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2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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Sunday, August 1st - Autumn in August
The weather here in Fairbanks has varied greatly. One day I wake to sunny mornings and the temperatures rise into the 70's or even 80's. Another day greets me with rain and temperatures in the 50's. August in Alaska is unpredictable. August is known as the rainy season, but the rain showed up fairly regularly at least two weeks ago and has made its appearance on and off since. I love the rain - when it only visits for a few hours or maybe even a full day. Incessant rain tends to lower my spirits somewhat. But we've been lucky. The rain seems to come mostly at night, leaving the world fresh and clean smelling - albeit damp - in the morning.

As always I carried my camera with me this morning during Sedona's early walk. It was before 7am and on a Sunday morning at that hour, the neighborhood is still fast asleep. I love starting my day feeling absolutely alone - but for my dog and the birds.

The leaves are already beginning to change. We will be in the throes of Autumn in only a matter of weeks. The seasons here almost DO fit the "June is spring, July is summer, August is fall, and the rest is winter" joke. The clock is ticking quickly and our first snowfall will be here in no time.

Rose hips hang ruby red on wild rosebushes which stopped blooming weeks ago. Some of the leaves of the wild rose are already wearing their bright red autumn apparel and make the entire bush look like a Christmas painting with its color scheme. It is a beautiful sight - especially in the early morning sun. After a rain, the added gleam of waterdrops adorns the surrounding foliage like diamonds. It is lovely...

I intend to harvest and dry rosehips this year for tea. They are an excellent source of Vitamin C.

The rain drops glisten in the early morning sun

Although autumn should be months away, the leaves are beginning to turn already.
Wednesday, August 4th - Hiking and Deployments

The past few days have been busy for us. Steve left late on Monday night for Fort Bliss TX, where he is attending the First Sergeant Academy. This certainly seems a bit backward, as he has been acting 1SG for his company here since we arrived more than a year ago. However, in order to be considered for promotion to SGM (Sergeant Major), he has to have this school on his records. He's scheduled to return home late evening, August 25th. He'll then be leaving again on the morning of the 27th and heading to the field until September 11th. So, needless to say, the next 6 weeks will be spent alone. It's not going to get much better as the year progresses.

We had an FRG (Family Readiness Group) meeting last night. What an awesome turnout! It was nice to see so many new faces in attendance. We discussed our husbands' upcoming training and mini-deployments - through to June 30, 2005, at which time, they will be ready to deploy to the Middle East. As the schedule sits, they'll be leaving sometime in July and it will be a year-long tour. The longest that Steve and I have ever been separated is 5 months - when he went to Panama. But even then, I was able to talk to him by telephone once a week. There are some troops who are deployed now that have access to phones, email, etc. That's not going to be likely for our soldiers, as they are an infantry unit and more than likely will be lacking in most creature comforts. It's going to be so difficult for all of us...

Yesterday afternoon, I went hiking on Murphy Dome. Murphy Dome is a beautiful landscape of rolling hills - mostly constructed of muskeg. The ground is spongy and literally moves under your feet, much like walking on a soft mattress. The colorful moss, lichen, and berries are a pleasure to the eyes and stretch out to the horizon. Punctuating this landscape are rock formations called granite tors. The rocks are massive and streaked with fluorescent oranges and reds and yellows - another form of moss. It is like stepping into another world, or onto another planet.

On a clear day, you can see the White Mountains in one direction and Denali in the other. Although the skies were a deep cobalt blue, there was a haze on the horizon, obscuring the range. The sky was punctuated with huge, fluffy clouds - so close to me at that elevation, that I felt I could reach up and touch them.

Photos from Murphy Dome

Rolling Hills

Granite Tor

Fly Agaric Mushroom - aka *Magic Mushroom*

Fireweed in Winter Bloom (when the flowers fall off, except for those at the very top, summer is almost over)

Raven in Flight

Tor Against a Dark Cloud
Saturday, August 7th - Celtic Dreams and Friendships

How fortunate I am to have friends around me to occupy my time while I'm alone. Although I'm quite comfortable with solitude - and have been known to close myself off for days at a time, so I can savor my private time - it is nice to have friends in my life who I can call on when I prefer to socialize.

