.  The other one, the one I'd dropped in the first place, was in a difficult area to reach, and I dropped it four more times before I finally got it started.

After that, it was easy to finish the job and put the vacuum cleaner and all the tools away.  By this time, it was after 1 PM, so I figured I might as well have lunch before getting back to the sanding.

I went to the kitchen just in time to hear the carbon monoxide detector in the living room telling me its battery was running low.

As I said above, "It's stopping what I'm doing and having to do something else that annoys me and makes it difficult to get back to the original project."

Which is why I'm in the loft telling you about all this when I should be outside sanding and staining.

That's the igniter at the bottom.