Hello my dear friends and readers. I have been absent for so long, and each time that I thought about sitting here and writing, I’ve had something else pressing on my agenda which took me away from blogging. I’ve edited so many photos over the last month - portrait sessions, newborn sessions, maternity sessions, and dance recital portraits - that I was starting to feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, in the scene where he types over and over “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
While I did take a day here and there to drive down to Denali Park with both Steve and friends, the pleasure of these drives and *shooting for leisure*, were tempered by the fact that I was even more behind with photo work once I was home again. While I LOVE what I do - especially when I’m capturing special moments in people’s lives - there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, sitting in front of a computer, that can be tiring on the eyes and the spirit. Who wants to be sitting at a deck, when the winter world is thawing and the roads are clear enough for roadtripping? I find myself distracted by the world outside my windows, and the four legged furkid (Raven) who brings me each one of her toys in a plea to go outside and play. But finally… I am just about caught up, and I am taking the time to write here and share all that has happened over the last month with you all. It’s going to be a long entry, with a lot of photos, so settle in.
SPRING TRIP TO THE GREENHOUSE
Every year, before spring officially arrives in the Interior, I take a trip or two to the local greenhouse for a dose of color and humidity. Three weeks ago, my friend Amanda and I (and her son Marc) drove out to Plant Kingdom Nursery to enjoy the beautiful flowers and plants growing there. It was a sunny day, and despite the snow still blanketing the ground, we could almost forget we were in Alaska dealing with a winter season that refused to let go.
There were many ladybugs in the greenhouse, but because they are so small it was always a bit of a surprise to study the flowers closely, enjoying the colors and textures, and then see one of these tiny insects appear from beneath a petal or the inner recesses of the plant. I am not a fan of insects, but there are a few that get a pass. Butterflies are beautiful. Dragonflies are neat (although the big ones freak me out). And ladybugs are pretty enough to make me forget they are beetles.
CREAMERS FIELD SPRING MIGRATION
I visited Creamers Field a few times this month. In the early days of May, the field was still very much covered in snow, and the cranes and the geese looked very out of place there. Gradually, the snow melted, and more birds arrived. It was quite busy for about two weeks, but I’ve heard that many of the birds have already left. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend as much time at Creamers as I usually do. Here are a few photos I took the few times I stopped by.
My friend Julie told me about an eagle’s nest on Fort Wainwright, so I stopped by to see if they were sitting on it. I got lucky in capturing this photo, but the eagles have since left the nest and haven’t returned. There are an overabundance of osprey in town, and we think perhaps they chased them off. Bummer.
TRIPS TO DENALI PARK
I took two trips to Denali this month, with my friend Julie. The first trip was on May 6th, and the second one was on May 19th. The park didn’t look much different between both trips. A little less snow in places, some additional thawing on the rivers, but other than that - very white and wintry.
On the first trip, we saw some Bufflehead Ducks in the Sanctuary River. I took a few photos, but I was hand-holding my long lens and they were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the greatest. We then had the good luck to encounter a beautiful cow moose, not too far off the road. She continued to graze without any worry about our close proximity, so both of us were able to get some lovely shots of her. The light was beautiful too.
On the way back to Fairbanks, Julie spotted a Great Grey Owl in the top of a spruce tree near Nenana. The sun was low to the horizon as dusk fell, and the owl stood very still atop the tree, swiveling his head in a wide arc in search of rodents or other prey.
In the last 60 miles, the light gradually disappeared, and the sky began to change colors with sunset. We have 24 hours of light, but we’re still getting some colorful light at sunrise and sunset. By mid June, that will pretty much be gone.
