Thursday, May 4, 2017

Surprised by Spring

As winter started to come to an end here, many people cautioned me that it would be the end of May before the weather would be "nice." With this ringing in my ears, I was prepared for temperatures hovering around the freezing mark for the month of April and most of May. I was expecting nighttime temperatures to be in the 20sF (around -7*C). I braced myself for more snow. I held on to the hope that once the middle of May hit, winter would FINALLY be over. Imagine my surprise when it was hitting 50*F (10*C) by the middle of April and it was no longer necessary to bundle up to go outside. It has been weeks since we last had snow. Here it is the beginning of May and the snow is almost completely gone. This was not what I expected. This is not what I had been told. Break up (known as "spring" in other parts of the country) was supposed to almost as cold and miserable as winter. While it is true there are no leaves on the trees, or even buds for that matter, the pussy willows are out. There are no flowers poking up from the ground, but the geese, swans and sandhill cranes have returned. It is still very brown outside, but I can see swaths of green grass. Spring has come to Interior Alaska, and, like most other experiences I've had in Alaska, it is not what I was expecting at all. 

This was my front yard on March 31

This was my front yard on May 1. The snow is *almost* gone.

There are still small chunks of ice floating down the river.

The pussy willows

I stood in the middle of the river at this exact spot in February and watched the Yukon Quest dog teams go by.

 The locals tell me that the return of the of the birds to Creamers field is a sure sign of spring.

 What a welcome sound and view after a long, long winter.

Sandhill cranes

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Anchorage again, and Whittier too!

 Husband had another work conference in Anchorage last week so I tagged along for fun. The weather was pretty perfect, sunny and in the high 40s / low 50s all week (around 10*C for my Canadian readers). Since we had explored Anchorage on our last trip there, we didn't do much in town. One of husband's co-workers told him about Jack and Notch, two bald eagles that are housed on the Air force base. One night we wandered over for a visit. These eagles have been on JBER for over 20 years! Neither bird can survive in the wild: Jack has one eye (one eyed Jack), and Notch has a notched wing (I think his name is pretty self-explanatory). I have never been this close to a bald eagle before. They are beautiful animals.

Once his conference was over for the week, we headed down the Seward Highway, driving along the Turnagain Arm to Whittier. Thankfully it was a clear day. This drive never disappoints. The views are always amazing.

To get to Whittier, you have to go through a one-lane tunnel. The tunnel is the longest combined train and highway tunnel in North America. They have a system where the cars coming out of Whittier come on the hour and cars going into Whittier go on the half hour. Of course, that schedule gets delayed if a train happens to come through.

Because it isn't tourist season yet, pretty much everything in Whittier was closed. We took a short walk out by the water, snapped a few pictures, and made our way back through the tunnel.

Can you see the blue from the glacier?

After leaving Whittier, we drove back down along the Turnagain Arm, headed back to Anchorage. We stopped to watch some seagulls at Potter's Marsh Bird Sanctuary. The swans were back as well, but they were too busy sticking their heads under the water looking for food to pose for a picture. 

Our drive back home was full of excitement when we saw 3 bald eagles hanging out together in some trees on the side of the highway. I have only seen a bald eagle in the wild once so this was a cool experience for me. We were blessed with a clear day, which meant clear views of the mountains for most of the drive. We stopped to get our pictures with Denali in the background. Interesting side note here: I recently learned that there is something called the 30% Club. The 30% refers to the percentage of people who come to Alaska and actually see Denali. I didn't realize that so few people see the mountain during their travels here. We have driven through Denali Park 6 times, and have seen Denali all but one of those times. This is definitely one of the perks of living here. If we don't get to see something during a trip, we can always go back to see it another time. While we were stopped for pictures of Denali, a bald eagle flew overhead. Husband turned to me and said "It doesn't get much more Alaskan than that." Much to our surprise though, our drive got "more Alaskan" when Husband spotted a moose, snacking on some grass on the side of the road. 

 Can you see the second eagle?

As you can see, it is always an adventure for us when we head down to Anchorage. We never know what we are going to encounter. Maybe next time we will see a bear!

Monday, March 27, 2017


According to the calendar, it has been spring here for a week. Looking outside, however, you will see none of the typical signs of spring. There are no flowers poking up through the soil. There are no buds on the trees. There are no robins or geese flying overhead. The grass isn't turning green. In fact, it looks pretty much the way it has looked for the last 8 months: covered in snow.

And yet, I can feel spring in the air and I can see signs of springtime in Interior Alaska. As I am writing this it is 23*F (-4*C) outside. The overnight low tonight will only be 4*F (-16*C). I can walk from my car into the grocery store without gloves on and not feel like I am about to get frostbite. The air no longer hurts my face. We now have over 12 hours of sunshine each day. We are inching ever closer to the almost-constant daylight that will come with summer. The sun's strength has returned as well and I can feel its warmth coming through the windows. It is actually melting some of the snow now. I can see bare pavement in a few places. In the parking lot of the gym, I can see the yellow lines for the first time since October. I must confess that after months of gauging my parking spot on the parking jobs of the cars already in the lot, parking between two yellow lines seems a little foreign. The roads are starting to clear up and I am not as worried about sliding through intersections anymore. And the people? Everyone suddenly seems nicer and happier. There is a hope in the air.

Is this the spring I am used to? No. My internal clock is having a difficult time with the Alaska spring. This isn't what spring is supposed to be like. There are supposed to be flowers, and birds, and leaves. But this, this Alaska spring--with its snow, and its cold temperatures, and its brilliant sunshine--promises the end of winter is near. And you know what? I believe it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

World Ice Art Championships

The World Ice Art Championships are held here over a four week period every March. The last ice sculpture event we attended had us out in -13*F (-25*C) weather so I wanted to wait until it was warmish before venturing out to see the sculptures. It took a couple of weeks, but thankfully the weather finally complied. It was a beautiful, sunny 17*F (-8*C) today. The sculptures were amazing. The ice was so clear you could see through it. I am in awe of the talent of the ice carvers. I can barely cut meat, let alone carve something out of blocks of ice.

 A tribute to David Bowie


Finally, a peacock that won't chase me! 

 If you look closely at this one, you can see the snake's tongue reaching out for the bird.

 Some of the sculptures were dark and terrifying, like this Grim Reaper one. 

My favourite was The Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The detail was so precise, from the teacups to the Cheshire Cat to the mushroom. 

It's not every day you get to put your head inside a hippo's mouth.