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Archive for April, 2007

A while ago, I wrote a post about building a cabin out in Goldstream Valley south of Fairbanks.  Pete and I had a lot of great times accomplishing that feat. 

Once we decided that we were going to build a place and had bought the land, we started figuring out a strategy for the project.   Both of us were pretty good at procrastination, so one of the major strategic points aimed at ensuring our completing the job in a timely fashion was to burn all our bridges.   We gave up the cute little apartment in town and lived on site in a tent for the duration of construction.   This put a lot of pressure on us to get busy piling logs on top of other logs, since our drop dead date was the onset of the Alaskan winter.   We knew that we could count on snow on the ground by October 1.

We had not accumulated a lot of stuff at that time in our lives.   I had a desk, an old oak army officer’s desk.  We owned some kitchen equipment, dishes and silverware.  There were quite a number of books as well, and one overstuffed chair which I had bought for my dormitory room.   We had a water bed, but since we were planning on a non-electric lifestyle, we decided that would not be a viable option and gave it away.   The one item that took up the most space was our respective wardrobes. 

Even so, the pile of stuff wasn’t very big and we couldn’t justify renting a storage unit for such a small amount.   Oh, let’s not lie.  Even if the pile had been gigantic we were such tightwads that we would not have spent our hard earned money for a storage space.   We decided that we could store our belongings on our land for one summer.

To that end, Pete built a very nice platform out in the woods just to the right of our driveway.   It was under the shelter of the big black spruce grove, and out of the way of all construction activities.   The platform was completely constructed from alders we had cleared from the house site.  We piled all our worldly goods on this sturdy platform, and lovingly wrapped them in a tarp.   In order to ensure that they would stay dry, we also covered the tarp with a large sheet of six mil plastic, and tied it all down securely.

It was an awfully busy summer, which I will relate more about in other posts.   Along about the end of August, we got the rafters up and the plywood sheathing on them and the tar paper roofing on top of that.   We were in the dry!  Despite the fact that there was still a lot of work to be done, we felt that this achievement warranted a night out on the town.   We felt so strongly about this, we even decided that we would dress up for the occasion.  

Since the building was now sheltered, we knew that we could break into our “storage unit” and move everything under shelter before the next rain.  So, I strolled over to the platform, and began to unwrap it.   The first inkling that there might be a problem occurred as I removed the plastic.  There was a tear in it, and under the hole was a puddle of water on the tarp.   I remembered the rainstorms we had had during the summer, and thought to myself that we were wise to use more than one layer of protection.

Alas, the odor of mildew that rose from the platform as I removed the tarp told me that my self-congratulatory thought was premature.   The first sight that met my eyes was a sodden box of books.  Right next to it was the set of Samsonite suitcases into which I had carefully packed all my good clothes.   Hoping that it had shed water, I opened the large one.   There in front of me, lay all the clothes I didn’t feel I needed that summer:  the lovely Hawaiian print dress my dad had bought me for Christmas when we spent it on the Islands, my long black concert formals, a hand made forest green wool suit with two skirts (one in a coordinating plaid), one jacket, a vest (also plaid) and a pair of pants.   There was more, but those items stick in my mind.  

Unless you have seen what molds can do to clothes, you can’t really imagine what a disaster was laid out in front of me.   There were several different kinds of mold in there, including a brilliant orange slime mold.   The result of fungal action would have been fascinating, if it wasn’t demonstrated all over the ruins of my complete wardrobe.  Some pieces had holes in them, others were made of fabrics that resisted deterioration, but had suffered changes wrought in the dyes.   Big splotches of discoloration were everywhere.  

My shriek of despair followed by loud sobbing brought my poor dear husband running to my aid.   After he ascertained that I had not suffered some injury, we opened the other case, which contained more clothes in just as bad condition.   Ironically, his jeans and shirts, packed in boxes, were safe and sound at the dry end of the rack.  Soberly, we viewed the damages.   He suggested that perhaps things would look better if they were laundered.   After I snapped his head off, we decided that we would at least try that.

