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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Grave Moments

My newspaper column from last week

Grave  Moments

 As I stood on the edge of the grave site  in progress, I was suddenly grateful that  my husband, Patrick, is an archaeologist and so at ease with digging large holes. Skilled with a shovel, Patrick stepped on the top edge  of the blade and broke into the outer layer of the soil so automatically and effortlessly. It is a move engrained into the muscle memory of his legs for 30 plus years of leading archaeological digs. 

The earth made an unmistakeable cracking noise as the shovel broke through the outer grasses.   Pieces of sod came off in big squares, as he had shaped them with the shovel. Patrick put the sods off to the side in stacks and then began digging the depth of the hole.  Numbly, through tears I watched-in awe of this moment time which I had anticipated but wasn't ever fully ready for.  The home burial of our beloved black lab, Jake.

The early evening sun shone and a cool breeze blew. I was too distracted to be bothered by the  cold. My 8 year old son, Stuey, stood alongside with tears coming down his face. He asked  the many kid questions about death which I didn't seem to know the answers to but gave answers which seemed to fit the moment. I think my actual reply meant less than the fact that I was replying. 

Somehow, yet- it all felt so right, primal. The soil flying out of the earth, the wind blowing, the tears. 

"As soon as we get home, I'll dig the grave" Patrick told me at the vet, as we sat waiting to say our goodbyes to Jake.  
"Oh we could wait till tomorrow" I replied. Thinking of a service or some more formal way to honor the process. 
"No," Patrick insisted. "I just want to do it soon and not have to worry about it." 

A few minutes later  with one seamless medical injection, Jake quickly slid into what looked like a deep sleep. I was in awe with how quickly Jake was at peace and so still. I had envisioned tremors, or shaking or something akward with pet euthansia. It was such a gentle crossing for Jake into another world. Jake had left us. 

 The vet assistants asked that we pull the car up to the back of the building as to not upset customers in the front. Jake was brought out on a stretcher. One assistant gave me the warmest, most wonderful hug ever before going  back into the building. That hug will stay with me forever.   It all felt surreal and slow motion.  As soon as we got home, Patrick retrieved the shovel and began to dig. 

Patrick was right about digging the grave quickly. No sense in waiting. Thankfully the ground wasn't frozen.  

About 15 minutes into digging, Patrick hit the Katmai ash layer. A layer of creamy looking sand.  "You see that, kids? That is volcanic ash from an eruption over 100 years ago." Patrick says. 
Nora and Stuey didn't respond. Too distracted. Or maybe just not interested right then. Nonetheless,  I am grateful for him trying to teach them about the layers of very earth we are standing on.  

I sat on the tailgate of the car, giving Jake's sweet face one final pet. He was gone, but still warm and felt very much with us. 

About 30 minutes later, the deep  hole was done. 4 feet deep and just perfect size for Jake. Stuey jumped in, fascinated with the depth of the hole. Our neighbor and friend, Winston, helped me lower Jake into the grave. The kids retrieved his water dish and I put our late dog, Roxy's ashes alongside Jake. They are buried together. 

In those final moments I looked down at Jake and noticed there were words written on the woven blanket covering him. It was one of the two blankets the vet clinic wrapped Jake in, as they had run out of boxes. 

As I looked closer at the words, I saw that it was The psalm of David: "The Lord is my shepard; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures; he ledeath me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; lye leadeth me int he paths of rightesouness for his names sake. Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me….."

"Patrick, look-look at the blanket". i said, tears streaming down my face. 

"Oh Jakey..." he responded. We shed tears together. We both appreciate this psalm and the timing of seeing it on a blanket at Jakes burial. 

 Patrick's shoulder  needed a break from the shovel. Our friend and neighbor, Winston, who was standing with us during this time  steps in to fill the grave in.    Shovel full by shovel full, Winston filled the grave as  as we  watch. 

"Stuey, step on the ground to pound it down so we can get all the dirt back in" Patrick said. Stuey jumped and and steps up and down quickly to compress it. These were details about returning  the earth in graves  which never would've occurred to me. Patrick knew this from his years backfilling archaeology dig sites when its time to return the site to its original condition. 

