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Saturday, September 3 - A new month, spending time with friends, brief phone calls.

Again, time has slipped away from me. There's really not much to report. I've completed my first week of work, and the time really flew by. I didn't hear from Steve again until early this morning (1:30am Alaska Time - 1:30pm Iraq time). It's strange to think that I'm fast asleep and it's the middle of the afternoon for him. Needless to say, he's at his destination.

The soldier he is replacing is still there, so Steve doesn't have a room yet. (He's not going to kick the guy out!) However, from our conversation, I gather that Steve will have many of the conveniences of home - except for his wife of course. *grin* There is a small refrigerator in his room and a microwave. He's buying the TV from the soldier, and the guy is also leaving behind his VCR. All Steve has asked for at this point is a DVD player and some movies. I'm going to wait a few weeks before sending it out, so he's settled in his own room. According to Steve, there is satellite TV and Internet in the rooms (at a price - but no price is too high to insure communication). But, up until then, communication will continue to be sporadic. He's working extremely hard, and very long hours. I don't think he's had a full night's sleep since he got there. It sounds like they're all sleeping in cat naps. Of course, he always sounds good when I talk to him - probably because he's as happy as I am to be able to speak to one another. He said something to me this morning and I giggled. It made me smile when he said, "I've really missed your laugh." The call was cut off unexpectedly, without an opportunity to say goodbye or "I love you" another time. I'm glad we said it early on in the phone call.

I've been spending a lot of time with Susan and Rachael on the weekends. This weekend, Rachael hosted "Chick Flick Night" at her house. Last night we watched Monster In Law (with J-Lo), and tonight we watched an older movie (not a chick flick) that I really liked - The Emperors Club (with Kevin Kline). We're going to breakfast tomorrow morning; the start of a weekly routine we'd like to continue while the guys are gone. On Monday, since we're all off, we're planning to drive down to Delta Junction and visit Rika's Roadhouse. I hope it's a nice day and the range is out. It will probably be the last time I head down the Richardson Hwy for awhile.

My class in Journalism starts Tuesday afternoon. I'll be juggling my schedule at work to accommodate it. I'm really excited, but nervous too. The class is a small one (only 12 or 14 students), which I like, but I always get nervous before I start something new. I'm not sure how I'll adapt to shooting photos of 'newsworthy' subjects. It's definitely going to get me thinking and working outside my box. Since it's about photography it can't be all that bad!

Like the rest of the world, I've been following the news about the devastation in NOLA. I'm saddened about all that has been happening there. Steve and I have always wanted to visit New Orleans, but never made the time to do it. Now it might be too late. My prayers go out to all of the people who are suffering so greatly.

I don't have any recent photos to share with you all. Sorry about that. I do expect to take some on Monday if the weather is nice and we go for our drive. I wish Steve were going with me... we've always loved our weekend drives.

There has been talk of seeing the Northern Lights in the night sky. I haven't been lucky enough to see them yet. It doesn't get really dark until the middle of the night and I'm fast asleep by then. Last year, I got my first photographs of them in October. As brutal as the winter is here, the Northern Lights make it all worth while.

It's hard to believe that I've been in Fairbanks for more than two years. The time has just flown by for me. This will be my third winter. Some say the third winter is hard for a lot of people. I hope that's not true, as this winter will be hard for many reasons already.

O sweet September, thy first breezes bring
The dry leaf's rustle and the squirrel's laughter,
The cool fresh air whence health and vigor spring
And promise of exceeding joy hereafter.
~ George Arnold, September Days ~

Tuesday, September 6 - Appreciating Autumn's Colors

Yesterday morning, I picked up Rachael and Susan and we headed down the Richardson Highway to Rika's Roadhouse. It was a beautiful drive, but we didn't see one single moose. That was definitely not par for the course and I think we were all disappointed by the lack of sightings.

The tundra is a magnificent patchwork of colors. There are various shades of red - from bright poinsettia red to deep burgundy. There are purples, yellows, greens and every shade of these colors. It's absolutely breathtaking and photos don't do it justice. The most stunning contrast of colors occurs where the brilliant gold of the birch tree groves fade off to the blue of the mountains in the Alaska Range. It's certainly awe-inspiring.

When we arrived at Rika's we took our time exploring the grounds and the gift shop. Heading upstairs to the fur shop, we enjoyed running our hands against the soft fur of the scarves, coats, and gloves in the shop. Beaver and fox garments surrounded us, and Susan made sure to try on the purple fur coat that still hasn't been sold. (Purple is her favorite color)

I finally bought myself a pair of fur-lined gloves trimmed in silver fox. I've been wanting a pair of gloves with fur for some time, and I know that Steve would have encouraged the purchase. They were reasonably priced and feel wonderful on my hands. Since he's so worried about me forgetting my gloves in the winter, I felt it best that I buy a pair so sumptuous that I'd WANT to remember them. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. *grin*

After enjoying Rika's for about an hour, we continued southeast toward Donnelly Dome. Both Rachael and Susan were very good about yelling out "Stop!" when a beautiful photo op presented itself. I had no problem pulling over and jumping out of the truck for photos. The view through the windshield was amazing... gold birch and aspen punctuated with the dark green (almost black) color of the spruce. What a gorgeous combination of colors!

We had lunch at the Buffalo Diner in Delta Junction, and got up from the table exploding. I ate way too much and all that food in my stomach made me crave a nap. We headed home, stopping at the Salcha River Marina to get photos of our hubby dolls. (Yes, they went with us on our adventure)

And now - photos from the trip. Click for enlargements:

Steve BBQing!
Thursday, September 8 - Happy Birthday Mom! The Soldier Show!

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. I called her and left her a birthday message, but she must have been out celebrating. I also mailed off a card, but because the mail goes by dogsled here (hehehe), it will get to her late. Actually, I will admit I'm a procrastinator and forgot that Labor Day would hold up the mail even more. Sorry, Mommy!!! You know I love you!!!

Last night, Susan, Rachael and I, attended the "Soldier Show" at the Herring Auditorium (Lathrop HS). It was FREE to the public and one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. The entire group of performers are soldiers, and they are AMAZING! Here's a blurb from the website (linked above):

WHAT IS IT? The U.S. Army Soldier Show is a high-energy MTV-style 90-minute live musical review showcasing the talents of active duty soldiers who are selected by audition from throughout the Army. They are amateur artists who have a passion for music, dance and performing. They come from infantry, artillery, transportation, military police, medical, intelligence, armor, aviation, signal and other tactical units. The show is put together in six weeks, and then tours for six months.

The music they chose for this performance spanned a large range: modern enough to make the 'teeny-bopper' crowd wiggle in their seats and sing along, and also classic enough to keep the *boomers* in the audience interested. There were many times that I wanted to get up and dance in the aisles. There were also other moments when I had to control my emotions to keep from sobbing. Susan passed tissues down the row to us, and I shredded mine with tears. We weren't the only ones.... we were surrounded by other women and children who were missing their loved ones too. Just seeing the performers in uniform for some of the numbers was enough to make me miss Steve.

I took my camera and shot many photos. I'm hoping to use a few of them for one of the assignments in my photojournalism class. Speaking of my class - I'm sure I'm really going to enjoy it! The class is small - only 14 of us - and I think I'm the oldest (what else is new?). It's a fabulous mix of students; some with experience on school or local newspapers, and some with no experience whatsoever. The instructor seems really cool (and he's VERY talented), and I hope to learn a lot from him. He's been published in Life Magazine, as well as other publications. I'm there to expand my horizons, and I'm definitely going to do that. I will really need to 'step outside my box' as photojournalism involves PEOPLE and candid shots - and I will have to learn to be comfortable approaching people and asking if I can take their photo. Definitely not the landscape/wildlife niche I'm comfortable in. I'm excited.

