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.
When is it time to plant vegetables in Oregon? This headline in the form of a question caught my attention and I paused to read the article in my news feed.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is to plant too early,” said Weston Miller, a horticulturist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “They get excited when it’s sunny for a few days, put plants in the ground and think they will grow. But the seeds either rot from damping off fungus or germinate very slowly. At the very least, they’ll be stressed for the rest of the season and never catch up.”
Here in Anchorage, we gardeners have been very excited by our early snowmelt and the abundant sunshine in recent weeks. Ryan and I went to Alaska Mill and Feed and may have come home with ALL THE SEEDS. This is only our second summer of backyard gardening in all these years we’ve lived in Alaska and we are eager to get it going.
Last Friday we eagerly watched as our favorite Tall Trees stump grinder wrestled his machine through the last of our backyard snow to turn our stump patch into fabulous gardening soil. When the sun came out on Saturday morning we pulled on our boots and went outside. The ground is finally thawed enough to turn the dirt in the beds close to the house and so Ethan and I worked at that while Ryan planted broccoli, cauliflower, and flower starts. On heat and under lights in Ryan’s room now, these babies are wasting no time popping their heads up, joining a variety of other plants he’s started.
With dramatic light and temperature characteristics, Alaska has unique growing conditions, but the gardening principle remains: timing matters. I follow gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels in the Anchorage Daily News – he’s been posting a weekly gardening column there for 40 years! – and last week he put it this way: If you wait too long to do certain things, you miss our season. …..The same is true if you move too early. You just have to know when to do things.
You just have to know when to do things. Our spring arrived early this year – in a record breaking melt out. And we’ve had sunny, warm (50 degree!) days. It’s easy to think about garden planting when it’s April and the sun is shining and the sky is blue.
But it snowed yesterday. So many great big flakes. This morning we woke up to a white blanket lightly spread over everything. It’s not the stick around kind of snow, I call it time-release rain. But the fact is, in this third week of April, it is cold enough to snow. And that is not plant the garden time.
Wait till the end of May, is what the local gardeners say. In his article last week, Lowenfels offers a measure I hadn’t heard before: wait until the birch leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear to plant most things outside.
I guess not yet.
Is that grass? asked a friend in response to my facebook post:
It is! I said. It’s been five months under a snow blanket. We are super excited because when the grass appears, spring must be right behind! But spring in Alaska is ugly (and stinky). In many places now, depending on sun angles, the snow is completely gone and the brown grass and leftover rotting fall leaves lie exposed. Low spots are icy in the mornings, but turn swampy in the afternoon sun. Trees are brown and bare and there are no flowers anywhere.
March was warm here – record breaking warm – and the snow began to melt out 2-3 weeks earlier than normal.
This year’s early spring comes amid weeks of record-breaking high temperatures, which have peaked in the high 40s and 50s. That’s nearly 20 degrees above the average March maximum temperature normal of 33.9 degrees, according to climate data.This year’s snow melt in Anchorage is one of the earliest on record, Anchorage Daily News, March 30, 2019
As the temperatures warm and stay warm it becomes nasty driving season! We’ve had ice and snow on the ground for months. Now we have potholes and (huge) puddles and filthy, filthy cars.
Careful, though — if your car is gross enough that dirt covers your license plate or registration sticker, you can get a ticket and a $100 fine from the city.To wash or not to wash, Anchorage Daily News, March 24, 2019
The boys washed our car right after I snapped that picture – no citation for us. The nasty roadside melt-off is mostly complete now, and we’ve moved on to our next spring feature: Dust.
The dust is made from fine particles of road grit. Large roads with lots of high-speed traffic make the most. The grit accumulates over winter and is suspended in the snow until spring.The dusty season has arrived early, Anchorage Daily News, April 2, 2019
First the melt and then dry air and we’re well into the dusty stretch of spring. And this is probably a fine place to stop this survey of Anchorage Spring. (Well before I begin to describe a winter’s worth of dog poop thaw or the damp, mucky smell of a schoolyard field freshly melted down to the ground.)
