Sunday, May 28, 2006

An Eventful Saturday...

We've had it brought home just how precarious our security can be, oft times dependent on wind, weather or the sensibility of others.

We have had a hot and clear holiday weekend, with gusty winds and low humidity. Under such conditions, wildfire is almost certain. A large fire flared up across the Inlet from Anchorage, driven by winds so strong that burnt leaves rained down on Anchorage International. The visibilities were restricted to such an extent in the Anchorage Bowl that a pilot I was briefing for a return flight to Merrill Field decided to delay his return until the morning.

After he left, I sat at the inflight console, watching a team of yellow-shirted fire-fighters pick their way through the infield and out to the Forestry Service helicopter that is stationed at Homer during the fire season. The helicopter started up and called for an airport advisory. Just as he was leaving the traffic pattern, the pilot remarked,"If you have pilots coming down from the north, would you ask them to avoid the Bluff Point area. We have a fire on Green Timbers and we'll have a couple helicopters on it."

"But I live on Green Timbers..."

You know, that is my single worst fear during the summer--to be sitting at work and see a plume of smoke come over the bluff. I immediately picked up the phone and dialed home. Busy signal. Okay--Denny was either trying to call me or on-line. Either way, he was there and so the house was protected. I kept trying our number--between working traffic--for the next few minutes but kept getting a busy signal. Then, as I went back to trying to concentrate on my job, the phone rang. It was Denny--calling to tell me about the fire. He had to call on his cell phone because the fire--three lots down toward the Sterling--had burned up our phone junction box and the land-lines were out. He said the winds up there, blowing out of the northwest at 20 knots, were blowing it away from our house and he was going to fuel up the bulldozer and go down to help.

Needless to say, that last hour of work was one of the longest I have ever worked. Shortly after Denny called, MH, who lives up on Diamond Ridge, called to see if I knew about the fire. His wife had seen it on her way home from work and he was out on Diamond Ridge Road watching them fight it. I told him that I already knew and that Denny was home so as far as I knew, our house was okay. He said that it was his worst fear too, to be sitting at work when a fire broke out at home. I told him that if Denny hadn't been home, I would have called Kenai and told them they had to take my frequencies because I had to go home. It gave me some peace of mind to know Denny was home because I knew that he would never let the fire touch our house.

The plume of smoke was dispersing by the time I made my closing announcement on the radio: "Homer Radio ceases operations at this time...." As I flipped the frequencies over to Kenai's control, I heard the voice of the helicopter pilot say, "Good night--your house is safe!" "You guys are my heroes," I told him.

Actually, Denny is my hero. I drove into the house from Thomas Road (aka the back way) but even on Thomas road, there were concerned homeowners standing on the road watching the fire-fighting operation through the trees. Once, home, I quickly put things to rights in the kitchen. Denny had been making stew and there was a pile of peeled potatoes sitting on the counter, so I put them in water to preserve them and double-checked the stove. It was off. Then I went out and watched the scene from the hill behind the connexes. The helicopter made a couple of water drops while I watched. About a half-hour after I got home, Denny brought the bulldozer down the road. The fire was knocked out but he said there would be a couple guys on the ground overnight just in case the winds stirred it up again. I was glad to know that--the way the wind was blowing, I never would have been able to sleep otherwise.

So that's the most excitement we've had lately.

In other news...

Dinky slept good through the night but was back in litterbox every few minutes this morning. I finally called Dots when I got to work--rather than wait until Tuesday to have Dinky see a vet. She agreed that it sounded like a bladder infection and advsed me to give Dinky a half of a 81 mg aspirin and some of the antibiotic I have on hand and see if that helps her.

As of this morning, our phones are still not working. Denny says it may be a while, and when I drove by the burned area on my way to work and saw the crispy-fried telephone junction box, I can believe it. The area was burnt to ashes--just stumps and naked alders--all gray and black. It not only singed the cabin on the property but was moving toward the highway and came within a few feet of the house on the corner--Denny said the homeowner was out there with a hose, wetting his house down like crazy last night.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Yay! No frost on the deck this morning.

