This year’s model

The other evening, I was out in the yard with the dogs, when I heard a crackling from the other side of the house. This being Alaska, and Ashlee having an irrational hatred of mammals significantly larger than her, I immediately grabber her collar and pulled in Macgee’s leash.

This is what peeked around the corner of the house:

dsc_0168

I shuffled the dogs inside, and grabbed my camera. Mama moose was on the other side of the house, so I tiptoed around and managed to get a few shots before they got tired of me leaning around the corner and pointing the camera at them.

dsc_0167

dsc_0159

I also took a short little video with my D90. It’s a little awkward to hand-hold, so please excuse the shakiness. I was not very interested in fumbling around with a tripod, for obvious reasons.

More on eagles, and another eruption

To finish up the story of the last eagle feeding last week, I was sent down by the Homer Tribune to take some pictures of the ceremony. I’m working as a freelance photographer and outdoor/sports writer for them now, so that’s pretty cool. I’ll post some scans when I get published.

Anyway, we went down to the Spit, expecting some sort of ceremony and statue for Jean Keane. What we found was more akin to a yard sale, with tables full of dwarf and frog statues, animal skulls, and wood carvings.

Yard Sale

Unsurprisingly, since Jean fed the eagles daily, everything was covered in bird poo.

Dwarf

Froggy

Eventually, the organizers brought out a box of fish, and started feeding the eagles. There are always a few eagles hanging out on the Spit, but within minutes of opening the box, the air was filled with dozens of giant birds. A few fish were tossed on the roof of Jeans house, and suddenly we were surrounded by swooping eagles.

eagle

Most of the fish were tossed out towards the beach, where the eagles would either swoop down and grab the fish, or land and try to grab what the swoopers missed. The wind was coming from that direction as well, so I got hit more than once by fish juice and eagle crap. Delightful!

I shot some video before switching back to stills, so here you go. Sorry about the wind noise, but that’s what it was like.

Unfortunately, none of the pictures got published, since the Trib was hoping for more memorial service and less eagle crap. Oh well.

Flash forward to yesterday. Around 6am, one of the sled dogs started barking. This particular dog is slightly neurotic about Nature, and tends to bark when the wind picks up, or if snow is falling, etc. So we just ignored him. At 7:45, I woke up and thought the light coming through the windows looked weird, so I got up and looked outside. Here’s what I saw:

Ash Air

My exact thoughts: “Oh…crap. Must check AVO (Alaska Volcano Observatory) site!”

Sure enough, Redoubt had erupted at 6am that morning. And not only had it erupted and spewed ash 50,000 feet into the sky, it was accompanied by thunder and lightning emanating from the ash cloud. No wonder it set off the dog! I wonder if it was as spectacular as this eruption in Argentina?

I got dressed and hurried out to feed the dogs before the ash started to fall, and finished feeding in record time. Before sealing up the house, I took a few more pictures.

This is looking northeast from the dog yard:

Sunny Side

And this is looking southwest, towards Homer:

Ash Cloud

And another view, from the driveway, looking west:

Ash Side

Looks ominous, doesn’t it? Luckily, we had a steady wind coming from the northeast, which drove the ash cloud out over the bay before it could reach us! Not a single bit of ash fell on us yesterday, though Homer got hit pretty hard. We went into town last night to go a drama slam, and town looked like someone had dumped a giant bucket of dusty sand over everything.

Redoubt has now had over 5 major eruptions in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve heard that it might continue like this for months. In a week or so, we’ll be moving to a place in Anchor Point, which faces Redoubt on the coast, so I might actually get some eruption shots! (More on the move later, when I wrap up my Bucket List series)

Blizzard + Volcano = Just another week in Alaska

It’s been a crazy week here in the 49th state. Monday, Mt. Redoubt finally erupted, and spewed an ash cloud over the area north of itself (Redoubt is north/northwest of us). Our boss was supposed to fly back from the Iditarod finish in Nome that day, but her flight was canceled due to the ash cloud. For some reason, the power went out shortly after the eruption, and stayed off for a few hours.

Monday night, we had high winds that drifted in our driveway, trapping me here at home for most of the day Tuesday.

I managed to make into town Wednesday morning, though it was already blowing snow when I left. While there, I received a call from the boss, who had made it to Anchorage and was boarding a flight to Homer. I went to the airport to pick her up, and watched as the pilot circled a few times in the high wind and heavy snow, contemplated the odds of crashing while landing, decided they were not in his/her favor, and then headed back to Anchorage.

