Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Swan Song

I spotted these guys walking across the ice, looking for a bit of water for a dunk. By the time I got my camera, they were in the water, happily bobbing their heads for snacks on the bottom. They are in such a tiny pond, surrounded on all sides by ice.
Sighting this pair is a sure sign of spring, and I LOVE IT! I hope we have a pair in our lake again this summer.

I'm pretty sure I heard a swan song over my head last night as a couple flew by.

My favorite kind of spring music. :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Snowshoes, Super Cubs, & Shoveling!

I'm sorry, my dear followers, that I have been such a "bump on a blog" lately. You see, a short get-away turned into quite a crazy adventure, and although I have been home for a few days now, I finally have the time and emotional fortitude to write about it.

My Mom and I were planning a few nights away at our fly-in cabin. We took books to read, knitting (Mom), scrapbooking/stamping stuff, (me) and skis (both!). We were super excited to just get away together, and spend some time relaxing.

our cabin:

And that's just what we did, at first. The flight there was gorgeous, my sweet hubby flew us in our Cessna 180, and we were amazed at the perfect clear weather. Spring had obviously arrived and the sun shone brightly on the nary-a-cloud-near-them mountains, as we landed at the cabin. I was so pleased that there was so little snow there, and we easily walked up the path to the cabin, stowed our stuff, and started a fire in the little woodstove.

As Michael was getting ready to take off, he kissed me goodbye and said he would be back in a few days. He remarked that we were getting low on wood, so we should cut a few dead trees down the next day. "Okay, goodbye! Love you!" I said, as he climbed in the plane. Mom and I watched the plane take off, and did happy high-fives to each other as we anticipated our retreat from the outside world.
a happy little skier..

The next morning we got up early, had some killer coffee (she brought real creamers!), and got our skis on to head out for wood. I got the bow saw, a hatchet, and then pulled along two toboggans behind. We spent the morning chopping down small trees, hacking up the kindling, and skiing back to the cabin with the wood in the sleds. It was hard work, but we could see clouds starting to shimmy down the mountains, so we figured we should get it done.

By mid-day the snow started to fall. It was so beautiful, but I could not help but notice how quickly the sun disappeared, the birds were strangely quiet, and the sky grew darker and darker. We could not even see the end of the lake that the cabin sits on.

the path to the outhouse:

Mom was a happy camper!

the path to the lake:

sledding in "the tunnel" as we called it:

pine trees covered with heavy snow:

At nightfall I tried to light our Coleman lantern, but after many attempts, decided to just light candles. We had a wonderful night, playing Scattergories, laughing until our sides hurt, and having wine and smoked oysters. It was so relaxing. The snow kept falling...harder and harder. Outside the cabin looking in, it was like a postcard..candles flickering and snow beginning to stick on the window. We popped Jiffy Pop on the propane stove, and played cards (Nine Holes of Golf). We slept very well after all our wood-gathering, and the cabin was cozy!

In the morning, I was shocked when I woke up and looked outside. We had gotten over a foot of new snow!! It was like the cabin was wrapped in a white shawl, that was pulled up around its shoulders. We shoveled and shoveled, trying to keep the path clear to the lake, and to the outhouse. But the snow built up on the cabin roof and then SLID down into our path, making it necessary to start the process all over again. We could not see anything but snow. I used the cell phone to check in with Michael, and tell him what the weather was doing. He said yes, a major storm had set in, and where our cabin was would be hit the hardest in the state. Wow. Not welcome news, but if there is anything I have learned from being the wife of a pilot, its to expect the unexpected, and be ready for anything.

The next day, more snow. Same story, but more, more, MORE. And more. We had a nice day, snug in the cabin, visiting and watching the snow pile up. I scrapbooked a bit, and Mom knitted. She had thank-you cards to write, so I made homemade cards for her to send. We knew we would not get picked up anytime soon, so we determined to figure out how much food we had, and I wrote it all down on a list. We started planning small meals, filling up on broth, and rationing a few things. Of course we had been out of water for awhile, but melting snow on the barrel stove gave us water for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes. There was certainly plenty of that!
a card I made:

Another day, and still no stopping the white stuff. And we were out of wood. By now it was impossible to go anywhere that was not shoveled out, so cutting wood was out of the question. It was time to make a new plan. I told Mom we would have to travel to a cabin near us, where there was wood stored but nobody there. We would just have to "borrow" and replace the wood later.
My snowshoes..sure came in handy!

