Saturday, March 31, 2012

At least it wasn't death...

Terry finished the paperwork and I wrote the checks so we got our federal and state taxes paid this week. It didn't cost us much this year as our pensions aren't taxed by PA and the withholding (almost) covered the federal taxes. If not for Social Security payments--the feds tax 'em and I've no withholding on the benefits--we would have owed even less. (PA doesn't tax those either. The only thing we paid to PA was for purchases made online.)

I'd much rather have to pay Uncle Sam than have to wait for a refund. I am adverse to providing the feds an interest free loan.

Aerie Report, March 31, 2012

We had an ursine visitor last night. Came up on the deck to snack on the little seed left in the feeders and knocked one of them over the rail. Left a bunch of muddy footprints, too.


I spent time yesterday (about 4 hours) turning over the two smaller garden plots, raking out the four plots, spreading some mushroom soil, raking that into the top layers, and planting a pound-and-a-half of onion sets. I would have put in some beet and lettuce seeds but by the time I got done doing all of the above my back and knees protested. The circling Turkey Vultures didn't inspire me either.


We did get the rain as promised so the onions should get off to a good start. The rain will continue through today. I'd say it was "overcast" at the moment but that would require that the clouds lift themselves considerably. It's not "undercast" either as we are smack dab in the middle of the clouds. The fog is limiting visibility to about one hundred yards. One of the hazards of being at 2100 feet when the ceiling is somewhere around 1500 feet.


I've noticed some of the Goldfinches starting to become much, much yellower as the days pass. That's a sure sign that spring is well underway. That and the loud, repetitive song of the Song Sparrow perched on the edge of the lawn. We've still got some Pine Siskins feeding with the Goldies and Purple Sparrows. I always thought of them as a winter bird and expect they will head north soon to nest in the denser fir forests, but maybe I've got some slackers that will be satisfied with the hemlocks, spruces and pines that occur in pockets on the hillsides.


Major League Baseball is wrapping up Spring Training this weekend and begins its regular season Wednesday night when the St. Louis Cardinals face off against the Florida Marlins in Miami. That game will be on ESPN at 8:05 PM (EDT). Thursday there are seven games scheduled including the Braves at the Mets. (The Mets had an absolutely horrendous spring going 7-17. Only Cleveland did worse at 6-20. Both are scheduled to play today. The Mets play every day until Thursday.) In addition to the game in New York, there will be games in Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago (the Cubs). Hopefully, there will not be any snow postponements.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Opening Day (Fishing Season)

Opening day of trout season in New York State is April 1. There is some reasoning that goes into that. For one, it's easy to remember from year to year. Then there's the whole April First, a.k.a. Fools Day, thing.

It seems that seven out of ten years there's 1) tons of snow on the ground on 1 April, 2) ice on the streams and rivers (or at least ice dams causing horrendous flooding), 3) frigid temperatures throughout the northeast but especially in Upstate New York. If none of these conditions exist you can usually depend upon there being falling snow.

This year we've had a bit of an early spring (although there's been some back sliding lately) and snow on the ground is virtually non-existent and ice in creeks, rivers and (most) lakes is long gone. The daytime temperatures have reached the 70s for several consecutive days during the month of March and the nighttime lows have been, generally, no worse than the upper 20s.

Tonight (Friday night), however, the forecast is for up to 3 inches of snow in New York's Southern Tier. It's arriving a day early. I blame this on the fact that it's Leap Year and that extra day in February through Mother Nature off her game. Like a fastball hitter swinging at a major league change-up, she's just a wee bit early.

PS. I have yet to purchase my fishing license for either NY or PA. I usually get the NYS all-round sportsman's license which includes hunting and fishing but, when I wracked up my knee last fall, I passed on purchasing a tag for NY. PA's hunting and fishing licenses are separate and I just haven't stopped into Cooper's to pick one up. I've got time, PA's trout season doesn't start for two weeks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Scott Adams is a well known cartoonist who riffs on the workplace. His cartoons are often a hilarious take on the ineptness of middle management and the cubical work place. They are funny because so much of what he targets is true.

It is hard to imagine anything of his would be blocked by his editor but he says that this strip got the no-no.

(Beverage warning. Swallow anything you may have in your mouth before clicking on that link! That is, unless you enjoy snorting it out your nostrils or have a waterproof keyboard/monitor.)

This one, mentioned in the comments to the above, did get published. I guess it's a bit more subtle. ;-)

Monday, March 26, 2012


I may have over done it.

