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2004 Susan L. Stevenson
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March 1, 2004

March already! With March comes SPRING! Although here in Alaska, spring is mostly recognized by a phenomenon known as "break-up" - and that doesn't usually occur until April. But the days will get longer and that is something we all look forward to. Today the sun rises at 7:58am and sets at 6:10pm. Woo-hoo! Ten hours of daylight! Hard to imagine that in only a few months we'll be having a 22-hour day.

Yesterday, my friend Susan and I attended "A Woman's Affair" at the Carlson Center. It was an exhibition for women, about women. There were the usual booths for arts and crafts, fitness, health-care, jewelry, etc. There were also scheduled seminars throughout the day. Susan wanted to attend a seminar addressing Alzheimers because her mom has the disease. At the same time was a seminar on wine-tasting. Well, I'll give you three guesses (and the first two don't count) which seminar I attended. *grin* There's nothing like sipping various types of wine in the middle of the afternoon... I actually learned quite a bit about wine and the process for making wine. The taste tests were an added bonus.

After the seminar, we headed to the Ice Park. March 3rd is opening day for the World Ice Art Competition. I don't know how they're going to get all the sculptures completed by then. There are still many large blocks of ice laying on the field that haven't even been touched yet. One of the sculptors we talked to said that the weather has hindered the harvesting of the ice. Nevertheless, the few sculptures that were completed were just wonderful! Susan and I took quite a few photos. I created this collage to give you a "sneak peek".

I'll have more photos once the festival gets underway and they light them all up. There will also be a King and Queen crowned. I'm purchasing a "season pass" ticket so I can come and go several times. Steve says one visit will be enough for him. But I want to photograph the sculptures at different times of the day and at night when they are lit up. With a season's pass, I'll get to pop in a check it out on my days off from work. The festival runs the entire month of March or as long as the ice lasts.

After checking out the sculptures, Susan and I went to Wolf's Run Restaurant and enjoyed a warm cup of hot cocoa and some chatting. It was a very full, but enjoyable day.

March 5, 2004

Sorry for the lapse in posting. I only work three days a week, but even then it sometimes feels like I have no time for any fun. But today I'm off and I hope to take my camera out shooting in North Pole. Our friends, Marcella and Brian, bought a house in North Pole and have been slowly but surely getting settled in. Marcella is surrounded by boxes and trying to get the house organized. It's hard because she also works. I plan to stop by and see her after I go to the gym this morning (if I can remember how to get there).

This weekend is the Nenana Ice Classic. Here's some info about this March event:

One way Alaskans judge the coming of spring is by the river ice. When it breaks up, they know the winter has passed. Years ago, some railroad workers thought it would be fun to take bets on the exact time the ice in the Tanana River lets go. Today that contest is a major event in the city of Nenana.

In 1917, railroad workers got 800 people to fork over a dollar for their guesses. In 2003, the jackpot was $301,000. The Nenana Ice Classic is one of the city's biggest claims to fame. Each year a black-and-white striped tripod is erected on the frozen Tanana River. It's the culmination of a two-day tripod festival in early March.

People holding tightly to bright yellow ropes support the main structure as the legs are attached with metal spikes. It's a long process and the crowd dwindles as volunteers continue pounding spikes and attaching support wires.

They then hook a wire from the top of the tripod to the watch tower and the wire is then run into the watchman's shack where there are two clocks set up. The tripod has to move a hundred feet. Once it has traveled a hundred feet down river, it triggers a mechanism in the top of the watchtower, which releases a cleaver and cuts the wire and stops the clock.

Whoever guesses the exact time the clock stops is the winner. It can be split between several correct guessers. In 2000, three winning tickets split a pot of over 280-thousand dollars.

I think Steve and I might even wager a bet while we're there. We're not gambling folks, but it sure would be nice to win a hundred grand or so. :-)

March 6, 2004

In case I don't post tomorrow...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my SIS-In-Law, Diane!

I think she's turning 25 :o). We've been 'counting backwards' for so long, I have no idea what her real age is! Regardless, she's a fantastic sis-in-law and I love her like a real sister. She's a sweet, goodhearted person who has never hesitated to open her home to me and my entire family whenever we're passing through town. Dee, if you're reading this - we all love you very much!