On Thursday morning I got an unexpected phone call from the local service station reminding me of my appointment to have my brakes replaced that afternoon. When Steve made that appointment for me before he left for TX, he told me it was scheduled for Saturday (today). This unexpected change in plans created a problem. I couldn't find anyone to bring me home from the service station after I dropped off my car! Rescheduling was out of the question - unless I wanted to wait 6 weeks for an appointment. The customer service clerk at the service station must have heard the frustration in my voice when I explained that my husband was away and I had no way home. She said, "Don't worry, Hun. We have a company vehicle here. We'll get you home." How wonderful is that?! I drove over and she personally brought me home. I expressed my gratitude for the courtesy, and she said, "It's the least we can do for the military community. We know that many of our soldiers are going to start deploying this winter. You are our biggest customer. It doesn't take too much time to drive a wife home if she doesn't have anyone who can help her." I called later that afternoon and spoke to her manager and told him that she needed to be put in for an award for being such a fantastic employee. I'm not looking for any special favors because I'm married to a soldier. But I think that offering a ride home to a patron (especially at an auto repair shop) is one heck of a way to expand your customer base. You better believe that I let all of my friends know about them!

Yesterday (Friday), I met my friend Marcella and another gal at Birch Hill. (Birch Hill is our ski hill located here on Fort Wainwright) We brought our dogs with us too. Our goal was to climb the hill - a steady uphill climb on the path that parallels the ski lift. I have asthma and I'm also not in the best shape to tackle such an intense cardio workout. But I figured it was at least worth a try. Marcella promised to stop and rest anytime I needed to. I looked up towards the lift house at the top of the hill, and was confident I would only make it a third of the way up before having to throw in the towel. But you just never know unless you try... I carried my camera in a small backpack (if I made it, I was going to take photos!) as well as my inhaler.

I did it! I had to stop three times and catch my breath and let my heart settle down, but nevertheless I made it! It was hazy on the horizon, so the views weren't the best, but I snapped a photo anyway. Look at the photo to the left. I started my climb way down where the ski lift poles are very, very small. :) You can see the Chena River in this photo and the shadows of some of the buildings on Fort Wainwright, but not much else. On a clear day, you can see the Alaska Range in the distance. I must climb it again on a clear day.

Later on yesterday evening, I spent a few hours at my friend Malinda's house here in the neighborhood. She and I met online in one of my military spouse groups and she also belongs to my Alaska Living group and has attended our monthly meetings. When I found out that she was alone, I decided we could both use some company. We sat on her back porch in the warm early evening sun and chatted away. She's also a big fan of the outdoors and she and her husband and son love to go camping and hiking. They came to AK in January, so this is their first summer here. She loves it here too.

This morning I picked her up and we drove out to Two Rivers to go to a yard sale that another Alaska Living member (Jean - a music teacher who gives lessons in Celtic music) was having. Jean had quite a few Celtic pieces of jewelry for sale. I bought a Celtic Cross with a Garnet stone in it. It looks like this one, with a different stone. Malinda also bought one, but hers doesn't have a gemstone in it.

My friend Susan is on her way over. It's Chick Flick Night tonight. We miss our husbands, but we don't mind having the opportunity to rent and watch movies that they wouldn't want to sit through with us. I'm not sure what kind of mood we'll be in. Drama? Comedy? Sad? Funny? I guess we'll see when we get to Blockbuster and check out their selection.

Monday, August 9th - Tanana Valley Fair - "Corn to be wild"

Yesterday, I went to the Tanana Valley Fair with a friend and her son. We got there just as the ticket booths opened and the lines were already long. It was Military Appreciation Day which saved us a dollar on the admission.

