Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Gorgeous Night

I went into town this afternoon. "Town" is about 25 miles away and among the three connecting towns has a combined population of, oh... I'd say 15,000. As I came out into the parking lot of my last errand around 7:30pm, the sky was greying and the unseen sun was casting a rosy peach on the underside of flat-bottomed clouds. A strong breeze moved the perfect air all around. It was so beautiful. The temperature was in that range that's just perfect - where you can't tell if it's slightly warm or slightly cool. The breeze was heavenly. I wish I could bottle it up and take it with me where ever I am. I would open it up and the whole scene would rise from the bottle and fill the room like in some magical movie. The breeze, the temperature, the swishing leaves on the trees, the colors, the sunset...the whole thing. It felt so gorgeous I just wanted to stand there with my arms stretched out at my sides and my head tilted back, letting it envelope me. Mm. Mm. Mm.

It was a sweet refreshment to a mostly melancholy and difficult day. A gift.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sacred Space

We have this awesome thing at Open Door Fellowship called Sacred Space. It started a few years back when we participated in a 24/7 Prayer Week. The team of visionaries met and prayed and planned for months in advance. Artists participated as well and the result was an amazing transformation of the sanctuary. From the soft lighting and background worship music to the many creative prayer stations, it became the most tranquil and inviting place I'd ever been in. The response was powerful and they decided to do it on a smaller scale once a month, calling it Sacred Space. I wrote a couple artlcles for the ODFprays blog site that shed a little more light on 24/7 and Sacred Space. 24/7 - Not Just for Super Pray-ers, and My First 24/7.

I love the name Sacred Space. And while we go to Sacred Space evenings at the church, the truth is, our very hearts are a sacred space. That's where we meet with God - in our hearts and minds. We don't need a building to go to and be with Him. I totally recognize that environment is a powerful facilitator. Environment and atmosphere are very important to me. I am visually oriented and sensitive to my surroundings. I love being at 24/7s and Sacred Space nights because of the focus and tranquility they bring to me. They help me forget everything else and just be with God, be it pouring my heart out to Him or letting Him lead the conversation. But I have been wanting to develop my own personal sacred space in my heart, not dependent on any church event or building. I have not been doing very well at it, but I do know that learning how to develop a quiet heart is a key factor to experiencing God's presence and His love. I have been thinking of ways to "bring it home." I have small ideas and big ideas. Some involve creating my own sacred space setting and others just require me, some quiet, and some discipline (ah-ha, there's the rub). Another article for the ODFprays blog has yet to be posted. I was reminded of it by seeing the canvas it mentions. Here it is:

Bringing It Home
The ministries of 24/7 and Sacred Space usher us into God’s presence and inspire in us prayer, meditation, reflection, and worship. The tranquil environment, the beauty and creativity all help us quiet our hearts and enter into a very real experience of God’s presence. These ministries are a gift and I greatly look forward to them. But wouldn’t it also be great if we could learn to find our own "sacred spaces" in our everyday relationship with God? That’s exactly what He wants.

I have been thinking over the last couple years about how to bring into my personal everyday relationship with God some of the wonderful aspects of these special prayer environments. They so beautifully facilitate sweet times with God that I want more. I began by asking myself what are my favorite things, what are the things that really work for me? Some of my favorite parts of any ODF Sacred Space or 24/7 are the stations that let me write on the wall. "The wall" might be butcher paper or a painted over piece of wood. Regardless of the medium, it's a big, shared, public space. Whatever it is that God has pointed out to me - whether glaringly or softly - through the prayer station’s meditation, I love the simple act of writing it down in a public way. I post it as a form of declaration, worthy of being remembered and permanently claimed as mine. As others write their words, the walls become a beautiful collection of private encounters with God, anonymous roof-top declarations, powerful statements. They are the documentation of pivotal moments taken place within listening and yielded hearts.

A few months ago I was excited to have an idea. I went to Aaron Brothers and bought a canvas and some Sharpie markers. I hung it up and began writing down, Sacred Space style, some of the things God was impressing upon my heart through my personal prayer times, Bible reading and scripture meditation. Let me tell you, I am loving it! I pass by the canvas, which is slowly filling up, and read the reminders of what God has spoken to me. Each time I "hear" something new I post it on the canvas. It has been such a blessing.

Sacred Space evenings and our yearly 24/7 events are wonderful and special times. They are also tools to train us how to bring it home into our everyday relationship with our Father who longs to meet with us everyday.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alaska Photos 4 - Denali Nat'l Park

WILLOW PTARMIGAN - Alaska's state bird
(the "P" is silent.)
This is a cool, funny, and stupid bird. Cool - because they change colors every winter from brown to white and then back again in the spring. God's cool camouflage design built in to their DNA! Funny - because they have the dorkiest sounding call. Stupid - because they're slow to spot danger and don't get out of your way very fast. Some people call them Stupid Chickens.