I took down the snowshoes that hang on the wall by the loft in the cabin, and strapped them on. I could not figure out the bindings, they were much too big for me, so I wrapped them around and around and tied them on. Then I set out to stomp out a trail toward the other cabin.

Hours and hours later, I gave up and came in for a lunch of a moose-dog (hot dog made of moose meat) and some stale Cup O Noodle. I was exhausted, and had only gotten half way there. Step. Stomp. Shift. Pack down. Shake snowshoes. Stomp. Repeat. It was a HUGE job. To say the least. I didn't want to give up, but the weather had only worsened and I could not see anything..it was a total white-out. So we decided to wait for the weather to clear, but after a bit we knew it was no use, so we decided to take our skis and sleds and do what we could. I told Mom I thought I was a "snack on snowshoes" out there. Did I forget to mention all the wolf tracks? They made me nervous. Wolves hanging around a dwelling usually meant they were pretty darn hungry. :(

Well we headed out on skis and went along the deep tunnel, er, trail..that I had stomped out, until we ran out of that and I began to break trail on skis. The snow was up to our waists, and silly me..I had left my snowpants at home, thinking I would not need them at the cabin. In my defense, I had green grass on my lawn when I left, and I was not in survival mode. Dumb. So, we were pretty cold, wet, and exhausted when we finally reached the other cabin, and the extra wood. There was so much wood! We were thrilled, but quickly realized we could only carry a little on each sled if we were not to dump it while pulling it behind us on skis.

Oh how we rejoiced when we got back to our cabin!!!!!! We felt so victorious, although soaked and weak, for sure. I stoked up our puny little fire, and we had the luxury of putting in a few big dry pieces. The snow was only falling harder, so we went out to measure how much snow we had gotten. Nearly 4 ft of now snow since we had arrived!!! YeeeeIKEs. That's a lot of snow.

I got the lantern started that night, and we were able to see to play cards so much better. We found some old (and I mean old) coffee lacquer, and spiked our hot cocoas in celebration of our new wood. Mom laughed and laughed when I said "Man, being a criminal is hard work!". We were some seriously happy thieves. :) There was not much food, and we ate little.

The next day was SUNNY! And clear! And beautiful! It was going to be a perfect day to go home. I called Michael on my now-nearly-dead cell phone, and he confirmed that he had checked the weather, and it was a go. He would arrive about 11:30 am, and we needed to be ready. So, we cleaned and packed the cabin, washed the dishes, shoveled the path once again, put on the bear-protection boards, swept up, cleaned up crumbs to keep the mice away, and all the preparation to leave the little cabin alone. We had really had a wonderful, if not relaxing, time and dearly loved our time together, but were ready to head on home. I missed my girls a LOT, and Mom had her radio show to host too.

We saw Michael flying over us around noon, and he buzzed us cheerfully, flying low and waving his wings. We waved and stood on the cabin porch to watch him land. He started landing at the far end of the lake, still on step and zooming along. I remember hoping that he would pull up close to our path, since the snow was way too deep to get our stuff carried to the plane if he landed further out. As he got closer and slowed down the Super Cub (he could not bring the Cessna, the snow was far too deep) suddenly our mouths dropped open in dismay! The plane sank up to its belly! The prop was spinning into the snow, and Michael quickly cut the power so it would not snap off. Oh boy. I could not believe my eyes. I knew the first words he would say as he climbed out, and I was right. "Girls, we got BIG trouble." he said gravely. His long frame sunk deep into the lake snow as he struggled to get to the path.
The plane: (I did not get a picture of it while buried, it was not a good time to take pics!)

Well, he came up to the cabin and we waited for instructions on what to do next. Everything had changed so quickly, and now we needed to work as a team and do whatever it took to dig our way out and make it home again. He went and grabbed his snowshoes off struts of the plane, and I strapped mine on again. He told us we needed to make a 600 ft long runway, down the middle of the lake, about the width of the plane. In addition, we needed to make a ramp to get the plane from where it now lay like a floppy wounded white goose, to the runway. We would also need a mock windsock so we could see where the wind direction was, and how hard it was blowing. So Mom got her shovel and started to dig out the plane. She did a great job too, but no matter how hard we worked, it was just not possible to make it happen before dark. Michael and I snowshoed up and down, up and down, up and down, each time widening it a bit and packing down our previous tracks. Oh how we wished our snowmachines still were working, but the bears had eaten them beyond repair, over the years, and we had not replaced them. My poor tough husband had to do the worst part. He had to break trail, and the only possible way to do it was to attach bungee cords to each snowshoe, and with EACH step, do the backbreaking job of pulling each shoe up and out of the deep deep trough. With each step, there was about 30 lbs of sticky snow to pull back up. It was rather a nightmare, to be honest. And I don't know many men who could do it for all the hours he did. I followed behind, stomping down the steep ridges he left, and widening, packing, falling (at times). About half way through the day, the snow began again. Hard and in pellets. Angry. It made things a bit tougher.