I've completed my second full week of work already. Time has really flown, and for that I am thankful. I had the opportunity to talk to Steve by Instant Messenger (IM) once since I wrote last. He got online as I was getting ready for work. He's such a slow typist, I was able to get dressed while he was responding to my sentences. There's a delay as well, which gave me even more time. I didn't care - it was so thrilling to talk to him in 'real time', even though he's 12 hours ahead of us here in Alaska. I was getting ready for work, and he was getting ready for his final meeting of the day. He wished me a good day at work, and I wished him a restful sleep. Weird...

I'm hosting Chick Flick Night at my house this weekend (Saturday). I'm making noodles and dumplings for the girls. Marcella is going to join us, and she's bringing chicken for the soup. :) I have no clue what we'll watch this weekend, but it will be good to hang out. And now... on with the photos:

Monday, September 12th - Chena Hot Springs Rd Drive and The Lights Come Out!

Again, several days have passed without finding a spare moment to update. I suppose it's good that I'm so busy. I was feeling pretty lousy on Friday. It must have been a 24-hour stomach virus, because by Friday evening I was feeling much better. Thank goodness! I hate being sick.

Sunday morning, I went to breakfast with Susan and Rachael. Afterward, Susan went off to a scrapbooking meeting, and Rachael and I took a drive up Chena Hot Springs Road (CHSR). CHSR is absolutely stunning all year around, but in the autumn the colors in the trees are absolutely brilliant. The road winds through open countryside, climbs over hills and dips into valleys, and travels through acres of forest. It is a wonderful drive for moose sightings too. Unfortunately for us, we only glimpsed one - and she was hidden far enough in the trees to avoid having her photo taken. Nevertheless, the colors and textures of autumn in Alaska surrounded us. The sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, and the sun was shining. We couldn't have asked for a better day to take a drive.

We stopped many times along the way to take photos of the river, the foliage, and the landscape. There are several campgrounds along CHSR, and each offers its own unique beauty. Rosehip Campground is on the banks of the river and thick with tall birch and aspen trees. The leaves were deep where they had floated to rest on empty picnic tables. A soft carpet of gold and yellow lined the narrow paved road that winds through the campground. The sunlight filtering through the trees reflected off the leaves and cast an orange glow over everything. It was just stunning.

Another campground - Twin Bears Camp - is on a small, secluded lake in a rustic, woodland setting within the Chena River State Recreation Area. There are cabins, a dining hall, and a recreation hall. It is usually rented by small groups and organizations (scouting, etc.). The reflection of the cabins in the lake was simply gorgeous.

Two other campgrounds that we stopped at also took us to the river's edge and afforded us wonderful views of foliage, water, and landscape.

Chena River

Rosehip Campground

Chena Slough

Beaver Pond - CHSR

Chena River

River's Edge

Twin Bears Camp Panoramic (800px)

Beaver Pond Panoramic (800px)

I thought that my drive up Chena Hot Springs Rd. would be the highlight of my Sunday - and it certainly was an amazing afternoon. But the wonder didn't stop there. Later last evening, the northern lights made their appearance in the night sky. I grabbed my camera, my tripod, and my shoes and ran into the back yard to capture them. Since it was my first time photographing the aurora with my 20D camera, I don't have the settings figured out yet for optimum results. However, a few of the photos I took turned out well enough to share. The lights weren't as vibrant as I know they will be in months to come, but any sight of them is enough to thrill me.

When you look at the first photo, do you see a face? I do. It looks as if the face is looking down at earth. Half of the face is in shadow and the ridge of the nose is visible, along with one eye. Seeing the face was very surreal for me - especially because I was in a bit of a funk over the significance of the date, and my memories of September 11th.

The last photo was an experiment in long exposures and capturing a car's headlights as it drove down the street.

Friday, September 16th - Sunrises, Evening frost, and Phonecalls

My week at work passed quickly, which is always good because it means that the time that Steve and I are separated is also passing quickly. It's hard to believe it's been three weeks already. Only 49 to go.