There were these two moose on the opposite side of the road. We stopped and watched them as they made their way toward the road in the brush behind us. Another car, going the other direction, stopped in front of us. After awhile, I lost track of the moose so I got out and walked to the back of the van to see if I could see them. I was timid and careful to see how close I was to them before I just charged on out into the open. I was still looking behind us across the road when I noticed the woman from the stopped car behind us taking a picture toward the front of our van. I stepped into the road from behind the van to see this:

Dang! I should have stayed in the van; she crossed right in front of it. I quickly went back to the passenger side of the van, still in back, to see if I could see her as she went into the brush on our side of the road. Only she wasn't in the brush yet. She was still partly on the road in front of the van. She stopped. I stopped. She looked right at me. I looked right at her. Definite eye contact with this giant a mere 20 feet away. Gasp! Then...my own voice inside my head said,"Hey, take a picture!" I raised my camera, still exchanging stares with Miss Massive. Still staring me in the eye, she took a step toward me! Yikes! " 'Scuse me! Pardon me! My mistake!" Camera came down and I was outta there! I shot to the driver's side back of the van in about one second, putting our van kitty corner between me and her. And therefore, I saw her no more until she was well into the scrub brush on the passenger side of the road. Moose are not to be messed with! But...it was actually quite thrilling and fun!

I love caribou. I love their amazing antlers. I love moose antlers a whole bunch but I am almost more fascinated with caribou antlers. They are so graceful and elegant. Unlike elk antlers they're not pointed on the ends and they stand more straight up from their heads than do elk. Females also have antlers, unlike nearly any other antlered animal. And I love the function of their antlers' design. It makes me marvel at God's intentional designs in nature. The paddle like shape of the frontmost portions (I'm sure they have an official name) are used when they graze. In winter, it serves almost like a hand to brush away snow and expose underlying grasses to feed them. I love it! These caribou's antlers are in "velvet," a fur that covers their antlers providing the blood supply for their growth. When it's time to mate, the velvet begins to slough off leaving the bone hard bare antlers that are great weapons for sparing for a mate.


This was a great little hiking trail along the Savage River - or as I called it, the Not-So-Savage River. At least in the early spring month of May, it's not so savage. It was funny: we didn't realize it was a loop. We saw people walking the trail on the other side; we even saw a large group of grade schoolers who looked like they were on a field trip. There must have been about 25 in their group. When we saw some Dall Sheep on top of the hills on the other side of the river from us, we decided we wanted to be on the other side. So we turned around and walked all the way back to the van in the parking lot. We got in the van, drove across the bridge and parked in the smaller parking lot immediately on the other side of the river. We got out and walked to where it was a good place to hike up the grassy, mossy hillside. The Fisherman began climbing up while I waited on the trail, enjoying the scenery, taking photos, and climbing part way up to get photos of him getting photos of the sheep as he climbed higher and higher. Next thing you know, here comes the field trip kids traipsing along the trail on the side of the river we'd just come from. Duh-huh! I guess the trail is a loop! We were probably pretty close to the crossing when we turned around! When we walked back, we saw - for the first time - a sign saying "Savage River Trail Loop". *sigh* We got our exercise that day...especially The Fisherman who climbed the mountain, made it all the way up to the ridges and got some great photos of the Dall Sheep with his zoom lens.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alaska Photos 3 - Denali Flight Seeing

Mt. McKinley - or as it's locally called, Denali (The High One) - is the tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. It actually appears taller than Mt. Everest because of a thing called vertical relief. Since the base elevation around Denali is nearly at sea level, you see far more of it than you do of Everest. I think it may hold the world record as the tallest peak for vertical relief.

We took a flight-seeing trip up into the mountains around McKinley. It was gorgeous! Stunning! Absolutely spectacular!

The tour we took included a landing on Ruth Glacier. However, our plane was transporting three McKinley climbers that day so they asked us if it was OK to not land on Ruth, but instead to land on the Kahiltna Glacier at a climbers' base camp. Oh...alright. It was so cool. What another world! There was even a sort of HQ tent that had small solar panels and antennae. I presume it provides the means of communication from camp to "earth" below, finding out who is coming up to climb and also relaying weather info to pilots. Climbers are required to register with the Park Service. At all times, the Park Service knows who is on the mountain, when they were dropped off and when they are expected back. It's life and death up there so it's important to keep close counts of all who go up. In fact, there was a terrible tragedy just last week where two climbers fell and died. (Ugh! What their families must be going through right now! Lord, please help them.) This is a photo of the Kahiltna Base Camp as we approached for a landing.

I loved this scene of a lone tent against the gigantic mountains. You have to remember that we're already several thousand feet in elevation.

Notice the snow walls at the previous camp sites of climbers who have already left Base Camp. The walls shield their tents from the strong winds.

We went with K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna.

We were supposed to fly right around the summit of Denali on our trip. Our pilot tried a few different tacks but was thwarted each time by wind and weather conditions. Here's a photo of Denali/Mckinley from the highway.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alaska Photos 2- Once Inside the State

After we arrived in Alaska, we saw this huge flock of Canada Geese flying overhead. We followed them for several miles. At one point we stopped the van to take pictures. We turned the engine off and could hear them honking. It was pretty cool. You can click on any of my blog photos to enlarge them.

