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Alaska Wittig Family Blog
Monday, May 7, 2007
Visitors to the Ponds

We had some visitors to our ponds this morning.  They were very reclusive and flew off when little Michael and I [Michael] came toward them.  I hope they come back, but I have to doubt that they'd find very much to eat in there; perhaps I can encourage something to grow in the ponds that will entice them to return and stay, but I guess that should be low on the priority list.

We were also playing with the still picture capability on my digital camcorder.  Despite the age of the camera and the small (by today's standards) 1.3 megapixel size, it is still better than our new digital still for telephoto work, such as the pictures of the ducks (the new camera's larger format doesn't make up for the meager zoom they put on it, as with most still cameras).  The camcorder also does a better job in marginal lighting situations where a flash is not desired, and tends to produce sharper images at low light levels.  I believe this is because the camcorder utilizes the larger aperture size of the lens on the unit, gathering more light than the mediocre lense on the still camera.  Not bad for a six year-old camcorder.

Here's another funny thing about pixel size.  New cameras keep getting larger picture sizes (some consumer cameras are running eight megapixels these days), but these resolutions are only needed for printing on paper.  The pictures on the right, for instance, each use about 0.23 megapixels out of the 1.3 megapixels that came out of the camcorder.  If I took these pictures with an eight megapixel camera, they would still be about 0.23 each by the time they got posted on the internet.  That's the way it works.

Oh, and did I mention that the kids really like the flip screen on the camcorder?  It lets them look at themselves when they're in front of the lens.  It's a fun diversion.

More yard cleaning on the docket.  Only a trace of snow remains on the ground in two places in the yard, and I expect these to disappear by the end of the week.  I am also running the utility trailer over to our old house: now that the snow is mostly gone we can get to our lawn furniture, canoes, kids outdoor toys, and all the other remnants of our old life before we moved.

Lastly, I've got a surprise coming.  I'm not going to say what it is, but all will become clear after May 16.  How's that for a teaser?

Posted at 11:00 AM YDT
Updated: Monday, May 7, 2007 11:08 AM YDT
Monday, April 30, 2007
Clearing the East Creek

Believe it or not, it took less than ninety minutes to go from the before to the after shots above.  Saturday was a big yard clearing day, when I [Michael] worked my way down and up the east creek.  Part one was working downstream with the chainsaw, clearing much of the dead branches and overgrowth along the creek banks.  Part two was working upstream with a shovel, digging through blockages of mud and decaying branches to lower the creek level.

 Areas that used to be underwater are well above the creek level now and the whole lower basin seems to be draining.  One pond, and several smaller pools, disappeared completely because of the lower water level.  The newly exposed mud is still very wet, but is beginning to firm up while the water drains from it.  So far so good.  By next week the upper basin should be clear enough of snow, and I can go looking for the streambed up there.  The goal is to drain the swampy areas, and so far the work is accomplishing the goal.

The bigger goal is to make the streambanks accessible to the kids.  In the areas we've already worked the kids can (and do) get right down to the creek to throw things in the water.  Today they both decided to get in.  In Michael's case, he began crossing back and forth in one place, which got his pants wet but gave him a great deal of pleasure.  Becky went farther and repeated her walk down the creekbed routine, which I gave no objection to until she came to the pond at the south end of the west creek.  I told her to stop and come back -- which she did at first -- but then she went right back into the pond again.  I just finished telling her that it was a bad idea when she lost her footing and went into the mud (because that's what the pond mostly is), which she really didn't like, and she came to like it even less when I didn't come to her rescue, instead suggesting that she should climb out on her own (which she eventually did).  About this time Michael also lost his balance and sat in the creek, so it was time for all to come inside.

We're still losing snow, but we now have much more exposed ground than covered.  It certainly makes it easier to see what's going on, and what needs to go on, in our yard. 

Posted at 2:19 PM YDT
Monday, April 23, 2007
Work and Play

A rainy day today, at the end of a string of sunny days.  We've been out of doors a lot, getting quite a bit of yard work done, and there's much more to do, but mixed in with the work is some time for play too.

In the pictures:

I [Michael] am breaking my electric chain saw (not breaking-in: this one stripped a gear after about ten minutes of cutting, but the second one we bought seemed to hold up better).  Becky's winter boots are incredible, as I noted when I discovered dry socks and warm feet after her stroll through the creek.  Sheryl got her first real "this is our yard" experience, clipping all the smaller dead branches below eye level.  There aren't really established trails around the property, but once we've gone through and removed the dead stuff it's possible to walk almost anywhere in the yard, a point which Michael takes full advantage of (the red bushes behind him are blueberry bushes, of which we have many).

And a good time was had by all. 

Posted at 1:06 PM YDT
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2007 1:08 PM YDT
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Spring in the Snow

In case folks are wondering where all the blog entries went, they might pause for a moment to consider that it's past the middle of April, and our Alaskan days are getting longer and longer.  We're also seeing  a stretch of sunny days and temperatures into the fifties (!), which means that we're spending a lot of time outside.

There are good reasons for wanting to spend so much time outside.  It's good for the kids.  It's good for the adults.  It's been a long winter.  There is an acre of ground to explore.  The mosquitos aren't biting yet.  The last one is the most important: once the mosquitos start attacking, outside loses some of its glamour.