It is true that there are very many reasons to be concerned about our record breaking warm March+, but climate and weather systems aside, we have continued warm temps and no snow in the forecast. Tree buds and flower blooms are up next!
Seventeen Beats on Spring
March 6: Blacktop! And so begins the icy, melty mess that is Spring
March 10: seasons in transition
March 15: Today we have roof gutters!
March 20: until my hands call quits
March 22: Tiny green shoots and small orange balls
March 23: Rainy Day Road Running
March 24: Lagoon in Transition
March 27: Breaking Winter, Breaking Records
March 28: Moving In
April 1: Just Wondering
April 3: BallSeason!
and melts a mess.
A dog party!
A big dog party!
Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs,
yellow dogs, green dogs,
black dogs, and white dogs
are all at a dog party!
What a dog party!
Go, Dog. Go! was one of Ethan’s very favorite books when he was little. Over and over and over we read that book, and of course I can still recite long passages from it a decade later. And it’s what comes to mind as I stand trailside watching dogs run through town every February/March. Go, Dogs Go! Run, Doggies. Run!
Today was the Iditarod ceremonial start – basically an awesome dog parade! 52 dog teams ran the 11 mile route through town, with people lining the streets and trails to cheer them on.
I was skeptical about dog sled racing when we first moved to Anchorage in 2012. I really didn’t know anything about it, honestly. But when Fur Rondy came around at the end of February 2013, we joined the cheering crowds and quickly fell in love. Since then we’ve had opportunities to meet mushers and their dogs and every single one has been an inspiring testimony to the love and respect between musher and dog. And it is truly delightful to stand on 4th Avenue and listen to the dogs bark and dance their way to the starting line. As the announcer counts down: 3, 2, 1! the anticipation shifts gears and BAM they’re off! running with full bodied focus. Giving everything to the moment. It’s so beautiful to watch.
Except for 2015 when we were living in Oregon, we haven’t missed an Iditarod ceremonial start since our first in March 2013. That year the boys were enrolled in Junior Nordic and so we joined them in a ski to the dog route. It’s so fun to see the dogs on the trail!!
In 2016 we walked over to 4th Avenue and watched the Start. It’s a super fun, festive environment where you get to see and hear all the excited dogs anticipating their run.
The last couple years we settled into a spot behind Winterberry Charter School- parking in the school parking lot and walking a very short distance to the trail.
This year we joined friends (and crowds) over at the Native Hospital. It was a beautiful blue sky day. And the tradition continues to delight and inspire.
The teams all left out of Willow today in the official race start.
I’ve created so many short video/photo compilations over the years, always making my best choice of transition for each scene change. Transitions can spin, slide, or puzzle. They can open a story or close it. I often use the crossfade transition where one image gently gives way to the next, and it seems that pretty much describes the way our family is making the transition from 2018 to 2019.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve by gearing up with lights and lacing on our spiked shoes for a run through sloppy snow in the Resolution Run 5K. Since moving to Anchorage in 2012, we’ve enjoyed the easy access to the running community. Living close to downtown, we’ve run many races and have quite a t-shirt collection, but this was the first time we’ve participated in this particular race. The event was festive and fun and we will definitely plan to run this race again.
Afterward, we came home, Facetimed with family, and then in the final hours of 2018, Ryan built us a fire and we sat around the living room looking at pictures from 2018. A lot has changed since this time last year. There have been some huge shifts from what what was to what is. A few of them I anticipated, but most…..not so much.
In January 2018, we did not have a dog and did not have any plans for one. Ginger arrived in August. And for very many reasons, we are so glad to have her here.
In January, we had not started our remodel, but the contractor was chosen and the flooring was on order.
We anticipated Mom and Dad would live with us for big chunks of the year, and indeed, having Mom here (and Dad, when he could get away from work) through the spring and into the early summer was truly a gift. And not just because they tackled enormous yard clean up projects when the snow finally thawed.