I had my second photojournalism class on Tuesday night and the instructor passed out the camera kits to the students. Because I have my own camera, I didn't need a kit. The camera included is the Digital Rebel - the camera I bought before my 20D, and my backup camera. He went over the different controls and buttons, and I actually learned some stuff I wasn't aware of. (The 20D and the Rebel are very similar) We have a project due on September 27th, but I really need to knock it out now, while we still have autumn foliage on the trees. Especially since it's called a 'Fall Feature'. I'm going to see about shooting some hunters if I stumble upon them. It's moose season.

I went walking with Rachael yesterday after work and again this morning. With my work schedule I can't do it in the morning as often, and I've missed the exercise. I have no idea what we're going to do when winter hits. I still take Sedona out, but not for 5 mile walks. We're lucky if we make it a half block and back when the temperature is hovering at minus 45F.

One of the things I love most about this time of year is sunrise and sunset. During the summer months, we don't see sunrises and sunsets. We don't see stars in the sky. We rarely see the moon - and when we do, it's a white orb in a light blue sky. To see the sky change from dark gray to orange and yellow and pink is a fantastic way to start a new day. And watching the reverse happen is the perfect way to say goodbye to another day.

Yesterday morning, I took my camera with me when I took Sedona out for her walk. A glance out the window showed pink uplit clouds and an orange glow over the neighborhood. Ahhh.... a beautiful sunrise! I have been starved for them.

Streaks of clouds crossed the sky for as far as the eye could see. And each streak of cloud was bottom lit with the orange and yellow glow of the sun. On the opposite side of the sky, the trees poked up into a pale pink horizon, which faded into the blueness of a new day.

On the way to work, I pulled off at the rec center and drove down to the boat launch. My short glimpses of the river along the way showed fog hovering over the water. I wanted to try to capture a photograph of it. By the time I parked and went down to the river, the fog had dissipated a lot. The photo wasn't the sharpest either, but you can see the mist on top of the water.

Steve called me this morning! It was such a pleasure to hear his voice. We got to talk for about 20 minutes, and got disconnected once. When he called me back, the call was much clearer and didn't have that terrible delay that is common. I talked him through receiving and sending photos through email. One of the servers they use over there is top security and strips photographs from emails. This was causing him all kinds of frustration, as I was sending him photos of the autumn foliage and the northern lights and he couldn't open them. We finally worked out a solution that seems to work. We'll see how it goes.

I mailed off his third & fourth care packages today. In one, there's a DVD player to hook up to his TV. (Now he wants me to copy some movies to send to him). In the other is all of his comfort foods - beef jerky, kippers and crackers (EWWWW!), Ramen noodles. He needed powdered creamer too, since he now has a coffee pot in his room and can at least wake up to nice hot cup of java in the morning. I made copies of quite a few of our music CDs and sent them off to him too. I also included some large photos of me for his wall. His walls are bare and he wants nothing more than my face decorating them. Awwwwww.... I think I'm gonna keep this guy. *grin* Hopefully we'll be able to talk more often - or at least exchange emails. The days are flying by for both of us, but the nights are hard. We're both sleeping OK, but would sleep a whole lot better if we could cuddle with each other. The house is certainly empty without him. I'll be glad when this is over.

I'm on my way to Rachael's house to watch a movie with her and Susan. She's cooking for us - something quick and easy. We don't go all out when it comes to movies and dinner. And that's just the way we like it. I'm so thankful for my friends.

Saturday, September 17 - Full Moon
How like a queen comes forth the lonely Moon
From the slow opening curtains of the clouds
Walking in beauty to her midnight throne!
~ George Croly, Diana
Monday, September 19th - The start of another week

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world,
which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay~

I can't believe that it's already been 25 days since Steve left. There are moments when the time has flown by and I'm thrilled to be almost a month into this separation. And then there are moments when Steve's absence is so deeply felt, that I wonder how I will get through another eleven of these chunks of time.