We came upon this porcupine crossing the highway. I didn't realize how cute their faces are.

But look at those quills! I guess they show off their quills when they feel threatened. This little guy didn't seem to like us taking his picture. But I think it's funny how they pull their fur up and show their quills only on their backsides.
Then we came upon this gnarly tree about 10 feet off the highway and this bald eagle sitting in the top of it. After we took pictures for awhile, the eagle looked like he was hunkering down to fly away. I pre-focused on him and prepared to capture a sequence of photos using my motor drive feature. I panned him as he flew right past me, almost at eye level. I got a great sequence! This is my favorite one because he's in such an interesting position that shows so much motion.
Further down the road is the location where The Fisherman got a breathtaking photo last fall on his way home. We call the photo Autumn Reflections with all its golden trees. We looked forward to seeing what it might look like in the Alaskan spring month of May. Here's The Fisherman taking a "Spring Reflections" photo.

Alaska Trip Photos 1 - Wildlife On the Way

Yearling moose along the highway in Canada

Mama black bear and yearling cub - through the windshield,
Cassiar Hwy, Canada

It's rare to see a wild cat, let alone in daylight.
This lynx was so pretty.

Caribou are very shy. At least when I've seen them roadside. It's hard to get a good photo of them roadside because they take off running so quickly as you approach. But I just love caribou, especially the males with their huge antlers (another photo later). Caribou are related to reindeer and are among the few animals whose females have antlers, too.

A deer along the Cassiar Hwy in Canada.

New Scarf & A Fun Day

I started a new scarf last week; I finished it yesterday. I used some of the fun and super soft yarn I bought in Seward, Alaska the day The Fisherman dropped me off at the internet cafe which just happened to be next door to a yarn shop. The yarn is called Geisha by Plymouth Yarn Co. Here's my scarf:

I'm staying at my brother's house while in the valley. Today I had to pick up a matboard order and a photo order so I took my niece, Hannah, and her BFF, Taylor, with me. After the matboard, we drove by Mom's old neighborhood where she lived for 40 years up until about 3 years ago. My niece hadn't seen the house since "Nana" moved away and since it's drastically changed, I thought it would be fun for her to see it. We drove all around Mom's old neighborhood looking at the beautiful (and huge) houses in this desirable area of town. Hannah remembered the castle on the mountain and wanted to get a good view of it. I found the right road and took us right up to it. We drove around all the REALLY beautiful and REALLY huge houses on the mountain and at the base. The girls took pictures with their phones and we had a fun time. Next, after picking up my photo order, we went to PV Mall for Paradise Bakery and some shopping. We all had fun looking at the cute clothes in Aeropastle and Hollister, and then smelling all the fragrances at Bath and Body Works. Here are the girls after we got home, posing with pretty girl, Sarah. My niece, Hannah is on the left; Taylor is on the right.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Transition - from Alaska to Rural Arizona

Driving into town and back yesterday from our Arizona home, I was amused to find myself taking note of any curious dark shapes along the sides of the roads...and thinking they might be moose.

Roadside moose are a common sight in Alaska. We saw them everywhere we travelled the highways outside of cities. Unlike the elk in Arizona, moose are out foraging in broad daylight. And daylight is about 20 hours long on the Kenai Peninsula. In the city of Anchorage, with it's extensive woods and green belts within the city, moose are prevalent. They rest on people's lawns, eat from flower beds, give birth in back yards, and cool off in swimming pools. In the wintertime they are even seen walking along downtown streets. They also can cause some serious road hazards.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Told You!

I told you my house was a mess and filled with boxes. I told you it was overwhelmed with chaos at my moving back in such a hurry and only a few days before we left for Alaska. But you thought I was exaggerating, didn't you? See for yourself....

See Mama Kitty staring up at me? She's probably thinking, "What are you doing standing on the couch, Mom?" She's probably thinking, "I thought the house was messy when Dad lived here alone! But now that YOU'RE back, what the heck!?" See the old clunky monitor? See the chaos? See the mess? See the WORK!? Aaaggghhhh!

I'm going to town... Leaving all this woodsy paradise (!) and going to town on errands. I think about 150 storage bins are in order, don't you?

Alaska Tidbit, Part 3

Can you believe I forgot to note that we experienced an earthquake? Even in my handwritten journal! I was only reminded by the show on the National Geographic Channel right now (called Extreme Alaska). The earthquake we felt was only for a second or two and it bumped the house and rattled some furniture. I felt it significantly and heard the furniture. But it was so brief that The Fisherman didn't notice it. To him it was one of those things he attributed to a big truck rumbling past and hitting a bump in the road or something. We were in different parts of our friends' house in Cooper Landing at the time so maybe I felt it more.

Alaska comprises 1% of the earth's total land surface but experiences 11% of the world's total earthquakes. Thankfully, because there is such a small population relative to it's size, Alaska earthquakes don't often have devastating effects. The NGC show was describing the Good Friday Earthquake around 1964. It was a 9.something and is the 2nd largest earthquake ever in the world. It did a ton of damage and over 100 people died. In Anchorage some neighborhoods slid off hillsides and were buried with mudslides. Downtown the pavement broke right down 4th Ave., one side rising some 30 feet above the other. 90% of the town of Seward slid into the water. Today, Seward sits on Resurrection Bay and many businesses contain the name Phoenix, noting how the town was reborn and resurrected after the earthquake. A giant tsunami hit the town of Valdez, located at the end of a bay; afterwards, city planners wisely rebuilt and relocated the town along the side of the bay.

To read about the Good Friday Earthquake and see photos, go to this site.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I got my own computer connected tonight. I missed my "old fashioned" full size keyboard, my gigantic klunky monitor, my larger font size, and access to all my files. Photos should be coming soon.

Alaska Tidbits, Part 2

I don't know how I could manage to forget blogging about some of these things, honestly I don't!

FORGET-ME-NOTS - The funeral home prepared a sweet surprise for us. They took the photo of Mom we'd given them and put it on packets of flower seeds with "In Loving Memory of Gloria Dee Thomas 1927-2009" They are Forget-Me-Not wildflower seeds. As the Forget-Me-Not is Alaska's state flower, I figured they might grow up there a whole lot better than down here in Arizona. So I took several packs up with me to plant on our property. On Day 3 of our road building weekend, I took some time and found a spot in a lush little bowl along the south side of our driveway. There is a big beautiful birch tree there and it is on the southern side that looks out to our beautiful view. I found three spots around a white trunked tree and planted a total of 5 packets. We won't be there to attend to them or assure they get enough water during the dry month of June. But I sure hope they grow. I have some packets left and would like to plant them in a few other places. I haven't decided where yet because it's hard to project what spots will not be disturbed in our future efforts to improve and clean up the land.

I will be thrilled if I come back next year and see some pretty pale blue flowers growing around that birch. It's such a peaceful spot with a beautiful view.

Another interesting bit about Forget-Me-Nots. When we left Detroit in 1966, the wife of my dad's partner gave Mom a pin with Forget-Me-Nots on it. They had become friends and with the pin, Esther encouraged Mom to not forget her. Several years ago, Mom gave me the pin and told me the story, saying something like, "so here's so you won't forget me either!" Like I ever could, but it was cute. So, I love that the funeral home gave us these seeds, that it's Alaska's state flower and likely to grow there, and that some of them are now planted in a beautiful spot on our land there.

I DROVE THE BACKHOE! - Woohoo! I am such a scaredy-cat I can't believe I actually wanted to and asked The Fisherman if I could try it. But I did. First I got in with him so he could show me how the controls work. There is NO room for a passenger in a backhoe. At least no room for a passenger to sit. I perched on the edge of some tiny little half-ledge and hung on for dear life on the bumpiest bounciest ride of my life. The driver has a nice cushy and spring-loaded seat...a definite necessity.

I was to operate the bucket part. The basic controls were simple: Forward, Neutral, and Reverse. Then there's the bucket controls: Bucket Up, Bucket Down, Tilt Up and Tilt Down. We switched places and he directed me through a little jaunt! I went forward and reverse (beep, beep, beep) and then he had me manipulate the bucket. It was fun. He had me drive up to the dirt pile and was ready to end our little session (I'm sure presuming I'd be ready to quit, too) but I said, "Can I scoop something?!" "Yeah, you can!" He had me back up and when I put it in Forward, he told me to give it more gas as I approached the tall pile of dirt. "More gas. More still. Mash it!" he said as I was barely increasing my speed at all - ever conservative and timid. In order to dig into the dirt, you have to go faster than you think because the resistance of the wall of dirt will prevent you from going very far into the pile and you won't get a good bite. It is so counter-intuitive. Needless to say, I didn't get a full bucket of dirt but I did it! I backed up and carried the scoop a little ways. Then we switched and I got out. He delivered the scoop to a portion of the road. Woohoo! It was fun!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alaska Journey - Forgotten Tidbits, Part 1

I forgot a couple things along the way in my Alaska posts.

BEAR RIBS - They were pretty good, especially with the tasty honey BBQ sauce they were in. They were a little tough, though. Our friend was disappointed because he cooked them for several hours. They plan to pre-cook them in the pressure cooker next time.

STUCK TRUCK - I'm sure you've figured out by the posts regarding building the road that we got the truck unstuck. After getting it stuck on May 23rd and creatively jacking it up and doing lots of pre-digging on May 27th, we gave the ground some more time to dry out. Then it rained the very same night and into the next day for a total of about 15 hours! On June 1st, with trepidation we decided to try. We started her up - no sign of the mysterious Won't Start problem. The loud diesel engine rattled and shook the truck like all diesel trucks do. My job was to intently watch to see if the truck was sinking any more with all that vibration. Not a bit. So The Fisherman put it in 4WD and in Reverse. In about 10 seconds he was cleanly and smoothly OUT! WooHoo! We were so excited - high fives and hugs! We were so proud of ourselves! We were patient and it paid off. We worked at it and we did it ourselves! We we were so happy ...and much relieved!

