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Wednesday, February 2 - Bitter Cold and Blue Skies

The temperature this morning was unbearably cold. Not any colder than it has been, but there must have been some humidity involved. I couldn't get warm and my car wouldn't warm up either. Add ice fog to the mix, and it's a very dangerous and uncomfortable journey to work

My windows wouldn't defrost. I had to peer through a clear spot that was perhaps 6 inches wide at the bottom of the window closest to the defrost vents. Add to that the horribly thick ice fog, and I felt like I was blind. The fact that the sun doesn't fully rise until after 10am makes it even worse. But I made it to work. It took a good 10 minutes longer, but I made it.

I decided to take the longer way home, rather than take the expressway. The sun was still shining, the skies were a pretty pink and blue, and I was in the mood to stop and take some photographs. So I drove to Creamer's Field for a few shots of the farmhouse and the fields and then continued downtown to the Immaculate Conception Church and across the Cushman St. Bridge - which was a total sheet of ice.

Creamers Farmhouse Pink and Blue Skies Immaculate Conception Church
Saturday, February 5 - Junior Yukon Quest

This morning, Steve and I were up early and bundled up for our drive downtown to view the Junior Yukon Quest. The race was scheduled to start at 10am. Before leaving the house, I checked the website (Click here to check it out), and saw that the race was going to be called if the temperature didn't rise above -30F. We drove downtown anyway, and didn't see anyone in the staging area, nor the telltale crowds that are usually present for this event.

I was depressed, especially after bundling up in many layers of long underwear, ski pants, etc. We stopped to ask someone who had a dogbox on their truck if the race had been canceled and they informed us that the race hadn't been canceled - it was being moved 25 miles up the highway to Valley Center. The reasoning: it was 'warmer' at Valley Center. After deliberating for a few minutes, I convinced Steve to drive me there. We knew we'd never make the start of the race if it went off at 10am. But I hoped to at least see some of the teams take off.

When we arrived, there were only a few people at the cafe on the property where the race was supposed to start. One man was setting up stakes to mark the trail. We asked him if they were going to race and he said that the race had been pushed back to noon. We had an hour and a half to kill, but that was just fine. We had a cup of coffee and a bagel, read the paper, and warmed up. Little by little dog teams and their young mushers arrived. A little before noon, we went out and claimed a good vantage point (which was pretty easy, since not many people showed up).

Bundling Up at -40FBy this time the temperature had risen from minus 43F in Fairbanks to minus 30F there at Valley Center. Regardless... at that temperature, frost appears easily - especially when hot breath is making contact with the air. Steve snapped this photo of me when we first arrived and it was still nearly -40F.

As you can see, my balaclava is nice and frosty where my breath was making contact with it. So is my hair and my eyebrows. What you can't see very clearly is that my eyelashes were also frosted.

I took a few photos of the young mushers off of the starting line, and then decided to drive down the road another four miles to the place where the mushers would be crossing the road.

There were crossing guards there, stopping traffic, so we parked the car and stood with them for while - waiting for the teams to show up. It was a wonderful morning, and with the sun blazing, it felt so much warmer than it really was.

The teams will be crossing under our local bridge sometime around 8 or 9am tomorrow morning. If I can get myself up, dressed, and out the door, I hope to grab some more photos as they come by on their return trip to the finish line.

Michaela Maddalena McKenzie Brooks

Michaela Maddalena's team is off the starting line in a frenzy of excitement.

Michaela is 15 years old and from Estes Park, Colorado.

 

The sun blazes as this young musher makes her way toward Chena Hot Springs and a 10-hour layover, before heading back to Fairbanks and the finish line.

Despite the brightness of the sun, it is -31F and quite chilly!

McKenzie Brooks is a 15 year old from Fox, Alaska.

Here she is with her team, crossing Chena Hot Springs Rd. as they make their way to the layover destination.

The dogs love racing. Their enthusiasm is easily seen and felt.

Melissa Owens

Melissa Owens is one of the youngest racers at 14.

She lives in Nome, Alaska and is the daughter of a two-time runner of the Iditarod.

