You could say, Anchorage had a spring that lasted for a couple of days at the most.  May 18th we had snow falling and the 19th it was still on the ground.  By May 23rd, it was downright hot.  Today, May 28th, we celebrate our fifth day in a row of temperatures over 70°F (21°C).  After months and months of sweaters, long sleeve shirts, and pants; I had to scramble to get cooler clothes not just because I wanted to, it got swampy in every piece of clothing that I have.  The warm weather meant much of the yard was coming to life.  When I moved into the house, all the trees were bare, snow was nearly here, and much of grass was already dormant.  While I’ve lived in this house for 7 months, I hadn’t seen what I can do and wasn’t really sure what the Alaskan gardens would look like.  Now the trees are budding, I can throw myself into bringing it all to life.

Of course, my house in Kansas had gardens, but they would be dying just about this time from the Kansas droughts and heat.  When I first moved into that house, I planted bushes and trees all with the concept of long term growth.  Then of course, those bushes, trees, grass, and flowers died.  The last couple of years, I still put in gardens, but they were always plants I didn’t care if they died or not.  It was about a couple of months of growth and that’s it.  The only plants I could grow routinely and deftly was crabgrass (that’s a weed for you renters).

It should have been a couple hours of work, but turned into a fight.  The grassy bushes were dead and the root balls went deep.  The garden edge needed work, and when I called it good its still not clear where the garden ends and the lawn begins.  There was a rock mulch down below, that wasn’t such a bad thing, but it meant lots of kneeling on unsuspected stones. If that wasn’t enough I found an awful lot of that green thumb’s nemesis — crabgrass.  This was going to be a battle.

But after all that work, I put in seven lilac bushes, eighteen marigolds, four snapdragons, six cubic feet of mulch.  Add to that, five pounds of grass seed, four front porch plants, one inside plant, and a massive compost pile of dried leaves.  I wouldn’t say the yard is transformed, more or less it is started.  There’s going to be a lot more to do, especially if some of the bushes in the front yard are actually dead and not just “slow to start” like they look.

But the lilacs are what intrigued me.  They grow to be over six feet tall and three feet wide, but right now the biggest one isn’t over three feet.  I made the conscious decision to buy lilacs, because I always wanted lilac bushes since I was a kid.  What I did unconsciously was I bought lilac bushes that will have to grow into themselves.  Sure, they are much more likely to grow faster and easier here than back in Kansas, but that won’t just be this year.  It will be next spring at the earliest before I can enjoy it, and more likely years in the future.

I bought these lilacs for the long haul.

So I guess I better settle in and make a life for myself here.

Happy Summer Everyone.



Not Not Busy Not Not Hot Day


One week after we got snow, today was practically hot today. It broke 70F (20C) today in Anchorage, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The day was absolutely beautiful. Being Memorial Day weekend, I have 3 days off but chose not to go anywhere expecting every place around worth going was either packed with people or frozen. Knowing I needed to “summer-ize” the house I chose to stay home. Plus, I am big on non-traditional American sports, and this is traditionally the biggest traditional non-traditional sport weekend (Indy 500, Champions League Final, LaCrosse Championships, and more rugby than you scrum in a weekend).
My plan to avoid the crowds failed the moment I hit the garden and home improvement centers. Seems everyone in anchorage had something to do or plant around the house. I got half of what I needed and finished About half of what I wanted done.
I am struck with new hope about this growing season. In Kansas I had the same routine for 10 years — plant stuff in March, fight to get them to survive heavy rains in April/May, watch it all die in June/July/August due to the heat. Sure, my grass is still dormant and most of everything else is just now budding, but I don’t have to battle drought here. The old owner of the house was a little bit of a gardener, more about her rose plants, but still set me up with ideas to really turn the outside into something nice. The biggest thing I looked forward to about this house would be enjoying a yard, to walk around barefoot, to have green grass, to make the smells peaceful and happy. This weekend I make it happen.
But it’s a bit lazy too. I mentioned the sports, but the pup is a bit under the weather. He either has allergies or a cold, and at 4am I had to clean up after a bit of sick on my bed from him. So I watch him carefully while try to catch up on 4am wake up calls from a dog. The late day and early morning sun makes sleep interesting too. I mean, I type this at 10:40 with the setting sun still shining through the window. It will be midnight before its dark and that is just a brief respite.
But I need my rest so this half lazy almost got day comes to a close.
Night y’all.