By the time I returned home, I could barely see the road, and spent the last 5 miles of the drive crawling along between lulls in the wind, when the whiteout would relent for a few seconds. Skippy had gone home ahead of me, and was bearing the brunt of the storm while trying to feed the dogs and rescue the lids to their houses that the wind had blown off (yes, it was that strong!). She faced down the storm and beat it, even after being knocked flat several times by gusts of wind and flying dog house lids.

I arrived in time to help assemble kennels and move all the ice-encrusted old dogs inside. I also took some video of the storm, for your edutainment.

Here’s what it was like outside, though the wind had died down a bit by this point. As I pan to the dog yard, you might notice the blue poop sled flying in the breeze:

I moved inside, fearing for my camera’s well-being:

And this one is looking out the east window of the cabin. Don’t you just want to run outside and play?

This morning broke calm and clear. As is typical after a snow storm, we found that most of our paths had been drifted over, making walking anywhere a chore until we get them packed down again. Also, this is our driveway.

This was a driveway

The drift was over 5′ high in places, leaving a narrow path to walk through. I sent the boss’s dog Bean down through it so I could at least get some perspective shots.

Drifted Drive

Also, check out the new rims Mother Nature gave Skippy’s truck:

Whitewalls

It took most of the morning to dig out the dog houses and pull out whatever snow had blown into them. While we were out working, the plow arrived and started digging us out. The first couple of snows we had, back in October and November, the plow company sent a standard 4×4 pickup with a blade attached to the front. Now, in the depths of winter and snow banks on either side of the road that are 7’+ high, they bring something more substantial.

Mr. Plow, Alaska style

Around 10:30am, as I was preparing to go pick up the boss from the airport, a friend called and told me Redoubt had erupted again, and this time the ash was headed our way. Sure enough, the volcano had erupted and sent an ash cloud 65,000′ into the air. Had it been clear to the north of us, we probably would have been able to see it, but of course it was overcast at that point.

http://www.avo.alaska.edu/webicorders/Redoubt/RDN_EHZ_AV.php

The boss’s flight was once again canceled, and we’re beginning to think she’ll have to build a house in Anchorage because she’s never going to get back here. We prepared for the coming rain of volcanic debris: gathering fresh water for the dogs and ourselves if the power went out again, moving the old dogs back inside, and making sure doors and windows were shut tight.

We finished up as the first flakes of ash began to fall, and celebrated by taking a 3 hour nap. When we woke up, the blinding whiteness that had surrounded us for the past 5 months was turned into a dirty gray, like those piles of plowed snow in mall parking lots.

Volcanic ash

Dirty snow

We fed the dogs with filter masks on, since the wind was blowing again, and I don’t fancy having volcanic glass in my lungs. I also wore my glasses, since microscopic ash on contact lenses can scratch the cornea, and I don’t want that either. Of course, breathing into the mask meant my glasses kept fogging up, so I eventually just took them off and worked in my nearsighted blur.

Here’s a special message, written in volcanic ash:
Message

Now the volcano is sending out seismic pulses every couple of minutes, and I wonder if it’s going to blow again.

So, at least it isn’t boring around here.

I could’a been a contender!

Back in January, I spent a good 2 weeks planning, filming, and editing an entry for the Best Job In The World contest. If you haven’t heard about it, basically Queensland, Australia will be paying somebody AU$150,000 to live in a house on one of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and blog about all the fun stuff there is to do. Applicants had to make a video explaining why they would be a good person for the job, in 60 seconds or less.

Given my interests and skill set, I figured I might have a decent chance. So I made a video.

Entering the contest meant filling out an online application and uploading the completed video. I first uploaded the video on Feb. 5th. Applications closed on the 22nd (strangely, one brother’s birthday is Feb. 5th, and the other brother’s is Feb 22nd). I waited 10 days, and heard nothing. They were supposed to email once the application had been reviewed and approved or denied for technical reasons, usually within 5-7 days. So, I uploaded it again. Again, I heard nothing. So I uploaded it 3 times in one day, until their website stopped giving me the “Thank you for applying” message and started saying “Your account has already been created.”

I never heard a word back.

But, with 34,000 people applying, what are you gonna do? So here it is, seen for the first time on the internets. I wish I could be asking you to vote for mine on the contest website, but luck was not on my side.

Let me know what you think. Did I have a chance?