If Only it Were 30 Degrees Warmer…

I’m sure everyone has had a moment where they look outside at the 33 degrees of gentle drizzle or the 35 degrees of straight downpour on the no longer totally frozen grass in the front yard, and wished it was either 3 degrees cold and snowing, or 30 degrees warmer and more tolerable to be raining.

And I have found myself there again this week.

Part of having Kiska in my life, is that she requires daily exercise, and she is not content for just a ‘walk around the block’. Every morning we throw the ball for at least 10 minutes before work, I come home at lunch and we walk a mile out the wetlands trail chasing the ball and all the wonderful smells wafting on the wind, after work we go for between 3 and 4 miles on a trail (either walking or running), and then before bedtime we burn off the last of her energy with a few more ball throws and our last call potty break. So to say I spend a lot of time outside is a very true statement. So to be constantly subjected to this pitiful raining-just-at-freezing is really wearing this girl down. Kiska could care less. Lucky her.

It also makes some aspects of adventuring a bit more of a burden. Because it is raining, and sometimes windy, you want to wear your warm winter wool, but then you realize that you will be exerting energy and it’s actually not freezing. So then you are in the viscous cycle of wearing enough to stay warm in the rain, but knowing that because it’s warm out you are just going to sweat anyways. #FirstWorldProblems

But, part of living in Alaska is that we don’t let the rain slow us down. We put on our wool, lace up our shoes, and follow the wagging tail out there.

 

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A Frozen Morning

It’s not very often that Juneau actually gets a sudden bout freezing rain. Typically it is the slow accumulation of snow being driven over that transitions into compressed tire tracks, then with our temperatures typically flirting with 32, we experience rain on top of our ice and after a day or two our roads are temperate glaciers. But something unusual happened Saturday morning, and we awoke to our streets being covered in a sheet of ice.

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Not having studs on my Subaru, I lounged around the house until my driveway looked more liquid than solid, and loaded Barksalot up in the car for our daily adventure. I decided to head out towards the glacier, as it is a shorter drive and the Mendenhall always provides a beautiful backdrop even on cloudy days. There was some gentle misty rain, but not enough to warrant a hood. Kiska and I meandered around the lake, and after seeing some brave souls head out we skirted the shoreline and headed towards a big berg poking out of the ice.

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PLEASE BE AWARE: ICE BERGS WILL STILL ROLL IN FROZEN ICE, AND THEY ARE NEVER TRULY SAFE TO BE AROUND OR ON. ALSO, LAKE ICE IS ALWAYS UNSTABLE AND ANY TRAVEL ON LAKE ICE CARRIES AN AMOUNT OF RISK. GLACIER FACES ARE ALWAYS ACTIVE, AND THEY CAN STILL CALVE AND BREAK THE ICE AT THE FACE.

Having lived in Juneau my whole life, I am very aware of the safety of the lake ice. Heading out after days of below freezing after Juneau Nordic Ski Club gives the ice depth report is a super common occurrence in Juneau. But considering that Saturday was the first day above 32, and with standing water on top of the ice Kiska and I didn’t hang out for long. Looking at the JNSC report today, the ice is 8″ everywhere, so it is still very safe to be out on. But having not looked at the report before heading out, I didn’t want to be ‘that woman’ that fell through.

Safe Ice Thickness chart

After a quick few photos, we headed back into the woods to wander the trial. There were very few people out at the glacier – probably because of the condition of the roads. Lucky for us, that meant very few people to interrupt my silent stroll.

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But too bad for everyone, because they missed a very interesting day at the glacier. The trees were covered in a combination of freezing rain and rime frost. When Ms Bumbles sees mommy looking at something, she assumes it must be extremely fascinating and must be personally inspected by herself. So, most of my pictures at ground level are quick pics before Kiska sticks her face to smell whatever I’m looking at. At least I have learned to visualize my picture and find the right angel quickly! It helps my animal photography a lot actually. 🙂

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Well, at least she is interested in my life, right?

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100 Things, in 365 Days

A new year of goals,

Excitement and hopes are high!

Please don’t screw it up.

My New Year tradition is not too exciting for someone my age: after spending the evening with family playing cards or watching a movie, I head home in time to be with my fur babies by midnight, snuggle them and thank them for putting up with my shenanigans for another year, then crawl into bed around 0005 or 0030. Then, when I eventually open my peepers later in the morning, I hop on my computer and apply for my PFD. By doing it January first, every year, I ensure that I don’t put it off and then forget about it, as life can get crazy busy without my permission. And then I sit down with my 100’s list, and go over my goals for the coming year and see how last year went.

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What is a 100’s list you might ask? Why, let me tell you! Lauralye many years ago introduced me to the concept of a 100’s list. For people that loath condensing our hopes and dreams for the next year into one little goal that is often hard to quantify and track, a 100’s list is a perfect solution. Every year I buy a new spiral journal or diary, and then sit down and really think hard about my life for a few weeks. This is no time for arrogance and false modesty. I will be the first person to admit I am far from perfect, and I have several areas to improve upon. And a 100’s list is a perfect place to celebrate your strengths, and work on your weaknesses.

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When I host 100’s parties in January, and mid-year 100’s parties around June, we usually go around the room and people pick things from their lists they want to share. People will write a range of things on their 100’s list: grandiose travel plans, people they want prioritize seeing, projects they want to finish but have been putting off, and even simple things we don’t take seriously enough but should (the bed is a cell phone free zone). For example, a silly thing on my 100’s list a few years back was ‘skinny dip’. Yep, at 26 I finally went skinny dipping with friends at a lake on a glorious May day. That was on my list for three years before I finally did it. ‘Camp in Granite Basin’ was on my list for two years, and when we camped back there it was an incredible experience that actually made me a little sad it took so long to accomplish. But then I also had important things that aren’t glamorous at all like ‘get out of credit card debt’ and ‘support Trail Mix’. Then there are really personal ones that I haven’t done because it’s just really hard; my childhood cat of 10 years passed away a few years back, and I still can’t bring myself to look at her little urn without ugly crying, but I want to get to a point where I can open it and send some ashes to Memory Glass and ‘get two Memory Glass for kitty’ when I’m finally ready.

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I have found over the years, it is easier to break my list into six categories: personal relations, adventure, financial, reading, photography, and crafty pants. For me, this helps me break my life into the larger categories that are important to me. And a personal gift of making a 100’s list is that over time you can see how your interests change, how what you consider important shifts and your goals evolve. I couldn’t tell you off hand what was important to me three years ago, but when I look back at my 100’s list I have it written right there. And when comparing my lists’, I can see where I have grown as a person, where I accomplished the things that were important even if it took me a while, and that gives me strength each year that I will accomplish more and more of my goals. Have I ever once completed everything on my list? Heck no! But I sure try. And what isn’t completed each year is a good base for the next year if you want it to be. Or, you can decide that after a year, it really wasn’t that important to you after all. And that is a perfectly ok.

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Taking a Time-Out

Sweet sound of silence:

In a time of joy and cheer,

The quiet is missed.

 

With the festivities under way, it can be hard to find a moment or two of respite this holiday season. Not to mention the holiday caloric roller coaster of rich meals and decadent desserts that seem to cover every surface within a tempting arms reach! And the music! Does the music ever stop??!

I find it even more important this time of year to take a time-out, and just quietly walk into the woods. Growing up in Alaska I am a fervent preacher of ‘don’t go into the woods alone’, but I am also guilty of doing just that. My poor mom has become very tolerant of my 30 second phone calls – “Hey mom, I’m walking up the (insert trail name) trail about a (insert distance). Just Barksalot and myself, but there are some cars in the parking lot.” Followed-up with the “Hey mom, turning around at the (some well-known trail landmark)” if I have service when I am at my halfway point. Then the standard “Just got to my car” call that I sometimes forget to make. (Oops.) But being the good mother she is, she usually gives me a little while before calling me to see where I am. Our older brother finds this unbelievably annoying and detests this level of parental involvement; but for me, I take comfort in the fact that if I were sitting in a puddle with a broken ankle out of cell service, or I took a tumble down a gully, my mom would call in the cavalry in a reasonable amount of time. I tell my mom I’m hiking with my dog, so I’m not reeeaaally alone, but Kiska can’t help dress a wound or help me gimp out. As much as she would probably like to try.

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There are many trails in the Juneau area that are pretty popular, and even on a week night you can find at least one or two other people putting in the miles, little headlamp lights bobbing along the trail. So even though you may only be a party of one, there are other people on the trail that will probably pass you at some point. I generally keep track of the number of parties that pass me, and guess by the number of cars I saw how many people may still be on the trail. I’m sure this is not something unique to Juneau, but every town with residents that have an affinity for nature (or people with crazy dogs that need to run around and be wild little creatures outside to spare their house), as life doesn’t just stop because the sun is being elusive. In the warm summer months I live for the comradery of group hikes and shared experiences, and I still do love company on crisp winter wanders: sitting on a ridgeline soaking in the short hours of sunlight, painting or drawing in mitten, while drinking hot tea and cold beers. But I also revel in the silence of the snow thudding from branches above, and the soft crunch of frost beneath my boots. There is nothing quite like the laughter of friends breaking the silence, but also there is tranquility in nothing but the sound of the jays and the crows. And with so much seasonal stimulation, I have to run away for a time, to be able to come back to civilization and be a gracious adult.

