Thursday, November 29, 2007

Buzzed Bullwinkle

It appears that Anchorage's propensity for tipsy folks walking the city streets is not limited to the human kind.
Our resident moose, and we have several hundred who just seem to hang out in their own 'hoods, sometimes venture downtown to snack on tree branches in the wintertime. This particular bull participated in some early holiday fun one recent afternoon by ambling his way to our Town Square, calmly munching away at the branches while Anchorage-ites did their best to avoid him.
Remembering that moose can become characteristically grumpy for no particular reason at all, the fact that he was downtown in the middle of the afternoon, and in such a public place, a certain kink in normal operations took place. Everyone knows to give moose, especially the big guys, a wide berth, which can bring life to a screeching halt. Schoolchildren know to go another way or wait it out if moose are in their path, cars on the highway will idle while a moose ambles up the center lane, and most of you know of my story last fall when I was forced to drag my mountain bike 50+ yards down the muddy beach of the Coastal Trail when a rutting bull charged me.
So, among a public flurry of reorganization, this fine ungulate specimin continued eating from the tree, and in the process managed to take a string or two of LED lights with him, adorning his antlers like Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation". Finally, having had enough of the looky-loos, he changed course and, dragging the lights behind him, sauntered towards a more suitable venue for a man of his stature; Bernie's Bungalow martini bar. Ah, the ambiance of Bernie's seemed to suit our friend just fine, especially since Bernie's also has a large crabapple tree in their stylish garden area out back. And late-season crabapples, to boot.
Adorned with lights, chewing on the now-fermenting crabapples, the moose lay down in his own private nirvana and proceeded to get smashed. Eyes glazed, he watched the curious moose-watchers with the sort of expression one would expect to see at a Grateful Dead concert.
Eventually the Fish and Game officer, who apparently is an expert in dealing with drunken wild animals, arrived in time to see the Buzzed Bullwinkle nodding off to sleep, little lights twinkling merrily, in a cozy nest of leaves. He called him a cab.
Check out photos at, plus a number of other Anchorage moose photos.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Coping With Caring

"I am never given more than I can handle; but need to consider new ways of handling situations if the old ways are not working.
I am open to new ideas, new solutions, and new arrangements if they are called for."
-Lyn Roche "Coping with Caring"

Who'd of thought that giving notice at work would garner such insightful responses from my co-workers and friends? After two short years working at a place, albeit one full of creativity and insight anyway, announcing that I was leaving had people quoting philosophy from down the hall.
The decision was made last week that I would return to the daily overseer role for the young Bear and Wolf children; Wolf's social and learning issues being the most convincing reason.
I initially accepted the job at the Office while we were still in South Carolina, knowing that the long, dark winters would soon drive me to certain distraction if I didn't have something to do outside the home. But 24 months later, it is time for me to go back into the home.
Bear will be able to attend "regular" pre-school, free of hotdog and white bread lunches and naps on institutional cots with children who ate Doritos and Kool Aid for breakfast. He will be able to play dress-up and pirates with mommy, and go to playdates.
Wolf will have a mother available for all-to-frequent parent/teacher visits, volunteer opportunities, and school project assistance.
Yukon will have a wife who doesn't look as if she just emerged from the clothes dryer on a static-y winter afternoon.
And me? Oh yeah, me.

I will write. And drink wine. And laugh.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh-oh Tannenbaum!

Since the weather was less than perfect this Thanksgiving weekend; a limp layer of snow covers the yard and trees, and a rink-perfect layer of ice gleams on the streets, we decided to allow the boys to decorate the Christmas tree.
Did we tromp through the Alaskan wilderness, singing Christmas carols and drinking hot chocolate as we searched for the perfect holiday symbol? Not hardly. We opened the box.
There. I admit it to the world. We own an artificial tree. Bought on sale at the local big box hardware store. "7-Foot Fraiser Fir" the display said. It had to be better than our tree last year, one that we pilfered from somewhere we shouldn't have, one that even Charlie Brown wouldn't have given a second look. It was a desperate attempt to keep alive the family tradition of cutting down our Christmas tree, something I had done my entire life. Buying a tree was unthinkable to begin with; buying an artificial tree is grounds for public flogging.
So I took out our 7-foot Treeus Fakus, put the three sections together, fluffed up the needles in one of the three suggested patterns (the Claw, the Flat, or the Poofy), and stood back to check out my handiwork. "Hey guys, come look, it's not too bad!" Wolf was the first to come out from his cave where he had been tuning me out all afternoon. "That tree is fake!" he screeched. "I'm telling Grandpa." I must inform readers who are not acquainted with my family that my father is a forester, the one who instilled in his children the love of the tree, for whatever reason it is used. This was not good.
Yukon was on my side. "Looks good, better than I expected" he says. "How much did that cost us?" Better to tell him that most of the other trees were over $250...
Bear woke up from his nap and danced in place as he yelled "Did you put up that pretty Christmas tree while I was asleep!?" Ahhh, someone who truly appreciates my effort to preserve the tree that won't have to be cut and shipped 1,000 miles to Alaska, the land of trees to be in my home. See, in Alaska, the fir and spruce and pine trees are rather stunted and spindly, due to the harsh weather conditions. Everyone in the greater Anchorage area, and north, has to buy a tree, either real or fake.
The only thing is, as I was packing the box away, I noticed one important detail.
"MADE IN CHINA".......

