Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas On the Lake

     With the ice more that a foot thick and and layer of snow covering it, the lake has become the winter playground.  Today on Christmas with the wind blowing fifteen and the temperature about the same, a couple dozen skiers celebrated the holiday by skiing the groomed trail that winds around the lake.  We also saw the first of the kite skiers on the lake with their colorful wings of bright nylon.
     The freeze and thaw of last week left our ski trails hard and fast.  When we drag the Ginzugroomer over it, the surface is broken and crumbled into tiny balls of snow so that some times our skis are gliding on ball bearings, and while the packed surface won't give enough to let us dig in with the ski edge, it takes little to push a skier along fast and smooth.  The wind will be biting the cheeks -- all four if we stay out long enough -- fingers will tingle from the chilling they getting working out on the wind and the cold.  Muscles of the arms, legs, and back will be subtle and warm from the work and even in the chill, sweat comes down the back and wets the shoulder blades while our breath is freezing on whiskers and face masks.
       Warm now by the fire, I hear the wind work around the porch and huff in the chimney of the woodstove.  The increased draft makes the fire burn hot and fast in the night and one shoulder is warmer than the other but I won't move from this cozy place.  The whiskey in the glass is sharp like the bite of the wind but is warm instead of cold.  The wind is up to twenty and gusting to thirty, and it makes the stars twinkle even more than normal.  I'll check often tonight for the aurora, the northern lights, for I saw hints of it last night but could not stay up long enough for the full shown.  At the Solstice, Christmas, and New Year's turning, we can feel the harsh bite of winter on our backs and only trust in the cycle of life, the turning and tilt of the planet, that the warming sun has not left us forever, and the cold windy night are here to make the fine days so much richer.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One Morning in December

            The Farmer's Almanac call today the "Cold Full Moon" and is it all of those.  Solstice is on the horizon so the days are short at the lake and at nine am we are watch the glow of dawn in the mountain peaks.  By ten am we are in full daylight but no sunlight strikes us.  The sun is only shining on the three thousand foot peaks around us.  We’ll only have direct sunlight for a couple hours during midday and there will be little warmth in it.  The sky is clear and the temperature around 6 degrees Fahrenheit.  With the fair weather we have hard a north wind that blew over twenty miles an hour last night. 
            The wind has reworked the postcard snow that arrived over the weekend.  The ski trail is obliterated and the trails of snow machines, moose, and snowshoes are incorporated into drifts and scour marks that cover the surface of the lake.  We try to keep a groomed ski trail around the lake through the winter, and it had an Olympic quality finish yesterday when we were skiing.  We had a warning then that it wouldn’t last for even then the wind was up and the temperature down, so we were pretty well bundled when we headed out.  The gusts were pushing the snow off the trees along the shore, creating tiny brief blizzards in the treetops, tumbling down through the green boughs to rest for a time on the snow beneath. 
            This week was the first skiing on the lake this year and the inconsistent weather in November has deprived us good ice for skating.  Living here on the lake we have found that good skating ice on a lake is a rare thing that comes of flat water freezing in still air without being stirred by wind and staying could enough for long enough for the ice to be thick and permanent.  This year we had none of these.   The wind kept the water tumbling as it froze so the south shore of the lake became a rumbled blanket of dirty ice then the rain would come with a warm-up and breakdown the ice so that it reformed even rougher.  By the time the lake was full frozen and we waited for it to thicken enough to skate on, the snow came in and now bonded to ice.   The waves are back on the lake, but they are waves of snow shaped by the north wind. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Home in the Wilderness

            Some one is building a new house in the neighborhood.  One day we were hearing heavy equipment and chainsaws down the road and the next day a one acre clearing had been into the spruce forest that been a buffer of woods between houses.  It happened this fall when we were all lookingthe other way.   Some houses will notice the change in how sound carries, and the light will travel differently for the folks to the north and east.  Trees left standing are going to be more exposed the to roaring north wind that rolls through from across the lake.    It is a sign of change, a change that will go on, a Change like we brought five years ago when we built this house, a reminder that all this forest around me is not apt to stay wild forever. 
            Part of the reason we left our old house was the development happening around and in front of us.   We built there over thirty years ago and shared the road with a dozen other houses.  We had a wild creek and acres of wild land around it.   Come winter, we had to wait until the fellow at the end of the road got around to plowing the road.  Often of a Sunday morning it would be noon before the fresh fallen snow would be have any car tracks in it.  But that didn’t last.  Through the years we watched the parade of building supplies and the equipment to move and install them, backhoes and septic tanks, frontend loaders and topsoil, forklifts and gypsum board.   The houses keep popping up like mushrooms, a blue T1-11 two-story here, a cinderblock foundation there and a mobile home or two.   One day an RV park popped up calling giant motors homes from around the continent to come and drive down our road.   They rumbled by like columns of occupation troops come to conquer my wilderness.  Each home on that road is owned by some one who wants to be what I was once, the last one to move into the neighborhood.  We all wantto be last in, the last bunch of noisy kids playing in the alders, the last dog laying in the road, the last with the woods for a backyard.  Unfortunately, the next family is right behind each of us, ready to build a house in the last lot in the last subdivision a the end of the road.
            We say we want to get away from it all, but we really don’t; we don’t want to live in the wilderness, just next to it.  It's a classical Alaskan phenomenon.  Buy a lot in woods three miles from anything and complain if the road isn't plowed by seven a.m.  Most of us want a piece of property backed up against a mountain or the National Forest with a paved street out front served with underground utilities and regular garbage service.  Pretty soon our backwoods parcel is just another busy place full of dogs and four by fours going to fast on a road that get regular grading and stays plowed twolanes wide in winter.
            When we were kayaking on the lake today trying to identify the migrating ducks, I thought how fortunate we are to be able to paddle away from our backdoor into a place more wild than not.  If we can just keep it this way, I won’t mind sharing it with new neighbors. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lake Poems

 Terns chip the surface of the lake 
like pebbles on a windshield
As they fish for dinner in the solstice light 
of a June night when the sun is in the north
And the tree images in the water 
are blurred by the green fever of summer

The eagle hunts
the golden eye ducklings beneath the alders along the shore
The mother rushing out 
from cover 
against the eagle coming down from a roost in the lookout tree.
to strike the water with talons meant for a duckling
Trying to be a predator
but failing 
Goes back 
to eating salmon 
left on the beach by the bears

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sometimes in winter or late spring I spot coyotes crossing the lake.  They are easy to spot -- small brown shapes moving across the white expanse of snow.   Often I am stacking wood or working at my desk and look up to see a shape moving out away from the shadowed trees to the naked stage of the lake surface.  i watch it move east to west eager, it seems, to exit stage left.  I will call my wife, "Coyote" one word, and she bobs out to share the scene sometimes taking the binoculars from me or staring bare eyed until the coyote makes it to the trees and disappears.   Often, the shape will stop and turn at sound from us or the dogs and point ears our way measure the threat across the empty cold silent air of a day made better by his passing our way.