Springtime is especially pleasant this year because the kids have a new yard to explore.  I [Michael] have been taking the kids out every day, sometimes for as long as they can tolerate it (which in Michael's case is a very long time, about four hours yesterday), and letting them have free reign as long as they stay on the property and within sight or at least in earshot (sometimes I can't see them between the contour of the ground and the remaining snow).  Our west creek has become Michael's special place: he'll stand beside the creek for long periods of time, throwing in pinecones and sticks and waving "bye-bye" to them as they move downstream.

I have been having a lot of fun in the creeks too.  We have two creeks on the lot, which we're calling West Creek and East Creek (because they flow generally along the west and east sides of the property).  West Creek has gotten most of our attention so far; East Creek is still under snow.  We knew when we bought the place that the lower stretches of West creek were very muddy and marshy, and when the snow finally cleared I was able to see why.  Several years worth of leaves and branches fell into the streambed and inhibited the flow, causing the stream to leave its banks and flow out over the marsh.  At first I worked on adding material (leaves, pinecones, sticks, and dirt) along the bank nearest the house, because the kids gravitated toward that area.  After that I started clipping all the smaller alder branches and laying them down in the mud and water (deep, sticky mud), and continued doing this until most of the low branches were out of the way.  Then I took my shovel and worked northward from the pool at the south end (where the water disappears under the snow on its way to the culvert hiding therein), removing a couple of rocks, numerous small branches, and a lot of mud from the creek bed. 

As a result, the level of the creek has gone down about two inches along much of the lower stretch, and the marsh is draining.  The goal is to reduce or eliminate the marshy areas, and the mud, so the kids can play next to the creek without getting boots sucked off and without getting hopelessly dirty.

There is a lot of material available to build up the streambanks.  The property hasn't been properly tended in some time (if it ever was), and the forest floor is littered with an accumulation of sticks, leaves, and pinecones.  The debris makes a good fill material that drains well.  There is also a lush growth of moss under the trees, and raking makes these areas soft and pleasant to sit on (and for kids to tumble on without getting hurt).

I had another interesting revelation along the creeks.  At one point along East Creek two pools emerged from the snow.  One pool was perhaps sixteen inches higher than the other.  At first I thought it had been intentionally dammed, but when I shoveled snow away between the pools I found nothing more than branches, a rock, and some plant growth that effectively blocked the flow, and all this was easily cleared.  It's intriguing because the northeast section of our property is very marshy, and it's quite possible that some minor work on the streambed could open the drainage and make that section of our yard more user-friendly (not to mention the positive effect on mosquito abatement).  That section of the yard is also where we get the most sunlight.

But the morning moves on, and it's another nice day out.  Michael has been putting on his boots and looking out windows, so I think I'll put a bowl of Cheerios in front of him (and me, and Becky and Mom if they want) and get on with our day. 

Posted at 9:53 AM YDT
Updated: Saturday, April 21, 2007 7:30 PM YDT
Monday, April 9, 2007
A Quick Trip North

I [Michael] flew North to Fairbanks and Anchorage this past weekend.  It was a short, but very full trip.

The premise of the trip was to see Dorothy’s Junior Recital in Fairbanks on Saturday.  Dorothy is working steadily towards her music degree with an emphasis on vocal performance, and the recital was a part of her graduation requirements.  She’s come a long way as a singer and it was very beautiful to listen to, as you can hear for yourself:

Dorothy's Recital

In addition to Jason (Dorothy’s fiancé) and their local friends, the recital was also attended by M-J and family (daughter Alora and husband James), Wanda and Brian (my third wife and her husband), and Ronnie Stanford, Jason’s dad…

Yes, I spelled the name wrong when I put their engagement in the blog, but it wasn’t entirely my fault:  I got the spelling from the caller ID on my phone!

As it was, I got only a brief visit with Dorothy, but it was well worthwhile.  Besides the brief time we had for conversation while Dorothy drove me about town, I also had an early dinner after the recital with Dorothy, Jason, and his dad.  Meeting Ronnie was an unexpected bonus (he teaches music in Barrow, on the Arctic Ocean), and it was nice to have a chance to get acquainted.

I flew out that same evening, back to Anchorage to spend the night with Sheryl’s brother Mark (I knew that there would be several people in town to visit with Dorothy, and didn’t want to complicate or compete with their plans too much).  I like Mark (I like all of Sheryl’s family) and we had a pleasant visit, talking about cars and poking a little fun at Sheryl.  That night was the first night that I have ever spent away from Becky and Michael, and I took advantage of it by sleeping in on Sunday morning.  On Sunday I had an equally pleasant visit with all of the Alaska Hall clan, first at a buffet lunch in a lodge on the lake in Wasilla, then at Bert and Helen’s home where we all got to hunt for Easter goodies hidden about the house.  Very nice.  Mark brought me back to Anchorage that evening, and within a few hours (and an unexpected visit with M-J and family while we waited for the same plane) I was back on the ground in Juneau.

There were few surprises on the trip.  My flight to Fairbanks was cancelled (the next flight still got me there with ample time to spare), and I took an earlier flight back to Anchorage when I found myself through security in Fairbanks when boarding for the early flight was still underway and had seats to spare.  But the biggest surprise awaited me when Sheryl arrived to pick me up in Juneau.  Michael was asleep in his car seat, but Becky was still awake.  She lit up when she saw me, and with a very happy voice, said: “Daddy, it’s nice to see you!”

What a great end to a great trip.

Posted at 1:53 PM YDT
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2007 2:04 PM YDT

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