We wandered past booths hosted by businesses, crafters, artists, etc. before heading toward the amusement rides. I had no interest in riding (the tickets were expensive, and I was glad I didn't have children to entertain), but I did want to snap a few photos. There was a "slingshot" type ride - basically a chair you got tethered into and then it launched you upwards into the air while attached to these bungee cords. Not my idea of fun and a real wallet-breaker at $25.00/pp. The people who had the courage to take the ride seemed to enjoy themselves.

Then we headed to the large barns to visit with the animals. One barn held pigs, goats, and all kinds of fowl (as well as rabbits and Guinea pigs), while another barn held cows and sheep. There were a lot of really good looking animals on display, some with awards ribbons pinned to the outside of their pen.

We moved onward to the stables and the horses. There was a riding competition going on and we spent some time watching young people jump and trot and canter their horses. Now I really have the urge to go horseback riding! I'm going to see if there's a local stable that offers trail rides.

The day was hot and sunny and after almost three hours, we were ready to get back into the air conditioned car and head home. Later on last night, Susan came over and we watched two more movies. She had to work the News Miner booth at the fair last night, so we didn't get to watch the third movie. It doesn't have to be back until Wednesday or Thursday, so perhaps we can get together tonight or tomorrow night and knock it out.

The cotton candy colors
of the food booths

Take a chance!
Win a (cheap) prize!

Carousel horse
(and some selective coloring)

This Little Piggy went to Market...

Riding the Ferris Wheel

Equestrian Poise
Tuesday, August 10 - Sandhill Migration & Pioneer Park

Yesterday afternoon, not wanting to waste a sunny day, I went with a friend to Creamer's Field to photograph the sandhill cranes who have stopped here in large numbers to rest before continuing on to warmer locations. We also took a leisurely walk along the nature trail which meanders through the tall grass and trees on the property.

(The following information about Creamer's Field was found online HERE)

Creamer's Dairy: During the gold rush at the turn of the century, Belle and Charles Hinckley brought three cows and some horses from Nome up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers to the small outpost of Fairbanks to operate a dairy. They paid for their passage on the sternwheeler by selling milk to other passengers. On the last leg of the journey, they met and became friends with the Creamers, another pioneer family on their way to Fairbanks. In 1928 the Creamers purchased the dairy from the Hinckleys and continued to develop, enlarge, and operate it until 1966. It was the largest and most successful dairy in Interior Alaska.

As the dairy grew over the years, migratory waterfowl congregated at Creamer's Field in increasing numbers. The rain and large open fields provided prime habitat. When the dairy went up for sale in 1966, the community raised money to ensure the farm fields were preserved so the birds would continue to stopover along their migratory route. The farm is now managed by the state of Alaska as part of the 1800 acres that make up Creamer's Refuge. The structures are the only surviving pioneer dairy buildings in Interior Alaska and were admitted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Creamer's Refuge is important to countless birds, but it plays a special role in the lives of migratory birds. Even though some birds stay for only a short time, they still depend on prime habitat at Creamer's Refuge to feed and rest each spring and fall en route to their nesting sites further north or their wintering grounds to the south. Common examples of these temporary residents include Canada geese, pintails, and golden plovers. Other birds such as sandhill cranes, shovelers, and mallards may remain the whole summer, sometimes nesting at Creamer's Refuge. While migratory birds concentrate on the refuge, visitors may look forward to excellent birdwatching opportunities. Although many birds leave in the fall for warmer temperatures and better supplies of food, some birds, including chickadees, redpolls, ravens and owls, remain at Creamer's the entire year.

Today, I had lunch with Shawna - and beautiful baby Courtney - before we headed to Pioneer Park for an enjoyable walk on yet another sunny day. I have decided that I will soak up as much sunlight as I possibly can, before facing the cold, dark days of winter. If there is some kind of "summer day" battery somewhere deep inside of me, I want it fully charged before the warm days of summer are long gone.

We wandered in and out of the many shops and talked nonstop. There was no rush to our step as Shawna pushed Courtney (who dozed off and on) in her stroller. As usual, I took many photographs of the shops and flowers - and of course, Courtney.