This morning the temperature was 35 at 7 AM and it's since fallen to 29 degrees at 10 AM. The wind is quite blustery and out of the north. I've had a fire going in the fireplace for the second consecutive morning but may have to keep feeding it today as the high will only be in the upper 30s and that's "if" the sun breaks through the overcast. Tonight it's supposed to get down to around 20 and maybe even lower than that.

Any trees that popped during the warm spell we enjoyed may now pay the price for their early exposure. That includes some peach and apples up near the Finger Lakes. I haven't seen any in flower around here although some shadbush are white upon the hillsides.

We did get a small amount of rain over the weekend, but areas around us got more.

If March comes in like a lamb must it go out like a lion?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Aerie Weather Report, March 22, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, when we still had some cold weather, the furnace at the Aerie went on the fritz. I called the folks who did the installation and talked about the error message I got on the digital read out. They ordered a replacement temperature sensor (the part targeted by the furnace's diagnostics) and sent someone out to replace it. The furnace hasn't had to kick on since as we've had days in the upper 70s and even low 80s. It's been almost two weeks.

We haven't had any rain either. The warm sun, lack of leaf cover and dry air has created a fire hazard.

Today I took steps to alleviate both problems. First Terry and I put the screens into all the windows. That action should cause the temperatures to drop precipitously within a few days.

Then I took the truck to the car wash and power washed the winter build up of encrusted clay off the Tundra. I dropped 10 quarters for five minutes of high pressure hot, foamy water and another 10 for five minutes of high pressure rinse water. I succeeded in removing 95 percent of the dirt. Some of the bugs crushed on the windshield and grill on my trip down to pick up eels last week are still clinging on. They will require a bit more elbow grease to clear off.

Washing the car is a well known cure for lack of rain.

Just checked the weather forecast and there's a cold front heading this way. Temperature and rain are to fall this weekend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Peek-a-boo, I See You.

It's that time of year when birds are nesting and webcams are opened dedicated to the voyeuristic pleasure of watching the little darlings hatch, grow and fledge. Think of it a reality TV for bird watchers.

The Decorah, Ohio webcam on the Eagles' nest is up. There seems to be three eggs somewhere under the brooding eagle. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse as the adults move about or change duty. You can try your luck here.

There are also links to other bird cams at the top of the Decorah page so if watching Bald Eagles sit all day isn't your thing you can try Mr. and Mrs. Peregrine Falcon, or Turkey Vultures, or others.

Today the Cornell labs announced their Red-tailed Hawk cam was up and running. So if you want to watch another adventure in the circle of life you can go here.


Paul, who is Way Up North, had to visit the dentist yesterday. It went well, he reports.

Apparently it wasn't this guy. Which is good because Paul's not exactly like this guy.

It's Spring!

And a young man's fancy turns to love...or something.

Had a pair of cowbirds--the first I've seen this year--out on the yard this morning. I watched for five minutes as the male attempted to woo his lady fair but her attention was plainly upon filling her crop with yummy sunflower seeds.

As they sat upon the electric wire about a foot apart, he would fluff up his feathers, bow his head in her direction, warble a little liquid song and take two steps in her direction. In response she would take two steps away from her suitor. They did this five or six times before she flew down to the feeder and finding it empty fly off to the trees. He quickly followed to perch a foot away from her on the branch.

Then she flew back to the wire and the whole little dance routine would be repeated. This time, however, she flew to the tray on the deck which did have seed. She gobbled a few before HE flew in to do his little dance and she flew off. He followed hot on her tail.

The whole thing was pretty comical. Put me in mind of this song:

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Watching" the Iditarod

So, you ask, how does one follow a 14+ day sporting event that is not broadcast live?

This is the age of the internet, no?

The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) has a wonderful web site that's chock full of stuff. The ITC offers a subscription for GPS tracking that follows every mushers move and another for insider videos with reporting and interviews along the trail. They also host numerous free forums where Iditaholics can gather to discuss a variety of topics, keep up with their favorite musher, or follow the race in minute (although sometimes frustratingly vague) detail.

It was in one of those forums (2012 GPS Updates) that I parked myself for the last two weeks. We had a core group of hard core Iditiaots. Some had forked over the dough for GPS and insider subscriptions, but were more than willing to share information with the rest of us. Others shared links to musher's kennel web sites that were often posting information via the dog handlers on the trail, or to newspaper articles/reports, or web cams that were operational at some of the check points. We had folks from all over the world. The core group had representatives from Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and Pennsylvania; and there were folks from Germany, Norway, New Zealand, and Australia. At any given time we had a running dialogue going on with two or more folks chipping participating. Even in the wee hours of the morning, we could be pretty sure someone, somewhere was going to be able to post updated GPS data and provide commentary so that those who had crashed could catch up on what was going on.

