Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reflections from an off-hours commute

At first the idea of commuting from the Knik River Valley to a night job in Anchorage seemed daunting and the first few trips all but interminable. But, over time the world along the highway began to unfold and that drive has now become one of the more enjoyable parts to any day.

Particularly at this time of year with light in both directions, almost every day presents some interesting aspect of nature, highlighting the entire trip. Some mornings it might only be the magpies patrolling the shoulders in their relentless foraging for the previous night's inevitable road kill. On another, it was the mother moose trotting along the bike path next to the Fort Richardson fence leading two calves that couldn't have been more than a few days old. That one was even more intriguing, given the two bicyclists passed heading out of town around a curve from the oncoming moose. No easy stopping point presented itself to afford a view of the impending drama so it unfolded without spectators. Nothing showed up in the next day's news so they must have passed without injury to anyone involved.

For a while this spring Fred the Canada goose greeted drivers on the off ramp to the Old Glenn Highway every morning. They mate for life and maybe his mate had been hit by a car and he was waiting there for her return. Then he disappeared for a few days raising concerns he had met the same fate. Imagine the pleasant surprise when one day he was back, only this time with another adult and a bunch of little ones scurrying around their legs.

Every spring, in late May a bloom of porcupines appears along the Old Glenn, like a hatch of mosquitoes after a rain. Porcupines are slow and apparently dumb. believing their quills will protect them even from oncoming cars, They lumber across the highway or stand on the side watching. Occasionally those magpies find one that didn't make it all the way across the blacktop.

A muskeg pond, maybe a slack slough off the Knik River, entertains swans in the spring and fall, One pair sticks around but disappears deeper into the maze of ponds and sloughs, perhaps to nest and raise a young one or two over the summer. Last fall nine of them waited on the pond for several days anticipating the call to head south.

An eagle often peruses the offerings of the Knik River as it flows past his perch in a dead cottonwood just west of the bridge and terns, nature's perfect fliers, hover over iris-bordered ponds and puddles in the flats north of Eklutna.

One evening the Chugach mountains turned an incredibly dark shade of purple, almost black, alpenglow under a heavily overcast sky. On another night a full moon rose over those same mountains directly above the lighted cross on a church near Peters Creek, creating stirrings from a long suppressed spiritual training.

There is always hope for the exotic, too. No bear has poked its nose out of the roadside brush so far, but one dusky evening, a lynx stood on the shoulder warily watching as cars pass.

Sunday nights Anchorage returns from wherever people have been playing out there in Alaska, sporting their toys of choice: the Subarus with their skis or kayaks and bicycles; pickups towing trailers with snowmachines or four-wheelers and motorcycles, or the occasional boat. Now and then a trailer passes with a machine of some sort and a packed sled or trailer telling you this is someone who does more than simply ride around, but packs in to a remote haven somewhere. About the funniest was the night dawdling in the center lane when two pickups passed. The one on the right towed a trailer with a snowmachine on it. Almost simultaneously one passed on the left with a wave runner on his trailer. Now, where else in the world are you going to see that juxtaposition?

On the last stretch to the house, thick alders encroach into the roadway necessitating a slower speed. The alders present no problem, but the songbirds that nest in them do. They fly blindly out into the roadway without regard for oncoming traffic. It gets even worse when the little ones who fear nothing begin to careen through the brush and across the road. Why can't they stay on one side of the road? Of course the only reasoning critter on the planet has never stayed on one side of the road either.

And then, there is the solitary man. He often stands just inside the tree line in one of the heavily wooded areas along the route, simply watching traffic, or hikes the trail behind the guard rail along the side of the highway. One day he hustled across in front of the car, jumping the guard rail to the safety of the trail, much more nimble than any of those porcupines. Best guess is he lives in those woods. Is he homeless? He probably doesn't think so, simply living his version of the compromise many of us have made between societal demands and desire for the solitude of wilderness.

The drive certainly fails to satisfy that desire, but it does come a whole lot closer than righteously could have been expected. And the fact that the daily journey at least in part satisfies the desire, makes living with the compromise just a little more comfortable.
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Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve