sun and rain and books

Yesterday was a rare sunny day. In August so far we’ve had two of those. Every other day we’ve been inundated with rain. And it’s been pretty chilly (on the sunny days we got up to 60*F), by my August standards, at least. The grey skies and cool humidity are wreaking havoc on my hair, various joints, and my opportunities to absorb vitamin D. I’ve been going a little stir crazy.

IMG_2567
another storm rolling up turnagain arm.

Gratefully, the good folks of the Anchorage Borough saw fit to bestow me with this literary gem:

IMG_1773
i ❤ libraries! and i love that the cards don’t expire!

 

I’ll refrain from disclosing how many books I’ve read over the past two weeks and how many are currently stockpiled up on my desk. Let’s just say that I’m prepared for the long haul that the next six weeks might be.

Even though long-timers are consistently saying this weather is more typical of September and the fireweed has gone to seed several weeks too early, I’m not convinced. What should August look like? (Please don’t torture me with thoughts of sun and warmth we should be getting.) It’s definitely autumn on the Kenai Peninsula. Will September look like October or will we get a reprieve some time or other? I hesitate to turn my thoughts toward why my cross-continent drive might look like should winter settle in hard and early…

Also, interestingly, all the rain has brought up the lake level here to a max (so far) of 7 feet above normal and the water is lapping up against the building and spilling in. Good thing the building was designed for it. Our basement floods and drains efficiently (with all of the storage shelves build to keep everything at least 6″ off the ground – more than sufficient). There’s so much water here.

IMG_2529
there’s a sidewalk way down under there somewhere…

 

sun and rain and books

Alaska Mileposts

Funny to realize how far we are into the summer. The days have learned how to fly.

Looking over the season, at the things I’ve done and yet to do, at the visitors that have come and are coming, at the noticeable way the weather is changing here, I took a moment to closely examine my calendar. And I realized I’m more than halfway through my time in Alaska. In 58 days, I’ll be settling down into a (hopefully not too) packed car for the long cross continent drive home.


My Alaska experience has been different that I thought it would be. Not necessarily in a bad way, but also not in the best of ways. It’s been more beautiful than I imagined it could be. It’s been scarier than I imagined it could be. It’s been more intense than I imagined it could be.


Honestly, maybe secretly, I was hoping I’d find a place that felt like home here. That hasn’t happened yet. I’ve found much to love here (namely, the glaciers) and much to temper it with (namely, the deadly wildlife). I’m still enjoying the experience of being here; soaking up the culture and scenery; embracing all the varying opportunities that I can. But… home still beckons and I’m watching closely for approaching autumn.

Alaska Mileposts

alaska’s flattop

So, what does one do when deposited back at the trailhead at 8:30 in the morning? When, by 8:30 in the morning, the day has already included the thwarting of an all-day hike by a too-close encounter (thankfully injury-free) with two grizzly bears and then with a moose and calves?

If you’re me, even thus traumatized, a day set aside for hiking can’t be that that easily diverted, especially when the weather is even vaguely amiable. If you’re me, you take a car nap (because exhaustion follows quickly on the heels of intense stress), you make another round of coffee in the trailhead parking lot (because you’re always prepared for that sort of thing when you’re a dirtbag car camper), and you find somewhere else – more popular – to go hike (because weekends are made for hiking). On this day, already being at the Glen Alps trailhead outside of Anchorage, Flattop Mountain was the obvious choice.

3 miles roundtrip. Steep. And one of the most popular trails in the region.


I’m normally a fan of less-traveled trails and less-visited scenes. Not so in Alaska; not so in grizzly country. Not right now, at least. I’m now a fan of busy trailheads and lots of faces on the trail. I see little potential for solitude in the Alaskan landscape. But I do see lots of challenge and beauty. And, as long as I’m an Alaskan (read: for the rest of the summer) I’ll be out in it.


Flattop Mountain is a great trail. That perfect balance of hard and visually rewarding. I was surprised at the number of people (including smallish children) that scaled the rock scramble at the top to find their way to the summit. And, true to name, it is a wide and flat top. A bit too windy and drizzly for lingering long, but the clouds were moving in and out such that I got to enjoy some great views of, alternately, cloud-shrouded mountains and long swatches of Cook Inlet beyond Anchorage.


