Monday, September 28, 2009

i am, therefore i eat

The Alaska summer was filled with long days. How we filled them was up to each one of us. This year, the warmer, sunny days meant more cycling and hiking. People were mostly happier this summer compared to last year. (I'm going to ignore the reactionary talk-radio crowd.) But more than just recreation, people were busy as little squirrels, gathering food for the long winter.

Now, we count the salmon fillets in the freezer or in jars, freezer bags filled with berries, jars of jam. I know Jon collected and dried lots more mushrooms this year. No moose in the freezer, but maybe there's still time for him to join a friend on a hunt and be one of the haulers.
trays of mushrooms ready for the dehydrator *

lowbush blueberries in August

We're now near the end of the season for outdoor farmers' markets where we can get fresh grown vegetables that have never been touched by the air of a long-term storage bin. Carrots that taste like carrots and haven't been peeled and trimmed down to resemble cute, baby versions of themselves. Beets to be cooked, then, still warm, sliced on a salad with bleu cheese, their greens cooked like spinach. Brocolli that has never been drenched in the faux thunderstorm in the grocery store. Creamy new potatoes.

Now, I see we'll have a week-long Local Food Film Festival. And during the films, we can eat food made from local ingredients while drinking local brew. I've outlined my schedule. I don't want to miss one minute!

*For those of you following the remodel, notice the angle of the coffee table. That joint under it is the peak of the rift where the floor is going to be leveled out (fingers crossed).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

fall tour of anchorage

New bench along the Ship Creek Trail

After seeing how far the snow had crept down the mountains Saturday morning, today felt like a perfect day to take out the road bike. I never know how late into the season I'll ride on the skinny tires before parking it on a trainer for the winter and switching over to winter biking. So I did some chores and uploaded some photos while I waited for the temperature to rise. It didn't get much above 40 degrees and it's definitely time to bring out the fall boots.

Rhonda, Nancy & Mary Lee with their fabulous 3-speeds on
the Coastal Trail! I was drawn in by Nancy's pretty orange Electra.
I sold the blue Raleigh to Rhonda last summer. Oh, and the dog is Hershey.

I made a 36-mile loop from the East side to the coast and back, winding through neighborhood streets and along greenbelt trails. The leaves have been falling fast this week, some glued to the pavement by days of rain, others floating to the ground under light breezes. People were out on the trails bicycling, running or walking. They were bundled against the chill, but nearly everyone I passed had a nod or a smile. We're trying to get it while we can. We know that soon the cold, wet month of October will be here. The season that marks the long transition from summer to winter. Until then, I'll try to get out to savor these golden fall days.

Bike over Ship Creek. I don't know how - it just is.

On the Campbell Creek Trail.
The bear looks like it's stalking the ducks,
telling them: migrate already! Scram!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

fall equinox

when the birch turn to gold
and the fireweed is topped with
feathery white strands,
when the first snow dusts the peaks,
when darkness sets in early
and stars reveal constellations
named millennia before
by philosophers and poets

when cold touches my nose
and the smell of dying leaves from
cow parsnip to dogwood
fills each breath,
like a clean drink of water,
when the rain taps leaves to the ground
to cover withering berries, melting fungi

time to pull on the boots
drain the hoses
remove the window screens
fluff the down jacket
stack the seasoned firewood
inspect the snow shovel
and add another blanket to the bed.

as the season changes to fall
I mark another year beginning,
remark at the one that has passed,
remember events come and gone
friends who have shared
days in the sun, on a trail,
beside a fire.
summer blinks and we say goodbye

Thursday, September 17, 2009

civility witnessed!

Someone new to mountain biking here in Anchorage took the time and energy to make some modifications to Queen Bee Loop out on the STA trails. He had made a couple banked corners, which can be loads of fun when you're cruising down a hill. Problem was, the berms he created would have blocked water from flowing off the trail in a rain storm. One thing's for certain in Alaska: there will be rain.

My friend Tim was heading up to take some photos last evening so he could rant on his blog. He was so frustrated that he started tearing apart one of the berms that had been built by the industrious cyclist. He'd just stepped aside when the cyclist came riding down the hill and stopped. He and Tim had a conversation about trail design and came to an understanding that this wasn't the way to build trails. Tim went home and wrote up a post. Meanwhile, Janice had gone onto the AK Spokes online forum to talk about trail design. She approached it civilly, pointing out that STA needs hard workers with strong backs (don't we know it!) to help out on trail work days.

