Macro lenses were made for dog noses

Today was my last visit with Dave, TC and their dogs before they head south to Colorado for the summer – my last dose of concentrated canine immersion for the foreseeable future. I great them all with the refrain “Who wants to go home with Rich? Raise your paw.” Braeburn is the first to jump up on me, followed by Dreamer and eventually Goose. The rest seem content to stuck their noses in my crotch, butt and any other place they can get a whiff of my cat and my roommate’s dog.

Dreamer might as well have been named Humper today. He was especially enamored with Pika who was not in a reciprocal mood. All the dogs came by to great me at least one. Only one serenades me. That would be Uinta who has a deep, soft song that reminds me of an old blues singer. She might as well be wearing sunglasses and sipping a whiskey while playing a slide guitar. Uinta is the oldest of the bunch now that Rabbit passed away a week ago. She may have been a tad older than him. I’m not sure. I pull out the camera to take photos, but the dogs are so close that I switch to macro. If all I’m going to photograph is noses, then they might as well be in focus.

At times, I’m petting four or five dogs simultaneously. Soon Ale, the newest dog that was rescued from the pound, sneaks in and leans into me while I give him a good petting. He’s still getting used to the social aspects of an open dog yard, but he comes by several times to soak up the love. By time I leave the dog yard, everyone is raising their paw to go home with me.

Back at the cabin, I greet Cricket – one of Jodi Bailey’s dropped dogs from the Iditarod. At only 14 months, Cricket is a rookie in the race but will probable be a veteran in another year or so. She’s lanky, strong and very affectionate.

Inside, the old hound Bucky leans in for a good scratching of his ribs. Walter cat lies next to me on the sofa and Sally watches from the upstairs having gotten her pets and scratches from me a bit earlier. Dave, TC and I bid our farewells, hoping to meet up in Colorado this summer.

Back in Anchorage, I’m popular on the coastal trail with every dog I encounter on my trail run. Let’s face it – I reek of dog. Some of you have probably seen the Collie that lives at 15th and O St. The dog calmly lies in their driveway as cars go whizzing by. Today on the trail, he met me for the first time and was rubbing up against me and walking between my legs certain that he was greeting a kindred soul.

It sure feels good to be a member of the pack.

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Faint aurora, blue skies and Sweaty Rich

Last Friday was actually the best night to chase the aurora, but since I was busy with three or four activities Friday night and Saturday morning was the Iditarod start, I wasn’t really checking the aurora activity on the Web until a day or so later. By time I got out to the cabin, the activity level was down to a 2. I can usually see a solid green band above the Talkeetnas when there’s a level 3, but a level 2 usually means no aurora at all from this latitude. Still, at about 1am on Sunday night, I could see some white glow to the north and was able to capture some hints of green with a timed exposure of 15 seconds. It was nothing spectacular and not worth waking up friends with text messages. Still, it was the first aurora I had seen in months. Hopefully we’ll catch a few decent displays before the skies get too light around April 10. Past that point, it’ll be the end of August before we are likely to catch any worthy displays. This solar maximum seems to be skunking us.

The following morning’s blue sky more than made up for the lack of aurora. It is such a pleasure to actually feel infrared heat on a late winter day. We haven’t had any new snow in the past week, so I took the opportunity to bust the snowshoe trail further up toward Anthracite Ridge. If the weather stays like this, next weekend I’ll be able to make it all the way up to the dry waterfall (icefall) at 3,500 feet elevation. Of special note on this outing as the sighting of a single set of lynx tracks in the snow. Some bullshit trophy hunter shot the only other lynx I’ve ever seen out here. Bastard wasn’t even going to use the pelt and he certainly wasn’t going to eat the meat. I’m all for hunting for food, but my credo is if you don’t eat it, don’t kill it.

The warm weather and steep terrain makes for likely sightings of Sweaty Rich as he’s breaking new trail or getting in hill runs on the trails in ChugachState Park. Expect more sightings as winter wanes and spring surges. Less elusive than Bigfoot and certainly more sociable, Sweaty Rich makes a great running partner on the trail and a fine carbo-loader at the pub.

Friends, Fat Tires and Flies

Fur Rondy and Iditarod mark the end of winter here in Anchorage. All the festivities surrounding these events celebrate the end of winter’s harshness, the lengthening days and the slow approach of spring. In less than a week, we go back on daylight saving time and we will no longer run or ski the trails in the dark.

It’s almost festivity overload. On Mar. 1, I had invites to at least twice as many events as I could attend (that max number being 3). The following morning, I had multiple options for viewing the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. Over the course of about 18 hours, I had run into at least 100 people I know and at least 3 dozen I know well. This doesn’t count the new people I met.

