Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Cream of Wheat Incident

So the sight of the Dall sheep on the mountain last weekend reminded me of the hunting trips I used to take with my Dad, and I can’t tell about any of them without sharing this still-disputed story about the Cream of Wheat incident.  And by the way, Dad, I’m telling MY version…

Hunting in the Talkeetna mountains is hard work by anyone’s standards.  The terrain is steep and covered in thick brush.  Where it levels out it’s usually boggy…and covered in thick brush.  When you break out of the brush, it’s often because you are blocked by massive rocks and unstable shale slopes, so you carefully angle your way back to the thick brush!

A bare and jagged peak visible from the trails behind the Cabin. It looks solid but a huge section of the right face fell away a couple of years ago

We are fortunate that the Cabin property backs up to lots of empty land, albeit mostly vertical land, where hunting is easily accessible.  (We are even more fortunate that our acreage combined with that belonging to the gated camp provides a bit of a buffer zone between us and the guns!) 

Dad and I started hunting together when I was old enough to follow him around with my little hand-carved bow that he made for me.  He never actually killed anything when I was along, but it probably had more to do with having his chatterbox daughter tromping alongside of him scaring off the game than any squeamishness!  I did get to help skinning rabbits that he got when he hunted by himself. 

Often mistakenly referred to as “goats” these are Dall ewes that hang out close enough to the highway to NOT be little white dots in the photo!

This trip was primarily a sheep trip as I recall, so we were way back in the back country of the Talkeetna Range.  The hiking was rough going in places and we walked for days it seemed just to get back to where we started hoping to see game.  Although I carried a pack with my own sleeping bag and some of the other items, Dad carried the majority of the food and supplies. 

We always had to be conscious that we were in bear country, so food handling had strict rules that had to be followed.  One morning, far into the back country, Dad made us a breakfast of Cream of Wheat.  Somehow he didn’t get the memo that I don’t like Cream of Wheat. 

…still don’t like it by the way…

No, wait, back-up…I actually loathe Cream of Wheat.  So much so that I wouldn’t eat it. 

Dad was – understandably – pretty angry with me since he’d hauled it on his back for miles and couldn’t just produce another breakfast to sustain me for the day’s hike, but … and here’s where our stories diverge … I swear he told me that if I wasn’t going to eat it, I had to go away from our campsite and bury it as deep as I could.  That’s my version, and that’s what I did.

His story is that he didn’t tell me any such thing.  He says he caught me sneaking away to bury my Cream of Wheat and then got angry…and stayed irritated all day…and for years to come.  I’m pretty sure it was the first thing he told Mom when we got back to the Cabin.  Not a report on whether we saw or shot any sheep, not a description of the beautiful country we saw…the stand-out moment of the trip for him was “catching” me burying the Cream of Wheat.

An all purpose tool for putting out the camp fire…or burying your yucky breakfast cereal!

This all happened nearly 40 years ago, and to this day the merest mention of Cream of Wheat…or oatmeal…or even breakfast, can make Mom break out in laughter and Dad scowl and shake his head.  Then the hapless person who brought it up has to listen to the whole story.  Both stories actually.

Dad’s story.

And mine.  (the truth, I swear!)

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September 7-9 Fish Camp

My roommate has spoiled her friends with an annual tradition that we call “Fish Camp.”  After the summer renters have all left the lodge on the Kenai River, she uses it to house a group who are itching for one last big fishing trip to close out the year.  (She gets to use Broken Rod Lodge in return for care-taking it in the off season.)

Mt. Redoubt seen from the end of the runway on Funny River Road. One of my favorite photo stops on the way to Broken Rod Lodge

Everyone makes their way to Soldotna Friday night, most arriving in time for snacks and cocktails catered by my roommate.  Those who are fishing get up at what she calls “o-dark-thirty” on Saturday morning to drive to the boat launch to catch their guided fishing charter, while she stays behind to prepare for the evening feast and festivities when the fishing folks return. 