When Dallas Seavey and Aliy Zerkle were vying for first place heading into Nome, we had almost over 300 folks online following along and/or jumping in to root, root root for their favorite.

It was like a late night talk radio program with unlimited open lines. Anyone could participate--and often did. Sometimes the conversations took on a surreal quality as fatigue and sleep deprivation took over, but that was part of the fun and charm.

This was the fourth year I've followed the race on the forums and it was by far the most enjoyable yet. I was able to provide plenty of input and back-and-forth with some of the others. It felt almost like a huge family sitting around the den watching the race on TV--with the sound off and us having to provide the play-by-play. And a talkative group we were, too. When I signed off this morning we had amassed 1275 pages with 12750 comments, photos, GPS updates and 34500 page views.

Next year I may spring for the GPS and Insider (it was only around $40) this year) so I can follow the race even more closely.

Only 50 weeks to go!

(Of course much the same can be done with the Yukon Quest so its more like 46 weeks.)

Hear that?

It's the Fat Lady singing. Iditarod XL, the fortieth running of The Last Great Race on Earth© has ended. The last musher and her team of dogs passed beneath the Burled Arch on Front Street in Nome, Alaska early this morning.

I'm up late last night following the last two mushers on the Iditarod Trail (everyone else who finished was at the banquet taking place in Nome). It got to be 1 AM EDT when they finally left Safety 19 miles from Nome. Based upon their speed to Safety from White Mountain, I figured they would be pulling into Nome between 4:30 and 4:45 AM EDT so I went and took a nap, setting the alarm for 4:00 AM.

Alarm goes off. I get up and go downstairs. Feed some very confused (but willing) pussy cats. Go online to the Iditarod forum and find that the last two have 11 miles to go! WTF?

They've been starting and stopping every mile as they make very slow progress. Why? Good question.
Did one of the dog teams decide that enough was enough? Have numerous females suddenly gone into heat? (Don't laugh. One of Lance Mackey's lead dogs went into heat and he had to pull over and wait for the two leads to finish their business. Another musher had 7 of her dogs go into heat during the last third of the race. Needless to say that really slowed her team down!)
Are the Northern Lights that fascinating and/or photogenic?
Are they drag racing for sled pink slips? ("Race you to that stump down there" "You're on!" "Okay. You won that time. How about we make it two out of three?" "Three out of five?")

We may never know. In any event, they finally pulled in to the Burled Arch in Nome at 2:55:10 and 2:57:03 AM AKDT or 6:55 and 6:57 EDT.

By then I was on my second mug of coffee and had eaten breakfast.

So 14 days 11 hours 57 min 3 sec after the official restart in Willow, Alaska back on Sunday, March 4th, 55 year old rookie musher Jan Steves officially became the Red Lantern of the 2012 Iditarod Trail Race. Fittingly enough this was the 40th Iditarod and Jan's bib number was 40.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Silver Lining to Every Cloud,,,

It's an ill wind that blows no one any good...

Mass. zoo's cats benefit from Boston power loss

The Capital Grille donated 2,500 pounds of steak worth $20,000 to the Southwick's Zoo in Mendon after the restaurant lost power on Tuesday and the prime cuts of meat were no longer fit for human consumption even though they were kept in a refrigerated truck.

The zoo's two Bengal tigers, an African lion and a leopard dined like kings on Thursday. And there are enough leftovers to feed the cats for weeks to come.


Happy story for three (very) little bears


After finding three black bear cubs stranded along a road near Troy, Bradford County earlier this week, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today successfully completed a four-day race of locating and placing the two female cubs and one male cub in adoptive dens in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

It's a sweet story of some impeccable timing and extra effort by the folks in the Game Commission. You can read the rest here, but be warned the pictures of the cubs may have you going "awwww!" (You might also have to scroll down passed a lot of ads before you get to the story...but it's worth it.)

Border Collie Trials

as you've never seen them before:

(h/t to Wyatt at Support your Local Gunfighter)

Danny Boy

As you have never heard it sung(?) before:

Good Day to you!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

May the wind at your back
not be the result of
the corned beef and cabbage
you had for lunch.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Back again

Picked up 24K baby eels today and transported them north to the Asaph labs. They will stay there for 6-8 weeks being treated royally and doubling their size. Then it's off to Pine Creek and back to harsh living. At least they didn't have to swim up from the Maryland shore (where they were on Monday) via Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River. That would have taken them weeks and they would have had to run the gauntlet of predatory fish and birds. Their survival rate would have been far worse.