Communication has gotten increasingly better. I still haven't had the luxury of seeing his face via webcam, which depresses me, but I have had the opportunity to hear his voice via telephone a few times over the last few weeks. I've also gotten fairly regular emails from him. Some are long and detailed, while others are short notes telling me he loves and misses me. I am thrilled for any bit of communication from him, and save each message in a special folder.

Today I was ecstatic to find a 'real' letter in my mailbox! Steve penned the letter as he flew from Kuwait to Iraq. It's a long letter - and old news at this point - but the sight of his handwriting made me smile from ear to ear as I read his words. Holding sheets of paper that he had physically touched, was the closest thing to holding his hand that I've had in almost a month. I could easily envision his hands and his fingers. I miss the way our fingers lace as we walk together. Or the way his palm gently presses against the small of my back as he guides me to a seat in a restaurant. I miss everything about him. *sigh*

I mailed out two more care packages to Steve. This makes four boxes over the last four days. I finally sent off a bunch of DVD movies. I hope he enjoys them.

I'm happy to report that I'm spending Christmas in Madison, WI with my sons and my daughter-in-law! I bought my airline tickets last week. I'll be spending two weeks with them, and I am thrilled! I haven't celebrated Christmas with both my boys together since 1999. And I haven't seen Brandon since Christmas, 2002 - just before he deployed to Iraq. Now that he and Becky are out of the Marines, I hope to have the opportunity to spend more time with them. I'd love to have them both up to Alaska next summer, since they didn't get the opportunity last summer, when Chris came for a visit..

I made reservations to board Sedona at a local kennel. I'm going to leave Airborne unattended, however my friend Dianne will be stopping in every few days to check on her, fill her food bowl, etc. Thankfully, Airborne is a cat that grazes. I'm really going to miss my 'furkids' while I'm gone. But I'll get to love and hug on my human kids, and that makes up for it.

Susan is flying out the same day I am - and on the same flights I'm on - all the way to Minneapolis. Hopefully we'll be able to swap seats with someone else and sit together. It would be great to have the company. As it is now, I think we're sitting one behind the other.

Rachael, Susan and I are planning to drive to Denali this weekend. The weather doesn't look very promising, but the road into the park should be open to private vehicles to mile 29.5. Maybe we'll get lucky and the mountain will be out. I'd love to see some bears as well. The highlight of our trip (besides the awesome scenery) will be stopping at the Monderosa. No trip to Denali is complete without a stop for a delicious burger on the way home.

It's hard to believe that autumn is nearly over. The leaves are falling off the trees in record numbers. The trees are starting to look forlorn and brown. Soon, I'll be wishing for the first sparkling frost of winter to come and turn the landscape into C.S. Lewis' Narnia.

Friday, September 23 - Mourning the loss of a Friend
In 2002, I joined a group on Yahoo called "Alaska Living". I did this when Steve and I found out that the army was moving us from Jacksonville to Fairbanks. The owner of the group was a woman named Pamela Joy. She also hosted another group called Northern Composure  - which helped people cope with depression and S.A.D. - common problems when living in places with long, dark, winters.

For nearly a year, I posted questions to the group. What kind of clothes did I need? What did we have to do to our vehicles to prepare for winter in AK? What kind of community was Fairbanks? What activities were there? Pamela, and the other members were a godsend in preparing Steve and I for this huge move. As the months passed, the members of this group became friends, and I looked forward to moving up here and meeting them in real life.

Not long after we arrived, arrangements were being made to have a 'meet-up' of the Alaska Living group. My first meeting with the group was held at a local diner. While Pamela couldn't make that meeting, I was thrilled to meet some of the lovely people I had come to know in cyberspace.

A few months later, we had another meet-up. We met at Denny's and Pamela was able to attend. Her husband, Keith came with her. We took up a long table and chatted for hours. Pamela and I discussed cameras and travel. I loved hearing her stories about "the winters it got to -60F" and "the big 9.2 earthquake in 1964" - which occured when she was living in Anchorage. She loved Alaska - and particularly Fairbanks, with its close knit community and small town charm.