 
Thursday, February 10 - A New Military Company and the Magic of the Raven

This week was one of changes. Steve moved over to the new company and we formally said goodbye to the Charlie Co. family. They had an FRG (Family Readiness Group) meeting and we attended it for a little while before heading to the FRG meeting for the new company. It was sad seeing the women of Charlie Co. for one last time. Some of them I will stay in contact with (they're not getting rid of me!). Susan Spivey will always be my friend - even if we leave Alaska. She's sweet and warm and loving - and I wish she didn't work fulltime so we could hang out like we used to when we first arrived in Alaska. (I think she wishes that sometimes too!) Rachael Trujillo and I have only been friends for about 6 months, but our friendship blossomed quickly. She's terrific and I love that she visits me at my office in between classes to keep me company. LuAnn Weiss and I will probably always be friends too. She's a good 'shooting buddy' (as in photography) and we've been friends since day one - with a few 'blips' along the way. So, even though I'm not in Charlie Co. with them anymore, I will still hold them close in my heart. I can only hope that I'll make friends in the new company, but even if I don't - it's nice to have a good support system and women I can depend on during the deployment.


The Raven
(shot today)

The RavenLong evoking strong emotion from man, the raven has often played important roles in cultures, mythologies, and writings.

The spiritual importance of the raven to Alaska's Native people is still recognized. The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, BellaBella, and Kwakiutl all viewed the raven as the creator of the world and bringer of daylight. The raven is also important in the creation of myths by the Eskimo. The myths of the raven remain a significant social and religious component of Alaska culture.

Ravens are common in Alaska and often congregate near human settlements during non-breeding times. They can be minor nuisances by scattering unattended garbage and stealing food set out for dogs. They will come to baited traps, which is unfortunate for trapper and bird alike.

Ravens probably first breed at 3 or 4 years of age and mate for life.

My work week is over and tomorrow I have plans of going 'shooting' with LuAnn. I'm also planning to have coffee with two friends from my Alaska Living online group. One (Karen), I've met already. I've never met her friend Cheri, nor have I met another member, Dianne. LuAnn will be going with me, as she is a member of the group as well. I'm looking forward to it!

We're supposed to have sunny skies sometime this weekend. We're also supposed to warm up into the 20's! If it's a clear, sunny day AND warm, I want Steve to take me to the top of Murphy Dome (if it's passable) so that I can get some photos. The view from up there is always spectacular. It's like being on top of the world.

I sold two photos to a friend here. She bought a 5x7 of my "Hand from the Heavens" photo (one of my Northern Lights shots) and also a 5x7 of my "Misty Morning Sunrise" photo - taken back in the winter of 2003. I think she's sending them to her mother.

I was lucky enough to be able to buy my domain name! This journal is currently hosted at susanstevenson.net. I was able to get susanstevenson.com! It used to belong to an attorney (she has my name) and she let the registration lapse, so I grabbed it! I'm in the process of building the site, so nothing's published yet. I will probably move this journal over to the new hosting service eventually. No sense in paying for two hosting companies. You shouldn't see a glitch when I transfer unless you're still viewing my journal through susan_stevenson.tripod.com. In that case, you'll get an error. I'll make a post announcing the upcoming change BEFORE it happens so no one gets caught unaware. If you are still viewing my site through the tripod address, please go to http://susanstevenson.net/journalindex.html and bookmark it (add it to your favorites). I also hope to have my own online gallery at one point too. I've got lots of work ahead of me, but not a lot of free time. I'll have a lot of projects to keep me busy while Steve's gone. *sigh*

Saturday, February 12 - Moose Encounters

Yesterday morning, I picked up my friend LuAnn and we took off looking for some photo ops. The sun was supposed to be shining and it was supposed to be a little warmer than it has been - but neither of those forecasts came to fruition. Thank goodness for layers of long underwear!

We headed towards North Pole, hoping to get some photos of the footbridge at one of their city parks. When we saw how deep the snow was (mid - thigh in places), we realized we'd never be able to get close to it. So we continued driving. All of a sudden, on the side of the road, we came upon two moose - a cow moose and her calf - grazing on the bushes!