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Stains of Summer

I am now a contributing author and photographer for Southeast Living Magazine! Dream. Come. True.

I asked Hoke when I would stop getting misty-eyed seeing my writing in print. I think it will take a few months. But I hope my heart never loses this feelings.

Stains of Summer

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If you haven’t already gotten out to pick some Blueberries or Huckleberries, the bushes are seriously calling and you should put down your smart phone and go.

I believe this is going to be a berry season we talk about for years to come in Juneau. Having just bought my first home (condo), I finally have a space to call my own. And knowing I won’t have to pack up and move in a year I am happy to fill my pantry and freezer with summer goodies. Having lived in Juneau since I was a year and two weeks old, I have never seen our blueberries so massive. Like, I’m almost a little confused by it: they are as big as the ones you get in the store, but they actually taste like blueberries!

From my super-secret berry picking spot right along the Eaglecrest parking lot (that’s me in the silver Subaru), I have already plundered about 51 cups of berries. Never before have I filled a gallon bag more than once in the same little spot. But this season, it’s totally possible, and I can do it in about two hours. And though picking berries is a cathartic exercise in finger dexterity and eye-hand coordination for me, I am also excited to have the taste of summer for months to come – though I think one of my shirts may be stained for much longer.

This is the perfect season to learn to make jam with all the berries we have. My first two batches of jam turned out to be more of a lumpy syrup (ha ha ha, funny thing, if you decide to add only one cup of sugar instead of the eight cups the recipe calls for it won’t set right, because after doing some internet research it turns out that the sugar chemically binds with the pectin in the skin of the fruit to make it ‘set’), and my third batch of jam is more of a paste (so, don’t add an extra two tablespoons of pectin because you aren’t adding all the sugar). But now my fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh are perfect. I got a low sugar recipe from my friend Joann, as I want my jam to taste like blueberries and not a Jolly Rancher – which is a sentiment she shares. But if you don’t have domestic genius friends (because let’s face it, if everyone was a genius then we would just call it normal), my kitchen’s favorite felon Mrs. Stewart has several delicious recipes you can easily find online to try. Try adding ¼ teaspoon nutmeg and allspice, or some fresh squeezed orange juice and pulp. Try mixing it up! And worst case scenario, you have some jam that doesn’t turn out (or about four batches for me), so you just mix it into pancake batter and then you make killer pancakes.

But if making jam really isn’t your thing and you just vacuum seal them (I do three cups at a time, as pies and muffin recipes usually need three cups), you will be able to have the taste of summer stain your lips well into the winter, when we long for our glorious days of berry stained shirts.

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Courtney and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Run (Judith Viorst)

“I’m yelling at a bear right now, and there is no one around to hear me”.

We are all told to take safety precautions: always wear a helmet, hike and run in groups, wear hunter orange, always wear a life jacket, and the list goes on. But I would like to stress the ‘always hike and run in groups’ part, especially for dense bear country. Having grown up in Juneau, I am very familiar with bears, and how to react in an encounter. But I will impress upon the reader, that we Alaskan’s don’t particularly enjoy bear encounters in the woods, especially with habituated ones. They don’t have the natural fear response of flight, and they don’t exactly get out of the way in the same expedient manner that we would like. So, though it makes for a good cardio workout, it’s a situation we prefer to avoid.

So, after a stressful day, I hit up the East Glacier Trail Tangle put on by Southeast Road Runners. These are not dog-friendly runs, so my friend got his bib, and I started out on the trail about 25 minutes before the start. East Glacier trail is a great trail to run, and starting on Under Thunder trail is a nice flat warm up for the incline and the (insert dramatic music) dreaded stairs. There is also a one mile walk as part of this race. Klas Stolpe was there at the half mile mark, ready to take pictures of our walkers and runners as they headed out on the trail amid the light showers and high spirits. As I trotted past him with Kiska in the lead, I was so happy to be on a quiet run in the woods, alone with my thoughts and my dog.