Why did it have to be eels?

Just to remind you about why we (The Tiadaghton Audubon Society) are providing limousine service to thousands and thousands of squiggly baby eels (glass eels), the Susquehanna River has several dams that block the passage of baby eels as they attempt to swim up river to the freshwater streams and rivers in which they grow and mature. (The dams don't block down stream movements of the adults because they are capable of traveling over land on a little bit of dew or a heavy rain...if they don't get churned to bits in some electricity producing hydro whirling thingy.)

Eels in the small tributaries are vital to the health of freshwater mussels. The baby mussels cling to the eels' gills as they move upstream and thus disburse more widely in the rivers and streams. Mussels can filter up to one gallon of water and hour as they feed thus cleaning the streams and making them excellent habitat for trout.

So, we help the eels so they can help the mussels which in turn help the trout.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Little Wigglers In Abundance

It's that time of year again. Glass eels are amassing on the Maryland coastline. Thousands and thousands of them are being netted and bagged by the US Fish and Wildlife folks in preparation of being shipped northward and inland to be transplanted into rivers.

Tomorrow I make the first run of the year down to Thompsontown to meet up with one of the USF&W agents and picking up a few tens of thousands of baby eels to transport over to the labs at Asaph as part of the project to get eels into Pine Creek.
(Maybe I should get one of those window decals that says "Baby On Board x 50K")

Last year we (members of the Tiadaghton Audubon Society) helped move about 100K eels northward and into different stretches of Pine Creek. Others helped restock Buffalo Creek near Lewisburg.

2 1/2 hours down and the same back plus time to go to and from between Asaph and the Aerie.

More arrivals

Three more pulled in to Nome while I prepared the last post.
7- Mitch Seavey
8- Michael Williams, Jr.
9- John Baker

barring any unforeseen circumstances, the next two should arrive at the finish line in the next hour and a half both left Safety 20 miles away.
10- DeeDee Janrowe at 02:21 AKDT and
11- Sigrid Ekran at 03:17 AKDT

So far it's been taking between 3 and 3 1/2 hours from Safety to Nome.

The First FInishers Are In Nome

Dallas Seavey became the youngest winner of the Iditarod yesterday when the 24/25 year-old crossed the finish line in Nome and passed under the Burled Arch at 19:29:26 AKDT. (My confusion with his age has to do with the fact that I heard it was his birthday. When the race started he was 24. When he crossed the line in Nome he (may have been) 25--depends on what time of the day he was born I guess. Officially they say 25.) The trip from Willow to Nome took Dallas and his team (he finished the race with 9 of the 16 dogs he started with) a total of 9 days, 4 hours,29 minutes and 26 seconds.

The Seavey family has a long and rich history with the 40 year old race. Dallas' dad, Mitch, won the race in 2004 and Grandpa Dan (now 74) raced in the first one in 1973. Both Mitch and Dan are still on the trail to Nome in this years race.

Second place went to Aliy Zirkle who passed under the arch almost exactly one hour later at 20:29:10 AKDT with 10 dogs in harness after 9 days, 5 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds.

Other finishers (so far): 3rd Ramey Smyth, 4th Aaron Burmeister, 5th Peter Kaiser and 6th Ray Redington, Jr.

There are still 48 mushers on the trail and they will be coming into Nome in the next couple of days. This race isn't over by a long shot. We may not have to wait for some fat lady to sing, but until the last musher on the trail comes in and blows out that Red Lantern, this thing is still on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On the Road To Nome!

Dallas Seavey pulled into the White Mountain checkpoint last night just after midnight Alaska time (or more properly Iditarod Race Time since the race seems not to have recognized the switch to daylight savings time). He had a seemingly comfortable lead over Aliy Zirkle who arrived an hour and 11 minutes later. Not far behind, however, was Ramey Smyth who showed up 52 minutes after Zirkle. All three must remain in White Mountain for a mandatory 8 hour rest before they can depart for Safety about 50 miles away and eventually the burled gateway that marks the finish line in Nome another 20 miles further on.
Aliy lost some time to Seavey on the last couple of legs coming into White Mountain and Smyth has been steadily gaining on both of the leaders so this could get real interesting later today.

