Saturday, June 17, 2006

August in June

Our wet, warm weather continues...

The sun peeked out a bit this morning, so I put Beebs and Twitch outside early on. Then--before I went to work--I spent a half-hour out in the yard and greenhouse, working with my flowers and herbs.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Blue Month

The weather today feels like August...

Now lest you think that means it is sunny and hot, let me remind you that August in our section of Alaska is the Storm Season, when old Pacific typhoons crawl up the coast of Siberia to die in the Gulf of Alaska.

It was the three Ws: windy, wet and warm. One thing about the low clouds and gusty winds--it will make it a quiet Friday evening at work. The "Let's fly to Seldovia for the weekend" crowd will decide to stay home, so we won't have the usual influx of Anchorage-area pilots over the weekend. So these rainy days provide a nice break in the summer traffic. And I don't have to water the flowers.

The lupine are beginning to bloom, marking the start of the Blue Month of summer. The sea-peas (wild sweetpeas) have blossomed out a week or so ago and now the lupine join them. Soon the wild geraniums will burst forth as well, and the margins of our roads and woodlands will be awash with blue and purple flowers. By mid-July, the first flowers of summer will have faded and we will move into the Pink Month as the wild lands become dominated by the ubiquitous and lovely fireweed--harbinger of Fall.

It already feels like autumn today. That was

Friday, June 2, 2006

More Bears...

See--I *told* you there were bears in the woods...

Homer Tribune article

Homer News article

As near as I can tell, this was about mile or so from where I saw the bear a couple weeks ago.

Not that we need to go out to the North Fork for bears. Denny and I were exploring a lot about a half-mile from our place the other day, crawling over downed trees and slogging through the muskeg, trying to locate survey markers. Since the lot had never been developed, it was a jumble of wind-fallen trees, like a huge game of pick-up-sticks. And it seemed every time we found a clear spot to stand, there was "bear sign"--quantities I had never seen in such a small area. Kind of nerve-wracking when you know you have no chance of running. Of course, we were making so much noise in our efforts, it would have been a very deaf bear who wouldn't have heard us coming.

Still, I was glad when we left the woods behind us and headed back home. Some adventures you just don't need.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

More About Our Fire...

From the Homer News :

"Firefighters stop Green Timbers fire from spreading


A combination of strong winds and high temperatures caused a suspected winter slash burn on Green Timbers Road to flare up Saturday evening. Alaska Division of Forestry and Homer Volunteer Fire Department firefighters went about 7:45 p.m. to the fire just off the Sterling Highway on a bluff above Diamond Creek. When crews arrived, the fire had scorched a small building and came close to a propane tank. Firefighters knocked down the fire and saved the building.

"The Division of Forestry and the Homer Fire Department did a hell of a nice job on that to save the structure,” said Andy Alexandrou, a DOF fire information officer.

The fire was on property managed by Matt Shadle. It jumped Green Timbers Road and spread to three acres before being stopped. Firefighters from the Chena Hot Shots, based at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, also fought the fire. They were in Homer on Saturday to fight another slash pile that had flared up and burned .20 acres near Skyline Drive. Matthew James, the State Forestry incident commander on the Green Timbers fire, said he also called in two helicopters with water buckets.

“We had a lot of resources on that fire really fast,” he said. “That’s what helped us catch it.”
The fire burned a phone line junction box and cut service to 21 customers in the area, said ACS Communications spokesperson Meg Stapleton. Repair crews put in a temporary line Sunday morning and restored service by 4 p.m. Sunday, she said."

From the Homer Tribune:

"Green Timbers fire marks start of danger
Firefighters warn of dangerously dry conditions
By Sean Pearson
Homer Tribune
May 31, 2006

Mary Bush was shouting angrily from her minivan Saturday evening as two Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters arrived on the scene of a windy wildfire that was growing ominously close to her small cabin.

“Come on, hurry up. Don’t just stand there, do something,” she yelled.At one point, Bush drove her van closer to the fire scene. However, as she got a closer look at the flames edging up to her rented residence, the more emotionally distraught she became. She threw the van into reverse and backed down the street, her view partially hidden by a few alders.

Occasionally, Bush screamed into her cell phone, literally helpless as the fire crept closer to the large propane tank adjacent to her cabin.“They’re not doing anything,” she yelled into the phone. “They’re just standing around and my house is going to burn down.”

More fire engines and firefighters began to arrive, but Bush didn’t emerge from her minivan until the helicopters began dumping water on the flames.

“I know it probably only took about 10 minutes for them to get here,” Bush said, sounding a little calmer. “But it felt like forever.”Bush, who rents a small cabin off Green Timbers Road, said that none of the numerous slash piles surrounding her residence were on fire when she pulled into her driveway just a few minutes earlier.

“I had just gotten home and was in my cabin when I heard this loudcrackling noise,” Bush said. “It sounded like a hard rain on the roof.So, I stepped outside and there were flames all around me. I went backin and grabbed my cat and I got out of there.”

According to Bush, she called 911 on her cell phone and discovered that her neighbors had already called it in.“It started in a matter of minutes,” she said. “I swear I had only beenhome for a few minutes, and nothing was burning when I got home.”

Apparently, the fire started as embers from an old slash-pile burnrekindled, according to a release from the Division of Forestry. Thecurrent trend of hot, dry weather combined with gusty winds continuesto create extreme fire danger in many areas on the Kenai Peninsula.Brush crews,

Homer Volunteer firefighters and two helicopters delugedthe area with water and fire-retardant, and had the fire under controlwithin the half-hour — and saved Bush’s home. “It’s charred right up to the foundation,” Bush explained. “But I think the things inside are still OK.”"

Sunday, May 28, 2006

An Eventful Saturday...

We've had it brought home just how precarious our security can be, oft times dependent on wind, weather or the sensibility of others.

We have had a hot and clear holiday weekend, with gusty winds and low humidity. Under such conditions, wildfire is almost certain. A large fire flared up across the Inlet from Anchorage, driven by winds so strong that burnt leaves rained down on Anchorage International. The visibilities were restricted to such an extent in the Anchorage Bowl that a pilot I was briefing for a return flight to Merrill Field decided to delay his return until the morning.

After he left, I sat at the inflight console, watching a team of yellow-shirted fire-fighters pick their way through the infield and out to the Forestry Service helicopter that is stationed at Homer during the fire season. The helicopter started up and called for an airport advisory. Just as he was leaving the traffic pattern, the pilot remarked, "If you have pilots coming down from the north, would you ask them to avoid the Bluff Point area. We have a fire on Green Timbers and we'll have a couple helicopters on it."

"But I live on Green Timbers..."

You know, that is my single worst fear during the summer--to be sitting at work and see a plume of smoke come over the bluff. I immediately picked up the phone and dialed home. Busy signal. Okay--Denny was either trying to call me or on-line. Either way, he was there and so the house was protected. I kept trying our number--between working traffic--for the next few minutes but kept getting a busy signal. Then, as I went back to trying to concentrate on my job, the phone rang. It was Denny--calling to tell me about the fire. He had to call on his cell phone because the fire--three lots down toward the Sterling--had burned up our phone junction box and the land-lines were out. He said the winds up there, blowing out of the northwest at 20 knots, were blowing it away from our house and he was going to fuel up the bulldozer and go down to help.

Needless to say, that last hour of work was one of the longest I have ever worked. Shortly after Denny called, MH, who lives up on Diamond Ridge, called to see if I knew about the fire. His wife had seen it on her way home from work and he was out on Diamond Ridge Road watching them fight it. I told him that I already knew and that Denny was home so as far as I knew, our house was okay. He said that it was his worst fear too, to be sitting at work when a fire broke out at home. I told him that if Denny hadn't been home, I would have called Kenai and told them they had to take my frequencies because I had to go home. It gave me some peace of mind to know Denny was home because I knew that he would never let the fire touch our house.

The plume of smoke was dispersing by the time I made my closing announcement on the radio: "Homer Radio ceases operations at this time...." As I flipped the frequencies over to Kenai's control, I heard the voice of the helicopter pilot say, "Good night--your house is safe!" "You guys are my heroes," I told him.

