Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moose camp.

Have you ever been walking down your long drive just after the sun had set, with only enough dimmed light to see where you are going. Your walking and you find yourself in your own little world enthralled by the quiet, and the ambiance of nature surrounding you. And as you're walking you look down and notice that whoever walked down the driveway sometime before you had some funny looking shoes on, because the prints they left in the snow look like that of shoes not of this world. Then it dawns on you that nobody had been out on the driveway before you, at least since the thin layer of snow, which had fallen within the past couple hours that you had been out down the drive last. Your still walking, but now find yourself in somewhat of a disarrayed pondering, as you are pressing even harder through the dimmed light of the already set sun struggling to focus on these strange shoe prints which nobody apparently has left. And then an astonishing revelation hits you. Yet you continue your forward motion down the drive only now a sense of hesitation has your feet beginning to reconsider their forward propelling motion. All of a sudden you realize that the front door has become so far behind you that the feeling of safety that it would otherwise usually symbolize has all but become less of an option in any given crisis situation that could arise. Your feet are walking a little quicker now towards your truck, which is starting to become more of a silhouette than that of some dark obstruction, parked way down at the end of the drive. You are feeling that this may be the only saving grace at this late point in the stroll. Finding yourself now at a concerned pace, it is all coming to lite that these shoe prints in the snow, that are not of this world, are in fact not shoe prints but the prints of a moose's' hoof, which are obviously fresh, as the fluttering earthbound snowflakes that are falling have yet to dust over these hoof the snow. Knowing what you know about moose's' temperaments in the winter, and hearing of the many stories of mothers who began to wonder why their kid has taken so long to take out the trash, only come out to find them lying on the cold ground wedged under a vehicle, or the many husbands who went out for firewood and were savagely chased back into the woodshed for hits you that you may become a statistic if you don't move your ass a trite quicker to that truck door! And so I found myself in such a situation a cold night, this past week.

It's true. Our humble mountain cabin down in the sierras had a fondly known reputation as Greg's high altitude training (Camp Greg). And this past summer I willingly found myself a participant of the institute of daylight endurance training here at the compound in Alaska. But of all things, of which I never could imagine, we have found ourselves amidst 'moose camp'! This past week we have bared witness to a mass congregating of epic proportion. We are not yet sure why, much less how, but woke one morning to find that our property had become the gathering center for the local 'moose jamboree'. It all began the morning following this night of walking that long cold mile to the truck. For all reasoning, I had parked my truck down on the road at the end of the drive for some free advertisement during the snow. You know, it's snowing...plowing... We were all asleep that morning, soundly, and were awakened to the ferocious barking of Kenai. John was the first to come out to see what the racket was about, as I was rolling out of bed to follow suit. As he comes out into the family room he sees her sitting there at the front door barking at a moose staring at her through the door window! I am figuring at this point that this was the moose which left the hoof prints in the drive the night before. Eventually the moose walked off, Kenai stood down, and we all drifted off to sleep again. But from that point on we have found not just one, but as many as 8 moose at one time grazing around the house. At times it has left Maryann stranded in the house, unable to warm up her truck to go to work, John being held up trying to drive out because one would be in the drive, refusing to move. And there have been some cute moments like when Maryann came home one afternoon to find a young one laying fluffed in the snow berm. Can't forget the numerous times that Cherokee and Kenai, only going out to pottie have inadvertently come around a corner and stumbled onto one just standing there, looking down upon them as they bark in some garbled tongue, the moose as much as to say, "yea, and your point...." Amazing. This is what best we can figure of this recent developing phenomena. As the snow gets deeper, they are now hunkering down and traveling less. This is fact. Since we were a central hub here for the trafficking moose this summer, we figure that this is where they are hanging around. Lucky us. The other thing is that after 3 months of consistently freezing and sub-zero temperatures, we finally broke a warm 33 degrees for a day and a half the past week. Not enough to melt ice or snow, in fact it only made the ice even more precarious. It was just enough to melt some snow off of and out of the trees and slightly 'tender' the otherwise stiff, frozen fauna and twigs. But a moose's' delicacy! After that day and a half reprieve, everything froze solid again, and the moose activity here seems to have subsided a little. What a week! Reminded me of some twisted parody of "Invasion Of The Planet Of The Apes"....only in the form of moose! One cool thing that did come out of all of this was the baby moose. He was 'dropped' this past spring, and from our arrival in June throughout the summer we would see him often with mama at the lakes edge and around the property. He was the one staring through the window at Kenai early that one morning, and was here almost everyday this past week, throughout each day. He was our adopted 'live-in'. Very cute. At first we assumed that maybe he had lost mama by fate of a car or something and was alone, but as many moose as were around here through the week we are thinking that may not be the case now. The morning after the 'Kenai encounter' at the front door, I was out at sunrise taking a picture of the full moon setting across the lake. In my quest to get a "better shot", I started down the snowboard trail that John and a friend made to the lake and was stopped short by the dogs barking that garbled tongue at something. In investigating the source of the commotion, I stumbled upon the baby. Now mind you, when I say baby, I mean that he is just new-born of this past spring. However, he is already the size of a small horse! Isn't he just a cutie! Makes you wonder if they are as aggressive in the winter as their adult prodigy's?? Don't want to find out, will wait for the book! I ended up going back inside and Maryann and I...and the dogs...watched him through the windows as he stayed right around the house for almost an hour.