I still got up feeling like hell--all achey with a sinus headache. Thankfully, an Advil Cold & Sinus Liqui-gel and a cup of coffee brought me back to some resemblance of normal.

What is my ideal pet? Do you really even need to ask?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


So...about 6-o-clock this evening I was standing in the middle of a trail off of the North Fork Road watching as brown bear wandered across the track about a quarter mile ahead of me.

Geez...what is it with me and bears all of a sudden? I have gone *years* without seeing any and in the last week I have seen two.

About a week ago, Denny and I were driving down a rural road outside of Ninilchik, looking at property. Or looking for property, since most of the areas we have been poking around in are seriously lacking in signage and what are described as roads in the real estate listings often exist only in the imagination of the borough planners.

So, Denny and I were trying to find anything that resembled a cross-street out in some Hooverville neighborhood off of Oilwell Road when I squinted down the road ahead where what appeared to be a large brown dog was waving his head up and down.

"What the hell is that?" I asked Denny, not trusting my eyes.

"Damn--looks like a bear--a big one." The beast in question shambled off to the side of the road.

"I was sort of hoping it was just a big, brown dog..."

"Dogs don't act like that..."

We approached, then passed, the area in question. There was no big brown dog guarding the closest house. Whatever had been there had vanished. So we had no real proof as to what we had seen, but when we went out the next day to meet the real estate agent at the property, Denny brought a gun along--and the agent thanked him for the forethought. Of course we saw nothing in the way of threatening wildlife then--but that's the way we like it.

So, fast-forward to this week, where we have been looking for property near Anchor Point. There was a large-ish parcel of land on the market for a smallish price, so Denny and I went out yesterday and trooped around some phantom subdivision looking for surveyors' markings. Denny wore a revolver in a shoulder holster just in case but the largest wildlife we saw was a spruce grouse who drifted casually off into the underbrush as we walked past. We were interested in the land we saw but the directions from the realtor were vague and since our truck doesn't have a functioning odometer, going a mile down any particular road was all guesswork. Since Denny had to head out to Bethel this morning, I called the realtor and asked if someone could show me *exactly* where the property was located.

So that is why six pm found me and the property owner walking down a rough, sandy road/trail in the lowlands off of the North Fork Road, accompanied by his old, deaf dog. We were about half-way to his parcel when a large brown bear wandered out from the woods ahead of us and started walking down the road in the opposite direction. At that point, I realized that although I had--in fact--brought a gun along to this party, it was about a mile and a half away in my truck, securely stowed under the seat and safe from any possible bear attack. (I thought it might weird-out the seller if I hopped out of my truck and strapped a six-shooter on--and heaven knows it is so much better to be eaten by a bear than to weird-out a total stranger...)

Now, being an Alaskan means you don't shriek, "Omigod a bear!" when you happen upon one in your travels. Nope--not cool. No, you just go, "Hmmm...a bear..." and stop to see which way said bear is heading. We were a respectable enough distance away that our response was one of focused interest rather than fear, though I would have felt a bit more secure if we didn't have the half-deaf dog with us. Because it is widely accepted that the mostly likely outcome when you are out in bear country with your dog is that he or she will find a bear, get them all pissed off, then high-tail it back to you with an angry bear right behind them.

(I have to point out at this juncture that a cat would never do that to you...)

Now, it might seem strange to some of you city-folks, but we actually kept on walking up the road toward the property, keeping the bear in sight. Only when it finally quit the road and disappeared into the brush did my companion stop. "Actually, the property line we are looking for is just about where the bear disappeared." It was obvious he had no appetite to go any closer.


A bear you can see is easier to work around than a bear you can't see. Losing sight of it helped us make up our minds. We decided to retreat back to his truck--casting casual but wary glances behind us from time to time--where he showed me satellite images of the land that he has stored on his laptop--delineating the area well enough that so I can go back with Denny and look at it. Preferably during a time of day when bears have better things to do than forage along the roadway.