Actually, Denny is my hero. I drove into the house from Thomas Road (aka the back way) but even on Thomas road, there were concerned homeowners standing on the road watching the fire-fighting operation through the trees. Once, home, I quickly put things to rights in the kitchen. Denny had been making stew and there was a pile of peeled potatoes sitting on the counter, so I put them in water to preserve them and double-checked the stove. It was off. Then I went out and watched the scene from the hill behind the connexes. The helicopter made a couple of water drops while I watched. About a half-hour after I got home, Denny brought the bulldozer down the road. The fire was knocked out but he said there would be a couple guys on the ground overnight just in case the winds stirred it up again. I was glad to know that--the way the wind was blowing, I never would have been able to sleep otherwise.

So that's the most excitement we've had lately.

As of this morning, our phones are still not working. Denny says it may be a while, and when I drove by the burned area on my way to work and saw the crispy-fried telephone junction box, I can believe it. The area was burnt to ashes--just stumps and naked alders--all gray and black. It not only singed the cabin on the property but was moving toward the highway and came within a few feet of the house on the corner--Denny said the homeowner was out there with a hose, wetting his house down like crazy last night.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


So...about 6-o-clock this evening I was standing in the middle of a trail off of the North Fork Road watching as brown bear wandered across the track about a quarter mile ahead of me.

Geez...what is it with me and bears all of a sudden? I have gone *years* without seeing any and in the last week I have seen two.


About a week ago, Denny and I were driving down a rural road outside of Ninilchik, looking at property. Or looking for property, since most of the areas we have been poking around in are seriously lacking in signage and what are described as roads in the real estate listings often exist only in the imagination of the borough planners.

So, Denny and I were trying to find anything that resembled a cross-street out in some Hooverville neighborhood off of Oilwell Road when I squinted down the road ahead where what appeared to be a large brown dog was waving his head up and down.

"What the hell is that?" I asked Denny, not trusting my eyes.

"Damn--looks like a bear--a big one." The beast in question shambled off to the side of the road.

"I was sort of hoping it was just a big, brown dog..."

"Dogs don't act like that..."

We approached, then passed, the area in question. There was no big brown dog guarding the closest house. Whatever had been there had vanished. So we had no real proof as to what we had seen, but when we went out the next day to meet the real estate agent at the property, Denny brought a gun along--and the agent thanked him for the forethought. Of course we saw nothing in the way of threatening wildlife then--but that's the way we like it.

So, fast-forward to this week, where we have been looking for property near Anchor Point. There was a large-ish parcel of land on the market for a smallish price, so Denny and I went out yesterday and trooped around some phantom subdivision looking for surveyors' markings. Denny wore a revolver in a shoulder holster just in case but the largest wildlife we saw was a spruce grouse who drifted casually off into the underbrush as we walked past. We were interested in the land we saw but the directions from the realtor were vague and since our truck doesn't have a functioning odometer, going a mile down any particular road was all guesswork. Since Denny had to head out to Bethel this morning, I called the realtor and asked if someone could show me *exactly* where the property was located.

So that is why six pm found me and the property owner walking down a rough, sandy road/trail in the lowlands off of the North Fork Road, accompanied by his old, deaf dog. We were about half-way to his parcel when a large brown bear wandered out from the woods ahead of us and started walking down the road in the opposite direction. At that point, I realized that although I had--in fact--brought a gun along to this party, it was about a mile and a half away in my truck, securely stowed under the seat and safe from any possible bear attack. (I thought it might weird-out the seller if I hopped out of my truck and strapped a six-shooter on--and heaven knows it is so much better to be eaten by a bear than to weird-out a total stranger...)

Now, being an Alaskan means you don't shriek, "Omigod a bear!" when you happen upon one in your travels. Nope--not cool. No, you just go, "Hmmm...a bear..." and stop to see which way said bear is heading. We were a respectable enough distance away that our response was one of focused interest rather than fear, though I would have felt a bit more secure if we didn't have the half-deaf dog with us. Because it is widely accepted that the mostly likely outcome when you are out in bear country with your dog is that he or she will find a bear, get them all pissed off, then high-tail it back to you with an angry bear right behind them.

(I have to point out at this juncture that a cat would never do that to you...)

Now, it might seem strange to some of you city-folks, but we actually kept on walking up the road toward the property, keeping the bear in sight. Only when it finally quit the road and disappeared into the brush did my companion stop. "Actually, the property line we are looking for is just about where the bear disappeared." It was obvious he had no appetite to go any closer.