On our second trip to Denali Park (this past Sunday), Julie and I saw swans near Nenana - both coming and going. In the park, we saw some distant moose, but they were too far to get photos of. We also saw some caribou - also a bit far for photos. I saw my first Lapland Longspur bird, and we saw some playful arctic ground squirrels. We hoped to see bears, but didn’t have any luck there. A fox or lynx would have been nice, but alas - nothing. We were both very disappointed, but glad that we could make the drive, as it was the last day we were permitted to drive our personal vehicle to mile 30. The shuttle buses started running on Monday.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and warm too, so that made the trip totally worth-while. Especially since the week prior, we had snow fall three days in a row, even bringing some accumulation with it. We thought winter would never let go of its grip!
Here are the photos from our second trip to Denali:
INTO THE WILD
In 2007, the movie “Into the Wild” was released in theaters. The movie is based on the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who, after graduating from college, abandons his possessions, gives his entire savings account to charity, and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way he meets many people whose lives he impacts, and who impact his life.
Unfortunately for Christopher - who went by the name Alexander Supertramp while on the road - when he reaches Alaska, he finds he’s insufficiently prepared for the hardships of living off the land. He doesn’t survive the adventure and his body is found by moose hunters in the remote bus (placed there to be a shelter for hunters) where he lived for the last months of his life. You can read more about the movie here.
Sean Penn wrote and directed the film, and it was shot entirely on location, except for the bus scenes. They abandoned the idea of shooting at the real bus out of respect for Christopher and his family. So instead they built a set in the wilderness, with an exact replica of the real bus.
That bus replica is currently on display at the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy, just north of Denali Park. Julie and I stopped on the way home to see it.
NENANA ICE CLASSIC
Every year, a tripod is erected on the Tanana River in Nenana. A trip wire is attached to the tripod and triggers a clock when the ice goes out and the tripod moves. People place bets on the time that the tripod will fall and the winnings usually total more than 300,000.00!
Sometimes several people or even groups share in the pot. Other times there’s only one winner. This year, the ice didn’t go out until May 20th at 2:41pm. The total winnings were 318,500.00! This is the latest time on record for the ice to go out, and a married couple were the only winners.
Julie and I stopped on the way home from Denali, the day before, and took photos of the tripod where it stood on the hardly frozen river. Many people bet on days in late April and early May, not expecting the ice to hang on so late.
This gentleman was keeping watch over the tripod in the final days.
A view of the tripod from the highway bridge:
Despite the frequent snow days this May, there were the occasional days when the sun came out, giving the illusion that spring had arrived. I took full advantage when I could. On one of these days, Raven and I took a drive to Chena Lakes and went for several walks along the river and around the lake.
The lake was still frozen. It might still be frozen; I haven’t been back in nearly two weeks, so I don’t know the extent of thawing. I have a feeling it’s not going to be ready for Memorial Day Weekend activities, but I could be wrong. I can’t even imagine picnicking and barbecuing near the lake, as ice still floats on top. So much for kayaking and canoeing.
The reflection on the river was really pretty, and I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few ducks and other birds flying over the water. My favorite are the violet green swallows, with their beautiful feathers. They fly awfully fast though, and my arms were exhausted as I moved my zoom lens trying to catch them. I took hundreds of photos and only a handful turned out OK. The light could have been better - the sun was very bright - but I was happy to see that I managed to get them in my lens.
BIRDS IN MY YARD - AND BLESSED WITH AN OWL!
My yard has been very busy with a multitude of birds. Not only have had I had the usual Black Capped Chickadees, but I’ve also seen Downy Woodpeckers, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Boreal Chickadees, White-Crowned Sparrows, Robins, a Hammond Flycatcher, and the most exciting of all - a Short Eared Owl!!!
The owl was definitely the most exciting sighting to date, and for much more than just his rarity in these parts.
As you read in my last blog entry, I had to make the very difficult and extremely sad decision to send my girl Airborne ‘over the Rainbow Bridge’. Airborne suffered from hyperthyroidism, and despite treatment, she continued to lose weight. She was hungry all the time, had lost most of her fat and muscle mass, and was in the beginnings of organ failure. Her hearing and eyesight were also being affected. I probably should have let her go months before I did, but I wasn’t ready to face the reality that my 16yo beautiful companion would not be a part of my life any longer - at least not in the physical sense. I kept her here with me longer than I should have because of my own selfishness, and I feel sad about that.
I made the appointment to euthanize Airborne last week. I chose this past Monday as the day to say goodbye, because I wanted one last weekend with her. All weekend, I held her close, and stroked her sweet face, kissing her nose and telling her how much I loved her. Airborne wasn’t a cat that liked to be held for too long, but this past weekend, she was content to lay wrapped in my arms, against my heart, for almost an hour at a time.
I fed her American Cheese (her favorite), and ice cream. I filled bowls of milk for her, and she’d lap it up. Whatever she wanted, she got. Cheeze-Its, potato chips, anything.
I took her for a walk (in my arms) around the yard so she could watch the birds at the bird feeder. I put her down in the grass so she could feel it beneath her paws and nibble on it a little. I talked to her constantly. I did these things when she was healthy too, but in these final days I really savored each moment.
On Sunday morning, I pulled open the drapes to let the sunshine in, and saw an owl in my yard! It was perched on a dirt hill under the trees only about 10 feet from my back deck. I’d never seen an owl on the ground, and this one was also much smaller than the owls I’ve seen in trees or flying overhead. At first I thought it was a Boreal Owl, but it was later identified by a birder as being a Short-Eared Owl.
Short-Eared Owls don’t usually hang out in places like North Pole. They are typically field dwellers, and fly low over the ground looking for voles and other rodents. They also usually hunt in the evening and the early morning hours, but this owl flew around my yard at all hours of the day and night. And when it wasn’t flying around, it was perched under the trees within view of my back door and window. It was so beautiful, and I took many photos of it through the window - wishing I could step outside and get some photos without that pane of glass between us. But I was afraid I’d spook it and it would leave my yard. I did manage to take one photo of him outdoors. I slipped out my front door and photographed him from the side of my house. He elongated his body and perked his ears up, looking quite menacing (or angry) so I didn’t do that again.
On Monday, the vet appointment was at noon. The owl perched on my septic tank vents and flew back and forth across my yard in a frenzy at times. So many times, while photographing it, I felt that it was looking right at me. As if it knew I was there - with only glass separating us.
When I came home from the appointment, emotionally drained and swollen-eyed from my tears, the owl was still sitting in my yard. He looked right at me when I stood in the window watching him. And he stayed there until Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he was gone. I haven’t seen him since.
I did some reading about owls online. Not just about owl behavior, but the owl in spirituality. The most prevalent Native American symbolism of the owl is one that is associated with death and spirits. Some tribes believe that the owl carries spirits to the afterlife. Coincidence? Who am I to say whether that owl appeared just as a fluke of nature, or for something that has deeper meaning? Whatever the reason, the owl took my attention from my deep grief and brought a little bit of joy and excitement into my life. He distracted me from my pain and sadness. I am thankful for that. Perhaps he also carried Airborne’s spirit soaring to the heavens.
June 1997 – May 20, 2013
(I wrote this just after saying goodbye to my sweet girl on Monday afternoon)
You were born in Fayetteville, NC – one of a litter of 8. A Vet Tech from Fort Bragg was taking care of you and your siblings, as you were all orphaned only weeks after your birth. Daddy was out in the field, which is where he usually was when decisions were made to add a new furkid to the family. Brandon and I chose you when you jumped from a second floor balcony practically into our laps. Living life with a paratrooper, Brandon yelled out “Airborne!” as you landed safely on the floor near us. This is how you got your name. However, over the years, you became known by many names: Pusser, Pussycat, Baby Girl, Mommy’s Sweet Girl… It didn’t matter what we called you. When you were in the mood for strokes and kisses, you answered to all.