Cool thing about the full moon was that I got a pic of it rising that night. Right now it takes a course in the sky in almost a complete circle, setting in the morning only yards (from the human eyes' perspective mind you) from where it rose the night before. Pretty similar to the suns trajectory during the summer. Keep in mind the first pic is the full moon rising (looks like the sun, huh) at sundown, and the second is of the full moon setting at sunrise. Was hugely breathtaking.

We did get a little more snow Thursday night. As a result I was out at 1:30 AM plowing, and as I was just tired as all get go, thankfully it did not snow as much as they had originally called for. However, I did have to go back out to 'clean-up'' one of the commercial office complexes I do in Soldotna, so I was out until 1:30AM the following morning. After being awake for 24 hours, and already wiped out when the run began, I was just tired, tired, tired and wanted only to get home to sleep. I was on my back from Soldotna this morning, anxious to just get home. Coming down the lonely quiet road we take to the house, I come across a dark figure standing in the middle of the road. Sure enough it is a moose. Remember, they don't like trudging through the deep snow expelling their energy and burning their life sustaining calories in the winter, so we do have to start sharing the road with them. Let me tell you a little something about sharing a narrow rural road with a moose. It is like sharing with that little jerk when you were a know, the one that wouldn't share that favorite bouncy ball in preschool. Just hogged it to himself.... This one decided that instead of taking the simple solution off to the side, he would instead do a slow jog down the middle of the road. So there I was, stuck at a 3 mph crawl as mister moose jogged in front of me, rounding the corner and jogging on. About now I start to feel a little guilt for pushing him, as I notice he is slowing down a little so I stop. He stops. He turns around to look at me, and then just settles in to gaze around him off into the trees. So I begin another slow crawl....he begins another slow jog. This goes on for what seems to a tired man like forever. Finally, just as I gave up all hope of ever getting home, because at this point I figure he is going to jog right into the driveway, he figures out to go off the road and stand up on the berm until I safely and cautiously pass....what a concept! ;) The comical side of this story was the perspective of where I was siting. I don't know if you have ever been directly behind a moose when he is jogging....I hadn't until last night...but it is just too funny. In kind of a graceful way! The incredible thing was that the moose's stride was unwittingly choreographed to the 'T' with the tempo and beat of the song playing on the radio. Made for great entertainment for a guy that minutes before was ready to fall asleep at the wheel! Today is sunny, with the temps back into the teens. Beautiful out. Have a great weekend, and for those who have commented on wanting to visit, but have poo-pooed visiting in the winter.....reconsider! It is cold, but the beauty and the ongoing winter antics are abound!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Never get tired of the beauty.

One thing I have to say is that since we moved here, my eyes are always wandering. It is amazing how everyday brings a new view, or even a different light and perspective on the same view. And it would figure that most times I see something that is most worthy of a photo opp.....I don't have the camera! This day I did have the camera, and didn't have to look too far to find the gracious splendor that God put fourth all around me. I decided to take advantage of the fact that I did have the camera, and shot away to share.

Something that is fabulous every day in the winter is what is called the 'alpenglow'. It is as magnificent in the morning as it is in the evening and during the darker phase of winter from about the beginning of December to mid January, it is present throughout the sky all day, since the sun stays so low in the horizon. This is a shot I took around 9:35AM this morning as the sun was coming up. I highly suggest that you 'click' on this picture to bring it up larger if your computer will allow it. It is worth it as the deep red through the trees that traversed into the lighter pinks was just brilliant. Mind you, a picture does little justice to what the naked eye fell witness to. Just cant say enough how wonderful the sky looks this time of year!

The past week has brought much snow for the peninsula. And, it has brought very little sleep for the plow people.....but fat pocketbooks! It is referred to as "pennies from heaven" and although the hours have been long....I love it! The past couple days however have brought out the sun, blue skies, and a chance to see more of the surroundings about us. On our way to run for some heating oil for the garage heater, Maryann and I were beside ourselves as we crossed the tidal flats outside of Kenai. I mean, again the beauty is beyond words and pictures do little to reveal it's true splendor. This is looking back across the flats at the Kenai bluffs. The town of Kenai sits atop the bluffs. Actually, a while back I showed a picture of the view from the bluffs, across the flats out towards the Caribou Hills. This is the opposite view. The winds that come through the flats tend to blow the snow and create magnificent 'drifts' that snake and crawl the snows surface. Another thing to see are the ice flows on the Kenai River. Unfortunately, there is little room to stop and take a picture of this with all the snow stacked up on the side of the road. But the first chance I can I will share that someday soon. Very impressive!

This other picture was taken out the other side of the tidal flats. In the foreground is the old cannery buildings. And beyond that is Mt. Redoubt peeking out from the layer of morning fog along the water. Mt Redoubt is one of 4 volcanoes that run along the Aleutian Range across the bay. The first, Mt Augustine, is furthest south and can be seen from Homer on a clear day. It is currently steaming on and off the past year or so, and is located out on the island of Augustine, near the island of Kodiak, in the Gulf Of Alaska....down there.... The next is Mt Iliamna which is just further left of Mt Redoubt in this picture. In fact the very tip of Iliamna was protruding forth the fog, but not enough to take a photo of. Then of course is Mt Redoubt, and further North towards the 'Anchorage' end of the bay is Mt Spur. The way to remember this chain is 'AIRS'.

This week marks the beginning of an exclusive event that happens on the peninsula every year. The Arctic Peninsula Winter Games will be taking place in Soldotna. Such events as the 'hiked thong ice slide', 'find the unit on the chilled Eskimo' and other winter type games will take place through the week. To celebrate the games, a truckload of huge blocks of ice were distributed throughout Soldotna this week and a team of ice sculptors began sculpting different scenes that will be displayed during the week of the games. This was one such sculptor that we saw coming into Soldotna to get our heating oil. Maryann watched the ice truck come into town the other day, and we both have seen several of the ice sculptors in our runnings about. Using an electric chainsaw, this one artist told me it took him a full day to make this piece. If you can believe this, he says that the saw cuts through the ice like butter..... Pretty sweet detail I might add! We want to take some time to go to the games to see what Alaskans do for entertainment during the winter. I assure you we will be spectators only!

We have seen temps ranging from the minuses to as high as mid twenties, but since around the end of October have not peaked above freezing of 32 degrees. It is my understanding that this winter has been considered far. It is not unusual for the inlet to ice up and has in fact iced all the way out to the oil and gas platforms that span the middle of the bay. These are a couple shots out across the bay. The first on top is looking down to a snow laden beach about 60 feet below, and those little pieces of ice are actually about the size of a semi diesel....or at least the bigger one. Then the pic below is overlooking the southern most platform, the 'Osprey'. The beauty of this was not the oil platform, but spanning across the middle of the pic is the snowy mountains strewn amongst the fog. Funny story. For the longest time I thought that little finger of land was an island. In fact it is a finger of land that jutts out from the other side of the inlet. For sheer trivial purposes, it creates the narrowest passage in the bay between land masses until the end of the inlet at Knik Arm north of Anchorage or just south of anchorage at the Turnagain Arm (remember the 'tidal bore'?)

Coming back into Nikiski we are looking out at the snow smothered Aleutian Range. The snow gives the illusion that it is just right there, when in actuality the other side is roughly over 85 miles away. Gives you an idea of the "stoic immensity" of these mountains!

