Archive for the ‘Alaskan experiences’ Category


It was a very white start to Martin Luther King Day here at the Havens.  When I awoke, it was snowing, but the precipitation has stopped for now.   There was no water aerobics this morning, and I am not really excited about getting out on the roads.  While I cut my “driving teeth” in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado; and then developed them experiencing the roads of Alaska, I still stay off the roads if I don’t have to go out when the weather is like this.

Around here people get way excited when a couple of inches of snow fall and there is a light rime of ice on the roadways, conditions that would make a seasoned Alaskan or Colorado mountain driver simply slow down a bit.  Around here, they close school and the weather people have regular conniptions about how dangerous it all is.  I have no qualms about my ability to negotiate the highways here in the Ozarks.  It is the REST of the drivers that give me pause.  They are so unpredictable I am reluctant to put myself in their vicinity.  Many of them seem to believe that since they have four wheel drive they can still drive over the speed limit and also stop on a dime if they need to. (She shakes her head…)

So I am home, and wondering if I will have any clients this afternoon.  There are three scheduled, whether they will show up is another question entirely.  It makes earning a living very unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the view from my kitchen window is splendid.  The little birds surely did appreciate me filling the feeders this morning.  There was a huge crowd of them at breakfast time.  The hawk flew through and scattered them, afterwards the yard was devoid of birds (and squirrels) for a good half hour.   I did not go out and investigate, but usually that means that the Cooper’s hawk was able to secure her breakfast.  She seems to view the pond area as her dining room.

The petite prairie is looking quite fine, as you can see from my opening photo above.  I love to go out there and inspect the environs after a few hours of no snow fall.  That is when it becomes evident just how important that cover is to the residents of the yard.

There was a small flock of cardinals hanging around after the hawk scare ebbed.   Here is a shot of them I took from the porch.


That is not all of them, several of them were availing themselves of the sunflower seeds while I was taking these images.

There are more of them in that bush than meets the casual eye.  Here is a closer shot of the same group.


Aside from the trio of juncos there is one male cardinal and four females sharing this bush.

The male is very suspicious of me.  Even though I was a good 30 meters away when I took this shot, his demeanor tells me “I know you are there and you are probably up to no good.”


“Just stay on your porch and everyone will be happy.”


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One of the things I have always wanted to do was to walk on a glacier.

Actually, I have done this previously.   When I was a little girl living in the wild mountains of Colorado, we used to hike up into the high places quite frequently.   I walked on the St. Vrain glacier, and also the Arapahoe Glacier.   Nowadays, the tiny remnants that remain of both of these glaciers makes me wonder how in the name of sanity people are still able to convince themselves that there is no problem going on as regards to global climate change, or global warming (which seems to be a term that is in disrepute for some reason).

As I read the news of the disappearance and retreats of glaciers world wide, my internal need to walk on these ancient ice fields becomes more and more urgent.   When we decided to go on the seven day Inside Passage cruise up to southeast Alaska, I knew that I really really wanted to experience being on a glacier, before it was too late and there aren’t any left.    I mean, it is hard to believe that they might actually all melt world wide.   They are so massive, and there are so many of them.    People used to think that the Passenger Pigeon was so numerous they could not be hunted to extinction either.

Oh darn.   I was just going to tell you about my wonderful walk on the Herbert Glacier.   Then I went all poignant and scientifical and thoughtful on you.   Sorry.

Lets see.   We booked a tour up on the Mendenhall Glacier about four months before we went.  That is Juneau ahead of us, all decked in typical Southeast Alaskan weather.   Rain.


Because of the low ceiling at the Mendenhall Glacier, our tour was cancelled.  I am not ashamed to admit that I went to my cabin on the ship and cried like a little child over the disappointment, but the day was saved by Chris with Juneau Tours , who was able to book us on a tour with Coastal Helicopters that went later in the day and to a different glacier that was not weathered in.

(I really can’t say enough good things about the staff of Coastal Helicopters.   They were dealing with two different groups, ours and one which spoke only Hebrew and had a translator, going to two different sites in three helicopters.  They were pleasant, professional, efficient, friendly, and went out of their way to get us what we wanted, even when they had to run across the tarmac in the rain to the warehouse to secure a t-shirt in the style and size I wanted.   

And the pilot!   Wow.   I want a helicopter now.   Okay, I’ll be honest.   I want the pilot too… but I’m already taken and he’s probably way too young for me.   Still, cute!  And professional.   And a great pilot.)

Okay.   Now the pictures.   When we got to the airport where the helicopters were, the clouds opened and an omen appeared.


