Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays!

23 degrees, six inches of snow on the ground
Light snow falling

I woke up this morning to the sweetest thing. One of the cats was vigorously, ecstatically rubbing against my feet. I looked down to the foot of the bed to see...Black Bart. Yes, the cat that I judged "hopelessly feral" two years ago. Over the past few days, he and I have been getting closer to an understanding. He has let me approach closer and even done "courting" gestures, like rubbing his face on something nearby when I talk to him. The signals seem to be that he wouldn't be adverse to being petted, though he retreated off the bed this morning when I reached toward him. He didn't seem to mind my feet rubbing him through the quilt, however.

Today is the hundred-and-first anniversary of my Grandma's birth. I think of her almost every day. As I grow older, I feel her loss more--I miss our conversations, wishing I had had the insight of experience when she was here to talk with. A bond of love joins us still, nearly two decades after her death. "Today is Grandma's birthday," is one of my first thoughts on Christmas Eve morn.

Click here for our online Holiday Card...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Norman Vaughan Begins His Next Adventure....

"We are saddened by the passing of a great man today, on the 23rd December 2005 , Norman Vaughan passed away peacefully in Anchorage, Alaska, he was 100 years old.

Born in 1905, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and polar exploration was in its heyday, Norman was weaned on tales of Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen, and Sir Robert Falcon Scott. In 1925 he left Harvard to join one of his heroes, Sir Wilfred Grenfell in Newfoundland, bringing medical supplies by dog sled to isolated villages. He left school again three years later to go to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd - a bold move that changed his life.

Norman was part of history as the chief dog driver on the first Byrd Antarctic Expedition in 1928-30. He raced with the best in sprint mushing demonstration races in the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games. In 1967, drove a snowmobile 5000 miles from Alaska to Boston. Brazenly declared himself dog driving champion of the Pentagon to compete as the first non-Alaskan dog driver in the North American Sled Dog Championships in Alaska. At age 68, moved to Alaska for dogs and adventure with empty pockets after a business collapse and a shattered marriage. Shoveled sidewalks for food, found a job as a janitor, and built a dog team. Participated in 13 Iditarods, running his first one at age 72. Norman completed 6 with his last finish being in 1990 at the age of 84. Crashed President Carter's inaugural parade and was in the next two. Taught John Paul II how to mush. In 1997 organized the annual 868-mile Serum Run from Nenana to Nome, Alaska. This commemorates the 1925 dash to Nome by the fastest village dog teams to deliver diphtheria serum to save Nome. Norman "Dreamed big & dared to fail". Safe trails Norman." --from Norman Vaughan's Official Website

Associated Press story...

One of my fond memories is of working at the Flight Service station in Nome in March of 1986 or 87. The briefing phone rang and a now-familiar voice cheerfully asked me for the weather between Unalakleet and Nome. "It's looks like a nice day for a dog sled drive," said Colonel Norman Vaughan. I have to say, from my small personal experience, he was an up-beat and positive person and I treasure the moment our lives touched, even a short telephone conversation.

May the glories of creation light your trail, Norman. Safe journey.

I was beginning to get a bit concerned last night, sitting at work waiting to hear from Denny. He usually calls me as he is leaving Anchorage, about four-and-a-half hours from home. He had called me about mid-afternoon from Cold Bay, waiting to board the plane, so I had been waiitng expectantly for the phone to ring all evening--his flight usually arrives in Anchorage about six-ish.

It was almost nine before he called. He had just arrived in Anchorage--having been holding on the ground in Kenai waiting for fog to clear from Anchorage. He had been killing time just an hour-and-a-half up the road. Unfortunately, his vehicle was in Anchorage so he needed to go through there on his way home, or he could have jumped the flight in Kenai instead.

He had been up late the night before, doing some modifications to the navigational aids that couldn't be done while they were in use, so he was tired and faced with icy roads and the long drive home, he decided to spend the night in Anchorage. As much as I wanted to have him home, I didn't relish the thought of him driving that long, dark road in possible freezing rain. So he decided to stay in Anchorage long enough to get some sleep and to head south when he woke up.

Rosalee escaped her private room again last night, coming upstairs to hide in Denny's closet once again. Obviously, she doesn't like being shut away from the activity of the household--such as it is. She hasn't shown any aggressive tendencies and our other cats are so innurred to newcomers that they view them only with mild curiosity, so we'll just leave her out and see how she integrates herself into the clowder.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kinda Looks Like Christmas

5 inches snow on ground
25 degrees, overcast

It finally looks like Christmas!

