March 20, 2016

March Guests: Carla and Gordon’s Visit

Filed under: Aurora,Events,Interesting Things,Roadtrips — Susan Stevenson @ 11:36 am

(If you missed my blog update about Cyndi’s visit in the beginning of March, please check out this recent photo-heavy blog entry!)

A few days after Cyndi left Alaska, my friends Carla and Gordon – who live in Soldotna, AK – made the drive to Fairbanks. It’s Spring Break here in the Last Frontier, and they wanted to check out the Ice Park and better their chances for seeing the aurora.  Carla and Gordon stayed with us for four nights, and we/they kept very active while they were in town. They arrived on Saturday (March 12th) afternoon.

Carla and Gordon at Pipeline Viewing AreaAfter unloading their car, we took a drive out to the Pipeline viewing point on the Steese Hwy, before continuing up the road to dinner at Silver Gulch. Dinner was pretty good, as was the service. I’m glad we chose to go before the dinner rush, when service sometimes drops off and wait times become extremely long. It was nice to catch up with each other and fill our bellies with burgers and onion rings.

With cloudy skies, and not much chance of any aurora, we all went up to bed fairly early. Carla and Gordon grabbed long cat-naps in their vehicle throughout their drive from the Kenai Peninsula (about 500 miles and more than 9 hours – not allowing for stops. They make a LOT of stops). Even though I hadn’t made a long drive, I was exhausted and sleep came easy for me.

The next day (Sunday), Steve had to work (night shift) so he planned to sleep as late as possible. The plan was to go to the Ice Park during the day and again at night. As long as you have your hand stamped you can return as much as you like. By this time, the multi-block sculptures were carved and judged, and displayed under colored lights at night. Seeing them during the day and then again at night is really something special. You notice details at night, under the lights, that are missed when viewed during daylight hours.

But first – before the Ice Park – we stopped at Mushers Headquarters to watch some of the Limited North American Sled Dog Races. Just as we arrived, the snow started to fall.

Besides a few episodes of snow flurries, I don’t think we’ve had a substantial snowfall since Thanksgiving. What snow we did have up until now was ugly and dirty and full of tree debris and just not pretty at all. This fresh snow – big fluffy flakes – was gorgeous! There are some who probably weren’t very happy for this change in the weather, but honestly – I was thrilled to see new snow cover all the ugliness.  And I thought the falling snow made the races even more fun. I think it made the photos I took a lot prettier too.

Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race


March 18, 2016

March Guests: Cyndi’s Visit

Filed under: Aurora,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 2:27 pm

The first two weeks of March were very busy here in North Pole Alaska. My friend Cyndi, who lives in Atlanta, visited for a week. It was her first trip to Alaska and her biggest hope was that she’d be able to cross off “See the Aurora” from her bucket list. I’m happy to report Lady Aurora was quite cooperative!!

Cyndi arrived around dinner time on Tuesday night (March 1st). Her trip from the east coast was long and exhausting. I know she was happy to finally get here.

I had a full itinerary of activities, events, sightseeing, and roadtripping in store for her, and we had an awesome time hanging out and enjoying Alaska together.


On Wednesday morning, after having breakfast, we drove into Fairbanks to visit the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, the Yukon Quest Headquarters, and Golden Heart Plaza. I also drove her through the downtown area, pointing out some of our historic buildings and a few of the original homes from the early days of Fairbanks.

Next, we visited the Santa Claus House and then the Knotty Shop in Salcha. Unfortunately Santa is on vacation this time of year (resting up from his long Christmas trip), but he’ll be back in the summer when tourism season is back in full swing.

Cyndi at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center Cyndi at the Antler Arch Fairbanks First Unknown Family
Cyndi at the Santa Claus House Cyndi - Polar Bear Attack! Cyndi and Moose at Santa Claus House


Late Wednesday night, after we were already in our pajamas and unwinding from our full day, a green band of aurora became visible in the sky. It wasn’t the brightest display, but it was visible. We ran out to the end of my driveway to enjoy them. Steve followed a few minutes later with hats and gloves and my big parka, etc. to layer Cyndi up for the cold. It wasn’t too bad, temperature wise (above zero), but still much colder than what Cyndi is accustomed to. Just after midnight the aurora became brighter as it danced across the sky.

We stood outside for about 15 minutes enjoying the lights before they faded again. I immortalized Cyndi’s first sighting of the aurora with a photo of her under the beautiful night sky.

Cyndi under the aurora

Here are a few more photos of the aurora from early Thursday morning:

Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi
Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi


February 23, 2016

February – Where is Winter?

Filed under: Aurora,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 4:49 pm

A blog entry about the Aurora, the Yukon Quest, a night visit to Denali Park, and Snowshoeing.  And a special “In Memoriam” for a childhood friend who left this earth too soon.


We have had an unseasonably warm winter – especially for Interior Alaska. Our snow accumulation is not up to normal levels either. While this isn’t something we’re necessarily ‘sad’ about, it can wreak havoc for well pipes and septic tanks.

Today the temperature is in the low 30s. Today is also the opening day for the Ice Park. Ice Alaska is a favorite event for those of us who live in the interior, and colder weather is definitely more desirable. After all, the ice park is open for a month, and the colder it is, the longer the sculptures last.

We have had a wonderful month of aurora viewing. As we gain back daylight hours, the aurora appears later and later. For the most part, we’re starting to see the lights shortly after 8pm if it’s an active forecast. And 8pm isn’t late by any means. But most of the time, it’s closer to 10 or 11pm or even later. And by that time, some of us have given up for the evening in favor of sleep. I would be one of those people.