We didn't head to Nenana today after all. We heard on the radio that they aren't placing the tripod on the frozen river until tomorrow. Since that's what I want to see, we postponed our 60 mile drive. Instead, we ended up going out to breakfast and then taking a scenic drive to the top of Murphy Dome. Murphy Dome is a small 'mountain' (if you can even call it that) near Fairbanks. It's just past Ether Dome - a drive we've taken several times in the past.

There were beautiful views from Murphy Dome:

View from Murphy Dome

The Birch Tree Grove

Sometimes Steve likes to use the camera
(Wind is not a good thing!)

Trail to the Horizon

White Mountains in the distance

We were supposed to hang out with Marcella and Brian tonight at their house, but Marcella had a long day and just wants to unwind. (She works on Saturday) So, the plan is to call them when we get back from Nenana tomorrow and see if they're up for some company.

March 8, 2004

Steve and I did take a drive to Nenana yesterday - hoping to watch them erect the tripod on the Tanana River. We must have gotten there too early. There were a few people milling around, but it didn't look like they were anywhere near being close to putting the tripod up. So instead, we drove around Nenana and I took a few photos.

First we went looking for the old church. I had read about St. Mark's Mission Church on line and wanted to see it for myself. This restored log church was built in 1904 to educate Native children from the area. The building was recently restored with pews embellished with hand-carvings and an alter cloth made out of moosehide and Native beadwork. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go inside.

Here's a bit more information about the history of Nenana that I found on-line:

Nenana has traditionally been an important site for fishing and hunting camps by different groups of Athabascan Indians.

Around 1905 a telegraph station was built by the Army Signal Corps as part of the network across Alaska, a trading post was established, and the Episcopal church founded St. Mark's Mission. A boarding school was added two years later. Today, the restored log church is a favorite photo subject for visitors. Nenana's population grew dramatically with the building of the Alaska Railroad. The first railroad survey party arrived in 1916 and began building a waterfront dock.

President Warren J. Harding drove the golden spike at the north end of the Nenana rail bridge on July 15, 1923. The golden spike is no longer there but the 700-foot steel bridge, the second longest single-span railroad bridge in the US, is still in use today. The old Nenana Train Depot has been converted to a railroad museum and is well worth a visit.

In the 1967 Nenana's final link to the interior was completed with the highway bridge over the Tanana River. This replaced the ferry and ice bridge system used until then.

Today, Nenana remains the largest and most important port in interior Alaska.

We spent about an hour exploring Nenana before heading back to Fairbanks. When we arrived home, we called Marcella and Brian and then headed out the door to visit them at their new house in North Pole. Marcella made a delicious stew and we sipped wine and caught up with each other. The sunset on the ride home was breathtaking and was the perfect way to end a fabulous day.

The Ice Festival is underway here in Fairbanks. I'm going to stop by tomorrow or Wednesday after work and buy my season pass. I'll probably snap a few photos while I'm there and I'm sure to return many times before the month (and the festival) are over. I'll be sure to post photos of the magnificent sculptures.

March 9, 2004

I'm going to use this entry to tell you all a little story about a young couple from Iowa who left Fort Wainwright for a three-hour hike in the nearby Chena Recreational Area. This couple - Jerry and Ellie - just arrived in Alaska about a month ago. Fort Wainwright is their first duty station. I met Ellie formally at last month's FRG meeting. I introduced myself to her and raved about all the great things there are to see and do here in Alaska.

A couple of weeks ago, in fact, I had both Ellie and Jerry laughing when I told them a little story about the first time that Steve and I went hiking alone on the Angel Rocks Trail (which is about 60 miles from Fairbanks). We went in August when the biggest threat was the mosquito. In my story, I recounted how Steve and I were nervous about being out in the wilderness without anyone knowing where we were or how long we would be gone. So we decided to leave a note taped to our front door with the time that we left the house and where we were going. We also left a note in the truck just in case anything happened to us. On that scrap of paper, we also noted the time we headed to the trailhead. We laughed to ourselves a bit, but figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

When I told Ellie and Jerry this story, they laughed too. I'm sure they looked at my big, strapping husband - who also has outdoor survival skills - and wondered why he would be such a worrywart. They should have heeded my advice...

