Monday, May 20, 2002

Daily Life

"It's much more important to write than be written about."
--Gabriel Garcia Marquez

But what if you write about yourself?

Denny left this morning about two for the drive to Anchorage. At least he doesn't have to make the commute every week, like he used to do. On his present schedule, he makes the 480-mile round-trip just once a month.

I went outside yesterday afternoon to help him load the Dodge and pack for the week in Anchorage. It was hot and dusty, and we finally sat on the tailgate of his S10 where there was still a slice of shade from the building, drinking beer and trying to decide what to do about dinner. The choice finally came down to buying a pizza at Starvin' Marvin's or getting an uncooked one at Eagle (our Safeway outlet) and baking it at home.

While we were leisurely considering the options, I heard birdsong and looked up to see a swallow swooping around the front of the shop. We have had a pair nesting in the birdhouse on the front of the shop nearly every year since I put it up--and that has to be nearly ten years ago. I tell myself every fall that I am going to climb up and clean the nestbox out, but never have gotten around to it. Looks like I am too late this year.

Our swallows return each May about the 21st and stay until about July 20th. (I remember because my brother's birthday is the 21st and Denny's is July 20th.) So I guess they are a bit early. It's nice to have them back. The swallows are the last to return-the woods have been alive the last few weeks with birdsong. I lay awake yesterday morning listening to a veritable symphony outside the windows while waiting for the alarm to go off.

Didn't need the alarm this morning, as Denny called on his cell phone about four-thirty. I had been hoping to sleep until five, then jump out of bed and into my clothes in order to be at work about five-forty. But Denny wanted to check in--he was just getting back in cell-phone range after going through Turnagain Pass. He felt bad about leaving without kissing me good-bye. I had fallen back to sleep before he left and he didn't want to wake me. He is so sweet and thoughtful, I guess I shouldn't complain about being woke up by his phone call. Just wish he'd been here to wake me up in person.

I am glad it is my "Friday". Obviously, I am ready for a break. When I glanced at my watch on my way out of the door this morning, I was stunned to see it was twelve-o-clock. Then I realized I had my watch on upside down...

I stopped by The Wagon Wheel on my way home after work to see if they had any starter plants available yet. The greenhouses were open and some of the pansies and violas were already outside hardening off.

Restraint comes hard for me at the nurseries. After a long winter, I am so dazzled by the prospect of green and growing things that I tend to go a bit wild, but I limited myself to one flat of starters-mostly violas. I just love violas. They are so hardy in this climate-- blooming all summer and well into the fall. I will even have a few flowers in November, after several hard freezes. I chose six-packs in the purple and violet palette, though I did get one six-pack of yellow because they looked so cheery. Perhaps I'll pair those with marigolds in the hollow-log planters.

Let's see-also picked up a couple of lavender shrublets and some sweet peas. I have fond memories of sweet peas from the days of my youth in Washington, though they just don't do as well here. Maybe down in town and along the bench, but up here at the thousand-foot level, we get just enough more winter that it takes until August for them to bloom. But I will give them a shot any way. They have such a lovely fragrance.

Came home, settled the plants in the shade by the cat-run, came in and cleaned litter boxes, then crawled into bed for a nap. I find our long summer days are easier to keep up with if I lie down during the heat of the day for a snooze, especially after an early morning shift. The kitties are always game for a nap, so they find this custom charming, of course. I had gotten several VHS tapes in the past week or so to add to the D'Onofrio Collection, so I watched "The Winner" until I fell asleep, surrounded by cats.

This evening, I did my part to try to break the stretch of sunny days by washing my truck. We got a pressure washer last year and if I run the hose into the shop, I can hook up to the hot water faucet by the laundry room. This is the first time I have used the pressure washer to do a vehicle, and I was pretty please with how fast it went, especially with the chrome wheels, which are a pain to scrub and polish. I waited until about nine p.m. to go outside--waiting for the heat to lessen as I don't tolerate either sun or heat very well.

One minor set-back. My walkman slipped off the waistband of my sweats and landed right in the bucket of suds. The timing took me aback, as I was just walking past the bucket, not actually leaning over it at the time. What's a real pisser is that this is the second tape player I have dunked in the last two months--I had one slip off and fall in the wash water on one of my volunteer days at the Shelter.

So far, though, only the batteries have been a total loss. Once the tape player dries out, it seems to work fine. The challenge is diving in to rescue the cassette tape before it becomes a lost cause. This one looked like it had absorbed a bit of water, so I left it on the counter next to the tape player to dry out.

Sunday, May 19, 2002


We managed to get through the night without the whole Peninsula going up in flames. There appeared to be a grassfire going out on East End Road when I closed the station last night but it looked as if it had been attacked pretty vigorously--the smoke was fading away even before I got out of town. Homer smelt faintly of wildfire smoke.

I didn't sleep easily.

This morning, the air is hazy--hard to see the mountains at the head of the bay. I haven't heard anything more about the Bear Cove fire. The news last night said that smokejumpers had responded, so it must have been threatening some of the cabins in that area. Can't see any smoke from here.

The TFR on the Anchor Point fire was cancelled about seven or eight last night, so that fire is under control. CC said that a fire official from Soldotna who was down for the emergency drill yesterday said it will be a miracle if the whole Peninsula doesn't go up in smoke this summer. All it would take are dry conditions and a good day-breeze. We sit amidst thousands of acres of beetle-killed spruce forest that have been drying out slowly in the sun for several years. One way or another, it will burn eventually.

Clear skies today without a sign of moisture. Temperature 60, dewpoint 36 at ten am. Yes, FSS Specialists are preoccupied with weather.

The hills around town are all gray and brown. The trees down at sea-level are showing the first leaves. Over the next week, we can watch the line of green sweep up the bluff to the thousand-foot level. I also saw a mosquito today--the first of the season for me, though Larry killed one last week--I guess that's the official mark for the year.

The scent of Cutter's Evergreen mosquito repellent smells like summer to me....

Saturday, May 18, 2002


Homer, Alaska
2:00 PM
67 degrees
37 per cent humidity

This is the weekend Alaska started to burn.

I had a premonition last night, watching the late news, when the five-day outlook showed clear, sunny skies with highs in the 60s-70s. As nice as the sunny weather is after our long winter, we could sure use some rain to speed green-up along.

This morning, when I stepped outside about nine, it was already sixty degrees under the overhang on the north side of the building and not a breath of air was moving. About ten or so, the Forestry department called to tell Denny there is a burn ban in effect (we have two burn permits) but we had already figured that today wasn't a good day for burning brush.

I had just started getting ready for work about twelve-thirty when I started hearing sirens. I went outside to see if I could tell what was going on. From the top of the hill behind the greenhouse, I could see a column of smoke directly east of us, and it looked pretty close. I jumped in my S10 and ran down to the highway, but before I got to the Sterling, I could see that the fire was in a grassy meadow on Thomas Road--the road that defines the back of our block. When I got back to the yard, I jumped out of the Chevy and told Denny that if I didn't have to go to work, I would grab a shovel and a chain saw and head over there. He said he'd go one better--he'd take the bulldozer.

It would have been difficult to go into work if Denny hadn't been home. All summer long I worry about wildfires, and to actually have one on our block and have to leave is hard.

Denny said the firefighters were at a loss as to what to do with him and the bulldozer at first, but once they got used to the idea, he was able to be helpful to them. He cut a perimeter down to bare earth around the burned area before the firefighters left and pointed out some smoke near the trees that the firefighters had missed. I am so glad they were able to stop the blaze before it got into the forest or the whole situation could have turned bad very fast.

When I got into work, PD said there were at least three fires going in our area--the one on Thomas Road (which was under control by the time I drove past again), one up the bay at Bear Cove, and a large one just north of Anchor Point--which is near where PD lives, so he was anxious to get home. To add a note of irony to the whole thing, today the State crew at the airport is holding a mock aircraft accident drill, complete with smoke bombs and fire engines. The local volunteer fire department, which was scheduled to participate in the drill, had to pull out due to actual fires.

They've put flight restrictions in effect around the Anchor Point fire and are bombing with retardant. The temperature jumped four degrees in the half-hour since I came into work. The only break we are getting from the weather is that the typical strong on-shore breeze that starts nearly every afternoon hasn't developed yet.

The mountains at the head of the bay are tinted orange from smoke... Since the whole State is under a high pressure dome, I can only imagine that fires will be starting up all over before the next weather system brings rain through.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Sea Breeze

sunrise: 5:33 am
sunset: 10:29 pm

One of the best smells of summer--the clean, cool scent of the deep sea brought in on the day breeze. So pure it makes your nose hurt. What a sensual treat to catch the whiff of open water as scent of it drifts in amongst the spruce trees.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002


Another summer-like day. Denny worked in the back most of the day, cleaning up the trees that had fallen over the winter. The good weather makes the working conditions nice, but we know it is only a matter of time before a burning ban goes into effect for the Kenai Peninsula. Denny used the bulldozer to haul the fallen trees into the clearing, where he cut off the branches, cut the wood into stove-lengths and burnt the branches. Last week he used a nearby snowbank to extinguish his fire at the end of the day, but it has disappeared since then.