Further back the winds kicked up across the ice out of Shaktoolik where a couple dozen mushers and their teams have been stuck. With temperatures near minus 10 degrees and sustained winds out of the north at around 30 miles per hour, no one is venturing forth onto the ice of Norton Sound to head into the wind and advance to Koyuk.

Currently there are two mushers running more or less together at the tail of the race (the Red Lantern position). Bob Chlupach and rookie Jan Steves are in Galena on the Yukon River and nearly 400 miles from Nome. The weather is a bit nicer there (only 2 below and 9 mph winds with a light snow falling) but they haven’t moved for quite a while. They had better shake a leg or they will be faced with a decision to be made or made for them.

Ahead of the two at the next checkpoint (Nulato) is Dallas’ Grandfather, 74 year old Dan Seavey. It would be somewhat historical if Chlupach and Steves drop out, Dallas wins and Dan gets to blow out the Red Lantern.

Following the race and chatting with other enthusiasts online in the forums sure beats following the news.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Forth and Back

Whew! Long day today. Both in time and distance. I drove up to the Bolt Hole early this morning, checked the house, barn and garage and then drove home. Round distance was 425 miles. All was well and the ground had just a very small layer of snow and ice (maybe 2 new inches of snow on top of old, crusty, frozen junk).

I checked my records and discovered I hadn't been up there since October 5th when Terry and I went up to pick up the Tundra that had been left behind when I injured my knee back in August. THe house looks like it too. I'll need to spend a couple of days just vaccuuming, dusting and washing the next time I go up. I figure, weather permitting, that will be in a couple of weeks.

Then I had to go back to the Iditarod forums and catch up on not just last night's comments but today's as well! There were close to 100 new PAGES of comments to read.

As far as I can tell, the race is on!

1 34 Seavey, Dallas
2 44 Burmeister, Aaron
3 14 Zirkle, Aliy
Only 4 miles or so between Dallas and Aliy as they head up the coast from Unalakleet toward Shaktoolik.

Behind them areL
4 11 Baker, John
5 35 Seavey, Mitch
6 28 Kaiser, Peter
7 2 Redington Jr, Ray
8 17 Jonrowe, DeeDee
9 21 Smyth, Ramey
10 59 Lindner, Sonny
11 24 Ekran, Sigrid
12 39 Anderson, Ken

In other news, Jeff King faced some recalcetrant dogs about 10 miles short of Unalakleet and after many hours of enduring a sit down strike, he was forced to scratch.

Jake Berkowitz also scratched after slicing his hand ope while cutting sosme frozen fish for his team. (Yeah, same thing happend to Mitch Seavey last year.)

Lachlan Clarke also scratched in Galena when he found himself with not enough dogs. His team had shrunk to less than 10 ready, willing and able critters.

Same for Pat Moon. He's the guy who was air lifted out a couple years back after hitting his head on a tree while negotiating The Steps. Since he hadn't finished he was still considered a rookie this year. Well, he's still a rookie after his team was reduced to jut 7 dogs. And he was still in Ruby with 400 miles to go.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the Road

I'm going to head up to the Bolt Hole tomorrow to see if it's still standing. I haven't been there since we went back to get my truck after I damaged my knee last fall.

It might be a one day up-and-back or I could stay over night. It depends upon what I find. The weather, at least, will be cooperative. It's supposed to get up into the 50s there and close to 60 here at the Aerie with lots of sunshine on Sunday but a chance of showers late on Monday.

I should be hitting the sack since we'll lose an hour tonight with Daylight Savings Time starting, but there's this race in Alaska I've been following online....

After resting in Kaltag on the Yukon River for 5 and 1/2 hours, Aliy Zirkle has hit the trail for Unalakeet on the Bering Sea. Aliy spend much of the time in Kaltag alone with her dogs. John Baker and Mitch Seavey didn't get there until 3 and 1/4 hours after she arrived. Aaron Burmeister, Dallas Seavey and Jeff King arrived even later. None of them have taken out in pursuit of Aliy as of yet. She may well be in a position to dictate the pace of the race. And if she chooses to push things, she's likely to run the boys into the ground. She's got more than an hours head start as it is and still no one is stirring out of Kaltag.

Friday, March 09, 2012

More from the Iditarod Trail

Mitch Seavey may have been the first into Ruby, but he will have to wait to enjoy his earned reward of a multi-course gourmet dinner. Apparently the Millenium Hotel, chose not to serve the meal on site, but to present it in Anchorage at a time of the musher’s choice.