Needless to say, our mood of celebration had been changed to one of mourning.   We exchanged our plan of dinner out to one of visiting the laundromat for an extended stay followed by pizza and beer.   It turned out to be a pretty large quantity of beer, since the upshot of the laundering was basically throwing away every nice piece of clothing that I owned.

Maybe that is why I don’t care for clothes and shoes.  I tend to live my life in black slacks and t-shirts, with birkenstocks & cross trainers my footwear of choice.  When I want to really dress up, I have two very nice silk cocktail dresses (one of them is my wedding dress) and a couple of broomstick skirts that suffice.   Oh, and I do own a pair of black pumps, which have been worn perhaps five times in the 6 years since I purchased them.

The purveyors of fashion  are pretty much non-players in my life.  Perhaps therapy would help me get over that trauma.

Just a side note:  I still have the Samsonite suitcases, they are a discontinued color that shows up wonderfully amidst all the identical black bags that are all the rage now.  Their linings have never looked the same.

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News of the day 28April2007

We seem to have recovered from the frosty blast.  The bleeding hearts are actually sending up new flower stalks:

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The west side hosta garden is in recovery:

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These two pictures are from my front flower bed:

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news-of-the-day-28april07-004-star-of-bethlehim-and-veronica.jpg

Last but not least, while he was weed-eating around one of the elms in the side yard, Jim disturbed this wolf spider.  She was not amused, but never lost control of her egg case.

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I had such a good day today, I wanted to tell you all about it.  As soon as I sat down at my computer table, it became obvious that I needed to locate a pair of glasses so I would be able to see the computer screen.   I could not remember where I had left them, and they weren’t in the usual places.  Drat.  

Ruby was illustrating the idiom “dogging one’s footsteps” as I systematically searched every room of the house.   The problem is, I have been walking around outside so I have my walking shoes on and she just doesn’t understand why I haven’t gotten the car keys out yet.  Shouldn’t we be going for our WALK?  Meanwhile, as I come down the hall, I can hear Mike raking his claws across the shredded carpet that is more or less attached to his cat tree.  As I enter the living room, he pops out from behind the partition and taps my ankle gently, not a claw to be felt.   Immediately he levitates to the top of the cat tree, popping off the ground magically, and landing full weight on its arm.  The whole contraption creaks and groans alarmingly, and Ruby stops in her tracks, focused on Mike, hoping to ascertain whether or not he is going to pounce on her back and try to hamstring her as he flows off her hindquarters.   I pick up the toy Mike was wrestling with before I entered the room.   It is a long strip of flannel with elastic stitched to it so it curls and stretches quite enticingly.   At the end is a tuft of feathers and pieces of felt and string and whatnot.   I flip it back and forth across the arm of the cat tree a few times, and he bats it desultorily.   When he has lain down across the arm of the cat tree, and draped his paws over the edge of, I toss the string over his neck.  “Boring boy.  If you don’t want to play, I certainly don’t want to play.”  

“Aha!”  I finally locate the glasses hiding on the Seven Continent table. 

It has been raining off and on ever since about Monday.  This makes it difficult to finish installing the concrete blocks we are using to make our raised beds in the vegetable garden.  I have been doing a lot of massage, and now that my work week is finally over I still have 2/3 of my massage sheets left to wash.  Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and breezy, so I will wait to dry them until then so I can hang them out on my clothesline. (Ruby is still waiting while I type at the computer, lying disconsolately at my feet on her cedar dog pillow.  Every time I take a swig from my bottle of electrolyte solution, she lifts her head and then sets it back on her front paws, grunting reproachfully.) 