Spring in the Air, but Not in My Step


Overnight, rain fell lightly over Anchorage just enough to wet the ground and wash the roads.  It was so little that if the pavement didn’t show the remnants of moisture I would have missed it.  No matter where you live, though, you know what a rainfall like this can do for springtime, and I can already feel it starting.  It’s like an alarm clock to all the plants, trees, animals, people.  Grass starts to change color from brown to green, trees start to change from buds to leaves, birds sing louder, squirrels chatter more insistently and there is a little more spring in everyone’s steps.

Well, not everyone’s steps, not in mine.  The coming summer months has to kick off with a bit of a confession from my side.  Some of you who known me over the last few years know that prior to this big change of moving to Alaska, my last big change was a big weight loss program I was quite successful at.  Confession is, I back slid.  Not all the way, but far enough that I am realizing this summer is going to be a fight to get the most out of.

The last couple of weeks I am trying to get myself back up to a speed where I can enjoy outdoor activities, and its not going well.  Back pains, ankle and foot soreness, quick exhaustion, and the usual out of breath of an out of shape 40+ year old makes doing anything an ordeal.  What really is fighting me the last couple of weeks are knees that are just not behaving.  There’s some swelling going on down there, in part from lingering Curling injuries (yes, you can get injured from curling) but mostly from how I sit at home and at work, bending them uncomfortably.  After a push the last couple of days to become more active, I laid in bed last night feeling the feet from my knees steaming up under my comforter.

I got to this point for a long list of reasons, which sound like excuses but were more decisions that seemed to make sense at the time.  I ate out a lot when I got to Anchorage because my apartment wasn’t cooking friendly.  I stopped my gym routine, because the pup required me to be home to manage his potty schedule.  I cooked more processed foods & meats because they keep better than the poor quality of fresh veggies and fruit.  I avoided walks during the week, because I wanted my legs fresh for curling on Wednesdays & Fridays.  But in all honesty, I got to this point because the reasons did become excuses.  I wanted a fun life in Alaska, and I ate and sat around more than I needed to in order to make it fun.

So, I am in for a battle this summer – not against bears or moose or wild hunters, but against myself.  I need to turn this corner and get back to feeling like my old “wonderfulman” self of a year ago.  The trick is I am more determined to balance the fun of living here with a healthy lifestyle, and that as hard as it is to live off the grid sometimes.

There, confession over, now I will let you get back to your regularly scheduled complaints about the weather and dog pictures you come to the Bear Feed for. 🙂

Summer’s False Start


This was the first “summer” weekend I planned, and I planned it for a couple weeks – and it failed before I even made it to sundown of the first day.

I had today (Friday) off for a scheduled flex Friday, and after prepping the pup for longer drives, I saw the opportunity to stretch the legs, get back into geocaching (my GPS based hobby), see a bit of Alaska I haven’t seen, and break out the camping gear.  This weekend was the Hobo CITO event.  CITO is a geocaching term for “cache in trash out”, an opportunity for cachers to give back a little by doing some clean-up.  This weekend, there would be 7 events starting in Homer (210 miles from Anchorage) tonight and stopping at points heading north to do clean up duty until a final event at Girdwood (just 30 miles from Anchorage); including camp outs in Homer and Soldatna.

We’re back home now, making it to Homer and back.  It was a pretty interesting day, though disappointing.  Probably best thing to do is tell you how the day went, and fill in the goods:

5:30 AM: Auggie and I crawl out of bed; having packed the camping gear up last weekend all I really needed to do was to go through a few things and fold some laundry before we could hit the road.  Goal is to leave by 6:30am.

7:00 AM: We haven’t left yet, turns out I had more to do this morning than I thought, though I haven’t really jumped on anything too hard.  Goal now is to leave at 8AM.