WELL, there was another thing I thought of that needed a follow-up. I should have started with that one because now I've forgotten it! That explains the title of this post as "Part 1".

Catch you all later. I'm heading up home this afternoon. Coming back in a few days for Father's Day.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Names & Signs- Interesting, Quirky, and Quaint

I realized I never finished my collection of interesting street names and such. So I will begin again and list them here. Some will be repeats from my along-the-way posts; sorry about that but I'm a person who can't stand to make an incomplete list!!

I love noting the interesting, quirky, quaint, and funny when it comes to signs I pass along the way. I hope you find my trivial little interest to be fun, too.

--MANY FARMS - a town in Arizona

--MULLAN - MORNING DISTRICT -- in Mullan, ID...what the heck is a Morning District?

--100 MILE HOUSE - a town in British Columbia, Canada...funny considering everything is metric in Canada

--HUSH LAKE RD. - just outside Quesnel, BC, Canada

--FAMILY PL. - west of Prince George, BC, Canada

--BROOKS BROOK - on the AlCan Hwy along Tesnel Lake east of Whitehorse

--SLED DOG WAY - leaving Tok, Alaska

--NO SHOOTING FROM ROADWAY - a sign along the highway near the Gulkana River, Alaska

--SANITARY LANDFILL - Alaska..... as opposed to a filthy dirty landfill?

--GLACIER VIEW SCHOOL - all I can say is...cool!


--KUAPPALA AVE. - wait, are we in Hawaii?


--PARKA PKWY - along the George Parks Hwy south of Denali Nat'l Park

--NO DOG MUSHERS DR. - guess some people think there's too many mushers in Alaska

--HONOLULU CREEK - there's that Hawaii thing again! People in Alaska love Hawaii. Hmmm...I wonder why.

--CARIBOU HEIGHTS RD. - in Cooper Landing, Alaska. No caribou around there, though. But the first year we went to Cooper Landing I was enthralled to be in a place that had a road named Caribou Heights. Along the highway near this little road was also a sign that said, "School Bus Stop Ahead." I marveled that people got to live in such a place with the turquoise Kenai River on one side of the road and a street named Caribou Heights on the other.

--SECRET RD. - Sterling, Alaska

--FEUDING LN. - Sterling, Alaska

--THREE JOHNS RD. - Sterling, Alaska. I love this one!

--JALEPENO RD. - wait, are we in Arizona? No, Sterling, Alaska. I noted that people don't pronounce the tilde on the N of this word. Definitely not in Arizona!

--JUDY LYNN LN. - my mother-in-law's name. Soldotna, AK

--AURORA AVE. - on the Kenai Peninsula near the Kasilof River & Crooked Creek. I would love to see the Northern Lights someday. The Fisherman's seen them, but not me.


I'm Back

I'm back from Alaska, getting rested up from van camping and poor sleep for a month. Staying at my brother's house until I head up home. I haven't been ready to post about being back. It's rather weird. I saw my friend, Lori, in church on Sunday and she said "Welcome home!" We hugged and exchanged a look that said she completely understood me as I said, "Thanks! Where's home?"

It's good to be with my brother and family. I'm still working on getting together with my other brother and his family, and also my dad. I'm looking forward to seeing them all. But...things are definitely different with Mom not here, with her house vacant. Even though I have family who loves me and welcome me to stay with any one of them, I feel sort of homeless. I think that's just the nature of a daughter and mom's relationship. Though we have our own family and our own homes, there's a part of "Mom's house" that will always be home. The void left by a mom's passing and the absence of the steadfast anchor of her home seems to leave us feeling sort of lost.

After being away from my own home for 3 years, it will also be a little weird moving back in. And what awaits me at this moment is a big fat mess. We finished moving everything back home on the first Sunday of May. By Thursday, we were headed to Alaska. So...nothing has been done towards settling me in back there. The living room is filed with boxes containing my accumulated life of the last three years as well as the two new businesses formed in that time. Boxes of books (I'm always acquiring books!), knick knacks, wardrobe boxes, earring stuff, photo stuff...it's all there waiting for me to find room for it in our house. First things first...I will have to make room by going through stuff at home that should have been gone through long ago. I need to get super organized. Everything needs it's own organized place: photo stuff, jewelry stuff, fishing guide stuff. Our house has little storage space. We have a 16x16 basement, but it's not the safest place to store things as it tends to draw in water every spring as the ground thaws...to the point that for spells of time we have to shop-vac it up 2-3 times a day. If we don't want it to smell mildewy, we can't store it there! Other than that storage space, there is, well...none. So, I am rather overwhelmed.

