Sunday, December 6, 2009


An extremely unseasonable warm spell swept over Interior Alaska these last couple of days. It's just above freezing now, and the snow is melting and sliding out of the trees and off the roof. Kayt reports that a Big Car (read: American make) was unable to make it up the hill at the top of our road. Paths, parking lots, roads, and sidewalks are slippery. We've only had one spot of extreme cold, two weeks ago, when it was 35 below. So this warm spell seems strange, out of place, and not entirely welcome. In a few weeks, we would bless this kind of warmth, but we are not yet cold weary. In fact, the warm seems a bit ominous. Especially with the Copenhagen climate summit focusing global attention on the problematics of climate change...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I am tangled by despair. Toklas has been gone for six weeks four days, and I am cast adrift. Tomorrows come and go. The sun rises for its brief sojourn across the southern horizon and then disappears, swallowed by the dark. Students complain of depression, anxiety, and I think what can you know of grief? I am swallowed by it. You, you count deaths on one hand, one finger even. Me, I count in dozens. I don't have enough fingers and toes to keep track of the beloveds who have moved beyond my reach. Mattie's Pillow offers reprieve. But playing fiddle no longer soothes. The ache is too great, the gap too wide for music to fill. Tonight, I would gladly follow Toklas, eagerly go to a place where we could sit together once more, humming together in the dark.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Owl Waltz

Kayt heard the first Great Horned Owl hoot of the season this evening as she took the dogs out for a potty trip. The arrival of the first owl hoots are always a sure sign of winter here Beyond Ester. Kayt went out with me so I could hear it, and together we reveled in the sound. A friend turned me on to Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2 a couple of days ago, and even brought me sheet music. I've been learning it on the fiddle, and listened to dozens of versions on youtube today. Do you know the tune? It starts out with four oom-pahs and then a solo violin plays a plaintive, simple line for a few bars. The music suddenly bursts into a festival of harmony, then reverts back to the solo string again. As I listened to the owl hoot, plaintive and simple, I thought how perfect its call would fit into the Waltz.

In one version of the Waltz on youtube, the orchestra plays on raised stages arranged in a pinwheel into the audience. Many folks are dancing, non-dancers have linked arms and are swaying in massive waving lines. Everyone is singing dah dah dah dah, because they are part of the melody. The composer intended his audience to be participants, to be part of the music. Listening to the Great Horned Owl is like that. The owl is part of the melody of impending winter. I'm a small part, singing my line, dah dah dah dah, as the earth spins through the Long Dark towards the longest night of the year.

Our beloved 17-year old cat, Toklas, left us six weeks ago. I enter this first winter without him with sadness tinged with despair. We were each other's anchor for nearly two decades. I saved him from a nasty death when he was a baby, and he returned the favor with gracious, intelligent, vociferous affection. I find it difficult to imagine a future without him. I played the Westphalia Waltz for him over and over on his last day on the earth, and we sent him onto the next stage of his journey while singing his theme song, the Tokey Pokey.

Music soothes, music opens aches. Music sears, eases, fixes memory. Tonight, I sing my small part of the music of the universe--dah dah dah dah--knowing that the owl and Toklas sing with me. Goddess bless us all as we hum our way through the dark.

The stone owl above is one of many that lurk in a stone arch at Bryn Mawr College.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Best Cranberry Sauce Ever!

Sine made the best cranberry sauce EVER for Thanksgiving dinner today! These were the last of the cranberries I had picked in September. We'd saved them for a special sauce on Thanksgiving. This sauce was certainly worth the wait! Sweet, tart, and so flavorful. Nothing is as good as Alaska cranberries saved for a special treat with Thanksgiving dinner. Wish ya'll could have been here to share in the feast, especially the wild Alaska cranberry sauce!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Toklas 1992-2009

Toklas, beloved kitty, left the planet this day. He was the center of our household, the heartbeat of our hearth. He was intelligent, loving, talkative, and a bit of a bed hog. His six-year experience with diabetes meant that we structured our daily lives around him. I cannot envision a tomorrow without him. I'm sure that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I can't imagine it now. Toklas--we sang you out with your theme song. I can hardly wait until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge. Thank you, my little orange and white furry companion, for 17 good years together.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Red ruby berries

Hmmmmmm.... cannot resist those little rubies nestled among the tiny bright green leaves. They are sour, bitter, tough, and seedy. And in November, after stewing in their juices with just the right amount of raw sugar, they transform into the most delicious sauce on the planet. I am, of course, talking about Alaska homegrown wild lowbush and highbush cranberries. The season is NOW. Don't believe those who claim the berries are better after the first frost. They are just trying to get you to wait to go picking until after they have snagged all of the berries.