And then I see it. A huge, black, fuzzy bear butt just off the trail. I immediately stop, tell Kiska to ‘wait’, grab Kiska’s Lupine training leash (about a 6 inch long loop) that I always clip to her body harness, so she always has a leash on her but I don’t have to carry one that is multiple feet. I start loudly talking to the bear, and without even looking back, she (because why not) just kept walking off the trail into the woods. Never once did she look back at me, or even acknowledge that she saw me. After yelling ‘hey bear, how’s it going buddy?’, I started yelling how much I love my dog. Because really, I feel silly yelling at a random bear. Kiska, once I grabbed her leash, just looked at me with those big brown eyes, tongue out, totally unaware that legitimate danger was just a few feet away. Kiska didn’t growl, never barked, didn’t make a single sound. Just looked up at me adoringly.

Knowing that there was an aggressive sow with cubs in the area (we actually had to close the East Glacier trail a few weeks back because of her), that current event flashed in my mind and I literally thought ‘I have no phone to call my parents, no one is out here, no one can hear me, if she has cubs someplace and turns around and sees me here and cares, I could totally die and the last thing I would see is how much my dog loves me’. I guess that’s not so bad. I mean, I TOTALLY don’t want to die anytime soon, but if the last thing I see is the love of my life looking at me with her big shit brown eyes, it wouldn’t be so bad.

While standing still and loudly talking about my awesome dog, I scanned frantically between the bear butt and trees, looking for any sign of cubs scurrying up. Seeing no babies, Kiska and I slowly walked back towards the start of the race for about 100 feet, then we ran back. I lost the bear in the woods between the trail and the houses, and ran back that half mile as fast as my little legs would carry me. Knowing that adults and children would be running along the trail, I felt it my moral obligation to let them know a fatty bear was JUST on the trail. Running back, I found the race director and let her know what happened. I told a few friends that were running it, and everyone was happy to know make plenty of noise.

After the runners left, I lingered for a few, then started before the walkers. That way I would stay ahead of the walkers but behind the people actually running the race. Tim missed me leave, so I had to wait for him and ended up in the middle of the one milers. After we passed the half mile turn around, it thinned out and we were in the back of the pack, as hoped for. Now that Kiska and I had already added a mile onto our run, we were a little more tired but pleasantly warmed up. After mile three (for us), I started to feel my half mile burn back to the start. The switchbacks were killer, and the amount of large step ups were getting to me. Tim’s calf muscle was so tight, he said his foot was falling asleep. We stopped often to stretch out legs and backs, and for Kiska to meander about. At one point I will admit, I thought of turning around.

This was the first race my heart was just not in. I just couldn’t get my mind into a race mentality of running for a goal. And maybe it’s because I started this ‘race’ out with me just going for a run. We all have those runs where we set off, and turn around early. I wanted to turn around early. But Tim said he wouldn’t “fail”, but as I was actually just out for a run with my dog, I didn’t see it as ‘failing’ but rather ‘cutting my losses for another day’. After a moment of standing and contemplating, I realized that even if I wanted to turn around Kiska wouldn’t run back with me, knowing that Tim was heading the other way – NOT towards home. So, as a boat caught in this wild stormy ride, I had to just ride it out. And then it literally started to rain really hard. To add additional insult to injury.

Many miles, and many stretching stops later plus an emergency off trail pee, we headed back the way we came. I passed the half mile where the bear had lingered. Coming back into the dense woods along that part of the trail I was on high alter. I told Tim to look on the right, and I would look on the left for any bear butts. He said that the bear was probably long gone, and I said that was naive. The bear was pretty big, so it must be a well fed bear. It wasn’t scared by Kiska or myself, so it must be used to people and dogs. I doubted that the bear was ‘long gone’, but we managed to cross the finish line with no more bruin encounters.

As per the usual, I mad a ridiculous face at the finish line (some people take themselves too seriously). Because after a month or two, I won’t really remember the awful nitty-gritty details of my race. I’ll remember that it was raining – like it usually is, and that I saw a huge ass bear. O, and that I ran a mile farther than Tim.

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My Fishing Community

We may not be worth millions of dollars, passing out our business cards at the Fishermen’s Expo each year, talking about what IFQs we have or how many pots,  coordinating with Icicle or AGS, or looking for quality deckhands, but we are just as fervent about our fish.

In every community, there are many little facets and sub-cultures that exist for those that are lucky enough to be a part of them. They can be born by happen stance, fluid and transient in nature. But that does not mean they are any less substantial or meaningful, as opposed to set groups and more formal alliances.

I love to compare humans to wildlife.