Reaching for a nibbleMama moose and calfFacts about Moose

The moose's large body helps the animal retain body heat. The long, cold winters are very stressful and larger creatures don't have to eat as frequently as small creatures. Larger body mass helps a creature fight the cold by allowing less heat loss in extreme cold.

Moose hair is hollow. This makes it a great insulator against cold weather. Hollow hair also helps the moose float better when swimming.

The moose's long legs allow the animal to walk in deep snow and wade in shallow ponds and wetter areas. An extreme amount of energy is need to wade through deep snow, and longer legs keep the animal's body out of the snow.

The moose's sense of smell is its most highly developed sense. Predators' and enemies' scent can be detected long before being seen or heard.

The moose's tall body allows it to reach 6-8 feet above the ground in order to eat the most tender parts of the willow.

The dewlap is a piece of skin hanging from the neck. It is sometimes used to spread scent in mating rituals. The male (bull) dewlap is generally larger than female's (cow).


Morning Cloudds "In the woods we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life--no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

Winterscape in B&W In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.

~ Alice Walker ~

We came upon a few pretty spots near a frozen stream. The sky was fluffy with clouds and although the sun was having a hard time breaking through, it was highlighting the shapes of the clouds nicely. I converted one of my photos to B&W as I thought it did it better justice with the textures and shading.

After a morning of shooting, I had the privilege to have coffee with my friend Karen (from the Alaska Living group) and her friend Stacie. Another online friend (Dianne) never made the coffee. I was disappointed, but I'm sure we will reschedule for another time. I love meeting new people! As with my first visit with Karen, the conversation was non-stop. I really enjoyed myself. She's a fabulous lady!

If the weather gets a little better (and clearer), I'm hoping Steve will take me for a drive to the top of Murphy Dome. I would love to take in some sweeping vistas to clear the winter cobwebs from my brain. If it's overcast, there won't be much chance of any vistas. :( I'm truly ready for spring to arrive. I look forward to seeing green again.

After a morning of shooting, I had the privilege of having coffee with my friend Karen (from the Alaska Living group) and her friend Stacie. Another online friend (Dianne) never made the coffee. I was disappointed, but I'm sure we will reschedule for another time. I love meeting new people! As with my first visit with Karen, the conversation was non-stop. I really enjoyed myself. She's a fabulous lady! You can check out her website HERE.

If the weather gets a little better (and clearer), I'm hoping Steve will take me for a drive to the top of Murphy Dome. I would love to take in some sweeping vistas to clear the winter cobwebs from my brain. If it's overcast, there won't be much chance of any vistas. :( I'm truly ready for spring to arrive. I look forward to seeing green again.

Sunday, February 13 - A drive to the top of Murphy Dome

Yesterday, Steve and I took a drive up to the top of Murphy Dome. Murphy Dome is popular for snowmachiners, x-country skiers, snowshoers, hikers, climbers, and even picnickers and blueberry pickers - depending on the season, of course.

It was -24F when we pulled out of the driveway. By the time we reached the summit, it had warmed up to -4F. We took a short walk so I could take some photos of the snow, shrubs, and views. On a clear day, you can see the White Mountains in one direction, the Alaska Range in another direction and Mt. McKinley (Denali) in another direction. Although skies weren't crystal clear, I could see the faint outline of Denali on the horizon.

Adding to the excitement of our day, we came across a sleeping moose and two ptarmigans. I managed to get a photo of the moose, but the ptarmigans were entirely too fast - running quickly into the woodline when we approached.

The stands of birch trees were thick and marvelous with their black and white patterns. It was only fitting to convert them to B&W photos. It was a beautiful drive, despite the cold. I do look forward to returning in spring and summer when the moss is bright green, the mushrooms are blooming, and the berries are ripe for the picking. Ahhh... spring!

Touched by the light Snow or Sand? Sunset in the birch grove Gradients of color
Friday, February 18 - An appearance of lights

The days are getting longer, and seeing the sky grow bright during my morning commute to work, is very exciting for me. Yesterday, there was a bright orange band low on the horizon and the range was backlit. If I weren't driving on the expressway, I'd have pulled over and taken a few photos.