There’s certainly a reason this is such a popular trail.


And being so close to an urban area allows for recovery and contemplation with all the modern comforts one could hope for to round out an eventful weekend.

alaska’s flattop

Forest Fair

It’s Fourth of July weekend.

In Alaska, that means something a bit different than it does in the rest of the US. Not only because Alaskans tend to hold themselves apart from the Lower 48 (AKA the Outside). Here it’s not a celebration of American flags and fireworks (it doesn’t get dark enough for fireworks). Seems to me it’s more of a celebration of things uniquely Alaskan.

In the Kenai Peninsula folks congregate in either Seward or Girdwood. Seward is a bit of a drive for me and the festivities sounded a bit out of my style. Add in all the locals’ warning about the crowd level, and I opted to check out Girdwood.

Girdwood is home of the annual Forest Fair. Think renaissance fair meets music festival. A handful of costume-clad revelers, vendor booths of fair food and local artisans winding throughout the community park, two music stages, and a beer garden. I caught the last couple of hours after work with some of my housemates. Living in a dry house (no alcohol allowed in forest service housing), I naturally migrated toward the beer garden. And then up to the after-fair concert at the ski resort area.

Some locally brewed beer, fun live music, and meeting new people. It was the most at home I’ve felt since moving to Alaska.

Forest Fair

alaskan days

At some point over the last few weeks, I went from getting a handle on my new surroundings to falling into a routine here. My life as an Alaskan is one of full throttled intensity. Somehow the long days feel short as I try to squeeze every last drop out of this experience.

I live in a bunkhouse nestled away in the middle of a valley. It has a very college dorm feel with its shared rooms and communal kitchen and living spaces. I have an 18 year old roommate that, through no conscious effort, makes me feel ancient on a daily basis. I miss my privacy and having complete control of my surroundings though it’s nice to have the house camaraderie and a short walking commute. Fortunately, I’m an early riser and have a quiet house to enjoy my coffee in most mornings. Add in this view from the big picture windows and I’d say I have a pretty sweet deal.

IMG_7988

I’m in a temperate rainforest and it rains accordingly – more days than not, and I’m told that the percentage of rainy days will only increase as the season progresses. The rain here tends to be blown sideways by the near-constant wind in the valley. Most days, I wear both a rain jacket and rain pants for my quarter-mile walk to the visitor center.

Speaking of, the visitor center is a “busy” place. Lots of folks pass through the Kenai Peninsula on their vacations and road trips. And many of them stop in to check out our exhibits, upwards of 600 on weekend days. Yosemite left me more than prepared to at ease with a traffic flow that feels staggering to my co-workers. I like bookstores and am so glad to be back to working full-time again.

The extended daylight of living so far north means that the workday doesn’t cut into my exploration time. Weather-permitting, I spend a portion of my evenings wandering the nearby walking paths. Months of living in DC has trained me to ignore my car, so I save driving expeditions for my weekends. It’s frustrating to be surrounded by inaccessible mountains, but there’s lots to explore on the flat planes as well. Wildflower season is in full swing and I can entertain myself for hours seeking out, identifying, and photographing all the flowers, lichens, and fungi.

IMG_0105IMG_0105

Another, less pleasant, aspect of the extended daylight involves convincing my body that it needs sleep. It doesn’t come easily. I’m used to being an early bird — that’s not a sufficient label here. As one of my friends put it, during Alaska summers, I’m not an early bird or a night owl but rather an exhausted pigeon. My best solution: wear myself out to exhaustion. And that’s what weekends are for anyway, right?

It’s a rare day off that doesn’t find me on some sort of adventure. Whether it’s a roadtrip to go sea kayaking in Homer or to a birding festival on the Kenai River, or jumping on a glacier cruise boat out into Prince William Sound, or hiking around Anchorage or Girdwood, there’s always something to go see or do. I mean to take full advantage of all the things Alaska has to offer (well, things that are reasonably within my grasp this summer).

 

alaskan days