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A view from 'mainland' Alaska
by June Allen


August 20, 2004

Looking at the great Sitnews photos of Tongass Narrows and water, water, cold water everywhere is helping me get through this long, hot summer up here in mainland Alaska. I can't even see the mountains practically in my backyard because of the dense smoke from the wildfires roaring all across the state miles and miles farther north. There are DEC signs posted at the entrance of my senior apartment house, warning of the dangers of the smokey atmosphere on older lungs. Some of my neighbors are wearing masks. The temperatures went up to 84 degrees this week (groan), setting all kinds of August "rainy month" records by a span as much as +10 degrees - and no rain!

These forest fires are probably not what y'all Southern Alaskans imagine. These burns are ravaging vast expanses of black spruce forests - but even the word "forests" is misleading. Black spruce are those stubby little spruce that sometimes can grow not much bigger than a tall skinny man and they cling to muskeg-y, mostly permanently frozen soil. Nobody ever did or will ever log those so-called trees. We tried to harvest one for a Christmas tree back in our Cheechako years in Alaska! It would take a diamond drill to cut one of the little suckers!

Yes, those burning black spruce expanses were home to a zillion critters. They, however, all hightailed it out of there to safe ground with the first flickers of flames. They're waiting at a distance, licking their chops, thinking of how great it's going to be next year when Nature has renewed their habitat - with tasty green shoots and renewed and invigorated ground cover for them.

Here in Palmer, even the larger species, like moose, have headed back to wintering grounds a little early. Last night about 10:30 (it's starting to get dark now after a summer of all-night daylight) I saw movement outside my windows. Peering through the glass I saw a mother moose and her yearlng calf calmly chewing up my brussels sprouts in the long but single row I have in the backyard garden! NO way am I going to try to shoo a moose away! But the manager was alerted and went out back, clapped his hands and shouted some heart-felt profanity and the mama moose did her ungainly retreat through the hedge. The calf wasn't impressed until he or she heard the mother-moan the cow was making. Then the Bambi-legged little he or she - who can tell - trotted off too.

The mama moose ate all four of my brussel sprout plants and a couple of cabbages (the moose 'chin-dip' into a cabbage, neatly taking out just the tender center and leaving a useless bowl-shell veggie behind). But here in the famous Matanuska Valley, where produce grows to impressive sizes, real farming goes on as usual. A couple of growers harvested a 65-pound cantaloupe this week for the State Fair which is just around the corner. I'm waiting to see if the biggest cabbage will hit a hundred pounds. It's possible! And you never saw such produce sections as the markets will be providing for the next couple of weeks.

Every region in Alaska has its own glories, but I do so miss Ketchikan!

June Allen
Palmer, AK - USA



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