Posts Tagged With: swans

A busy little guardian angel!

I ranted last week about Alaskan drivers and may have given the impression that I’m perfect. (HA)  To set the record straight, I’ll share some highlights of my driving career…my “auto” biography if you’ll pardon the pun.  (sorry about that…)

I took a notion one year to drive my teeny little Chevy Luv to Valdez to get some winter pictures.  In January.  In a blizzard.  With 4 hours of daylight and snow blowing sideways for two of the three days I was on the road, there wasn’t actually a lot of photography.  The drive to Valdez at night in a blizzard isn’t all that scenic as it turns out. 

It was about 10pm when I came down out of Thompson Pass and headed into Keystone Canyon.  Exiting the canyon, I went from relatively calm snow and some visibility to a crazy white swirling world and no road in front of me.  I slowed my truck, and then slowed it some more until I was barely crawling along.  Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had the road to myself I saw headlights coming.  I couldn’t see the road, never mind lane lines so I cautiously sidled over to give the oncoming 18-wheeler plenty of room to pass me.  And then I sidled my way right into the ditch.  I only knew that because my forward motion stopped and I was listing to port all of a sudden. 

Huh.  Now what? 

By the time I had collected my wits and stepped out of my truck to assess the situation, the trucker had gotten himself stopped and was walking a tow strap back to me.  I was out of that ditch before I could think about it.  How many folks can say they’ve been pulled out of a ditch by an 18-wheeler?

Turnagain Pass in winter

Turnagain Pass in winter

Years later a friend and I were coming back to Anchorage from Kenai after Thanksgiving with my parents.  I had a little Mazda 323 at the time and had had just enough money to purchase two new studded winter tires.  Not knowing any better, I instructed the tire guys to install them on the front since it was a front-wheel drive car.  If you’re not from winter country you might not realize what a big NO-NO that is.  Here’s why…

The snow started coming down as we left Kenai and by the time we got to the Sterling flats it was really thick, the kind of snow that Hollywood thinks of when they try to create snow for film.  Big, wet flakes were swirling around and were rapidly accumulating on the road surface.  I slowed a little, but I wasn’t too worried until I realized that the back end of the car was going faster than the front end around a long slow curve in the road.  With more weight on the gripping winter tires in front, the summer tires in the back had nothing to hold them to the road, so slowing down on a slick curve was actually the worst thing I could have done.  Only the front tires could respond. 

We did a nice, slow-motion 360 and came to rest nose down in a shallow ditch.  My guardian angel was on duty once again.  A tow truck came along just as we were climbing up out of the ditch and wondering who to call.  He hooked up, yanked us out and wished us a safe journey before we could even get all our winter gear on.

Kenai River in midwinter.  Some of our swans stay year round.

Kenai River in midwinter. Some of our swans stay year round.

Incidents like these have made me a cautious driver.  Road trip gear, especially in the winter, includes blankets or a down sleeping bag, flares, a small air compressor, heavy cold weather gear in case I have to walk for help, a jug of water, food and first aid supplies.  The gas tank is always topped off before setting out.  Even if the accident that stops highway traffic isn’t yours, you could find yourself on the road hours longer than you had planned.  My dad got caught between avalanches one year and couldn’t go back home or come the rest of the way into Anchorage.  He was lucky and only spent a few hours at the gas station in Girdwood before road crews cleared the avalanches. 

Our family has the best guardian angels anywhere!

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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!


Categories: wildlife | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

June 30 – Saturday

48F this morning at 7:20am.  Crystal blue skies overhead, and although the mountains across the valley were covered in clouds at dawn, they soon broke through and the clouds moved back into the deep valleys between the peaks.  High winds today – not just breezes.  I went out first thing this morning and dumped kitty litter on the moose carcass, causing a panicky swarm of maggots to erupt out of the litter!  Ewwwwwww!  Later as I was hunting for kindling I saw robins all over the place near there and realized the exposed maggots were becoming lunch!  And by the way, the kitty litter did the trick as far as the smell.

Sunshine (temps again up to 70F this afternoon) and wind are a perfect combination for working on the deck boards today.  I got over a third of them done in addition to finishing up the joist boards that I had started last weekend.  It’s slow going with no dirt-free work surface.  Even if the existing dock weren’t partially under water, I wouldn’t trust it to hold while I work, so I’m on the marshy shore.  The dock is beyond springy – I keep expecting a foot to go through the rotted plywood every time I have to stand on it for any reason. 

It's not supposed to be a "floating" dock!!

You can see why I need a new dock! The water-ski boat swamps this one all the way to the shore with its wake.

