The Great Equinox Flood of 2012, Part Six and Last

Continued from part five. Having wisely decided to move to a more secure location, the question now was where? The trail to town was submerged, and the security of the town itself was an open question. So south wasn’t looking good. North looked a lot more promising. The Chase trail is on the west ( downstream) side of the tracks/dam and was still dry north of the bridge. We decided to move just the short distance to the west side of the rail grade and make camp there. If things worsened, we would be in a good position to retreat north, even literally head for the hills if need be. Just a short move, but if we stayed at the cabin and the water got significantly higher, we would be cut off from the only good escape route.

So how hard can it be to move seven sled dogs a few hundred yards? For those of you who don’t know sled dogs, I will tell you – pretty hard. These guys are very very good at the things they do, like pulling sleds – and getting themselves into trouble. ?And they are very very bad at the things they don’t normally do, like swimming, coming when called, or behaving remotely like domesticated animals. And they were all of course very worked up – another one of their major skills. It took about an hour. Or was it two hours? Think rodeo. African wildlife documentary, stampeding wildebeasts. Mud wrestling. Rugby. My one lasting image is of Ajax, standing chin-deep in water in his wet black tuxedo, 10 feet from the correct shore, deciding he couldn’t do it, and heading back the 90 feet he had already come – while over his head sails “free willie” Ivory, on his sixth crossing as a dolphin-gazelle, screaming dog yahoos at the top of his considerable lungs.

We reached our destination, all hands accounted for and no blood.

Camped beside the chase trail, Talkeetna Alaska

Six of the seven dogs can be seen in this photo of the west-side camp, if you look carefully. Click to enlarge.

Lead dog Jenny in the woods.

Jenny, calmly posing for Dog Beauty Magazine and enjoying all the great new smells. Hipstamatic Photo by Elf.

With the dogs all curled up in the woods, on nice fresh leaves actually better than their dogyards, a fire going, and darkness closing in, we settled down for the night. It was actually very nice. And if we had to, we could have been on the move in about ten minutes. The wheeler was parked facing north, gangline hooked to the front end , and harnesses already attached. It didn’t come to that, but we were ready.

Night passed with gentle rain, the roaring of the river in the darkness, and the odd absence of trains – the track had washed out at Gold Creek north of us. A fiery dawn revealed the river down just a bit, and hope that the crisis had peaked.

Dawn over the Talkeetna River, flood of 2012

Dawn the morning after. Photo by Elf.

Josh with his tea, Talkeetna flood of 2012

Dry clothes, dry land, hot tea. Life is good. Photo by Elf

In our flight from the cabin, Annie had managed to pack exactly what we would need to spend a comfortable night and have some food, -and the all important coffee- in the morning.

The still-charged phone links to the outside.

The still-charged phone links to the outside. Photo by Elf.

Over breakfast, I talked to family and friends on “the outside”, and reassured those who had last seen Annie headed INTO the flood that she was fine and taking pictures.

That turned out to indeed be the peak of the flood. For days the river remained at levels that would previously have seemed ominous and now felt strangely reassuring. And it slowly, slowly, went down, revealing a devastated and much-changed landscape. I will post some more pictures of that soon.

We went back to the cabin that day, all was well, and the dogs enjoyed their outing very much. In another day the Chase trail was navigable by wheeler, although I did pass a salmon swimming by me in the other lane on my way in to town.

November Dark

“One of the supreme ironies of civilized society is that the lights we
switch on to allow sight in the dark blind us to seeing our place in
the stars.”

I got this from my friend Teri, who got it from her friend Stephen, who says he got it from the world.

If you are going to live at latitude 62, it helps to have an appreciation for darkness. You don’t have to be happy to see the days getting shorter, nobody does that! But if you can’t at least come to friendly terms with darkness, you might need to head south.
Lucky for me I have always had at least some fondness for the dark. Years ago my wife and I bought a house and moved in, in October. It had a yard light, a big mercury streetlight on a metal pole. To my disbelief I discovered that there was no switch for that light, only a photo sensor. Whenever it got the least bit dark, the light was on. After all, you wouldn’t ever want to experience darkness-god forbid- or look at the stars, the aurora, or even see what the dogs were barking at out in the woods beyond that blinding circle of electric light. I tied a rope to the pole and the back of my truck and tore it down.

I find automated lights not convenient but annoying, especially if there is no manual override. Just because I open the door of my truck doesn’t mean I want the dome light on. Maybe I’m trying to keep my night vision, maybe I want privacy.

As I write this, I am sitting in my cabin by the orange glow of the wood stove. The teapot is heating over the blue flame of the gas burner. Outside the last of the sunset is fading in a pale yellow swath behind the birches. It’s getting dark. The wind is blowing in the woods. It’s all kind of melancholy and bittersweet. And real.