Enough said.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Only in Alaska:

Alaska is a different place. It's wild and beautiful and harsh. The people are hardy, do-it-yourselfers, living largely off the land. The summers are dominated by fishing, wildlife, and tourism. A great many people work only in the summers. They run gift shops, fish for a living, run charter businesses, etc. They build their own houses, a bit at a time. (We fit right in!) Winters are quiet and snow laden. Artists create art for the tourist season, owners of tourist driven businesses rest, relax, vacation in warm places, and gear up for the next season. If you're in the tourist industry in Alaska, you have 100 days a year to make your living. There are many things seemingly unique to Alaska. So many that the saying, "Only in Alaska!" is pretty common. While some things aren't totally restricted to Alaska, here's some things I've observed over the years. I hope to keep adding to this list as time goes on.

*At outdoor rural bar-b-ques most of the guests "pack heat". "Grab the beer honey; I'll grab the gun. We're goin' to a party!"

*Rusted toilet water abounds

*Safeway (grocery store) sells fishing tackle and bait

*Tourists wear hiking boots and sweatshirts while residents wear sandals, shorts, and tank tops

*People wear their chest waders into the grocery store.

*A small town has one TV channel - that airs NBC one night, BBC another night, PBS another night, etc.

*$6.25 at a gas station store will buy you either a gallon of milk or a bag of chips.

* Driving home at 8:30 at night seeing a temperature sign reading 69 degrees and you say, "Yea, it was hot today."

*There's a "No Hunting" sign in the parking lot of Fred Myers (like a Super Wal-mart).

Alaska 4

Saturday, May 30, 2009We spent the late morning being tourists in Seward, looking through the gift shops, dreaming of our own shop somewhere someday. We each have several creative outlets and dream of having a tiny shop filled with all our own stuff: The Fisherman’s music, photography, iron work, rustic bird feeders and bird houses; my jewelry, knitting, and perhaps more. We also have several joint ventures that we would love to do. We came up with about 11 products/media that we’d love to include. *sigh* Someday…

From Seward we went back west to Cooper Landing for dinner with our friends Jerry and Kim. We brought the salmon, Jerry provided the bear ribs from his recent hunt. It was a fun and late night of talking about Alaska’s many offerings from wild berries, mushrooms, fish, and game. The Fisherman and Jerry cut up the 5 and ½ remaining salmon and made a dry brine for smoking it all another day while Kim and I continued to get to know each other. The Fisherman will be cutting down some trees for Jerry on his property. Jerry will be helping The Fisherman with the continued improving of the roads to our property. I like the rural life where neighbor helps neighbor and friend helps friend. Nowhere else in the country to you have the awareness of how much we need each other as you do in Alaska.

We left about 11:30pm on our 40 mile drive to Soldotna and our “home” at the school The Fisherman parks at all summer. Schools welcome summer fishing guides to camp on their property all summer long because it deters vandalism. It works out great for everybody.

Sunday, May 31, 2009We worked on the cabin today. Aside from odds and ends, the most noticeable thing we got done was that The Fisherman got two walls partially insulated and partially installed with tongue and groove wall boards. I worked on nailing off the loft flooring.

We left about 7:30pm. At the point where our road meets the power line road we turned east instead of west. We were hunting for Morel mushrooms. The Fisherman learned to identify them last year and found them often. It was fun learning to spot them. They’re dark, just like the mulchy earth and broken branches littering the ground, so they’re hard to find. But when you do, it’s quite fun. We’ll cook them up with dinner probably tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2009Went to Talon Air and put photos in mats and frames for them to hang in their Boot Barn. They will be advertizing for both The Fisherman’s photography and Talon’s trips. We went back to the cabin for more work. We did more wall work and some caulking. We put our mushrooms in some foil with some butter and garlic and grilled them up on our little portable grill. They don’t taste like your typical button mushrooms – darn – but have an interesting taste. I’m not so sure I like them but The Fisherman loves them. I think they will be an acquired taste for me as I continue to have a couple each time we grill.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009Hung the photos up in the Boot Barn today. They look awesome! The Fisherman still hasn’t gotten his Kings yet and pretty soon he won’t have the time. So we went to a spot where the Kasilof (kas-EE-loff) River and Crooked Creek meet. The water of the river is icy green; the water of the creek is clear brown. At the confluence they run side by side with a clear separation of colors. It’s really quite beautiful. I sat on the rocky shore writing postcards for awhile. I heard the folks sitting behind me (other wives waiting on their fishing husbands) begin talking like something was going on downstream. Sure enough, I looked down there and a moose had emerged from the brush and was standing on the shore, right amongst the fishermen! She looked like she didn’t quite now what to do, go ahead to the water or retreat to the brush. I’m sure the men didn’t quite know what to do either! They gave her some room and she eventually retreated back into the brush. No Kings in the Kasilof either. The Fisherman said there are only about 2500 that come up that river toward their spawning grounds. That’s not a lot of fish. In Seward, at Resurrection Bay, there are thousands upon thousands more. Better chances in Seward but we were just too early last week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Worked on the cabin again. The Fisherman did more on the walls while I duct taped some gaps in the siding up in the loft. Next thing is to caulk them up good. We took our little portable BBQ and grilled up a feast of steak, salmon and halibut. Next we did some serious re-organizing of our van. It was in sorry shape and my order-needy personality was going crazy. We exchanged excess photo frame boxes and fishing gear for a little office sized refrigerator and had room to spare. We can actually GET things we need from the back. We created lots of room underneath the bed and it just felt like I could breath a little better.