This pic to the right is of the Port Of Nikiski. Of the 16 oil and natural gas platforms in the Cook inlet, most pipe the oil and gas extracted to the main refineries here in the port. Nikiski is but a peehole in the snow, on the map, yet the revenue that is floating around the peninsula as a result of the port and refineries is tremendous. And you would think we would pay less at the pumps since Tesoro, BP, Unocal, and Conoco Phillips (no relation to me damn it) are right! We get gouged just like the rest of the country! Last but not least in this long photo tour of which I hope was enjoyed is one of my favorites. Be it in the summer, fall (haven't seen it in the spring yet) this part of the Aleutian Range is the most spectacular to me. Even more so with the snow. We get a full-on view of this coming up the Spur Hwy into Nikiski, and my heart always skips a beat knowing this means home. On a clear day, if you walk to the end of our driveway you get a clear shot of this view of the mountains across the bay. Just to the right of the picture up around that knoll a ways would be the beach that we love walking the dogs on. In the forefront is the gas & oil platform 'Dillon' which separates natural gas, oil, and water on the rig. The water is discharged and the gas and oil sent through two 8" diameter pipes into the Unocal refinery in the Port Of Nikiski. All this in a days run....whew! Not only an eyefest, but an a lesson on the economic base of Nikiski. All we know is that we love living here. Many people in Kenai and Soldotna refer to folks way out in Nikiski as "Northroaders", "776ers", and other creative names for the ones who prefer to be in the boonies. WE just smile and say damned straight! We love it out here, and the quiet, simplistic lifestyles that folks out here enjoy is just one of the reasons we chose Nikiski. The Italian food joint is another! ;) But no matter here, or there, you don't have to look too far to find the beauty around you. It is a piece of heaven, no doubt. Good night and God bless!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Moose droppings....their size would amaze you!

I took a couple nice shots of the moon at sundown this evening. Those white specks are falling snow flakes, not planets! Was a beautiful clear sundown tonight after a week of no sun and snow.The air was so dry and cold that it was litely snowing even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky!

A customer at Maryann's work had brought in a treat for them the other day. Maraynn found it to be so good that she brought some home and we had the opportunity to try what is a delicacy for the native locals here in the central peninsula. Myself in particular found it to be rather surprisingly delectable. It was actually a shock to me as I had seen them before, but never realized what they were and how tasty they actually are. Of all things, moose droppings are somewhat small in size, about the size of the palm of your hand which is a surprise in itself considering their 'big' name. They don't look like much yet the glazed brown texture has somewhat of a crispy feel when you initially bite into it. In fact, they tend to fall apart in your hands and as you eat them. The center of a moose dropping is rather moist and chewy. I found that the ones that have nuts swirled in them are the best. That extra crunch is a plus! The unique thing is that they are affordable so you can buy a bag for less than a few bucks. The Moose Is Loose bakery in Soldotna specializes in moose droppings and although the calories will more than likely kill you, they are the best little baked goods I have ever tasted. In fact everything at the Moose Is Loose will kill you....and is the best. We are fortunate to have such a bakery. Sorry mom and dad, one of the places we failed to take you to!

Speaking of moose. We are starting to see many moose lately, as the snow is getting deeper and they are finding an easier way around on and near the roads. Remember the lesson on moose in the winter.....their food source is frozen and/or buried in snow, so they try to conserve their energy by using roads as opposed to trekking around in the snow. Unfortunately many have fallen fate to collisions with vehicles. People can tend to be jackasses even when the roads are slick with ice. They just can't seem to slow down. And when a behemoth of a moose does enter the road at the last minute, it is generally too late for the moose and the vehicle.

I have been putting alot of hours in snow plowing this week as the snow has been no other! The other morning I was out plowing and just about the time the sun was coming up I was doing the parking area of a tri-plex just outside of Kenai. As I said, the snow has been flying alot this past week or so, so I was developing quite the pile of snow through the week in one corner of the parking area. I back dragged some snow out of a couple parking spaces, and lined up a pile to get a better angle in order to push it down the length of the parking area to the pile at the far corner. So there I am scootin' along with the snow piling bigger against my blade, and as I reach the end with my first pass proceed to push it up the side of the weeks pile and stop the truck to shift in reverse and back off. To my dismay, in my headlights which are still somewhat at an upward 30 degree angle, up pops a moose head from the other side of the pile, takes one look at me, kind of snorts, turns butt and strolls off. Not sure what he was up to behind my pile of snow, but he sure seemed unstartled by my presence! As we have said they are a bit sluggish and slow this time of year, yet presumably more aggressive and unpredictable. Where have these creatures been all of my life?!