We went picking today. My role was to keep the dogs out of trouble, as they've been eating grass and berries and generally annoying Kayt while she picks. Kayt's role was to bring back a few berries for us. She picked over a pound of delicious, tiny little ruby fruits!! The dogs and I skipped down the path to the bottom of our property and Ursa found a wet pond puddle. Borealys was shocked to see Ursa dripping and promptly went scouting to find where she had gotten wet. She came back grinning from ear to ear and running figure eights around us in and out of the pondlet. We finished off our evening with dinner on the porch while the dogs tried to stay awake enough to pretend they were watch dogs. At the last night night potty we heard a fox sing/bark in the southwest corner of our land where it turns to tundra. The full moon has a tiny slice from its side. Still lovely and silvery white with dimples. Happy fall, everyone.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Moon hooting

I know it's embarrassing, but I can't stop. I'm a moon hooter. I grew up hooting at the full moon in rural North Carolina. Hooting surges through my blood. It's in my genes. Built into my DNA. I'm a sociologist, so I don't really think these things, but I really did, honestly, grow up hooting at the moon. It's something I can't really control. When I see the full moon, especially after months of infernal light when there are no moon sightings at all, joy wells up, surges past my sense of propriety, and spurts out my throat. Really, I can't help it. It's a southern thing. My friends BeJae and Jackie admit to moon hooting. Kayt claims it scares the dogs and cats, and perhaps it does. But mostly I think she's ashamed of me, worried that the neighbors will think they let a bunch of country hick ruffian pagan moon hooters move into the neighborhood. Well, and they would be right. Early early this morning, about 4:00 AM, the puppy and I were outside for her early potty. A fox was barking from way down on the tundra below our land. Now why would a fox be barking at that time of night? The answer seems obvious to me--she was hooting at the moon. Moon hooters unite!


On Wednesday, the sandhill cranes and the Canada geese left Interior Alaska. For weeks, the fields around Fairbanks had been filled with tall, lanky cranes and squat geese gorging on greens, grain, and bugs. Creamers Field swarmed with birds--ducks, geese, swans, cranes. We humans watched as entire fields of birds wheeled overhead, circling and calling, exercising their wings.

MP at Mattie's Pillow speculated that the birds were calling to each other in confusion--"which way? I thought you knew!" But I think the birds are saying something different: "Hey, this feels great! You're doing good! That's the way to do it! It's a long way South! Let's get going!" The skies have been filled with cacophony for days--sqawks, honks, calls, trumpets. Dozens of clumps of birds, heavy and awkward on the ground, but graceful in flight. And then, suddenly, sometime around noon on Wednesday, the skies fell silent. We went outside to notice the quiet. Nothing on the horizon but blue skies and lumpy clouds. Farewell, birds! See you this spring! Fly safe, be well, and come back to us.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Just passing through

A handful of Wilson's Warblers visited Beyond Ester last weekend. They were only here for a day, apparently just passing through on their way south. We read in one of our bird books that they often flock by the dozens with other migrating birds. We first noticed that we had new visitors when one by one, the raspberries in the yard waved furiously. Then we saw the brilliant flash of yellow and realized that we had never seen these birds before! The WWs were busy snatching bites of the raspberries, which have dried on the stalks. The bird book says they also enjoy insects, so perhaps our strikingly yellow visitors were grabbing some protein along with their fruit. We spotted both males and females--the males with their perky black cap, and the females more subtle with their streaked olive feathers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Foxtail warning

Dog lovers, beware!! It's foxtail season. A beautiful grass, foxtails are extremely dangerous to dogs and other animals. Our beloved elder dog, Ursa, occasionally has a bad habit of eating grass. While Kayt was in Madison, WI, for the Rural Sociological Society, Ursa started coughing and gagging. She drank bowl after bowl of water, seemingly trying to dislodge something from her throat. After watching her struggle, I took her to the emergency vet in town. I was so relieved to see Dr. Pinto, one of our most trusted docs, was on duty that night. The emergency vet often seems like rolling chaos to me, and this night was no different. Dr. Pinto, though, like the other vets and techs who work at the clinic, is always calm and steadfast in the face of the revolving crises, deaths, and high emotion. After she examined Ursa, Dr. Pinto suspected foxtails. She sedated Ursa and removed about a dozen pieces of foxtails that had lodged in her tonsils. About two hours later, the tech helped me load a heavily sedated and woozy Ursa into the car and I drove home. Somewhere along the way home, I passed a porcupine and the feeling of panic and disorientation overwhelmed me. How was I going to manage Ursa alone?? She weighs 76 pounds, and I felt every ounce as I picked her up from the car seat and set her on the ground at home. Her legs immediately went limp and she fell to the ground. But she's very brave, and with me holding her up, she peed and let me carry her into the house. She slept through the night, but I don't think I slept a wink. The next morning she was woozy and exhausted, but hungry for her breakfast. A week later, most of the inflammation appeared to be gone and she was back to normal. But please--let our horrible experience prevent your own dog from exposure to foxtails! Cut them down in the spring as soon as you recognize them. Ruthlessly exterminate them from your yard. Pull them, mow them, dig them up. Whatever you have to do to eliminate them from your environment, do it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009



Another earthquake. Part of the continuing Ester Swarm. I'm over it. Time to move on, Mama Nature. I don't recall the name of the Earthquake Goddess, and maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe we need to make some kind of pact with Her, like remembering Her Name and placating Her with wine or berries or blood sacrifices or something. I'll say it here: Hey, Earthquake Goddess! Name Your terms. What will it take to get You to stop rattling us here Beyond Ester?

The graphic above places the latest Ester earthquake on the world map. Note the red blocks are earthquakes that happened within the last hour. Note also how they cluster in Alaska, and tumble on top of each other in the area Beyond Ester.