Anyway, what made this day so wonderful is that after a little afternoon shower and in between massages, I took a little walk around the place.   All the hostas that had come up several weeks ago got turned to mush by the frost.  It was such a bummer I almost couldn’t force myself to go outside, even if it hadn’t been raining cats and dogs.  Last week I forced myself to go around and clean all the mushy dead growth off down to the roots so they wouldn’t get rot.   Today, I found a miraculous recovery underway.  I have hosta leaves all over the gardens: chartreuse ones with red spotted stems, tiny little Pandora’s box and Mouse Ears,  variegated ones, some that have blotches with three different shades of green, quilted ones with silvery blue glossy leaves.  The coral bells have all recovered and started sprouting.   When I came to my bleeding hearts, I found another miracle there.   They had put up tiny fresh new leaves last week that I carefully left undisturbed when I was cleaning away the frozen stalks.  Today, the leaves have multiplied, and there are even flower buds on the stems of leaves.   I can’t believe that  they retained so much vitality that they are going to re-bloom after the devastating frost.  I am indeed blessed.

Right now in the front yard the spanish hyacinths are just starting to finish and the Star of Bethlehem flowers are coming into their own.  Additionally, there are bearded irises in several colors, and the Dutch irises are sending up fat flower buds.  The lavender has finished sulking and is sending out new leaves, and the yarrow that shares that planter is sending up flower stalks.   It makes me feel good to realize that I have finally figured out what works in that space.   It is south facing and makes a wall about a yard high; it forms the border for the walkway from my carport to the front door.   The sun absolutely bakes it in the summer, even though I have planted tall garden phlox in front of it to shade it from the merciless July afternoons.   I tried growing cannas there, and they felt it was entirely too hot and dry.   I moved them out on the root cellar mound, and that suits them just fine.  I may try putting some elephant ears out there too, there are giant alliums that are sending out buds there.   I think it would make a good combination, and the railroad ties that form those beds are dark enough they create a climate zone on 6 rather than the usual 5 we experience in this location.

As you may have surmised by now, I am feeling pretty much on top of the world physically.  My virus is vanquished, the nasty bruise on my shin is fading.  I have been walking regularly.   My house is fairly tidy, and I am not feeling overwhelmed by the laundry the way I was last week.

Yesterday I had a particularly fine walk because I went down to Bennett Springs and walked about a mile and a half up the Natural Tunnel trail.  I had to ford the stream a couple of times.   There is so much water saturating the ground that there were little springs burbling up out of the limestone bluffs all along the spring branch above the spring.   What a beautiful day it was, at least it was beautiful if what you like is still and grey and moist.   While I was down there the showers held off.   I saw a cerulean warbler, a male indigo bunting, a pair of blue-grey gnatcatchers.   I heard some sort of liquid song being poured out from the forest canopy.  Who knows what bird that was?   I have not learned to identify all of them by their songs, and it didn’t matter anyway.  I wished I had recording of that transcendent aria.  

Later on, as I was returning to the trail head, I saw something flutter to the forest floor that almost looked like a leaf falling.   But not quite, and when I got abreast of where I had seen it land I saw a wood thrush busily tossing leaves around as she looked for some lunch.    She glared at me disapprovingly as I walked by her dining table.  

Today I saw a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks availing themselves of my bird feeder.  One of my friends who lives outside of town has them nesting at her place every year.   I’m hoping I have lucked out and this pair have decided to cut their migration short and settle in my yard.   They would make a wonderful contrast to the cardinals and the gold finches who already live here.   I also saw the blue bird female hunting on my front lawn this afternoon as I was giving my fifth massage of the day.  

On Tuesday this week the wrens arrived from their migration.   About 9:30 in the morning one arrived and plopped down in its accustomed spot on my crepe myrtle and proclaimed the porch to be hers.   A second one lit on the garden gate post and answered her back with a similar proclamation regarding the garden.   Wednesday, the rest of the group arrived.   By my count there are at least four pairs of wrens re-establishing their territories in my yard.  They are such busy little souls it is hard to count them accurately.  It is heartening to think that they all made it down to the Gulf Coast, wintered there and safely returned.   None of these birds are banded, but I am certain that they are the same bunch I hired to keep the garden bug free last year.   I love my migratory labor!  

