Thursday, September 22, 2011

Finding Balance during the Autumnal Equinox

      For those of you who are not students of geography, the Autumnal Equinox is the time in the year when day and night are equal.  This is the official end of summer and beginning of fall.  In Alaska, traditional fall weather started a month ago.  Some say that Alaska's four seasons include spring, fall, earlier winter and winter, because we have such a short cool summer.  Others say, "It's a good summer when it falls on a weekend."   here on Seward this is the time of year when the Pacific hurricanes, called typhoons, and tropical storms sweep into the north pacific and slam the Alaskan coast with rain and wind.   We've had three such storms since the end of August, each more intense than the previous.   intense wind and heavy rain has knocked down trees and raised the lake level to it's highest in two years.   Our neighbors had trees down in their yards, and a plane moored on the lake flipped over and broke a wing.  Steady 20-30 mph winds lashed the house for 12 hours Monday with gusts over 50 mph.   That's when we're glad for every bit caulking, bracing and hurricane clips we used to make this house tight and strong.   We live in the teeth of gale; the price we pay for living on this fine lake in the north country.
      Things are changing on the lake this first day of fall.  More ducks are stopping by like the grebe that has take up resident in our front view.   Thousands of cranes cackling their way south passed overhead in long ragged v's of migration.   The bears are off in the hills hunting berries, so we haven't seen then for several weeks now.  During a walk along the south shore we found no fresh sign of bears and under the cottonwoods, they had stripped devil's club berries down to the last seed.
     The devils club is a beautiful but viscous plant with a stalk covered with half inch spines all the way up to it's rhubarb-sized leaves which are also covered with spines.   The berries grow in cone shaped clusters atop the stalk which stands four to eight feet tall.  And they don't stand alone.  Devil's club grows in dense stands so the broad leaves create a roof over the the forest floor of an acre or more.   This time of year the leaves are bright yellow and seem to light up the woods during the dark wet days fall.  Those berries must be tasty for bears to go throw what they must to get them,  and even they have spines.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Green Grass of Home

           After a couple of stormy days fraught with rain and wind, we awoke to a sunny sky and calm winds.  We paddled out in the kayaks on flat water that invited our gaze deep into it's depths.   The morning light and perhaps the fresh rain made the water clear and I could down through six feet of water to make out details of the bottom.   Madelyn noted how far out into the lake the vegetation grows, reaching up through the depths to reach the sun.   Not only do plants like water lilly growth up through the lake to the surface, but the very bottom of much of this part of the lake is as green with plants as my lawn.   East along south shore of the lake, the vegetation changes.  In front of our place, horsetail grows up creating a fringe around our dock.  people comment that our when we sit on the dock, it appears that we are sitting on a grassy lawn.   As I paddle east I notice that the vegetation changes from horsetail to grass, and out from shore, barely pushing through the water surface is another plant whose name is lost to me but it looks like the classic aquarium vegetation.  several variaties of pad lilies seem to be scattered about the whole southern part of the lake but not in any density.   It is easy to look at the aquatic plants and think there is only horsetail and lilly pads. But in reality there are dozens of different plants growing in this lake and this morning they are all so easy to see in detail.  A few years ago, a survey of aquatic plants in the Kenai Peninsula lakes found twenty-nine flowering aquatic plants.

        The water is so clear today, it's like heavy rain had changed the water in the lake.   The bright, fresh-scrubbed feeling of the world after a rain seems emphasized this morning on Bear Lake and the red salmon, the tail end of the run,  are brilliant red in crystal water of an August morning in the shadow of Mt Tiehacker.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Changing times

august 16,   10:30 pm clear and still.