Winston put the shovel down. The burial process was complete. But the grief process was just beginning. 

A simple rock was laid on the top to mark the site. Our hearts were still  heavy, but a bit lighter now that the  the burial was over. There were small amounts of loose dirth on the grass and light outline of the grave. But the square sod chunks  were all  returned to their places. 

Sweet Jake was  returned to the earth. The next morning, it had snowed overnight. On the way out to the car Stuey went over to check on the grave site and asked concerned, "Was Jake cold last night?" 

"No sweetie. He was wrapped in blankets." I replied and teared up. 
Patrick later told me that the area above the grave was clear of snow. The earth had indeed kept Jakey warm. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Some Pictures of April

Fresh powder on the mountain

April is my favorite month on Kodiak.  The days are long and tend to be sunny, and yet it still freezes at night.  And on the mountain it is generally our snowiest month.  I think of it as the 'get your cake and eat it too' month with the best skiing and warm, 'firepit' weather.  This year I was a little worried that the abnormally warm weather would curtail the snow and skiing, but that does not seem to have happened.

Spring has actually slowed down.  The salmonberries were about to blossom on April first, but held off and did not actually blossom until the last few days.  We even got snow on the back lawn a few mornings this week (of course it all melted each day by noon).  And on the mountain we've been getting the most snow of the year.   FINALLY

After a delay the salmonberries are now fully open

Some recent tracks in the north bowl of Pyramid

Pushki sprout - this plant is my summer nemesis because of the skins burns it causes

Close up of a tool that Alutiiq people once used to scrape hides that I saw on the surface of an old village site

Monday, April 20, 2015

Daily Mirror Column

Last week I started writing a column in the Kodiak Daily Mirror. The main theme is going to be about parenting, but I imagine I'll deviate now and then to other topics as well.  10 years of blog writing and a memoir style writing class last summer  have helped me get to this point of feeling comfortable with my writing being published. My first piece from last Fridays paper is below: 

The Paper Route
"Mom, can I do a paper route?" Nora asked. I was laying on the bed reading the paper and Nora was  peering over my shoulder reading along. Our eyes had landed on the "carrier wanted" ad on almost the exact same moment. A paper carrier was needed on our street.
"Oh really. Hmmm." I pause and ponder. My eyes focus on the ad and the phone number to call for details. 
These types of kid requests are ones which a parent semi rejoices in yet recognizes the possible added commitment on our behalf as parents. There are mixed feelings.  Such undertaking are good for our kids.  But it is a checks and balances of commitment on the family-what can be sustained? What will be required of us longterm as parents?  
"Maybe.  I'll call and see. I don't know if you're old enough." I reply, trying to sound positive. My mind flashes to visions of an ice coated road,  sideways slush in the wind, with Nora and I slipping up and down driveways. Or the "I don't want to do my route" moments where I may have to begrudgingly do the route on her behalf. Would it, could it ever be truly her route? Or would this be one more thing for me to be oversee. Or would it be a  wonderful first job, just the right amount of responsibility and a little something to encourage outside time. 
When I was a teenager, I delivered the  Anchorage Daily News one summer in the 1990's in  East Anchorage. The papers had to be on the door steps by 6 AM  and they were dropped on our door step somewhere around 4:30 AM to bag up. At 5:15 isn my alarm clock would go off and my sister and I  would numbly bag the papers into the orange bags. Somedays there were so many supplements the orange bags nearly exploded.
It was  a  lucrative job, a big route, perfect level of commitment.   The worst weather that could happen was hard rain during that  summer. No ice or cold weather to contend with.   I think back in awe of my 13 or 14 year old self that was agreeable to getting up that early 5 days a week without prompting! Wow. Not sure I could commit to those hours now as an adult. 
I kept coming back to a visceral satisfaction I couldn't explain about the paper route. Even with the early, brief hours-I enjoyed the walk around the neighborhood. Then I started getting excited at the prospect of Nora having the same opportunity. 
One phone call later, I had the details about Nora's possible route. 21 houses. She was old enough to do it and we would start right away. And the pay seemed great to Nora, as well as the possibility of tips.
Less than a week and one interview later, Nora dove in. It was the first day of spring and a sunny one. With the route address sheet in hand, we learned the houses together and planned her route.  Customers along the way greeted us with waves and hellos. And Nora even got a tip on her first day from a customer welcoming her as the new carrier. This was perfect intermittent reinforcement right from the start.  
Now Nora comes home from school,  drops her bag, grabs a snack and heads out the door. "Mom, do you want to come?" she asks.  On most days, I'm able to and I love joining her. We walk, sometimes skip. Talk.  Watch cars, houses, people. Pay attention to the neighborhood. Listen. 
Its been a month now that we've been  delivering  the papers to our neighbors. "I love your paper route" I tell Nora. And I really do. I enjoy it more than I imagined I would. For the same reason why I love Trick or treating right on our street, I love the paper route. It connects us with the people we live near. 
It helps Nora- and I- get outside everyday after school. It helps with tired or grumpy moods. Its quite rewarding slipping the paper into those blue boxes with the knowledge that someone will pull it out to read in a matter of hours. 
And I love that I keep getting invited along to deliver them!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shooting the bow