Last January, I was working 18 hours a week at the library, shelving books and complaining about how it hurt my hands, but had no plans to quit. When our June travel took us to Kentucky for a wedding and Nashville for the airport and the pool, I used the break for my exit plan. My hands have been ever so grateful, but I suspect they may never entirely recover.
At the end of June, my dear friend and college roommate brought her family all the way from Montreal to spend 10 days with us. We had so much fun traipsing around our favorite haunts, sharing our life with them. What a tremendous gift, this friendship through the years and across the miles.
And speaking of friendship across time, a couple of David’s childhood friends came to visit over Labor Day, and the three guys did a fabulous job creating Alaska memories together and tapping back into rich, deep friendship. Also. they passed reading glasses out every time they needed to read a map or study a travel brochure.
My aunt and uncle and their family came to explore Alaska at the end of July. Cousins and second cousins. It was a delight to have them all here and when they left I found myself wistful yet again–thinking about the choices we’ve made, the path that we’ve followed to bring us here, so far from home. Thankfully, there is an antidote for that ever true sense of loss and grief, and we can find it in the friendships and community we are making here, keeping us anchored well in this place. I look forward to the coming year as these relationships and opportunities continue to unfold.
When we bought the house in November 2017, we took out insurance to cover us for Airbnb rentals, but did not have specific plans to use it. But after summer family and friends left and my parents had no plans to return, we opened up as an Airbnb and found ourselves full blast busy through the end of tourist season and beyond. It continues to be a useful side gig and we have stories to tell.
When I first started thinking about this January as compared to last, I thought that we had not yet imagined also homeschooling Ethan, but when I looked back at a January 2018 journal entry I discovered that rumblings had indeed started. Ethan had such a great experience at Inlet View Elementary that I never anticipated that he’d choose to join us at home for his middle school years, but when school started in August that is exactly what he did. It’s been a full-time demand on me to be a homeschooling mom this school year, but I couldn’t be more delighted with the growth and goodness I see in my boys. I don’t know how the next couple years are going to unfold for them, nor what it will mean for me, but I am learning to trust the process.
I guess the last bullet point on my mind, when I think about the crossfade, is David’s job. It’s what brought us here and it’s probably what will frame our eventual leaving. But meanwhile, it’s in a slooooow crossfade of its own. He works for the city utility company and in 2018 the city began the process of selling to another local utility company. By the end of 2019 the deal should be done and we will know more fully what the change means for us.
As I look into this new year I suppose I know about as much as I ever know about the details to come. In some things, less. In others, more. Mostly what I know is that I will keep showing up. Because that is what I do. And along the way I will discover ever more how grateful I am for this place, these people, this life. And also, this dog.
Several weeks ago I wrote a really long post about being grumpy in August in Alaska. The fireweed had largely burned out and I was certain I’d be stuck under all those dark heavy rain clouds until they finally gave way to snow.
But then the unexpected happened. September showed up with record breaking warmth and dry air. We went 25 straight days without rain IN OUR RAINY SEASON. “I could live here!” I said repeatedly. So much September sunshine. It’s a weird thing to thoroughly enjoy what is not supposed to be. It felt a bit eerie. But also – what a gift!! We had a rather rough, cold summer, and an August that was a bit warmer than normal, but just as wet as expected. And so. Walking in warm September Sunshine!?! YES PLEASE.
Six years ago we moved to Anchorage in the middle of a crazy Labor Day rainstorm. That cold fall rain gave way to our first cold, dark winter. It was a challenging start, but I hung on and eventually emerged from the dark only to discover there were suddenly lots and lots of people also walking my neighborhood. All the emotional work I’d invested in surviving this place! and these people and their fancy cameras just drop in to soak in the glory. Alas, I quickly fell in step with the rhythm of life in a tourist town and, truth told, I like hanging out with the visitors. I’ve heard some interesting stories and gotten to tell my own #alaskamagic tales.
Living downtown through these years, I’ve had a front row seat to tourist traffic. Sometimes while waiting for dinner at a restaurant in the summer my boys and I entertain ourselves with a little observing and judging game we made up >> Tourist or Local? (Down coats in July are judged Tourist. Kids with names like Aurora and Denali are judged Local.)