I really look forward to being able to take my camera and binoculars and a mug of tea down there in the mornings like I used to do.  I used to sit there for hours watching the lake and the mountains and talking to the loons…

I took this one last year

I’m glad I got so much done on treating the deck boards today as the clouds have really moved in fast on this relentless wind.  I thought I felt a raindrop or two as I was tidying up the deck and gathering firewood for tomorrow morning.  It could be a wet day tomorrow.  I finally saw some moose this evening.  A cow and calf came out of the trees to the east across the lake and walked the shore for awhile before heading back up the hill.  After she had disappeared, a little yearling bull showed up on the peninsula directly across from the cabin.  He browsed for a few minutes, did a little dance and ran back into the trees.  The wind has died down as evening approaches, and I suspect he was getting harassed by the flies.  Hopefully he will make another appearance when the light is better for a picture.

I haven’t seen much loon activity, though I have heard one calling late in the evenings.  My friend who lives in the camp community told me that swans vandalized the loon nest a couple of weeks ago, so she wasn’t sure there were even any loons still here. 

I wish the swans at the Cabin would pose for me like these ones did

They’re beautiful but noisy and apparently not good neighbors to the loons!

I was able to assure her that I had seen and heard at least one.  My hope is that the pair that nests here has been able to lay another clutch of eggs.  That could be why I haven’t seen more than one at a time.  They’ll be taking turns sitting on the nest until the chicks hatch.   None of my bird books gives information about how long from laying to hatching, so I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed…

Tomorrow if the weather cooperates I will hopefully finish water sealing the deck boards. 

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My first overnight at the Cabin this year!

June 9 

So, early to bed last night means my eyes popped open at about 4:30 this morning.  I laid there for awhile trying to convince my bladder that a short hike was just what it needed!  (My composting toilet won’t be set up until my long stay since I don’t yet have a place to store it except indoors, phew!)

 Finally, I stumbled out and stood in my jammies at the door, looking out over the misty lake in the dim morning light.  What is the white thing?  I rubbed my eyes – gotta get new contacts before I come up for my long stay – and a pair of swans swam into focus!  The camera was unable to give me anything but blurry white blobs in the low light.  I watched them cruise to the far end, trumpeting to each other (whew, maybe I’m glad they aren’t full time residents!) before slapping the water in a really noisy take-off.  They visit occasionally and it’s always a thrill but I have yet to capture them with a camera. 

Fully awake now, I decided I had several hours before I needed to get to work so I lit a fire in Fatso and sat with my Kindle to read.  The outside temperature was 42F so the fire was nice and soon warmed the interior to over 70F.  I glanced up from my book shortly after getting settled and spotted movement on the end of the peninsula directly across from the cabin.  A big silver cow moose was browsing there, and sure enough there was a little reddish brown calf with her.  Again too early for good photography. 

About half an hour later I heard splashing which usually means moose in the lake.  I glanced at the peninsula, but Momma was now laying down and her calf was out of sight, probably too small to see over the grass.  I saw ripples coming from the shore on my side and another cow emerged into view followed by two calves.  She headed for the peninsula, obviously a favorite browse site, but the first cow was on her feet all of a sudden and charged into the water with a definite message…”this is my spot!”  Momma #2 changed course and disappeared around the west side of the peninsula, walking in belly deep water while her calves swam beside her.  Momma #1 must have escorted her away as neither of them reappeared. 

 I resumed reading and about an hour later heard more splashing.  I looked up to see a young moose entering the water at the tip of the peninsula.  This one was smaller and darker, a yearling cow, probably a sister and/or daughter to one or both of the two I had seen earlier.  She brought my moose total to six counting calves!  Quite a busy morning.  She crossed to the blueberry bog on my side and presumably travelled on up the hill.

 The rain came and went all morning, finally tapering off altogether at about 8am.  I put the Kindle away, let the fire die down, and began chores, first tidying up the interior and putting away the groceries I had hauled up the night before.  Then I made several trips down to the dock to retrieve the items I had left there, including the toilet.  Finally I bailed out the boat, wiped the seats and headed across at about 9am to my lumber pile for the first of many trips.  S. showed up to help with loading and launching me in the boat as I was getting ready to take the second load across.  D. drove up in the motorhome, so for the third and fourth loads she was able to help me unload, stack and retarp the pile at my end.  The load with the ten-foot joists balanced across D.’s lap was a rowing challenge for me.  Thankfully there was no wind this morning!  S. drove on to her cabin while we finished up.

 We stowed the boat and put the oars back in the Cabin before hiking out to go spend the evening at S.’s cabin.  She has a large driveway in which we are able to park our little motorhome.  We roasted hot dogs, drank lots of Mike’s Mango, played some Farkle and finally called it a night.

 I couldn’t have done such a huge chore without these great, fantastic, amazing friends – and there are others who would have come if their work schedules had allowed.  I’m so thankful to all of them!

Categories: wildlife | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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