8:30 AM: I realize I need to have a bit of breakfast, since Auggie finally ate his.   He was reluctant, and I was insistent  it would be late before his dinner.  But I still had some last minute things to grab … somehow I filled the car for a three day trip.  Auggie knew we were going somewhere because he was quite excited to sit in the car.

Ready to Go Daddy9:15am: We are finally on the road.

9:45am: Our first stop about 30 miles in, to grab some coffee and check to fix the barrier keeping the pup in the back.  All’s good back there … which is important to know at this point.

10:30am: Stop at Cooper Crossing, cutting through the mountains and river streams towards Soldotna.  Daddy had to get rid of the coffee he drank.  Checking on the pup, it’s time to see the first major set-back.  You know that reluctant breakfast at 8:30?  It’s now all over the back of the car.  Seems his stomach wasn’t in favor of hitting the road so quickly.  The real problem is that I could only clean so much – Cooper Crossing isn’t really a place one can do a carpet shampoo.  Soldatna is another 40 miles, so we would have to make due.

11:30am:  Soldotna, supermarket, a bottle of spot remover for carpets and a bottle of smell neutralizer … because the smell is starting to waft.  It’s raining a bit here, so we start to become a bit miserable in the parking lot.  No place to put the put but to leash him to the car while I clean half-in and half-out of the rain.  By this point as well, a water bottle had popped open so the stains spread not just to a small area but across half the back carpet and the big dog sleeping pillow.

12:30pm: We take a bit of a walk while we are stopped, I grab lunch, and we head out again.

1:00pm: Clam Gulch, AK … no that is not a made up name.  It’s where the highway hits the coast, and I spot for the first time a view I didn’t expect.  The Aleutian Mountains.     I can see them from Anchorage, but didn’t know they were so close to the Kenai peninsular.  Right across the way is Mt Redoubt, a volcano that erupted in 1989 and nearly stopped all airline traffic in the Pacific because of it’s ash cloud.  Right next to it was Iliamna.  A more volcano that never really has had much of an eruption, but nearly shows steam continuously   Steam like today:


1:30pm: Another leg stretcher down the coast where there were great views of the nearby volcanoes.  But as it turned out, there was a view of a further away volcano.  Pavlof is a volcano that has been fairly dormant over the years, but had started up a bit the last few days.  I thought there might be a chance I could see something from it, but it would be over a hundred miles away and the reports before today suggested that the only think anyone seen is a bit of an ash cloud going down it’s side.  I didn’t know it – but the Pavlof errupted shooting a cloud of ash about 15,000ft up into the air.  Anddddd ….

PavlofThere it is!

2:30PM: I get to Homer, finally.  I drive around a bit to get a feel for the place.  I was expecting something like Seward, a small fishing town with some bits of tourist stuff, but this didn’t seem like more than that.  For one thing, its bigger and more spread out.  It’s a town of 5000 and stretches about 10 miles along the hillside of the cook inlet.  Homer is probably more known for the famous people from there than anything – including Tom Bodette (of Motel 6 “Leave the Light On” fame) and the Time Bandit Crab Boat captain & crew (of “Deadliest Catch” fame) including the Salty Dog, the bar used in the Deadliest Catch wrap-up shows.  Homer is also a pretty … hmm, how do I say this without sounding judgmental … hmmm … well, it’s full of hippies!  No seriously.  Lots of tie dye, dread lock, cotton skits, funky outfits, and bright colors everywhere.  Kind of a harsh contrast to the sharp edge fishing community that also is there.  It’s the kind of place that seems like it would take a bit to figure out, even for a small town.  Too bad, I just couldn’t stay.

3:30PM: I found the campground that we would use tonight.  Unlike the rest of the trip, the sun was out in Homer and the temp was supposed to be around 50°F – the car was starting to smell like Auggie’s returned breakfast, and I was aching to set up camp.  I got to the gate, and people were there shooing me away.  They said the campground wasn’t open yet.  Not knowing what to do, I wandered back into town.  The wind was kicking up, and the wet air made it alot cooler feeling than that heat in the stinky car.