Finally, just before dark we admitted that we just could not leave. There was no way.

During this time, my dad had taken his car and driven the five hours to the spot where Michael was to fly Mom out. The Super Cub is just a two-seater, so he was planning to ferry Mom to Talkeetna, and then come back and get me. But that was not happening yet, so we let Dad know and he drove back to Anchorage to get a hotel and await tomorrow's news.

Now our Mother/Daughter retreat had become a Mother/Daughter/Son-in-Law/Husband retreat!! We thought that was pretty fun, and we welcomed him aboard. He was a good sport, and put up with our girly giggling, although he would not let us give him a pedicure no matter how much we told him it was part of the retreat. Overall, we were just exhausted. And with very little food. And no real plan, because the weather was giving us a slap down no matter what. The wind kept changing direction, making it necessary to keep widening the runway, and trying to second-guess where we would be taking off. It felt good to hit the pillow, and let the chips fall. Overnight the weather would have its way, and we would have some more answers (and probably more questions) in the morning.
Our hard-earned runway:

Morning had still more snow. We could not see the end of the lake. We called Dad and told him it was no good. A no go. No way. The wind raged, and we could not see a single mountain or foothill in the distance.

All day we just tried to keep shoveled out. Ate a little food. Filled up on broth. Found some stale coffee. Read the back of the last Bisquick box to see what we could pull together for dinner. We had three moose dogs left. Nothing else.Stayed packed for a quick take-off, if possible. Widened the runway. Cleaned the airplane skis and wrapped them in visquine so they would be clean and slick. Strapped our skis to the struts. Used more wood. Melted more snow. Tried to melt enough to stay hydrated with the extra work we needed to do. I decided to melt enough to wash my hair! No shower for too many days makes me crazy. I can do anything, but give me a bad hair day too many days in a row and I might be a bit hard to live with... So, I melted snow, and Mom washed my hair for me over a dishpan. It was the highlight of my day.

Suddenly, around 5 pm Michael called my dad, and asked him to go to a new runway, in the town of Willow, and see if there was a chance of landing there. It was a new mission for poor dad, who had been hanging around, driving back and forth, and waiting for days. When we heard back from him, he said the runway was good, but there was light snow and poor visibility. We waited a bit, and then Michael suddenly sat up and said "Lets go, Mom. We are going". I was slightly surprised, then worried. After thinking it could not be done, now it seemed risky. Still, I trust my seasoned pilot husband to know what he's doing, and I knew he was taking everything into consideration. Even me, who would be staying alone until he returned. When he kissed me goodbye I said "Come back for me" and he said "No matter what". I grabbed his coat and said "No, not no matter what! Don't take chances. I can survive here until its safe." And he smiled, gave me a final hug, and was off down the trail to the plane. Mom followed, with her gear in the sled and ready to go.

I stood and watched while they took the plastic off the skis, then helped pull the tarps off. We had no wing covers, so had been using tent flys, sleeping bags, and anything else we could find to keep the wings from icing over while the plane sat snug in its wide hole on the lake. I marveled at how deep the hole, where the plane had come to rest. It seemed amazing we had been able to dig it out at all.

Michael told me that if the wind changed, or he misjudged the runway length, or any number of things, they would dive off the end of the runway, and be really stuck..maybe snap a wing off. "If that happens, strap on your snowshoes and come out" he said. I sucked in my breath at the thought! He said "I bet you would cry!?" And I said "every step!".