Thanks, as always, to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. You guys rock. Sorry, I couldn't help it :)

Sunday, May 31, 2009


"The thrill is gone, baby. The thrill is gone away. Oh yeah, the thrill is gone, baby."

Another earthquake. This one is the largest yet. I was actually online reading about yesterday's earthquake when this one hit. Kayt was out walking the dogs and said that she felt like she was being shaken from above. Like the others, this one is centered only a couple of miles from our house. Three of the cats scrambled and stumbled over each other trying to run upstairs to hide. Sadie is still missing, but Kayt reports a pair of wide eyes under the bed that might belong to her. The thrill is definitely over, and the tremors can stop now.

Read about the latest on the Fairbanks News-Miner here:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

She's got personality

A swarm of earthquakes have rattled us here Beyond Ester. On the map, you can see the dozens that have hit Alaska in the last 24 hours. The red ones are less than an hour old, the orange ones are 1-12 hours old, the yellow ones are up to 23 hours old, and the white ones occurred within the last day. You will note the cluster of red and orange in the middle, which is approximately where Beyond Ester is located. Two in the 3.5+ range last night, two more at 6:00AM this morning, several small ones since then. Kayt suggested that the one last night at 9:00PM felt like someone shaking the house from the top. The one at 6:00 AM creaked the logs, but the ones at 7:30AM just felt like we were swaying. Each quake has its own personality. All of these recent ones are centered near Ester.
Here's a Fairbanks News-Miner article about the quakes. Like some of the posters on this article, these quakes are getting a bit freaky in their frequency. I told Kayt last night that I've had my big earthquake adventure in Alaska and that I don't need to experience any more.
Here is a link to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center (AEIC)--one day when you're looking for something to jiggle you out of complacency, do some serious cruising of their site.
Thanks to the AEIC for their constant monitoring and automatic data generation, as well as for the map above.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I feel the earth move under my feet

Wow. Not the Big One, but the Close One! An 3.8 earthquake woke us all up here Beyond Ester in the middle of the night. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center notes that the quake's epicenter is 4 miles south of Ester. (Click on the map for an enlarged version) That's where we live. Everyone at our house woke up. The dogs barked their furious moose alert bark, thinking that there was a moose stomping on the deck. Kayt said she thought the cats were shaking the bed. I thought a grader had taken a wrong turn and was in our driveway headed for the house. We also heard it--a rumbly buzzy sound. Always interesting, living in Alaska!
Thanks to the UAF Geophysical Institute for the map.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bird tragedy?


I knew what had happened without even rising from the couch. A large bird had crashed into our window. Kayt looked out, and spotted a male Hairy Woodpecker on a tree near the window. She heaved a sigh of relief. "It's alright," she said. I got up from the couch. "No, it's not," I responded, looking at the ground just under the window. "Oh no," Kayt breathed with alarm. There lay a dazed female Hairy Woodpecker, her neck stretched out in the wet, melting, icy grass. She breathed heavily and unevenly, her head askew, eyes closed. Her breathing turned to shudders that made her feathers twitch. I turned away, couldn't watch the inevitable end, though I prayed to the Goddess for mercy for the suffering bird.

Kayt went out, against my vociferous objections, and moved the bird out from under the dripping roofline. She reported that the bird looked up at her, and attempted to move away from her as she approached. The bird's mate, she said, was very upset, and remained vigilantly on the tree nearby chirping its fear and alarm incessantly. I could not watch nor listen, but instead retreated under my covers on the couch to cry for the pretty bird whose life was seeping into the snow melt under our window.

An hour later, the injured bird was gone. Vanished. Kayt understood the vanishing as the bird getting its head together and flying off into the sunset with its obviously upset mate. I understood the disappearance as a fox sent by The Divine to end the woodpecker's misery.

As it turns out, Kayt was right. Or maybe I was, too, at least in my pleading for Divine Intervention. In any case, the next day, we saw both Hairy Woodpeckers feeding on the suet. We only had one pair of Hairys, so we are certain that the female is the same individual who had seemed to be so critically injured.

Our wilderness and wild creatures are resilient. But to prevent future incidents, we installed fake spiderwebs on the windows near the bird feeders. The spiderwebs have stabilia--those solid parts of the web in the center. Some scientists think that stabilia have evolved over the millenia to prevent birds from crashing into spider webs. We'll see if the static cling variety works. Meanwhile, I sent a prayer of thanks to the Bird Goddess who intervened for our lovely female Hairy Woodpecker.

Image above: Neolithic Bird Goddess, 5900-5800 BCE

Thursday, April 23, 2009


The land has turned into a giant sponge. We still have about two feet of snow, but it's melting quickly and the ice trails are collapsing. The greenhouse is flooded with four inches of water that is seeping in as the snow outside melts. We have tiny lettuces in the beds, and flats full of broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, all the usual cole crop suspects. Creasy greens about to come up. I wonder if we are the first to grow creasies in Alaska. Ever had creasies? They grew wild at Bold Moon in North Carolina. We'd mow the patch every fall, and the seeds would lay dormant all winter under their nice warm mulch. Early spring, those beautiful heart-shaped leaves would form in rosettes and we'd pick tendrils. Even now, my mouth waters for a good mess of creasies. Steamed just lightly with a splash of vinegar and a dash of pepper. Yum.