After a safety briefing, we were taken out to the helicopters in single file like a bunch of baby ducklings being shepherded along by their concerned Mama.  After we were all strapped in and equipped with our headphones, through which we could actually talk to the pilot, our little group of helicopters took off.


Even though none of our craft were gunships, all of us thought of the movie Apocalypse Now for some reason as our group headed off up the valley.


We flew past the Mendenhall Glacier.   Still socked in but beautiful anyway.



You can see the big terminal moraine where the glacier has receded in the past few years.  We flew over some mighty pretty country, on the lookout for wildlife.  But we didn’t see any.


It seemed like only moments, and we reached the Herbert Glacier.   Our pilot took us on an exciting little ride up over the terminus, along the glacier itself and through a small cirque off to the side where the glacier that created it was gone, centuries past.

DSCF8628 DSCF8629






It was a thrill ride.   I’m sure we were never taken closer to the rock walls of the cirque than was safe, but it felt like you could have reached out and touched them.   The helicopter tilted and rose like a magic carpet.   Finally we descended to the glacier itself and landed.


We de-coptered and our pilot strapped on crampons, and suddenly became our glacier tour guide.


First thing he took us to was a moulin.  This is a place where melt water pours into a hole that tunnels through the glacier, flowing down to the rocky bed under the glacier.   At this particular spot, the glacier was about 1500 feet thick (about 450 meters or thereabouts).    The hole, about 10′ in diameter, was plenty big enough to swallow a human if she was so careless as to slip and fall in.



“Anybody want to get close?” our intrepid guide asked.  Of course I did!   With a good hand to wrist grip on each other, he dug his crampons into the ice and I edged my way to within a couple of feet of the edge so I could get my shots.   What a rush.

After that, he led us across an ice bridge, and allowed us to peer into a deep crevasse.   “Don’t fall in that, please.   We don’t have ropes that are long enough to reach you to save you if you do,” we were instructed.   Needless to say, we approached that abyss gingerly.

This is the ice bridge.  Jim is on the bridge, our guide is down in the cave below it.



I wished I had real crampons and not the silly studded overboots I had been given by the tour operators.   Our intrepid guide helped me go down to the cave safely.




Yes.   It REALLY IS that blue.

Back out of the cave, across the bridge after looking around at some more cool stuff.  Then the obligatory shot proving that We Were There.  We were also very glad that we both had on long johns, boot socks, coats, hats and gloves.   Believe me it felt really silly to pack those things here in Missouri when it was 90 degrees.  It wasn’t so silly when we were on the glacier!


I believe that there must be a required course in operating every kind of camera known to man for all tour guides.   I have never met one that had any trouble getting a fine documentary shot of my presence at a feature.  Our guide was no exception.

All too soon our time was up; our pilot had to get us back to civilization.  As he tried to round up his four chicks, I managed to get another couple of shots.

This is a hole that is mostly full of melt water.   I guess it to be about six feet deep.


Jim looks at the view.



Back in the air, we get another juicy little roller coaster ride down to the end of the glacier.   Lots of fun.



Came around the shoulder of the mountain and BAM!   Right in front of us was spread the Lynn Canal, in all its sunset glory, complete with holes in the clouds and rays shooting down.    Unbelievable.   I was unable to get a good shot because we were heading back to Juneau and the pilot, the instruments, and the curved bubble of the copter were all in my way.

Plaintively, I asked if he could just turn the helicopter towards that view for me, please?

“Just for a minute,” was the reply.  I know we were way late, so I snapped away as he kindly held the attitude for me.



So grateful for that minute, aren’t you?

Then back to the airport, where the other groups had been landed several minutes and the rest of the tour operator staff were figuratively tapping their toes in impatience to finish their day.


It was a glorious day.

I walked on a glacier.   I am so blessed.

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That old saying “Time flies when you’re having fun”  also applies to working hard.

I did indeed go to Alaska.  We cruised for three days up the Inside Passage to Juneau and Skagway.   It was beautiful.



We went whale watching and did see whales, both humpbacks and orcas.  All those amazing photos you see of whales?   Taken by professionals who got 5000 shots just like mine:


Out of focus and not very interesting.   But the experience was fantastic.

We also saw the Mendenhall Glacier.


There was a glacially carved pond along the walk way to the view point.   I loved this.


I was entranced by the moss/lichen forests.


The area right below the view point for the glacier was roped off from visitors.   The arctic terns were nesting there.   I watched a pair in their mating dance; the male flew down to the glacial lake and brought his intended a little tiny salmon.   She accepted it.   Farther down the beach there was a female who was deep in the process of incubation.