The carolina wren moved back to Jim’s shop after we summarily evicted her from on top of the compost shredder a few weeks ago.   She has resigned herself to having to commute across the yard to the compost bins rather than living right next door to the food supply.  She appears to be sitting on eggs.

So.  Is it REALLY spring?   Or are we just riding for a fall again?  Will it frost again, or will be garden continue its spectacular rise from the freeze?

Well, I have got to walk Ruby or she will expire of boredom.   Stay tuned for the answers.

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Thunderstorms

We have been blessed with rain, two inches of it to be exact.   It all fell on us last night, accompanied by lots of lightning and thunder and wind.  We were under a tornado watch for several hours.   Fortunately, none formed in our area.

Whenever we have weather like this the DSL server goes down.   I don’t know whether the company shuts it down because they are worried about power surges from lightning strikes, or whether my computer has a storm phobia, or whether it is our phone lines.  I just know that when it is flashing and banging out there, you can’t get on line to look at the local weather radar to see where the storm is and what it looks like.   I hate being dependent on the TV news people for weather information.  

How quickly we become accustomed to technological advances!   When I was a teenager, there was no such thing as weather radar or satellite imagery.  

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River Report

For once we actually got on the river early.  We are so bad about not getting our collective act together that we shy away from any suggestion that it would be a good idea to hit the water “bright and early.”  No sooner does that phrase pass our lips than something conspires to make the idea impossible.   I have been toying with the idea of an overnight float in the near future.  If we did that, I’ll bet we’d be at least near the river at dawn!

Yesterday, for some reason, we were on the water by 9:30, which is about as early as we have ever made it.   It was a truly beautiful day, the weathermen were right.  Light breezes moved the 75 degree air around a bit, but didn’t interfere with the canoing.  The sun was floating in a bright blue sky.  I lost my brain temporarily and neglected to put on sunscreen, so today I am basting my burn with aloe and vitamin E.  It is a moderately bad burn with no bubbling, so at least I didn’t fry myself.  Just a light toasting.

The water level had come down some from last Saturday, when it was over the banks.  It was still very high, what we call 4-lane highway water.  Later in the summer when the water is low and the river lazy, it is hard to believe what the spring river looks like.  

The sweeper that caught me April 1st was gone.  In fact, one of the zigs in the zig zag right below Steelman’s Ford is completely gone.  No longer an s-and-a-half curve, it is merely a c-curve, a perfect example of how the same river is never really the same.  The really big log jam I had pictures of in my April 3  post is still there.  Some of the stuff that was stuck underneath it has been cleared out, but the flood opened the channel around the side of it up, and we were able to float through there without even having to drag the canoes.  There were a couple of other places where we had to walk our canoes through the shallows to get by, but for the most part the channel was open and very full of water.

The heron rookery has three trees being used for nests, and 8 or 9 occupied nests.  Six of those are in one tree.  As we floated by we observed several very small and curious heads poking out over the edges.  In addition, one parent arrived and fed its chicks while we watched.   Very, very cool to see this rookery recuperating from the disaster of several years ago.   And they did it all without FEMA or storm insurance.

There were several pairs of Canada geese that had staked out their territory along the river banks.  We are very circumspect about how we annoy them; they are actually a pretty dangerous bird.  Both of us have been flogged by them, they can deliver a nasty bite as well.  I have seen them attack a canoe and overbalance it enough to tip it over.   There was one pair that had gotten busy really early, they were escorting a pair of goslings around.   It was an otter denning area, which probably accounts for why they only had two babies, although the bad weather a week ago could also be to blame.

