A tiny migrating warbler changed my life. As I sat on my back deck a few springs ago a tiny bird landed on a twig about ten feet in front of me. I could see it singing but couldn’t hear a thing.
Military Training and Hearing Loss
My hearing loss probably started as an Army trainee in the late ‘60s guiding 50 caliber shells into a machine gun. Every time the gun spit a bullet downrange a massive blast of noise and pressure hit my skull. In later years I spent hours running chainsaws, vacuum cleaners, and lawn mowers. All to the detriment of my hearing.
Hearing loss is an insidious stealthy condition. It crept up on me so slowly and gradually that I never noticed it. My wife certainly knew something was going on as I increasingly asked her, and everyone else, to repeat sentences. Conversation in restaurants became challenging and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, became my constant companion. Night and day my ears never stop buzzing.
Call to Action
Fitting hearing aids is a process and building a relationship
Seeing, but not hearing, the warbler spurred me to call Dr. Jennifer Reekers at Heartland Hearing Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Soon I was sitting opposite her in a hearing test booth that confirmed what I already Low-frequency sounds were easy to distinguish but my ability to detect other sounds dropped as high frequency increased. Dr. Reekers shared good news. Thanks to modern technology she could improve my ability to hear and reduce the pesky tinnitus.
Shortly after receiving my new hearing aids I hiked a six-mile trail to Hanging Rock overlook at Effigy Mounds National Monument. Along the trail, I was serenaded by warblers and Orioles. In a moist trailside valley nature’s most beautiful sound brought me joy. It was the first time I’d heard a wood thrush since my hearing declined.
Everyday Sources of Hearing Loss
Millions of Americans suffer hearing loss, often caused by loud noise exposure. Although most people realize that gunshots and fireworks can cause hearing problems, few recognize that exposure to common everyday lower intensity noise causes gradual hearing loss. Vacuum cleaners, blenders, coffee grinders, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and the dreadfully loud hand dryers in public restrooms can contribute to a permanent hearing loss. Damage is cumulative.
Solutions exist! The best, by far, is to prevent hearing loss by protecting the ears from loud noise. Inexpensive muffs and plugs mute the scream of vacuum cleaners and power tools. I keep a pair by every noisy machine and always put them on before pushing the start button. Rather than allowing a restroom hand dryer I keep a clean handkerchief in my pocket and use it to dry my hands. Parents should be especially careful to protect their children’s hearing by choosing quiet toys over shrill ones and making sure kids wear muffs when exposed to noise.
Ironically enjoying music can contribute to hearing loss. Many concerts are at such a high decibel level that even short exposure can lead to lifelong hearing problems. Fortunately, devices are available from audiologists that reduce the volume of noise entering the ear while retaining sound quality. They enable enjoyable safe listening.
Technology to the Rescue
By the time I recognized my hearing loss, it was too late to prevent it, but the hearing aids restored my ability to distinguish sounds. I will probably always have tinnitus, but technology has diminished its impact. These days I’m careful to muffle loud noise to avoid further damaging my hearing.
Thanks to Dr. Reekers my hearing aids help me enjoy conversation, birds, music, and more of life’s delightful sounds. I encourage everyone to protect their hearing from loud noise and to seek the help of an audiologist to improve their ability to distinguish sounds.
Birding again is a joy with hearing aids, thanks to Heartland Hearing
Poster by Coe Student
It’s amazing how many connections you will find when you travel to Alaska. My winter journey started with a fine chat with a Coe College student headed to the Twin Cities for a physics presentation. As a Coe grad, I was excited to hear about his work and know some of the professors I have long admired.
From Minnesota to Anchorage I visited with several X-C skiers taking part in the Tour of Anchorage and actually caught a glimpse of them on the trail later.
We literally bumped into Iowa State fans while walking to the Ceremonial Start to the Iditarod.
Thoughtful note from a parent.
On the way back I found on my seat a sweet note from a fellow traveler apologizing in advance and a few “goodies” in a small bag. How thoughtful! And, the infant was quiet most of the way, fussing only briefly.
Since my trip March 2017, I’ve met three people bound for Alaska, visited with a half dozen who plan to go there, and many who have traveled and are eager to share their adventures.
Alaska offers so much each season so check out the Alaska websites of the areas you plan to visit.
Winter or Summer Solstice events abound, and you will want to take them in.
Brain Ohlen, David and Brenda Hack of Alaska. Skhoops keep legs warm in winter.
Clothing: No matter the season you visit, plan for the varied weather in Alaska that can range from bitter cold to balmy days. In winter everyone really knows how to dress to stay warm and be able to move. A great innovation is skhoops which are insulated skirts. They come in varied lengths and women slip them on over their office clothing when they go out for short walks. They sure are handy for long times outside as an added layer against the cold and they allow movement!
Alaska towns have all sorts of indoor activities like concerts and even in the sophisticated venues, dress ranges from nice casual to formal.
Everyone knows how to keep the feet warm with well insulated, waterproof, and comfy boots.
All sorts of hats are the rage no matter the season. In winter people cover their faces and in summer they shield themselves from the sun, wind, and bugs.
Alaska is expensive so make sure your credit card is up to date and bring cash. Some places take only cash.
Visitors have a range of choices for lodging. Some stay with friends. Others use hostels and hotels and motels. Airbnbs are popular. Some folks like bed and breakfasts and lodges because they interact with locals. Lodges in Alaska are different from bed and breakfasts. So, check out what is included in the price.
Great meals in Alaska
Just like the lower 48, Alaska has its food trucks with tasty treats for those on the go at festivals. Cafés have lovely choices and attentive servers. Breweries are all the rage in Alaska. Perhaps one of the most elegant restaurants in the Anchorage area is the Crow’s Nest perched atop the Captain Cook Hotel downtown. It is a testament to the resiliency of Alaskans as it was part of the renovation of Anchorage after the 1964 9.2 Good Friday earthquake that leveled much of the city.