But this is Alaska, and even things like creasies must be grown inside, with special insulation, heat, and beds raised from the snow melt. >sigh< Soon we will be feasting on the six kinds of lettuce planted in the greenhouse, and musing about this past winter, swapping "it was so cold that..." stories.

At least one more major earthquake this April--in this one, the floor rumbled, but Kali didn't awaken. Kayt was gone again--down to San Diego for a conference. She has missed both of the good earthquakes this year! Doh!

Only a handful of redpolls left at the feeder. A mated pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, and also a pair of Downy Woodpeckers. Yesterday, a job candidate and I spotted what I think was a Sharp-Shinned Hawk wheeling over the baby reindeer patch at the U. And, of course, the Canada Geese arrived last week at Creamer's Field. I was there the first day, and saw eight. This weekend Kayt counted several dozen. Life is good, spring is here.

In the pix above, Kayt, with Ursa's help, dug out the snow where she built our greenhouse in April 2006.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Redpoll migration

Yesterday, there were 100+/- redpolls in our yard feasting on seeds. The trees were full of trills and chirps, and the air swarmed with birds dashing to and from the feeders to the ground to the trees to the feeders again. We have had to fill the bird feeders twice a day for about two weeks. Every day we seem to have had more redpolls. Now, the feeder is empty except for a couple of chickadees and less than a dozen redpolls. There are about 40 redpolls that have been hanging out at various times today, but the huge flock that was here yesterday has vanished. Could it really be time for them to leave?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rumble Creak

Last night we had an earthquake somewhere beyond Beyond Ester. In the past, I have experienced earthquakes as the ground or building swaying, sometimes a shudder that seems to emanate from underneath. But last night, the symptom was a sudden craaaccckk from the logs in the house. Earlier, it had been very windy, so when I heard the logs cracking and creaking, I took the dogs out to determine if we needed to evacuate the house, gather kitties, and head to a storm shelter. After eight years in Iowa, one of my first reactions to strange surging sounds is to find a solid shelter. But when the dogs and I opened the door to the outside, all was silent. No fiercely clanging windchimes, no madly swaying birch trees. We came back into the house, and I noticed that my alarm clock had tipped over. Some of the dishes had slid in the cabinets. Kali, the complacent and usually oblivious elder cat, was sitting up, her eyes wide. Ahhhhh... an earthquake, I thought. This morning, I mentioned my experience to my co-worker, who directed me to UAF's Geophysical Institute earthquakes info page. What a wealth of information! It looks like the earthquake we experienced was about 150 miles south of Beyond Ester. I'm curious about how the shock waves travel... do they emanate through rock like water waves? Or more like sound waves traveling through the air? Regardless, it was an interesting experience, but not one that I need to replay. Visit the Geophysical Institute to read stats on the Beyond Beyond Ester Earthquake here: This is also the site where I got the cool map, above. Thanks, GI!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Curious chickadee

We have a most curious looking Black-Capped Chickadee. It's got a deformed beak. Its beak is very long and curves down in a graceful arc. Before any of you soft-hearted folks like me start wailing and gnashing your teeth, let me assure you that it seems to be doing just fine. This chickadee has been a regular visitor to our feeding station all winter, and it survived the unusually extended cold, the -50s, the wild winds, and all of the other... >cough cough<... interesting weather events this year. I have watched it pick up seeds on the ground, and also watched it pick seeds out of the seed hopper. Two days ago, I shoveled snow off the deck and it came and watched me work for several minutes. It hopped along the logs and seemed to be hunting for bugs. Our neighbor, the ornithologist, says that there are several reports of chickadees in the area with deformed beaks. Actually, I have seen this chickadee so many times and have so many photos of it, that I suspect there are more than one. Could be several who are regular feeder visitors, which is why I have so many sightings.

We have over 4 dozen Redpolls, both Common and Hoary, a Hairy Woodpecker pair, a female and male Downy Woodpecker who may or may not be a mated pair, one Boreal Chickadee, and three Grey Jays who are regular feeder visitors. We installed a new tray feeder this week, along with the suet and the mixed feed hopper and the sunflower feeder. The tray hopper was an immediate success, especially with the Hairy Woodpeckers and the Redpolls. One Red Squirrel visits, who seems to nest west of the house somewhere in the woods. We don't have any house nesters this year, thanks, I suspect, to the efforts of foxes and the ever butch Borealys.

One more interesting noteworthy ornithological event... After I shoveled the deck two days ago, I was pooped. There was four feet of snow to shovel, and I've been rather sedentary this winter, so after I scooped all but the last 1/2 inch of ice off the deck, I collapsed in a chair next to the wall and basked in the sun. I was in heaven. It was warm and bright, in the 20s, and the sun reflecting off the wall of the house and the snow felt glorious. All of a sudden, 14 Redpolls swarmed down and surrounded me! I did not dare move, and I watched them out of the corner of my eyes. They were pecking tiny bits of ice, probably October's sleet storm, gobbling them greedily. One was so close to me, I measured about 4 feet away from me, and pecking ever closer and closer. Then I glanced down and saw that two of them were under my legs! They were just inches from my body, and were happily snatching up tiny ice balls. Even when I shifted my legs a bit, causing them to fly away, the entire flock returned in seconds to continue to peck and munch. I felt like I had melded into the Alaska wilderness and was just part of the background for the birds. I used their enjoyment of the tiny ice balls to call it quits on shoveling the deck. After all, I had uncovered a layer of October sleet that they really appreciated. Who am I, a mere mortal, to deny these lovely birds what they want? :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great balls of fire!

Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire! We had quite the sighting last night here Beyond Ester. About midnight, the dogs and I were outside for our night-night potty. A flash caught my eye, and I turned to the east just in time to see a huge electric blue meteor streak down. The ball itself was preceded by two streaks that seemed connected to the meteor like legs. It was electric blue, neon blue, pure crystalline warm current Pacific Ocean water blue. For quite a few seconds I wondered if the Martians had landed. After I reported to Kayt, who had been asleep but had to be woken up for the occasion, the dogs and I walked towards where I had seen it. I half expected to see a smoking spaceship crashed at the old Chandler homestead. First thing this morning, I emailed a reporter at the local newspaper to ask if anyone else had reported seeing the meteor. As my extremely excellent fortune would have it, the reporter had also seen it! It was an amazing and thrilling sighting. I will never forget it. The dogs, by the way, were unimpressed.

Meteor Mark of reports that we are in the midst of a very minor meteor shower, the y-Normids, that will peak about March 13.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Midnight moonlight

Midnight in March, just two or three days from the full moon. The last full moon we can appreciate in Alaska until September arrives. In April, the days are so bright and long that the moonlight dissipates, disappears in the eternal twilight. But tonight, I have tonight. We got about 20 inches of new snow this past week. The biggest snowstorm since 1970 has just left us with huge quilts of puffy smooth snow. The wind blew for a full day, lifting and piling the snow into berms as tall as houses. There are curves sculpted in the yard, against the house, adorning the edges of the woods. The snow in the woods is deeper than the dogs, so they stick to the trails and paths they have already worn. Without snowshoes, the snow comes to my waist, so I too, stay on the trails to feed the birds, potty the dogs. Even with this latest snow, we know spring is near. There are unmistakable signs that even the blizzard cannot hide. Three dozen redpolls at the feeder. Daylight at 7:00 PM even during the storm. The heaviness of the snow, the size of the flakes, as large as coins and nearly as weighty.

This night, the first clear night in a week, Orion stalks our southern sky. The Three Sisters clutch at the spruce trees as they spin overhead. Polaris dips below the birches in the north, the Big Dipper wheels a full circle, dumping out its milky contents onto the universe at near morning. I startle awake as if something cold splashed on my face. Just the puppy, nudging me to take her out for an early morning potty. The bird feeder is empty; in the half twilight, I fill it, and sleepy chirps surround me. The puppy and I stumble back to our bed, snooze for another three hours until Kayt wakes. Spring may not be here yet, but the shift is apparent. The snow has stopped falling, and the moon casts purple shadows across the drifts, the steep valleys, the sharp clefts, the sudden and shocking rises where yesterday there was smooth plain. I dreamed about Ben and Jay and all the good young men we love in their shirt sleeves building stout cabins on our land. Life is good.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Snowy birds

Snow has been falling steadily for about sixteen hours. Whirls of fat flakes, then scatters of tiny ones. We have about twelve inches of new snow. The birds have crowded around the feeder since dawn. There are more than two dozen birds around the feeder at any given moment. Red Polls, Black Capped Chickadees, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, a male Hairy Woodpecker and female Downy Woodpecker are today's visitors. The woods around the cabin are alive with tweets and trills and shadowy flits. On Monday I put a new suet cake out, and by this morning, it was all gone. The suet is the woodpeckers' favorite, although the other birds snack on it also.

Last night the Great Horned Owl graced our woods with hoots. Not as close to the house as the night it continually spooked Borealys, but still close enough to appreciate the neck-hair raising effects of the sounds bouncing off the trees. This one was the one with the sonorous voice.

This afternoon I got the bright idea of playing in the snow with the dogs. They thought it was great fun, and so did I. Until, that is, I stepped off the path. The snow comes up to my butt, and I promptly lost my boot in the snow. I came limping back to the house with only one boot, wounded pride, and a very cold and snowy bottom half. At one point, Ursa plunged off the path and was completely covered with snow. Our next trip out into the yard will be on snowshoes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Borealys the Spooky

A dark night, just a few hours past the new moon, and a Great Horned Owl is hooting up a storm. I think it is perched on a snag just east of our cabin. The hooting makes Borealys nervous. She can't potty. She squats to pee, and then the owl hoots. She stands up, her ears on full alert. I assure her that all is fine, just an owl sweetheart, just an owl. She relaxes, squats again, and the owl hoots. Up goes her butt, her ears, and her ridge fur. She is truly spooked.

