WONDERFUL THINGS ARE HAPPENING

 

This morning may look like this:

But yesterday this happened:

Big Red, the hawk, laid her first egg–in Cornell, New York.
Watch her and husband Ezra on the live-cam here.

And this happened too:

The turkey vultures returned to Hinkley, Ohio, right on time.
They arrived only 30 minutes later than last year.
Read all about Hinkley, Ohio’s buzzards here.


SPRING IS COMING, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!

 

ALASKA:  TALKEETNA FLIGHT

When you pay for a cruise, the cost covers the ship, but not the extra trips you might want to do on land.  For Caribbean cruises, that might be OK–you can shop, see the sights, and lay on the beach.  But in order to have a great Alaska experience, you must go on excursions to get yourself deeper into the wild.

Save your money.  Go there.  Do it.

At Talkeetna (the base town where mountain climbers gather), my husband and I booked a flight and glacier landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi.  A fellow flew us around the mountains (hoping for a glimpse of Denali) and landed us on the snow part of a glacier.

 

 

To get there, we flew over dead rivers full of glacial silt.  Fish and plants don’t live in them, and animals don’t drink from them.  The silt is almost like cement mix.

 

 

Sometimes I thought the airplane’s wing was going to clip a mountain.*    *scary words in this post are underlined

 

 

Landing on the glacier really spooked me because we came over a 5-mile valley of dangerous crevasses before we landed.  We went lower and lower so I thought we weren’t going to make it.

Another plane landed at our spot while we were there. He asked for help in getting his plane turned around for take-off, because he wanted to be ready to go right away if he needed to.   The plane was so light it only took 2 guys to do it.

Here it is coming in, just landing after flying over the valley of crevasses.

 

 

Leaving our cliff really spooked me because the pilot drove right to the edge of the cliff before we began to fly.  He said he wanted to make a good driving path for the other plane, since it was smaller and the weather was getting bad.

We had to wear special snow boots so our feet wouldn’t get wet.  The snow was slippery, as evidenced by how hard it was to walk around, and by how the plane slipped back and forth as it tried to take off when we left.

 

 

The beautiful blue lakes can be very very deep….

 

We followed Ruth Glacier out on the way back.  The brown stripes are all the silt the glacier is carrying with it.  The satellite version of Google Maps gives a great view of Ruth Glacier and many others, like curling fingers all over Alaska.

 

 

We were fortunate; some of the cousins took a flight 30 minutes after ours, but the weather turned bad and they weren’t able to land on a glacier at all.

A fun side story:  We met Donna and Bob from South Carolina!  As a reader-and-planner-before-I-take-a-trip, I spent a lot of time on the forums at CruiseCritic.  While there, I had some correspondence with a lady named donna&bobfromSC, who said they were going on the same cruise and the same land tour as ourselves.  When the pilot began to call out our names to board the airplane, he asked for a Bob and Donna.

Could it be?

When they replied “South Carolina” to his queries of where we all were from, I asked my husband “How many Bob and Donnas do you think there are from South Carolina”?  So I asked them, and indeed they were the same people.  We saw them many times on our trip and had good conversations.

 

ALASKA:  A STORY OF A WHALE

I have always wanted to see a whale, but I figured…yeah, right.  Even if I DID get somewhere in the correct vicinity, AND could afford to go a on “whale watch”, what are the real chances of seeing a whale?  Probably not very high.  So I had mixed feelings about going to Icy Strait Point, Alaska, and signing up for a whale watch tour where we were GUARANTEED to see whales.

Icy Strait Point is a geographical area that is one of the premier places in the world for whales.  Celebrity Cruises built a dock nearby, with a few shops and touristy things, so that cruising folk can take tours out to the Point.

This was the day I cried.

Our ship docked and my alarm clock told me it was time to wake from sleep.  I walked to our room’s verandah, opened the curtains, and SAW A WHALE!  Just like that, just a glimpse, the beginning of another amazing day.

Before our excursion, my husband and I decided to walk to the island’s Tlingit village of Hoonah, a beach stroll that promised bald eagle sightings. 