When I got my new bow back in March (click here for post) I also got a new bow for Stuey and Nora. Without sights for aiming and a fixed draw length it is more of a traditional bow than the high tech, compound bow I got for hunting sheep.   It is a much better bow for learning purposes.  You have to sort of instinctively learn how to aim and hit the target, and you have to figure out how far to draw the bowstring.  The trick to good shooting is to draw the string back to the same place each time.  I like to touch my nose to the string and touch my ear with the back of my hand.

Anyway, Stuey has gotten pretty good at it.  He started at about 7 yards from the target ands gets to move back if he puts all 5 arrows in the target. He has been hitting the target from 20 yards and almost moved back to 30 (he missed with his last 2 at 20 yards).

I can't wait to take the bow out with us to camp on Afognak.  Patrick

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stuey's Pics

Landscape taken on 'diorama ' setting

I recently downloaded the pictures from Stuey's point-and-shoot camera.  I was impressed.  He does seem to like all the various gimmicky settings (and this is why you should ALWAYS check the settings when you use Stuey's camera), but his sense of composition is good.  It is clear that he tries to compose the shot. Here are a few for your enjoyment.  Patrick

The 'reflection' setting is Stuey's favorite - literally hours and hours of entertainment with HUGE hoots of laughter

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rest in Peace Jake

Yesterday we said goodbye to a noble member of our family~Jake. 10 years ago when I set eyes on Jake at the animal shelter, I saw he had such a sweet soul. His brown eyes looked up at me and we took him home shortly after. 

He has been  with us through kids, good times, hard times. He had such a solid amazing spirit and would especially follow Patrick around. 

 We knew his days and weeks were numbered and were hoping to get a strong sense of when to put him down. 2 days ago, that day came. 

He suffered 3 sudden grand mal seizures in a matter of 3 hours. Patrick and I looked at one another and knew this was Jakes body's way of saying he was done.  I know how with seizures the brain suffers so and I didn't want to lose Jakes spirit to more and more seizures. 

I didn't know how our day of saying good bye will look like. With Jake, I decided at the last minute to be with him while the vet put him down. It was so seamless…one moment he was there with us and the next 30 seconds he was gone. It was a beautiful way for him to go…with Patrick and I right there.

The vet gave us Jake wrapped in two blankets. Two vet assistants brought him out the back door on a doggie stretcher and we put him in the back of our car. Patrick was insistent on digging his grave as soon as we got home and boy did he do it fast. I sat on the tail gait and petted jakes little face as Patrick dug and dug and dug.

Our neighbors, Bethany and Winston,  helped at the end of the digging and together Winston and I lowered Jake down into the grave. We buried him with the ashes of Roxy dog and his ceramic food dish full of water.

I stood atop the grave and looked down in. There were words knit into the blanket which I hadn't noticed until right then.
 A psalm of David:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Rest in Peace, Jake dog. You will always be with me. Always. And you are here with us on Cliffside drive forever. And we hope Roxy dog is showing you all around heaven. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Firepit and then SNOW

Requisite April photo of crocuses in the snow - except that this year it was difficult to find crocuses still blooming

On Sunday it was sunny and springlike and then on Monday it snowed.  And today it snowed some more.  I'm loving it!

