Seasons of the Fall

A quick update on the baby robins (yes, I know it’s been a long time since then).  I missed getting photos for two days, and by day three the fledglings had left the nest.  Mom saw them sleeping in the morning, but by afternoon they had flown the coop so to speak.  I’d swear I could hear them chirping in the willows.  So I guess next year we’ll see if a robin tries to nest in the same place, right next to the arctic entry door.

Now that we’re into September the skies are dark enough for the borealis to be seen, and September 3 did not disappoint.  Here are few of the many photos I took that night.  The solar winds were moving very fast, which is why some of the pictures look “fuzzy” – the camera just can’t keep up.  And that’s why seeing them in person is a whole different experience.  Have a wireless remote for the camera shutter is really great –  I can just point the camera where I want it, and then watch the show while I click the button.  Until I need to adjust the camera to a new direction.

So enjoy.   It’s borealis season.

Looking west over the garage roof

Borealis glow looking west over the garage roof

Borealis glow looking west over the garage roof

And the glow gets stronger…

Stronger borealis in the west over the garage roof

Stronger borealis in the west over the garage roof

And check out what’s happening in the east:

Borealis in the east, just "starting"

Borealis in the east, just “starting”

East is getting hotter…

Borealis in the east, heating up

Borealis in the east, heating up

Corona overhead

Coronas often take the shape of birds or wings

Coronas often take the shape of birds or wings

Looking north over the house

The borealis rising in the north over the roofline of the house

The borealis rising in the north over the roofline of the house

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Rainy days and Robins

It’s being another rainy summer, thanks to El Nino.  With just enough hot weather to make the radishes bolt!  As with last year, the tomatoes in the greenhouse don’t mind a bit; the plants are getting really big, and tomatoes the size of golf balls are on a number of them.  The lemon and slicing cucumbers are covered with blossoms, and the lemon cucumbers are starting to fill in nicely.  The sweet pepper plants have little tiny peppers forming, too!

tomatoes with cucumber leaves showing too

tomatoes with cucumber leaves showing too

We’ve already eaten several zuchinnis, the kohlrabi are starting to fatten up, the spinach is pretty much done for (yummy while it lasted) and the beets look to be doing well – I’ve been picking some of the greens and steaming them for lunches.  The flowers are all doing fantastic; I planted some schizanthus this year – aka “poor man’s orchid” – and they are blooming like crazy.

really pretty flowers

Poor Man’s Orchid – Schizanthus

The most fun thing so far this year is the robin that built a nest right outside Mom’s arctic entry door.  It flies off every time we go on the porch or open the door, but it doesn’t go far.  She laid two eggs in June,

Robin's eggs in the nest

Robin’s eggs in the nest

both hatched (probably on July 10; the picture is from July 11),

Baby birds, 2 days old

Baby birds, 2 days old

and I’ve been taking pictures almost every day.  Day 3, July 11:

Baby birds, three days old

Baby birds, three days old

They grow SO FAST!  The third egg is one I found and put in the nest; it didn’t hatch but it works great to show scale.  By day 6, July 14, they would wake up and holler for food anytime they heard a noise.  And they “bounce” up so it’s hard to get a picture that isn’t blurry!

Baby birds, day 6 - mouth open wide!

Baby birds, day 6 – mouth open wide!

By day 7 they were starting to grow wing feathers.  By day 9 they are starting to look like birds, feathering in nicely.  And their eyes are open!

baby birds day 9 - feathered

baby birds day 9 – feathered

On day 11, they look really cute – still some “hair feathers” sticking up on their heads like little ears.  And they sit still more often, if they’re full.

Baby birds, day 11 - very cute in a Three Stooges kind of way

Baby birds, day 11 – very cute in a Three Stooges kind of way

The mom seems to be feeding them well.  I can’t actually tell if it’s just one parent or two; robins all look alike to me.  LOL!  The last picture was from the 19th; I didn’t have a chance to take one yesterday.  Hopefully the light will be good enough today to take more photos.  I’m really enjoying watching them grow.

 

 

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Spring rains, sod and flowers

Oh look – Birch Flowers!

Birch flowers!   Or maybe roses.  It's hard to tell.

Birch flowers! Or maybe roses. It’s hard to tell.

It’s still spring, meaning rain is not uncommon.  Our friend Rikki is digging out part of his lawn, and gave us the sod so we’re laying it into the area behind the office. We loaded the sod up on Saturday afternoon, and laid it in on Sunday  in the rain – a damp job, but not too bad.  It was a “warm rain”.  LOL!  This will actually bring the lawn up almost to the level of the sidewalk, which will be nice.

Half of the sod is still on the trailer

Looking across the trailer – about half the sod is laid out so far

 

about half the sod is laid down.

about half the sod is laid down.