I wonder if she remembers the days when she was a new puppy, a tiny thing, hardly larger than a teacup. I like to claim that Kayt held her first, fell in love with her first. But that's not really true. Kayt and I had gone to the transfer station to dump a load of trash. There was a woman there, a young mother with a toddler fidgeting in the car, a basket of brown and black wiggles setting on the hood of the car. I wandered over as Kayt unloaded the trash from our truck. Whatcha got there, I asked. Puppies, she said. So cute, I said. I picked up the first one I saw, a brown slip of a thing. A tiny girl, four weeks old, who yawned puppy breath. Who among us isn't a fool for puppy breath? A curious combination of urine, milk, and some kind of strange chemical that draws us to cuddle, to fawn, to stroke, to say to a woman with a toddler and a basket of puppies, this one has a home.

I handed the tiny brown furball to Kayt, and any chance that this puppy would not come home with us melted away.

When she was a tiny puppy, we worried that Borealys would be snatched by an owl, a hawk, eagle. She was so small, so vulnerable. As we walked, we scoured the skies and the woods for danger. We saw lynx scat at Owl Cabin, and Tim saw the lynx one night when he let his dog out. We increased our vigilance. The puppy, everything revolved around the puppy.

Now, suddenly, she is two years old and big and strong. Yet spooked by owl hoots. She's always been a spooky puppy, intense, anxious about odd things. The leash. The car. The bed. The stairs. Floors without rugs. The dark. We have worked past most of her fears, but the owl hoots in the dark, this is something we are just now facing. This strange new danger. Has she internalized our old fears about owls snatching her up? Can she feel my own anxiety after losing a cat to a Great Horned Owl nearly three decades ago? Does she recall her puppy past, when she would have been a mere snack for an owl? Is the Owl Spirit stalking her?

I feel sympathy for Borealys' worries and fears. I, myself, struggle with my fear of the dark--an inconvenient fear here in the Northland, when our entire world is plunged into darkness for nearly half a year. Borealys and I are back inside now, after several anxious, potty-less visits outside. She hovers beneath my legs, her eyes black and staring out the window, her ears perched nearly on top of her head. She nudges my elbow urgently, whining. Clearly, she needs to potty. In a minute or two we will go outside and try again. Together, this beloved brown puppydog and I will face our fears of the dark, of the Owl, together.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bull Duo

Sometimes Kayt and I get moose vibes. Last night, Kayt took the dogs out for their night-night potty, and I heard/felt a noise just next to the window where I was working. I looked out, saw nothing, but felt enough moose vibe to get Kayt and the dogs to come back in asap. We looked out the back, and there were fresh tracks, but no moose to be seen. And certainly there was no moose next to the window where I was working.

Kayt woke up this morning, yawning and stretching and saying she was dreaming that there was a moose in the yard. She looked out the kitchen window and saw two gorgeous bulls browsing in the garden. Both were missing their antlers (which they typically shed this time of year), but their heads were so massive that they were unmistakenly males. By the time MamaKayt got Borys on her leash, the moose had vanished. Melted back into the woods. We have noticed that the bulls are much more skittish than the cows. Now, if the visitors had been a cow with her calf, they probably would have stuck around, with the cow occassionally glaring Kayt's direction. But the bulls simply vanished. We call such vanishing acts levitation.

What a treat to see such beautiful bulls, on this beautiful sunshiny day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy hoots

We're feeling a bit euphoric here Beyond Ester. Last night about ten o'clock, we heard a pair of Great Horned Owls! We are so happy to hear them! The young dog, Borealys, did not know what to make of the hoots that seemed to emanate just from the edge of the yard. Ursa, our elder dog, seemed to know that we were hearing echoes among the trees and the hills, and that's why owls seemed to be everywhere. The pair was down in the valley, to the southwest of our cabin, where the land flattens out to tundra and stubby, sporadic black spruce. They overtalked each other--a much higher and sloppier hoot overlaying a lower, carefully orchestrated one. A younger owl, perhaps, just learning its language? An eager mate, urging let's get it on? Did the thrill of above-zero weather and the inevitable approach of spring shape their hoots? Or the excitement of the hunt, perhaps. There's a vole! And another one! Forget the voles! Look, there's an Arctic Hare! Who hoo HOO hoo hoo! Who hoo hoo hoo hoo! Welcome back, owls!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Great Horned Owls are missing this year. Every year here at Beyond Ester we hear a pair calling to each other. The hoots start up in January, and are a constant presence in the evenings. During the last couple of years, one hooted from a snag to the north of our cabin, and its mate echoed back from somewhere south of our cabin, down towards the valley.

The Boreal Owls are also missing. Their mournful descending calls have always trembled through our woods and across our valley.

This year, only silence. Monday's full moon was a lonely and quiet night without owls to hoot and to call.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Great Grey Owl--a simple gift

A Great Grey Owl hunted in our yard last week. It spun its head around and around looking for voles. At one point, it peered intently into the camera, then focused beyond it, listening and looking for dinner. The owl's unperturbedness at being watched and filmed was a simple gift to us on this winter day. Kayt and The Plumber first spotted our owl visitor.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


A Chinook is sweeping over Interior Alaska tonight. Last week this time, it was -45 and tonight at our home on the edge of the Alaska wilderness it is 35. The wind smells like seashells and turquoise water. The dogs and their people are crazed with the sudden warmth. Kayt spent the day under the house with The Plumber, Saint Plumber, come to fix our pipes. He ended up breaking the connection so now we went from having little water to having none. But we are entranced with The Plumber, and we are used to coping with no water, so life is still Good. A little wearing, perhaps, but good nonetheless.