Other people (including me) added their thoughts to the discussion of what constituted good trail design, etc. Then something happened. Nobody called names. Nobody berated anyone for their behavior or ideas. Even Tim's post was kind!

Today, Janice was riding the loop for the second time in two days when she ran into the trail builder who was undoing his work and, he hoped, making it better at the same time. He was working with a small folding shovel that fit into his backpack. If you saw the work area, you would know this would be slow work.

And thinking about it this evening, a thought occurred to me: I wonder if because of the events of the last few weeks, the political name calling, the celebrity rudeness, athletic misbehavior, if our thoughts just converged on the idea that we should be able to present an issue, have a discussion, learn what's best for the group and build understanding. It's a great concept.

Pass it on.

september riding

I had a fun ride last Wednesday with the Dirt Divas. They let me lead and since the trails had been pretty dry for the last week, we decided to take some singletrack just north of Campbell Airstrip Road. After we finished that stretch we were discussing the next leg of the ride - across the road and then ride the STA trails.

On the STA trails in June.

One of the riders opted out because she has a touch time on the new singletracks. I told her I thought she'd do great, after all she is strong and did just fine on the bumpy rooty trails we'd just finished. Turns out, she told me, it was the descending that was a big challenge for her. I felt a bit bad that I didn't change the route but I don't think she wanted us to change our ride for her and I can understand where she's coming from.

Over a dozen years ago when I first started mountain biking in Anchorage, plenty of hills intimidated me. I still had a lot to learn about maneuvering my body with the bike, about trusting myself to move back off the saddle without losing control and believing that two brakes are better than one. On a few hills I would ride behind Jon or our friends and run down with my bike then climb back on before they could catch on to what I was doing. I was a pretty timid rider. I can still be that way if I'm on a new trail or one that just plain freaks me out because it has lots of steep drops and rocky ledges. When we travel to the desert it always takes me a few days to remember how the bike handles on that terrain compared to ours.

Thunder Mountain, Southern Utah,
Last fall.

Mountain biking, or any skill for that matter, takes some patience and practice. There are things to learn about handling and things to learn about ourselves, including our tolerance for things that could hurt us. The more time we spend on the bike especially on trails that make us just a little bit nervous, the better riders we will be. Which reminds me of this one spot...

On the STA trails, there's this one right-turning switchback at the very beginning. This silly little corner where I've never seen anyone else have a problem is my little nemesis. It has shut me down every time. I know I should be able to ride it and I feel really lame that it trips my "I can't" button every time. I've even tried a do-over. (I mostly hate do-overs.) My friend Karen tried to show me how to ride it the other evening, but I stalled as always. Next time, I told myself, I'm going to try a higher gear. I will keep trying.

Yesterday I was riding with Jon. It was my first time out in a week since I have been a little under the weather. I was on my twenty-niner and still didn't make the darn turn. The brain is just being stubborn now. Still, I am determined that before the snow creeps down the mountains, I will nail it. Um, depending on how many do-overs I can stand.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


still life with excavator

Kitty escaped the house through her pet door, probably when the backhoe was dropped off causing a lot of racket and vibration throughout the house. A few hours later, a white cat was strolling through our backyard, no doubt excited to make use of all the freshly-exposed soil. I didn't see Kitty, but when I called out to make the other cat leave, I also scared Kitty who ran down the hill, across the street and disappeared into the bog.

I decided to go after her because when she's scared, sometimes she can disappear for an entire 24-hour period in the brush of the Baxter Bog. Walking down the hill, about to pass the house on the corner, a young man was standing on a garden hose that was coiled around a spool. He was leaning into a window. "Excuse me!" I called out. No reaction. "Excuse me; can I help you?" I know that sounds just like something a girl who's worked retail for years would say.

He pulled his head out of the window. The hood of his sweatshirt was pulled over his head. "My sister locked me out."
"Do you live here?" was my obvious question because I didn't know who lived on the corner; at least I wasn't sure.

I didn't know what to do. I crossed the road, looking over my shoulder at the house, calling for Kitty in the bog, trying to devise a plan. I could tell where she was by the cackling of magpies, no doubt harassing her just as they do in our yard when they surround her and I have to shoo them off. I started up the hill, again passing the open window, and motioned through our kitchen window for Jon to come out to help me. What do I do? Do you know who lives here? Neither of us were positive. More hesitating. Jon walked to the bog and called until our already-wild, growling cat was in his arms and trying to claw her way back into the wilds of the bog.

