Posts Tagged ‘white nights’

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

June 28, 2011

Summer seems to be rushing past.  Though it’s still June for a few more days, we’ve turned past the solstice and the weather has also turned from the hot dry days we had in May and early June to the gray rainy days we typically get in August.  In fact, all spring and summer, we’ve seemed to be at least a month ahead of our typical weather: May seemed like June, June like July, and now late June like August.  If this were truly a seasonal shift, the next step would be yellow leaves, dark nights, and impending frost.  But it is still June and we have all of July to go before August’s slow descent to fall.


Today it rained again, and I came home in drizzle to find Sam standing at the fence, gray from rolling and from kneeling in the dirt at the edge of the fence to get at the grass beyond.  His forelock hung in strings, plastered on his face, and his coat was thoroughly wet.  From the run-in shed, Mattie peeked her dark head out to see if I was bringing hay.  She had been hanging out in the back of the shed all day and her coat was dry.   Sam, on the other hand, seemed like a kid who likes nothing better than to splash in mud puddles.


Sam is showing his age a bit this year.  His back seems to have dropped slightly. His prominent withers seem even more so and the saddle that fit him well a couple of years ago, now puts pressure at the back of his withers, where they gradually slope into his back.  He’s now using Mattie’s saddle, and I am preparing to measure her for a new saddle.  He also is growing in a longer coat in the spring than he used to.  I’m reading up on Cushing’s, though he seems OK in every other respect.  He’s already on an insulin resistance diet, since Mattie is.


After last fall’s spectacular bucking fit, which sent poor Trish flying, I am not letting other people ride Sam.  I started out the season longeing both horses quite a bit to bring up their fitness levels, and I have taken half of the summer lessons on Sam.


Sunday, we went out to Colleen’s new horse facility—her dream place.  It was raining and I took Casey and Mikeala from Horsemasters with me.  Casey rode Mattie, which was good for Mattie’s training, and I rode Sam.  With Colleen in the center of the indoor arena, Sam kept one ear cocked in her direction.  She’s their vet, and they both have a high level of respect for her, as do I.


We worked on flexing at the poll.  Sam has a rubber neck, so he can bend two ways at once, neither of which happen to be the direction his rider wants him to take.   But he knows what to do when I ask him correctly.  At one point, we practiced moving laterally into the trot, then asking him to move out.  He bent his neck into collection and engaged the bit just right and stepped out into a full working trot.  I couldn’t see it, but I could feel how his back was working and he was stepping under himself and moving with energy.  Casey told me later that he looked great.


I’m hoping for him to have a good summer and that he and I trust each other as horse and rider.  After such a long and varied life, I think Sam wants to just have one person to relate to, and I am honored that he is trusting me.


Now, it’s feeding time.  He’s standing watch for the approach of hay, his coat soggy with rain.  He’ll whinny if I take too long, a sweet contralto whistle.  He stretches and bows as I approach and waits with his head bowed while I bring the flakes of hay.   I’ll scratch him on the withers and neck, then head over to the other side of the corral to feed Mattie.


A few more June days, then July.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 25, 2011

We’re into full green-up now.  Just a week and a half ago, everything was still so brown that we all fell into a funk.  The land was stripped of snow and no green leaves or grass or flowers had yet dared to grow toward the sun.  But not now.  The last few days have been in the seventies and, being Alaskans and tough enough to walk out in forty below, we griped about the heat.  But not for long.  The lingering dusk/dawn, and the brilliant daylight have increased our energy and our vitamin D levels to an effervescence.

