Sunday, June 6, 2010

Qiviut, Bluebells and Swallowtails - Alaska May 30, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Slept in until about 11am – amazing! I can’t remember the last time I slept in so late. Well, I can’t remember that last time I stayed up until 2am fishing either! LOL!!

You know, being married to a birder isn’t bad really. I was single for 12 years before I met Dave, so I had plenty of time to put together a list of the qualities in a man that I desired. I didn’t really have an order to the list, but a list just the same. A good sense of humor, intelligence, and a good cook were all on the list. You see, I’m a terrible cook. Well, terrible because I get such anxiety when I have to cook that I get a panic attack and can’t do it. I can bake, but making an entire meal is agony for me! Weird, I know. Years of therapy, and we still don’t understand it. I think its performance anxiety. Plus, I usually burn the food and/or myself - which explains why I love the burnt cookies in the batch and my bacon really crisp! LOL!

So, this morning, my birder husband got up and made pork chops with sautéed onions and green peppers (left over from shish kabobs with Carol) and eggs for breakfast. Best breakfast I’ve ever had! I so married the right man. I will happily do dishes if he will keep on cooking. Unfortunately, my birder also likes meals that are heavy on the meats and gravies, which is why I gained 20 lbs the first year of our marriage. We call it “The Russell Effect”. Everyone who stays with us for an extended period of time gains weight. Poor Rafael! His family is already making fun of him for being fat and he hasn’t even seen them in person yet! They’ve just seen him on SKYPE!

After breakfast, I wanted to show Dave Smith Lake. I found it last week when I went for a bike ride on Michelle’s way-cool mountain bike! That bike is great! It weighs half what my hybrid weighs and I’d never gone trail riding, but now I’m hooked! What a freekin’ blast! As we made our way to Smith Lake, we checked out the flora and fauna. Prickly Rose is in full bloom right now and it is every where!

The flowers are generally a soft pink color, but every once in a while you will find a deep pink flower.

I found Bluebells, and asked a local about them.  She replied that they are "weeds".  Weeds?  How can anyone think of Bluebells as weeds? 

While we were walking along, Dave pointed out these funky looking leaves.  They look like they have an electronic circuit board drawn on them.  It is really the tunnels of the larvae of the Aspen Leaf-miner.  The larvae tunnell between the two outer layers of aspen leaves.  The flat larvae pupate at the end of the tunnell and cause extensive damage to the photosynthetic surface of the leaves causing considerable plant stress.  They have really become a problem in the past couple of years.

While we were driving up to Chena Hot Springs yesterday, we were amazed at how many Yellow Swallowtails we hit with our car.  Apparently, this year saw a really big emergence of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.  I noticed them at Smith Lake when I rode my bike here last week and Dave was able to get this beautiful photo today.

Another butterfly that is flying around is the Common Alpine.  A beautiful, deep brown butterfly with these way-cool dark spots on orange splotches.

We walked over to Smith Lake checking out the Gray Jays, Common Redpolls and Ravens along the way. 

At the lake, we saw Shovellers, Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Bonaparte's Gull, and a Solitary Sandpiper.

We saw a Cloudberry flower with a crab spider hanging out in it.  It creeped me out - Dave thought it was cool.

After hanging out at Smith Lake we walked up the trail to the Large Animal Research Station. 

Locals refer to the place by the acronym LARS or as the “muskox farm” but the official title is the Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station. LARS is managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to provide a unique facility for research and education that focuses on ungulates from the subarctic and arctic.

I went to the yarn store in Fairbanks last week to check out their Muskox wool – aka Qiviut. Qiviut (pronounced kiv-ee-ut) is the Inuit word for the extremely fine underwool of the muskox, prized for its softness and warmth. Qiviut is considered the warmest natural fiber known to man. Each year, muskoxen grow a dense layer of qiviut over their entire body, protected from wind and precipitation by an outer coat of dark brown guard hair. Their winter coats are unparalleled in insulative value, and keep the animals warm and comfortable when the temperature drops below –50 degrees F.

LARS sells Qiviut (this is their photo) at 1/3 less than the yard store in town. I’m definitely going to save my money and get some before we leave. Since the qiviut is so warm, the natives knit it using a lace pattern. There are beautiful vests on display in the gift shop as well as neck warmers, the locals call “smoke rings”. Again, the smoke rings are knit in a lace pattern so they are not too warm.

We took the guided tour of the facility and got back home around 4pm. It was a good 5 mile walk.

Michelle had invited us over for dinner at 6pm, so we quickly showered and ran to town to get a bottle of wine. Amazingly, California wines are dirt cheap here! We got a Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay and a Rodney Strong Cabernet. Michelle lives is a beautiful tri-level in the woods. Her home is decorated with local folk art, much of which is from the local Farmer’s Market. I recognized a vase that was made by the same potter who made the Raven vase I got for Dave.

We met Michelle’s best friend, Bonnie and her husband Bill (he’s an artist) and Michelle has a 6ft tall landscape he painted on her wall. She told us about losing her home to a fire, and Bill taking her to his studio and saying, “Pick anything, and it’s yours”. She said she wandered around the studio, just sick with grief and in shock over the fire and stood in front of the landscape portrait with its massive mountain peaks and sheer cliffs and thought, "I’ve got an uphill climb to get my life back together – this painting represents my life". It is absolutely spectacular. We had a lovely dinner of Walleye, salad and ended with homemade rhubarb strawberry pie. After dessert, she also served us Chrysanthemum tea from China. It was nice and mild.

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