In other news, John has somehow managed to land 3 jobs at the same time. Incredible, seeings how he hasn't been able to find anything the past 4 months. Mind you, he still helps me when I have the work to spare, and he has some work with a guy out here at his home. He makes pretty good money working it this way, but it is a little inconsistent and he keeps finding himself struggling with the cash flow. Things will change drastically for him when fishing starts up in the summer, as he has a guaranteed job at the processing plant in Nikiski, and has an opportunity to actually work on a commercial vessel this year. But for the winter he is doing what he can. Ultimately the job in Kenai turned out to be minimum wage, and at that a long commute out and back....after gas each day that doesn't leave much. The other job was here in Nikiski at a pizza place. But the one he really wanted and ended up taking was at the Italian joint, also in Nikiski. You remember, the one we practically live at.... It is just 5 minutes into town, and the tips plus wages makes him more than happy. Plus he gets free dinner. Which is good for our pocketbook! Was just amazing how when it is dry it is dry, and when it rains it pours. All 3 job offers came in within a 3 day period.

Remember a while back when I was excitedly preparing to sell pottery at the Christmas in Kenai show and the kiln let me down, big? Well after long thought and discussions with Maryann we decided to invest in a new kiln for me. It just made more sense to have something reliable, and being new is much more efficient on energy, and upgraded to fire pieces much more effectively. It arrived a few days back, and I have been anxiously getting it set up in my studio to start firing what I never had the chance to do back in December. I am really looking forward to trying to market my pottery more this spring and summer, and do more street faires, and such. So there is the outcome of that past situation.

Maryann finally went to day shift and we are happy to have her back. Seems kind of strange at times, as John and I were both getting used to staring at each other each night, bored, and eating mac&cheese or cardboard frozen pizza. Now we have someone new to look at, never is a dull moment and still have mac&cheese or cardboard frozen pizza! Maryann is having a hard time adjusting to John and I's cave-like existence. Slowly she is reforming us back to the excitable, silly-asses we used to be! ;)

It is amazing what a difference an extra hour or so of daylight is making. It is kind of exciting actually knowing what lies in store with summers lightness. However, winter is far from over here, and they say that usually January and February are the coldest and snowiest months. Maryann just announced a few minutes ago that it is -5 below 0 now and still dropping. Really hoping the ice cactus delima was solved the last round of minuses with all of our heartfelt caulking and foaming. Although there are some strange frost patches and huge icicles growing in strange places on the outside of the house. We'll see what develops with all of that! I am giving thought to throwing on the snowshoes this week and walking across the lake. It is more than frozen now and plenty safe. Maybe get to see what we look like to the moose that hangout across the lake. Just so long as I don't run into any! Oye!! Alright now, take care and have an awesome week. And remember.....the moose droppings are too die for!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Did you really want us to call you at 12am 1/1/08 Alaska Time

Well Happy 2008, we all survived. I don't know about you but 2007 was generous and wonderful for us, the Phillips family. We started 2007 on a high note of wanting to be back in Alaska after the last trip in November 2006. This prompted us to finish the updating of the Dorrington cabin to ultimately put it on the market. After 3 days we received multiple offers and realized our dream was fastly approaching. We needed to make that crucial decision, to sign the papers and make the long trek to Alaska or say no and stay. We chose our dream knowing we had full faith that this was the direction we were supposed to take.

We met many wonderful people along the way of following our dream, including our new friends and owners of the Dorrington cabin, "The Hulmes". Meeting up w/Michelle on the ferry, the "Columbia" on our way to a dream come true. And then the arrival and the realization of what we had just accomplished as a family. WOW!

So, in 7 months we established Greg's business here, which has over exceeded our expectations and left us both in awe. John developing an appreciation for this Great Land and joining a terrific circle of amazing friends. As well as celebrating his 17th birthday amongst the darkest but most beautiful day in Alaska, with a smile on his face. Add the 1st holidays spent here with the curiosity and excitement of what 2008 will bring us.

My hopes for John are, good health, a successful spring/summer of commercial fishing, time with new/old friends plus family, added time with his parents, and the enjoyment of being young. Truly seeing him happy is what I want for 2008.

For Greg I wish him more wonderful friends, health, more time with John and I, traveling Alaska, enjoying friends/family here, more couple time, discussing more art issues including pottery/watercolors and such. And developing a school for students at our studios.

2008 is going to be a wonderful year. I wish everyone good health, prosperity, time with your loved one/s and enjoying the simple pleasures that surround you. When you think a negative thought, immediately realize how you can turn that negative thought into something positive. Realize your dreams and MAKE THEM HAPPEN. Make 2008 a positive thinking year and great things will come to you. They have for us. Love you all, M.