Why I Wanted to Visit Alaska In the Winter
Guest Blogger, Jane Suiter
Potos by Jane Suiter
I have the privilege of having two friends who call Alaska home. My first visit was in the summer of 1998 when I turned 50. Because I had always wanted to visit Alaska, I went that year. My second trip was the summer of 2017. The summer solstice to be specific since it was my birthday. I wanted to experience close to 24 hours of sunshine. It made it much easier to get up in the middle of the night for a bathroom trip. I didn’t have to turn on the light.
My most recent visit followed close on the heels of the summer visit – Thanksgiving 2017. While my main reason for the visit was to see my friends, I had some other reasons to visit this time of year. I wanted to experience the Northern Lights, the late sunrise and early sunsets, and an earthquake.
Appeal of the Aurora
Of course, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, occur all times of the year but the summer night sky isn’t dark enough for the lights to be visible to onlookers.
Aurora. Photo by Jane Suiter
I arrived on a Sunday. My friend, Brenda, is a teacher and had to work Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. She has an app that tracks the possibility of Northern Lights occurring in the Eagle River, AK, area. Her bedroom was upstairs and mine was on the main level. At 11 p.m. the first night she texted me to see if I was still awake. I don’t usually go to bed before midnight so I was. She asked if I wanted to go check out the Northern Lights. I knew she had to work the next day and I was impressed that she was willing to go check them out.
We drove up Mount Baldy so we would have an unobstructed view of the sky. When we got to the top we weren’t the only ones there. Other people had gathered to see the lights. Fortunately, we found a parking place in the crowded lot. We were not disappointed. The Aurora Borealis was spectacular. The light show lasted about 15 minutes. Most of the color was green but every once in a while, we were treated to some other colors. A continuous wave of light danced across the sky. It was amazing and something I won’t forget.
Experiencing the Dark
My second reason to visit in winter occurred every day. I wanted to experience the short days of winter in the north. Sunrise was around 9:15 a.m. and sunset was around 4 p.m. I didn’t have a problem with the 4 p.m. sunset but didn’t like the 9:15 a.m. sunrise. I would like to go to work in the sunlight and don’t mind coming home in the dark. This span of sunshine time would bother me if I lived there.
Feeling the Earth Move Under My Feet
My third reason to re-visit Alaska happened on the day I was scheduled to leave. I have traveled to California several times and have never felt an earthquake. As a retired earth science teacher, I wanted to experience an earthquake without damage or fear for my life.
The day it happened in Alaska, I was sitting at the table and all of a sudden everything started shaking. It was an earthquake! The epicenter was about 100 miles away and it was a 5.1 on the Richter scale. The shaking lasted about 10 seconds and some of the items on the bookshelves were vibrating. It was an interesting sensation, to say the least.
For anyone visiting Alaska one of the sites to see is Denali, the mountain. It is a rare opportunity to see this mountain. In June we could see it from afar on our way back to Anchorage. I took a bus tour into the park but it was a cloudy and rainy day so no mountain view. We took a train from Anchorage to Talkeetna to spend the night. On the way to Talkeetna, Denali was visible. The train even stopped so we could take pictures. When we got to Talkeetna, we walked around this small town. We found a spot along the river where Denali was still visible. It was a great site.
I loved my winter trip to Alaska and I think you will, too.
Frost covered trees.
Jane with friends on the train.
“The Great One” from the indigenous Koyukon language.
Colors, Costumes, Customs, and Carvings all coalesced at the Anchorage Museum on a cold winter’s day. On my first visit to this amazing city tucked into the head of the Cook Inlet, we took a break from all things outdoors in the winter, to tour this vast museum. Each wing presents a different aspect. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, A Discovery Center, Planetarium, Art of the North Galleries and my favorite, the Alaska Galleries. This gallery artfully tells the story of Alaska Natives, settlement and the future.
The moment I stepped into the Alaska Galleries, I felt the spirit of the indigenous peoples. Their stories told through many voices and perspectives guide visitors through the rich history of this vast and uncompromising land. The exhibit is visually and auditorily stimulating. Almost overwhelming. So, I found it best to sit, close my eyes and listen to the messages below the surface. “What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know.” (Iyaaka Lore of St. Lawrence Island. Echoes of our Eskimo Elders.)
I tried to seat myself in openness to the subtle messages.
Map of First People regions
Interesting to me was the similarities in stories, clothing and equipment and the sense of belonging to each other and to the land. Yet, how they manifested depended on the richness of the region. Far Southeast Alaska tribes, that benefit from a milder climate and plentiful ocean and land resources seem to have more richly woven fabrics and elaborate costumes. The interior tribes live closer to the edge of subsistence as their artifacts showed. One intriguing display was a map of Alaska Natives and compared a spoon design from each of the cultures. Some were elaborate. Others simple.