I woke up with a sinus headache and too much to do--as usual. I didn't sleep all that well. I woke up about two-thirty to see Dinky looking toward my closet and growling. I knew before I even looked--the newly-added stray cat that I have named Mimi was in my closet, looking scared. (I didn't check to see if Grendel was in her hidey-spot and refusing to share with a stranger or what...) I spoke calmly to Mimi, picked her up and carried her back downstairs. As I had feared, she had managed to wiggle out of the vestibule between the door frame and the temporary closet doors. I adjusted the closet doors to fit more snugly against the door frame and hoped that having satisfied her curiosity about what was on the other side of the door, she would be content to stay in "her" room. I worried she would try to get out and hang herself up against the doors. But after I put her back in the little room, she stayed in for the remainder of the night, so perhaps she found the rest of the house and the resident cats a bit more than she wanted to face so soon.

I had an 11:30 vet appointment for Mimi, so after I made coffee and took a sinus pill, I decided to pack up my candy gift boxes before I got involved with cat chores. I don't know what I was thinking, making so much candy. Denny and I certainly can't eat it, and even after gifting the guys at work and packing the boxes for Arnie and Sam and the Harts, there is plenty left.

I got almost all the cat-boxes cleaned before I had to run to the vet clinic. Still have three more to do when I get home from work. Dots checked our new addition over pretty thoroughly, even shaved her tummy to find the spay scar--it was a relief to know her reproductive status but it begs the question--whose cat was she and why haven't they been looking for her? Anyway, Dots thinks she is only two or three years old. After we were done at the vet's, I took her down by the Shelter to show her to Mike and Sherry to see if they recognized her. There is something almost-familiar about her that I have been ascribing to her resemblance to our late Rosie but Mike seemed to think he remembered adopting out a cat like her to someone in our neighborhood. So--I wonder why she wasn't hanging out at her house instead of mine? Cats generally have a great sense of location and if she lived in our neighborhood, she should have known where her home was--not shown up starving and scared at our house....

After some consideration, I went ahead and put her and Twitch in the papers as found cats. If their families don't want them, they won't claim them. I suppose there *could* be an intelligent excuse for both of them to be bumming at my house. We shall see if anyone responds.

I have been so terrible about getting ready for the holidays. Every year I vow I will get an early start *next* year and yet here I am--three days from the big event and I haven't sent out a single card or letter yet. I just don't have the inspiration. I know once I get started, it won't be so bad but it is the getting started that seems to take the biggest effort. And I know damned well no one's holiday will be spoiled if they don't hear from me, no one will go, "Damn, we didn't get a Christmas letter from Denny and Laura yet this year!" come Sunday morning. I guess I am of two minds about the whole Christmas letter thing. It is easy to poke fun at those cheery annual missives but I actually look forward to hearing from folks I don't keep in touch with via email or telephone and hearing what has been going on in their lives. I have had some positive feedback on my annual letters, so I know some people--at least--enjoy getting them.

After sitting here at work this afternoon looking at a very rough outline of "our year in review," I realized I am just not going to make the deadline. I might--by doing nothing else for the next two days--actually get forty-some letters in the mail before midnight Christmas Eve but they aren't going to get to anyone before Sunday rolls around. It just seems more important to me to spent the time with Denny and the cats, enjoying the celebration of the season.

And next week, I'll start on a New Year's Letter.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Who Is Norman Vaughan?

A century of memories...

Legendary musher Norman Vaughan, who dropped out of Harvard to join the first U.S. expedition to Antarctica, turned 100 on Monday and the celebration -- including Vaughan's first sip of champagne -- was a few days early.

Vaughan celebrated the milestone Saturday from a chair at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Smiling broadly through his white beard, he shared memories with dozens of family members and friends, some of whom took part by videoconference from South Carolina, Massachusetts and Colorado.

One hundred candles topped a cake; Vaughan indulged in a few oysters and a sip of champagne.