First there was the Winterberry Stage fundraiser for 7th-graders who want to take a trip during 8th grade. The entertainment was a mix of established adult musicians and some of the students themselves. It takes a fair amount of confidence for a young person to get up in front of 150 or so people to sing and play the piano. As someone with a performing past, I was quite humbled. When the first student sang her song, my only thought was that maybe I’ll be lucky enough someday to hear a daughter sing like that someday. Seriously folks – you missed a good show.

My roommate Alyx was on her own circuit of events, so I missed her at the First Friday gallery show at Sevigny Studios on 4th Avenue. I ran into several people I know just getting from where I parked to the gallery. As I worked my way toward the back of this long, narrow shop, I started seeing more people I knew. Apparently, the cool people hang out in the back. I was especially happy to see my friend Anda who had just returned from Chile. I exchanged the only three Russian phrases I know with her boyfriend, Stanislav. Brian Yannity also showed up, having flown in from SoCal for a wedding.

Next it was a walk with folks over to the old train depot to see a light show on the under side of the A/C bridge. Time was running short, though and I had to head back to the Winterberry benefit to check the status of my silent auction before bidding stopped at 8:30. Sure enough, there was a lurker. A short bidding war ensued, but I was triumphant in getting the Melissa Mitchell and Spiff house concert at a price that was…well…let’s just say it was good for the students. Place Saturday May 4 from noon-4pm at the Gov’t Hill townhouse on your calendar. You won’t want to miss the special guest drummer. The theme will be Cinco de Mayo, but on the 4th since 1) it’s a Saturday and 2) I don’t know anyone who died on May 4th which would tend to put me in a subdued mood if I did. Anyway, May 4 – noon to 4pm. Be there. I’ll have chili and salsa. And since May 4th is also Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you), there is an alternate party theme of Star Wars.

The following morning was the Iditarod start. Usually I’m down on 4th Avenue with the Colorado mushers, but since there are no Colorado mushers this year I chose to join a few hundred people at the Trailgate party along the Chester Creek trail just east of Lake Otis Pkwy. I know the organizers and they are part of what makes this town special. Zach built a bar out of snow. Shaina and Alli (who flew up from Reno) were making bloody Marys complete with bacon, lime, asparagus and cheese on skewers. Emily was handling the check in and donations station. Brendan was the DJ. Someone even thought to get a liquor license from the city, which was a good thing since the cops showed up around 9:15.

As opposed to the fenced off shoulder-to-shoulder environment of downtown, Trailgate is a more relaxed way to see all the mushers and the dogs. There’s only a piece of yellow tape between you and the teams, many of whom will stop the sled and take time to meet and great the revelers. Lance Mackey even stopped to grab a beer someone offered him. Even those who don’t stop usually extend a hand for some high fives. I don’t normally start drinking at 9:15am, but this sis certainly the venue and the crowd to do it with. Thanks to the fellow working the grill so I could put a little food in my belly.  

Brian texted me later and asked if there was a café downtown that wouldn’t be too crowded. I responded that any café three days from now when the Iditarod crowd had left would be a great option. The sun was too bright to spend daytime inside waiting for a table and a slow kitchen. I borrowed my roommates fat tire bike and hit the coastal trail for a 10-mile ride – my first ever on a fat tire snow bike. I quickly learned that the larger fork on a fat tire bike doesn’t allow for front shocks. If there’s a bump or divot on the trail, you’ll feel it. Next, I learned that the bicycle seat was manufactured by the Anal Intruder Cycling Company. Maybe I’m getting soft as the years progress.

Anyway, it felt great to get out on a bike for a lengthy ride. I ended up going all the way to Kincaid and back – a little over 17 miles. I managed to keep peddling up all the hills. My only stops were to catch some photos of stranded ice blocks on the mud flats. This time of year, daylight is not to be wasted. Before long, we’ll be wearing ourselves out from the internal drive to get the most out of our sunny days for fear that our summer can end in late May if the August rains start in June. In a mere week, after switching to daylight saving time, the sun will set at 7:55pm – enough time to bag Flattop or Little O’Malley Peak after work!

Oh, and the flies. I get to the cabin where the inside temperature is about 35 degrees thanks to some solar gain. After about 12 hours of getting the log walls good and warm, last summer’s/fall’s flies start coming out of the woodwork. Where have these pests been all winter? For a while, I thought they had just burrowed into the firewood and would reanimate after thawing out, but I literally killed more than 100 flies with the flyswatter. Last summer’s rains seemed to send them looking for any dry refuge. Now I’m wondering if a squirrel didn’t crawl into the rafters and die and these flies are feasting on its carcass. I don’t smell anything, but the quantity of flies is significant.

The only other thing that might be attracting flies is a slight buzzing sound from my dump load heater. Last summer was the first year to have it installed. It takes excess power from the solar panels and dumps it to a heating element when the batteries are fully charged. Some insects are attracted by certain frequencies. I sense a designed experiment coming soon.