Much effort has gone into helping to blend traditional life with the modern reality so that youth can live successfully in both worlds. “We’ve lost a whole generation of culture, but now it’s coming back.” (Maria Turnpaughl Unangax)
The overall message I received is” “We are connected”. All things have gratitude and that to “give gifts to others (is important for) it comes back to you.”
Another great display was of how transportation transformed Alaska. From rugged trails to shipping routes to overland methods to the advent of air travel. The overall message there is that whoever controls Alaska, controls the world. It is a pivotal point of communication and transportation.
This is an overview of just two of the Anchorage Museum’s Galleries.
Tucked away in a neighborhood is the Alaska Jewish Museum. This small museum shares the story of Alaskans helping rescue Jewish refugees. Alaska Airlines took the lead in these dangerous humanitarian missions.
So, take a look at winter in Alaska – Anchorage especially – and remember that whether you are a winter outdoor enthusiast or a “curl up with a good book inside” winter enthusiast, Anchorage will warm you up.
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According to National Public Radio physicians in all 50 states have reported treating cases of Lyme Disease. It is named for the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified in the 1970s.
At first, the disease was confined mostly to the Eastern States and parts of the upper Midwest, but it has since spread widely, and the Center for Disease Control considers it one of the fastest spreading vector-borne diseases. Lyme Disease can cause fatigue, joint pain, and serious long-term problems. It is spread to people bitten by a tick so tiny that often the victim never sees it.
What’s Up With the Fatigue?
Rich contracted Lyme Disease in 2015 and again in 2018 and was successfully treated by Cedar Rapids Physician, Mary Anne Nelson, both times. His experience may help anyone who may have contracted the disease enjoy recovery from the disease. A major symptom can be fatigue.
“In 2015 I felt utterly fatigued for weeks on end. I never saw a tick or had a rash so didn’t suspect Lyme Disease. Because I wasn’t terribly sick I delayed going to Dr. Nelson until I started having knee joint pain. She prescribed a blood test that was positive for Lyme and treated it with powerful antibiotics. Fortunately, the medication worked, I had no side effects from the medication, and after a couple of months my energy returned as the joint pain faded,” he said.
Return of Lyme Disease
A common symptom is a generalized rash that is warm to the touch.
In 2018 a pinkish rash appeared on Rich’s left shoulder along with shoulder joint pain.
He immediately visited Dr. Nelson. She prescribed antibiotics, skipping the blood test. Symptoms vanished in a few weeks.
Not all Lyme victims are as fortunate as Rich and many struggle with the disease for years. Anyone who experiences the symptoms of rash, joint pain, or lethargy, even if they don’t feel terribly sick, should get to their physician right away. Early treatment may be most effective.
Hard to Detect
According to Dr. Nelson, Rich’s second round of Lyme was fairly typical. Like him, many victims are unaware they were bitten by a tick and often a pink rash is more common than the classic bullseye rash once thought to be a key symptom.
Lyme Disease isn’t restricted to people who slog through woods and prairies. The tick can lurk in yards, on golf courses, and in city parks. Although Lyme Disease is serious, remember, being in Nature offers tremendous health benefits. The risk of Lyme Disease shouldn’t discourage people from enjoying the outdoors.
Winding Pathways is concerned that people will shun the outdoors for fear of Lyme Disease. We encourage people to continue to enjoy their yards but be aware of the possibility of Lyme Disease, know its symptoms and take some precautions to ensure good health. Here are suggestions:
Tuck long pants into socks to make it difficult for a tick to access the skin.
Spray clothing with Permethrin. This chemical kills ticks and insects and is meant to be applied to clothing, not skin. It persists on clothes through several washings. Rich keeps a pair of permethrin-treated pants in the garage that he dons when working or walking in ticky areas.
Purchase and wear clothing permeated with permethrin. Socks are available from Red Start Birding. A full line of clothing is available from Insect Shield. Local stores may sell permethrin treated clothes.
After being outdoors take a sudsy shower and do a body tick check. Ticks sometimes walk on the skin for hours before biting. A tick strolling on the skin but not dug into the skin won’t cause Lyme Disease. Flush it down the toilet. Wash your hands.
Be aware of symptoms. If a rash, lethargy, or joint pain appears get to a doctor right away.
Go Outside and play. The mental and physical benefits from contact with nature are huge. Just be tick aware.