In Alaska, we are lucky enough to have two of the five very distinct types of killer whales for the northern hemisphere. We have the AT1 ‘transient‘ which are marine mammal hunters and actually genetically different (broke off about 700,000 years ago) than the ‘resident’ orca which are the fish eaters, but we don’t have or know much about the ‘offshore‘ orca or the two eastern north Atlantic (being that we are in the Pacific ocean). Having been a naturalist for about 10 years, look at the saddle patch (open or closed), eye patch (especially the shape by the eye and the slant at the opposite end), and shape of the dorsal fin (is it pointy or rounded, does it slop back or stand straight up) to see the main differences. Like many other animals, killer whales make noises to communicate. They use a combination of whistles, clicks, and pulsed calls. The combination of these sounds makes up their ‘discreet calls’. For our resident killers whales, they travel in pod – specifically a family unit – that is matriarchal like the elephants. Because these family groups stay together for their entire lives, they end up forming their own dialect, or their own set of discreet calls. Dropping a hydrophone and listening to them, AF5 and AF22 pods (split form the same pod) will sound different than the AJ or AG pod that is seen in Southeastern Alaska. Just like people from Boston will sound peculiar to people from Whichita.

The transient killer whales don’t travel in a pod, but instead form these dynamic hunting groups. Like people meeting up on the Pacific Coast Trail, they will come together randomly, travel and hunt together for a while, then split off and do their own thing later. There is no long-standing family lineage involved, and unlike the residents the transients actually speak a world language (don’t hate me for using the word ‘language’). Although a main difference from resident is that when hunting they go into super stealth mode and make almost no noise at all, as seals and other mammals will hear them and will get out of the water as fast as possible to avoid becoming lunch. It has been found that resident and transients do make distinctly different noises when they communicate, and the wildlife has learned this. Some transients over time have learned to specialize in killing certain types of mammals, such as the Dall’s porpoise or seals. In contrast, members of AG pod that swam with Dall’s porpoise for a while. We have one male transient that frequents our waters and he is a master at running down the Dall’s porpoise, and he is a force to be reckoned with. The notches in his dorsal fin make him very distinguishable even from a distance.

My little fishing community is just like the transient killer whales: we all come from different places, some of us have slightly different dialects, some of us are little family units, some people have specialized skills, and there are distinct personalities. And most importantly, we all come together for the common goal of hunting. From the dock we all cast in a consistent fashion, taking turns casting for those that need a little extra room. We will have pleasant conversations with each other, though we tend to be focused on the hunt more than simply a social gathering. We are all aware of the general movements of the members, as they change lures, walk to get something, or change casting spots. We also all jump in to help each member when they get a “fish on!”

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There is one gentleman in particular that is very good at, and extremely enjoys, netting fish. He is always the first there, with net in hand, and knows fish movement to get them before they dart under the dock. He is the fastest with a net, and he enjoys it the most. He says that it is his favorite part of fishing. I have yet to see him catch his own fish, keeping in mind I’m only there during my lunch hour, but he is always eager to help everyone else. Stewart is another strong personality. He is funny, happy, talkative but not chatty. He always shows up with a smile, and is always greeted on the dock by several people. For me personally, it seems that my casting always improves when I’m standing next to him!

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There are a few other people that are regulars on the dock, and we all give acknowledging head nods when we take our first casting spot of the day. Bob usually shows up in his chest waders, probably to keep the consistent fish death off his clothes. His little fishing buddy Michael that fishes with him is probably one of the best casters on the dock, and seeing as he is all of 15 years old, he gives us all something to aspire to. He casts his lure effortless twice the distance I can, but Bob assures me it’s probably the actual gear I’m using. He says that his wife had the same problem, got a different set up, and now she cats with ease.

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Today the older Asian gentleman that is always on the dock with slightly broken English but complete fishing attention caught a fish that was smaller than a king, and we decided it was an early pink. It was exceptionally bright, and put up a good fight. When new people show up, we readily offer up information, such as what fish are biting, for people that are from out of town what the regulations are, what lures we are using.

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We share stories from earlier in the day or week, and we are always eager to give the fish report; to encourage our comrades, or have us all settle in for a long day of fishing with little catching. When the bugs set their alarm for 0550 in the morning with no wind or rain to keep them at bay, we share the bug spray and joke about wishing the fish were biting as much as the bugs. We always watch the fat seal that cruises around the dock, as he has on at least one occasion swam up to the dock and stolen a king that was just about to be netted. We chuckle when eagles fly over, as one flew into a cast and got tangled, reeled back to the dock, untangled, and then flopped back into the water to awkwardly butter-fly stroke swim itself to shore to sulk on a rock properly as befitting such a regal diurnal apex predator.

We are a happy little community, and I feel special to be a part of it.

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