The bitter cold is slowly but surely becoming less and less common. We still have late evenings and mornings well below zero, but generally in the afternoon, we get to above zero. Anything above zero feels almost balmy. We're also up to more than eight hours of daylight, and it is such a pleasure to leave work and see the sun shining in the sky.

Last night, Steve and I went to the Arctic Oasis here on post for their 'dinner and a movie' presentation. Stephen and Susan Spivey, and James and Rachael Trujillo also went. The movie last night was 'Ray'. What a great movie! It was not only wonderful to learn about Ray Charles' life and career, but the music had feet tapping throughout the room.

When we left the Arctic Oasis, the Northern Lights were out and moving across the sky. As soon as Steve and I got home, I grabbed my tripod and set it up in the yard for some photos. Here's one:

Steve has a four-day weekend, but has two exams to take online (one in Science and one in Math). I'd like to take a drive up the Steese Hwy sometime this weekend - perhaps to Davidson Ditch, if the roads are passable.

The Ice Art Championships are only a 10 days away now. I'm looking forward it and getting photos with my Rebel. Steve and I are also trying to plan our vacation during block leave. We'll only have two weeks, but we hope to do another bear viewing trip out of Homer. He's going away for training for the entire month of May. If the schedule goes as planned and he deploys in late summer, we only have about 4 months left to be together. Sobering... and sad.

Sunday, February 20 - A drive up the Steese Highway

Yesterday morning, Steve and I left the house at 10:30am and took a drive up the Steese Highway. It was overcast and flurrying when we left the house - which was disappointing, but still didn't dampen our spirits for a long drive into the wilderness.

The fog was hanging low over the rolling hills, adding a dreamlike appearance to the landscape. We drove 60 miles - to Davidson Ditch - before turning around and heading back to Fairbanks. It was beautiful in so many areas, and sad in others. The places where last year's wildfire had wreaked havoc are still barren and blackened. The trees are nothing but stripped trunks with small branches sticking out eerily - like something you'd see on a Halloween card.

Several of our favorite fishing ponds are now within view of the road, instead of ringed with thick trees and bushes as they used to be. Steve and I reminisced about the fishing excursions we made to these ponds and how the trees were bright orange and yellow with fall colors in late 2003. And our visits in the spring of last year, when green buds were appearing on the bushes and the moss was growing on the rocks. So sad... I hope the vegetation is able to rejuvenate itself, and comes back quickly.

Moose CowWe saw a cow moose as she foraged in the deep snow along the highway. When we got close to her, she made her way up the embankment. Steve stopped the truck, and we called to her. She turned to look over her shoulder at us and I managed to catch her quirky expression and huge ears with my camera.

When we got to Davidson Ditch, we weren't able to drive any further into the campgrounds, as the snow was too deep. So we stopped, took a few photos, and then headed back to town.

Here are a few more photos taken on our drive:

Many Layers In this photo, you can see the rolling hills and layers of landscape that surround Fairbanks. In the spring and fall, these hills are green and yellow and orange.
Sink or Swim This sign was in a semi-frozen pond we came across. I have no idea how it got there, but I'm sure no one will try trespassing!
Early Thaw Here's the pond that had the sign in it. It was strange to come upon a body of water that's not frozen solid. I'm not sure why this pond looks like it's thawed out in some areas, unless the temperatures in the higher elevations have been that much warmer.
Driving the Steese Highway Another view of the scenery on the way back to Fairbanks. We drove for miles without passing another soul on the highway. Steve and I love long drives like this, with some jazz playing in the background, good conversation, and surrounded by such beauty. It's great therapy for clearing the cobwebs from a winter brain. :)
Wednesday, February 23 - Sunny days and warming up above zero!
The last few days have seen temperatures in the 20's and longer periods of sunlight. This has been rejuvenating me immensely!

Yesterday was my 8-hour day at work and knowing it was sunny out made me antsy to get out in the fresh air! As soon as I left work, I found a place to park by the river and took a walk.