Colorful sights at
Pioneer Park

Tomorrow I'm joining some friends from the Alaska Living Group and meeting author Donna Blasor-Bernhardt at which time I will be purchasing her book, Waltz With Me Alaska. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to meet her. Her story is one of great fortitude and dedication to the fulfillment of her (and her family's) dream to build a log cabin in Tok (pronounced like *poke*), Alaska. You can read about the book at her website by clicking on her name above. In addition to the thrill of meeting her in person, she'll be autographing her books for us! I'm really looking forward to meeting such an interesting and spirited woman.

Friday, August 13th - Early morning walks

The last few days have been filled with activity as well as the normal day-to-day chores of keeping house. On Wednesday, I had the great privilege of meeting Donna Blasor-Bernhardt and purchasing her book. Her daughter Katherine was also in attendance - as well as Katherine's three children. It was such a wonderful visit and I had the most interesting chat with Donna about her days in the tent. Talking to Katherine about what she remembers about living in the tent (she was 7 at the time) also gave me great insight into the trials and tribulations of setting your sights on a dream, and the hardships you have to endure to make it a reality. I look forward to reading her book and will tell you all about it when I'm through.

Yesterday was my day to catch up on household responsibilities, before heading off to a Battalion Deployment Briefing. Like the other briefings I have attended, much the same subjects were covered. There was a guest speaker from JAG to talk to us about Wills and Powers of Attorney, a representative from the RED CROSS to talk to us about how to get emergency messages to our soldiers when they are deployed, someone from AER (Army Emergency Relief) to discuss the financial services that are available to us for unforeseen emergencies. (Zero-percent loans, grants, funds to cover airfare if there's a death in the family, etc.). And a few others. All of this information is valuable to us, and we'll most likely go over it again and again until our soldiers deploy.

And then the BC (Battalion Commander) made a comment that silenced the entire room. It was something along the lines of "When your soldiers deploy - for a year, or two years, or however long it takes..." TWO years???!!!! Please don't tell me that it could go longer than the year we're already trying to come to terms with. I can't even envision spending a year of my life apart from Steve - let alone two.

I don't like these briefings. They depress me. They bring back too many frightening memories of when Brandon was in Iraq last year. I worry for husband. I worry for myself. And I worry for the good friends I've made here who will also be dealing with this deployment. I can only pray that our FRG is a strong one and that we can count on each other when the chips are really down. Only time will tell.

Steve is doing well with the 1SG course in Texas. He's aced his exams so far, received a good grade on his classroom presentation, and is looking forward to graduation on the 25th. We get to talk everyday and sometimes IM (instant message) each other. He's a slow typist, so that's not the best way for us to communicate, but it's better than nothing.. *grin*

So far, August hasn't been as rainy as usually predicted. On the contrary. We've had the most gloriously sunny days almost constantly. (I've probably just jinxed the month and we'll have pelting rain from here on out.) The mornings are chilly, and there are times I grab my fleece before taking Sedona out for her walk. But by afternoon the temperature rises into the 70's. Each morning I see a bit more change with the plants and leaves. The fireweed have begun to shed their flowers totally now, leaving behind spiked bare stems. The rose hips are starting to shrivel on some bushes, while reaching a deep crimson color on others. I've noticed quite a few more yellow leaves on the birch trees as the weeks pass. It's hard to believe that this will be my second autumn and winter in Alaska. The time has passed so quickly. At least now, I'm no longer considered a Cheechako!

Here are some photos from this morning's walk with Sedona:

1 2 3
1. Birch Leaves - Yellow in the morning sunlight
2. Rose Hips - Ripe and ready for harvest
3. Amanita Muscaria - Fly Agaric Mushroom
4. "Charlotte's Web"
5. Some white fungus (not sure what it is - possibly a mushroom?)
Monday, August 16 - Spending time with friends

Friday night I had planned to go out to dinner with my friend, Susan, and my new friend, Rachael. Rachael is also a wife in Steve's company and only lives two doors down from me! We met for the first time at the FRG meeting and then she attended the Battalion Briefing with us last Thursday. Rachael is a full-time student and will graduate from UAF in May. She began her education in Washington State and wasn't very happy about having to transfer her credits because UAF requires that she take additional courses to get her BA. She and her husband are also childless (they plan to start a family when our guys come home from 'wherever' in 2006). It's always so wonderful to meet women who are at the same place in their life that I am.

