Thursday, September 12, 2013

Returning to Reality

Sue and I were very fortunate to have a wonderful, relaxing vacation in what must be one of the most beautiful areas on earth.  Unfortunately, things started going south as soon as we returned home.

Charlie's back stripes have darkened with age
The minute I got inside the door of my house, my cat Charlie started cussing me out for having left him alone for two weeks (never mind that my Dad loves cats and is the best kitty-sitter ever).  Two nights later he pushed out one of the porch screens and escaped.  He hasn't been back since.  I did have him microchipped when I adopted him and he was wearing a collar and Humane Society numbered tag, so I'm hoping someone will return him, but he's so easily spooked by strangers that I'm afraid he'll be killed by a coyote before that happens.  Fortunately we've had rain almost every day since, so he shouldn't be suffering from dehydration yet.  I've put up posters and the local shelters and vets have been alerted; keeping my fingers crossed.

Then the news came that one of my favorite cousins has died.  He had had cancer surgery and was feeling and apparently doing well, but it had metastasized (apparently without causing him pain) and that was it.  He grew up in Oregon and I in South Dakota so we really only connected during the last 10 years, after I moved to Arizona and he started spending his winters here, but he was a warm and funny person and I will miss him very much.

Finally, my mother's health has taken a sharp downturn over the last two weeks and yesterday she had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital.  Dad and I spent the whole day there while they ran tests; they kept her overnight and will probably be doing more today.  Back at the facility where they live, Dad has changed their level of care from independent to assisted living so he will have help with things like getting her up and dressed, but he's very worried that that won't be enough and she may have to go into actual nursing home care.  If that happens, I've told him he is welcome to move in with me, but since I only have one bathroom that may be a little tight.

Breathing deeply, trying to stay motivated.

"Fall seven times, stand up eight." -Japanese Proverb

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

By Train to Anchorage

We returned from Denali to Anchorage by double-decker train; the passengers sat on the top level and the bottom level was a dining car.  I had reindeer chili there for lunch; it was good, but the reindeer tasted much more like beef than I expected - I assumed it would be more like the deer my Dad used to shoot in South Dakota.

Photographically speaking, this was another day of vehicle motion, window reflections, and fellow passengers jumping in front of my lens.  Worse yet, I missed the two best shots of the day - a moose disappearing into the forest, and a skinny-dipper jumping into a river just as we passed.  (My guidebook for the area said the water there is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year - what was he thinking??)

We passed several homes where the owners have to either pack all their supplies in from a road that's miles away, or flag down the train that occasionally comes through to transport them into town and back.  I always used to think I'd like to retire to a cabin in the woods, but I was envisioning something a little closer to fast food and medical attention.

The weather continued clear and we were able to see Mt. McKinley almost all the way back to Anchorage, which is very rare.

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." ~John Muir

Monday, September 9, 2013

Flightseeing in Denali

August 26, my birthday, dawned bright and clear, so Sue and I decided to splurge on a flightseeing tour of Denali in order to see as much as possible in the time available to us.  That meant we circled Mt. McKinley in a 6-passenger plane; because the day was so sunny, we were able to get really close to the peaks and see things that even most flightseeing passengers don't - but I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Photography from a plane presents challenges I had not fully appreciated until now.  As with shooting from a bus, there's some window interference and the other passengers' heads, elbows, and other stray body parts to deal with, but where a bus will occasionally slow down for scenic locations, the airplane keeps whizzing on at high speed.  Not to mention the "holding the camera steady" problem when the pilot does a sharp U-turn so the passengers on the other side can see what you are trying to take a picture of.  And, of course, we had no time to fiddle with the camera settings for each shot, so the highlights are blown out on a lot of the snow.  Ah, well.  It was still a fabulous trip.