Still, spring has its perils.  Though grass in my lawn is growing inches a day, by last Friday there was plenty of last year’s dead grass and brush on the ground in the woods in the surrounding hills.  On one hill, Murphy Dome, a fire flared up and filled the sky with smoke.  From Ballaine Road, I could see the smoke roll up into the sky and see the darker smoke where a tree went up or where fire retardant was dropped.   I know lots of people who live in that area—in fact, I had trailered Mattie and Sam over to Colleen’s new riding arena on Murphy Dome Road the day before, and, until I realized that the fire was not near her place, felt a chill of fear for her and her horses.  As it turned out, no homes were lost, though several friends had some worrisome moments watching the water dump planes fly overhead.  Our firefighters were right on the spot and even managed to put out a fire on the other side of town at the same time.  But the heat and the long dry spell we’re in have us worried and nervous for the fire season to come.

We go on.  The light lulls us. It’s hard to be too blue in this weather—at least that’s how it feels to me.  Tonight, as I write this, I’m also thinking of a former student, Matt or Soup, who decided that he’d had enough on Sunday night and left the planet.  Perhaps he experienced his own personal apocalypse; it’s hard to tell.  It’s another in the long line of sorrows that have formed an undercurrent to the spring.  It’s an inexplicable thing, but depression has its own logic.  I wish everyone could love plants or horses as I do and be healed by them.  I wish that the sense I have in this season of the energy of growing things pulsing along could buoy up everyone I care about.

Perhaps the allure of owning animals and growing plants it that it gives us the opportunity to create a micro-universe where our best intentions can have some good effect.  Sam, I tell people, would have a much worse life if I weren’t taking care of him—he’s not lame anymore and he’s trusting me more than ever.  Mattie, too, with her sense of her own bigness and her fear of pain, would not fare well with someone else, perhaps.  They’re better off in my corral, I tell myself.

But what of the humans we care about?  Could anyone’s best intentions have saved Joe’s magnificent brain from cancer?  Could anyone have stopped Frank from shoveling snow?  And Soup—could anyone have read behind his smile, his goofy kindness to see how hurt he was and where it was driving him?

I’ll keep planting cabbages, squash, carrots, kale, peas, beans, and all those pansies I bought at the greenhouse the other day.  I’ll keep transplanting tomatoes till all my little plants are in their big square buckets where they’ll stay all summer.  I’ll keep hoping for the best.

Poetry Challenge 50

June 22, 2010

In honor of the solstice and the delirious quantity of light we’re getting these days, write from a giddy place.  Think of a time or place or color of the clouds that made you feel silly and happy all at once.  For me, last night, it was a Midnight Sun Baseball Game that went 15 innings under the silvery light of Solstice night.  We sat in the stands and hollered and laughed as the sun slipped behind a row of hills, still sending a wash of yellow light into the arc of the sky.  Then as the last hit brought all the runners in, the light behind the hills brightened, the cirrus clouds turned fireweed pink and the sun slid back up again.  A perfect–if very long–solstice night.

Write about a moment of unexpected glee.  Use all five senses, of course.

Post it as a comment and I’ll post it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

July 7, 2009

Here in the Interior, we’re having unusually hot and humid weather. Usually our air is dry, which makes both hot and cold temperatures more bearable, but now we’re in wildfire season, and, all throughout the Interior boreal forests, fires are burning and smoke drifts across the valleys and up the riverways, bringing with it humidity and the lingering smell of wood smoke. Looking out across the valley, the hills and the jagged tops of spruce trees fade into a blue-gray haze and the air feels heavy to move through and breathe.

Still it’s not as bad as it was a few years ago, when the smoke of six million acres of fires hung over the Interior for nearly a month and people stayed inside or went out with scarves or facemasks over their mouths and noses to keep from breathing the air. That summer, during the worst days, Mattie and Sam would stretch out flat in the sand of the corral to nap, stay cool, and breathe the clearer air along the ground. This isn’t nearly as bad as that.

We’re not used to heat here—85 above zero is hot for us—and it’s a bit debilitating. And we know that these long sunny days (it still never gets totally dark here and won’t till the first week in August) are a brief respite from winter and we want them to be perfect so we can spend as much of our time outdoors as we can—on the rivers, at fish camp, at night baseball games, hiking, gardening, riding. This clear but smoky weather is supposed to stretch into next week, and, though we complain about the heat and smoky haze, we’ll complain more when it finally rains if the rain lasts more than a day. We want it all.