The dinner plans never panned out. The rumor mill alerted the ladies that their husbands would be coming home a day early and of course spending time with the guys took precedence.

I had no plans for Saturday and that wasn't a good thing. I don't mind being alone from time to time. But there is a big difference between solitude and loneliness. I choose solitude from time to time; perfectly content to be alone with myself. Saturday was one of those days I wish I would have had some company. I suppose I was also envious of my friends who had a chance to spend time with their husbands. I'm at the halfway point of my separation from Steve and Saturday was just an all around low day for me. How thankful I was to wake up Sunday in a sunny mood - excited about my plans to meet up with some friends from the Alaska Living group.

Just before 2pm, I headed to the local Denny's to meet up with Jan DeNapoli - my musher friend, Georganne - a spirited and courageous woman who spent a weekend camping and hiking in Denali alone, and Hanneke - a wonderful young woman from the Netherlands who is interning at the Geophysical Institute, but unfortunately will be leaving next week. We sat and talked for FOUR hours! It was such fun and I just loved hearing Jan's stories about mushing and racing. There was plenty of laughter around the table.

When the meeting finally broke up, Jan and I headed to Creamer's Field. Jan has a fantastic Nikon digital camera (and has also recently joined PHOTOZO). The sandhill cranes and geese are still visiting Creamer's Field by the hundreds and are the perfect subject. We spent an additional two hours there!

I'm visiting Jan on Wednesday afternoon with Marcella (if she remembers!). If the weather isn't too hot, we hope to harness the dogs to the 4-wheelers and take them out for a run. That would be so much fun! I love spending time with Jan. She is so enthusiastic, is always upbeat, and has such a positive outlook on life.

The sun looks like an
orange ball

This morning, Rachael met me and Sedona at Birch Hill with Stryker (her 5 month old black lab). We both climbed the hill - huffing and puffing the entire way. The air quality isn't the best as the smoke has once again rolled in. It may not have been a good idea to even go, but we both wanted the workout. There were a few times we both thought about throwing in the towel (as I felt the first time I did the hill with Marcella), but I knew that if we continued, we'd get our second wind and the path would level out somewhat. So we drove on... and made it! We were thrilled to see sandhill cranes at the top of the hill and even happier that our rambunctious pups were too tired to attack them. We made plans to do it again on Wednesday morning.

I took lots of photos yesterday with Jan at Creamer's Field and also some this morning when I took Sedona out for a 5am walk (insomnia again). Here are a chosen few:

Thursday, August 19 - Birthdays and Sleddogs

Let me start off this entry with Birthday Greetings for my brother, Steve. His birthday was actually on the 17th (40-something), but since I didn't make an entry that day, it had to wait until today. I did call his house and leave him a really long message (to include singing the Birthday Song to him), but I haven't heard back from him. There's a good chance that they are on their family cruise to Bermuda and I forgot the dates. If they are, I hope they're having a good time soaking up the sun and relaxing.

The smoke has rolled back into Fairbanks. It is so dense that I can taste it. The reports show that normal air quality should fall somewhere between 0-60, and we're having readings in excess of 300. Tuesday was really bad. Yesterday was a little better - but still not clear enough to walk Birch Hill (as I originally planned). However, I did keep my plan to visit with Jan DeNapoli and her dogs - out at her kennel in Two Rivers.

I picked up Marcella at noon at her house in North Pole. We got so engrossed with talking, we drove right past Jan's street and ended up going 12 miles out of our way! The smoke was really heavy along Chena Hot Springs Rd. too, but it seemed to ease up a little when we got near treed areas. Thank goodness for trees and their ability to give off oxygen.