However, I am also prone to middle of the night insomnia. Or middle of the night bathroom visits. And it is a natural reflex for me to step out of bed and immediately peek through the blinds in our bedroom to see if anything is going on. It is at these times that I usually catch a bright green band stretching across the sky.  And seeing the aurora is very very hard to resist – even in a sleepy stupor.

Fortunately, the aurora in the photos below arrived at a more reasonable hour – before midnight. These were taken in the last few days of January.

Aurora - January 27th Aurora - January 27th Aurora - January 28th
Moose at the end of the driveway - January 30th Aurora over House - January 30th Aurora Pano over Nordale Road - January 30th
Aurora Pano over Nordale Road - January 30th Aurora over Nordale Rd - January 30th Aurora over Nordale Rd - January 30th
Aurora over Neighborhood - January 30th Aurora over Neighborhood - January 30th Aurora and Raven - January 30th
Aurora over house - January 31st Aurora over house - January 31st Aurora pano over road - January 31st

Aurora over House on January 31st:
Aurora over House - January 31st


“There are things about your childhood you hold onto,
because they were so much a part of you.
The places you went, the people you knew.”
~ The Wonder Years ~

William “Bill” K. Daka
August 20, 1960-January 31, 2016

On January 31st, a childhood friend passed away. Learning about his death rocked me, and everyone who grew up on our road in Philadelphia back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

I wrote about Billy on my Facebook Page, and share it here:

William Kristo Daka - August 20, 1960 - January 31, 2016Today, I found out that my childhood friend Bill – who will always be Billy to me – passed away on January 31st. News travels fast in this world of technology, and FB messages have been moving back and forth between members of the “Tomlinson Rd Gang” – a lighthearted reference to those of us who lived and played on that road in Philadelphia 45+ years ago. It is hard to believe that Billy is gone. He was 55.

Billy was my first boyfriend. I was 10 and he was 9 (eight months younger). He was my first kiss, the first boy I “went steady” with, and the first boy to ask me to marry him. He proposed to me when he was 10 and I was 11. He even had a ring for me – a yellow citrine stone flanked by two tiny pearls and set in a 10kt gold band (photo below). I found out a few hours after his proposal, that he swiped the ring from his mother’s Sarah Coventry collection. Fortunately, she let me keep it rather than embarrassing her son by making him ask for it back! I have saved the ring all these years, even though it is cheap, tarnished and much too small for my grown up fingers. After all, it was my first ever engagement ring! The ring came with a love letter. Sloppily written in pencil on lined paper, Billy professed his forever love to me and… going on the Newlywed Game. *grin*

From the letter (photo below):

“When we grow up, I hope we can get married and go to the Newlywed Game. I hope they don’t ask us “who said the first words to each other?” Did I talk to you first or did you talk to me first? We loved each other for a long time. Love Billy”

And beneath his signature is the familiar heart we’d add to our notes: SS & BD. Several trees in the neighborhood were also etched with this heart.

Billy and I were boyfriend/girlfriend (on and off quite a bit), for about 3 years. During our *breakups* he wooed other childhood friends (you know who you are!) Billy was a popular boy in the neighborhood with both the girls and many of the boys too. He was the fastest runner, a great football player, and just plain cool.

He had a way of convincing the rest of us to do what he wanted. If he wanted to play football, we did. If he wanted to go bike riding, we did. If he wanted the boys to hate the girls for an entire summer – they did. (And what a miserable summer that was for us!)

I don’t know what precipitated the declaration of war between the boys and the girls, but I do remember being mad that they were off having fun at the fort, or hiking the railroad tracks, or catching minnows in the ponds, or doing cool things at the “Poop Factory” (an old water filtration plant just up the road that smelled like…. well, I’m sure you can figure it out!)

One day in late summer, we just about had enough. We followed them. Everywhere they went. Annoying them. Angering them. All the way to the Poop Factory – where they ambushed us from their hidden spots behind the building and deep, smelly water pits. Rocks flew. We threw them back. Another volley and BOOM – my friend Michele was hit in the head! They scattered when that happened, and we went off in pursuit.

When we caught up with them, I shoved Billy. I was so mad, I wanted to beat the heck out of him. (My daddy taught me how to fight, just as he taught my brothers how to fight. I wasn’t some delicate flower… none of us girls were raised that way!) What Billy had in might, I had in height. And longer arms. I grabbed him by the arm and swung him around…. and around…. and around… and then let him go. I bruised his ego more than his body, and unfortunately, I ruined any chances of the boys ever wanting to hang out with us again. It was a rather boring summer without them. Eventually we all made up and became friends again. But the boyfriend/girlfriend days for Billy and I were definitely over.

Not too long after, the neighborhood began to change. Some of the kids moved away. New kids moved in. Our block of kids expanded to three blocks and the group grew larger. We moved into our teens, started high school, made new friends, started formally dating, fell in love, stopped hanging out on the streets as much.

I married my high school sweetheart when I was 18. I moved out of the neighborhood and traded many of my childhood friends for new *married life* friends. But since my brothers were friends with Billy, I would occasionally hear about how his life was going. He married, had a son, divorced. Dated, found love again, had a wonderful life with her – a relationship that lasted many years. Last year, cancer took her. It was just after her death that I found him on FB and reached out to him to offer my condolences.

We exchanged a few private messages on FB. Always he wrote about his sadness. His loneliness. How much he missed her and how hard it was to live without her. My heart hurt deeply for him.

There is a condolence message on his obituary wall that ends with “Hope you have found peace.”

Rest in Peace, Billy. Thank you for being a part of my childhood – a time when we thought life would go on forever…

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” – from the movie STAND BY ME

So very true.

Billy Daka and other neighborhood friends - front and center Love Letter from Billy Promise Ring from Billy