Canada goose behavior around their nesting area is quite amusing.   One goose will stand sentinel, and as soon as they see a threat will start calling to its mate.   As soon as you get near the nest, or a gosling they want to distract you from, they will both fly in opposite directions, flopping and splashing, and honking loudly to distract you from their precious progeny.   Once they have you moving in the appropriate direction, which is AWAY and DOWNSTREAM, they will call and swim enticingly close in front of you.  Every time you get within a few yards, they take off noisily again.  

I’m sure this behavior is quite an effective strategy against many predators, but Jeri and I were heartily entertained by their subterfuges.   It was particularly amusing because we had gotten such a good gander at the goslings that they were trying to distract us from.   I started telling them to get back to their kids; they left them unattended in close proximity to an otter den, which is a recipe for disaster.  Eventually, after they had “led” us a good half mile downriver, they took off and flew back up to their remaining (I hope) babies.

We also saw a pair of mallards who were chivvying a dozen ducklings away from our sinister presence.   None of the other ducks we flushed had babies yet.   We saw several pairs of wood ducks, and lots of other ducks which were too far away to identify. 

In addition to the great blue herons, we saw a little blue heron in the same area where I took pictures of one last time, a green heron, and several king fishers.  There was an osprey hunting, catching dinner on his way north no doubt.   We saw a red tailed hawk and quite a few turkey vultures enjoying the thermals. 

One of the best parts of yesterdays float was the quantity of bird song.  I truly wish I had had a recording device with me.   The air was very still, there was a little ripple water noise, but nothing interfered with the symphony of song that surrounded us.   Cardinals, jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, hairy wood peckers, gold finches, prothonotary warblers, black and white warblers, indigo buntings, wood thrush, water thrush,chickadees,  cerulean warbler, mockingbirds and I don’t know who all else combined in a rich medley that accompanied us all the way down the river.  Every once in a while the song would be punctuated by the resonant drumming of a pileated woodpecker.

I saw a large group of black polled warblers hunting bugs at the waters edge, evidently migrating through on their way to their northern nesting area.   And on one gravel bar I noticed a group of 5 cedar waxwings hopping around on a blossoming buckeye tree.  We stopped and watched a bank swallow who was busily excavating a nice nest burrow, using a sycamore root as camouflage for the hole and roof support for the tunnel.  Numerous cliff swallows warned us away from their territories in the rock outcrops as well.

The most magical vision of all happened because we were so enchanted by the bird song.  We had entered a long straight pool, and the river current was so strong it was taking us along with no effort expended on our part.   We put our paddles down, and just sat quiet, not talking, taking it all in.   The river wound gently around a left corner into the area which we call The Shelter Caves.   A rather tall bluff rises from the bank there, lots of outcrops and ledges of rocks with many places where the spring seeps have carved deep caves.   There is a cave mouth up there too, who knows how deep it goes?   

A flash of movement caught my eye, and there on a path that winds along some of the ledges about 30 feet up, trotted a very handsome, glossy coyote.  He was carrying a nice fat rabbit, focused on bringing his mate her lunch.  I’m sure there was a den with cubs near by.   My hissed “Jeri!” brought our presence on the river to his attention.   He paused for only a second on his journey, turning an unconcerned golden eye in our direction.   Our visit to his domain caused him no stress, he simply continued on his way, unconcerned, and disappeared around a corner of rock.   We breathed again.  

Even just remembering this precious gift brings a little tear to my eye.  I love to see predators in an ecosystem, their presence there indicates it is healthy.  If his state of coat was any indication, it is a very healthy ecosystem indeed!

The trash report is rather short:  mostly drink containers.  I won the oddity contest with an old rubber boot and a track shoe, both left-foot footwear, for some reason.   Jeri won with quantity, collecting a bag and a half of trash to my one.

Today I might even get around to that rose garden full of violets, if the weather holds.   The wind is gusty and strong, lots of high clouds presage a cold front moving in.   We are supposed to have thunderstorms, and it looks like the forecast is accurate. 

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