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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Current Events

I was shocked beyond belief when someone’s cell phone rang during the hearings before the United States Supreme Court.  The justices were protected behind bullet-proof glass, to be sure, but how could a live cell phone have gotten past security?

And, now that I mention it, just where WAS security?  I didn’t recall going through security to get into the courtroom where the Supreme Court had chosen to hold the Affordable Health Care Act (Obabacare) hearings.  Historic hearings, at that.  Three days of hearings, each day on a different aspect in the challenges to the act.

I’d missed the first day of hearings because of illness, I told my boss—my editor at the Anchorage newspaper where I work as a reporter covering the courts.  (I coughed frequently, just to show him  how sick I was.)  Then I promised I’d make up for it.  I had a plan to interview several local attorneys who had attended the hearings the previous day, and to make certain I was being fair, I planned interviews with both Republican and Democrat lawyers, asking each to give me a synopsis of the previous day’s arguments.

Then off I went to the Federal Building, which was behind a row of storefront cafes and shops.  By following the crowd, I found the proper auditorium courtroom.  I’d never been in this particular courtroom before and didn’t know where the press box was until I spotted well-known reporter Sheila sitting in a special section at the right front.

There was one problem with the plush over-stuffed press box seats:  they all leaned to the left so much I couldn’t stay in my own seat, but found myself leaning on my neighbor to the left.  That neighbor, by the way, was my actual neighbor, who just happens to be a Democrat and used to be a reporter.

I kept surveying the spectators filling the courtroom, looking for the attorneys I wanted to interview.  A few rows back, I heard a bunch of women chant, “Free Mr. Zimmerman!  Free Mr. Zimmerman!”  Good grief, I thought.  Demonstrations in front of our Supreme Court justices and inside the courtroom, no less.  What has this country come to?  I had no idea what their cause was, though the name seemed familiar.

The hearing was supposed to start at 1 PM.  All the justices were seated and apparently ready to hear arguments.  A woman I assumed to be an intern began microphone checks by singing a couple lines, to a smattering of applause.  Then each justice tested his/her own mic by doing the same, each to great applause. Chief Justice Roberts has a great singing voice, by the way.  My neighbor and I began discussing which blonde was Sandra Day O’Connor because there were two blondes in black robes.

I was still puzzling about this while trying to keep from sliding left off my seat--some vague memory about Justice O’Connor retiring a few years prior--when the cell phone went off just as it was Justice Ginsburg’s turn for a mic test.

I looked behind me, aghast at the effrontery of someone leaving their cell phone turned on during arguments before the United States Supreme Court, even if they were in an Anchorage, Alaska, courtroom.

That’s when I realized it was my phone ringing.  My land line, not my cell phone.  I was at home, in bed, and sound asleep.  The whole thing had been a dream--metaphors, current events, and all. 

I woke up laughing, laughed through my shower, laughed while getting dressed, laughed as I uncovered Pablo’s cage—who immediately took offense because he thought I was laughing at him. 

“No, Pablo, I’m not laughing at you” I said, “I’ve just been watching too much news lately.”

(This kind of stuff never stops.)

How Far We've Come

Today marks 48 years since the earth broke beneath Southcentral Alaska.  Forty-eight years since a 9.2Mm earthquake sent subdivisions sliding into the deadly waters of Cook Inlet, homes and businesses crashing to the buckling ground, and gigantic walls of water across the cities and villages of coastal Alaska and as far south as Oregon and California.

Buildings were left partially suspended in air after the ground fell out from beneath them, buildings cracked in half, and second stories were shaken apart but first floors left intact.

And people died.

I was going to post photos of that disaster.  Then, last night, I was perusing Facebook and came across a more recent photo of Anchorage.   I decided it would be a fitting photograph of Anchorage on this earthquake anniversary day.  It is, of course, only a small portion of that sprawling city.

Here it is:

The only credit I could find for this photo is Alaska.org.

The mountain across Cook Inlet is named Mt. Susitna.  It is also called The Sleeping Lady as suggested by its form.