4:30PM: A decision had to be made, I was in a glowingly smelly car, I had a dog that was feeling better but getting itchy from the ride and only short trips out, and I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night … and if anything, it wouldn’t be in a car that smelt like dog sick.  So I made the call to start heading back to see what happens.

5:30PM: The news from Anchorage led with the heartbreaking announcement.  Anchorage was getting snow, inches of snow, and it was enough to stick to a lot of things.  I was pulling back into Soldotna, and the wet rain of the morning was turning into thicker than rain drops rain.  I didn’t think I was going to camp here either, and decided to push on.

6:00PM: Leg stretcher, and celebrating 40,000 miles in the RAV4.  Pup is hungry, but I dare not feed him risking the rough ride from here to Anchorage.

7:15PM: First sign or full snow, coming down hard enough in Cooper Crossing that visibility is getting iffy.

7:45PM: Crossing over Turnagain Pass, the highest point on the road and leading to all downhill to Turnagain Arm, and the snow is coming down enough to call it enough that they would put driving restrictions up on the slope.  Not white-out, but have to slow down because visibility is less than one can react.

7:55PM: 10 minutes later, and now there is enough snow on the roads to slow down considerably.  I have to let cars pass that seem to have their winter tires on … jackasses.

8:15PM: At Sea Level going around Turnagain Arm, and the snow is heavy!  I see cars parked for other folks either out hiking or kayaking or hunting, and they have 3 to 5 inches on them hard.  Pup is really getting cranky, too tired to sleep, to bored with sitting in the car.

9:00PM: Back in Anchorage, where the snow is flying pretty hard.  Enough for a couple inches on things.  It’s strange, because its still quite bright out at this time, but snowy — and it seems like it should be mid-day seeing snowfall like this.

01110:00PM: And I need to blog this mess of a day, and drink a few beers.  Don’t know what I am going to do with the rest of this weekend, but will see what I can do other than sit around the house.

So the day was a bit of a failure, but this is the first of three straight 3-day weekends.  So, we will try again next weekend, maybe something closer to home.  Fingers crossed it really is summer.





Oh My Glory!!!!!


I am back from the slope, and started looking at the weather to plan my weekend of camping, Geocaching, and driving around the Kenai. The report is … Snow

The weather report actually jumped all over the misery. Rather than cry over my typing to you — here is a cut and paste:



I really hope summer will fall on a Saturday this year.

Arctic Spring, or Arctic Not ‘Not Spring’


Once again, I am visiting the North Slope (aka Greater Prudhoe Bay, aka Deadhorse, aka ‘the slope’), and the key thing I am finding is that this place is never the same from month to month.  Being May in the Arctic Circle, spring is in the air just like anywhere else, but once again the slope has to be unique about it.

The weather up here has been warming up, but it’s rarely been above freezing.  When it is above freezing, it’s only been for an hour or two.  Winter storms are showing up, like today when 40 mile per hour winds combined with about 2 inches of snow, led to a condition where we had to convoy in vehicles from place to place.  If you were being logical, you would think that there isn’t anything to suggest “spring” but just “still winter”.  Not up here.

The obvious change is daylight, because there’s loads of it.  Gone is the time when the sun didn’t come up, and there almost wasn’t a change in the sky – replaced with the opposite, daylight 24 hours a day.   Today in Prudhoe they marked the beginning of constant daylight, which will last without a sunset until late July.  Getting up and around at 5AM, I was immediately shook into a state where I felt it was already mid-morning, and I should be far less tired than I was.  But again … that’s the obvious part.

What was surprising is first of all, there were birds here.  Geese mostly, but some other water fowl hunkered down in the wind.  Sure, I have seen some foxes up here on previous trips, but birds not only have the choice to be further south you would think they would have turned around when they got here and saw all the snow. 

Then there was the open water.  The slope is a pockmark of lakes carved by the ice, and most of the tundra is interrupted by water during the summer.  So we know there is ice all around us.  But there were spots where the ponds/lakes were actually open, melted open.  The logical science brain should tell you that ice doesn’t melt unless its above freezing, and here it is below freezing and ice is melting. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the heck is going on there, maybe its salt in the water being so close to the Arctic Ocean, or sublimation which is how most of the snow has disappeared over the last few weeks, but it’s there and its open in spots.