From Under the TreeMerganser DucksDucks were playing in the river, as it wasn't frozen in that portion. I stood for a while watching them swim up and downstream, putting their heads underwater (and their tail feathers up) as they looked for something to eat. I saw mallards (which are common), but also another breed of duck I'd never seen on the river before. It was a wonderful way to end my workday and rejuvenated my spirit.

Thursday, February 24 - The Yukon Quest and a (nearly) Full Moon
This morning, I took the long way into work. The full moon was incredible on the horizon. It hung low in the sky just over the rolling hills that surround Fairbanks. The sky was tinged pink because directly opposite the moon was the sun - making its way over the horizon.

When I got on the shuttle bus and we made our way to my building, we reached high ground. A blinding ray of orange light hit me in the eyes as the views opened up to the range and the rising sun. I swiveled in my seat and glanced behind me to look at the moon - glowing brightly. A guy sitting in front of me mirrored my movements, looking from the sun to the moon and back again. I caught his eye and said, "It's beautiful, isn't it?" He smiled at me and said, "Where else can you see the moon in one direction, and the sun in the other? This is great!" I fully agreed.

As we passed a parking lot, I saw a photographer with his tripod set up on a tall snowbank, shooting the moon before it disappeared behind the hill. I wished I had mine.

On base, the ice fog was dense in places. I think the fog is beautiful, even though it cuts down on visibility. This morning, it hung about 10 feet above the ground, allowing me to see the cars around me, but making the trees and buildings look like they had been lopped off. The neatest effect was the umbrella of light that shot from the fog, downward toward the road. The streetlight tops were invisible, so it looked like golden blobs of light just hovering in the air. I've never seen anything like it. I wish I didn't have to work today; I would have much enjoyed capturing all these incredible sights with my camera.

Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for the bus, I watched twenty or thirty ravens circling above the university power plant. They dipped in and out of the warm air that came from the smokestacks. They seemed to play with each other - a game of tag of sorts - chasing after each other, flying in unison, diving down to the steam to disappear from sight. This morning, I saw the same behavior with smaller birds.

What a gift eyesight is! And what a shame that not everyone uses it to its fullest extent. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. My eyes are also the window to my heart. I try to share what I see with my photography, but I can't photograph my emotions. Oh, how I wish I could. When I feel such overwhelming joy, I want to share it with everyone. I found this quote and it sums up my feelings perfectly:

For me, the creation of a photograph is experienced as a heightened emotional response, most akin to poetry and music, each image the culmination of a compelling impulse I cannot deny. Whether working with a human figure or a still life, I am deeply aware of my spiritual connection with it. In my life, as in my work, I am motivated by a great yearning for balance and harmony beyond the realm of human experience, reaching for the essence of oneness with the Universe. Ruth Bernhard

When I left work today, I made a beeline for the downtown area. The winner of the Yukon Quest was due to arrive sometime today and I hoped to get some photos. Although I missed the winner (and the second and third place arrivals), I did get there in time to see David Dalton from Kasilof cross the line in fourth place.

David Dalton Yukon Quest David Dalton Yukon Quest David Dalton Yukon Quest Waning Gibbous Feb 24, 2005
Saturday, February 26 - A preview of the Ice Art Championships

Yesterday morning, I got myself dressed and headed out to the grounds of the Ice Art Championships. I knew there'd be sculptors busy at work on the magnificent creations, and I wanted to wander the grounds and get some photos, like I did last year. I had the opportunity to talk to a few of the artists as well as some organizers. I can't wait until all the sculptures are complete and it's open to the public. It's such an amazing event with so much creativity!

I took photos of some of the sculptures that are already up. There will be a lot more being created over the next week or so. I'll be purchasing a season pass, so I can visit the park several times (to include at night, when they are lit up with colored lights)

Click on the thumbnail photos to see them enlarged
Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005
Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005
Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005
Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005 Ice Park 2005
These photos were taken by the river. The hoarfrost was amazing!
Frost on the Tree Limbs Foggy Chena River Frosty Fence
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