Jerry and Ellie left for Chena Rec Area around 2pm on Sunday afternoon. They took their dog with them. Their plan was to take a short hike while following some snowmachine trails through the area. Neither one had on a watch, so when the sun started going down, they realized that they had stayed out longer than they planned and began heading back to the truck. The bad thing is that they couldn't remember the path they had taken. They were almost 4 hours into their hike and knew it was a minimum of 4 hours back to the truck - IF they could find their way back.

Jerry slipped once or twice and at one point his right foot broke through some ice and went into the river. When it became too dark to see, they pulled up under a low-hanging spruce tree and gathered some wood for a fire. This is one time that being a smoker was an advantage, as Jerry had a lighter. They were able to build a big enough fire to keep from freezing to death. The temperatures had dipped to more than 20 below by the time night fell. Jerry and Ellie took turns napping and keeping the fire stoked.

Jerry's sock was frozen to the inside of his boot, which in turn was frozen to his foot. He tried to thaw his foot by the fire, but the damage had already been done.

Sunrise came at 7:30am. They began searching for their truck again. Both of them had wet feet and were not wearing clothing rated for temperatures much below zero. They were adequately dressed for the three hour hike that they had planned, but not for this turn of events. When they found their truck, they realized they had only been 1/2 mile from it.

In the meantime, Monday morning's 6:30am formation revealed a missing Jerry. Steve knew immediately that something was remiss, because Jerry wasn't a soldier who had any of the telltale problems that would indicate an AWOL or truancy factor. Phone calls were made to the house and there was no answer. A couple of guys drove by and banged on the door - still no answer. At 8:15am, Jerry and Ellie showed up at another soldier's house. He took them immediately to the hospital. Jerry has 2nd and 3rd degree frostbite on the toes of his right foot and is still in the hospital. Ellie has 1st degree frostbite on her right foot and has been released from the hospital.

This is a situation that could have turned into a search and recovery. All because some people don't realize just how deadly this environment is. This situation had a happy ending, but triggered a safety briefing about the importance of letting someone know where you're going and how long you think you'll be out.

I don't feel so silly about leaving that note in the truck last summer. You just never know when you will be faced with something as serious as this.

March 11, 2004

Click on the thumbnails abovve to see the photos enlarged.

The only photo I want to post full size is one that brought a tear to my eye.

This ice carving is a reproduction of a bronze sculpture that was created by an Iraqi - using the bronze from Saddam's statues. You can see a photo of that sculpture HERE.

I bought a season pass to the ice show. I intend to go back many more times before the month is out. I am especially looking forward to the multi-block sculptures and photographing all of them at night.

This year the Festival decided to provide WEB CAMS if you're interested in peeping in during the day or night. This will be a great way for all of my readers from all over the world to view the sculptures anytime. (You can also get some 'people-watching' in, if you're into that. Heck, maybe you'll even see ME there sometime! *laugh*)

This weekend, we're planning to visit Chatanika for some good old fashioned outhouse races. I'm also hoping to squeeze in a night visit to the Ice Park. The temperature here has been above zero; yesterday we made it to 30! The only bad thing is that the ice art will disappear faster.

March 14, 2004

Colorful Balloon

Yesterday, Steve and I went to Chatanika for Chatanika Days and the Outhouse Races. We got there about an hour before the races started. The outhouses had to be custom built by the entrants and put on skis. Then team members pushed them up one side of the road and down the other side. Each team was timed. It was comical to see the different entries. One in particular - designed and raced by women - caught everyone's attention.

Girls Outhouse
Here come the ladies!

Ladies Outhouse
And there GO the ladies! *laugh*

There were door prizes, lots of food and drink, entertainment, etc. Chatanika is a small town 30 miles from Fairbanks. The crowd was estimated to be more than 1000. I took this shot from across the road, so you can get a general idea of this small 'oasis' in the middle of rolling hills.

We ran into quite a few friends there and chatted for awhile. Once the race was over, Steve and I went exploring an old dredge across the road and I took some photos of the landscape. On the way home, Denali was visible on the horizon. I wish I had a better zoom lens!

Last night, Diane and Ken Monte came over for a visit and brought Steve lots and lots of fish. Three grocery bags of halibut, salmon, and shark - as well as several variations (smoked salmon, salmon dip, seasoned and preserved in jars, etc.)! Now we have to buy a freezer to store it all in. For the time being, it's being kept in a cooler in the garage.

They stayed for several hours and we talked about fishing and hunting and traveling. It was really a nice time and I look forward to socializing with them again.

March 17, 2004

St. Patricks's Day!

My mother had to have some tests done. The doctors found a tumor on her kidney. So far, the blood work and cytology aren't saying too much. She's got an appointment with another urologist on the 30th.

When I spoke to her on Sunday, she wasn't in the best spirits (understandably). Hearing the fear in her voice made me sad. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.


The northern lights were out for several nights in a row this past week. On Sunday night - just as I was getting ready to go to bed - I happened to glance out the window and saw them flickering in the sky. I didn't care that I was in my nightgown. I threw on my boots and bathrobe, grabbed my camera and tripod, and ran out in the yard. I took a series of photos, which I animated. As you can see, they were pretty active!

This week, I got to leave work early yesterday and will leave early again tomorrow, because Friday is a holiday (Spring Break holiday for staff) and I get comp hours. It has been snowing the past two days - which I love because it covers up all the ugly and dirty snow that's all over town. I planned on going to the Ice Park today, but after waiting for the shuttle bus in the cold, I decided against it. I'm planning to pack the necessary clothes so I can go tomorrow.

I haven't been in the mood to do too much around town. I'm a bit depressed about my mom and have found myself preferring alone time the past couple of days. I hope that I'll be back to my normal self by this weekend.

March 18, 2004

A baby is born...

My friend Shawna had her baby at 3:13am this morning. A little girl named Courtney Jane. Courtney is a name that Shawna and her husband Jay always wanted. Jane was her grandmother's name.

When I see a new baby, it is easy to remember what it was like when I gave birth to my babies. So long ago and yet the memories don't ever go away. I looked at Shawna and the way she held her newborn. Staring into her baby's eyes. Smiling. In awe. In wonderment over the fact that such a beautiful and perfect tiny being was created and lived inside of her for nine months. She will barely remember what life was like before Courtney came into her life...

I took two photos. The first one is of MOTHER and BABY. The second is of COURTNEY JANE. I took a bag of baby gifts with me. A sleeper, some 'onesies', tiny little socks, a stuffed bunny rabbit - her first Easter Bunny. I also told Shawna I'd make her baby announcements for her with Courtney's photo on them. She was excited about that.

I let Shawna know that she might experience the baby blues over the next few weeks. I also let her know she could call me if she needed me. I remember all so well those early weeks when, exhausted, it seemed that nothing I did would soothe my baby. I remember one time in particular when I slumped to the floor next to Chris's crib and just sobbed because he wouldn't stop crying and I was so tired. I was only 19 years old, but it doesn't matter. Being a new parent is a lot of work. Such a tiny little person depends on you for everything. That's scarier than anything I know!


I went to the Ice Park today after work. It was cold (3 degrees) and I could only stay a little while. My body and my feet were warm (I was prepared), but my face and fingertips got numb quickly. There was a wind blowing and small flakes of snow were falling. I shot about 60 photos and left. Steve is planning to take me back on Friday or Saturday night. I spoke to Susan Spivey today and she and Stephen are hoping to go on Saturday night. I also spoke to Marcella. She and Brian also have season passes so she wants to go one night this weekend too. Maybe we can all go out and grab a bite to eat and then go to the Ice Park. The more the merrier - and I get to have both my good friends with me at the same time. How much luckier can a gal get?! I hope it works out....

March 21, 2004

I am so glad I don't work on Mondays. I know I'm going to be glad for the day off.

Last night, Steve and I drove with Marcella and Brian to Pike's Landing to meet Stephen and Susan Spivey. The plan was to have dinner, then go to the Ice Park to see the sculptures at night, and then downtown to see the fireworks in celebration of Winter Carnival. We agreed to meet at 5:30pm. When I talked to Stephen on the phone, this is what I told him and he told me that he and Susan were going to take a nap because she had spent the day in the ER due to heart palpitations. (She's fine, thank goodness)

I was really hoping we could all just follow each other to the restaurant. Actually, it would have been even better if we all could have driven together and I was going to suggest that. But Stephen told me that he and Susan would meet us there. Well, at about 4:30 Marcella called and said that she and Brian were running a little late and could we push it back to 6:00pm. Steve called the Spivey's house a few times and there was no answer. Finally he left a message on their machine.