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chinook Blows Away Turkey

The turkey on top of the Cuppa Joe coffee drive-through is missing, blown away by a Fall Chinook wind that roared in yesterday. Tom and his blow-up feathers are likely on their way to Seward by now.
We woke up early in the morning to the sound of water drip, dripping outside of the house. Odd, since just two days before we had been wondering if it was time to plug in the cars, since winter seemed to be here for good. Fooled again, as weather often does to one in Alaska. The wind known as Chinook can arrive at any time, and does, shooting garbage cans across the street, bending trees in half, and scattering holiday decorations hither and yon.
The water dripping sound was coming from the gutters, full to overflowing with melting snow. Yes, melting snow. The foot of white stuff that had been gracing our lawn, covering a multitude of landscape debauchery was now replaced by soggy leaves and dirty-looking puddles in the back yard. Nothing like a little Seattle weather to darken a holiday. With no snow to brighten things up, outdoors looked darker than it usually does at 9am on a November morning.
Wolf was distraught when he got up around lunchtime and found his igloo-in-process was now half its original size, and the comic books he had placed inside were now splatted on the front of the deck rails. Young Bear looked outside and said "where did the snow all go to, bring it back!"
The neighbor next door, an almost-Sourdough (someone who has lived through many winters, or, at least says he/she has) told us that sometimes the wind screams through our neighborhood so powerfully that doors rip off the hinges, and one time the roof on the house across the street peeled off like an orange. But not to worry, "it always simmers down in time". How have we missed this excitement thus far? With wind like that in South Carolina, we'd be boarding up the windows and heading for the Upstate Motel 6.
Temperatures reached nearly 50, the Alyeska ski area (down near Girdwood, AK, 40 minutes or so south) had to close because of hazardous avalanche conditions, and creeks are up to their banks. Check out the NOAA weather web site, to see what is happening up here, and the projected weather conditions for the entire state. The site is chock full of maps and other such interesting things. Weather is a big part of Alaska; no one goes anywhere without checking first to see what conditions will be. Our weather channel on the radio is our before bed listening; "ohh, honey, let's cozy up to the computerized voice and have a glass of wine while we listen to Zone 172".....
A happy Thanksgiving to all; remember those who have little....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Alaskan Education

There is a reason why people new to Alaska are called "Cheechakos". Beside the fact that the very word in itself sounds weenie (yes, I just said "weenie"), the word means "greenhorn". And every person who sets foot on the frozen soil of Alaska, thinking that he or she will conquer the Great White North, is a greenhorn. Just look at Chris McCandless (whose legacy, by the way, is spearheading an influx of idealistic Cheechakos who are desiring to visit the decrepit blue bus he lived and died in thinking he too could conquer Alaska). In To The Wild? I'll show you the wild, just visit downtown Anchorage on a Saturday night when Darwin's Theory empties out. Another story entirely.
At any rate, I promised to relay what we learned those first few months in Alaska. 1) Everyone who moves to Alaska has moxie, and it ain't just because of the cold weather. Granted, plugging in your car so that the diesel doesn't turn to jell-o by morning, and being sure to keep exposed body parts away from frozen metal is enough to shrink even the most brave resolve, but truly, Alaskans are a different breed of American. And in fact, when we talk about the U.S., it is in that time-honored word "Outside". Everything else that happens in the States (as some of my more elderly friends say it) might as well happen on the moon. And we like it. No, Alaskans are the type of people who may run over a moose on the way to work and keep going, after they call the local food bank to let them know that dinner is on its way, just as soon as the State Patrol finishes loading it onto the flatbed.
2) We like the sun. A lot. When summer arrives, sometime in June, we rush outside and don't come back in until the termination dust appears on the hills in August. Yes, that means only two months of summer, with toasty temperatures upwards of 70 degrees. There is a saying that Alaskans are tired in the winter because it is dark most of the time, and we are tired in the summer because we never go to bed. Try getting a toddler to go nighty-night when the sun is shining in his window and the neighbor kids are playing basketball outside his window. But on the upside, beer tastes mighty good on top of a mountain at midnight.
3) There are animals here. Big animals, whose life goal seems to be either to disrupt your daily routine, or at best, scare the crap out of a person. Many of you have heard about my moose interactions (for that was what they were). I seem to attract them like bears to garbage cans. Moose are interesting; during the summer they and their calves, along with slacker teenage moose from last year's deliveries hang out in the woods outside of town, snacking on foliage and hiding out from the hunters who start to appear in late August. However, during the winter months the two-ton ungulates make tracks to the neighborhoods of Anchorage, feasting on leftover Halloween pumpkins and rose bushes, seemingly unaware, or not caring, that they are standing on the front porch to do it. The most frightening encounter with moose is while driving, when they wander along the roadway waiting for the right time to cross the street. The problem is that we humans never know when they perceive the "right time" to be. Thus the moose-car collisions are an all-too frequent and sometimes deadly occurrence.
Alaska is not for the faint-of-heart; as the wife of a friend found out when she came up to live and found herself practically prisoner in her own home because she a) refused to drive in the snow and b) did not want to get out and walk our some 200 miles of trails because she feared getting attacked. Hmmm, maybe ask for moxie for Christmas?


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Learning what?

"Elituq" means quite simply, "she is learning" in the Dena'ina Athabascan language, a tribe that resides mostly in the areas around Anchorage and to the South.
I have found that the past five or so years have been filled with the kind of learning that either makes you go crazy, or forces you to begin some level of insight into who you are.
My husband and I (along with Wolf, then 9) were married in 2003. At the time, we figured we would stay forever in our little town on the North Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Yukon was employed by the National Park Service, and I was the Director of Development for a small but thriving long-term-care organization under the Episcopal Church. Life was full of the sweet outdoors, wonderful friends, and a great neighborhood. We were at the top of our game.
But the Park Service, under new and ineffective management, sucked the energy and the inspiration out of Yukon and he began the hunt for further employment within the Federal System, of which I knew almost nothing. Now an at-home mother/writer, my days were spent in an almost catatonic, glazed-eye stare at the computer screen, looking through the Web site for interesting position descriptions with the Feds. I felt that was the least I could do; to find us someplace that was at least kind of exciting.
So we went to Charleston, South Carolina. One of the most "interesting" places for someone who had never lived in another state but her own. The South is a blog unto itself, and I shall not go into great detail here, but for the record, let me state that the things I learned about raising children in 100 degree heat and humidity, and fire ants, and avoiding hurricanes, brought me to a whole new plateau of self-actualization, i.e., actualization that I KNEW by the Fall of 2005 I could not manage to spend one more summer in that state. Yukon agreed, and 18 months and one extra son later (Bear was born in Charleston in October of 2004), we flew up to Anchorage, Alaska just in time to see 2006 ring itself in.
I know where I fit in, and where I do not fit in; the South made me feel like somebody transported my body to Mars one night while I was asleep and left me there all alone. From the second I stepped off the airplane in the smallish Anchorage Airport (named for our now almost-busted Senator, Uncle Ted Stevens), I was home. The air felt crisp and cold, the mountains were turning pink in the late-afternoon alpenglow, and folks there did not give a rip about where we were from or who our people were.
Quickly, I had to learn how the Government helped one to establish housekeeping when you do not have a house. Thankfully, the folks at the Residence Inn (I would HIGHLY recommend this facility when you visit Anchorage) welcomed us with open arms and a nightly happy hour, allowing us a brief hour of sanity after a day of searching for acceptable neighborhoods intermingled with trailer parks (a common sight in Alaska). A good thing, too, as we stayed there for almost two months while the wheels of the government slowly ground forward. Patience, for those of you who know me, is not a strong point of mine, and it took every ounce of willpower not to call up the Move Assistance (HA!) folks in Texas and give them a piece of my mind on a daily basis. This is why I married Yukon, his patience level is enough for the both of us.
I also had to learn a few things particular to Alaska, and these gems of Northern wisdom I will share tomorrow, for all the new and potential Cheechakos (greenhorns) who may be reading this.
I leave you with a Dena'ina saying.

"Chin'anguninyu", Thank you, that you have come here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Welcome to Elituq-"She is Learning"

For those of you who have been awaiting the creation of this blog, thank you for your patience. For those who have no idea who I am, thank you for your interest in commentary from an Alaskan writer, wife, and mother.
In the interest of my family's privacy, I will do my best to maintain pseudo-names for my husband (Yukon), and sons (Wolf and Bear), as some topics would undoubtably cause strife in the household should their identity be divulged. However, photos will be occasionally posted in order for people to see truly why we love Alaska and its people.
Keep checking back for regular updates from the land of sled dogs, northern lights, and perpetual change. I'll do my best to make it worth your while!