Kayt continues to work on her article for the Hawaii conference, and that alone spurs us to dream of warmth, of turquoise waters, of Chinooks... The snow underfoot tonight collapses into ice beneath our heels. All of us potty outside, given that we have no water inside. The warm wind shivers the spruce, tickles the wind chimes. Kayt noticed the ice shine on the birches earlier in the evening, but even the ice is gone now with the Chinook. An entity, like the cold, this mysterious Chinook who has come to bless us with Her warm breath.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


So how do we celebrate when the temp swells to a balmy -2 degrees after three weeks of -40s? Why, chocolate cookies with macadamian nuts, of course. The dogs get peanut-butter flavored low-fat small dog treats, but the People get real treats. I took a walk with the dogs to Wilson's Corner this AM, just before the snowfall, when the temp was rising a degree an hour. It was -20 when we left home this morning, and it was deliciously near zero when we got home. Toklas spent the day at the vet's because of a yeast infection in one ear. Poor boy, that's why he's been crying at night. That and high blood sugar. A moose in our yard has been providing the dogs good snuffleuffugus opportunities. Little else to report, except that it raised an entire degree while I was typing this! I'm looking for my cut-off jeans now so I'll be ready tomorrow AM.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wicked cold continues

Still locked in a world of cold. For the last three weeks, we have celebrated anytime the temperature raises into the minus 30s. Our pump froze yesterday--or something down there broke or froze or cracked. Kayt, the brave one in our family, put a heater down there. This requires pulling up a trap door and climbing down into a crawlspace that is literally that: a crawlspace. She returned with her face ashen and with stories of ice bergs and glaciers on the pipes and walls and ground. I can't bring myself to go down there for several reasons. First, I don't know what I would be looking at. Second, I'm afraid of spiders. Third, it's cold there. Fourth, dark. Fifth, it's now very icy, and where it's not icy, it's wet. Sixth, I don't know nothing about no plumbing. Except that it's broke. We are trying to find a plumber courageous enough to take on our plumbing project. The previous owner plumbed the place himself. Bad idea. The parts are gas fittings, not water fittings, and is plumbed conventionally, and not for Alaska. Except that the plumbing is really not conventional because the guy didn't do it right. Our plumbing has been nothing but bad news since the day we moved in. That was six years ago, and of course, nothing has improved. We had a serious conversation this evening about how much will it take before we decide to move to town. I'm dreaming about a nice 2BR condo, but Kayt thinks we can make do here. Meanwhile, the plumbing fiasco is so upsetting because neither of us know what to do about it. Except wait for Monday and then start pleading with a plumbing company to please come fix it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fox visited our feeder today!

A beautiful bushy tailed fox was out feeding under our bird feeder this morning. It seems to love the bird seeds that the birds pull out and drop below the feeders. We think the birds are trying to find just the right morsel. The chickadees are especially inclined to pull lots of seeds out before they find just what they want. Sine and I are the only ones who saw the fox and enjoyed its visit. The dogs slept through it. A group of Red Polls were out feeding at the feeders today too, as well as the woodpecker who is a constant visitor, and the ever present chickadees. We went to work soon after the fox left, so don't know who else might have visited today.

This evening the moon was 95% full, and was beautiful and bright for my walk with the dogs this evening. The sky was so dark and the moon was so bright. It was quite a wonderous walk! Time for a night night potty for Borealys, so I'd better end this post :-)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


On our porch are the stacks of boxes I hauled from North Carolina this summer in a U-Haul. What does one do with such things? I have old reel-to-reel family films from the 1950s. Boxes of old photos of my mother and my father when they were young and beautiful and so in love. Pictures of my mother in her 20s when she dyed her hair red and wore high heels and flirted with the young male photographer who was her husband at the time. Photos of my sister, cute, the darling of my family. Pictures of me, big feet, big teeth, big hands. Big black plastic bags enclosing my father's paintings, memories of his Wisconsin and Danish childhoods. Twenty five years of my own drawings, sketches, finished pen and inks, oil paintings. Boxes of mismatched cutlery, a gas stove, my mother's tool box. My chainsaw from home, the one that nearly cut off Lisa's leg and which still has dried blood clinging to the bar. Old Christmas decorations from my mother's house, her unfinished crismons. Scarred furniture from my Bold Moon home, some cheap and scavenged from the local Goodwill store, some handmade and handsome. A box of letters my sister and I wrote to our parents in the 1960s when we were sent away to boarding school. My mother's sewing machine, the world map with pins placed on all of the places that she visited in her life. A tall box with pots and pans, no lids, as my sister somehow ended up with a box of lids, but no pots. A wooden trunk, which I don't remember owning, but which somehow ended up at Bold Moon in the 1990s. Daddy's desk, bought secondhand from one of the old textile mills in North Carolina, which served as his first desk at his own business, then was a secretary's desk, then mine since 1976. Daddy's drawing table, the chair where he sat for hours and hours and hours as he painted and drew and wrote as a way to escape my mother, his wife, his life with her. The table is dismembered, parts here and there, the chair too high for my taste. Three books of my typed poetry from high school; chronicles of my first loves and first heartbreaks. Boxes of my dishes from Bold Moon, one-of-a-kind flowered plates collected since 1975, three of them from Hong Kong. Somewhere among the boxes, a handwritten draft of my father's last life project: a history of Western Europe as told from his own 89-year old eyes.