PS:  I had a whole post written about Seward, Valdez, and other coastal cities damaged in the earthquake, but Google blog editor is going crazy today, so I am posting what has survived that craziness, not the least of which is my inability to type today.

Monday, March 26, 2012

By the Light of the Moon

I was trying to photograph the waxing crescent moon and its current neighbors Venus and Jupiter last night, and was having trouble getting the moon to show as a crescent.  This is what I mean;

That's a crescent moon, just a lower sliver of it, but it looks like a fuzzy white blob.  Above it is Venus and directly beneath is Jupiter.  I played with various settings on the camera, to no avail.  I thought the problem was that it was still too light and decided to wait until later.

Here's later:

That helped a bit, but not enough.  A few dozen attempts later, I gave up trying to get a silhouette of the landscape in the photo, and zoomed in.

Better, but still not what I was looking for.  I zoomed in as far as my 36 power zoom would go, and got this:

Cool picture but I would have liked to have Venus and Jupiter in there also.  By this time, they were spreading farther apart.

Ah, well.  What a display.

I'm told that with a backyard telescope you can see Jupiter's moons.

For a colorful article about this celestial conjunction, which occurs roughly every quarter century, see this story in the Washington Post:


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day and Night in My Part of the World

Two months ago, late morning sunshine briefly kissed my house for the first time since mid-November.  As the weeks went by, the sun rose higher and higher from behind the mountain to the south.  Now we have several hours of sunshine before it dips behind the mountain in mid-afternoon.

Late this afternoon it emerged from behind a descending ridgeline to warm my home again.  It won't be long now and we will have sun from early morning until almost midnight.

Shining on the house,

And in the house.

Just as this welcome miracle was again disappearing behind the mountain, I pulled out of my driveway and headed for Seward.  Iron Lady was playing at the Liberty Theater, and I wanted to see Meryl Streep in the role of Margaret Thatcher, the role that won her an Oscar this year.
When I left the theater at 9:30 and started out of town, Venus and Jupiter were shining brightly above the mountains to the west.  The town of Seward nestles at the foot of those mountains, and climbs as high up their feet as it can, which really isn't very far.   Maybe far enough to avoid a tsunami, unless it's a really big one.  I stopped and took one photo.

The brightest star is Venus.  Jupiter is below and to the right, just above the mountain.

In the notch between one mountain and the next, I spotted a crescent moon.  I needed a place high enough to see the moon, dark enough for a good shot, and away from the power lines in town.  I found it on the other side of Resurrection Bay.

From the top:  Venus, Jupiter, crescent moon, Mt. Marathon and its neighbors, and the City of Seward.  Resurrection Bay is the darkness in the foreground.

In order to get that photo, I had to climb part way up a seven foot high snowbank and stab my tripod into the snow.  This is one of the photos I took of the moon as I was unintentionally sliding down that snowbank.

Okay, one more photo and them I'm off to bed.

Venus missed out in this shot because I was trying to get a decent photo of that amazing crescent moon.  Boy, I sure wish I'd had my good camera with me instead of only the point and shoot.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Another Writing Prompt from Ann Linquist

Prompt:  The road sign said the end of the journey was just ahead.  Was I ready to get there?

What can I say?  The road sign said the end of the journey was near.  Heck, there have been road signs since last summer.  Was I ready for it to end, for this relationship to reach its end?

I did everything I could on my part.  Maintaining a relationship with Bob while living in different towns was beyond difficult, especially with his work schedule.  I never saw him at all during the summers, and only a few times during our long winters.  We talked on the phone occasionally, usually when he was coming my way and would plan to stop in for a bit.

The times when he was here were fleeting, but intense.  Very intense.  Most of the time, as he was preparing to leave again, he asked for money, and I, I am reluctant to admit, never quibbled but pulled out the check book and gave him whatever amount he requested.

The last time he was here, just a few days ago, he brought another man with him, probably to help with what he had decided to do.   Sure enough, as they were leaving Bob said, “You shouldn’t have to call me again.” 

There is was—the end of a friendship.  Was I ready for it to end?  Yes.