By the time we got to Pikes, Susan and Stephen were already there (and had been since 5:15pm!). I felt terrible. But we ordered some food and drinks and had a good time talking and laughing and watching the sun set out the huge picture windows.

We left for the Ice Park about 8pm. It was dark enough to see the sculptures lit up. We saw Stephen and Susan head out the door. We went out the other door (which is where Brian had moved the truck) and just assumed that Stephen and Susan had decided to head to the park. They were waiting for us in the parking lot - thinking that one or two of us were making a bathroom stop. Another foul-up. I drove Brian's truck (which was a feat in itself) because I was the "designated driver". We got to the Ice Park and looked for Stephen and Susan in the parking lot but didn't see them. So we went inside. We hung around the ticket office for about 10 minutes, but still didn't see them. So we thought we missed them and that they were already in the park.

We wandered up and down the aisles and I got some cool photos of some of the sculptures. Marcella snapped the photo at left of me and Steve sitting on an ice chair. (Steve was the one with the cold rear end and kept telling Marcella to hurry up and take the photo). It was SO COLD! We were all bundled up in our longjohns, lots of layers, scarves around our faces, hats, glove liners and gloves, and so on. And still my legs started burning from the cold only a short time after getting there. I will be happy when spring comes! I am longing for greenery and wildflowers...

We finally did run into the Spivey's. That's when they told us that they had waited for us in the parking lot at Pike's Landing. So I felt terrible again. This was becoming a night of errors.

Not long after running into Stephen and Susan, Brian's cellphone rang. It was CQ (Charge of Quarters) calling for Steve (he had given Brian's cellphone number for contact). There have been some issues going on at work. Our phone has been ringing at all hours of the night. So we had to leave the Ice Park so Steve could deal with this mess. Besides, we were all freezing.

On the way home we could see the fireworks out the truck window. There was no sense going downtown to watch; both my camera batteries were dead from the cold anyway. The show wasn't much to rave about - at least what we could see from the truck window. When we got home a little after 9pm, Steve made lots of phone calls and then we fell into bed exhausted. I couldn't shake the chill, but it felt good to be under our down comforter. I feel asleep almost immediately.

Winter can leave now. I've had about enough....

March 25, 2004

Happy Belated Birthday
to my cousin Lynda! (3/24)

I'm sorry I've been so lax about posting lately. There's been no 'news' per se. Except for the weather which is making us all crazy because of the severe fluctuations. One day temperatures rise into the 40's and we're outside, basking in the sunshine, wearing only a fleece sweatshirt. The next day, it dips to -20 and grey skies roll in. Flurries have been coming on and off for the past week. In between the bouts of snow, the temperature rises enough to cause the drip, drip, drip of ice melting off the roof. Yesterday I was almost hit by a huge chunk of ice sliding off my house!

Steve and I are getting antsy about digging the camper out and towing it in to be made ready for summer. We don't want to do it too early. A cold snap could still burst the pipes. But if we wait too long, we'll be waiting WEEKS to have it done. Because summer is really only about 3 months here, it's a mad rush to have boats, campers, and 4-wheelers made ready for summer fun. I can't wait to be out and about!

The days are much longer now. Last night, I glanced outside at 8pm and it was dusk. Not pitch black, but actually light! In three months we'll have almost 22 hours of daylight. And there will be flowers blooming! And colors! Oh, how I miss color.

I didn't have any problems at all with depression during the really dark, cold days of winter. I'm not what I would call depressed now. Just wistful and a tad melancholy. My longing for spring is overwhelming. The desire to be out in nature, feeling the warm sun on my face, tossing a line in a river, BBQing outside our camper, sleeping with the windows open at night; those thoughts sometimes consume me. When they do, I find myself online looking at spring and summer photos of AK and planning our getaways.

I wish spring would hurry up and get here!

Still Thursday...


I read an interesting story in the book I bought earlier this month (Fairbanks: A Gold Rush Town That Beat the Odds). It's a story about Eva McGown.