A bear you can see is easier to work around than a bear you can't see. Losing sight of it helped us make up our minds. We decided to retreat back to his truck--casting casual but wary glances behind us from time to time--where he showed me satellite images of the land that he has stored on his laptop--delineating the area well enough that so I can go back with Denny and look at it. Preferably during a time of day when bears have better things to do than forage along the roadway.

Frost on the deck (again) this morning.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


There was frost on deck again this morning. Not surprising given the clear skies last night. I looked out about midnight across our twilighted backyard to see Jupiter holding sway in the southern sky and a partial glimpse of the moon rising behind the trees. I doubt we get true darkness until the small hours of the morning. As always, my mind is just accepting that winter is over when we are poised at the edge of high summer. Time is accelerating toward the Solstice even before the leaves have appeared.

The rising sun soon cleared the deck of the lingering traces of winter. I decided to make a preemptive strike on Mother's Day and call my Mom a day early. Radical thought.

After the phone rang five or six times, my Dad answered. I'd called him in from the yard. Must be a nice day in Fairbanks if he's doing yard work. But Mom was out shopping, so we chatted with Dad a bit then signed off until later. Mom called when she got home and we had a nice visit via phone.

Denny and I decided to do a bit of yard work ourselves. After we'd thrown a handful of straw into each as a "starter," we hung the eight bird houses Denny had made last week. We're ready for the swallows now. I have even began to save up cat hair for them to line their nests. It's never a scarce commodity at our house.

I watered some of the planters that had over-wintered outside. One of the saxifrage plants didn't make it but the others are greening up nicely enough and the chives are several inches long already. After I watered the planters on the deck, I decided it was nice enough to bring the deck furniture out of storage, so Denny and I made a couple trips from the connex to the deck and got the table, umbrella, chairs and benches set up and ready for summer.

I spent a little time pruning the alders back from the walkway to the deck and the path to the greenhouse. There are a couple of them that I have been training into trees by judicious pruning. Wouldn't you know they are the ones Denny says will have to go because their roots will eventually threaten the septic system. Then we went out back to our little cat cemetary and I pruned some dead limbs off of the spruce while Denny surveyed the area for fallen trees to pull out.

We're working outside--must be well-nigh summer!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The First Day of Spring

Regardless of what the calendar may say, today was the first day of Spring.

There was light frost on the deck this morning but it had already evaporated by the time I got out of bed. By the time I went outside, late in the morning, the air was fresh and mild and the temperature was 48 degrees. Denny urged me to come and stand in the sun, to feel the warmth on our bodies.

A few moments later, I looked up to see our harbinger of the season--the first swallow of Spring. He must be the out-rider of the larger flock, for he appeared to be alone. He circled our yard then perched for a time on one of the remaining tall trees.

Tomorrow we will be hanging nesting boxes.

And, much to Frieda's bliss, we found the first tender shoots of grass in the side yard and brought them to her where she waited in the cat run.

Winter is over.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Being Alaskan...

You might be Alaskan:

If you consider it a sport to gather your food by drilling through 18 inches of ice and sitting there all day hoping that the food will swim by, you might live in Alaska.

If you have ever refused to buy something because it's "too spendy" you might live in Alaska.

If your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March, you might live in Alaska.

If someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don't work there, you might live in Alaska.

If your dad's suntan stops at a line curving around the middle of his forehead, you might live in Alaska.

If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you might live in Alaska.

If your town has an equal number of bars and churches, you might live in Alaska.

If you have had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you might live in Alaska.

You know you are a true Alaskan when...

...your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a truck plowing snow on the highway.

..."vacation" means going to Valdez. measure distance in hours. know several people who have hit a moose--more than once. often switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.

...your whole family wears blue jeans to church on Sunday. can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching. see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings.) install security lights on your house and garage and leave both doors unlocked. think of the major food groups as beer and salmon. carry jumper cables in your car and know how to use them.

...there are seven empty cars running in the parking lot at Wal-Mart at any given time. design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

...driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow. know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. can identify a Southern or Eastern accent. know how to polka.

...your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a moose next to your trash can. were unaware that there is a legal drinking age.

..."Down South" means Seattle.