Born into an era of polar exploration, Vaughan left Harvard in 1928 to join a two-year Antarctic expedition led by Adm. Richard E. Byrd. Vaughan is believed to be the last surviving member of that expedition, among the last accomplished with dog teams.
Byrd honored his chief dog driver by naming a 10,302-foot Antarctic peak for Vaughan, who fulfilled a lifelong dream by climbing Mount Vaughan in 1994.
Vaughan moved to Alaska when he was 68 to pursue adventure and to continue driving dogs. He has taken part in 13 runnings of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and completed six Iditarods, the last one in 1990. --Miami Herald

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Friday's Volcano Update:

Current Level of Concern Color Code: YELLOW

Several small steam explosions occurred this week and sulfur smell was reported by residents in a couple of villages and towns east of the volcano. AVO scientists aboard an overflight on Monday reported profuse steaming from numerous fumaroles on the summit, emanating mainly from behind the 1986 dome. Additionally, several energetic fumaroles are located about 200 m (650 ft) down the southeast flank. A gas and steam plume extended 75 km (45 mi) to the southeast. Web camera and satellite images of the volcano have been obscured by clouds for the past few days. There is no indication that a large eruption of Augustine is imminent. AVO has fieldwork planned on the island during the first good-weather window to deploy additional equipment, and to make detailed observations of any recent morphological changes.

Small explosions are likely to continue to occur. These explosions occur with no warning and could affect low-flying aircraft in the vicinity of the volcano. Augustine remains in color code Yellow and AVO continues to monitor the situation closely.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stay Tuned For Further Updates

Augustine Volcano
Current Level of Concern Color Code: YELLOW

At 11:36 AST (2036 UTC) this morning another small explosion occurred at Augustine volcano, similar to, but not as large as, that recorded last Friday evening (Dec. 9). Today's event affected the summit seismic station (AUS), which stopped being received at 11:48 AST (2048 UTC), presumably because the explosion damaged the site. The activity is slowly tapering off as has been the case with the previous events. There is no indication that a large eruption of Augustine is imminent. Similar small explosions are likely to continue to occur. These explosions occur with no warning and could affect low-flying aircraft in the vicinity of the volcano. Augustine remains in color code Yellow and AVO continues to monitor the situation closely.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sulfur Smoke Up In The Sky...

2 inches of fresh snow on the ground.
25 degrees
Partly cloudy, strong southwest winds gusting to 25 kts.

From the Alaska Volcano Observatory
Current Level of Concern Color Code: YELLOW
A steam plume extending at least 75 km (45 mi) SE from Augustine Volcano is clearly visible by satellite and has also been reported by local pilots. Images in the web camera also show a plume. The plume appears to be primarily steam.

During the past several days, AVO has detected changes in the style of earthquake activity and received other information about gas emissions and steaming at Augustine Volcano. Two seismic events on Friday evening (12/9/05), and Sunday evening (12/11/05) may have perturbed the hydrothermal system, initiating steam explosions. These events are consistent with reports of steaming at the summit observed on Saturday (12/10/05), and distinct sulfur smell ("like from a sewer") in the air on Sunday evening (12/11/05) at Nanwalek and Port Graham, approximately 80 km (50 mi) east of the volcano. Collectively, these events are signs of continued and elevated level of volcanic unrest, but do not indicate that an eruption is imminent in the next few days to weeks. The level-of-concern color code remains at Yellow and AVO will continue to monitor activity closely.

Depending on the direction of the wind and the amount of gas emitted at the volcano, sulfur odors may persist. Periods of foul smelling air may accompany the present level of unrest at Augustine, but these periods should be relatively brief and are not expected to be a significant health concern. Humans can detect at very low concentrations the volcanic gases sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. At higher concentrations (or if a person has respiratory problems) the gases can irritate the eyes and respiratory system. People with respiratory problems should take reasonable precautions as they would for dealing with other types of slightly unhealthy air.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

We had five inches or so of snow Sunday night/Monday morning, but by Tuesday, the weather had warmed up and the rain began falling Tuesday night. Now, all our deep snow is gone--just scattered patches of wet snow and smooth ice. I'd despair for our holidays if I didn't know that the weather is supposed to turn colder this weekend and into next week.

Bebe got out of his cage--found him wet and scared in the garage. It's nice to know that he won't go running across the road to his old home if left to his own devices, though I would rather have found this out some other way.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Volcano Update

From the Alaska Volcano Observatory

Current Level of Concern Color Code: YELLOW
The level of seismic activity at Augustine Volcano remains above background. On Friday afternoon, December, 2, 2005, AVO scientists made an aerial over flight of Augustine and although partially shrouded in clouds, no unusual activity or outward signs of unrest were observed. Clouds have obscured the volcano in web camera and satellite views during the past week and there are no new visual observations to report. Conditions at the volcano have changed little during the past week and there are no indications that an eruption is imminent.

Beginning December, 1st, 2005, AVO began operation of a web camera for visual observation of Augustine volcano from a vantage point near Homer. Images are posted to the AVO web site every 5 minutes.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Feral Cats

18 inches of snow on the ground
10 degrees
Increasing clouds

Orisinal Game of the Day: A Daily Cup of Tea--I managed to get to the end of this one after several tries.

