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Friday, April 1
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.
- Robert Frost

We woke to snow this morning. And that's no April Fool's joke. We had snow on and off over the last week. Will spring ever arrive in Fairbanks? The days are getting much longer and it's very noticeable now. It's dusk well after 7pm now. And in the morning, the skies are getting light much earlier. My morning commute is timed to coincide with the latter stages of sunrise, and when it's a clear day, I get to watch the range come into view as the sun highlights the crags of the mountains. Breathtaking...

I've been keeping busy and my days off are filled with errands and activities. I enjoy meeting with friends for coffee, dessert, and chatting. Or lunch. Or just to hang out and watch movies. Today was 'chick flick' day at Rachael's house. We were pleasantly surprised when Susan Spivey showed up unexpectedly and watched The Notebook with us. Later, we watched one of my favorite movies: Where the Heart Is. (That's the movie about the girl who has her baby in WalMart, if the title doesn't ring a bell.)

I'm hoping tomorrow is a nice day so Steve and I can take a drive up Chena Hot Springs Rd. There are two group campgrounds along the way that have group campsites. I'm trying to organize a group camping trip (tents) with some other wives and their kids for when the guys are gone. We may be able to go in May, while they're at JRTC - or we may just wait until after they deploy late this summer. Then again, we may just wait until NEXT summer. Or several times over the course of the year. I got quite a bit of interest about planning a camping trip, and I think it will be good for all of us to get out in nature, hang out, roast marshmallows, maybe go fishing, etc. Anything to keep busy and make new friends.

Well, April Fools Day is coming to a close. I didn't have any jokes played on me - which I'm not complaining about. Did you?

Sunday, April 3 - Escaping the Snow and Brothers
We woke to more snow yesterday morning (and it's snowing this morning too). After several days of snow, we both wanted to get out for a nice drive. We discovered that if you drive far enough, you can leave bad weather behind. We left the house in the middle of a snowstorm and found blue skies and sunshine 40 miles northeast of us. The sunshine stayed with us for the remaining 20 mile drive all the way to Chena Hot Springs.

Chena Hot Springs is known for its mineral hot springs. From the website: The water is composed of a variety of different, identified minerals. Many people believe that by bathing in the water, skin conditions such a psoriasis, muscular pains, and arthritis may be relieved. The water may be beneficial for some circulatory disorders and we attract lots of people with bronchial disorders who claim the combination of steam and minerals provides breathing relief.

There weren't many tourists at the *resort*. Don't let the term resort fool you. While there are amenities such as massage, flight seeing tours, dogsled rides, and an Ice Hotel - this IS Interior Alaska. You can't just plop a 5-star resort in the middle of nowhere. Most of the private cabins have no indoor bathrooms. Imagine a resort with outhouses. :)

Chena Hot Springs gets some business in the winter time because of its location. Situated at the end of Chena Hot Springs Rd, there aren't any city lights for 60 miles. Viewing the northern lights while soaking in the springs (with the temperature at well below zero) is said to be awesome. I like the drive out to the resort, because it passes through rolling hills, dense birch and aspen groves, crosses rivers and streams, and always provides a glimpse of wildlife. In the summer, we stop many times along the way to fish or hike some of the various trails.

Chena Hot Springs Hoary Redpoll Campground Chena Hot Springs

This is one of my favorite 'scenes' at the resort. I have taken this photo in every season. Click Here to see a photograph of this scene in the middle of frigid winter.

It's nice to see the snow gradually disappearing from the landscape.

The Hoary Redpoll will breed in open tundra, but usually in small willows and other shrubs in sheltered areas.

It has very fluffy body feathers that help it stay warm in extremely cold temperatures. In addition, it has feathers on areas of its body that are bare in most other birds. If temperatures get too high, a redpoll may pluck out some of its body feathers and get rid of some of its insulation.