Last summer, we had an Alaska Living BBQ at Pioneer Park. (I wrote about it in my May 2004 Journal) We rented a pavilion and everyone brought something to share. Food and good cheer were abundant. I got to meet several more families in real life - people who had come to Alaska to fulfill a dream; not just because the military had sent them here. Families who loved living here as much as I do. People who saw and appreciated the wonder of Alaska - even interior Alaska, without its tall mountains and glaciers. I made wonderful friends through Alaska Living, and I continue to make new friends through the group.

This morning, a message was posted in the group from Pamela's dad in southern Indiana:

Last night, Thurs September 22, 2005, I talked to Keith who is staying in the West Mark Inn, Fairbanks, AK. His cell phone is [number deleted]. This is a condensed version of what he told me: Wed Sep 21, 2005, he went back to work at Golden Valley to help them out. (He retired at the end of July from there). It is not unusual for Pamela to work on her sites all night long and sleep during the day. Keith came home from work and found the house full of acrid smoke and found that the wood stove in the basement had malfunctioned. He ran upstairs to check on Pamela and found her collapsed on the floor in the hallway. He pulled her outside onto the deck, gave mouth to mouth and called 911. They arrived and was unable to revive her. She has been sent to Anchorage for an autopsy. No arrangements have been finalized. George in Southern Indiana. 9/23/2005

It is hard to believe that she is gone. She was the driving force in bringing together people from all over the world who shared the same dream - Alaska. I will never forget her.

Thank you, Pamela for welcoming me to Fairbanks. Thank you for your encouragement, your kind words, your wonderful stories, and your positive attitude. My prayers are with your family and the hundreds of people whose lives you have touched over the years. You will be sadly missed.

"Death is the opening of a more subtle life.
In the flower, it sets free the perfume;
in the chrysalis, the butterfly;
in man, the soul."

~ Juliette Adam ~

Saturday, September 24th - Visiting Denali before Winter Comes
This morning, my alarm went off at 6:30am and I hit the snooze button. I would have liked to have slept a few hours later. I jumped in the shower at 6:45am and five minutes later - as shampoo was running down my face - the phone rang. I knew it was Steve and answered it... dripping water all over the floor and trying to keep the shampoo out of my eyes. After exchanging "I love you"'s, Steve told me he'd call me back in 15 minutes, when I was through with my shower. He never called back... (I hate when that happens!)

At 8am, Rachael came for me and we headed off to Denali. But before we left, I sent Steve an email explaining where I was going. I was so bummed out! It didn't help that rain was falling. We picked up Susan, headed to Starbucks, and hit the Parks Hwy. The rain got even worse and the wind was really strong. A few times, Rachael had to fight to keep her SUV on the road! We also hit road construction which delayed things. Add to all of this a temperature in the mid 30s, and we were all feeling a bit cold and miserable. But we made an agreement to go to Denali - no matter what - as this would be our last opportunity before snow and ice comes. And so we trudged on.

There were literally no views as we made our way down the highway. Fog lay low and shrouded the mountains. The rain pelted the car and visibility was horrible. We stopped once, just outside of Nenana, for a bathroom break. By this time the rain had become only a drizzle. The closer we got to Healy, the lighter the rain. The temperature was still hovering in the mid-upper 30s and we all felt damp and cold. I am so glad that I grabbed Steve's army arctic fleece, his fleece gloves, and my scarf - which had a post-it note stuck to it that said "I love you, Babydoll". (What a wonderful surprise!) I was wearing a silk undershirt, a fleece vest, and a fleece jacket and I still had the chills! The wind was biting.

The shops and hotels outside the park are boarded up for winter. It's a ghost town once again. The buildings have plywood nailed over their windows and doors. It almost looks as if a hurricane was expected and everyone evacuated.