We're finally getting some snow on the mountains.  Despite the warm non-winter, I'm actually hopeful that our cool spring weather will stick around.  The last 2 winters have both been warm and then both have had long, lingering springs.  I'm hoping that that is what will happen again this year.  It may be the new normal.  Patrick

View of town on my way to work yesterday

South Bowl tracks on Saturday

My tracks in the North Bowl yesterday - and after the snowfall today there should be almost a foot more new stuff

Philip and Adelia climbing out of the North Bowl Sunday afternoon

First Firepit

Sunday morning was gorgeous on our deck - so nice that we lit the firepit and cooked hotdogs for brunch.  The first true firepit meal of the year (it only counts as a 'true' firepit if you cook AND eat outside).  I generally don't like warmer weather and summer, but I'll admit that firepits are a warm weather perk.

The kids cooked hotdogs and then marshmallows.  Jake dog enjoyed the sunshine outside and our company.  Patrick

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Center Mountain

Mike M.  atop Center Mt. in July 2009 

I"m planning a solo trek to Center Mountain this spring…a 3,300 ft peak here on Kodiak that I've never been to. Once the midnight sun of June arrives, Tank dog and I will head up on our own with an uber warm sleeping bag, a solid tent, some food (and dogfood) and a big sense of excitement.

Since  coming back to Kodiak after college 16 years ago, I've yet to go to Center Mountain.
You can see it from Kodiak city, and it is covered in snow most of the year. Many of my friends have been to it and from the top you can see all around the high peaks of Kodiak.

In preparation, several weekends ago I slept on the lawn in our 10 degree sleeping bag and was warm enough-YAY! Tank slept at my feet and he got an A+ for tent etiquette. He quietly slept at my feet without moving around much.  In the morning, when it was time for him to go to the bathroom, he ducked right out under the outside fly like a good game of dog limbo.

I have almost no fears about the trip. The biggest fear I did have was getting cold at night, but now that I've tested out my sleeping bag, that is no longer a fear. Some people ask "Aren't I afraid of bears? Or other people? Or ghosts?" No.  No fears there.

As the time nears, I'm sure I'll be nervous but that is to be expected. Its the nervousness before a big physical adventure-like before a race.

In the meantime, I dream of when the time will come for me to set off, up the tailhead at Kasheverof. With Tank at my side, off we will go….


July 2009…right after sunset with the lights of town on the left. 

Patrick in 2001 atop Center with town in the distance center! 

Lisa M enjoys the sunset and the view to the west - July 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Importance of a ski lift

The other day while climbing up Pyramid for my daily ski I pondered the importance of a ski lift.  When I am away from Kodiak, and tell people I try to ski everyday during winter they invariably ask about Kodiak's ski lift.  And when I tell them that Kodiak does not have a ski lift they ask how I get up the mountain.  The assumption is that without a lift it is impossible to downhill ski.

What's funny is that I doubt I would ski everyday if there was a lift. I don't climb the mountain to ski down.  I climb the mountain because I enjoy climbing and need the exercise.  I do some of my best thinking while climbing up the mountain and look forward to that and NOT the ski down.

And when I do go to a ski area with a lift I generally get bored after just a few runs.  At the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood I struggle to ski more than a couple hours!

On Pyramid most of the days I go skiing the downhill portion is awful.  Ice underfoot, or blowing snow and rain in the eyes - not good ski conditions.  But I go up anyway because I need the exercise and 'thinking' time.  A ski lift would just ruin the experience!  Patrick

Mike and Gregg climbing Pyramid in snowier days - Easter 2006

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

On the Beach with Jake

Sunday morning I looked out the window and saw that the tide was way out.  I thought, 'What a great day for tidepooling'.  And so I took the kids and dogs down to the beach.  I had intended to leave Jake at home because he's not up for long walks anymore.  But Jake really wanted to go, and he looked so sad when I tried to get him back in the house that we just had to take him.  And so we packed him into the car with the other 2 dogs and headed off to the beach.