Walking along, we suddenly heard a very loud noise behind us.  We turned and saw the most unexpected thing I ever thought to see:  right along the shore, not too far from us, a humpback whale roared up with his mouth wide open to the sky.  I almost fell to the ground.  I think I exclaimed, “Jeez Louise!” or “Holy Moley, Batman!”.  I was a little scared, it was that close.   A memory-maker for sure.

Here is a harbor view of the same whale coming up with his mouth open, when we were in the boat for the official excursion.

 

We learned that he was fishing for herring, using a technique called “bubble-net feeding.”  When he finds herring, he will circle around them and blow bubbles.  The bubbles confuse the fish and they tightly bunch up together.  Then with a roar, the whale will come right up from underneath them with his mouth wide open to get a nice big mouthful.

At times, we were able to actually see the bubbles.  “Get ready, get ready….” we would say as the circle formed right before our eyes.  And then up he would come.  The thrill of it was stupendous.

If you look closely, you can see the circle of bubbles here:

 

Because I’m a planner and a reader-of-things-ahead-of-time, I was able to book a whale tour excursion with a retired man who has a small boat and lots of experience.  His name is Floyd.  He took 5 of us out for a trip.

 

My cousins signed up with the cruise ship and went in a big boat.

 

 

My brother said our boat reminded him of Gilligan’s Island, but actually ours was smaller than that.

 

 

We tooled around watching the humpback in the harbor, went along the shores and saw a brown bear, a sea otter, and sea lions, who looked so silly popping up in a row like comedians, trying to see what we were.

 

We also had rare and close sightings of 2 male orca (killer) whales.  They are actually of the dolphin family and have large fins.

 

 

When we arrived at the Point where whales are “guaranteed”, there were so many humpbacks we couldn’t possibly count them.  The horizon was filled with whale plumes as they came up for air.

This one isn’t my photo, but you can get the idea.

 

 

I think this was the point at which I began to cry.  Each day of the trip was better than the one before, and I was so grateful to be there.

 

ALASKA:  TTOAL (THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME)

We just got home from an Alaskan cruise and landtour, which was my cousin Tom’s idea.  Our group included 4 cousins and their spouses, an aunt, someone’s sister, and 2 other couples who were Tom’s friends.  It was an incredible experience.

As John Muir said on his visit there, “Never before this had I been embosomed in scenery so hopelessly beyond description.”

The first week was a “cruisetour” that took us up to Denali and back.  Here’s one of our memorable stories:

At Talkeetna, we stayed in a luxurious hotel on top of a hill.  It had a spacious viewing area behind it, so we could look at the mountains and perhaps even see Mount McKinley (in Alaska it is called Denali, the Great One).  Being the highest mountain peak in North America, it makes its own weather, so people rarely get to see it because of the fog and clouds.

The hotel will give you a wake-up call in the middle of the night if it becomes visible.

The first thing we all did was to go to the viewing area with our binoculars to see.  There was the mountain range all spread out before us, and we spent some time looking and looking, trying to figure out which one it might be–until someone told us that no, Denali wasn’t visible right now.  Oh well.

Eventually my husband and I ended up in our room, which also had a view.  And my husband told me he thought he was seeing the mountain.  But it wasn’t where we had been looking, in the mountain range; it was ABOVE THE CLOUDS, sticking up in the sky like some fantastical island!  All covered in snow, you could hardly tell, but the binoculars made it quite clear that it was a mountain.  Amazing.

I quickly called Tom to tell him.  

“I can’t see the mountains right now; we’re hiking the trail down below the lodge and the trees are in the way.”

“No, no!”  I said.  “Look UP–up in the sky!!”

He appeared later at the viewing area with some other cousins and we were all looking and exclaiming.  Eventually I suspected that Tom didn’t get it.  “Don’t look at the mountains; look up in the sky!” I told him again.

And when he realized what I meant, and he really saw it for himself….he was stricken with awe.  It was like a religious conversion, seeing that mountain was such an amazing thing.  He couldn’t believe it!

Along would come another cousin.  Tom would explain it to them and it would start all over again.  Religious conversion, falling right down on the sidewalk with amazement.  It was so fun.

Meanwhile, cousin Adele had been taking a lot of photos.  We all sat on benches for a long while, watching the mountain come out more and more, enjoying the evening.  I told her I didn’t think I could get so excited over a mountain, but with the top part of it just sticking out of the clouds like that, well….

She pretty much agreed.

Eventually I got tired and decided to see what the hotel had in the gift shop.  I wasn’t gone long, but when I returned:  oh, everyone was in an uproar!  

“Gaye, you missed it, you missed it!”

“What did I miss??”

“Adele DIDN’T KNOW!!!”

All this time, she hadn’t been looking at the right place.  And when she finally figured it out, her reaction was really something to see.  Thunderstruck, I imagine.  It was very very funny.

She had to take photos all over again.

Can you find it here?  Don’t scroll down till you’re ready to see the answer.

 

 Here it is.  See the mountain range below it?

 

And we saw it even better the next day, with Mt Foraker on the left (mother) and Mt Hunter in the center (child). Denali is on the right.

 

 

A PIECE OF THREAD
I almost stepped on this little guy today. I thought he was a piece of thread or cloth.

 

THE BUNNY STORY

I’ve been spending much of the summer at my parents’ home, due to their severe illnesses and surgeries.  Lately, I have been entertained by bunnies.

Each morning, I slink out to the mailbox in my skivvies to get the mail, and I never noticed the brown section of grass just a few paces away–till I saw the dead baby bunny.  So sad. 

Dead bunny to the left.

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I went to see why he had died, and came so close to not noticing a whole nest of bunnies living in a gash of ground right there in the yard.  Do you see them?  There were at least five.

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Notice the white fur on the top of his sweet head.

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The next day, they were all gone but one (the dead bunny was gone too).  So so sad.  I went out to run errands, and the neighbor mowed the grass while I was away.  He said, “Hey, did you know there’s a nest of bunnies out there?  I killed one with the mower last week.” 

“Yeah, well, you killed the last one today,” I replied.  He did.  Duh.  So so so sad (and maddening too). 

Today I decided that if I were ever going to make a dent in tidying up the overgrown bushes and flowerbeds, I would have to rise at dawn to do some work outside–it has been THAT hot each and every day.  I rose at dawn, put on old clothing, and relished the dewy grass on my bare feet while beginning to trim the bushes at the front of house.

(Look at the bottom of the bush, at the brown grass there)

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Suddenly, my toes rested against something so very very soft…it was a bunny!  The same size as what I had seen the other day, so maybe he was from the same batch.  He did not move, even when I had accidentally nudged him with my foot.  He sat quiet and unmoving the entire time I trimmed the bush. 

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I decided to move on down the line and pull grasses and weeds from the flowerbed. 

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What did I find?  Another bunny!  Unmoving and unblinking, even when I got the camera from the house to take his photo.

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A-i-i-e-e, I’m a softie.  I had to quit working–who knows how many other bunnies are out there, using the safety of the weeds for protection?  It’s kinda like Easter egg hunting in reverse.

 

GETTIN’ IT DOWN

I have always been a person who wants to know The Names of Things.  When I work in the garden and hear a bird singing, it is a great joy to know who it is:

The Scarlet Tanager, which sounds kind of like a robin and kind of not.

Photo by gnburges, Photobucket

To that end, I’m getting serious about identifying and recording what type of wildflowers we have here on the property.

In the past, I identified and wrote some down so it wouldn’t be too difficult when next year came round, but it’s been a hodge-podge of confusion.  I’m helping myself out with photographs this time.

Buy an inexpensive book that will hold photos.

Arm yourself with the best wildflower I.D. book.

Take photos and print them out–even cardstock or regular paper will do–and keep them in the book for next year!

Here are a couple of astonishing spring flowers that are so small you might not even know you have them at your house.

Ground Ivy (also known as Creeper and Gill-over-the-Ground) is a definite nuisance weed in these parts, but you have to admit that up close even it looks pretty.  The word “gill” comes from a French word that means “ferment” because the leaves were once used to flavor beer in Europe.  It belongs to the mint family.
 

  

But this next one–it takes my breath away!  Thyme-leaved Speedwell, which was used for many ailments in the past.   It is very tiny underfoot in the grass.  It’s Latin name “Veronica Serpyllifolia” comes from words that mean “true” and “image”, named after St. Veronica.  There is a legend that she loaned her veil to Jesus to wipe his brow as He was carrying the cross.  When He gave it back, the veil had the image of Jesus’ own face impressed upon it.