This campground is located at the Tors Trailhead. We always stop here when we take a drive up Chena Hot Springs Rd. In the warmer months, Steve will toss a fishing line into the river. We were happy to see the river is thawing.


Sled Dogs
This dog team was tied up and waiting patiently to give some visitors a sled ride. They were a feisty bunch and I enjoyed visiting with them.
This raven sat perched in a tree and wouldn't fly off no matter how many people stopped below the tree and looked up at him. So, I figured I'd get a shot of him (I love ravens!). I got closer to him and started imitating his cackling. He'd make a sound, and I'd reflect it back. He looked down at me with his head tilted to one side as if to say, "Are you nuts?" But I didn't mind - it gave me the opportunity to get a photograph of his tonsils. *grin*
Chena Hot Springs

On a personal note: Brandon and Chris made it to Wisconsin safely. They drove straight through from NC to WI (22 hours). I'm glad they are finally together. Next on the agenda for Brandon is to find a job. Once he gets employment, they'll be looking for a bigger apartment or a house to rent. Then Becky and Pandora (their boxer pup) can join them.

I'm thinking of going to Madison for Christmas. It will be wonderful to see both my boys in one place. I think it's been 5 years since the three of us have been together in one location at the same time.

Wednesday, April 6 - Anniversaries and WARM, SUNNY DAYS!

Yesterday was Steve's and my 13th wedding anniversary!

My Darling Husband,

Thirteen years ago today, we stood under an arch covered in flowers and pledged to spend the rest of our lives together. I'll never forget the way you looked in your uniform, the glisten of a tear in your eye as you watched me come down the aisle toward you. With every step I took, I felt the warmth of your love from across the room and I knew instinctively that you would always love me, care for me, and most of all shelter me. You were, and still are, my knight in shining armor.

Over the years, my love for you has grown stronger - stronger than I ever could have imagined. Despite the passing of time, I still look into your eyes and my heart skips a beat. I still get butterflies flitting around in my stomach as I make my way home - knowing you'll be there.

I love how you come home from work and, before even removing your coat, you seek me out for a kiss. I love how you tuck the covers around me in the middle of the night. And how you let me fall asleep with my head on your chest.

I love how we can be at two different ends of a crowded room and sense each others glance. How our eyes meet and you wink at me, and I feel my face flush as I smile. After all these years, your glance still makes me feel giddy.

I look toward my future - our future ... standing side by side, holding hands, sharing adventures. With you, all things are possible.

I love you, Steve. In a way that I can not put into words. Thank you for thirteen years of happiness. I wish for a hundred and thirteen more.

When I got home from work, I was surprised to see Steve home before me. As soon as I entered the house, I smelled the scent of roses. I made my way into the living room and saw a huge vase of roses - yellow and red, as has been custom since the first year we were married.

Susan and RosesUp until our 12th anniversary, Steve would buy a dozen roses. Of that dozen, there would be a red rose for every year we were married, and yellow roses to make up the difference. On our twelfth anniversary, I got a dozen red roses. Now that we've passed twelve, Steve figures it's time to just add to the dozen. So this time I got a dozen yellow roses, and one red rose - signifying the 13th year. Next year, if he can get an order placed to a florist from Iraq, I should get a dozen yellow and two red roses... and so on - until, on our 24th anniversary - I'll have a dozen yellow and a dozen red! :)

The meaning of yellow roses has changed over the years. In the Victorian era, they meant jealousy! Now, yellow roses signify strong feelings of pure joy, gladness, happiness and friendship. It also signifies familiar love and domestic happiness. Yellow roses also symbolize fun and freedom. Domestic happiness... we definitely have that! And we always have fun! Red roses symbolize romance, beauty, respect, courage, passionate love and unity. (I happen to prefer yellow roses to red - they make me think of spring.) Steve took the photo at left (sorry, it's a bit blurry!).