One year she did a Cajun “dump” dinner, somehow convincing all of her gullible guests to put on disposable surgical hazmat overalls without revealing what was in store for them.  Much giggling and outright guffaws ensued as we all sat around the table and watched each other in our ridiculous costumes eating from a steaming mess of delicious food dumped in the middle of the table!  (Note: hazmat suits are NOT necessary to eat a dump dinner under normal circumstances!)

That one will be hard to top, but she made a noble effort this year with grilled fresh red salmon, grilled New York steaks, homemade rolls, baked beans, salad, roasted veggies and much more.  It took two tables to hold all the food!  Afterward, anyone still able to waddle outside gathers around the fire pit to drink and tell fish stories.  We always intend to make s’mores but the size of the meal often discourages dessert longings! 

Red willow leaf…fall is really here…sigh

Sadly, Fish Camp marks the beginning of the end of summer.  This year we saw everyone off Sunday morning after a big breakfast of quiche and fruit.  Three of us stayed behind to finish laundry and dishes, clean out the refrigerator and tidy up, before we too headed back to Anchorage.

Mushrooms – another sign of fall. I laid my camera on the moss, pointed it up at the mushroom and trusted it to focus!

Soon the lodge will be officially closed up: plumbing drained and disconnected; pump shut off; furnace shut off; remaining liquid items stashed in the bathtub in case of frozen explosions.  Outside, the big travel trailer (that serves as a spare bedroom at the height of the season) is also winterized and then gets completely tarp-wrapped.  The fishing platforms on the river bank even get hauled out to minimize damage due to ice during breakup.  The lodge is completely inaccessible once the snow flies, so once it’s closed, we won’t see the inside of it again until May. 

In addition, as part of the chores this trip, we drove Winnie out to her winter home in my parents’ backyard in Nikiski.  We didn’t get to do much RV’ing this year…weather and schedules got in the way. 

Winnie’s custom made winter home…doesn’t she look sad?

It was hard to leave the Peninsula to head back to Anchorage.  The sun did its best to tempt us to stay, lighting the increasing fall colors along the road, but a stiff breeze warned of coming storms.  I took a short walk with my camera, but couldn’t linger.  

Camera shy leaves kept dancing away from my lens and defying me to take a focused picture!

With such a busy weekend, these fall color pictures taken during my walk were all that I took, but in hindsight I really regret not getting a shot of that food laden table!

 

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White wildlife weekend

I have an entry written about Fish Camp, but I’ll save that one for later in the week because I can’t wait to share my weekend with you!

I had an unscheduled four-day weekend available, so … I TOOK it!  I spent Friday on household chores and then decided to wait until Saturday morning to leave since it gets dark so much earlier now.

We have had a spate of terrible wind and rain storms throughout southcentral Alaska this month, with winds gusting to over 100mph.  Downed trees have done immeasurable damage to power lines, fences, roofs, and even vehicles.  Some folks here in Anchorage were without power for nearly a week as crews worked to find and clear all the lines that were hit. 

Meanwhile, the rains were accumulating steadily and swelling the small streams which began swelling the big ones and then suddenly we had flood alerts all over the place and homes that were already on the edge being lost to the erosion of the river banks. 

The tame looking Matanuska River has been eating at the banks under homes and has claimed several over the last year

All of this is to say that I had good reason to want to go up and check on the Cabin!

After many little delays, I finally made it out of town by 2pm.  The sun was shining and warm, lifting white mists off the wet mountains as I arrived at the camp.  I spoke to a neighbor as I drove in and was reassured that they had had little of the extreme weather other than persistent light rains. 

Erosion is a constant battle on this portion of the trail – even without the rain!

The trail did suffer a bit from the softening effects of the rains, banks sloughing off in big chunks, even depositing an abandoned bird nest that must have been tucked into the bank somewhere.  The Cabin however was in tip-top shape, surrounded by a carpet of gold leaves. 

Beautiful but treacherously slick underfoot, especially because many of the exposed roots are buried in leaves

My evening row to retrieve my small pile of gear put me in full view of the two hills at the east end of the lake, where I observed a large flock of Dall sheep on the nearer peak. 

Dall sheep, also commonly known as “those little white spots in the middle of the picture”

Sunday morning was a chilly one at around 40F outside.  Fatso was soon crackling merrily as I ate my oatmeal and stared out the window at the lake.  The young loon has most of his size and is now quite capable of taking care of himself, though he still follows mom around part of the time.  His plumage will take another couple of years to fully develop the beautiful summertime checkerboard tuxedo of his parents.  His light colored bill and light throat make him look like a winter adult right now. 

The swans have moved back in.  As my neighbor had told me, they have appropriated the loon nest for their own.  When the weather lifted and the wind died down, I took the boat over to “Loon Lagoon” to get some photos. 

The telephoto makes it look much closer than it was! I was on the far side of a 20-30 foot wide swath of lilies with another 15 feet of open water in addition

Although they adopted a slightly tense posture and eventually left the nest, they actually circled around and approached me where I was anchored in the remnants of the lilies. 

Checking me out. Very little telephoto here by the way…he really came quite close, but never acted aggressive…no hissing or fluffing

Curiosity satisfied, they then glided away with no apparent haste or unease.  I pushed the rest of the way through the lilies and stole some swan feathers from the water around the nest.  I guess I should research whether I’m allowed to keep them…  Anyway, I feel like I should work to shoo these big bullies away from my loons’ nest, but I can’t help enjoying the sight of them gliding around the lake. 

If you look closely in the first swan pic, you can see some of the feathers I was able to steal later!

The rest of Sunday was dedicated to firewood.  I went back to one of the big trees I had worked on before and limbed and cut away another 10 foot section.  Then I cut down a couple of very small dead spruce (about 15 feet tall, but only about 2-3 inches at the most in diameter) and limbed the top 10 feet of the big tree that was still laying where I left it last time.  After taking a total of 3 10 foot sections, there’s still about 30 feet left lying along the trail.  That was a pretty big tree for a black spruce.  At a diameter of nearly 6 inches the 10-foot section I cut away this time was almost more than I could drag – especially as I forgot to leave a short limb as a handle.  The rest of the tree is going to have to wait for a bigger chainsaw and a stronger person to drag the sections away! 

I got everything back to the sawhorse with a minimum of grown-up language, but by then I was ready to call it a day.  I feasted on toasted cheese sandwiches and enjoyed a quiet evening with my Kindle.

Monday morning I hustled to split the last of the rounds from my last trip and then cut up the big section I had dragged in.  Although it’s long-dead wood, it will be easier to split if I give the rounds a little more time to dry. I stacked everything in the shelter and then cleaned the Cabin and packed up to leave.  As always seems to happen the sun came out as I was pulling the boat out of the water and locking the oars up inside. 

I’m not expecting to get back up here before mid-October, so my next big chore is to figure out how to work my new little propane heater.  It occurred to me that this weekend’s wildlife was mostly white…in fiction that would be a foreshadowing of snow to come.  Brrrrr!  I’ll be needing that heater for sure!

 

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First of many September trips

September has been unusually busy for me this year.  Labor Day we went to Homer, the following weekend was “Fish Camp” on the Kenai River at my roommate’s cabin, and the weekend after that was a quilting/crafting retreat in Palmer…whew.  I’m still on track to dash up to my Cabin this coming weekend, making a total of four weekends away from home so far this month!

 

The wind was howling and these daredevils were angling at the surf to jump the breakers, sometimes lifting 20 feet off the water

The Homer trip was a great success.  After an overnight in Soldotna at the Kenai River cabin, we headed down early Saturday morning to Homer.  We had intentions of going across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia, but had some confusion over the many ways there are to get there, so missed them all!  No worries, we still enjoyed bopping around Homer, poking around the little tourist trap shops and grumbling about the tourist traffic…of which we were a part!  Not only was it the last weekend for most of the shops but a cruise ship was in town, the last of the season, so the foot traffic made driving on the Spit all but impossible. 