What does one do with these things from our past? The boxes nestle under blue tarps, and I notice that at least one has squirrel prints on it. Do we leave them out on the porch until things rot, moulder, become dusty, squirrel-eaten, their stuffings and edges scavenged by mice? Do we unpack them, integrate them into our contemporary lives, ignore the moth-bitteness, the flyspots, the musky scent of the past clinging to them? What do our current lovers think of these boxes that document past passions, spent exuberance, that smell of despair and bitterness? And what about the things that somehow got left behind? There are two family genealogies, a file about the origins of Bold Moon, a hundred LPs of the very first women's music, the Second Wave. The arrowhead and stone chip and stone ax I found at Bold Moon, the ones that the land called out to me to find. The photo of my great grandmother, my namesake. I once did ritual with this photo, on a lonely winter solstice in 1992, when I looked long and deep at the photo and thought I saw my own image in this long dead ancestor. But she is not among the boxes on the porch.

Good friends, good lovers, good companion animals have left our planet and continued on their journey. Should I send these things, these old things on their journey, too? I am tempted to build a winter bonfire, to heap the desk, the photos, the drawing table, the paintings, the things hauled up the Alaska Highway onto the blaze. To sit back and to relish my current life and to watch my past, my parents' past, my Bold Moon past, go up in smoke.

Cold snap

It's been a mournful cold here. A gruesome cold. The cold is an entity, and it hunts you down, snags you at the knees. Touching metal, like doorknobs or the car handle is like touching fire. In town, the ice fog is as thick as pea soup, turning everything reddish gray. Lights are distorted, cars seem further away then they are in reality. I saw -62 at Fred's on Saturday, and it was -58 on our west thermometer. The house collapses in on itself, walls withdrawing into their centers, their ends shrinking from each other. The result: drafts. Cruel, unseen shards of coldness sneaking across the floors to meet each other and create rivers of chill across our ankles. At one point, the warmest part of our house--the heater--was only 51. Of course, that's 51 ABOVE zero, so life is good. Well, life is tolerable. I went to the store to buy down quilts and comforters for our household, and ran into friends who crowed about their warm house. Kayt and I swore a solemn oath to each other that this spring we will complete the weatherization on our house. This time we mean it. Seriously. Really, we do. No kidding. Meanwhile, we are making do with blankets covering the windows, duct tape and foam on the leaky door, and quilts. Lots and lots of quilts.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Meteor Sighting Tonight!

An exciting meteor sighting tonight! We'd gone out to take the dogs out to go potty and I was focusing on the sky to see if the moon was where our night sky site says it should be when I saw an impressive meteor streak across the sky near the moon. Sine said that she'd seen that the Quadrantids meteor shower was going to be happening tonight. I got to see at least one meteor shower down. Check out this site for information about the Quadrantids meteor shower and for a great picture of the Quadrantids last year way up North here with the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). No Northern Lights tonight. The meteor I saw sure was huge though. Not just a little streak but a big ball with lots of sparks trailing!

Check out the sky above our place

This time of year it is dark most of the time (but the light is on its way back)! Check out the image below to see what the sky looks like over our place right now. If the sky color is light blue we have daylight. If the sky color is dark, it is dark overhead at our place and the stars and planets are in the locations where we are currently seeing them over our heads. Click on the image to open up the site that feeds these images. If it is dark here in AK you will even be able to see stick figures of the constellations on the larger image on the technetium astronomy site.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Borys back injury

Early afternoon, Borealys starting complaining. We could not tell what her issue was, but we suspected a back injury, impacted anal glands, or sprained tail. Best MamaKayt took her to the emergency vet clinic where Our Baby was diagnosed with a back injury. I'm feeling pretty bad because I suspect I am at fault. Earlier today, I made her and Ursa put on their coats to brave the cold weather. Bory's coat is a nice red fleece, but both front feet have to be put into the coat, and then the back is velcro. I'm sure that I caused the injury, and I feel so badly. But enough guilt. Kayt brought home rimadyl, and instructions to put ice on Borys's back. Have you ever tried to apply ice to a dog's back?? Needless to say, it didn't go well. But Borealys is sleeping now, resting better, not whining. We're hoping she will heal quickly.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year moose

New Year's eve, January 1, 2009
I took Borealys out to potty, which is so often a great time for wildlife experiences. Just as she squatted, a moose started bawling in the woods just west of the house! Kayt and I had heard three gun shots earlier today, and so we started worrying that the bawling was an abandoned calf whose mother was killed. May or may not be the story. I looked up moose in one of our field guides, and it said that although bulls call during rutting season, cows may "grunt" anytime to call their calf. This sound was not a "grunt", though. It was a bawl, just like the way that cow cows (the dairy/beef kind of cow) sound down south. We decided to believe that the moose was not bereaved, that it was just saying, "it's cold out here!!!" It is -48 on the thermometer on the west house post, way cold enough for this New Year's Eve. We have 3 minutes and 22 seconds more daylight today than yesterday. Last night, an unexpected aurora borealis. Life is good.