Seavey, by the way is still in Ruby doing his mandatory 8 hour rest on the Yukon River.

Aliy Zerkle is ell ahead of him and the rest of the pack. She's currently some 30 miles down river heading to the next checkpoint of Galena. She will have to take her 8 hour rest either there or at Nulato or Kaltag where the trail leaves the river. She's probably hoping to build a large enough lead to remain ahead of Seavey and the rest.

On the Iditarod Trail

Musher Jim Lanier claimed the prize at Cripple Checkpoint, arriving at 13:55 AST with his team of 13 dogs. Unfortunately for Lanier, he has yet to take his mandatory 24 hour rest and will/has fallen well behind the race leaders.

Mitch Seavey has taken over the lead pulling into Ruby on the Yukon River this morning at 06:00 AST . Somewhere behind him are Aliy Zirkle, John Baker, Dallas Seavey and Ray Redington, Jr. [UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Seavey gets the gourmet dinner and cash prize for being first into Ruby. As Paul mentions in the comments, Alit Zirkle breezed through Ruby staying just long enough to drop one of her dogs before continuing on. Nine minutes is all it took her.]

Two more mushers have scratched. Ryan Redington withdrew from the race at the Takotna checkpoint citing concern for his dogs. He was down to just 10 in harness at the time. Wade Marrs scratched at the Ophir checkpoint for the same reason. Marrs had just 12 dogs in harness at the time of his withdrawl.

Each musher is permitted to start the race with 16 dogs in harness. It’s not unusual for them to drop dogs along the way due to injury, illness or just plain orneriness. ("Love" might be a reason too. Ask Lance Mackey who is down to 12 dogs.) Many of the teams are still carrying between 13 and 15 dogs but a few still have all 16 in harness. Ray Redington, Jr. (in 5th place), Aaron Burmeister (running 6th), and Michelle Phillips (13th) are all out of Cripple and heading to Ruby with 16 dogs Further back, Rookie Mike Santos (41st) has left Ophir heading to Cripple with a full string as has Art Church, Jr. (55th).

It is unusual for mushers to go with just 10 dogs this early in the race. Like Ryan Redington They are more likely to concede and withdraw…unless there are some extenuating circumstances. Rookie Pat Moon (54th) left Ophir this morning with just 10 dogs, but he started from Willow with just 12 if the charts are to be believed. You have to believe that with his medical history (diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto immune disease that targets the intestines and kidneys at age 15) this is a personal challenge and he’s looking to complete the Iditarod, not win it. (By the way, I love his quote: “Although having an illness is physical, being sick is a state of mind.”

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Almost halfway on the Iditarod

The Iditarod has claimed its first musher. Norwegian native Sylvia Furtwangler scratched yesterday afternoon at the Nikoli checkpoint. A rookie to the Iditarod, Furtwangler gave concern for her health as the reason for her withdrawl. She had 13 dogs on her team at the time. (The Dispatch story is here along with other news from the trail.)

Elsewhere, the leader board is in a state of disarray(?) as a whole lot of jockeying is going on. The Current leader seems to be Jim Lanier who left the Ophir chceckpoint at 23:25 (ADT) just a little more than an hour ahead of Trent Herbst (00:35 (ADT)) but that’s likely to be only temporary as neither has taken a mandatory 24 hour rest yet.

This first mandatory rest is also when the difference in starting times back in Willow is corrected. Those who had an early start must wait a bit longer than 24 hours before moving out. Those who started near the end of the pack will need considerably less time beyond the 24 hours. With 2 minutes between each official start back in Willow, the difference in times can be sizable. Start 1st out of 66 mushers in Willow and you might 132 minutes (2 hours 12 minutes) to give back. Your 24 hour rest is suddenly 26+ hours long. It's okay, though 'cause after this, it's all straight racing.

Meanwhile several mushers have taken their mandatory 24 in Takotna and are on the trail. Listed as running in 5th through 9th place, Mitch Seavey, Alit Zirkle, Dallas Seavey, Kohn Baker and Jeff King all stayed in Takotna but headed out between 01:13 and 02:08 this morning. Many more mushers appear to be taking their 24 hour rest at Takotna. Running in 3rd and 4th place, Martin Buser and his son Rohn have been at the Ophir checkpoint since 12:19 and 13:34 respectively so it’s likely they are taking their 24.