White dots on the lower right are Dall sheep

Group photo courtesy of our pilot

"Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price." ~Amelia Earhart

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Trip to Denali

After the ship docked in Seward, my sister and I boarded a bus bound for Denali National Park.  We were extremely lucky that the two days we were there were almost entirely sunny and clear; according to the tour bus driver, only a third of all tourists to this area ever get to see Mt. McKinley because it's usually hiding behind clouds.  Here are some of the shots I took on the way up - but the Beluga whales we saw in the Turnagain Arm were too far away to photograph well, and the black bear cub who thought about crossing the road in front of us changed his mind and shot back into the underbrush before I could get my camera up.  Please excuse the spots and reflections from the bus windows (and the occasional head that bobbed in front of me at the last minute).

The night before we reached Denali, the sky put on a spectacular Northern Lights show shortly after 2am.  We left a wakeup call with the hotel in case they showed again the night we were there, but the call never came.  Sue woke up about 3am and saw just a dim green glow on the horizon, so apparently the lights didn't feel like performing for us.

Failed "igloo" hotel

"To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world." ~John Muir

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Folding a Monkey

OK, Holland America is starting to scare me a little.

On my first cruise with them, a cute little animal folded from towels showed up at the foot of the bed every evening.  (I guess some other cruise lines do this, too.)  The towel animals were adorable, and different every night, and I thought, "how lucky we are to have such a talented cabin steward!"

By last year's cruise, a book was available to show interested parties how to fold 40 different towel animals.  I was tempted to buy the book, but really - I've only mastered 3 or 4 different ways to fold napkins, and I occasionally do invite people over to dinner.  Learning to fold towel animals would only make sense if I wanted to entertain and astonish overnight guests, preferably guests under the age of 10.  In the two years I've lived in this house, I've never had a single overnight visitor.  Plus, I was worried that buying the book would spoil the mystery of how the undoubtedly overworked and underpaid cabin stewards managed to pull this off in all of their cabins every single night.

This year, during our second at-sea day, the cruise line actually offered a seminar in how to fold towel animals.  I caved.  I went.  I bought the book.

I also took pictures.  See below.  I apologize for the heads in the way - people came really early for this so we ended up sitting fairly far back and I had to take some of the photos looking at the TV screens rather than the demonstrators.

"A towel animal is a depiction of an animal created by folding small towels. It is conceptually similar to origami, but uses towels rather than paper. Some common towel animals are elephants, snakes, rabbits and swans. 

"The exact originator of towel animals is unknown, but their popularity is often attributed to Carnival Cruise Lines.  The ancestors of the towel animals are perhaps handkerchief animals or napkin folds. 

"Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Disney Hotels and Holland America Line cruises will often place towel animals on a patron's bed as part of their nightly turndown service. Towel animals are also appearing in higher-end hotels and resorts such as Grupo Vidanta's Grand Luxxe Residence Clubs in Nuevo Vallarta and Riviera Maya." 

 ~Wikipedia entry for "towel animal"

Friday, September 6, 2013

Glacier Bay

If the rainforest near Ketchikan was an education in the many shades of green, Glacier Bay was almost equally full of blues. This was the coldest day of the trip, especially since a brisk breeze was blowing off the ice and the ship generated an additional wind while it was moving. The waiters served pea soup and hot drinks on deck around 11:00.

What I saw that you will not see:
  • The Marjorie Glacier calving. All the chunks it dropped were small, and by the time I saw them falling it was too late to capture anything but little splashes in the water.   Someone told me the way to catch them was to listen to the glacier groaning and figure out from that where the next split will be, but the sounds echoed around the cove too much for me to tell.
  • Puffins. Too small and too far away to show up on film. 
  • Whales. I figured you didn't need to see any more anonymous black fins. 
 Unfortunately, photos just can't show you how big everything actually is.  The glaciers are such immense walls of ice that it's hard to believe they are receding as quickly as they really are.

For scale, see large ship in right foreground

The brown dots on the rocks are sea lions

" One day's exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers' plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul." ~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir