Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bald Eagles

I am really bummed I didn't have my digital camera with me the other day when I was out on the Homer Spit. Two bald eagles were sitting by the side of the road, one on a dead tree, the other on the ground next to it. They were there for over 40 minutes, and people stopped and walked within feet of them and they didn't fly off. I thought at first the one on the tree was tied there, because I couldn't believe it would put up with people walking up to it, but it was free. Every so often it would stretch it's wings out as if to fly, then would tuck them back in. It was very alert, looking in every direction, almost as if posing.

Someone who visited Alaska once said that up here bald eagles are like robins. I would love to see a robin (I suppose there are some up here, but I don't think I've seen once since we've been here), but instead we get to see bald eagles everywhere! For some reason since winter has set in the eagles soar along the coastline and up and down along the Homer Spit. They're around in the summer, but not in the numbers that we see them now. In fact, as we drove down the Homer Spit last week an eagle was coasting about 20 feet above our car and just off to the side so we could see it's legs tucked in underneath it. We were driving 35 mph and it was keeping up with us (or we were keeping up with it, depending on how you look at it!) without a flap. And when I am working out in the gym they fly right by the windows.

These are glorious birds, and we feel privileged to be able to be around so many of them! If I get a picture of one, I'll post it here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mail to Alaska

Mail generally seems to take 3-5 days to get to or from Alaska (or at least to us, in Fritz Creek). Packages sent by USPS standard shipping take 17 days....or at least that's how long it took during the pre-holiday rush. I don't even pay attention now because I usually don't want to know how long it took! The fastest we have gotten anything up here was an LL Bean order that took like 3 days--and shipping was free! The worst shipping scenario comes into play when companies tack on fees on top of the usual shipping fees. TigerDirect, a technology mail order company we used extensively in Michigan, charges usual shipping, and then tacks on $25 on top of that! Other companies do that too. They know that we want the items, can't find them anywhere up here, and so we don't have much choice besides find another company that doesn't tack on fees.

My cousin lives out in the bush, and a package from her took 11 days to get here. They're out west of Fairbanks, and everything either goes out by barge down the Yukon River or by plane. If I think service is poor here, I would get a lesson on what it's really like if I lived in the bush!

Swimming Pools & Skating Rinks

Something we have noticed is that just about every school in Alaska seems to have an ice skating rink, and a large number of them have swimming pools. I'm not sure why they all have skating rinks, but some of them are quite impressive, with boards all around the sides, benches for skaters and bleachers for spectators. The kids came home from school in high excitement on Friday because McNeil Canyon School's skating rink was up, so the kids got to spend their 40 minute lunch recess ice skating. The school has 50 pairs of ice skates, so nearly everyone who wants to can skate. The principal hot mops the rink so it is nice and smooth. Unlike most schools where they have the nice boards around the rink, McNeil's ice is just held in by plowed snow.

There are very few public swimming pools. Since the boroughs own and build the schools (borough's are kind of like counties), they just build swimming pools in the high schools. Since so many schools are K-12, then there is a pool in the K-12 school. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has one full time person in the district who handles chemicals for all the pools. At one point recently the State of Alaska was looking at requiring a swimming class for every high school student in the state. Luckily, that got nixed, but they wouldn't have even considered it if so many schools didn't have pools.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dwindling Daylight Hours

This picture was taken Dec. 5 at noon from the Homer Spit. Obviously, the sun doesn't get very far off the horizon! At 3:00 the sun was the same distance above the mountains, just in a different place.

One of the main things on my mind before moving to Alaska was dealing with the short days in the winter. We are nineteen days from the shortest day of the year, and we are definitely feeling it. It begins to get light out around 8:00 a.m., but the sun doesn't actually peep over the mountains until 10:00 (on good days, when it's not cloudy!). It sets right about 4:00 where we live, though it sets later in Homer. (I couldn't say how much later because I'm never in both places at sunset on the same day.) Just in the past week or so the lack of daylight has become more noticeable. A couple days ago my neighbor, who has lived here all her life, said, "You'd think I'd get used to this lack of sunlight by now, but I still hate it." In our family we're noticing our moods are a little rougher, perhaps. One never knows if it's lack of sleep or stress or something else causing moods, but when everything else stays the same, I begin to suspect it is lack of sunshine. On one hand, it is very noticeable, while on the other hand, it really isn't as bad as people think. I remind people that even in Michigan in November and December one can go to work in the dark and it is dark when you get out. Like one of my cousins up here told me, the lack of daylight affects everyone, just some people more than others. I take to heart the recipe for staying mentally healthy: take care of myself. That means exercise every day, get sunshine if the sun is out and I can, get a good night's rest (not difficult when it is dark so many hours), eat well. It's common sense stuff, but if we want to stay here and stay happy all winter, this is what we do. A couple other things I have learned: don't be afraid to go out in the dark (it's amazing how many people think that once it's dark you have to stay inside), and play games. I have learned more card games, board games, cribbage, etc. in the past few weeks than in the past 25 years combined!
P.S. You'd think with all this darkness I'd have seen the northern lights, but even up here the ideal times for viewing northern lights is 12:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Like they say, drinking lots of water before bedtime helps in viewing the aurora's!