The HunkerDown AnchorTown Patrol makes unannounced rounds and we are glad to report tonight – we were home and our hands were clean!
Our helpers need us to PLEASE STAY HOME.
The HunkerDown AnchorTown Patrol makes unannounced rounds and we are glad to report tonight – we were home and our hands were clean!
Our helpers need us to PLEASE STAY HOME.
We’ve come through another dark winter here in Anchorage and light is returning at a rate of nearly 6 additional minutes/day. This picture is from my walk at 8:30p, just after sunset last night. Deep winter dark is behind us now and the 24/7 light is coming at us fast. I’ve lived the dramatic dark/light/dark/light cycle in Anchorage for enough years now to learn that the light always comes back. But also – the dark is real. Learning to live in hope is intentional work.
Over the weekend we got more rain than we had in all of August! August is usually one of our rainiest months (and my least favorite), but Anchorage only got .04″ rain in August. It was a record-smashing, hot, dry summer here. (<<check that link out for some crazy weather stats)
I remember back to the cool, damp days of May when we were sitting around our fire pit anticipating the coming summer. David said, Fire pits actually make sense in Alaska – you can use them all year round. Except….when the fire ban goes up in June….and stays there.
What a summer we had! A dry, warm climate is absolutely my preference but it set Alaska on fire. One weekend in the middle of August the highways north and south out of Anchorage were closed because of the fires. Here in Anchorage the smoke clouded our views every direction.
As I ran down the coastal trail one morning there was lady with her camera pointed out to the the murky grey western horizon. She was taking a panoramic picture and I called out to her as I passed, you’re missing the mountains! there are mountains out there!! It took a couple seconds for her to register what I’d said and then I heard her call back, I’ll have to take your word for it! ☹️
I love the warm, dry summer we had here, but it’s not good for Alaska and that became more and more evident in so many details of our daily lives as the summer progressed. The ice is melting. The water is warm. So many mornings it felt like we were waking up in a campfire. It was disorienting to go out and have the mountains simply gone from view. We stayed inside more. Shut our windows. Made Plan B for weekend fun. Which wasn’t exactly a bummer.
While our family can easily enough reset and carry on for now, plenty of lives are being turned upside down by fast moving climate change. And in the ironic injustice of it all, the lives being hit first seem to be those who have lived close to the earth since the beginning – the people walking with care, living within the rhythms of earth’s seasons and cycles. But they’ve never had the power to make the rest of us live more carefully, or perhaps even care. And so they lose. The stories are true. I have friends who tell me this particular story from their own lived experience. And while I know resilience is a thing and adaptation is part of the evolution of life, from my view….it’s not too hard to believe we all are gonna lose.
postscript: Just to be clear, it’s still record-breaking warm here in Anchorage, and beating our August rainfall totals in the first few hours of September was not exactly gold star work. But for now, the air is clear and the mountains are set back in view.
May we learn to see and understand.
Last Sunday we took a fabulous break from our routines. In the morning David and I ran one of my favorite Anchorage annual runs – Owen’s Milk Money 5k. And then we got the boys and dog and drove up to Eagle River Nature Center where we hiked <2 miles out to the Rapids Yurt. We dumped our stuff there and hiked a 4 mile loop that took us to Dew Mound and Dew Lake. It was a beautiful, quiet hike. The air was not too smoky and once we got past the Eagle River viewing loops we only encountered one other couple on the trails.
Close enough to home (40 minute drive to the Nature Center), but enough of an event to stay overnight and feel like we actually went somewhere – off the grid and out of the smoke. It was perfect.
David and I (& Ginger) hiked to Rabbit Lake last Sunday afternoon. He has done this hike several times before, but this was my first. To get there we followed DeArmoun Road east until it became Canyon Road and then Upper Canyon Road. Recent/current road construction has made this a very pleasant access road – David said it is a huge improvement on the last time he was there. The road deadends at the trail head where there were SO MANY CARS lined along both sides of the road and people people people. It was a warm, dry afternoon and clearly this is a well known, accessible trailhead. David did say that it was much busier than any other time he’d been out there.
There is actually a trailhead up the backside of Flat Top that starts here, but to get started on the Rabbit Lake hike we hiked off the end of the formal road onto a rocky roadbed that began a steady, gentle ascent. We carried bear spray for good reason – the first couple miles cut a path through a lot of tall brush and shrub. But with all the people on the trail, actual risk of bear encounter was pretty minimal.
There were a lot of streams running along and across the trail, keeping Ginger hydrated. The trail eventually breaks out into a wide valley.