Back up the hill, I called 911. I'm not sure if the person lives there or if they were breaking in, I told the dispatcher. I usually give people the benefit of a doubt. I want to believe that the people around me are honest and have no ill intent. But my gut told me this was a break-in.

I can't see the house from my place. When the police arrived, nobody was there. The window was still open; I told them what had happened. An hour later, they called me again. Can you come over and make a statement? Crap! They had crawled through the same window, found an empty holster. Later I learned there was a missing XBox. That was all. Oh, and a large backpack, no doubt to carry away the XBox and gun.

What was I supposed to do? Could I have confronted him more forcefully? Was there another person? In the back of my mind, I expect bad people to have guns, so protecting myself is highest on my priority list. I was afraid. I could have acted faster, but no matter how quickly I had gotten to the phone, he still would have had time to take those two things. I didn't stop him, but he probably didn't stay long.

Should have thought to send the
dump truck driver to knock on the door.
(click to see why)

I met the homeowner; his brother lives right next door to us & is a great neighbor. I feel bad that I didn't realize this was who lived there because then I could have said "I know you don't live here" and it would not have happened. Kick, kick, kick! But if Kitty hadn't run off, I wouldn't have seen anything at all. Then it wouldn't have been my problem? Well, no, because whether I see it happening or not, a guy breaking into houses in my neighborhood is my problem. It puts everyone on their guard.

view from the dining room

My new foundation is being dug today, I'm worried that I might have H1N1 and my architect who needs to make some minor clarifications before we can pour the foundation is in Seattle promising to overnight the revised plans. Now some punk lied to me and stole from my neighbor. Not only does that stress me out but it makes me pissed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

more demolition

volcano rock & overhang... my office window
is in the upper left. The siding has already been
removed from around the garage door.

For the past two days, contractors have been showing up to do the demo on the outside of the house. In the front, we'll add a larger entryway and remove a roof overhang that prevents sunshine from coming through the window of my office for much of the year. It's not until midwinter that the sun is low enough on the horizon to peek into the room. I guess that's one of the reasons I don't use the my office as much as I'd like during the summer.

The larger entry is partly so that we can install a better staircase. Our early 70s house was built before Anchorage had established any uniform codes for houses and you can tell just by walking up (or down) our stairs - each step has a tread that's shorter than 10 inches and the heights vary among the steps. Over the years I've gotten used to it but we've always known we wanted to change it.

The other good part about changing the entrance to the house is that the volcano-rock facade is going away. In fact, today most of it was taken off by noon. Just stripping off the ugliness is progress.

Notice the window in the shade & the wonderful
birch tree out front...

The guys cut out the center portion of the beam
and lower it down so it won't hit the birch tree when
the posts and the rest of the beam fall.

Sunshine on my window makes me happy!

Volcanic rock is almost gone.

To follow up on the deck demo, Jon got himself a chainsaw. Guess it was on his tool list (he should have told me; it would have been a great birthday gift!) So while the crew was working on the demo, he was cutting the deck boards and I was stacking them for that day when we get a new woodstove. Most of the balusters were still in good shape and one day should be part of a sauna... something that's been on my list for some time...

firewood formerly known as our deck,
stacked in the back yard amid the
bloomed-out fireweed.

So, one of the goals of this project is to remedy a structural problem that's caused a peak in our floor. Jon told me tonight that he was talking with one of our neighbors about the project. When Jon explained the project and showed the neighbor the offending beam, the neighbor's hopes sank. He has a similar flaw due to an overhang and thought he could solve it by doing work on the subfloor. Guess we'll give him the name of our structural engineer. I was just wondering today how many Anchorage homes have this problem - a problem that is typically uncovered, literally, when a homeowner decides to pull out their carpet and finds the surprise. Way to stimulate the economy. There are probably hundreds of these!

By the way, Jon took a load of aluminum siding to the recycler and got $61 for his efforts. That's alot of wine or beer. Too bad the Anchorage Recycling Center still hasn't resumed taking in glass... our stockpile is getting embarassing!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

let the remodel begin!

Last chance to go in through this door, Kitty.

Jon and I spent our Labor Day tearing down the back deck that was just off the dining room. Jon has grilled on that deck many evenings. Sunny evenings in the middle of summer; winter nights when it was nearing zero degrees F. Salmon caught in the summer, moose from a hunt with a friend, chicken and steak from the market. It's a small grill, but it probably gets more use than most, the ones that are fired up a few times a summer then put away for the winter. Now it's set up in the back yard, next to a small burn barrel and the newly-relocated wood pile.