In your early years, when we lived in North Carolina, you were quick to dart to freedom if one of the doors was open too long. Chris and Brandon were teenagers, and not always careful about not letting you out. You took advantage of the situation, and once you even disappeared for more than 24 hours. My heart was broken, and I imagined you had been hit by a car somewhere. When you appeared again, you were sticky and dirty, and we wondered what sort of adventure you were returning from. The boys were careful from then on, because no one wanted Mommy to get upset again!
When we moved to Florida, you rode in your cat carrier next to me and howled continuously until I threw a towel over your cage, blocking your view of the passing landscape. You never did care for rides in the car. Later you’d travel in the camper as we made our way across the country and throughout AK. I don’t think you cared too much for camper rides either.
In Florida, we had a beautiful screened in balcony just off the living room, and I’d leave the sliding glass doors open so you could go in and out at your leisure. There were tiny lizards that would sometimes find their way under the screen, as well as singing tree frogs. That always made you happy, and you’d surprise me with lizard bodies (without legs) hidden nicely in the laundry basket. If there was a basket of clean clothes, that was even better!
You loved to hunt the palmetto bugs and because I had such a fear of them, I’d cheer you on as you stalked and pounced and destroyed these monster insects. The fact that you liked to disassemble them wasn’t very pleasant, but I was happy they were dead.
You traveled with us and your canine sister Sedona, when we made the big move to Alaska. Every few days, we’d camp someplace new and I’d carry you outside in my arms so you could smell the air and enjoy the scenery. Sometimes I’d put you down so you could feel grass under your feet, or sand between your toes. And much to your chagrin, I’d sometimes put you down in a puddle of water or snow because it made me giggle to see you walk and shake a leg, walk and shake, walk and shake. I don’t think you were very happy with me then.
You lived here in Alaska the longest of all our homes. You were only 6 when we moved here – still so young and energetic… and FAT. The vet said you needed to go on a diet as the scale neared 13lbs. I wasn’t going to deprive my sweet fat black cat. There was just more for me to cuddle.
Your favorite place to hang out here in Alaska was by any window or door that gave you a view of the outside. You’d watch the birds come to the feeders. You’d watch the snowshoe hares hop around in the yard. You’d watch the squirrels gather nuts and seeds and hop back to their underground caches with their bounty. Sometimes you’d chatter. Sometimes only your mouth would move, but no sound would come out. Sometimes you’d lunge at the birds, and smack your head right into the screen door.
When we’d go camping, you’d curl up next to me at the kitchen table, as I worked on my laptop. You’d curl around my laptop battery because it was warm. I am really going to miss you this year on our trips, Sweet Baby Girl.
When Daddy was on night shift, you slept next to me in bed, curled up behind my bent legs, under the blanket. I could feel your soft fur against my skin and the rumble of your purr as I’d drift off to sleep. The bed will be lonely without you.
As you got sicker and sicker, you came to me more often for comfort and love. We had a special bond, you and I. I’d hold you close and softly talk to you, and you’d meow deep in your throat, as your purrs rumbled against my chest. Sometimes, as I stroked you, you would make small sighing sounds with the pleasure of it all.
Watching you get thinner and thinner over this last year, and especially these final months, has been the most difficult thing for me. Seeing your bones appear, where there used to be fat and muscle, has caused me such sadness – especially over the last few months as you cried with constant hunger despite eating all the time.
And then, last week, you were asleep on the sofa next to me, curled into my hip and I was talking to Daddy about making the hard decision to release you from your pain. I started to cry and you woke up from your nap, stood up, and placed your paw on my face. I knew in that moment that you were telling me it was OK. That you were ready.
Two hours ago, I held you as you took your last breath. I held you close to my chest, the way I have many many times over the last 16 years. You were so thin, my hand was able to wrap completely around your chest. I felt your heart in my hand… beating… beating… and then it stopped. And I kissed your silken head, and your sweet little nose, and I wished you well on your journey.
Thank you my sweet girl for 16 years of cuddles, purrs, laughs, joy, happiness, and adventure. I’d rather be sitting here crying mournful tears, than to have never known and loved you.
Until next time…