We hiked on this way for a couple miles. We saw fireweed, crowberries, busy blueberry pickers, two goats (or sheep?) high on the mountain side and plenty of hikers and their dogs. Also a trickling of people tackling the trail on bikes (or beside them). The trail was super rocky and soft and biking did not look fun. On our way back we saw a couple fishermen and a group packing (heavy) rafts toward the lake.
At the top of a small rise we finally spotted Rabbit Lake with the North and South Suicide Peaks just beyond >>
We sat down by the water for about 15 minutes before heading back.
Heading back we could see Anchorage and the Inlet off in the distance. It was too cloudy/hazy to see the mountain range beyond.
It was a super hike. It was very pleasant, never mind all the people. It was 8.8 miles round trip – and about 30 minute drive from home.
Highly reviewed across the Alaska trail chatter network, and also by real life friends, this hike has been on my list for a long time. Last Sunday David and I (+Ginger) checked it out.
Getting there: First of all – the Whittier Tunnel. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in North America. This one-way tunnel through the mountain is 2.5 miles long and takes 10 minutes to drive. It is shared by train and car and there is a schedule and a fee.
It’s a short drive to the trailhead on the other side of the tunnel – take the first right. It’s marked.
Up, up, up the rocky trail we went. One mile up.
At the top (800′), a look back down toward Whittier and Prince William Sound>>
And looking down the other side, toward Portage Glacier>>
On we walked. This time down, down, down the rocky trail for another (not so rough and rocky) mile+.
There were blueberries.
And so many waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides.
And ultimately, this fantastic view>>
There is reported to be no dry path around to the other side where we could have come within reach of the Glacier. We saw a group of people in the distance working there way through a waterway to get closer. Another day we might have gone on hiking the perimeter of the lake to see what it’s like over there, but not this time. We hung out a bit at the water’s edge and watched the mv Ptarmagin slowly touring the lake on its way to a closeup view of the glacier. We don’t take these views for granted in this swiftly melting climate.
This is billed as a “heavily trafficked trail,” but always that must be measured by Alaska standards: lots and lots of space, not so many people. When we arrived at the trailhead there were quite a few cars, but the trail did not seem terribly busy. It was noticeably populated at the top of the pass and it seemed that was a turnaround point for many.
I’m glad to have finally hiked this trail and know better how and when to recommend it. The hour+ drive, the tunnel details, and the serious uphill rocky trail are good to know.
But also – it’s hard to complain about that drive! On the way home I remarked to David how even after all these years I’ve driven the Seward Highway now, I am still struck by the beauty. Whether in a rainstorm, or ice and snow, or sometimes even blue sky sunshine…..It’s amazing every time.
Hey, I want to show you something, said my friend, as she steered her truck off the north-south Minnesota thoroughfare and navigated west, through a maze of neighborhood streets I’d never be able to retrace.
It was a warm Saturday afternoon in July. (seriously – 70 degrees!) and we’d just been downtown at the Skinny Raven Her Tern bib pick-up party – shopping for running gear, chatting with our running coach, and eating food truck lunch. For weeks we’d been training diligently for this ladies-only race happening the next day. It is a super fun event with lots of built in support, training groups, and a famed post-race party, complete with mimosas. I had joined one of the training groups in April and we’d been meeting 2x a week – running drills and long runs together, building skills and speed and friendships.
I’ve been sidelined by my breakable body so many times in my life so it had felt nearly too good to be true as race day approached – my body intact and I was turning in great times.
In fact, it was too good too be true….Just a couple weeks before the race I went out on a Friday morning run and tore a tendon in my ankle. Bad.
I had invested so much energy and a whole lot of redemptive hope into this race. But I could not run through this injury. It stopped me up short. And I grieved. Life twists and it turns – and it knocks me down.
When race weekend arrived, I hadn’t planned on going to the bib pickup party, but when this friend asked if I would go with her and then we could spend the afternoon together – of course, YES.
Years ago, on one of my trips to Zambia with WaterAfrica, a World Vision driver took me to visit our sponsored child at her home. He drove us over hardpacked ground – on dry, dusty trails that twisted and turned through stands of short trees with no long view and no landmarks apparent to me. I have no idea how he was way-finding and even more amazing – when he finally turned a corner and stopped, there in front of us was an opening of space. In that space, a tiny home with a family, obviously expecting us – no phones or watches – it felt magical. Warm greetings and time spent together under the shade of a tree. There we were – from entirely different worlds and life experiences – we sat and talked about school, family, health, hopes and dreams. We jumped rope and kicked a soccer ball. I will not forget the sweet gift of being together that day.