We turned into the park and the rain stopped. (YAY!) The clouds were still gray and dismal and hanging low, and the wind was still shrieking - but it was dry. The three of us were silent for a while, our attention on the scenery stretched out around us. Denali National Park is breathtaking no matter what the season or the weather. I am always humbled. We knew that Mt. McKinley wouldn't be out. It was the first time in two years that my visit to Denali Park didn't include a view of the majestic mountain. It was only a fleeting disappointment, as my eyes took in the splendor surrounding us.

Here we are with our 'hubby dolls' sitting on the bridge at Savage River in Denali National Park. It was so cold (notice the gloves). I just wanted to bury myself in the fleece jacket I was wearing. Winter is definitely just around the corner! (Click to enlarge)  

We continued the drive in good spirits - keeping our eyes peeled for signs of wildlife. We saw plenty of ptarmigan (grouse) early on our drive, and hoped to see some bears and moose. We stopped along the way to take photos of the surroundings - and photos of ourselves with our *hubby dolls*. (Of course our *husbands* went with us - there was no way they were going to miss this trip.)

The mountains are already snowcapped and the bushes and trees just below the peaks look like they are frosted. It was an interesting combination of colors. Although autumn is on its way out, there were still plenty of bushes and trees in the park that wore their colorful leaves. These gold and red hues contrasted nicely with the black and white and gray of the mountains. Here are some photographs I took of the landscape in Denali (Click to enlarge):

Although the day was mostly overcast, the views as we traveled along the park road were beautiful. Looking out to the horizon, one feels almost as if the mountains are a painted backdrop. It is truly a wondrous place to visit, and I am so thankful to live here.

The highlight of any trip to Denali, is encountering wildlife. Besides the many ptarmigan foraging in the brush, we saw a young bull moose with a small antler rack, a group of three bears wandering along the riverbank, and yet another bear napping further upstream. Then, on the way home, we saw another moose off the highway. It was only a baby, but we didn't see mama anywhere in the vicinity. Of course, Rachael slammed on the brakes and pulled off the road so we could get some photos. Unfortunately, this little moose spooked and ran off into the woodline. But the larger moose we saw in Denali not only stood still so we could get some photos, but also crossed the road right in front of us - looking over his shoulder at the crazy women snapping photos of him as he continued on his way. It's rutting season and I'm sure his focus was on finding himself a lady friend. Here are some photos of the wildlife we encountered:

A few times throughout the day, we stopped to take photos of our *hubby dolls*, so that we could email them to the guys. Since they can't be with us physically, their presence in these little dolls was the next best thing. One of my favorite photos is of the guys sitting in The Monderosa, outside Nenana, with our burgers placed in front of them. I'm sure they'll get a kick out of the photos.

Teklanika Overlook

The Girls and their Guys

Burgers at the Monderosa

Steve was able to call me a couple of times over the last day or so. It's always wonderful to hear his voice on the phone. He also sent me a really long email which was interesting and informative. While I'm not at liberty to share much of the information in the email, I can tell you that he is doing well, eating well, and staying as safe as he can under the circumstances. When he calls, the connection is usually horrible, and we talk over each other, but I will gladly put up with those annoyances for the opportunity to hear his voice. I'm hoping that he'll be able to send me some photos soon. I haven't had a chance to webcam with him, and I miss seeing his face more than anything. It has officially been a month since he left. Eleven more to go.

Some words he wrote in his last email:

The bright spot in this third world day was the kids, as always. They wave, mostly begging for food or candy or toys that the guys throw.... Driving back through the little village, the kids were waiting. Smiles and waving all of them. 30 or 40 kids tops. The lead vehicle slowed and we heard over the radio that they were going to toss out some toys that they had. Dolls and footballs were the toys of the day. I saw one small girl, maybe 6 or 7 catch a doll. She raised it high in the air and spun around and around dancing and smiling and celebrating her catch. The look on her face was priceless. On the down side, a few hundred yards down the rode we slowed and tossed a football to a couple boys. The smaller of the two caught it, and we watched the larger boy smash the little one in the head with his fist and take the ball when he dropped it. We just drove on, despite the fact that all of us wanted to stop and help the little boy, but we couldn't.