Frost on the deck (again) this morning.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sr. Ass. Purser

I found this on Google while I was looking for something else (info on the ferry schedule for Denny) and enjoyed it so much I thought I would share it with you.

Alaska State Ferry Traveler's Blog

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Waiting Earth

I stood out in the back yard yesterday, enjoying one of the first mild days of Spring. The sunshine warmed the husks of last summer's grass, yellowed and pressed down against the bosum of the Earth by the weight of the (now vanished) winter's snow. There, amid the trees, slender white stakes rose from the grass, bearing silent witness to vanished lives.

"Sunny (SunSpot) 1986-2005"

"Whiskers, Old Friend, 1981-1999"

There is Rosie--I never knew what killed her though I fought for her life even after she had given up.

And Little Tobey, the shelter kitten whose fading life I couldn't save either. At least she didn't die alone and unloved.

Sparky--who died too young from a weak heart. It may have been weak but it was ever-loving. Soon his sister will be sleeping beside him as her kidneys slowly shut down.

And my precious ones--Johnny, Newt, Lucy... I knew them all their lives, from tentative kittens to senior citizens. Through the haze of unshed tears, I smile at the blessing each one was in our lives. I miss them so much.

The ground where they lay is cool and they are deep below me. The Earth will turn, the snows come and go They may well sleep there for centuries undisturbed, sad little time capsules of my love that will persist long after I have vanished.

I can't push too far from my mind the waiting throng in the house. Each of them will come to this spot in time. Sometimes I wish we could all lie down together, sleep that last and final sleep forever nestled against each other. It seems so sad that our loving flesh should be separated and that our bones, which have spent so many hours resting against each other, will spend eternity in cold solitude. Each one of my cats is an inevitable heartbreak and each white stake marks another scar across my heart.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


There was frost on deck again this morning. Not surprising given the clear skies last night. I looked out about midnight across our twilighted backyard to see Jupiter holding sway in the southern sky and a partial glimpse of the moon rising behind the trees. I doubt we get true darkness until the small hours of the morning. As always, my mind is just accepting that winter is over when we are poised at the edge of high summer. Time is accelerating toward the Solstice even before the leaves have appeared.

The rising sun soon cleared the deck of the lingering traces of winter. Fueled by my morning coffee, I medicated the cats--gabapentin for Tiny, insulin for Toby and sub-Q fluids for Dinky--then tried to get in touch with my cousin Kathy. She had made mention of trying to get up here to see us this summer but that was back in February. We feel some gentle prodding mught be in order. But the phone number I had for her wasn't right. I called it twice just to make sure I had dialed correctly and got the same answering machine both times. So I called her Mom, my Aunt Joy, to get her newest phone number. And not incidently, talk to Aunt Joy, who is like a second mother to me. It takes so little effort to make a phone call--why do I put it off when surely there are so few days left to enjoy the pleasure of a simple conversation with someone you have known and loved your entire life.

After talking with Aunt Joy and calling Kathy's *correct* number and leaving a message, I felt on a roll enough to make a preemptive strike on Mother's Day and call my Mom a day early. Radical thought.

After the phone rang five or six times, my Dad answered. I'd called him in from the yard. Must be a nice day in Fairbanks if he's doing yard work. But Mom was out shopping, so we chatted with Dad a bit then signed off until later. Mom called when she got home and we had a nice visit via phone.

Denny and I decided to do a bit of yard work ourselves. After we'd thrown a handful of straw into each as a "starter," we hung the eight bird houses Denny had made last week. We're ready for the swallows now. I have even began to save up cat hair for them to line their nests. It's never a scarce commodity at our house.

I watered some of the planters that had over-wintered outside. One of the saxifrage plants didn't make it but the others are greening up nicely enough and the chives are several inches long already. After I watered the planters on the deck, I decided it was nice enough to bring the deck furniture out of storage, so Denny and I made a couple trips from the connex to the deck and got the table, umbrella, chairs and benches set up and ready for summer.