Now, across the years and many many miles, I was once again being driven on twisting turning roads with houses and trees blocking the long view, and no landmarks apparent to me. (Though in this case, at least I understood how Siri could lead the way.)
When my friend stopped her truck at a grassy opening between houses in a nice, quiet neighborhood I looked around – there was nothing to say this was a place we should stop. There was simply a sign: Carr-Gottstein Park. And a single track trail cutting through the center of a small, mowed field. We got out and followed the trail, across the grass and into a small stand of trees. Then we stepped out to the other side…..into wide open, soul-filling space. It felt magical.
All through that long Alaska afternoon we walked and we talked, out there along the mudflats, sunshine baking the beauty and goodness deep in.
I’ve been back to the park several times in the years since. I’ve taken a friend, and my parents. I plug Carr-Gottstein Park into Google maps and it takes me right there. I couldn’t find it on my own.
Last year our family took an Easter afternoon walk out there.
And last week David and I met up with friends to stand on the bluff and watch the 10p sunset.
Yesterday I went for a walk with a new friend. We set out from her house in South Anchorage. We walked. And we talked. Getting to know each other. Sharing this life. The sky was textured with grey clouds, but the air felt warm (by that, I mean 50 degrees). I’m horrible at getting my geographical bearings and I was content to just walk and talk through the neighborhood – aimless, but for the time spent together.
So I was surprised and delighted to eventually find that she had a walking target in mind. And it was this – what has become one of my favorite spots in the city.
I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes me love this place so much. It’s partly the surprise of it all. The weird way it’s tucked into a regular neighborhood. The simple, unassuming walk with a HUGE pay off.
And more – it’s a place I’ve shared with my people in this maze of a journey called life. Against the backdrop of grief, disorientation, and lack of a view, it’s a place where space opens and I can believe —
Somehow. even in all of this. there is a throughline.
I’ve been meaning to watch the PBS Nature episode, Moose: Life of a Twig Eater, ever since it first became available three years ago, but I never got around to it until a few days ago when I realized PBS would be taking it offline this week. I am sorry to have delayed too long for my review to be useful, but I’d definitely recommend watching it! Not for the facts and information – I was surprised how little of that there was – but for the gorgeous scenery of Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, and the way the cameraman conveyed his respect and admiration for this magnificent animal, the moose.
Apparently moose populations are rapidly declining in some areas – I doubt that’s the case in our neighborhood! – and research is being done to figure out why. Surviving the first year is particularly difficult for a moose, and in this documentary a cameraman/naturalist followed a mother and calf through a variety of challenges in the calf’s first year of life. The mother teaches baby to swim, eat mineral rich plants at the bottom of the lakes, and generally how to live and grow in a harsh, rugged environment. Beautiful photography and compassionate narration make this a compelling episode – the moose is a beautiful creature in full color, close up view.
As my family watched the show together, I commented on how the setting was basically the landscape we live in….. Rugged mountains every direction, gorgeous camera shots of soaring eagles, brightly colored ducks, deep snow. And bears.
I remember the first time I saw a moose, of course. It was mid-May, and my first trip to Alaska. While David worked, I explored. One morning, while I was walking through a park on the northwest edge of Anchorage, I was startled to see a huge moose amble across the green space and continue on up the street, right into the downtown shopping/dining district!
And that is exactly how it is, living here. We sit outside at the neighborhood bakery, drinking coffee and eating fresh pastries and a moose meanders by. School kids get stuck with inside recess or must adjust dismissal plans because a moose wanders onto the playground. I look up from my dining room table and see a moose mosey through my yard.
It’s regular. And random.
Our first winter in Anchorage, we enrolled our boys in the Junior Nordic program at Russian Jack Park, and while the boys skied with their groups two nights a week, David and I skied the trails ourselves. It was sobering to then go out on the same trails Saturday morning and see moose! What became obvious in the Saturday morning light was no doubt, also quite present in the weeknight dark.
Wild animals walk among us. For real.
On their very first night of Junior Nordic practice our boys learned how to conduct themselves safely around moose, and they were regularly drilled through the season: when encountering an aggressive moose – get behind a tree, or if there are no trees, drop down and stick your skis and poles straight up>> like a bush. As a newcomer to Alaska I was eager to learn these things too. In the years since, I’ve learned seasonal patterns for when moose are more likely to be in the neighborhood – just scroll through my February photos!! I watch for the signs – the telltale fresh moose tracks, and by that I don’t mean hoof prints. And I know to always keep a safe distance between myself and the massive animal that sometimes stands lazily in my yard, munching on branches. When I’m out on the trails or sidewalks I always know which tree I’ll run to if the laidback creature should suddenly rage.