When we got to Jan's place, the Vet was just leaving after spaying/neutering 8 dogs. This vet does house calls and always has a lot to keep him busy when he comes into town. The operations took place on the kitchen table. How convenient! Can you imagine having to haul eight dogs to a vet office for the procedure?

Marcella and I visited with the other dogs while Jan looked after those who were still coming out of anesthesia. I took lots of photos (as usual) and created a collage of some of the gorgeous canine faces in residence here. I also created two other collages you can view by clicking on the links. CLICK HERE to see photos of Jan giving her dogs lots of love. CLICK HERE to see additional photos of the dogs and their houses.

Sunday, August 22 - Small town Alaska & my last day of 'freedom'

Interior Alaska is a mess with smoke from the wildfires blanketing the area. Air quality has been classifed as hazardous and just spending a few minutes outside in it walking Sedona is enough to give me an asthma attack. Many of my friends have been suffering from chronic headache pain. So far, I've been fairly lucky - the headaches have been infrequent for me.

DEC Issues Air Quality Alert for Fairbanks and Interior Alaska

August 18, 2004—Over the past 24 hours, airborne levels of fine particulates (smoke) have increased in Fairbanks and Interior Alaska due to wildfire activity. Air quality levels have risen to hazardous for all persons and are expected to remain hazardous for the next few days. DEC advises everyone with respiratory illness or heart disease, the elderly and children, to avoid outside activity. All others are cautioned to avoid outdoor activities or physical exertion. An individual’s best course of action is to minimize exposure to smoke. Personal impact will depend on one’s sensitivity and proximity to the fires. People with preexisting cardiovascular illnesses should follow the advice of their physician. People who believe they are being affected by the smoke should contact their doctor.

In an attempt to escape some of this horrid air quality, my friend Susan and I decided to drive to Delta Junction to attend the Deltana Fair yesterday. Delta Junction is about 110 miles from Fairbanks. On a clear day, you can see the Alaska Range and enjoy the incredible views. Although the air quality was great improved when we left the Fairbanks area, it still was quite hazy on the horizon - obscuring any long range vistas. We were just happy to be able to breathe easier. Susan's headache even eased as we got further and further from Fairbanks.

The 2000 Census put Delta Junction's population at 840. I'm sure that the population has increased since then, but it is still a small town. We were looking forward to seeing how a small town puts on a fair.

We got into town as the parade was underway. We made our way to the fairgrounds and paid our admission fee to enter. Let's just say that Delta Junction doesn't have a fair that comes anywhere close to the fair that Fairbanks puts on. Instead of booths with Alaska crafts, paintings, photographs and other handiwork, most of the booths at the Deltana Fair were of used clothing, decor, etc. It reminded me more of a flea market. The 'petting zoo' consisted of four animals. There was some kind of betting game called a "Cow Drop". Susan and I weren't quite sure what the cow was supposed to drop. Or how the game worked. We weren't parting with our dollars, that's for sure.

Disappointed in what our admission fee afforded us, we thought we'd salvage the day by attending the Mud Bog Race. We made our way to the stands and watched the entrants arrive with their huge trucks - equipped with swamp tires. The racing track was being soaked down until the dry dirt was a wet, muddy consistency. If anything, I looked forward to getting some nice muddy action shots. The race was supposed to start at noon. At 12:30 we were informed that the race would be delayed until 2:00. We decided not to wait and instead headed back to Fairbanks - planning a stop at Rika's Roadhouse.

Susan had never been to Rika's. Steve and I have visited several times. It's a nice place to wander - both summer and winter (although the shops aren't open in winter). The views of the Tanana River are wonderful, the garden at the roadhouse is gorgeous (in season), the dessert at the restaurant is delicious, and there's some interesting history there. (Oh, and we can't forget the fur shop upstairs in the roadhouse! The coats were so soft - and expensive!)