Feral cats are so easy--I wish I had a houseful of them. (Oh, wait--I nearly do...)

After six years with us, Grendel has finally gotten enough confidence to move furitively around the house during the day but she still will vanish if we pay too much notice of her. Although, yesterday she was in the downstairs bedroom while I was cleaning the cat boxes and made to dash into her hiding spot until I spoke soothingly to her. She stopped and watched me warily while I went about my chores. I got both boxes clean before she retreated to what she considered safety. She is such a pretty cat, I would like to see more of her. She must understand by now that we aren't going to hurt her. On occasion, she will walk through the bedroom while we are watching television, then stop halfway down the hall to peer at us. Maybe I am just imagining the questions in her eyes.

Skinny (officially named "Star" but no one calls her that) has been known to sneak up and sleep on the foot of the bed at night but spends most of the daylight hours pretending to be afraid of us. I have touched her several times, getting close enough to stroke her paw when playing with her (and she is a great one for playing with the kitty-teases). She is quick to show me how sharp her claws are when I venture a finger too close, but I don't have the feeling she is scratching out of fear--just playfulness.

Fat Sally obviously belonged to *someone* at some time because she is spayed. She will creep out when the house is quiet--day or night--but retreats if we pay attention to of her. She likes to sleep in the basket by the computer upstairs at night. She is another one that I talk soothingly to when I pass by. She's been with us for nearly a year now.

Black Bart is a strange one. We trapped him two years ago when we brought Baby and her kittens inside. We had him neutered at the time but he was so hostile that I figured he was hopelessly feral and let him loose to live in the yard.

That seemed to suit everyone just fine until this August. He suddenly started showing up on the deck during the day, visiting the housecats through the screen door or the wire of the small cat run. Skinny and Clarence seemed particularly fond of him and I had to wonder if he remembered Skinny from the time she lived outside (up until September 2004.) That he might recognize/remember Clarence as his kitten seems a stretch but Clarence and Lola were allowed out in the cat run a few months after we brought them inside, so I suppose he could have seen them in there from that time on, before the memory and their scents changed too much.

Over the course of a month or so, Black Bart came to take his meals on the deck. Denny built him a little "bus stop"-like shelter that looked into the kitchen from the deck and as winter approached, he was often sitting there day or night, peering in at us. He would still hiss and move away when I went outside to feed him, but he retreated a shorter distance and his hiss seemed more rote than heart-felt. A few times, he even ventured inside the screen door, but if I made a move into the kitchen, he would hasten outside again.

It took catnip and leaving the cat run open to capture him. After he was prodded inside the house, he quickly found the feral havens both in the downstairs bedroom and up in the living room. There was a minimum of hissing as the ferals were all more afraid of us than of a new cat, and he was well-behaved from the start. I have to think that Skinny in particular was glad to see him, though they don't interact much while I can see them.

After a few days of lying low, Bart began coming out of hiding when I fed the cats, keeping to the shadows and out of reach, but understanding the procedure and fitting in. Last night he got up on the second shelf of the cat tree and stayed put while I walked through the room several times, so he is taking baby steps toward us. It would be nice to wake up some night and find him curled on the bed, but thus far, he spends his nights downstairs with Grendel and Skinny, probably taking air in the cat run.


From the Alaska Volcano Observatory
Friday, December 2, 2005 1:15 PM AKST
Current Level of Concern Color Code: YELLOW

On Tuesday, AVO issued an information release announcing a level-of-concern color code change from GREEN to YELLOW based on increased seismicity and measurable deformation at Augustine Volcano. These data suggest that Augustine is undergoing renewed unrest. Seismic activity remains elevated. Clear views of the volcano by satellite show no unusual steaming or thermal activity. On Thursday, a web camera was installed in Homer, Alaska, approximatly 120 km (75 mi) northeast of Augustine. Live images of Augustine volcano can be viewed at: An observation overflight of the volcano is scheduled for today. There is no indication that an eruption is imminent or certain.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yeah, I know...I have been lousy at up-dating this journal lately. I could say I have been busy at home and that life has been quiet but since when has having nothing to write stopped me from writing any way.

Another clear, cool day--not bitterly cold but dipping down into the single digits overnight. Yesterday evening, shortly after sunset, Venus was shining through a gap in the forest right above the lighted trees outside. I took a couple pictures--I have ASA 800 film in one of the cameras, so I hope it turns out.