Thursday, June 4, 2009
Grumpy, grouchy, gloomy day. Boring, too. Nothing to tell here, move along. (Despite the reorganization success, I think I’m just getting tired of living in a van.)

Friday, June 5 - Sunday, June 7, 2009
Went to the property to get ready for the backhoe’s delivery this evening, and lo and behold, it was already there! We rented it for the weekend, which means we have an 8 hour rental fee with an extra amount ($30-some) for each additional hour. BUT…we have it until Sunday night for that initial 8 hour fee. We got right to work. And now…I know how you build a road. We had a ‘road’ of sorts before: the swath of land The Fisherman cut through our dense forest leading up to the cabin site. But it remained impassable until about this time every year. We need something we can travel on much earlier than that. We needed to lay down a whole bunch of gravel to compact down and make a nice sturdy road.

We spent 3 days doing just that. God has blessed us in a couple huge ways as pertains to our road work. First, we have a friend who is literally a professional at building roads. He’s a heavy equipment operator and is lightening fast and highly knowledgeable; been doing it for years. He is such a good guy! It’s our friend Jerry, who fixed us bear ribs the other night. He and The Fisherman are trading out work and helping each other. The Fisherman ran the backhoe for much of the weekend but Jerry came by and gave us several hours on Friday night – on short notice. He stopped by Saturday and gave us another 4-5 hours on Sunday.

So here’s how you build a road. First you go buy this 12.5 foot wide roll of 435 feet of road fabric, called Typar, which weighs 210 pounds and costs about a dollar a foot. You figure out how to transport that, drive it to the property, muscle it in place and start unrolling. I think I carried about 40 pounds of it while The Fisherman managed the rest of it as we put it in place. We chose our starting point and unrolled toward the cabin. After we got a stretch of it down and anchored with rocks, The Fisherman got on the backhoe and scooped with the “bucket”. The bucket end of a backhoe is not what I thought it was. I thought the little scoop with the claws was the bucket. No, that’s the actual “backhoe”. The bucket is the wide trough on the front that slams into a pile of dirt, tilts upward and then gets dumped in the ultimate destination.

The Fisherman filled the bucket and drove to the Typar and dumped it down. The key is to dump and then “back drag” to level it off. Dump and back drag. Dump and back drag. All day long. For three days. Every time the 30,000 pound backhoe drives over the previously laid down road, it compacts it. There is much finesse to running a backhoe. The Fisherman did a great job. But we were both happy to see Jerry arrive everyday. His experience made him fast and his back drags were perfect. When he was running it, The Fisherman’s and my job was to rid the back dragged road of boulders and troublesome rocks. That was my job when it was just The Fisherman and me working.

We ran into a really squishy spot the very first day. Unfortunately it was a stretch of road that was not included in our span designated for Typar this year. Alaska ground has some permanently frozen layers. Upper layers thaw out in stages as “spring” progresses. First it has to thaw. Then it has to dry. The crust of the the ground thaws and turns to muck and eventually dries out. You can drive on most of this even if the underneath layers are still somewhat squishy. Another thing about Alaska dirt is that is does that cornstarch trick. Have you ever put some corn starch in your hand and added a little water? You mix it up and it turns thick and hard. But you let it settle and it turns to near liquid. That’s sort of how Alaska earth can be, only in reverse. It can seem hard but if you just stand in one spot and paddle your feet back and forth on the ground, you can feel and see it turn squishy right beneath your feet. You have to be careful when driving on that stuff because while the crust might support you as you pass over it, if you stop and idle your truck in one spot, you create squishy ground ready to bury your truck.  Up to the axles.  Per se.

So…as The Fisherman rode back and forth over this squishy spot delivering bucket loads of gravel to our growing road, this section began undulating underneath the backhoe. It just kept getting worse and worse, never firming up. He dumped more gravel on it – and by gravel, I mean a sand a gravel mix, but mostly sand. By Saturday the verdict was to send me to town to get another stretch of Typar, only 130 feet this time, and build that portion of road, too.

Another big blessing is that not only do we have our own road building professtional, we also have our own gravel pit. The Fisherman spotted one section of our road that was loaded with good hard compacted gravel. So last year he “took it down” some and then dug out about 100 feet along the side of it exposing tons of good road making gravel. This is saving us several thousands of dollars in gravel we don’t have to buy and have delivered. Huge blessing.

So…three days camped at our property, swatting mosquitos to beat the band, doing manual labor in dusty, dirty, hot conditions (it reached 80), eating snatches of meals, working from 8am to 9pm, and having no “home” to settle down into each night…well, I was ready to leave on Sunday night. The cabin is a shelter, but it’s stuffed full of building materials. It’s tiny to start with so it doesn’t leave much room to make even a nook of a home in during construction.