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at a table near the parking lot and then took a drive further into the park to find Rika Wallen's gravesite. Rika was a Swedish immigrant who was hired in 1917 to operate the roadhouse, which prospered under her management. In 1923 she bought it for "$10.00 and other considerations," presumably in lieu of wages. The roadhouse was named "Rika's" following local custom. Rika operated the roadhouse through the 1940's, although in later years guests were by invitation only.

After Rika's, we stopped off at Quartz Lake, Harding Lake, and Birch Lake to check out the camping facilities. If we can arrange it, we'd hoping to go tent camping before it gets too cold out. It would be wonderful if Steve and I, Susan and Stephen, and Rachael and James could arrange a weekend trip. Of course, I snapped some photos throughout the day.

The smoke obscures what is usually a beautiful
horizon at Birch Lake

This log cabin was beautiful with all the flowers
blooming around and on it

This female Mallard seemed to enjoy posing for me

Flowers - and a bee -
in Rika's Garden

Tomorrow I return to work at UAF. My summer is officially over. I'm a little sad about that. I've really enjoyed my time off and the opportunity to be able to go on a whim wherever my will and my car takes me. At least it's only part-time. I'll still have my long weekends to enjoy myself. I have to go in a day early because of an all-day meeting. There will be another meeting on Tuesday. Which means that Wednesday will be a relatively short day and I'll have plenty of time to prepare for Steve's homecoming at midnight on Wednesday.

Speaking of Steve... he was chosen out of his entire class to attend a briefing being given by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tomorrow. His final is also tomorrow morning (he's been getting all A's thusfar!) and graduation will be Wednesday morning. I just can't wait for him to get home again - even though he's going back out to the field on Friday morning. I'll at least have one day with him (Thursday) and I'm thankful for that.

Wednesday, August 25 - Back in the workforce and HOMECOMINGS!

At 2pm this afternoon, I will have completed my first week back at my job at UAF. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't too difficult to get back into the work groove. But I was amused by my sleeplessness on Sunday night. It reminded me of my childhood - and those nights before the start of a new school year. I tossed and turned and looked at the alarm clock several times during the night.

I can't wait for Steve's arrival home from Texas at midnight tonight. I look forward to spending the entire day with him tomorrow. I have missed him so much! The two-day brainstorming session at work was in regards to a new web portal the university is incorporating. Because both days went over 8 hours - and I only work 20 hours/week, I have a short day today.

Knowing I didn't have to be until 10am, I asked my friend Susan if she was going to the gym and if I could tag along. We had a good cardio workout; I feel energized and ready to face the day.

This morning's temperature was 43F. I didn't wear my fleece jacket when I took Sedona out for her walk and was quite cold! I could also see my breath, a sign of what's coming. I've been thinking about the onset of winter. Here in Alaska, the fall is fairly short-lived. The leaves have already begun changing and I expect that one day we'll wake to a brilliant orange landscape - as all the birch and aspen trees don their autumn foliage. There are quite a few trees already dressed brightly, but many more are still green. Once the color becomes uniform, it won't be long before the leaves drop and everything turns brown.

It is that short transition - both at the beginning of winter, and at the end - that I dislike the most. Everything looks dead just before snow falls. And then the world is blanketed in a whiteness that covers the ugliness and makes Fairbanks look like a beautiful oil painting. It remains a white world for more than 6 months. Six months is a long time. By the time March arrives, most of us are longing for color. And the cycle repeats itself.

Now that I have my new camera, I am looking forward to this winter and the opportunity to photograph the sled dog races and the Ice Art Festival. I anticipate the Native Arts Festival and the opportunity to photograph the dancers. I especially look forward to the frequent moose sightings in my yard. But what I really look forward to is the Northern Lights. There are no words to describe how awesome they are. You truly have to see them to appreciate them. Photos can be beautiful and amazing, but standing beneath them as they dance in the sky above you - fingers of color reaching down from the heavens - is an experience that can not be expressed with mere words.

Enough musings about winter. It will be here soon enough. But the time of arrival is now sooner rather than later. Seeing my breath this morning brought it one step closer.

Sunday, August 29 - Gaining an extra day

Sorry for my absence over the last few days. Steve arrived home (flight on time, but luggage damaged) as scheduled on Wednesday night. I was so happy to see his handsome (and tanned) face after so long. Even after nearly 13 years, my stomach fills with butterflies when I see his smiling face. It was so nice to have him home!

We went to breakfast on Thursday morning, and then stopped at Blockbuster to rent some movies. Our plan was to curl up on the sofa and watch movies. And that's exactly what we did. It was wonderful. Later in the evening, Steve barbecued a pork loin and we washed down dinner with champagne - in celebration of our reunion. Everything was delicious and I was sad that Steve would have to go back out in the field on Friday morning after such a short visit.

The next day, he headed off to work and I prepared myself for another short separation. I received a phone call a few hours later. A happy turn of events meant that Steve wouldn't be leaving for Fort Greeley until Saturday morning! He worked all day, but just knowing I'd have him home with me for another evening was enough to keep me smiling. (He'll be home again late tonight but will go away again on Tuesday morning until September 10th).

The smoke came back yesterday. It's not advisable to be out in it, but I planned on going shopping anyway. At least the ventilation systems in the stores worked well. It kept me busy for several hours and helped the afternoon to pass quickly. Later in the day, I went out to dinner with my friend Susan. We came back here to watch a movie. And then Saturday was gone and I was one day closer to seeing Steve...

It was 39F this morning when I got up. I dressed accordingly and took Sedona out for her morning walk. Our Sunday morning walk is usually a long one - through an area of woods that is dense with trees and foliage. I decided against it this morning. My friend Malinda was accosted by a cow moose while walking in that section of woods. The moose charged at her and her husband and later chased them. They were lucky enough to keep trees between themselves and the animal, but it scared them tremendously. Hearing about their ordeal put a bit of fear in me, so I took the shorter walk through territory I am accustomed to and with less dense foliage.

More and more plants and leaves are wearing their autumn colors. In the early morning light, the colors are brilliant and vibrant. I took my camera with me to capture some of these changes.

In a matter of days, September will be upon us. For my friends and family in PA, this means school will soon be starting. Here in AK, students returned to school on the 23rd. The cooler morning temperatures, and having night fall for the first time in months, means that we'll soon be witnessing the Northern Lights again. As much as I dread driving on snowy and icy roads, I look forward to the arrival of winter and the pure white blanket my world will lay under. I found this photo that I took back in mid January. I couldn't help but involuntarily shiver when I looked at it and several others taken that same day. But I also felt a yearning inside to witness the majesty of snow-kissed trees and frozen water again. In time...

Tuesday, August 31 - The end of another month

It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the beginning of September already. The past year that Steve and I have lived in Alaska has flown by faster than I could have ever imagined. I am happy here - something I was hopeful that I would be able to say after we were notified that we were off to the "Last Frontier". I have been happier here than I have been at any other military installation. Sure, there are hardships. My family is far away. I can't just hop in my car and be in Philadelphia in only a day's drive. Airline tickets are very expensive. Visiting 'home' can no longer be a spontaneous decision. Winter is brutal, and driving on snow and ice-covered roads is scary. And the wildlife can be threatening if you're not careful.

But still... I feel at home here. Every morning when I take Sedona for her morning walk - even though I walk the same path and see the same surroundings - I stay alert for moose, or arctic squirrels, or fox. Just knowing that I can encounter these creatures makes each walk an adventure.

I feel I belong here...

I took this photo this evening as I was walking Sedona. This dirt path is near our house and is popular with 4-wheelers, walkers, and wildlife.

Steve and I have encountered moose while walking along these dirt trails. And in the winter, we have trudged through snow as the Northern Lights have danced in the sky above us.

Soon, it will all be brown and dead. And then the snow will come. But for now I will enjoy the orange and yellow and red hues of Autumn.