Which is one answer to any questions those of you outside Alaska may have about our soon-to-be-former governor’s recent erratic behavior. In summer, Alaskans are manic, frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible: gathering firewood, catching fish for winter, gardening, and trying to fit in as much fun as possible. We don’t sleep much, not only because of the light, but because we know we have to get it all in before the rainy days of August or the first frost of September. Our summer is driven by winter. So, perhaps, this has affected the governor, too. Sarah’s gone fishing, and we’ll be picking up the pieces in Alaska for some time to come.

In the mean time, there’s mulching, dealing with slime mold, staking tomatoes, composting horse manure, riding and training, getting in some trail rides, barbecuing on the deck, and sitting in the first base bleachers at the Goldpanners baseball games, tooting out the tune of Happy Boy on kazoos during the seventh-inning stretch. Smoke or no, Sarah or no, summer is good.

Poetry Challenge 23

June 17, 2009


As the days here lengthen to an extreme, each hour of the day has a different kind of light, from the brilliant light of mid-day to the pastel and silver light of the long dusky evenings.

Write a poem starting with some effect of light you notice right now where you are.  Notice how light affects the plants and rocks and clouds.  How does it affect animals, people, you? And what else?


Here’s a response from Glow at Beyond Ester:

the mercury light
keeps me awake since May.
Much happens at night that I witness.
All other humans sleep
but the devil light keeps sleep at bay
so I become Witness of What Occurs
cats, drowse all night
dogs snore and twitch
voles slither among the weeds
male moose, pale brown withers
slinks through the willows
mistaken for a grizzly
until his antlers startle recognition.
mama moose and 3 week calf
slumbering among the bluebells
even the dogs missed them
I, alone, witnessed the fidgeting nursing
the aggressive butting of the calf to its mom’s teats
the mercury light warming towards dawn
to leak goldeness on the calf so that she shone
like an angel
raven swooped low to snatch a young squirrel
still living, unaware of impending doom
its tail still curled, but fruitless now
mosquito, after mosquito, after mosquito
snared in the window spider’s web
reduced to dry shells within seconds
after their twitching ends.
Life, birth, death, bones, dust.
Summer light arrives, soon to leave us
aching for more time
aching for less light
fruitless wishes. Predictable humans
with their love of warmth, but
need for the dark.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

June 8, 2009

Late afternoon. I’m on the deck surrounded by packs of petunias, pansies, brachycomes, lobelia, all waiting to be clustered together in pots to bloom through our short summer. I’m sitting in the shade of a market umbrella—the large kind found at outdoor restaurants, and it casts the only shade on the deck till the sun slips behind the hill and behind the house. The dog is stretched out flat on the deck, lying as still as he can, hot even in his recently shorn coat. Sam and Mattie, out in the corral, linger by the water tank, feinting at each other with their noses in a game of water tank keep-away.

The thermometer on the post of the hay barn read 95 degrees today, though the thermometer in the shade under the deck read 75. This is about as hot as it gets here, and it always takes us by surprise. We drag a bit, wait for the cool of evening as the sun dips nearer the horizon, knowing that at this time of year, there will be hours of silvery light to come.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. The house was quiet, but the sky had the soft luminous quality of near dusk—a rare time elsewhere, romantic, even, in its briefness. Here, this light stretches on into the night, from 10pm till 3 or 4 am, when we’re back to regular daylight again. Here, below the Arctic Circle, the sun dips beneath the horizon for a few hours even at solstice, but it’s only a dimming of the light, like the subtle dimming of light caused by a solar eclipse. The air cools, the trees exhale faint moisture into the evening. The scent of flowers—and gardeners here are crazy for flowers—lingers in the evening, mingling with the smell of barbecue and fish smokers.