Monday, June 8, 2009The Fisherman got the call yesterday afternoon that they were scheduled to “drive the boats across” this morning at 4:00a.m. Ouch! After exhausting himself for 3 days at the property, now he had to get up at 3a.m. Every year is different for this venture. The outfit is based in Soldotna but the fishing spot is located across Cook Inlet, essentially the ocean as far as I'm concerned as regards to him driving a fishing boat across it. They wait for a calm day to drive them across. Last year he remembers it taking about 6 hours. So...I needed to be ready to pick him up at around 10:30. No time to do anything in town, like getting my much needed shower, shopping, or blog posting. So, I stayed put, climbed in back and went back to sleep. I woke up at 10am, expecting him at any minute. 11:00, no Fisherman. 11:30, the owner took off in the plane, I presumed to go pick up all the guys. OK, about 12:30 they'll be back. 1pm - not back. 2 pm - not back. Gee, I hope they're OK. I went up to the office to see if they had an ETA. "Oh, I don't think they'll be back till about 4:30! They had a lot to do out there before they fly back." OK...I'm going for my shower. 2:10 - I leave for my shower. 3:10 - just put my wet towel into a dryer for 15 minutes and took everything back to the van. The Fisherman called from the air saying they'd be landing in 2 minutes. What we thought would be a 6 hour venture turned into 11 hours and he'd had no food all day. He took it in stride, like guys in outdoor jobs do. We got something to eat and headed for the guide meeting at 5:30. Early to bed tonight!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
We spent the day at the cabin today. After 4 straight days of hard work, we looked forward to The Fisherman relaxing at the cabin, enjoying the progress we'd made. We planned to sit in camp chairs and gaze out at our view for a couple hours relaxing. But I knew better. Once we ate some ice cream, acquired at Grannies Groceries about 5 miles from the cabin, he was ready to do something. He took his chainsaw downhill from our perched landing and began improving our view. He cut down dead trees, and sadly, live trees, but now we can see the mountains much better. He'd done this for us before I ever saw the property in 2006, so now he took after the southeast view a little bit. He also knocked over some dead trees that were an eyesore to the south.

Wedesday, June 10, 2009
Happy Birthday Carol!
Today we went to Talon to mat, frame, and hang 14 more photos. It's great to have The Fisherman's photos on display in the office and the boot barn for clients to see. Hopefully, we'll get some orders. He has some great photos of the bears, eagles, waterfalls and glacier. We took most of the day doing this. We were starving and finally left about 3:30. That's one thing about Alaska: you don't eat at normal times. Because it's light out till midnight, your internal clock gets all off kilter. You're so busy doing things that when you finally realize, Hey, I'm hungry you look at your watch and it's 3pm. Or if it's dinner time, you look at your watch and it's not 6pm like you think. No, it's 9pm. It's really wierd. So, sometimes you just go to bed without dinner because by the time you realize you're hungry, it's too late to eat because you realize you need to go to bed soon. We've done a lot of snacking...like eating a handful of cherries and chips to tide us over until we can eat lunch, but then by the time we stop next, it's dinner time. Very wierd.

After Talon, we were headed for FOOD. Along the way, we saw the Kenai River Wednesday market with crafters in the park. Last chance, so we stopped. We made a beeline for the kettle corn guy who we'd been hoping everyday would be open in his permanent summer spot in the Trustworthy Hardware (aka, great tackle shop, too) parking lot. We downed half a bag while we talked to the guy about our 2006 kettle corn venture in Cooper Landing. He ended up giving us the bag for free and he might buy our kettle corn trailer from us, as well as call Gwin's Lodge about the equipment they bought from us but now want to sell. We finally made it to some Chinese food take-out and headed back to our campsite at the Cook Inlet Academy around 5:30. The plan was to get in back, sitting on the bed, and watch movies while we ate dinner. It was sunny and "hot" (78) and we knew we'd be soon baking in the van. So, The Fisherman had a plan. Since it was breezy outside, he knew the mosquitos wouldn't be a problem like they normally are. So we parked, opened the front windows, propped open the back doors, and opened the side door wide open. It was great! We actually got cold as we sat there and watched two movies!

Thursday, June 11, 2009
Happy Birthday, Paul!
The Fisherman has his first guiding gig today. 6:30am flight time. Yesterday was hot. Last night's breezy turned into downright windy, the hot turned into cold, and the bright sunny turned into cloudy and foggy. 78 degrees at 4pm yesterday turned into 41 degrees at 6am today!

Today is my last day in Alaska. It has been great being here a full month. If we had a decent place to live, I'd gladly stay here all summer! I wish I could. Tonight we will head eastward for dinner with our friends Jerry and Kim - a thank you dinner at a nice pizza place for all Jerry's help on our road! And then we will camp in Cooper Landing somewhere, either their house or at Gwin's Lodge. That puts us 40 miles closer for our early morning drive to Anchorage for my 11:30 a.m. flight.