I spent a little time pruning the alders back from the walkway to the deck and the path to the greenhouse. There are a couple of them that I have been training into trees by judicious pruning. Wouldn't you know they are the ones Denny says will have to go because their roots will eventually threaten the septic system. Then we went out back to our little cat cemetary and I pruned some dead limbs off of the spruce while Denny surveyed the area for fallen trees to pull out.

We're working outside--must be well-nigh summer!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The First Day of Spring

Regardless of what the calendar may say, today was the first day of Spring.

There was light frost on the deck this morning but it had already evaporated by the time I got out of bed. By the time I went outside, late in the morning, the air was fresh and mild and the temperature was 48 degrees. Denny urged me to come and stand in the sun, to feel the warmth on our bodies.

A few moments later, I looked up to see our harbinger of the season--the first swallow of Spring. He must be the out-rider of the larger flock, for he appeared to be alone. He circled our yard then perched for a time on one of the remaining tall trees.

Tomorrow we will be hanging nesting boxes.

And, much to Frieda's bliss, we found the first tender shoots of grass in the side yard and brought them to her where she waited in the cat run.

Winter is over.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You Know You're Alaskan....

If you consider it a sport to gather your food by drilling through 18 inches of ice and sitting there all day hoping that the food will swim by, you might live in Alaska.

If you have ever refused to buy something because it's "too spendy" you might live in Alaska.

If your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March, you might live in Alaska.

If someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don't work there, you might live in Alaska.

If your dad's suntan stops at a line curving around the middle of his forehead, you might live in Alaska.

If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you might live in Alaska.

If your town has an equal number of bars and churches, you might live in Alaska.

If you have had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you might live in Alaska.

You know you are a true Alaskan when...

...your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a truck plowing snow on the highway.

..."vacation" means going to Valdez. measure distance in hours. know several people who have hit a moose--more than once. often switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.

...your whole family wears blue jeans to church on Sunday. can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching. see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings.) install security lights on your house and garage and leave both doors unlocked. think of the major food groups as beer and salmon. carry jumper cables in your car and know how to use them.

...there are seven empty cars running in the parking lot at Wal-Mart at any given time. design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

...driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow. know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. can identify a Southern or Eastern accent. know how to polka.

...your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a moose next to your trash can. were unaware that there is a legal drinking age.

..."Down South" means Seattle.

...your neighbor throws a party to celebrate his new pole shed.

...your 4th of July picnic was moved indoors due to frost. have more miles on your snow blower than your car. find 0 degrees "a little chilly." actually understand these jokes, and you forward them to all your Alaska friends...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Black Cats

I have been thinking about black cats lately--probably because I have four of them. There seems to be a large number of black cats among the stray cat population. Maybe that is because there just are more black cats to begin with--second only to tabbies in number. Maybe black cats are better suited to survive the perils of homelessness, for they have come through the hard centuries as survivors.

Those who study such things believe that the earliest domesticated cats were the ubiquitous tabbies. Indeed, tabbiness is ingrained so deeply into a cat's genes that breeders of designer varieties of cats despair at breeding out striped-ness. Mother Nature loves her tabbies.

Evidence suggests that the very first variation on the stripey-cat theme was the mutation that left the coat solid black. Just as some leopards are born black, there must have been the occasional all-black kitten in the ancient litters of proto-cats. As cats became domesticated, these kittens were no doubt viewed as special and treasured for their rarity.

Well, we all know that eventually the human race went through a period of superstition and madness and black cats came to be viewed as demonic or ill-favored. As far as I can tell from my own experience, black cats are only unlucky if you happen to be one--finding yourself the target of every manner of indignity from neglect to barbarous cruelty.