Last night we had an FRG (Family Readiness Group) meeting and talked about the upcoming training schedule and deployment. We touched on all kinds of other important stuff (wills, powers of attorney, etc.) that we've talked about many times over the past few months. I suppose they just want to make sure we're all prepared. Because of the meeting, we didn't get to celebrate our anniversary the way we wanted - a nice, romantic, home cooked meal and champagne. So we did it tonight instead. Steve barbecued a pork loin, steamed some green beans with garlic, and grilled some asparagus. It was delicious, and the smell of the pork barbecuing - along with the 50F temperatures and sunny skies - made it feel like spring had finally arrived!

The happy sound of dripping is all around us now. And the deep puddles are appearing all over the roadways again. "Breakup" is definitely upon us! Which means we'll be sloshing through puddles and still removing our shoes at the front door. But the results are so worth it! I look forward to "green up" and new buds and leaves. I look forward to flowers at the Botanical Garden. I look forward to exploring the state again this summer.

Northern Lights and CassiopeiaThe night before last, the Northern Lights made an appearance. These sightings will grow fewer and further between until they disappear once again as the days get longer and longer. The stars were brilliant, along with the lights, and a friend pointed out that I caught the constellation Cassiopeia in this photo.

The Myth (from this website):
Cassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus, the Ethiopian king of Joppa (now known as Jaffa, in Israel), and the mother of Andromeda. The queen was both beautiful and vain, and the story of how her vanity caused great distress is told in relation to the constellation Andromeda.

After promising her daughter in marriage to Perseus, Cassiopeia had second thoughts. She convinced one of Poseidon's sons, Agenor, to disrupt the ceremony by claiming Andromeda for himself. Agenor arrived with an entire army, and a fierce struggle ensued. In the battle Cassiopeia is said to have cried "Perseus must die". At any rate it was Perseus who was victorious, with the help of Medusa's head. Perseus had recently slain Medusa, and he retrieved the head and waved it in midst of the warring wedding party, instantly turning them all to stone. In the group was both Cepheus and Cassiopeia. A contrite Poseidon put both father and mother in the heavens. But because of Cassiopeia's vanity, he placed her in a chair which revolves around the Pole Star, so half the time she's obliged to sit upside down. The Greeks considered that this was an undignified position (being upside down, and also the normal way up, in a chair).

The Alaska Range has been beautiful lately. Yesterday, the clouds were textured and swirling above the peaks. I drove to the overlook at UAF and shot five frames, which I stitched together in my editing program to create this panorama. At normal size, I could print out a panoramic 12 feet long or more, without losing any detail. Wouldn't that be an incredible piece of artwork?

Alaska Range Pano

Saturday, April 9 - A drive to the top of Murphy Dome

Yesterday morning, I picked up my friend LuAnn and we took a drive to the top of Murphy Dome. The road that leads to the top of Murphy Dome is about 15 miles from Fort Wainwright, and then it's another 5 miles or so to the summit. Elevation is 2930'. From the top of Murphy Dome, you get a 360o view of the Alaska Range (including Denali on a clear day), the White Mountains, and rolling hills of open tundra. It's an awe-inspiring view! Also, at the top of Murphy Dome, you're above the tree line. There are a few short spruces growing, and various scrub bushes - but mostly it's devoid of anything taller than moss and other ground cover. However, in July and August, the berries are ripe for the picking in the boggy, tundra areas. Berries common are raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, currants (a little harder to find) and rosehips. I look forward to some berry picking this year.

The landscape is punctuated by a few tors rocks. They make for good short climb to an even higher vantage point, a spot to sit and rest, or even a place to enjoy a picnic lunch. Nothing can compare to sitting atop one of these formations in the peace and quiet of what feels like the top of the world.

Yesterday, we were glad to find that although the snow isn't gone yet - the hiking/4-wheeler/snowmachine path was beat down pretty well and made for an easy walk. We made our way to the first group of rocks and snapped photos of the landscape. It felt almost moonlike - especially when covered in snow. Having the USAF Intercept Station perched up there - looking like a spaceship - only adds to the 'we're on another planet' feeling.