They tell me, though, that spring comes in a lightning flash.  Rumor is you could go on a two week off-hitch for standard R&R leaving the slope in the icy grips of arctic hopelessness and return to green flourishing tundra full of happiness & dreams.  My return is currently scheduled for June, and I am keen on seeing if there is a change.  If there is a new life blooming up here, a new dawn to what makes this place unique for the summer … or just another snow storm.

First North, Then South


For Starters — Happy Mothers Day!  That goes to you Mom, and just as much to all you mothers out there.  I slowly get a new appreciation what y’all go through with a dog, and he’s probably a walk in the park compared to human boys like me.

The day was pretty uneventful around here.  I thought I would be able to report my Guest Bedroom (aka The Brad Barnes Memorial Throw-down Emporium) and it basically is, but some closet doors aren’t installed while I wait for some paint to dry.  But there is now a guest bed at least, so it’s unofficially open for business.  What I really spent the day doing was preparing for what better be an eventful week.

I leave tomorrow for my monthly rotation onto the slope.  This trip is neither quick or slow – fly up Monday morning at the crack of early, work Monday afternoon, all day (12 hours) Tuesday, and most the day Wednesday until I catch the late afternoon flight home.  It’s still winter there, they are going to get 6 inches of snow through my time there, and are in a winter storm warning – but Thursday is their first day that the sun doesn’t set (if you want crazy, the sun stays up an extra 40 minutes every day – they have a couple hours of night today, and by the end of the week it won’t set).

I get back on Wednesday, but not for long.  I am leaving either Thursday Night or Friday Morning for Homer, AK and a weekend of geocaching and cleaning up.  They call it the Hobo CITO (CITO is a geocaching term for “Cache In, Trash Out”).   We start off with camping just off downtown Homer, followed by cleanup of the city campground in the morning.  We then head north and stop off to do some clean-up along the western Kenai coast, before arriving in Soldotna for a clean-up and camp-out there.  Sunday we make our way back to the Turnagain Arm area, where the local Geocaching club cleans a portion of the highway.  Auggie is at the kennel right now for my slope trip, and I can’t bust him out until Thursday – we may just leave then and give him a whole weekend to do his first ever camping weekend.

So this week has me going way way north, followed by a way way south trip.  Should be interesting, that’s for sure.

Not Daylight, Just Not Not Dark


I think nearly everyone hits that point where they say “where had the year gone?” at some point of time during the spring.  That really came to light for me over the last couple of weeks.  And … “Light” is the pun in that sentence.

May 11th, and we are only a month and a half from the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, so as you can guess the days are getting pretty long here.  For the last couple of months, we have been gaining about five minutes of daylight a day.  Think about it, we get over a half an hour longer of a day every week.  It is noticeable, maybe not day to day, but definitely week to week.  It was the recent weeks and the existing daylight that makes it seem just an edge past insane.

I am writing this blog right around the official sundown today — which would be 10:32pm.  Rainclouds aren’t behaving to see it, but it definitely is light outside, if just a bit grey.  Sunup tomorrow is officially at 5:19am, which is only 20 minutes after the pup starts whining that he wants to go out for his morning business.  Because mountains block sunup, it should be nearly full daylight by the time we get up tomorrow morning.  So that means the total nighttime, officially, is about seven hours … shorter than the recommend “8 hour sleep”.

It won’t get to be a good dark until about 11pm, and there will be a glimmer of daylight past midnight.  The new day will start showing up around four or four thirty. How’s it affecting me, you might ask … well … not that much.  Maybe I am just a good sleeper, or maybe it just came along subtly, but the additional daylight hasn’t had much affect on my sleeping patterns.  I go to bed around the usual time, and I wake up around the usual time.  I joked about a month ago that I was going to bed when it was still daylight at 9pm, well, unless I want to stay up well past bedtime, that is the norm now.  It’s not a full daylight, remember, its a darker setting sun.  It tends to be low light, just enough to maneuver around the house without a blink; so it seems not to urge me to get up.  It helps maybe that my bedroom window faces south, and that seems to be about the only direction the sun doesn’t shine.  The guest bedroom will get the morning sun facing east, but I put up some blinds there to counteract (btw – watch for pictures of the guest bedroom in the next couple of days … its just about done).