The black cats of today, descendants of the revered and maligned, are friendly, practical companions. Judging from my own small sample, Houdini, Skinny, Bart and Lola each came in from the cold world of the stray or feral and are wary of people they don't know, though affectionate enough with us. Only Little Miss Newt knew love all her life. She was less shy--I couldn't say she was out-going but she accepted visitors.

And then there is Raider.

Raider is what Barbara Holland described as "one of those black cats." You know what she means--those cats who--without having a single trace of "oriental" blood in their lineage, still exude a sense of being Siamese. The first time I read her description, I knew exactly what she meant. I had run across "those black cats" from time to time and, more recently, I have known Raider. Raider is a huge, chunky cat, but there is something about his piercing eyes and his out-going, vocal personality that puts one in mind of the round-headed Siamese cats of the mid-20th century.

Only in the past few month have I puzzled out a possible explanation for these seeming enigmas. I discovered that what we call the "Siamese" or "colorpoint" gene is a mutation that limits the expression of color in a cat's coat to the cooler portions of its body. And that a--say--seal-point Siamese is actually a genetically black cat with the Siamese gene. Since seal-point is probably the original expression of the Siamese/color-point gene, I suspect the original Siamese mutation arose in a population of black cats. So what we think of as the "Siamese" personality may well have been present in a population of all-black cats that were the source of a collection of traits we have come to associate with the colorpoint cats of southwestern Asia. And if the ocasional solid black cat reveals something in his personality that whispers of the exotic Siamese, it may just be a sign that the source of "Siamese-ness" is still buried in the core of the black cat.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cold Rain

It was 38 degrees with cold rain spattering down when I got home last night. I had groceries in the trunk of the car but decided they could stay outside overnight--we have been getting frost but not real hard freezes.

We saw a couple robins in the back yard yesterday. Thursday, Denny put together eight bird houses and we painted them in the afternoon--racing against the expected arrival of the swallows. Last year, they were back by May 4th but this is a much cooler spring. There are still areas of snow on Diamond Ridge and along the bluff above town, whereas last year this time we were watching the wildfire and hoping for rain. The maximum temperature for this past April was 51 degrees. In 2005, the highest temperature for April was 65 degrees. So despite global warming--of which we are seeing plenty of signs--this particular season is a cold one, and I am not expecting the swallows until mid-month.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Twitch is not a nice cat.

It's not his fault. I am sure he started out a sweet little kitten just like any cat, but whoever had him before he found himself outside looking for shelter last fall, they did a number on his head. I mean, you can just tell he is used to being roughly handled and hit--he is short-tempered and always ready to defend himself. He can be pleasant enough around Denny and me--but it is not a pleasantness that I trust. At any time he might take it into his head to lash out or bite. And he remains aggressive toward the other cats--most of them senior citizens who don't need his attitude.

I am afraid he is going to eventually have to take that one-way trip to the vet, and I don't want to have to do that to him, but he isn't a cat you can hand off to some other unsuspecting stranger. He is unadoptable.

So, we are trying a new approach for him. Now that it is warmer, we are going to put him outside during the day--starting with a few hours and building up to how ever long he wants, hoping that it will help mellow him out. I know it could be a modified death sentence, that we are risking that one day he just may not come home--but he is a young cat and cannot spend the rest of his life in a cage.

So, I bought him a collar and we have let him outside.

The first time, he was hesitant and needed to be reassured that he would be let back inside. Understandable. The next day, he seemed more prone to explore, still sticking close to the house and coming when we called him.

I just hope it helps him.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Toby John

Well, we started Toby John on insulin last Wednesday.

I have to say, if you are gonna be a diabetic, it is better to be a feline one. His treatment thus far has been blissfully simple.

He gets one insulin injection--under the skin on his back with a real fine needle--once a day. I do it in the morning, when I feed him some breakfast. In just the seven days he has been receiving treatment, I have seen a change in him. It is plain that he is feeling better--he is perkier and more active and there is something in his eyes--a brightness--that was missing before.

My only regret was my fear to start treating him sooner. But we are there now and we are making it work.