In fact, I’d been preparing for the end myself.  I already had a 100 watt light bulb keeping the lift station floats from freezing.  I thought that would end it.  But when Bob, the Roto Rooter man, and Travis threaded a thaw cable down the septic line and plugged it in, we both sincerely hoped that would solve my winter septic line freezing problems.

Never in my life has a relationship ended with such happiness and hope for the future.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ann's Writing Prompt

The writing prompt at Ann Linquist's site"

The top shelf in the corner kitchen cabinet, the one that’s hard to reach.
A small, glitter-covered, red and yellow bird
A blank check mistakenly thrown into the trash. 
A step ladder with no third step.

And what happened after the muse chewed on it for a while:

Emma fetched the step ladder from the garage and carried it up the half flight of stairs to the kitchen level.

“That Chester,” she said. “He’s never around when I need him. Wonder where he’s off to now.”

She set the ladder down on the kitchen floor, turned it so the legs would open parallel with the counter, then opened the legs, watching carefully so they didn’t bang the kitchen cabinets.

Once the ladder was in place, Emma walked over to the door that led to the basement and opened it. “Chester?” she yelled. “Chester, are you down there?” Silence floated up the stairs and filled the kitchen, wrapping Emma in its shroud.

“Where is that man? I swear. He can disappear faster than a cat with its tail on fire. Oh, my. Now that’s terrible image. Poor cat. I wonder if that Hendricks boy set the cat’s tail on fire. Bet he did. He’s always getting into some trouble or ‘nother.”

She gave the ladder a shake to test its sturdiness, took a deep breath, and set her foot on the first step. With one hand on the ladder and the other on the kitchen counter, Emma lifted her weight off her other foot and put it on the first step, too. She had to bend a little to keep her hand on the counter when she stepped up to the second step.

The third step was the hardest. There wasn’t one. She had that on Chester’s Honey-Do list. “Replace the missing step on the stepladder.”

If he doesn’t get to it pretty soon, I’m going to buy a new ladder, she thought.

She moved a leg to kneel on the counter and brought her other leg over to do the same. Hanging onto the ladder with one hand and pushing up on the counter with the other, Emma rose to an upright, though precarious, position.

“Yes!’ she exclaimed, “Now where did I put that…. That whatchamacallit. Where are you, little whatzit?

“Em! Hello, Em?” came a voice from outside. Emma leaned down to peek out the kitchen window.

“Oh, drat. It’s that nosy woman again. Maybe I’ll just hide here beside the window and she’ll go away.”

“Em? Hello, Em… Oh, my God! Em! Don’t move! I’ll be right there. Don’t move, Em!”

“Busted,” muttered Emma. “I should just start locking my doors, ‘cept Chester would be banging on them constantly when he gets back from wherever he goes all the time. Ol’ fool would just forget to take a key.”

Madeline Stover hurried into the kitchen, tossing her bag with the glittery silk-screened red and yellow parrot print onto the kitchen table. “Em, what are you doing? Here, let me help you down.”

“Well, what does it look like I’m doing? I’m getting ready to…to…ummm…change a light bulb, that’s what I’m doing. That ol Chester is never around when I need him to do these things. Beginning to wonder what good he is anyway. Now, don’t be pulling on me like that. You’ll knock me clean off the counter and then what? Maybe break a hip? Have to go live in some old folks home where they sit around and talk about how sick they are. Compare surgery scars and the like. Not me. I’m fit as a fiddle at 67 and I intend to stay that way. Now, I know there’s a light bulb up here somewhere. Maybe in that cabinet above the refrigerator, which is a stupid place to put a cabinet, if you ask me. Nobody I know can reach that cabinet without getting out a ladder and climbing up to it. Stupid place for a cabinet.”

“Em. Please come down. I’ll get the bulb for you. Here, take my hand and come over to the ladder. Now, OH MY GOD! There’s a step missing! How did you..? Oh, never mind. Just sit down and I’ll help you slide off the counter. Come on, now, Em. Em? Come on, please. I’ll have to call the Fire Department otherwise. That means Adult Protective Services will get involved again, and I know you don’t like that.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I am going to check that cabinet for a bug strip.”

“Bug strip? I thought you were after a light bulb?”