We went on a bus tour of the inland part of the state, starting in Canada and crossing into Alaska near Tok.   On to Fairbanks, where I did the tourist things I never did while I lived there:   sailing on the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena to the Tanana River, visiting a gold dredge and learning to pan for gold.   It was fun.

Then we took the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park.   There were more mountains than it seems possible.   And wildlife.   Mostly moose.  This was taken on our wildlife tour in the park.   This mama had twin babies.   They were less than 24 hours old.


When I got back home, there was a 60th birthday to celebrate, which was done appropriately.   Apparently I am not quite done with my birthday.   Yesterday in the mail I received a beautiful ammonite fossil that someone anonymously ordered off Etsy and had shipped to me.   I feel special and loved.

While we were aboard the ship, we sat for professional portraits.   I believe this is a good way to demonstrate how 60 looks.


Back at home, I had plenty of work waiting for me.   I got my day lily bed north of the stroll garden cleaned out, much to the day lilies’ relief.  They were being swamped by goldenrod, violets, wild iris and sundry other volunteers.   That took a few days.

I also had to catch everyone up on their massages, and I have been very busy with that ever since we got home.

Last night Jim mentioned that he thought we ought to rake the algae out of the pond that has been forming.  I went out there to do some of that this afternoon.  I decided to be circumspect about it, rather than just wholesale rake in clumps of algae.   I am very glad I did.   It is being used by literally dozens of tiny salamander newts.   They were not too happy to be fondled and photographed by the local paparazzi.


You can see his gills and tiny legs.   I believe we may  be leaving the algae alone.

Of course the robins have been very busy too.  This fellow was outside my massage room window the other day, chirping loudly to his parents to induce them to feed him.   They were just as loudly exhorting him to move his butt off the juniper and learn to hunt for himself.   He won the day that afternoon, but I saw him out on the lawn a couple of days later, following his papa around and learning to find bugs for himself.   This is so gosh darned cute.


When I left in mid May, the vegetable garden only had the cool weather crops in, and so since the beginning of June I got the squash, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and I don’t know what all else planted.   It is doing just fine.

We’ve been feasting on beautiful salads.


This is how the garden looks today.   Notice the wooden boxes rather in the middle.   Those are the potato towers.   I’ll let you know how the crop is.


Just in case I thought that all this belonged to me, the wren was there to set me straight.


Well, that catches you all up a bit, I hope.   It is a long summer still.   Now I believe I shall hang out ANOTHER load of laundry and then take Ruby for a walk.

It won’t be a moment too soon for Mallory, who is trying to take a nap on the chair behind me and wishing I would move my derriere off Her Chair so she can get comfortable.  Cats.   Always willing to put your importance into perspective.


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I sat down at the computer in order to look at the radar to see if this rain/sleet stuff that is spitting from the pre-dawn sky is going to end any time soon; but I got sucked into the Astronomy Picture of the Day’s site by the trio of images of the aurora borealis taken near Yellowknife.

Suddenly I found myself flipped backwards in time to the days — 34 years ago really — when I lived in Alaska in a cabin that my husband and I and all our friends constructed out on the  edge of Goldstream Valley.   We had a composting toilet, but since we had no electricity the stack really didn’t pull enough suction and it would get very wet and anaerobic if you used it to urinate in.   So we always went outside for that activity, directing our guests off down “The Path” which wended its snowy way through the alder thicket south of the house to the edge of the bluff where our vegetable garden was.

I will just say that I sleep in the nude and have for years and years after I wound up almost strangled to death during my twelfth year by the long flannel granny nightgown I was wearing that had welded itself to the flannel sheets while I threw myself from side to side in whatever dream was controlling my limbs.

That being said, going off down The Path at 2 a.m. when the outside temperature is in the low -40°F (-40°C) range and if you spit it crackles as it falls to the ground is an adventure in efficiency.   I usually would just slip on my mukluks and my parka, put on my hat and scurry carefully out of the house.   You really did not want to slip and fall on the packed snow that surrounded the place, and had for months.

One night I emerged from the cozy cabin so attired, and focused my attention on the ground as I made my way along the path we had trampled through the snowy woods.   It seemed like I could see where I was going better than usual, it was so light outside!   I squatted to pee, musing on the concept that you cannot really buy beer, you can only rent it for a little while, balancing carefully so that the stream would run down hill away from my mukluks, which were merely canvas bags strapped around felt booties.   That night such care was unnecessary, as the warm fluid immediately vaporized into frozen fog and drifted slowly down in the still air.    I stayed down for a minute, stretching my hamstrings and letting myself drip dry.   As I crouched there, I looked up and immediately became drawn into the flickering flowing floating crackling lights that were dancing all over the night sky.

I slowly stood up, unable to take my eyes away from the hypnotic show going on above me.    I don’t know how long it lasted, I really don’t.   But I know that I stood there until my bare knees, which were really all that were showing of my basically nude body between the tops of my mukluks and the bottom of my parka, suddenly lost all feeling and I felt a very cold draft begin to blow up the chimney formed by my torso and the shell of the jacket since I had neglected to put on a scarf.   I also had no hat on, and my ears were hanging out in the open since I had had my head tilted backwards for the show.

I snapped out of my hypnotic state and rushed back into the house.   I shed my outer garments, carefully putting the mukluks up on the high shelf where they would dry out, and crawled up the ladder into the loft.   I slid back under the quilts into the warmth of my young husband, trying not to touch him with my very chilly body.   He rolled over and threw his arm over me and instantly recoiled from the ice maiden he found himself wrapped around.

“Good God!”  he gasped, shocked awake.  “What have you been doing?”

“There were the most amazing Northern lights out there, I got sucked up into the Universe.”

He immediately got up, went down and put on his parka and boots and went out to gaze at the spectacle himself, as he negotiated “The Path” for his own nightly relief expedition.

I was asleep, half warmed, when he crawled in with me, an ice man to match the ice maiden.   We melted each other.


It’s been beautiful at The Havens lately.

We’ve been working hard too.   Not only have we been building walls, we have been pruning and burning grape trimmings and we had a sauna in there too as well as some extremely nice and friendly and protracted afternoon encounter sessions.   S0 I have not been blogging, or really visiting blogs either.

Plus I got sucked into Zuma blitz on Facebook and I have been mesmerized by it for days.   When I thought about the Aurora borealis this morning, I realized that that game does something hypnotizing to your brain.    I really can’t tell you how obsessed I have been with it.   And it is going to stop right here and now because I have a lot better things to do than move the mouse around on the computer desk and match colors and make balls blow up.  I mean really.    But I see how gamers get made.   I think their brains become rewired.

Anyway, in between obsessive game playing sessions, this is what we accomplished in the yard.

The vegetable garden is planted, at least the cool weather crops.   I have lots of seeds (broccoli, broccoli raab, beets, chard, carrots) shivering in the ground this morning — it is rain/sleeting just at freezing point — in addition to the bed of  hardy lettuces, kale and spinach that made it through the depths of winter.   This cold damp is nothing to them!   We ate some of them for dinner last night, along with a quiche made from the last of last year’s asparagus.

We had the first batch of fresh asparagus a few days ago, and my my my it was goooood.    Since we picked those first brave spears the weather has harshened and the patch is standing at attention, in cold storage, awaiting the return of spring.   I have little pea sprouts that are about an inch tall.   They are almost old enough to take the row cover off of them.   I have found that the cardinals, blue jays, robins, squirrels, and who knows who else think that tiny little pea sprouts make the tastiest salad ever, so if I want to have any peas to grow up and make actual pea pods, I had better protect the little darlings until they are not so tender and tasty any more.   The peas don’t care about cold weather,  in fact they prefer it.   I pray the spring does not heat up too soon, hot peas don’t make pods, they just shut down and die.

Anyway, that’s the news from hereabouts; hope your news is good.

Hen and chicks “Gazelle”

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I was moved to searcha certain name on Google this afternoon as I was trying to cool down after my morning’s forays into the brassica patch.  I mean “forays” in the most military of its usage.

It has come to my attention that since I removed the floating row cover from the broccoli, which was getting entirely to big to be contained within the narrow confines of the piece I had on it, the cabbage looper butterflies, corn ear worm moths, harlequin beetles and several other herbivores have discovered the existence of this most elysian of grazing grounds.   So I was out there, in the sun, without my hat on (I know, my bad!), making a surgical strike against the bug population by locating their egg masses and squashing them,  . . .

cabbage looper moth egg case

harlequin beetle egg case

. . .putting the squeeze on any and all caterpillars I came across in my search for the eggs including the little tiny ones that are still only 3-4mm long right now, . . .

. . . and capturing and despatching all the adult harlequin beetles that dared to show themselves.

I ruminated on the realization that I was essentially attempting to commit genocide.  Unrepentant, I continued my activities.  I was happy to despatch this newly hatched group of harlequin beetles.

Notice the older nymph just above the hatchlings.   It has been feeding in the area for a couple of days, and you can see the characteristic damage to the leaf just to its left in the photo.