Moose stories abound. The headlines regularly remind us that moose can be dangerous. Last fall we had airbnb guests who totaled their rental car and rattled their nerves in a run-in with a moose near Fairbanks. David encountered an angry moose on a ski trail a couple years ago and had to problem solve his escape. But with no truly scary moose encounter of my own, I’ve mostly just been humored by the bizarre feeling of startle and awe that comes when that great big wild animal suddenly wanders into the space of my every day living. I enjoy seeing moose – keeping one eye on the nearest tree, and the other looking through my camera viewfinder. It’s wacky and weird. And unpredictable.
That’s the word the naturalist used in the Twig Eater documentary as he described his relationship with the mama and baby that he followed for a year : unpredictable. And that’s the word I’ve held in comfortable tension as I’ve walked my neighborhood for years now, knowing that moose walk here too.
This past year, my boys and I took a deep dive into US History and along the way we ran across an interesting video from the Cold War era. Duck and Cover (1951) features Bert The Turtle in what is now obviously a ridiculous video that was designed to teach kids how to respond in case of an atomic bomb attack. Duck and Cover is clearly not an adequate defense against such a threat, and it is intriguing to watch the old black and white video while listening to the narrator speak calm, confident instructions. One scene especially made me laugh: a teacher stands at the front of her classroom explaining to her students that a bomb attack might come “With warning” or with “No warning.”
With Warning or No Warning. One afternoon, at the end of this past February, the dog and I went for a walk. It was a gorgeous winter afternoon and we cut across the lagoon on our way home. The ice was busy with after school skaters, strollers, hockey games, and frolicking dogs. It was all the regular, ordinary stuff of my life these days. We stopped to take a picture of our moment.
As Ginger and I stepped up off the lagoon and turned right onto the Chester Creek Trail – just a few blocks from home – we hadn’t taken more than a few steps when a lady on her bike, with her loose dog close beside her, came toward me, slowed, and asked, Do you see that moose? She was looking back over her shoulder as she cycled slowly on.
Oh! No. I hadn’t seen the moose. I called back my thanks as I took another step forward, and then stopped short. Like looking across a neighborhood street and into a clump of trees, I spotted the moose. Instinctively I began figuring out if there was room to safely pass, but I quickly realized that was pointless. THIS MOOSE WAS HUFFING MAD. I turned fast to double back on my trail. I was practically in disbelief – I see moose in my neighborhood all the time! but I’d never encountered an angry one!
I started to run, and also to evaluate my available tree options. There were plenty of slim little trees in the deep snow, just barely off the trail. But right when I should have chosen one and anchored myself in hopes that my duck and cover strategy would be enough to save me, the moose lurched out of my line of sight, crashing its massive body into a thicket of trees behind me.
Everything happened so fast – I decided not to stop there and get behind a tree, but instead, kept on the trail at a half run. I quickly caught up to the lady and her dog who had triggered this drama. I called out to her, THAT MOOSE IS MAD! and then realized that she was still riding slowly, looking back over her shoulder so I looked back too. That great big moose had charged back onto our trail, and was careening wildly out of control. We were dead ahead on his path of rage. By now we’d left all the trees behind us and we were on a narrow path with tall fences on one side and a frozen lagoon on the other. We had nowhere to go but full speed ahead.
On her leash, Ginger had stayed close to me through the entire weird adventure – slowing when I slowed, running when I ran. And right now, we RAN. Just as we reached the end of the fence line, and before I had to make any more decisions, the moose veered out onto the lagoon – something I’d never seen before, a moose out on the lagoon ice. We all turned to watch – that massive body, hooves crashing across the ice, pounding a long path to the other side. Out of breath, wobbly legged, and so very relieved, I turned to the lady who was looking at me, incredulous, and said, We pass moose all the time and have never had that happen.
With warning or No warning. It had been a regular, everyday, ordinary moment and then suddenly there was a moose in my path. Not just a moose in my path, but a furious moose in my path – a moose careening back and forth, completely out of control. I had no good choices, but simply to do my best to get out of the way.
I often stand in awe of the grand scale and the tiny details of this place. But I walk well tuned to the wild and the dangerous, the unpredictable. I know how to duck and cover. And I also know that may not be enough. It is my work to live in the tension. Not unlike that baby moose…..to live and to learn and to grow.