At 10:30 we are watching the coming dark dusk fall on Bear Lake, because August is the month of transition to fall.  In July, the evenings were endless and until midnight there was little change in the amount of light.  But now the light at ten pm is less than that at nine and we can feel the cool of the evening  sooner.  In lower latitudes the world is experiencing the height of summer.  Not here.  Even though today was warm and sunny.   The leaves are starting to rattle not rustle, the fireweed are bloomed to the top or nearly so, and the giant puchki leaves are starting to turn yellow.   Yes, winter is still along way off, but fall has quietly begun.  Here at the lake, the aquaculture crew broke down their fish camp at creek today, only the stragglers of the salmon run are left, and the long-quiet loons have started having guests from other lakes and taking noisey flights of their own.  Fewer salmon are jumping, more are spawning along the south lakeshore where the shallow water and gravel bed seem to be ideally suited to this process.  As a result, every night the bears are wading this shallow stretch of lake shore catching and eating salmon.  This week we had one at our dock splashing and thrashing about in the horsetail and grasses of our shallows.  Our stretch of lake doesn't have a gravel bottom so the salmon aren't spawning here nor do they linger.  The only attraction a bear might encounter here are muskrat.  Maybe these little fellows were the prey that evening.  We don't know for sure, we just had the sound of a rowdy bear.  We were surprised that is bear was about 100 feet away but we could hear it breathing, panting as it waded off into the night.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August 4 - Its still raining - Sounds of summer

Inspired to do this by a program I heard on NPR/talkeetna radio while at the cabin at Pear Lake - outside Trapper Creek, ALaska.  Very near the scene of the trajic air crash this week ....
Sounds of summer
The smack of my hand as I dive for an elusive, blood blogged mosquito
The glut of profanities when I miss....
The sqeal of joy when I get it......
The helicoptering twitter of dragonflies - the dual clatter when they couple in flight
The cupping sound of a clean catch with oar or paddle on the lake....
The dribble of water off my paddle....
The buzz of a bee about my head....
The whir of a tern in a steep dive....
the laughing of a loon to its mate, the scream of the alarm call as the eagle draws near, the mournful wail late at night as I pad my way to the oouthouse.....
The SOft lapping of water against the alumininum skin of the canoepushed along on a cat's paw breeze...
The siren call of the Yellowlegs, defending its territory.....
The sizzle of burgers on an open fire.......
The clatter and crunch of paper as you dig deeper into the potatoe chip bag.......
the slam of a screen door on a spring hinge.......
The scrape and clunk of the well pump handle.......
The slurp and suckle on the first bite of a tight nectarine.....
ANd a swweet sound from my past far from the late - the tinkling notes of the icecream truck playing simple ditties as they round the corner, where I stand rapt, clutching my special quarter.....ah summer!  myw

August 2 and here comes the rain - and a new visitor

Well it couldn't last forever - August 1 the curtain came down, the sky sputtered and our first real rain in 6 weeks followed.  Gotta love AUgust - its classic.  Overnight a few willows yellowed marking the summer slowdown. 
Ah, but the lake is warm and cloudy skies bring calm water and Nancy and I had a great row.  We could skull the lake at all angles for a change, not working against the south or north wind.  We spotted for bears but only saw a crazy lab in the bear zone, intent on chasing every boat that went by. thought at first it was a black bear but no blackie would survive the concentration of Brownies around here.\
And alas - Nancy spotted a pair of marbled murrelets - I see them every year, usually about this time, always out in the middle, always an unmistakable site - nothing else on the lake like them.  My theory is they nest nearby....maybe one day I'll be lucky and find a nest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Night Life

Cloudy and warm with no wind.
     Sometimes we feel bad that we miss so much on the lake by going to sleep at night.   Night before last we went out late in the kayaks to watch bears.  Like a curtain call the bears tentatively stepped from the alders along the south shore of the lake and began their evening pursuit of the salmon in the shallows of the lake.   We had two or three brown bears in our view at once.  Things are feeling a bit crowded.  Our neighbors were out bear watching too.   As we paddled with our neighbors back toward their house, we watched a collared adult bear walk boldly along the lake and up to the dock at the their home then disappear into the dense foliage of the yard.  We were loud and wary as we landed and made our way to the house.
     Early this morning in the faint light of a summer dawn we were awakened by a roaring bear.  Yes, this animal was close enough to wake my wife, who quickly woke me.   We could see nothing, but clearly two bear were having a confrontation within shouting distance of our porch.   As we scanned the lake for a view of the squabblers we saw a tell-tale V of creatures moving in the water, but these were small animals.  Six river otters were heading east along the shore of the lake, swimming fast enough to make a small wake on the smooth surface.   Thanks to the flat water,  I keep watching the otters as they quickly covered the mile of water to east end of the lake.    By now I hear the splash of bears walking the lakeshore, gulls fighting over fish scraps, and the plunk of salmon "jumpers".   It was sometime before I could tune out the racket and go to sleep.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yet more sunshine - and red necked grebes July 23, 2100 65 degrees light south wind