One Alaska suggested for visitors to get in shape for walking, skiing, hiking and fat tire biking which is a terrific way to get around in winter as well as summer. Alaska is wild. So, stay within your limits and have a guide for those out-of-the-way trips.
Alaska in any season offers up a wonderful adventure. Consider winter when bugs and bears are sleeping and food and festivals abound.
All sorts of hats appear.
Scrubbing the ice.
A dog sled handler dressed up.
Cheering on the Iditarod
People know how to dress to enjoy Alaska outdoors.
At the Iditarod Start
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.
The Anchorage Concert Series attracts the hottest shows. The Anchorage Symphony delights patrons with high quality programs.
The Anchorage International Film Festival always has something new and different brewing to warm winter clients yearning for quirky and exciting.
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.
The Alaska Museum warms your spirit.
The foyer hosts many events.
Interactive display of transportation to Alaska.
A Guest Blog by
Sunnylands is the 200-acre estate outside Palm Springs of Walter and Lenore Annenberg. In 2001 they created a trust fund to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.” A 25,000 square foot, Mid-Century marvel, this peaceful oasis is set in the center of a 9-hole golf course. The property is now used for retreats as well as high-level summits. Former President Obama met Chinese President Xi Jinping. Other dignitaries include the Reagans, Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher. The work of the Foundation is committed to sustainability, Global Cooperation, Democratic Institutions and Global Health and Food Security.
A hint of Thyme.
A visitor center was constructed at the entry and with it several breath-taking garden vignettes. As we toured the gardens, the tree-lined path around the great lawn opened to a clearing which contained a labyrinth. The 7-circuit path was wide and separated by low plantings.
To finish reading this guest blog, go to 1080 Labyrinth of Recovery and Laughter.
At the Iditarod Start
Food in Alaska is just plain fun! The Last Frontier state has one of the most ethnically diverse area codes in the country. English, Irish, Scottish, German, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, African Americans, Laotians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Native American, Italian, Mexican and Russian are among the many groups of settlers. Alaska Natives with their several family identifications make up even more diversity.
And, as the spring 2018 issue of “Bake From Scratch” magazine points out, each cultural group brought its own type of food which has since fused into uniquely Alaskan fare. I sampled lots the few days I was in Alaska this winter. Some from different cultures and some from the subsistence foraging that is part of being Alaskan.
Art on a wall
My daughter and son-in-law hosted me for a fun Fur Rondy-Iditarod time in March. At a charming downtown restaurant, we enjoyed the wall art being prepped for “First Friday” when art galleries and restaurants feature new art, stay open for music and sometimes introduce new dishes. Tomato bisque and roll and grilled cheese sandwiches hit the spot on a cold and grey late winter day.
After walking off the lunch we hit Wild Scoops for their truly Alaskan sourced ice cream of “wildly” exciting flavors. From the micro-creameries to the harvested berries they boast ingredients from Alaska in generous Wild Scoops portions. We then wandered through the Alaska Museum to walk off those calories.
On the morning of the Iditarod, the first order of business for Brian and me was the stop at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. This truly family affair of making traditional and specialty breads, muffins and scones using organic ingredients was a delight to see and smell. Lines out the door gave a clue to the popularity and was worth the wait to select a roll and coffee for the walk up to the Ceremonial Start. We saved a muffin for Nancy who was working at Campbell Creek Science Center where the Ceremonial Start ends at the Campbell Airstrip.
While not particularly “ethnic” the hotdogs for sale by vendors at the downtown Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod had long lines waiting with numerous sauces and spreads to tempt the taste buds.
Artisan Breads ready to buy.
New and different foods!
A trip to New Sagaya market was an eye-opener. So many choices from so many countries and cultures within each country. We snacked on interesting appetizers while we sipped great coffee. Poke – Hawaiian for slice or section – can be both a fish salad and an appetizer. We ate aku a raw oily tuna. Well, it was OK to try – once. Mochi is a round rice ball. Kind of soft and squishy. It had a subtle sweetness. Mike Barnes, Chief Operating Officer, accurately boasts, “NEW SAGAYA DOES WHAT NOBODY ELSE WANTS TO DO…WE GO THE EXTRA MILE.” Indeed, they seem to! Friendly, knowledgeable and the store is well-stocked with about any diverse food customers could want.
Waiting for the movie to start.
The Bear Tooth Theatre Pub is a “have to visit” place to eat and sample craft beers while watching first run, indie and foreign films. Broken Tooth Beer served there is just one of the best! And the pizzas are loaded with great locally sourced toppings on a crispy yet substantial crust. And, the popcorn…of course! Have to take it in. The background is that a few “fresh-faced college friends” concocted the idea of The Theatre Pub in the late 1990s. They gave up lucrative careers in computers and law when craft beers were coming of age and have been going strong since.
Not only did we eat out, but also, Nancy and Brian prepared wonderful meals at home. Most Alaskans forage and they are onto this one. They’ve had great adventures halibut fishing, picking berries and making jams and chutneys. Brian has plans for fall hunting and fishing expeditions. Meanwhile, they served elk and moose from previous trips, halibut tacos, Dutch Babies with their jams, and salmon from a neighbor. One friendly fact about Alaskans I learned is that if someone offers to help or offers food, say, “Yes. Thank you.” Alaskans mean it when they offer.
Moose and elk with greens and side dish.
Beautifully presented dinner.
We enjoyed wonderful home cooked meals.
Alaskans I met are genuinely friendly and use organic and local products as much as possible. Always, the dishes are infused with a truly Alaskan personality – We are Glad you are Here!