The funny change that I really am noticing is my use of lights.  Basically, I just don’t.  I found that I don’t turn on the lights I usually do.  It started with the deck lights, that I always turned on when I took Auggie outside, that stopped months ago.  The dining room came next, then the hallway.  Now, the only lights I seem to turn on are the bathrooms (with no windows) and the kitchen (facing south, like my bedroom).  I don’t make any effort to reduce my light usage … I’m not a hippie, y’all should know that by now … but I don’t keep lights on that I don’t need, and these days, well, I don’t need any light.

Well see if I complain about daylight next month, probably will knowing me, but that’s for June.  For now, its the repetition of going to bed in the “not dark”.

The Deck is Now Open


There is still snow on the ground, but the deck is now open for business.  Yep, May 9th … and it was finally nice enough, warm enough to hang out on the deck.  I invited a couple people over from Curling (because I guess the deck was once nominated as the drinking zone for crew).

The concept of hanging on the deck has been out there for ever since I moved in, but that was in October, just before the snow flew.  This week it is routinely in the 60’s and there is only a small portion of snow left on the ground (snow is still there, just not all that much anymore).  So we fired up the grill, cracked open a growler of Denali Beer, and grilled hippie food and pineapple.

The days will get warmer still, and we all start talk more and more about summer fun, like fishing, camping, hiking, geocaching, etc etc etc.  But the day to day summer fun starts with just hanging out.

And that’s that.

Seward Impressions


In what has become a bit of a routine, I took a Sunday drive with the pup in the back to get him used to longer rides and to get myself motivated to get into hiking/outdoorsy shape.  Today, I made a 250 mile round trip to Seward.  Seward is a coastal port town on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula.  The port is reasonably deep and protected, and being the end of the Alaskan Railroad line it becomes a popular entry port for cruise ships, cargo ships, and its main industry commercial fishing.  It’s actually prefered by some ships over Anchorage because the tides aren’t as severe, and Anchorage is a few days further by boat just to get around the Kenai.  I never been to Seward, but heard stories about it and saw a movie that used flying into Seward as a replacement for flying into Nome (I haven’t ever been to Nome, but NOONE will mistake Seward for Nome).  So, this was the destination of choice for a beautiful Alaskan Sunday … and while I barely spent 30 minutes there, I thought I would give you my impressions.

Seward is tucked into fjord.  Let me restate … its tucked into a Fjord … we have fjords in Alaska, in your face Norway.  For those of you who don’t know what that means (even if you just like saying fjord all the time), those are long narrow inlets with steep cliffs running down to the sea created by glaciers.  Seward has that definition locked in.  The town is  on one side of the water, because the mountains run directly into it on the other.  While there is a little space for the town on the town side, there isn’t much.  The mountains loooooom  over Seward like a snow covered vulture.  For the record, Seward is the jumping off point of the Kenai Fjords National Park including a drive-up glacier (though the road was closed today).

It’s a small town too, just 3000 people, and its clear that they either work doing something for the tourists or fish.  The town is filled with restaurants, hotels, all sorts of everything rentals, museums, and shops.  The port was filled with boats, but mostly those you would see on fishing reality shows – real commercial fishing boats with big nets, lines, poles, etc etc.  It also seemed like half the town was camping / RV parking sites.  Since it is still winter-ish (the first cruise ships only just passed through this past week), much of the town was still quiet; but you could see that there was alot to come.

In the end, it really was just an impression of the town.  I was there way too short of a time to do much of else.  We got there, we found the first geocache of 2013 (and Auggies 1st physical cache), we took a short lap around town, I had a soda, Auggie had a pee, and we were on our way back to Anchorage.  But on first impression, it was what I pictured it to be — beautiful, small, salty, and begging for a return trip.