There has been a scant three rain events - I won't even call them rainy days since the first of July - in my thirty plus years here I cannot remember such a run.  I grow tired watering and can remember years I never touched a sprinkler - now I am out buying soaker hoses for God's sake.  the woods are dry - alder shoots pop out of the ground and the birth leaf roller blight has sickened trees, alders, and blueberries beyond recognition.  Throughout the month, we have set up a strong southerly flow - which always brings us stormy weather but this summer brings sun.  The past few weeks we have had scarcely a north wind - and consequently, no mid day "laydown" on the lake between the shift from north in the am to south in the pm.  It is a strange one - for the books.  We are in a word, exhausted.
We continue to watch the brown bears - yesterday was so hot midday I watched one charging into the salmon stream - up to his neck he went - never glancing a salmon - much more intent on the cool down.....spotted a pair of red necked grebes out front yesterday - this summers first sighting. The early  run of salmon is slowing, the lake is low.  Catch sight of a muskrat here and there. 
Had a most strating observation on a mallard hen, 8 ducklings, and eagle and two loons.  But right now, the water is laying down (8:30 pm) the sun is high and the water is calling me - I promise to illucidate in the next entry.  m

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rare Hot days

July 16: 62 degrees winds at 10 from the south.
Yesterday was a rare hot day at Bear Lake.  We hit 75 degrees and on a perfect day since we were hosting a dinner party on our porch for an old friend and some new ones.  Since we had been clam digging at Ninilchik on Thursday, we started the dinner with clam fritters while silver salmon and king salmon were cooking on the grill.  We also served baked halibut with a mayo, sour cream and parmesan topping.  Our neighbors brought the side dishes: fresh local salad, pasta salad, crudites and wild berry cobbler.    The eagles and bears showed up as well.  Mid-afternoon we watched a big brown bear standing neck deep in the lake.  Later, in the quiet of the evening, our guest watched another bear doing the same thing.  One of our guest was walking over to the party when she encountered a bear and had to go back home and drive over.   The time of year, the bears are on the move and may be seen anywhere around the lake any time of day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wildlife Rescue

Cloudy with rain off and on.  55 degrees.  Wind is still this evening.

     July on the shore of Bear Lake can be a flurry.  The green plants are sprawling to engulf all the land and half the water.   Devil's club and poochki leaves spread and cover all the ground under the trees.  The fireweed is starting to bloom and, out on the lake, the lilly pads and horsetail are starting elbow for space on the lake surface.  The sky is busy with gulls, eagles, kingfishers and dashing among the others like little fighter planes are the swallows.
     Entering the boat barn for set of channel locks and a crescent wrench yesterday, I was distracted by a rattle and a rustle of noise coming for the somewhere around the barn.  What on earth is that noise?, I wondered.  The dogs were next door with Madelyn while she tended one of her planter boxes.  The two choices I thought of were a bear or a Steller's jays.  Younger Stellers jays are notoriously precocious and are intrigued by many of the wonderful thing s that people bring to their world.   I crept out the door and around to be back of the barn to find the source of the noise.  I found nothing then heard the noise again.  This time it was clearly coming from loft of the barn and I headed for the ladder.  Half way up the ladder, I could solve the mystery.
     A small bird was flying at the skylight, trying to reach the open sky beyond this invisible barrier.  It was a hummingbird, hovering on wing before the apparent opening struggling to break through to the waiting sky clearly visible above.   I wonder at the how such animals can do so much yet can be so overcome by a challenge like this.  How long had this bird been trying to solve this puzzle; how long would it try before solution or fatigue would out?   I could not wait to make such a study, I could not but think of this tiny desperate heart, so persistent, so desperate.   The bird seemed unaware as I approached, as it hummed against the skylight, so I could reach out and take it into my hand, so tiny I could completely enclose it safely in my fist.  I could feel the pounding heart that I held within my grip, literally within my grip, my fingers wrapped around this life hoping I was not crushing wings and feathers and bone, not crushing the life I was trying to save.  And so I descended the ladder and out the barn door to the open air the bird sought so desperately, and there I tentatively opened my hand hoping that little green-backed being could, and did lift from my hand and hum away to into the trees and sky.  I was left alone to wonder at that brief time holding wild life in my hand.