Here's some info from the book about this extraordinary woman:

Eva McGown, an Irish Lady with a Big Heart

She was the "living leprechaun" of Fairbanks, who put the heart in the Golden Heart City during her decades as the town's Official Hostess.

Her office was a corner desk in the Nordale Hotel lobby on Second Ave., and she served a key role in the 1940s and early 1950s in finding places for people to stay in a town where there were no hotel rooms to be found. She could persuade people to take strangers into their homes and possessed enough charm "to coax the birds out of the trees", a friend said.

Comments like "God Bless Ye," and "Now son, I'll be hearin' your problems," and "Shure and we'll be a-fixing ye up somehow" would emanate from her corner of the lobby even when the search for a bed seemed hopeless. She was a friend to homesick servicemen and worried wives and the best ambassador Fairbanks ever had, serving as hostess for more than three decades. A character in the novel Ice Palace was based on her and she once appeared on the This Is Your Life TV show.

Eva Montgomery came to Fairbanks from Ireland in 1914 and married Arthur McGown, part owner of the Model Cafe, the night she got off the stage from Chitina. A long time friend once said, "Thus, she was often called the 'mail order bride', which she did not like at all."

Arthur took sick five years after the marriage and was an invalid for decade before he died in 1930. "Then I learned about loneliness," Eva once said. "It is a heavier load than any woman can carry."

Eva never married again, but her life was rich and full. She began her unusual career simply by visiting lonely women who had just come to Alaska and tried to make them feel welcome, in a place where there were strangers. She visited patients at the hospital, met the trains departing for the South, and soon became involved in every aspect of life in Fairbanks.

Her friendly and outgoing manner evolved into a one-woman housing and greeting service that became vital during the many years when the demand for housing outstripped the supply.

Between 1940 and 1951 she helped 50,000 new arrivals, construction workers, visitors and students find shelter. During W.W.II she received $75 a month from the Chamber of Commerce to run her housing office. Later she became an official city employee, drawing a $110 monthly salary.

Eva died in a fire that destroyed the Nordale Hotel - which had been her home for 28 years. One of the items found in the hotel safe after the fire was a box containing a piece of dried sod from Ireland, a reminder of the old country.

March 27, 2004

Today could very well have been one of those dreary, boring days. But Steve and I made plans yesterday to take a drive to Delta Junction/Fort Greeley. I was itching for a photo shoot and was hoping that the Alaska Range would be visible.

When we got up this morning, it was a dreary, overcast, gray day here in Fairbanks. It was also cold and flurrying lightly. But that didn't change our plans to take a long (120 miles) drive southeast. So we packed up the truck with winter gear (just in case we got stranded somewhere), water, music, my camera gear, the atlas, the Milepost, etc.

It remained cloudy until we got almost all the way to Delta Junction. Just outside of Delta, the sky was clear and bright blue and just gorgeous! The sun was shining and it just lifted our mood. I'm so glad we took the drive.

Before Delta, we came to Birch Lake and stopped to watch the people ice fishing. Birch Lake is one of four of the largest lakes in the Fairbanks and Delta area. Fishing for stocked rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and Arctic char is usually good here. Grayling can occasionally be taken through the ice as well. Although many people prefer to use an ice hut, some hardy souls spend a few hours perched on a stool (after auguring a hole in the ice), with a line in the water. We saw small children fishing alongside their parents/grandparents.

We grabbed breakfast at the Midway Lodge in Salcha - a mom and pop cafe that served a pretty decent breakfast. We drove to Lake Bolio in Fort Greeley and I took a few photos there too. Lake Bolio is the place where we saw our first moose 'close-up' after getting here last summer. The lake is frozen solid now. We saw lots of moose footprints, but none of the huge beasts. I did catch a glimpse of a large cow grazing on low-hanging trees, but by the time Steve turned the truck around and went back, she was gone.

The drive was invigorating. It was so wonderful to go to the sun on a cloudy Fairbanks day. But, as always... it made me long for spring and summer.


Sorry for the lack of posting over the past couple of days. Nothing much has been happening here in Fairbanks, except for never-ending snow flurries and sub-zero temperatures. But such is early spring in AK. Same stuff, different day!

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