30 April 2009


Many a person in Alaska will try and tell you that break-up is not really about rivers but about that time of year when a couple who has been keeping each other warm through the winter break off their relationship. But really, it does have to do with break-up of ice on the rivers (even if the latter is also true). I'm kicking myself for not grabbing my camera when I took the Disreputable Dog on his evening walk to the river where we witnessed break-up.

Tidal ice along the ocean in Los Anchorage

Rivers in Alaska have long been important transportation routes. In the winter they are highways for sled dog teams, snowmachines, and skis. In the summer boats of all types go up and down them. But during break-up and freeze-up all traffic stops. Predicting break-up has long been a pastime of locals and their is at least one break-up that is akin to our state lottery.

Having found that my new residence is a short walk from the mighty River that Brings the Highest Price for Wild Salmon, the D. Dog and go there twice daily. I love these huge, glacially fed, silty rivers (ok, I'll admit it, there isn't really any river type I don't love). Just standing on the banks makes me feel like I'm out in the field. The other day we had stopped in the early morning sun to look out on a still mostly frozen scene with a few leads of water. When we arrived on the banks in the afternoon we were just in time to see it all break up and wash out.

We sat in the sand on a high bank while the ice roared and crashed and moaned, while huge car sized chunks of ice floated by, submerging occasionally and then creating huge sprays as they lunged upward again like whales breaching. Occasionally a berg would strand temporarily on the edge of the river until enough of its brethren piled up behind it and forced it back out into the stream. The river was chock-a-block full of ice, it looked like the surface of a slurpee, churned pieces of ice streaked with sediment layers of grime and a huge variety of freezing ice patterns rushed by. The sound of it was awe inspiring- roaring, rushing, seething, spraying, sucking. I can't really describe it accurately. Huge blocks got torn from the banks creating their own current and sending muddy water skyward. And after sitting there for maybe 45 minutes all of the ice had passed us. Suddenly there was an open river with a few small pieces of ice still clinging to it's banks. Looking down river we could just discern the rush of ice as it headed for the open ocean.

28 April 2009

My Cat the Tree hugger

Yesterday, when I was out planting greens in the window boxes (yes, this might be a sign that I will stay at this residence a little longer then the last), the Disreputable Cat escaped out the front door. She is an indoor cat as there are things that would dearly love to eat her and things that she would dearly love to eat. I was about to run over and scoop her up when she caught sight of the red squirrel.

Now this may have been the first time she's actually ever seen a red squirrel and she was absolutely enthralled. As I watched she walked straight through a cat-belly deep puddle, tail dragging in the water, in the direction of the squirrel. I could hardly stop laughing. The squirrel was in no danger and when I finally rescued the D. Cat from the little island she had marooned herself on she grasped each tree as we went by (only the aspens though, not the spruce) and I thought to myself 'My cat's a tree hugger'.

27 April 2009

Field Season Looming

It's going to be summer next week and then it's going to be crazy, hectic busy, and then it's going to be over the week after that. At least, that's how it feels. I'm planning my field projects and I'm already trying not to think long term planning because I'm going to be gone almost every single week, starting the last week of May. It's not going to be the kind of field season where I go far, far away, drop off the planet, and stay there for 5 months before returning to the real world (which morphs into the unknown in my absence). No, this is the kind of field season where you spend one week at site A doing a project involving one taxa, the next week at site B involving and entirely different taxa, off to site C immediately thereafter to deal with yet another taxa, and so on. And yikes - how many people do I have to coordinate with and arrange equipment for? It's going to be an adventure, as is always the case when your transportation methods include (but are not limited to): snowmachine, hiking, helicopter, and raft. Right.

I expect I will come out the other end with crazy stories and beautiful pictures and absolutely ready to hole up for the winter doing mellow things. Right now we are all scrambling - we've got 13 million acres of land to traverse and take care of (that's six times the size of Yellowstone National Park) and 3-4 months to do it in. So right now, I'm logistics girl - 'cause I need to line it all up so that then I can just let it flow.

25 April 2009

Rabbit's Foot

Snowshoe hare foot found in the woods - it always seems that predators leave one behind...it makes me wonder about the origin of the "lucky" rabbit's foot.

Things I've been doing while I wasn't here:
  • Moving again - out of employee housing. There's been quite a crunch for housing so, despite the difficulties of finding housing in the area, I've moved
  • D. Dog's surgery & 3 subsequent check-ups - the vet is a 4 hour drive away. There is a vet closer but I have been repeatedly warned not to take an animal to this vet unless you intend to put them down. His next one is for the week after next.
  • Hiring two crews of seasonals for two different projects
  • Been sick, again, this time with a cold
  • Monitoring the Aspen trees for catkin development
  • Bringing my bike out of storage and resuming the bike commute - it's much easier from my new place which is about 4 miles away. The other one was 15.
  • Celebrated a birthday

24 April 2009

Signs of Spring in Alaska

  • Strange baby faced men who look vaguely familiar keep showing up at work - all winter long they've had chest long hair and beards but now they've gone in for their "annual" - annual haircut that is.
  • Flocks of snow buntings swooping around the roadsides like a wind swept snow storm
  • Owls becoming more visible, their hoots filling the forests
  • Daylight increasing so fast that it is confusing when trying to guess the time
  • Big lakes of melt water stuck between the frozen ground and permafrost. You could stock some of them with fish, I swear.

My mother asked me a week ago how much snow we had - 2 feet I replied. She asked if I was exaggerating. I wasn't. You couldn't even see the benches of the picnic tables and now, a week later, there is bare ground under them.

06 April 2009


Ice Festival Creature 2009

So I'm finally feeling totally recovered (and I still have no clue what it was). The Disreputable Dog had his first knee surgery and is doing very well although he manages to be very pathetic at the same time, howling when I leave until the Disreputable Cat comes up to comfort him (I peeked in the window). And my step-father has been buried (but I'm reserving a future post for him.) Thank you for all of your kind thoughts.

My favorite at the festival this year

Before I got sick I was going to post all these fabulous pictures of ice sculptures from the Ice Sculpture Festival in the City of the Midnight Sun where I was just before I got ill. I'm still posting them but it feels a little out of sync with the season as the we now have almost 14hours of daylight now and it has gotten above freezing every single day and the pussy willows are bursting from the very top-most branches of the willow trees. However, the ice festival is one of my absolute favorite events in this grand state and I was delighted that I had the excuse to go up there and the time to visit them with friends.

Ice DNA (to scale!!!)

This last photo is not as clear as the others as the camera batteries were getting cold and the lens was fogging up (it was -35F ~ -38C) but it is of an ice slide. A fabulous set of long ice slides that run the length of the hill. Now many respectable adults feel that they shouldn't be using such things but how else, I ask you, does one stay warm when standing around a gallery of ice other then by running up the hill and sliding down on your butt, going so fast that you laugh wildly into the cold air even though you forgot how much catching air on an ice slide would hurt when you came down.

ice slides!