July 11, 2011 52 degrees high clouds, light south wind

I am officially dubbing this "The SUmmer of the North Porch".  Our lake view - and half our covered porch face north - a dubious honor in Alaska.  I keep a trunk of wool blankets for those who like to hang there - usually just Dan and myself.  But this summer is different - with the prevailing south wind that has set up this summer and blown continuously for almost a month, i find myself migrating to the calm and stillness of the north porch - whateverever the temperature - its always warmer out of the wind.
Low hanging filtered clouds accompany the south flow - they drape a chiffon shawl over the shoulders of Mt Ava as they tumble northward.  Blue sky is overrated but I may say that for only a few days more.
Picked first salad greens yesterday and enjoying a great harvest of herbs - oregano, cilantro, lemon balm which is now steeping in cold water for a refreshing drink when it hits 60 degrees, tee hee.  We are in gathering/puttin' up time now so I cleaned berries out the freezer, added fresh rhubarb to make jam.  Blue - rhu - blueberry rhubarb jam - its always a hit.  Also started some blueberry syrup - it will "steep" the next six days before I can it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SUnday, July 10, 2011

55 degrees, light south wind, high overcast.  No rain this week.
An early kayak turned up a surge of kingfishers, chattering mostly in the south cove - counted at least 4 at a time.  Hanging out on rooftops, power lines and spindly alders.  The activity has really picked up in the last week.  Just before heading out, potted a brown bear at the creek - watched as he plunged out in the stream outlet in the lake and stood up to his neck feeding on salmon.  Hard to tell how large/which one he was. 
Our early morning kayak was on flat, dark water that created mirages all around and made gulls look like sailboats from a distance.  Then, like clockwork, the south wind commenced - we have had a prevailing south wind coming up every morning that blows til late at night - sometimes not going down til 11 pm.  There have been no north winds to speak of and the north porch has become an odds on favorite for hanging out.
SUmmer's clock is ticking, Dan picked up 7 silvers and a little king yesterday on the Bay, the smoker is full and clam tides start Thursday of this week.  Need to water the gardens as these grey skies produce no rain - funny, they give you the sense things are wet.........

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Settling in after 4 days of sunshine

Madelyn's turn.  Days of sun left no time (energy?) for writing.  The sun's nudge was seen in garden, woodlot and lake as flowers bloomed, alder canopies thickened and ferns sprang to five foot and sedges cost us another few feet of shoreline.  The lake is low and the usual kayak launch spot is now mud pudding.  Lillies are up in the lake but no blooms yet. 
Still seeing our loon pair but now I am sure there was no nesting success.  I saw the loons pretty consistently throughout June which means the nest was probably abandoned early.  Watched an immature bald eagle this am flying useless sorties on a loon just off the dock.  He made five vain attempt and doubt he had any idea what he was in for if he connected.  Loon's response was a simple duck and dive, and no calls.  Its been a much quieter summer for the loons since they aren't raising any young - something I dearly miss.
Salmon are producing a river of red at the creek just east of us, and eagles and brown bears are gathering.  Spotting at least three different brownies, one sow with last years cub. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day after -- the Four of July