It rained hard enough (and hailed!) that we didn’t have to water in the sod – Mother Nature did it for us, and the rain and cloudy weather continued thru Wednesday which was very good for the grass!   Might have to water it tomorrow though; today was pretty warm and tomorrow is supposed to be upper 60’s as well.  After the rain clouds cleared late on Sunday evening, it was cool enough that all that moisture in the air turned into fog.  We could see it rolling up the Goldstream Valley

Fog in the evening, after the rain clouds cleared out

Fog in the evening, after the rain clouds cleared out

And remember, it’s Alaska, so in parting I have to add:

There's GOLD in them thar hills!  Courtesy of the sunset; these hills are in the east.

There’s GOLD in them thar hills! Courtesy of the sunset; these hills are in the east.

 

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Stepping back to March

It was a busy March for me, so I didn’t get a chance to update the blog.   And March, containing the Spring Equinox, usually has some fantastic borealis displays.  I was going through my photos (okay, meaning I finally downloaded them from the camera) and found that this year was no exception.  Here are a few of the larger displays.

Big

multi-band borealis

multi-band borealis

Bigger

broad borealis

broad borealis

Biggest.

colorful borealis

colorful borealis

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Signs of Spring in Alaska

Spring has come early this year, courtesy of El Nino.  The snow is mostly gone from the yard, although as usual the plow piles linger as do a few patches shaded by the buildings.  The other thing that lingers is twilight – it’s still light out at 10:30 pm ADT.

Signs of spring abound.  The birds have returned to Creamer’s Field.

Geese, ducks and swans at Creamer's Field

Geese, ducks and swans at Creamer’s Field

Gardeners (like me!) have plants sprouting indoors.

Cucumber seedling

Cucumber seedling

And the White birch (aka paper bark birch) trees are full of sap – ready for tapping and boiling down to syrup.  This is a new thing for us this year.  I thought I’d tap one or two trees and see what it was like.  Then Rich got kind of excited, so we’ve tapped FIVE trees, three of which are producing two gallons of sap per day.  Another is producing about a gallon, and the fifth tree is barely producing a half gallon.  For those who have been keeping track, that’s just over seven gallons of sap per DAY, which then needs to be gently boiled down not to the syrup stage but to about 25% of its original volume.  That gets stored in the refrigerator until we have enough of it to reduce it the rest of the way to syrup.  It takes 100 gallons of birch sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

Collecting sap - every morning this 1 gallon bag is very full.

Collecting sap – every morning this 1 gallon bag is very full.

Now you can only store the sap (refrigerated) for about 6 days before it goes bad.  You have to reduce the sap outdoors unless you want to turn your house into a moldy sauna.  Up until today, we were processing about 4 gallons per day of sap – 2 gallons at a time in a 3 gallon pot.  Since 7 – 4 = 3, we have to up our game, so another burner has been put to use.    Originally we were using the burner from the turkey deep fryer and doing 2 gallons at a time in a 3 gallon pot; today we are doing 3 gallons in the 3 gallon pot and added a 1.5 gallon pot on the burner on our grill.  Fortunately you can put the burners on simmer and then ignore the pots for an hour or so at the beginning.  They just need an occasional stir.

Two gallons of sap, just starting to warm up

Two gallons of sap, just starting to warm up

As the sap reduces in volume, you have to check and stir more often – and maybe skim a little foam off.  When the sap turns honey colored and is just a few inches deep, it’s ready to cool and put in a container for storage in the refrigerator.  We could freeze it too, if we wanted to – but my freezer containers are still in the Connex.  It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks at this stage of processing, so we’re combining the reduction batches to turn into syrup later.

25% reduction - from 2 gallons to 1/2 gallon

25% reduction – from 2 gallons to 1/2 gallon

The “sap season” only lasts until the trees start showing their leaves.  At that time, the sap turns cloudy and loses its sugar content, so we’ll pull the taps and plug the holes.  Not sure when exactly when that will be.  Of course, we always have the option of pulling and plugging at any time!   And if we get overwhelmed with the volume, that’s what we’ll do.   For now we’re having fun, so we’ll just keep “steaming” away at it.

What’s YOUR spring story?  Hope it’s tasty and enjoyable!

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New Years Eve in North Pole

New Years Eve was spent at Christmas in Ice, where we are open for free from 10:00 pm to 11:45 pm.  Then we lock the doors so the volunteers can enjoy the countdown, the Snowflake Drop and the fireworks show.  And tonight, we had the “other” kind of fireworks – a borealis display to usher in the new year.

I took a few photos of sculptures with the borealis behind them.  Here is our first place multi-block by Mr An:

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Second place multi-block rocketing into the borealis-filled sky:

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Third place multi-block travels along under the auroras.

Going Home

Single block had some nice lights in the western sky.

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Christmas in Ice Multi-block

The multi-block photos are here.   The competition ended on Wednesday Dec 9th.  I don’t know the official names of the sculptures; we have a Santa…

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Here he is in color:

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A Chinese Christmas

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(note Santa face at the lower right)

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The colored version:

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Santa in a rocket ship!

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Santa in a colored rocket:

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We’ll find out who placed where in the competition on Saturday the 12th at 6:00 pm at the ice park (in North Pole, next door to Santa Claus House).

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