On the way to the top, we were happy to come across a pair of Ptarmigans (Alaska's state bird). The male ruffled his tail feathers as he pursued the female across the road. Mating season, perhaps? Ptarmigans are not known for their 'smarts'. If you see them in the road, it's best you slow down and let them make their way OFF the road at their own pace. If you don't, you'll most likely hit them. Unfortunately the two we saw yesterday, met their demise. We saw their poor dead bodies in the middle of the road on the way home. I suppose not everyone 'brakes for birds'. So sad...

We also saw a moose enjoying some grazing on the low hanging branches of the birch trees. We stopped to get some photos of her. Her belly was hanging low with pregnancy. I look forward to late spring when we'll see more 'little' calves roaming the woods with their mamas.

All in all, it was a gorgeous day - with temperatures in the 50's, sunshine, and beautiful blue skies. The snow is melting quickly and puddles are everywhere. But, alas, it is the 'ugly' season here in Fairbanks with mud, puddles, brown, brown, and more brown. And dirty snow, potholes, grimy cars, and slush. Fairbanks isn't the most beautiful city in Alaska, but at this time of year it REALLY leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, there are places nearby (like Murphy Dome) where I can escape to, and take in the magnificence of this great state.

Steve and I went out to dinner with a few of his coworkers last night. We ate at Lavelle's Bistro and really enjoyed the meal. It's a bit pricier than some of the other restaurants in town, but the food is fabulous, the wine list is extensive, and on Friday night there is entertainment. Last night there was a jazz quartet performing. They were great!

On the way home, the sky was colored pink with sunset and the range was highlighted in color. It was a few minutes until 9pm and still light out! I had forgotten how quickly we regain our daylight hours after the long, dark days of winter. With an additional 7 minutes of daylight every day, we'll soon be in the middle of summer - and the midnight sun. I asked Steve to drive me up Birch Hill so that I could get a photo of sunset on the range.

We stayed up late (past midnight) - not unheard of when the days are so long. In the summer it is amazing to have the sun shining in the window at 1am. We have to force ourselves to go to bed or we're exhausted the next day! But with such long days, there is so much time to explore. We've often taken a long drive after dinner - knowing we'd have endless sunshine accompanying us.

And now for some photos:

Murphy Dome
Standing atop Murphy Dome and looking out toward the White Mountains, you can see one of the rocky outcroppings. Notice the rolling hills of tundra and spruce that go off for miles and miles. This area between Murphy Dome and the White Mountains is called the Chatanika River Valley and Minto Flats.
Murphy Dome
The path you see here is used by snowmachiners, four-wheelers, and hikers. It continues onward for miles. Although the walk down is easy, the walk back up is strenuous. In the summer, the area on both sides of the path is spongy and called 'muskeg'. This is where the berries grow. In addition, fly agaric mushrooms, various mosses, and small-leafed ground covers also thrive. The landscape becomes a patchwork of colors with various shades of green, red, and yellow.
Army Air Defense Command Post
Army Air Defense Command Posts (AADCP) were a crucial communication link connecting to NORAD control centers in the early 1950's. AADCPs monitored the skies to determine whether aircraft were friend or foe.

Murphy Dome was converted from a ground-controlled intercept site to a surveillance station in the early-mid 70's.

Nibbling moose   Pastel Range
Tuesday, April 12 - Happy Birthday, Daddy - I miss you...

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge, that myth is more potent that history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts, that hope always triumphs over experience,
that laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.
~ From the movie The Crow ~

Dear Daddy,

Today is your birthday, and if you were still here on earth with us, you would be 71 years old. I think about you often, and miss you tremendously. Sometimes, when I'm alone in the house, I think I catch you out of the corner of my eye. I whirl around, hoping to actually see you... or your spirit. Hoping to see the smile you always had for me - your little girl.

When I'm out exploring and I'm standing in the middle of God's beauty, I often think of you and wish I could show you such splendor. And then I realize that you see it - and so much more - even though you are not here in mortal form. In those moments, I wonder if you're looking down on me and smiling, happy for my joy, as you always were.

And when I am being spoiled by Steve - almost as much as you spoiled me - I hope that you can see that I have a man by my side who loves me and takes care of me. Because I know that no matter how much I proved my strength and independence to you over the years, you wanted me to be taken care of. I am, Daddy... I'm in good hands.

I wish that your time on earth hadn't been cut short. You would be so proud of your grandsons and the young men they grew up to be. Just like you, Daddy. You were such a wonderful, loving influence on them, when they didn't have their own father in their lives. They miss you terribly too.

I'm thinking of you today and wishing I could have one more chance to hear you laugh. Or feel your strong arms wrapped around me. Or hear your voice on the phone. I thought that it would get easier as the years pass, but it hasn't. My heart still has an empty place in it. I love you and miss you, Daddy.

John Edward Smalley
April 12, 1934 - June 18, 1996
Thursday, April 14 - "Break Up" and Puddles

When "Break Up" comes to Fairbanks, all of the snow melts quickly in the warmer temperatures and puddles appear everywhere. Large puddles, small puddles, deep puddles, shallow puddles. Puddles on the roads, in the intersections, on the sidewalks, in parking lots... collections of water that act as mirrors. I love the puddles for their reflections. Especially when the water is still. Yesterday, after work, I went in search of puddles.

Pioneer Park Reflections Pioneer Park Reflections Pioneer Park Reflections Pioneer Park Reflections
Chena River "Spring is when you feel like whistling
even with a shoe full of slush."
~ Doug Larson ~
Pioneer Park Reflections

If the road into Denali is open this weekend, I want to drive into the park. Usually it's open to mile 15. If the road is plowed, it will be open to mile 29.5. I'll be calling the park ranger to see. *fingers crossed*

I met my friends Dianne and Susan after work today at McCafferty's. I got my old standby (Grande Mocha Latte) and chatted with Dianne until 4pm - when she had to rush off to a dentist appointment. Susan and I stayed and chatted until 6pm! It's been a long time since we've had a chance to visit with each other, and it was great to catch up and talk 'girl talk'. I'm so glad we made the time to spend together. I've missed her company. I know we'll be spending a lot more time together after August and the deployment. It's great to have good friends here who have good marriages. Together, we'll get through this deployment.

Sunday, April 17 - Geese and "The Great One"

This past weekend was magnificent! It is weekends like this, that make me especially thankful that I live in Alaska. My joy began early on Friday morning, when I learned that the geese have returned to Creamers Field. The sandhill cranes have not yet arrived, but I know their return is imminent. I grabbed my camera and headed off to Creamers to photograph the geese - a first sign of spring.

Geese SparringThese two geese were very loud and boisterous with one another. While it may look almost like a mating dance of sorts, I think this was more a show of territorial rights.

I like that the goose on the right is just wandering off as if he/she couldn't be bothered with the posturing of the two on the left.

As I snapped photos, more and more people arrived - sitting in their cars with binoculars at their eyes - watching the first few signs of spring arrive.

Yesterday morning, Steve and I got up early and headed out the door to Denali National Park. Denali is 125 miles west of us. After checking the website over the last week, it was finally updated to show that the road was finally plowed past mile 29.5 (Teklanika). When the road is plowed - and before tourist season begins (May 21st this year) - you can drive into Denali as far as Teklanika. Any other time of the year, only buses are allowed past mile 15 (unless you're camping). This is the time of year, that Steve and I make our journey into the park in search of wildlife, views of Mt. McKinley (Denali to Alaska locals), and serenity. Although we aren't the only ones who make the trek into the park, traffic is light and it is easy to truly feel alone in this wide expanse of grandeur. We seem to be 'batting 1000' as Denali was visible for us - as she has been every time we've ventured into the park in the past!