Mom crawled in the Cub. Michael took the small engine heater out, then climbed in. He closed the door and they put on their headsets. I was soooo nervous. I didn't want to be left overnight, but knew I could manage. Maybe even another week..I could be there. I was afraid they could not take off. I shivered and watched them move along, slowly. The first turn on the ramp (I had worked and worked on that turn) went smoothly..so far so good. Then they were on the runway and gaining speed. I had my camera out, ready to record a success, but my heart was racing. They went faster and faster and I prayed as I watched for the skis to leave the ground. YES! They were off, and enough time to clear the trees at the far end of the lake. They quickly disappeared.

This is a long story, so if you have made it this far I will wrap it up and say we made it. I called and found they had gotten there safely, after flying through a snowstorm at only 500 ft at times, and Mom told me the glad news that he was on his way back! To get me! To go home! The weather had changed and suddenly the way home was clear and safe for both of us.

I heard the plane about an hour and a half later, and as Michael circled the cabin he could see I had gotten the news, for my stuff was on the porch and the cabin was nearly ready.

My skis strapped to the struts in flight:

Two hours later, around 10:30 at night and just at dark, we landed back at home.
Sunset flight:

And I can tell you that was the most enjoyable shower ever! First I raided the cupboards and made a nice snack, then I hit the hot hot shower, and finally went to bed without worry. A very nice homecoming indeed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bunnies, Eggs, & Puppets, Oh My!

Easter is always an especially fun time for Alaskans, as it marks the end of a dark dark winter and beckons us into a brighter time of year. Ah, the spring season! And what a wonderful segue for me to teach and discuss with my children about the death of Christ on the cross, the dark skies and heavy grief among his friends and followers, and then the beautiful bright Resurrection from the grave. We love to celebrate with traditional bright happy-colored eggs, hidden gifts, and get-togethers, but I don't ever want my children to forget the events that took place to give us the grace, forgiveness, and promise of eternity that we have received.

We have a tradition of watching a claymation movie called "The Miracle Maker" every Easter Eve, after the eggs have been dipped and decorated. Its wonderfully done, very detailed in showing the key characters involved, and quotes exact scriptures. I love the family discussion that follows, and the opportunity to answer our children's questions that arise.

We colored four dozen eggs, and they were all hidden by the 6'2" hubby bunny to be found on Easter morning. Our girls are so good at finding them, so he hid them in very tough spots this year. We are still finding them! The girls also got "baskets" to find, which this year were pastel-colored baseball caps full of goodies. I always find practical things, instead of actual baskets, and its a fun challenge for me each year. I have done riding helmets, bike helmets, bike baskets, sand buckets, party hats, and etc through the years.

We had Easter dinner with the whole family at my folks' house, with the annual outside egg hunt, huge meal, and inside hidden gifts for each grandchild. And of course, the traditional puppet show. I am not sure when the puppet show started, but it was at least 15 years ago. I remember we got puppets for Easter when I was a little girl, one year. I got a rabbit and my brothers got ducks and giraffes. Those original puppets are still used, and are in pretty good shape!

An egg hidden in the snow. The eggs had money in them! I was tempted myself. LOL.

A puppeteer with "Claude" peeks from behind the couch:

The puppet show is a behind-the-couch affair, and each year it is acted out by different cousins. We all love it. My mother writes the script, and she has a quirky sense of humor...so we never know what will happen next, or what those crazy puppets will say.

This year the puppet play was about "Claude The Dog" who was a very naughty dog. He got into all kinds of mischief, like chasing the neighbor's chickens, tearing up the trash bags, making all kinds of messes, and eventually landing himself in the pound. His owner never gives up on him, though, and pays the price to get him out of the pound and save his life. My little neices and nephews did a great job, and of course the story illustrates the redemption story.

Puppets take a bow!

Well, there is still snow everywhere, but I am in a blissful state because we have NEW GREEN GRASS peeking up in some spots. Its a start! And I love to look for new signs of spring every day.

We got our bunnies, Mossy Meadow and Tippy, out in their lawn cage for the first time. That is definitely a sign of spring! They hopped all over and then flopped over happily to soak up the sun.

Another sign is that our driveway is not icy at all anymore, and we can get our horses out and ride. Its time to get them in shape for the summer riding season, and horse camps. Chena and I worked with our new horse, Duvall, and then she rode him a bit yesterday. He is such a good boy, and we are crazy about him...and excited for all we get to do with him this summer!!

Summer is still a good distance away, but if "spring comes on little cat feet" (what poet wrote that? Somebody famous, I know.) then summer comes on the pounding of hoofbeats, and I will soon hear them everyday. Hooray!