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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A bear visits us...again

Very early this morning, a bear visited us. I should say that she visited the kitchen. She pushed open the front door and went into the kitchen where she opened the one drawer with baking supplies, and dragged out the Toll House chocolate chips and this time, the white chocolate chips. I say this time because I think this bear visited us several years ago and was just as tidy and neat as this one, leaving only packaging. The butter dish was licked clean, a bag of rice crackers finished off, and the brown sugar sucked out of the bag. She bit into the green tea box, but found it disappointing, and so left it. I can understand this. She did not try the refrigerator. She would have hit the jackpot there with the chocolate ice cream. Given her choices from the cupboard, chocolate is a favorite. How could I not feel a kinship with the creature? She made the same choices I would have made, she was very quiet and so did not wake us up, and the only mess she made was the packaging on the floor. However, two visits are more than enough. The next time she pushes on the front door, it will be secure. And so will the chocolate chips.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Miracle of Blueberries

I picked blueberries this weekend in the woods behind a friend's house. Instead of wearing a yogurt carton tied with string around my neck, I wore this berry "bucket" around my waist like a fanny pack. It is so well designed: made of canvas with a lip in front in case I bend over too far and berries try to spill out on the ground. (a lot of berry pickers have spent time picking berries out of the ground after accidentally dumping them.) Like my handmade berry bucket, this one also leaves both hands free for faster picking. It is made in Kake, Alaska and it makes me feel like a professional berry picker. I swear I get more berries with it. And speaking of more berries, the blueberries and huckleberries are thick, millions and millions of them dotting the bushes in the woods and meadows. Luscious organic (how can they be otherwise?) fruit reliably show up for us (and the bears): not only blueberries and huckleberries, but salmonberries, nagoon berries, thimbleberries, crowberries, high bush cranberries and MORE. Their annual appearance reminds us that abundance is the natural order of the universe. And I am grateful for it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do the Canadians Respect the Arts More Than We Do in the US?

"The measure of a culture is its integration of the arts into everyday life." Anonymous

When I first read this on the wall of the Victoria International Airport in British Columbia, I thought it was spot on. But, on reflection, it's only one measure. There are so many others: how well the very young and the very old are treated, whether there is access to health care and education, and whether human rights are respected. However, I personally like this way to judge a society because life would be dreary and insupportable without the arts.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Skagway and the Days of '98


I think of Skagway as Alaska's Disneyland because of its carefully designed turn-of-the-century look and feel. However, unlike Disneyland, there is a real history there that can be accessed just by noticing the old buildings like this one that belonged to "Soapy" Smith, the main villain of Skagway. The history that is preserved there by the residents and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Service is the story of the few short years when Skagway was the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada. Then, greed and lust and violence were the norm for thousands as they landed in Skagway. Dance hall girls, confidence men, gamblers, and criminals of all kinds competed to separate the would be miners from their money before they headed for the gold fields on narrow trails carrying a ton of supplies. But not long after that short burst of what can happen when people are blinded, Skagway became a town of gardens and schools and churches and snug houses. And it still is. The light overcame the darkness in a few years. And that really gives me hope for the world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hummingbird Greed

When I was in Haines recently (a small town north of Juneau), I watched hummingbirds swarm around a feeder for a long time. At first I sat inside the cabin and every time I raised my camera, they would notice the movement and fly away. A friend took this picture by standing still ready to shoot until they all flew back. Eventually I sat outside on the deck watching them and it was the first time I had ever heard the sound of their speech. I was familiar with the whirring sound their little wings make, but not with the angry chirps they use with each other when fighting over the nectar. One hummingbird kept others away by flying at them when they came near and making sharp sounds. At first, as you can see in the picture, they fed together. And then, one of them began guarding the red globe zealously, expending precious energy in fighting off the other birds. It would dip its beak into the tiny hole and sip, and as soon as another showed up, would charge it, and then go back to the feeder and drink again before another bird came to feed. It seemed like such senseless behavior. The feeder was an abundant public resource, filled up every morning, always more than enough for all of the birds. Yet this one bird began treating the feeder as a private resource, allowing only a few to drink from it. I felt uncomfortable watching it as the behavior was so very familiar. History tells us this story over and over. Which part of our brains tells us that there won't be enough for everyone?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Visit from a Bear


A visit from a bear is both wondrous and annoying. One came by early this morning and got into our "bear-proof" garbage shed, pulled out two containers full of garbage in white kitchen bags, picked one out and dragged it away. Bears like to eat in what they consider a quiet little bistro, a place with lots of brush and shrubs where they can't be seen. Today is the day that garbage is picked up and the bears know it.

We live in black bear habitat in downtown Juneau on the lower slope of Mt. Roberts and this is the first bear sign I have seen this summer. Bears are quiet creatures and pad silently through the streets looking for food. We have city ordinances about garbage (hence the "bear-proof" shed) and public trash receptacles that are pretty tough to get into. However, bears are very strong, and if hungry, very determined. It is early yet and they probably aren't desperately hungry.

Despite the annoyance, I like to live near bears and see them (from a distance) because it reminds me that there is a wildness in me too.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July in Juneau

These are fireworks that we did NOT see this year in Juneau. It is rainy and cloudy here. Last night on July 3rd, we had such a low ceiling that our usual fireworks had to be postponed until midnight tonight on the Fourth. And the ceiling is so low now on the Fourth that we may not even have fireworks tonight. Generally we have fireworks at midnight on July 3rd. We like to usher in the holiday with a big bang.

Despite the fact that it was raining and in the low 50s, many people still lined the downtown streets to watch the parade. A friend from out of town wondered if half the town was in the parade while the other half watched. Our parades do last for a few hours. We have fire engines making wonderful loud noises while firefighters throw candy and politicians march with their supporters, and kids ride their decorated bicycles, while the community band plays stirring music, and veterans from many wars march. There is more, much more. We usually clap for everyone who goes by, even if we aren't in the same political party, don't agree on environmental issues, or don't have the same religion. I think we clap because people care enough to be in the parade, to decorate a float, to march a few miles in the rain or in the sun, and to make it fun for the rest of the community. That is what the Fourth is all about: celebrating a common heritage with people who want to make their community a better place. And we don't need fireworks for that.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Light is a Trickster

The light fools everybody in the summer. At 10:30 last night, I could have read a book by the window. In places south of Alaska, light and darkness are more predictable, and don’t change as much and in summer, light has to be artificially adjusted with Daylight Savings Time. Not here. The speed of light increasing (and then decreasing) is breathtaking. I think it also messes with our heads and our bodies in all kinds of ways. Even people who have lived in Alaska for a long time have trouble sleeping when the light seeps in at 3 or 4 in the morning. That is usually when I put on my eye mask even though we have good shades AND a dark curtain around our bed alcove. Amazingly, the light in the very early morning doesn’t bother some people, but for most of us, it definitely has a wakey wakey affect.

We have no idea how these rapid shifts in light really affect us. Our bodies have to make adjustments every day as the light decreases or increases. It is NEVER THE SAME. I met somebody today who said he was pissed off all of the time as it got lighter and lighter and then had one of those forehead slapping moments – that what he was experiencing was sleep deprivation – because when you don’t get enough sleep, you do get pissed off. And if you don’t shield yourself from light, you won’t get enough sleep in the summer in Alaska. It doesn’t help that the light gives you energy and you think you don’t need as much sleep as usual. You do. You just think you don’t. And you think you don’t because your judgment is compromised by the, dare I say it, overabundance of light.