I always feel bad for the people who show up during a rainy stretch of days. Hunkered deep inside their raincoats they soldier on, but watching them I can’t help but think they’re getting a rotten deal. I know how amazing this place can be. Alaska is a bucket list destination and it’s no small feat to get here. To stand in downtown Anchorage and not be able to see a mountain for the rain clouds is a rip off.
In mid-August this year we listed our downstairs apartment on airbnb and called it Fireweed and Snow. Summer and Winter. The seasons that give shape to our ways of life in this town. We caught the tail end of the summer tourist season with our little airbnb experiment, and we’ve had a nonstop stream of people coming through looking to find their own stories of #alaskamagic. Some of them have been so very lucky with sunshine and gorgeous Alaska views. Some of them…not so much.
Over the years that I’ve lived here I’ve often been asked, when should I come visit? I tell people that their chance to experience the breathtaking beauty of Alaska improves with every day they can stay. I do have insight and observations that can increase the possibilities for getting a taste of #alaskamagic. But that’s all I’ve got. And there’s a really good chance that I’ll be wrong. I’ve come to understand this as a sort of metaphor for life. Show up for ALL the days. Some of them will be so gloomy grey. There’s no way around it, a drenching is what you get. Some days are warm sunshine and mountains beyond mountains. Some days are goodness and joy. Others are a gut punch of disappointment and grief. Keep showing up.
Doing so, it turns out, teaches me to see #alaskamagic even in the storm.
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you…….
It was a grey Monday here. There have been an awful lot of grey days here this summer. But this Monday hung particularly heavy. I worked outside much of the day – digging, digging, digging. One thing led to another as I pulled weeds, moved huge rocks, dug out shrubs and ultimately disassembled an overgrown mess of an old fountain feature in our new-to-us side yard. I hadn’t planned to take it apart and completely clean out when I started to dig that morning, but by the time I found a place to stop it was 4pm. I had worked through lunch and missed my window for afternoon coffee, but before a shower and dinner, I swapped garden clothes for running clothes and laced up my shoes for an easy hourlong run. Wearing shorts and t-shirt, I felt the bite of a just barely 60 degree day as I headed north through town to the head of the Coastal Trail, where a downtown city street dead ends and the trail begins.
It was the last Monday in June. A grey day so much like this one, in fact. Mountains in my view. Chill air filling my lungs. I’ve written about that day before. Of course. Over and over and over I try to make sense of what happened to me that Monday morning in June, thirteen years ago today. A brain injury is a thing. A frustrating, confusing, messed up thing. It changed my life. It still frames my life.
As I ran the trail Monday afternoon, I moved at my target pace with ease. My training has been good this season. I could feel strength in my legs, the determination of my will, and the rhythm of my every breath. My body is jennifer-strong these days. I sense the edges of my strength and I am careful there. Off the trail, through the neighborhood, and up a final hill just because I could, I ran to the end of my hour with no trouble. Except for that weight that had been pressing against me all day. All that digging. A solid, good training run. Yet there was….something. I couldn’t yet name.
Later that evening as the boys sat around the TV watching an episode of Chips, I put on a coat and went out for a wandering walk. Rain began to sprinkle as I got close to the lagoon so I pulled up my hood and hunkered in. I stopped there awhile and watched the mass of birds out on the island. So much activity in this season of babies. It all seems chaos to me. Screeching gulls fly to and fro, gaggles of geese march around calling out with their own loud voices, and terns dart about on the wind. Closer to shore, I watched a quiet duck dive under water and emerge in a different spot a few minutes later. Over and over. Minding her task, eating an evening meal against the soundtrack of all that noise.
After awhile the rain stopped as gently as it had begun and I pulled my hood off and started to walk again. As I walked I realized that I finally knew what I’d been struggling to name all day. It was sadness. On this grey day, the last Monday in June, the 13th anniversary of that car accident…..sadness.
For that. This >>>