A further flight into fancy involved the cosmetic industry and the power of advertising.   It occurred to me that if the Madison Avenue types could figure out a way to convince the Great American Consumerwoman that rubbing the juice of freshly smashed harlequin beetles into their skin would prevent them from getting the dreaded Wrinkle Disease, I would have people lining up at my door, clamoring to come help me kill harlequin beetles, and even paying for the privilege.    Somehow I found this line of thought amusing, although I did not try rubbing any dead bugs on my face.

Below is a pair of images, one of a broccoli plant that I did not get around to checking thoroughly the other day and which had a substantial number of herbivores eating their dinner on it.   The second one is one that I cleaned off a couple of days ago.  Please notice the acute difference in the health and glossiness of the leaves.

I realize that this method of organic pest control is way too labor intensive for a large operation, but it suits my purposes just fine. I find killing bugs is a wonderful antidote to any feelings of negativity I have, plus  I find considerable amusement in meeting the members of the ecosystem that occupy my garden.   A little mason bee took a break from its pollinating activities, visited me and helped himself to the potassium and sodium on my skin.  That is the base of my thumb in the shot.

I also saw lots of little spiders.  This one was busily hunting for the small harlequin beetles I missed, so I left her to her work.

I came inside to get my camera, because after I finished going through the whole patch, I picked the daily crop of cucumbers (one of which I have been munching on as I type this post).   While I was searching the cucumber vines, I noticed the asparagus has decided to start a new little flush of stalks.  I noticed that because the cucumbers have made it all the way across the path and have begun using the  forest of old asparagus stalks as a new trellis.

So I picked a little asparagus, and while I was doing that  I noticed a cucumber hanging amidst the asparagus patch that was so beautiful and surreal I just had to come in to get my camera.  Once I got inside, I realized that I needed to cool off a bit, considering I was pretty much bathed in sweat.

Now I have cooled off a bit, and I shall go out to see if I can locate said surreal cucumber, and photograph it.   I am not sure it will actually still be there, as we have developed a theory about cucumbers designed to help explain how a cucumber can possibly get to be six inches long when two people are combing through the patch, once in the morning and once in the evening, in a concerted effort to gather enough 1-2″ long baby cucumbers for a batch of sweet gherkins.   Our theory involves alternate universes and multiple dimensions:   we think the cucumbers go off into an alternate reality where time is speeded up radically, thereby becoming able to grow several inches in what appears in this dimension to be only a few hours.   So, if our theory is correct, it is entirely possible that I will go out to the cucumber patch and not be able to locate the cucumber that sent me inside for the camera in the first place.

Back in a few. . .

It must have heard me coming and flipped back into this universe when I opened the garden gate, because it was still there where I left it.

Anyway, the Google search made me wonder what I would turn up if I googled my own name, and when I searched the nickname I generally go by I discovered that there is a singer in the SF Bay area that is a lot more important than I am, and some woman died  someplace about four years ago, and that is also more important.   Then I thought to search my formal name, and that was when I came across this abstract of an article which was published thirty two years ago in Estuarine and Coastal Marine Science, Volume  9, Issue 4:

Arene and alkane hydrocarbons in nearshore Beaufort Sea sediments

David G. Shaw, Douglas J. McIntosh and Eleanor R. Smith

Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701, U.S.A.

Received 30 June 1978.

A suite of nearshore arctic marine sediments whose alkane composition suggests only biogenic sources, contains complex mixtures of arenes (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Among the stations analyzed, distributions of arenes characteristic of both pyrolytic and fossil sources were observed. The geographic distribution of pyrolytic arenes and other lines of evidence suggest that their source may be long distance transport of anthropogenic combustion products. Fossil arenes are present at some locations in sufficient quantity to mask any pyrolytics present.

You know, I remember writing that article for the journal at the behest of my boss.  I can hardly believe that I actually wrote an article with such an arcane abstract; that I actually understood the subject well enough to write a journal article.  There were others I wrote, one of which appeared in the Journal of Hydrocarbon Chemistry.

I was also required to present a paper based on that research at an oceanography conference held at the U of A.   That article appears in Volume One of a report entitled “The Eastern Bering Sea Shelf: Oceanography and Resources”.  All I really remember about that presentation was the acute stage fright I suffered when I got up to the rostrum to present, and the way I almost could not talk when the Q and A session began.   But my boss, the David Shaw in the above list of authors, told me I did a great job.

Anyway, when I googled my name, that listing was fifth on the list of the Google “finds”, my Facebook page is 7th.  I don’t think  someone looking at those two google results would necessarily put those entries together as referring to one and same person.

Goodness, how life has changed and progressed in the interim.

It boggles the mind.

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