Steve and Me Mt McKinley Denali Park Alaska Train

I took my tripod with us, so that I could get a photo of me and Steve. This was taken at mile 30 - the furthest you can go by vehicle during the off season. We walked an additional 3/4 mile down to the Teklanika River Bridge for additional photos - and to stretch our legs.

We saw skiers and snowshoers walking on the frozen river - carrying heavy backpacks - no doubt heading off on a camping adventure.

Mt. McKinley (known as Denali to the locals) stands much taller than the rest of the mountains in the range. We have found that she is most visible early in the day. As the morning progresses, the clouds roll in and obscure her majestic summit.

We've been lucky so far - she has been visible every time we've ventured into the park.

The scrub brush has a burnt reddish/brown color and lends a nice contrast to a cold and snowy landscape. I love the cloud formations that form over the park too.

In the middle of the photo, you can see a glimpse of the road that leads into the park.

I love to photograph the railroad trestles on the way to Denali. What an added bonus to actually get to photograph the train as it crossed!
Denali Park Ptarmigan Denali Park Bull Moose

We traveled this stretch of road on foot after parking the truck. Standing amid the tall, towering peaks is a very humbling experience.

Someday, I'd love to pack my bike and pedal into the park even further.

The willow ptarmigan is a small grouse with a red comb over its eyes. The comb is larger in the spring and summer. It has rusty brown feathers on its back, neck and head mixed with white feathers on its wings and stomach. In the winter, it has feathers on its legs and feet that help protect it from the cold and snow. In the winter, it is all white except for a few black feathers on its tail.

This ptarmigan has already molted a bit to regain his/her dark feathers to hide in the tundra.

The road into Denali traverses higher elevations of snow-covered tundra, and also winds between tall rocky cliffs. Dall sheep can be seen atop the hills. (We didn't see any this time)

The terrain is gorgeous and makes the drive a treat for the eyes.

This young bull moose already has the 'nubs' on his head that will soon become a majestic antler rack.

It was my first time seeing a male in the wild. Now, my goal is to see one with a full rack!

Denali Park Pano Denali Park Pano
  Denali Park Pano  
Thursday, April 21 - April showers? No.... how about blizzards?

Lucky for Steve and I to make our trip into Denali on Saturday. On Sunday, almost the entire state got hit with snow. We got several inches here in Fairbanks, and it was estimated that Denali was going to get a foot of the white stuff. A friend of mine decided to make the drive to Denali on Sunday, and was turned away at the gate because the roads were hazardous. How fortunate we were!

The snow was totally unexpected and the resulting fender benders were indicative of our inexperience in driving on treacherous roads. It seems many people got too comfortable with the dry roadways, and another large percentage have already removed their studded tires. (We have to take them off by May 1st). Not me... I'm always the last to take my studs off. Rather to be a procrastinator than have to deal with slippery and snowy roads.

I was worried the geese would leave Creamers Field - thinking that they had landed in the wrong place. *grin* But I was wrong. They're still hanging around, but had to do some foraging to get to the seed and grain that lay buried under the cold, wet stuff. Fortunately, by yesterday, all the accumulation had melted away. The unfortunate thing is that we still get down below freezing at night, so the morning light reveals icy patches on the roadways

Chena River I stopped at Creamers Field yesterday on the way home. The skies were a gorgeous shade of blue; streaked with white clouds lower on the horizon. It is hard to explain just how blue the skies can be here. After watching the geese for a little while, I continued home - stopping at the Chena River for a photograph. The Chena River runs through Fort Wainwright behind our MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) building. That area of the river is usually the last to thaw. It was good to see watery patches in between the ice floes. I think this photo shows the blueness of the sky pretty well.

Sunday, April 24 - Happy Birthday, Chris (April 23rd) and more Geese!

For ChrisDear Chris,

It's hard to believe that twenty six years have gone by. I can remember carrying you in my belly as if it were yesterday. I was 18 when I conceived you - and you were excitedly planned. Your dad and I had just bought our little house in Levittown, PA - an exciting thing for an 18 and 20 year old. People told us we were nuts... that we were getting in over our heads with a mortgage. It was a little house, but it was ours. Soon after, your father and I decided we wanted to have a family and fill the two extra bedrooms. Mom Mom wasn't very thrilled when we told her I was pregnant. She was only 41 years old - "too young to be a grandmother", she said. Well, we know how her attitude changed when you came into the world.

Those first few months were tough. At 19, I had no clue that there was so much work involved with having a human being totally dependent on me! In the meantime, Mom Mom was having the time of her life. She got to cuddle a sweet-smelling newborn, coo to you, and then hand you back when you got cranky. I could tell she was really warming up to this 'grandmother' thing. :)

As with all first children, there was a lot of learning going on. I didn't have any good books to read about child-rearing, and they wouldn't have helped anyway. There was no other child like you anywhere else in the world, and I'd have to learn from scratch. I did the best I could.

You probably don't remember those 4 and a half years you had with me before your brother came along. Or maybe you do.... The sun rose and set on you. You were my cuddle buddy. We took walks all the time. We'd splash through puddles; pick flowers and put them in a jar full of water. We built snowmen, and snow forts, and I'd pull you on a sled through the neighborhood. We'd eat hot-dogs and macaroni and cheese, because it was your favorite meal. (I didn't know very much about nutrition, that's for sure!)

When your dad worked graveyard shift, I'd feel you climb into bed with me in the middle of the night. Your chubby 2 year old body always felt so incredibly warm when I wrapped myself around you. I never felt so content in my life.

The years seemed to move in fast forward and soon you were heading off to kindergarten. I still have the picture I took of you with your Pacman backpack climbing on the schoolbus and waving goodbye to me. I cried like a baby that day.

And then you were graduating from grade school and heading off to junior high. You used to pedal your bike more than a mile to school because we lived just outside the bus pickup line. Every morning, when you left, my heart would go into my throat because I knew you had to ride on some busy streets and I worried.

Not long after, I met and married Steve and I pulled you out of the only life you knew and took you to Georgia, so that we could start a new life. What an upheaval that was for you. Leaving behind friends and family to start new in a place 800 miles away, in a lifestyle that neither of us knew anything about. Fortunately, you did make friends quickly and learned to love living in a place where there were red clay canyons and hiking trails nearby.

I remember when you fell in love for the first time. Mandy... It was so all-encompassing for you. She was the girl you were going to marry. You spent every moment with her. I relived my teen years - and the emotional roller coaster - along with you. You and I talked a lot then. About life, love, sex, goals, dreams. I was so happy that we had such an open line of communication. I didn't have that with my parents. I loved to hear you talk. I loved that you confided in me. It was probably the first time that I felt I was a good mom, and had done OK - despite the hurdles we had faced during our 'single parent' years.

And then you graduated from highschool. Where did the time go? I was so proud of you as you crossed the stage to get your diploma. Making highest honors, being published in Who's Who two years in a row... so smart! I know we both wished that Pop Pop could have been there to see you graduate. We were all still hurting deeply over losing him the year before....

Not long after, you decided it was time to leave the nest. You wanted to move to FL to live with your dad, stretch your wings, explore new territory. I felt my heart rip from my chest when I said goodbye to you. Eighteen years had flown by in a nanosecond. I wanted to go back and start over... I wanted more time with you. What a hard day that was...

Today you are twenty six years old. But you will always be my baby. My first born. The chubby cheeked, and chubby legged toddler who chased butterflies in the yard. I can close my eyes and be transported back to a time when I was the center of your universe. When it was just you and me.... learning, exploring, loving, laughing, growing. It makes me sad that now those days are only as real as my memories.

I love you Chris. I am so incredibly proud of you, and the man you have grown into. You have a caring and loving heart and a giving spirit. You have a wonderful, positive outlook on life... and one heck of a sense of humor. Be proud of who you are. I am!