69 degrees mostly sunny.  winds from the south 12-15 mph.
     Bear Lake is a refuge on the Fourth of July because Seward is the place to be on Independence Day and the town is rockin'.  On Bear Lake, other that a few more kayaks and canoes than usual, the day is quiet, down right mellow.  A bit of wind gives mew gulls some lift as they roam the southern end of the lake looking for lunch, and the ever-present eagles occasionally change perches or fly a spiral route to up hundreds of feet about the lake where the catch the thermals, cruising and soaring high above the rest of us.  Late afternoon I'm on the north porch looking east where toward mouth of a creek that drains in to the Lake from Tiehacker Mountain.   A young bear dashes from the brush straight into the lake up to it's neck.   In matter of seconds, it's back on the beach gripping a flapping salmon in its maw.   I got the binoculars up just in time to see it disappear into the brush again.
     By evening a few kayaks are on the water, coming out from the public access or the B&B located near the outlet.   Evening is good bear viewing and the water is often flat.   Sunny days on the lake usually mean wind.  A north wind blows until midday when we have an hour or so of calm followed by an afternoon of south wind that will hold steady until well after dinner.  By eight or nine in the evening winds die off and the lake turns to glass.  During these long summer evenings this a fine time to slip into something comfortable, like a lifejacket and a kayak seat and slip out across the water.   The salmon are jumping, the swallows are chasing bugs above lake, and the evening light accents the glaciers and lingering snow fields on Tiehacker and Mount Eva.  Last night, I watched a chocolate colored brown bear working his way south along the west shore of the lake.   I didn't spot the bear until our paths nearly crossed.  As is common,  it was walking in the shallows under the overhanging alders.  At first I could only see four brown furry legs wading along, sending the salmon scurrying.   Then the full body came into view.  I drifted in still in my kayak for several minutes following the bear's route with my eyes.  Sometimes he turned from the lake and moved out of sight uphill among the spruce and hemlock only to come back down to wading again, sometimes completely obscured by the overgrowth, and I was left to watching the alders rattle as it passed.  I wondered if he wanted to swim across the narrow part of the lake and I was in the way, or if he was heading downstream to the weir for this night of fishing.   Some questions don't get answered, but sometimes being in a place where such an a question can come up is more than enough.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Lesson

11:30 am 62 F with a breath of wind at 2mph; water temperature 58 F partly cloudy.

A fine morning on Bear Lake; during a late breakfast on a sun washed north porch we watched a young brown bear fishing at the creek.  

Earlier on a paddle in my kayak with my morning coffee, I watch a young eagle drag a salmon from the creek.  This was a challenge since the salmon was nearly as big as the eagle and was thrashing wildly.   The young eagle was successful at getting the fish up the gravel bank and pinned to ground with the its large talons.   Almost a immediately, this bird was challenged by an older bird which had witness the successful fishing.  It strutted toward the eagle with the fish, neck extended screaming, then rushed forward with wings spread.  Predictably, the fisher-bird surrendered his prize and left the beach.  As the mature eagle began tearing mouthfuls of flesh from the still flapping fish, two smaller young eagles approached with heads down as if begging for a bite.  The eagle seemed to ignore them and kept feeding.  Then it was interrupted when a large eagle with bright mature plumage plunged in from the sky with talons extended right into the knot of eagles, scattering them and talking the salmon for itself.   Four eagle then sat on the beach and watched the new king of the creek as it feed on the fresh killed salmon.
Today's life lesson:   Being the one that caught the fish doesn't guarantee that you'll be the one to eat it.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cycle of Life

Midday temperature: 56 degrees, overcast.   A south wind of 10-15 miles an hour has been blowing much of the day but subsided to a light breeze in the early afternoon.           

Bear Lake is located just north of Seward, Map of Bear Lake Alaska in the northern coastal rainforest of the Kenai Peninsula.  Our home is on the south shore of lake, which gives us spectacular views of mountains, forest, wildlife and the constantly changing weather.  As the seasons progress through the cycle of the year it is our intent share what we do and learn living in this place we are lucky to call home.  
            Today for example, I was awaked to the sound of loons sounding their alarm call as the eagles dove to attack them.   The loons avoided the eagles this time but the pursuit will go on all summer.  Last year, we watched this pair of loons rear a chick on the lake, which meant they spent the summer fending off attaches by eagles trying to make a meal of that young loon.  When the eagles approach, loons sound an alarm and position themselves between the baby and the attacking eagle, even lunging out of the water to strike at a diving eagle.  The loon adult is as big or bigger than an adult eagle and has the distinct advantage over eagle once that diving eagle hits the water.  One can only wonder at the energy each of them expend in this battle on the lake. 
            The red (sockeye) salmon are jumping as they migrate in to the lake to spam.  They return to Resurrection Bay starting early in June and work their way up the river system to Bear Creek and through that to our Bear Lake.  50- 60 bald eagles patrol the lakeshore attracted by the hoards of salmon but more than ready to settle for loon, or duck.  The eagles seem to make most of their meals cleaning up after the brown bears that harvest the salmon in the lake.  Yes, the brown bears are here too.  We’ve seen two different bears so far this month fishing the south shore of the lake.  One is no more that two and may be only one year old.  It has an injury to a hind leg and when we saw it Father’s Day it was getting around on three legs.   More on this later, I hope.      Dan