November 8, 2014

One kind word can warm three winter months

Filed under: Aurora, Calendar, Everyday Life — Susan Stevenson @ 4:04 pm

The title I chose for this blog entry is a Japanese Proverb. I feel it is quite fitting, as I have been spending time over the last week making local calendar deliveries. I have heard many kind words. The joy in my heart is overflowing! The best part of making local deliveries is catching up with friends who I mostly see online, but don’t often get to spend time with in person. It has been absolutely wonderful!

Renata and HubbyOne buyer of my calendar is a couple from the Chicago area, who happened to be in Fairbanks on holiday. I met Renata and her husband for lunch one day, and then we took a short drive to Pioneer Park so I could show them around. Later that day, they drove out to Chena Hot Springs with the hope of catching the aurora as well as taking a nice long soak. I don’t know if the lights came out that night, but I do hope they had a good visit to the springs anyway.

I took this photo of them in front of one of the cabins in Gold Rush Town. Renata keeps a blog, but it’s written in Polish (their native language), and even though I have tried to follow their travels, Google Translator comes up with some interesting interpretations - making it a little bit of a challenge. At least I can enjoy their photos.


The weekend before Halloween, Pioneer Park hosted a wonderful event that included trick or treating, games, decorated cabins, entertainment, face painting, and more. My friend Amanda invited me to go along with her and her son, Marc - who was a Transformer.

The decorations were wonderful, and there was a great turnout. I loved seeing the kids in their costumes, and the volunteers who were also dressed up and passing out candy to the trick-or-treaters. The cabins in Gold Rush Town were decked out with lights and spider webs, and friendly ghouls and other creatures welcomed little trick-or-treaters.

After making the rounds outdoors, we went into the Civic Center arena to warm up and to watch the entertainment. A few Storm Troopers were on hand, with a neat backdrop, so people could take their photos with them. Also Elsa and Anna from Frozen made an appearance. Dance Theatre Fairbanks entertained with some lively dance to songs like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and other holiday appropriate tunes. There was also a costume contest, which was cute. We stayed until the sun went down, lighting up the sky with brilliant orange and yellow.

Transformer Marc Halloween at Trick or Treat Town Wizard of Oz Ghouls in Trick or Treat Town
Amanda and Marc Clowns - SCARY! Trick or Treat Raven Sculpture
Amanda and the Headless Horseman These fence-sitting witches were cute I loved the skeleton families at the picnic tables
Ghosts in the trees These two were so cute. I think it might be mother and daughter, or maybe sisters The Storm Troopers were a big hit
Dance Theatre Fairbanks The SS Nenana in the orange light of the setting sun


With darkness, comes light. The northern lights, that is. I haven’t been out all night chasing lately, as I’ve been quite busy with calendar shipping, and other photo work. And honestly… I’ve been so tired! I’m having a hard time adjusting to the cold. The beginning of the winter season is always a little difficult for me. I just don’t want to go out in it - or venture too far from home. Fortunately, I can get a good view of the aurora without leaving home, and that’s satisfied me thus far. I do hope to do some bona fide chasing before I leave for WI in December, especially now that my calendars are mostly in their new homes.

At the end of October, I was already in my pjs and preparing to head up to bed, when I took the usual last look out the back door. A bright band of light stretched across the sky over my house. The temperature was below zero, and I was not in any mood to go outside in my thin pajamas, so I set my camera on the tripod, turned off the lights, and took a few photos through the glass doors. You just can’t beat having a view like this from inside a warm house!

Aurora through the back door


October 25, 2014

“Cold has caught the wings of birds.”…

Filed under: Aurora, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 1:10 pm

“My tidings for you: the stag bells,
Winter snows, Summer is gone.

Wind high and cold, low the sun,
Short his course, sea running high.

Deep-red the bracken, its shape all gone,
The wild goose has raised his wonted cry.

Cold has caught the wings of birds.
Season of ice – these are my tidings.”
- Irish Poem, Translated by Caitlin Matthews

October Speeds Away

Why does this time of year seem to pass by so quickly? Sure, the rest of the year passes at quite a clip too, but for some reason the time between “Fall in Alaska” (early-mid September) and “the Holidays” passes by much more quickly than any other time of year. I’m not sure how I feel about that, honestly. I am always so very busy this time of year, with traveling to see my kids in WI (which I try to do annually), and taking care of calendar orders (THANK YOU!), and then making decisions as to whether or not it’s worth decorating. Yes, there have been years that nary a decoration has gone up - except for the string of beautiful cards that we receive from family and friends.

I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do this year. Steve is working while I’m gone, and even though he will be here (alone) on Christmas Day, he says he doesn’t care if I put the tree and lights up. In fact, he thinks it’s a waste of time. Some years I feel exactly the same way. This year, I will be gone for several weeks, and spending Christmas with my kids. But I want to make sure Steve feels some holiday festivity while I’m gone, so I’m thinking I might want to put everything up for him. Maybe not everything, but at least the tabletop Christmas tree and the twinkle lights. He likes the ambiance of the lights and sometimes we leave them up throughout the entire winter.

October Happenings:

September and October are both popular for portrait sessions. Families also like to have their portraits taken during the autumn, when the foliage is beautiful and it’s still relatively warm here. This is also the time of year when Senior students need to have their yearbook portraits submitted.  This year, I kept busy photographing some of the most awesome Class of 2015 students ever! Even when the snow fell early in the month, portrait sessions continued. I spent a snowy day at Creamers Field with Erik, a cello player attending Lathrop HS. He was such a good sport, despite the less than perfect weather.