Love always, Mom

Geese FlyingThe geese have arrived in Fairbanks in numbers. Yesterday, Steveand I stopped to get some photos, and we were excited to see that four sandhill cranes had also arrived. This is the true sign of spring!

The photo above took me by surprise. I didn't even notice - until I downloaded - that I had caught this group of four geese in a different stage of wing movement. I wonder if it was just a 'freak' thing, or if they fly with alternating wing movements on purpose. Interesting..

Greater White Fronted Goose Geese Geese
The goose to the left (center of photo) is the Greater White Fronted Goose. They have white on front of face just above bill and are the only North American goose with orange or yellow feet and irregular black bars or blotches on its gray underparts
The snow at Creamers Field is quickly melting now and leaving huge puddles in its wake. The geese (and pintail ducks) have been enjoying the water... swimming, foraging for vegetation beneath the water, and even playing in it. These two geese found a mound of snow to explore. They were the only two who had wandered off on their own, which is why I titled this photo "Where'd Everyone Go?"

While out shooting, my camera malfunctioned. I couldn't get the autofocus to work. While I can still shoot in Manual Focus mode, the camera doesn't respond on autofocus. I did some research as to the problem and discovered that the Canon Digital Rebel is good for about 30,000 shots before things start to malfunction. I've taken nearly 32,000 photos in the last 13 months. While my camera is not beyond repair, it will need to be sent off - as we don't have any camera repair shops here in Fairbanks. I will not go without a camera. I can not go without a camera. So.... it looks like I may be upgrading sooner than I thought I was going to. I've had my eye on the Canon EOS 20D (a professional grade camera) for some time. I'll be checking prices and probably purchasing one soon. It takes the same lenses my Rebel does, so that helps. In the meantime - once I get the new camera, I will send off the Rebel for repairs. (Yes, I have a sickness... I can not function without my camera *laughs*) Anyway... for anyone who takes photography as seriously as I do - the only solution is to have a back-up camera at all times. That's what I keep telling myself anyway....

Thursday, April 28 - Willow Catkins and Red Squirrels

Slowly but surely, Spring is arriving. I see little signs around me. Melting snow... puddles... a trickle of water in the drainage ditch behind my house.... mud - lots of mud!

When the snow disappeared from my yard, I felt like a pirate discovering treasure. Children's small toys, which lay buried for months, finally came into view. They belong to the neighbor kids, but I say "Finders Keepers"! *grin*

Another sign of impending "green-up" is when the willow catkins explode and go to seed. I saw that yesterday. Maybe we'll have green leaves by Monday. That's my prediction. I hope I'm right.

Red SquirrelWillow CatkinsThe red squirrels have been feisty lately. They scamper and run along the fence line, up and down trees, in circles, jumping and playing with each other. You can see their exuberance. It makes me smile. Chattering, they scold me and Sedona as we pass too close to their tree. I sometimes wish I knew the language of squirrels.

I am soon to be the proud owner of a new camera. I took the plunge and ordered the Canon 20D. I also took a bigger plunge and ordered a 100-400mm zoom telephoto lens. The lens cost more than the camera. YIKES! I have never spent so much money on electronics before in my life. I intend to have my Rebel repaired as a backup. Both the 20D and the Rebel use the same lenses. This new lens will hopefully get me even closer to the bears when we go to Katmai in July. I'm so excited about that!

I was very hesitant about spending so much money, as I am very conservative with my spending. But then I thought about the upcoming year-long deployment, and my passion for photography, and how my passion is going to keep me sane while Steve is away... and, well... it's a worthwhile investment. I ordered the camera/lens today. It won't be shipped until mid May. I can't wait.

The sandhill cranes haven't arrived in full force yet. A few stragglers have made a landing at Creamers Field. Maybe next week, we'll have them here by the dozens. One thing that has arrived is mosquitoes. Lots of them. Buggers.