We ended looking for beach glass instead of tidepooling.  It might be one of Jake's last visits to the beach, and I figured we'd stick close to the car to make it easier for Jake.  Jake seemed to enjoy himself and, at one point, I looked back and saw him cruising the high tide line like the Jake dog of days long ago.  He found a stick he liked, trotted down the beach in a perky fashion and then lay down and commenced chewing on it.  Jake has always liked the beach.  Patrick

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Way Too Early

First salmonberry of the year
I took all these pictures yesterday on the third of April.  I believe the earliest I have ever seen a salmonberry blossom is in late April, and last year it was on the 4rth of May (click here for post).  So based on this it appears that this year's spring is a month earlier than I've ever seen it.  And yes it seems I'll be mowing the lawn within a week or so.  This is VERY scary.

It has been a year without winter here on Kodiak.  The lakes never froze and the garden never died.  The kale pictured below is from last year's garden, and I am a little curious about what will happen to it come June - will it immediately bolt or will it grow large leaves as if it was a newly planted kale?

I do know that slugs are already munching on my garlic.  The slugs will be a HUGE issue for gardeners this summer.  I wonder what other garden pests we'll have to start dealing with here on Kodiak if the winters continue to be so mild?


Garlic in the garden

Raspberries leafing out

Kale doing GREAT

Another salmonberry bud

Friday, April 03, 2015

Done with Easter-mania

I'm over Easter. Its become a holiday which I've begun to associate with tummy aches, plastic eggs everywhere and grumpy kiddos.

This past week I told the kids there won't be easter baskets or Easter egg hunts. I gave it my best shot for 9 years and I'm over it.  Every year the day is accompanied by tears and complaints.

"I'm done hiding baskets. I don't like being yelled at. Every year you get upset or someone is mad. You tell me I  make the baskets too hard to find." I explained to Nora and Stuey.

Stuey, with tears coming down his cheeks chokes out, "No, but, but mom…it was because you made it too easy to find last year." See- I knew it. The kids are never happy with how I hide baskets or eggs and I'm done with it.

Do I feel even a twinge remorseful about not partaking in this holiday this year? Not really. I think what makes me more remorseful is to do something special and then have the kids be grumpy or rude about it and then do it again next year. Why do that to myself?

I"m slowly learning to have better boundaries. I can't change how they respond to such events in life, but I can change whether or not I want to have a part in that.

Patrick shares similar sentiments with me…. on the car ride home tonight he explained to the kids how these holidays are all run by the same candy company. "He is SO right" I chuckled to myself. I"m done being suckered into the madness.

If the kids would like to go to Easter service, Patrick said he would be very willing to go with them. I'm glad that he offered. And I'm looking forward to some basketball games on TV tomorrow, outside time with the kids and friends and time to work on a quilting project. With no candy wrappers to pick up around the house.


Test driving new treatment skills

Typically on the last few hours of physical therapy classses, I think to myself, "Awww, man. Wow. Wow. Overwhelmed. How in the world am I going to start using this info all on my own back in Kodiak. I don't even know for sure if these techniques will work. So I'm going to have to promote it without knowing if it works?"

Last weekend in Houston, it happened again like clockwork.  Day two of learning how to treat the hip using Therapeutic Yoga~an approach I've had little exposure to or any experience with. Here I am is yoga postures-supported by a block here, or a strap there. But I  feel surprisingly amazing. I've never enjoyed yoga as much as those two hours in class. My breathing felt relaxed, muscles that have a hard time relaxing were really relaxing. And the best part is that no one is 'doing' anything to me...I'm able to achieve this feeling on my own.

Perhaps, I wonder, I WILL be able to show others what this is like...

Fast forward to first day back in clinic in Kodiak. A female client I"ve been working with for a while with back pain and have felt plateaued. I figured I would give some of the yoga poses a try. She loved them and had all the yoga gear at home (block, strap, mat) to do the poses at home. My confidence grew a tiny bit. Maybe this would work, afterall!

Later in the week, several male clients in similar situations-needing something other than the manual therapy and stabilization exercises that had been the meat and potatoes of their treatment program for weeks or months on end. I  Introduced the new releases I learned and they were excited and seemed to grasp them right away.

Time will tell how it all works for my the meantime I'm keeping on with 10 or 15 minutes a days of yoga and lovin' it.