Zach - Class of 2015 Zach - Class of 2015 Evan - Class of 2015
Heather - Class of 2015 Heather - Class of 2015 Heather (Class of 2015) and sister Mary
Erik - Class of 2015 Erik - Class of 2015

Aurora - September and October

Because my last two blog entries were about specific events (my Polar Bear trip to Kaktovik and my drive into Denali Park on Road Lottery Weekend), there are some photos and events from late September that I never got a chance to blog about. So I’m going to include them here.

Now that we actually have darkness (losing about 7 minutes each day as we make our way to Winter Solstice), the aurora has been fairly active. That’s as long as we don’t have cloud cover, which can be a real problem this time of year. This is usually the time of year when we start getting dumped on with our winter snow, but so far we’ve dodged the heavy snow bullet. We did have a bit of accumulation several weeks ago, but now it’s melting and everything looks rather ugly again. I’m ready for a fresh snow.

A few weeks ago, I put Raven in the car and drove out to Chena Lakes as the aurora was already showing up on one of the webcams. The view from Chena Lakes is nice, but it’s becoming a lot more crowded. As it gets colder, the crowds will fade and only diehard photographers will be out there. It’s not a whole lot of fun to bundle up in -30F weather and take a drive to a remote place to view and photograph the aurora.  But some of the most amazing light shows can occur when it’s really cold.


October 16, 2014

Denali Road Lottery - September Fun

Filed under: Events, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 11:40 am

Me at the End of the Road

I’m working a little backwards as I try to catch up with blogging. Things are going to be a lot busier over the next few months, as I get my calendars ordered and shipped. I’ve also been photographing Class of 2015 Seniors, which also puts me on a time crunch, as the yearbook editors need the photos submitted quite soon.

We’ve had temperatures in the 20s, and it’s downright chilly in the morning hours. Sometimes, it warms up into the 30s during the day, but for the most part we’ve been hovering around freezing. There is still snow covering the grass around our house, but our driveway is patchy, and the roads nearby (except for our road) are pretty much devoid of any snow at all. Unfortunately there are some icy patches, and that makes for some slow going at times. Such is winter in interior Alaska.

The aurora has been active, when we have clear skies. Lately, it seems clouds have been hovering over my part of town, so even when the various webcams show starry skies, a walk outside shows nothing but clouds. Honestly though… the thought of going out in the cold hasn’t been very appealing to me, nor have the late hours (or rather early hours).

I’ve been sleeping rather well lately, which is a bit surprising. Usually, as we lose light, I find myself suffering from insomnia. S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real concern up here, and I’ve already boosted my Vitamin D intake with supplements. I’ve found that Vit D is a great way to alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD. While some people feel like they want to sleep all the time, I tend to go in the opposite direction and find I can’t sleep. So far, I’m not having any issues. But we still have a little more than 11 hours of visible light as we head toward our shortest day of the year on Winter Solstice. We’re losing almost 7 minutes of light a day.



My friend Angie, who lives in Anchorage, won two passes for the Denali Road Lottery this year. The Road Lottery takes place over a four day weekend. Each day for those four days, 400 private vehicles are permitted to drive the park road all the way to the end. These passes are coveted, and you have to apply for a chance to win in May. They announce the winners in June so that folks who live outside AK can make travel arrangements, if they haven’t already.  Angie invited me to accompany her on Saturday. She had passes for Saturday and Sunday, but I couldn’t go in on Sunday, as I needed to prepare for our Polar Bear trip (which ended up being canceled and rescheduled for the following week.)

Angie made plans to drive up to the park on Friday, and I decided to do the same. I booked a room at the Nord Haven Hotel in Healy. It was my first time staying there, but it came recommended by friends who have stayed there over Lottery Weekend. The price wasn’t bad either at only $95/night (including taxes). The room was neat and clean, and had a small dorm size fridge. But it was also very warm. Even with the thermostat turned to the OFF position, it was like a sauna in my room.

I don’t do well with heat - especially when it’s time to sleep. Unfortunately, I was on the first floor, and wasn’t comfortable having my window open while I slept. The next time I stay at the Nord Haven, I will request a 2nd floor room. The bed was extremely firm, but amazingly I didn’t wake up with a back ache. For the price, I can’t complain. Complimentary coffee and tea is available in the lobby, and the staff was quite friendly and efficient.

Denali Park RoadFall Foliage at Dusk in DenaliI met up with Angie, so we could check in at the Visitor Center and pick up the placards for her windshield. We made arrangements to meet at 6am the next morning to start our drive. The two photos here were taken on the park road on Friday early evening. The light was fading fast, but the trees still glowed with their autumn foliage even at dusk.

Since I had such a hard time sleeping, I tossed and turned most of the night. I was thankful that I wasn’t the one driving, because I could barely open my eyes when my alarm went off at 5:15am. I stopped in at the local gas station to fill my big coffee mug with STRONG coffee. I needed it!

Angie was staying at the nearby Denali Lakeview Inn. I’ve stayed there before. It’s also well kept and includes a nicely stocked fridge with breakfast foods such as muffins, juice, fruit, bagels, cereal, etc. The price is higher to reflect this. I think Angie paid about $115/night - which is still reasonable during lottery weekend.

I left my car there, and we loaded all our gear up for the drive ahead of us. It was still dark when we reached the gate at Savage River. After a quick talk with a ranger, we were on our way. Only a few miles later, the underside of the clouds turned bright orange-red-pink as the sun began to rise.

Sunrise, Denali Park Road

It was a pretty good day for wildlife sightings. We saw bears, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, a pair of swans, and an arctic ground squirrel. One grizzly was very close to the road, and then crossed the road only about 20 yards from me (and others)! It was quite exciting, and s/he was a beauty - nice and fat and healthy looking.