I don't know how much grilling there'll be while this remodel happens. Where the deck once stood will be the garage expansion, an area that will double as a shop for Jon to do various wood-working projects and maybe a bit of bike work. The new, expanded deck will go above the addition, but that likely won't happen until spring.

This whole thing started when we (mosly I) wanted to get rid of the wall-to-wall carpeting in our upstairs. Kitty helped to hurry the project by bringing into the house a mouse to play with. When she released it from her jaws, it ran under a baseboard heater and burrowed under the carpet and pad. What better time to pull up the carpet than when there's a little mouse hiding from our cat! Jon pulled up the carpet and pad to find particle board that had been ground down to level a peaked high spot running the length of our house. Pulling it up revealed just how much settling our house had done. More evidence in the garage ceiling showed us how some beams were heaving up to create the peak in our floor. All because of a two-foot overhang without enough support. Anchorage 1970s construction!
The offending overhang!

That was a couple years ago. Since then, Jon has also torn out our inefficient fireplace and toe-breaking hearth that were in the center of the house. Then we were in limbo, limbo caused by busy work days and a desire to get out and have some fun, vacations and procrastination until finally I made a request. "Jon," I said. "I've never had a 'honey-do' list for you. But this is one thing that just has to happen." He started it; it was his project.

Structural engineer/architect, general contractor estimates, building permit, utility locators, summer weeks flipping by on the calendar. The Dumpster was dropped off this afternoon, ready for the debris of the demolition. Siding will have to go, the project has expanded to include a new front entrance and stairs that will be up to code. In the midst of my attempts to write, I will now be at the house each day as the contractors show up.

I vow to not be a pain and promise to go to the coffee shop a few blocks away when I can't deal with the noise and chaos. But first, I'm going to have to tell them that we want to recycle materials whenever it's reasonable to do so. I mean, come on, can I actually justify putting aluminum siding in the landfill when I bitch at people for tossing away a soda can? Exactly. I'll tell them about that tomorrow. Okay, they might find me to be a pain, but it's for the children... somebody's children.
railing & balusters gone

nice! rotting beams.

and, gone!

bell on a seat bag

I've not been a huge fan of bear bells or of anything else that distracts me from the welcome sounds in nature. The sound of a stream or waterfall nearby; the call of a jay; the rustling of leaves in a breeze; brambles being pushed aside by a moose or porcupine. I don't wear headphones and am often puzzled when others on the local trails are wearing them.

Music players, cell phones; to me they are part of the big disconnect; an extension of the culture that pulls us farther from the wilds even as we are surrounded by them. A bear bell posed a similar problem. It would cover the sounds I wanted to hear, cause me to add my noise to the others out there in the woods, on the trails. But this spring, after years of not having one, I purchased a small bell.

I liked the shape. Not round like the jingle bells most people carry. It is angular, with four sides, resembling a cow bell, but smaller. More like a goat bell. I used it first on a solo hike, trying to be more bear aware. The bell's sound conjured a vision of goats grazing on mountain slopes, their bells alerting herders to where they roamed. Hanging from my pack, it rang in rhythm with my stride: DING-ding-ding, DING-ding-ding. Sometimes it was silent; sometimes more insistent. Always there. But near the end of the hike, I was done listening to it and put it away in my backpack.

When June arrived and the new singletrack trails were opened for biking, it didn't occur to me to put the bell on my bike. Bells on bikes often just annoy me. But the trails have lots of twists and turns, corkscrews and switchbacks. Some bikes can be almost silent. One evening, as I was descending one of the trails, I heard a bell from the other side of a switchback. I slowed and moved to the side of the trail before the rider came into sight, rounding the bend. We exchanged hellos and kept going. Now, I thought, this is a good reason to have a bell.

this little bell of mine...

A tiny bell is not going to save me from a bear, and it doesn't replace paying attention. But it might just allow another rider who is paying attention to know that I am there, either coming up behind them or around a blind corner. As for having the sounds of nature obscured, not my little bell. I can still hear the water rushing through the Campbell Creek Gorge. I can hear the birds flitting in the brush off the side of the trail. And if I sound like a grazing goat, so be it. I'm not going to get run over. Of course, that assumes people can hear my bell over their digital soundtracks or their squealing brakes.

Rider up!