I am so thankful that we live in a free country, without the sounds of artillery and bombs punctuating the night. I am thankful that my children didn't have to grow up in a place where just stepping outside the front door was dangerous. I am thankful for the opportunity to express myself through journaling - never worrying that my opinions or beliefs will result in being persecuted or murdered. I am thankful for so many things.

Wednesday, September 28th - A Glimpse of my Husband's Face & Photojournalism

Steve has been having the hardest time setting up Yahoo Messenger on his computer. Because he can't set it up, we can't Instant Message each other, or use our webcams. In addition to this problem, Steve's internet connection is so slow that he can't email me photos that he's been taking until he resizes them to a manageable size. So for the past month, I have not seen a glimpse of his handsome face. I know it might seem like such a little thing to some people, but it's a big thing to me.

The other day, I found out from Marcella that Brian had a few photos of Steve. I also know that Brian has been able to get in touch with Marcella via email and webcam. I asked her if she could get copies of the photos for me. Instead, she gave me Brian's email address and I contacted him myself.

When I saw the photos of Steve, tears came to my eyes. I wanted to reach into the computer screen and stroke his face. I wanted to feel the slight nubby texture of his chin and cheeks at the end of a day. I wanted to kiss him, and hold him, and be held by him. I don't know if seeing the photos made this separation better or worse. I felt my heart swell with love and pride for him. He is my husband, my soldier, my hero.

My Soldier

Brian and Steve

Brian - 145F

Inside a Palace

View from the Roof

In other news... my photojournalism class is going well. I'm really enjoying myself and turned in my first assignment on Tuesday. Our first project was a "Fall Feature". Because it's journalism, we are required to include people in our photos. That makes it's more difficult for me, as these people have to be strangers. While I don't have a problem talking to people in the grocery store line, or on the streets - approaching them while a camera is hanging around my neck, and asking for permission to take their photo is a whole other story. It's a bit nerve wracking for me, but it's teaching me a lot too. While I don't anticipate working as a photojournalist someday, I am learning so much from my instructor, and I enjoy seeing the work of my fellow classmates.

On Thursday, after work, I stopped by Pioneer Park in search of some fall 'news'. I was hoping to catch the workman boarding up the shops in preparation for winter. Instead, I found a workman replacing the rotten wood under the train trestle in the park. I took a few shots from afar, and then finally summoned the courage to approach him. I introduced myself and asked if I could take his photo for my class. Not only did he agree, but we also had a pleasant 30 minute conversation about the park, his maintenance business, and the nearby crabapple trees.

After finishing up my shoot at Pioneer Park, I headed home - stopping along the way to watch some children in the playground. The sun was shining for the first time in almost a week. The playgrounds were full. Two brothers were playing on the monkey bars. Suddenly the sun went behind the clouds and the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees immediately. Big brother helped little brother into his jacket. And I had my photo. Here are the two shots I turned in for the project: (Keep in mind that these photographs are intended for use in a newspaper - to tell a story, and not meant to be framed and displayed. I think that's the hardest thing for me to grasp is taking photographs which tell a story, and not necessarily photographs that have pleasing backgrounds, lighting, etc.)

M. Joe McGilvary works on repairing the damaged wood at Pioneer Park now that the tourist season is over. "We like to make these repairs when the park is quiet, and before the snow comes", says Joe. Joe has his own maintenance and snow plow business, which keeps him busy in the winter months.

Big brother, Kavan Wilson (7) helps little brother Landan (3) put on a warm jacket as temperatures dropped into the mid-40s on this second day of autumn.

Next week's assignment is for an "Environmental Portrait". An environmental portrait is just that - a photo of someone which is taken in their 'environment', or job. I have an appointment to go to the Red Cross Office here on post to do a shoot. I think that the Red Cross Office is a meaningful choice - especially since 90% of our troops are currently deployed and the Red Cross is our lifeline during an emergency. It will be interesting to learn a little more about the organization and the service it performs for the military community.

2005 Susan L Stevenson