The Amsterdam leaving port swinging around the end of Homer Spit on its way out of Kachemak Bay

We escaped the crowds by barging in on friends who have a condo on the beach.  Yummy gourmet pizzas from Finn’s were washed down with some terrific wines!  A perfect evening was capped by taking the dogs for a walk on the beach before heading up East End Road to our rented guest house.

Exercising the horses at low tide on Homer Spit

Sunday morning we headed back out to the Spit, but the weather was moving in, so after grabbing some pastries from the fantastic Boardwalk Bakery, we hit the road back to Soldotna for the night.   The drive back to Anchorage on Monday was drizzly but pleasant. 

Dwarf dogwood (I think! All of my plant identification books are up at the Cabin!)

The wet reds of the fall colors at Tern Lake caught my eye.  The dwarf dogwood darkens to a deep glossy brick red, the currant and cranberry bushes vary from a mottled red and yellow to a rich cranberry color, while the trees were still (mostly) green that weekend. 

Not everything has changed color yet. The contrast between the greens and reds is especially pleasing to the eye this time of year

The alder leaves won’t give us much of a display; willows will mostly turn yellow with a few bright orange or even red exceptions, and the aspen, birch and cottonwoods (aka balsam poplars) will be yellow or sometimes brown if they’ve been hit by bugs.  Spruce and hemlock will stay green of course, but their color will appear to darken until they look almost black against the winter snows. 

Alder leaves sharing space with black spruce branches. The alder leaves will turn brown and shrivelly and many will linger dead on the branches until spring

As always, I can’t wait to get up to the Cabin to enjoy a little of the fall display!

 

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Fading Summer days…

Well, I did finally get up to the Cabin for a weekend in August, which was a good thing because September was packed with other obligations and if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to sneak away this weekend for a “closing it up” trip. 

Remember that beautiful fireweed in the last post? This is what it looks like now!

The August trip was productive though.  I used my little battery operated chainsaw (HAHAHAHAHA!!  I love my tools, but that one sounds so GIRLY!) anyway, used it to cut up a couple of downed trees that I had dragged back to my firewood pile.  Then…I actually made friends with Dad’s big axe. 

Yep, I’m a real Alaskan Woman now. 

I split all of the rounds I had cut up, and I was having so much fun that I dug out all the other old rounds from the bottom of the stack and split them too!  Kerwhack!  What a sense of accomplishment to hear that sound bouncing off the hills and see my wood pile growing…

This was one afternoon’s work and produced about 3-4 days worth of firewood in moderately cool temperatures. A real winter’s day would use about half the pile in Fatso! A more efficient wood stove will be in the new Cabin…

I also packed out some of the less winter-worthy food items this trip.  There’s plenty still there for a couple more weekend trips before the lake freezes up, but I don’t want to waste food that won’t survive a six-month series of freeze-thaws.  Things like rice, instant potatoes, tuna pouches, and ramen noodles stay year round, along with granola bars and other snacks. 

Two years ago I had company during my vacation at the Cabin, and my well-intentioned guests brought things like beer and wine and then left them for me.  I rarely drink except socially, so I put them away and of course forgot about them.  The next summer was my big flooring project and as I emptied the cupboard I found the wine bottle…minus its cork!  Luckily the “cupboard” is just a crate on an uneven floor, so the bottle was tipped up just enough that only a few tablespoons worth spilled when I bumped it.  Also lucky that the flooring was being replaced anyway!  I later found the cork clear across the Cabin near the firewood box.  That must have been some really cold weather to explode a bottle of wine that hard! 

Oddly, the beer didn’t explode, though I chose not to drink it.

Tea is more my speed, especially as the temperatures drop. I love the gurgle of the pot as the water heats.

I’m more careful since then to police my cupboards for explodables if I think I might not be back before winter.  Besides, it’s a shame to waste the wine!

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