“What do I need a light bulb for, missy? No light burned out here. No, sir. Chester keeps after that, you can be sure. And just who are you anyway?”


“Hello, Betty? This is Madeline Stover with Good’s In-Home Care. I think it’s time we set up a care coordination meeting for Emma McFarleigh. I came over today for my daily visit and she was up on the kitchen countertop looking for something. I had to call the fire department to get her down. What’s that? No, she’s 93 but still thinks she 67. And she continues to believe her late husband is alive. He died 15 years ago.

“Yes, the Aricept helped for a while, but she’s experiencing a swift decline. It's getting dangerous for her to live alone now. She has matches and lighters all over the house. Plus, she’s been signing blank checks and leaving them everywhere. I found one in the kitchen trash can, several in the mail box at the curb, a few in the garage, and two more sticking out from under a potted plant on the front porch. Oh, and another in the bird feeder.

“Okay, tomorrow at 2. I’ll see you there. I’ve called for a sitter from Good’s In-Home to stay with her tonight. Fine. Okay, tomorrow, then.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From One, Many

Meet Pablo.

He is 40 years old this year.  He's a Mexican Double Yellowheaded Green Amazon parrot.

He does not like to hold still when I point a camera at him.

He does not like to have his picture taken.

Love this shot.

But what I really want to show you are the feathers he leaves for me to find.

This is one under-feather.  It insulates him.  These feathers (I call them his underwear) are a half to three-quarters of an inch wide. and are not flat.

This feather is from the head.

This feather is from the shoulder of a wing.

 These (above) are tail feathers.

Now take a look at him again.  We see green, yellow, red, navy blue.  Right?

Now look at these wing feathers:

Yellow, green, black, blue.  You can't see it, but there's a hint of brown at the tip.

Green and yellow with a hint of apricot.
Green and black with a touch of dark navy blue at the tip.
Green, yellow, black, blue, red, and purple (center).
Green, yellow, black, blue, maroon.  He hasn't molted a feather with aqua in it lately, but he has them.

My favorite.  Green, yellow, blue down the center, peach, and rose.  This feather, not including the bare shaft, is two inches long, much shorter than the other wing feathers which are five and six inches long.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Softer Side of Winter

This is what January winter in Alaska is like:

Even the houses look cold, hunkered down in the snow drifts trying to stay warm.  They seem smaller, withdrawn into themselves, trying to close their windows against the penetrating cold, hugging themselves to retain what internal warmth they can salvage.  This Sunday morning in January has brought temperatures in the minus twenties and the only things stirring outdoors are the steady columns of furnace exhaust belching from chimneys atop the shriveled houses.  The columns rise only a few feet before they are flattened by the heavy cold air, and the smoke drifts horizontally, as if reluctant to leave the warmth of the chimneys.

The anemic white light of dead winter holds no warmth but instead intensifies the brittle hoarfrost covering every surface in an icy blanket of piercing crystals.  Clouds of ice fog hang in the air, threatening to expand and unite and obscure the city in a chill gray shroud.

In my mind, there is an image of a specific afternoon in deep winter.   It happened a half century ago, but the details in the paragraphs above are as vivid as if they had just occurred and I was writing about the present.

But this is March, and March brings sunlight with warmth in it, daylight hours that increase every day, and promises of spring.  Today the temperature is 14 degrees, but that 14 degrees is a season away from the 14 degrees in January.

March brings the softer side of winter:

This is so you can see that 5 ft. snow drift.

Notice all the bumps along the ice?

Swans and ducks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

More Aurora from Last NIght

My Utterly Cool Hot Date Last Night

The signs were auspicious.  Full Moon, clear sky.

By 10 PM, I thought I'd been stood up again.  I decided to drive north and look around some.  Not really stalking, see?

Okay, full on stalking.  Restraining order kind of stalking.

I waited an hour.  Finally, I headed home at 11 PM, more than aware of all the moose tracks on the snow berms lining the highway, tracks where they'd been crossing the road.

When I reached Mile post 40, where I'd been two nights before, I found them.

Shooting straight into the moon.

My camera is pointed directly over my head.