...your neighbor throws a party to celebrate his new pole shed.

...your 4th of July picnic was moved indoors due to frost. have more miles on your snow blower than your car. find 0 degrees "a little chilly." actually understand these jokes, and you forward them to all your Alaska friends.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Cold Rain

It was 38 degrees with cold rain spattering down when I got home last night. I had groceries in the trunk of the car but decided they could stay outside overnight--we have been getting frost but not real hard freezes.

We saw a couple robins in the back yard yesterday. Thursday, Denny put together eight bird houses and we painted them in the afternoon--racing against the expected arrival of the swallows. Last year, they were back by May 4th but this is a much cooler spring. There are still areas of snow on Diamond Ridge and along the bluff above town, whereas last year this time we were watching the wildfire and hoping for rain. The maximum temperature for this past April was 51 degrees. In 2005, the highest temperature for April was 65 degrees. So despite global warming--of which we are seeing plenty of signs--this particular season is a cold one, and I am not expecting the swallows until mid-month.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Just A Quick Update...

..not because anything exciting has happened. Just because it's been a long time.

Life plods on. Spring will surely be coming soon, even though we woke up to thin snow on the ground nearly every day for the past week-and-a-half. It melts off by mid-morning and the daytime temperatures have been getting into the upper forties down in town, but there is still the chill of winter hanging on around the edges of the day.

Denny and I moved two tall cabinets down into the kitchen this past week. He had been wanting to do that for some time to increase storage space but I resisted because there just wasn't room. There still isn't room--the metal desk is pushed over right next to the wood stove--but he is happier and I have to admit, it is nice having a place to put so many of those things that just seemed to live on the countertop.

We also cleaned out the freezers this week and canned three batches (about forty-five pints) of freezer-burned salmon and halibut for the cats. The house still smells of cooked fish but it is nice to have what was clutter transformed into a treat for the cats.

The other bug Denny has up his butt is to find some vacant land nearby as an investment. So this morning, we were out driving the North Fork Road before ten-o-clock. The portion of the road closest to Anchor Point has been pretty much trashed by gravel pits but there are some level, well-drained areas out further east and some actual view property on the higher portion of the road that heads south over the ridge before rejoining the highway. I noticed that there was still two or three feet of snow up at the higher elevations and that one wouldn't want to live out there if they had a job that they had to get to every day, as I imagine there are several days a winter when you just don't make it into town from portions of the North Fork.

Back at our place, the snow is receding but we are still waiting for the first grass to make an appearance.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Inching Toward Spring

Woke up to another inch of snow on the deck (yesterday's inch having melted away) Ha ha, Ma Nature--very funny... There's still probably a foot of hard-frozen snow in noncontiguous areas of the yard, with the dead grass of last fall peeking out in places.

Lest you think we only have one season in Alaska (and Denny just pointed out if we have just one season, it wouldn't really be a season, then, would it?) the number of Alaskan seasons has been various given as:

Two: Winter and Construction. Or Winter Major and Winter Minor.

Three: Freeze-up, Break-up and Pick-up.

Four: Not Winter, Almost Winter, Winter and Still Winter.

Or five: Winter, Break-up, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Yes, we like to joke about our weather, we do. By most accounts, anyway, we seem to be moving into Break-up. The overnight temperature--despite the snow the last two nights, is hovering around freezing and we are reminded that snow has a liquid form. There are--honest--green shoots coming out of the venerable chive plant that has spent the winter on the front porch. It is always the first thing to green up in the spring and it is reminding me that I need to haul water out to the greenhouse this week. I guess I'll try to find the time tomorrow, between taking Denny into the hospital for a check up, tending the cats and going to work. I don't know what's the point of daylight-savings. My days are always too short.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

April Fools!

Yesterday's snow was melted by evening but today dawned cooler and the morning mist turned to snow about eleven. It snowed steadily until after five this evening.

Happy Spring and all that!

If I was perfectly organized, I would have started flower seeds by now but I can already see that that isn't going to happen. Even if I did, it would be a constant battle to keep the cats from eating the sprouts. In another month I can run out to the commercial green houses and pick my flowers for the year. I need to get out to my own green house and see what has survived the winter. Some of the plants I bought last year were supposed to be perennials.