The weather was so nice, Denny built a small fire in the backyard near the porch and we sat out there drinking beer and cooking steaks for dinner. We normally cook out with the propane grill on the back deck, but we have run out of propane and with so much limb wood available, we haven’t been greatly motivated to haul the tanks into town for refill. Later, we put more of the glut of wood to use and took a sauna. It’s not as much fun when the weather is warm, but it was pleasantly debilitating. We enjoy sitting in the dimly-lit cabin and talking while the water heats. Cut off from outside interruptions or distractions, we usually have some pretty good discussions. Denny built the sauna our first year here and until we got the house fully plumbed, it was our major means of bathing. These days, it is more an indulgence than a necessity.

We tumbled into bed relaxed and clean.

"In Alaska.. otherwise ordinary young people own a ten-wheel flatbed truck. Or a crane. Or a wide-blade bulldozer. You never know when they may come in handy." --The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau

Monday, May 13, 2002

Flight Service

"If you can hear me, traffic no longer a factor."
--Actual transmission from Chicago O'Hare TRACON

There was a thin layer of frost on the roof of the S-10 this morning when I trundled out to go to work at the ungodly hour of five-thirty. At least the early shift is easier to take this time of year, when it is daylight. Crawling out of bed in the small hours of the morning when it is cold and dark and going to stay that way for hours to come is a test of one's resolve.

Traffic at the airport was at summertime levels this weekend: lots of student pilots and weekend warriors shaking the dust off their Cessna 172s after the winter hiatus. We worked hard but laughed a lot at silly little air traffic jokes. The trainee (who shall remain nameless in this document out of respect for his privacy) is fitting in very well. He has an extensive Flight Service background and is coming back into the Agency after taking a "sanity break" of a couple years, so he knows the flick and has had his heart broken by the FAA enough so that he isn't entertaining any illusions. When things get bad, he quietly repeats his mantra: "I'm inside, I'm warm and I'm being paid ..." I guess we should all remember that. We are actually obscenely well paid for four people who essentially just stumbled into this job because we couldn't do anything else.

And unbelievably, we were the 1999 National Air Traffic Facility of the Year. All we could figure is that everyone else must have already had their turn.

"Listen up, gentlemen, or something's gonna happen that none of us wants to see."

--Actual transmission from Chicago O'Hare TRACON

Sunday, May 12, 2002


Friday night was the last sunset at Barrow until August 2.

Even at our more modest latitude, we have begun the dizzying arc of daylight that will cast us up on the far side of the summer spent and exhausted.

I planted wildflower seeds in the planters on the deck yesterday. I would like to encourage more wildflowers in the yard, but since Denny got the backhoe and bulldozer, there doesn't seem to be any safe place to put a perennial garden.

The pot of chives on the deck is showing signs of life--it is always the first of my plants to come back after the winter--and the first shoots of grass are beginning to stick up through the debris of last years' growth. There is already quite a bit of green down in town and the leaf buds are starting to swell on the trees.

It was a beautiful, still morning when I drove into work at 5:30. If the temperature had been twenty degrees warmer, it could have passed for a summer morning back in the States, but at thirty-three degrees, there were pockets of frost in town. The sun topped the mountains at the head of the bay at ten minutes before six.

Friday, May 03, 2002


One thing about Alaskan weather--it will keep you on your toes.

Yesterday started out clear. By the time I went in to work at 1:30 p.m., a high layer of overcast had moved over the area. Scattered snow showers began in the evening and by the time I got home from work last night, there was an inch of snow on the ground. No one takes this seriously, of course, and by this morning, it had all melted.

Just a reminder that seven weeks from the summer solstice, winter still is lurking on the next change of breeze.

"The only really predictable thing about Alaskans is that they will disagree about anything--politics, religion, economics, history, sex ...they can't even agree on what constitutes "good' weather." --The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau

Wednesday, May 01, 2002


sunrise: 6:07 am
sunset: 9:56 pm

"Put the scissors down and back away from the mirror, Laura ..."

Bangs. I don't know why I keep feeling the need to do something about my hair when I haven't had an original idea about what to do with it since college.

Nothing I do seems to help. I decided to cut my bangs--or actually create bangs-- and fell into the old vicious circle of wanting to cut more and more to try to fix what I had just cut.

Fortunately, I have been through this cycle enough to realize fairly early on that I should quit while I'm ahead. So, for the next month or so I will have a permanent bad-hair day. Right at the peak of our summer traffic season. Lovely.

If I am going to indulge in self-destructive behavior, maybe I should just go back to drinking ...