Much further back in the listings, in 44th and 45th places, Lance Mackey and Kelly Griffin took their 24 at McGrath but are once more on the trail heading to Takotna. (Lance was probably playing dog whisperer trying to convince his team that as much as he wouldn’t mind having puppies sired by his two lead dogs, there will be plenty of time for lovin’ once they get to Nome. )

The Ophir checkpoint is 73 miles from Cripple considered the “official” halfway point in the race when the northern route is used. The first musher to arrive at Cripple, an old gold rush mining town, is awarded a poke of $3000 in gold nuggets. That’ll buy a lot of kibble!

After Cripple, the next stop is 70 miles further along the trail at Ruby. Ruby is 495 miles from Anchorage, about 480 miles to Nome, and the first stop on the fabled Yukon River. The first musher to arrive there gets a gourmet meal and a cash prize curtsey of the Millennium Alaska Hotel in Anchorage. They actually serve up the meal at Ruby having the chef make the trip.

There’s a lot of prestige (not to mention good food and cash) involved in getting to either Cripple or Ruby first So this stretch is often a bit of a race-within-a-race. But the Big Prize--first to Nome--that’s still a long way away.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The things you see along the Iditarod Trail

Meanwhile, The Last Great Race On Earth continues. Currently, Rohn Buser is chasing his dad Martin between Takotna checkpoint and Ophir. That’s only a 23 mile stretch so one or the other (and Martin left an hour and 15 minutes ahead of his son) should be getting there soon.

The Alaska Dispatch posted an excellent story today about some of the trials and tribulations faced by mushers and their teams on the Iditarod Trail--so far. Titled: A near-death experience for dog in runaway Iditarod Trail team, the stuff they've run into runs from falling asleep and off your sled to collisions with stumps and spruce trees to possible food poisoning to…well, the dog teams are coed and not neutered or spayed so use your imagination but be sure to read all of the article.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Notes from the Aerie

This last Friday I decided to take a short ride up to the Tioga-Hammond Lake complex to see if any of the geese I had seen flying north had put into the lakes.

My first stop was at the overlook above the junction of the two lakes. There's a weir there that mixes the waters of Hammond Lake/Crooked Creek with the acidified waters of Tioga Lake/River. (Drainage from the Bloss coal mines has caused the Tioga River to become something of a dead zone.) The overlook is on an exposed point some 75-100 feet above the water of Tioga Lake. The wind gets funneled through the gap in the mountains in this area and, since it was coming from the south and blowing right up the lake to begin with, was quite strong. I needed to hold my knit hat on for fear it would be blown away. This wind, in conjunction with the warm winter we've enjoyed, had freed the Tioga Lake of any ice but it also kept the number of bird species to a minimum. I was able to spot only a handful of Common Mergansers and several hundred Ring-billed gulls. The gulls were putting on an aerial acrobatics display that was impressive but the wind prevented me from spending much time enjoying it.

A glance over toward Hammond Lake showed that the more protected waters (the wind had to navigate over the mountain and hit the lake at right angles to its length) still had some ice on it. On that ice I saw three large dark birds that I determined were immature Bald Eagles. There was also a Red-tailed Hawk soaring on the wind.

Driving on to the Ives Run Campground area, I spotted half a dozen American Crows working the tall grass of one of the fields near the day use area. Out on the water there were more Common Mergansers and several hundred Ring-billed Gulls but no geese of any kind.

Leaving Ives Run, I drove the Railroad Grade Trail towards Hills Creek State Park. The RGT was not wind blown as it too is protected by the mountain ridge that runs east-west on its southern side but there were no small birds visibly (or audibly) present along the mile and a half length.

Hills Creek State Park had a little more diversity. A dozen or so Canada Geese had taken advantage of the open waters as had several Ring-billed Gulls, eight Common Mergansers, two dozen Ring-necked Ducks, and a pair of Mallards. I heard, but did not see, a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and a White-Breasted Nuthatch in the thickets along the lake shore.

My count from this outing wasn't that great. While it was pleasing to see the Bald Eagles, I have more species of birds around the Aerie and only the numbers of Ring-billed Gulls topped the Goldfinches and Dark-eyed Juncos I see at the feeders on a daily basis.


Yesterday (Sunday) I spied a relatively slim ground hog scurrying through the woods here at the Aerie. "Your cousin says you've still got two more weeks of winter, you idiot! Go back to sleep!" I shouted out to it but it kept on going. Then I laughed as the lake effect snow flurries arrived and the temperature remained below 32 degrees. When I go to 15 degrees last night, I (sorta) hoped the little sh*t froze.