This place looks so much different than it did a month ago, right after snow melt and river break up. The trees are thickly leaved—deep green and shiny. The cottonwoods release their fluffy seeds into the air, floating on the breeze like big soft snowflakes. Except for the lack of humidity, it feels s almost tropical. I always feel like we’ve just slipped a bit geographically—as if, for the summer months, Alaska really is in the spot reserved for it on some maps—off the coast of California.

Now, a bit of breeze, the first cool of evening. The ground, though warmer now, enough so that we can grow our gardens, still harbors the remnant coolness of winter. Even the manure pile, which my gardener friends have been carting off for compost and soil amendment, has a wedge of snow or ice at the base of it. So when the sun slips behind the hill or the sky clouds over, we feel the chill in the air, the reminder that we still live in the north and, manic as we are with light right now, we never forget that these days will pass soon.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 21, 2009

Spring? Here in the Interior we leap from winter to summer with a brief period of bleak brown and gray—-the soggy earth and the quickly melting snow—-in between. In the past three days the leaves have gone from tiny newly furled lemon-lime leaflets to shiny dark-green leaves. The woods are full of their flashing, the twittering of birds–not the electronic kind, but electric with the urgency and joy of mating.

After two weeks of Master Gardener class, I’m now ready to put the garden in, and, like every year, I feel three weeks behind, though we’re still a week and a half away from our traditional planting date, June 1. In the greenhouse, the tomato plants are growing sturdy stems and richly green leaves. The peppers are coming along, as are the broccoli, kale, eggplants. It’s yummy to write this, but they are all still tiny green leaves with a long way and much potential for misfortune to come before the yummy time actually comes.

I’m still starting seeds in the greenhouse—-lettuce, beans, things I could plant outside–but I’m trying to cheat the season and the potential for a late frost by planting them under the protection of the fiberglass roof. I also have flower sets I bought from a local grower, so the greenhouse is sweet with the smell of petunias and heliotrope.

This is an energetic time of year, fueled by the intensity of long sunlight. Thinking back to the dreamy slow winter days when I started this blog, it’s clear how the seasons in the Interior affect the psyche. In the winter, I’m introspective, writing in a near dream state, engaged with the senses in an inward way. Now, on the verge of summer, I’m so active—-gardening, riding, dancing—-that I fall asleep exhausted and wake a bit stiff (why I’m sitting and writing right now), then head out to do more digging, raking, brushing, saddling, riding, etc.

Last night, driving home near midnight, I was struck by the silvery light everywhere. I nearly wrote, “in the sky” but, like the light that radiates off the snow in winter, summer evening light seems to come out of the land itself, not from the sky. We are in the best time of year, two full months of these “white nights” when light lingers after the sun has slipped briefly behind the hills. It’s a long twilight that lasts for hours before slowly brightening into morning and sunlight again. On Solstice, the sun will dip below the horizon for three hours, but the light stays strong enough that we have our Midnight Sun baseball game every year from 10pm to whenever with no artificial lights, even when clouds complicate matters. Some years, when it’s a well-matched game going into extra innings, we sit in the stands watching as the sun lifts back up from the hills again, around 2am. We’re tired the next day—-if it’s a work day, everyone drags through it—-but happy to have seen something wonderful.

This time of year, I wouldn’t trade Alaska for any other state I’ve ever lived in—-and they all have their good qualities. But now, in all this sun we feel purged of the discontent that built up like a sludge in our hearts through the winter. The blood thins a bit in the warmth and runs more quickly. The skin absorbs and processes vitamin D—-they say it contributes to contentment. We grow our gardens and eat everything fresh we can get our hands on.

Jeter the dog sleeps by the open door to the deck in his newly shaved summer coat. The warblers call to each other. There’s a flute on the radio—-maybe Mozart—-and a slight breeze plays across the keys of the computer. All’s well here.

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