I've heard several Red-winged Blackbirds the last two days and saw my first of the year when I went for mail this morning. The males typically arrive before the females to set up territories but I wonder how they decide what constitutes a prime site when many ponds and marshes are still frozen and the cattails and phragmities they use for nesting sites are still nothing but humps of tan/brown?


The winds today are coming out of the north-northwest so I guess any geese desirous of heading north are going to hunker down where they are for a few days until they get some favorable tail winds. With the cold night time temperatures we are having, it's probably for the best.


Our furnace is acting up again. Last year we started having some problems with a "return water temperature sensor." The computerized controls would shut off the furnace when the sensor indicated a lack of electrical juice running through it. We had a repairman come out to look at it then and he gave it a clean bill of health but said if it should act up again, we might have to have the sensor replaced. Well, since Thursday the damn thing has shut down a dozen times. It restarts when we press reset, but it sure doesn't inspire any confidence. Twice we got up to 50 degree temperatures inside. Leaving the house for several days is, naturally, out of the question. The water in the pipes (PEX tubing actually) that normally heat the house isn't a worry. The thermostats tell the circulating pumps to keep that water flowing even though it's not warm enough to heat the house. The supply lines to sinks and showers, however....

So this morning I stopped at Williams Oil & Propane, the company that installed the system, and told them of my concerns. The guy I spoke with tried to contact the manufacturer to pick their brains but had no luck. Their guru was out of the office. The Williams guy will try again and get back to me in a day or two. *sigh* tells me the low tonight will again be around 15 degrees. It will warm up Tuesday (high of 43, low of 28) and Wednesday (high of 60!, low of 40), however.


Saturday, March 03, 2012


"Although he is a very poor fielder, he is a very poor hitter."

Ring Lardner, Sr.
(03/03/1885 – 09/25/1933)
US writer

They don't make sports writers like this any more.

Speaking of Things Starting...

Today is the day of the Ceremonial Start of the Last Great Race on Earth, aka The Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The first musher, Ray Redington, Jr., wearing bib #2, will be heading out of Anchorage in just a few hours heading to the Campbell Airstrip 11 miles away. He will be followed by 65 other stalwarts with the last being Ryan Redington, wearing bib #66.

Yeah, Ray and Ryan are brothers. Granddad, Joe Redington, is credited with starting this race 40 years ago and with keeping it going during the difficult early years. (Joe also completed the Iditarod 19 times finishing his last at the age of 80!) Their dad, Raymie, was a participant in the first race in 1973 and has completed 13 Iditarod races. He's not in this year's race, however.

As might be expected, the preponderance of racers come from Alaska but there are a number from the lower 48 and Canada. There are even entrants from New Zealand (rookie Curt Perano) and Norway (rookie Silvia Furtwängler and veteran Sigrid Ekran).

Tomorrow's restart will be in Willow this year. Along with some rerouting of the race the total distance will be 975 miles. Here's a list of this year's checkpoints and the distances involved. You can expect the first musher and his/her team to pull into Nome between 9 and 11 days after they leave Willow. The final musher and his/her team can get to Nome anywhere from 14 to 18 days after they leave Willow.

Good thing I've not much planned for the next two weeks or so.

It Has Begun!

This is the time of year when a young man’s fancy (and many a young girl’s) turns to the smell of new leather rubbed well with neatsfoot oil; the odor of ash rubbed hard with an old bone to compact the wood grain; the fragrance of a freshly mowed baseball field; the pop of a pitched ball into a catcher’s mitt; and the crack of the same ball against that ash bat recently boned to give it hardness as it is sent sailing over the fence.

This is the time of year when hope springs eternal. Baseball season has begun.

Last night, the Seattle Mariners defeated the Oakland A’s 8-5 in the first Cactus League game of the year. Today there will be four more Cactus League games and five Grapefruit League contests—including the first for those damn Yankees and cursed Braves. The Mets do not play their first game until Monday when they face the Washington Nationals. From then until October it will be baseball, baseball, baseball.

Oh, there will be some March Madness on the NCAA front (teams TBA soon), a long and extended NBA playoff (I’m pretty sure New Orleans (9-27), Washington (7-28 and Charlotte (4-30) are out of the playoff picture but as for everyone else…), and a similar NHL playoff (is anyone truly out of it?) leading to a championship or three--and, perhaps some crazy fans setting fire to a city or two—at the beginning/first half of the MBL season. Hopefully they will be done by the All-Star break. And there will be college and pro football to serve as distractions for those fans teams are 20 games out on September 1st. But it will be another summer of baseball. Lots of baseball. And that is good.