Would I want it dark all the time? Of course not. I’m not at all sure I could live in Barrow or Kotzebue. Bit I am sure we lose something important if we try to banish darkness from our sight, and from our selves.



Elements of a Good Day

Step One: Drink tea and read a good book in front of the fire while the cabin warms up.

Cozy in front of a wood stove with a cup of tea.

Sheepskin and tea. Aaaah.

Step two: Replenish the fuel supply.

Splitting Maul and Firewood, Talkeetna Alaska

Like money in the bank, only warmer.

Step Three: Get out and get some sunshine and exercise.

Dog team on the trail, Talkeetna Alaska

Just enough snow to run with the sled.

Step four: Receive a great truth from a humble source.

Quotation from All Quiet on the Western Front

Some things are just too true and too big to fit on a mere bumper.

November Light

The river is flowing crystal clear, or inky black depending on the depth and the angle of your view, and occasionally, solid gold. This was the scene from upstairs at “high noon” today. Beautiful, although I do wish it would hurry up and freeze over.

Sunlight on the Talkeetna River, November 2012

As light as it gets – High Noon!

The Great Equinox Flood of 2012, Part Five

…Continued from part four.With the Honda humming along, I now had phone and internet once again. I called Steve and found out the wall of water had actually been predicted for the Susitna River, not the Talkeetna. However, this close to the confluence, it could still raise my level if the Susitna backed up the slough. Wait and watch, I guess.

Now it was time to walk towards town to meet Annie. I canoed to the tracks again, and started walking south. By now the river was significantly higher than just a few hours ago. On my left the flooded woods was within three or four vertical feet of coming over the tracks. While on my right I was looking down at the flooded Chase trail, at least ten feet lower. Clearly the railroad embankment was acting as a dam. I later learned that it had the same effect in town, flooding the east side of town, while sparing houses on the west side, including downtown. Again, I? noticed what a gorgeous day it was, sunshine and blue sky la-dee-dah. Made everything seem even weirder.

Before long I was very happy to see Annie appear from around the bend, a brightly colored speck walking north. She said she had to talk her way past 3 roadblocks, and felt like the only rat climbing UP the ropes to the ship. Her trip across the catwalk had been very scary, the bridge just humming with the raw power of the water blasting underneath, trees smashing into the abutments, while a helicopter followed her overhead. Yes, they were in fact evacuating Talkeetna, and the road was blocked at the top of the hill on the way into town. As we walked north, I looked around through her eyes, as mine had at least a couple days to get used to the situation. The railroad embankment we walked on was the only land in sight in any direction. Everything else was a loud chaos of fast moving, ice cold brown water. Not for the first time I thought – she’s a brave woman.

Back to the cabin we went, via Canoes Two and One. I moved some things up into the cabin, tied things to trees, etc. But mostly we just watched the river rising…and rising…..and rising…

It was now over the upper bank and into the front yard. The dog yard was underwater.

Flooding Talkeetna River, September 2012

Friday afternoon the slough came over the top bank into the yard. We were running out of land!

River level prediction chart, Talkeetna River, September 2012

When I saw this, I knew it was time.

Around four o’clock Annie said she thought we should move the dogs and ourselves to a more strategic location. I was hesitant, not wanting to leave the cabin, and not wanting to do all the work involved in relocating – I had already had a long night and day. Well, she said, we can do it now, with the sun shining, or we can do it at 3 A.M. in the dark with the rain blowing sideways. She had a point. I pulled up the river forecast on the web. The dotted vertical line represents the current point in time. We were at 15 feet and predicted to go to almost 17. There would be no land in sight here either, and no place for the dogs to be out of the water. It was time to go.

Seeing my exhaustion, Annie suggested I take a short nap, she would watch over everything, and then we would move. Gratefully, I went upstairs and passed out for half an hour. Then we started moving dogs to the west side of the tracks. What a circus that was!

continued in part six


The Great Equinox Flood of 2012, Part Four

In our previous episode, Josh was trying to plan how to get the generator…

Although Steve’s camp was only about a quarter mile down the slough, it was going to be a challenge. I could get there by river – in about 5 seconds! – but there was no way I was getting a canoe back up against that current. With the water well into the woods, lining the boat upstream by rope would be very difficult as well. On the other hand, travel overland required crossing three chunks of water – normally dry channels flowing into the main channel like side streets – and the railroad grade and tracks. Luckily I am addicted to canoes, of which I had four on hand of my total nine. Here is what I did:

Canoe staged to cross the ditch, Talkeetna flood of 2012

Canoe Two, waiting at the tracks. Photo by Elf.

First task: stage canoes for return. I took two canoes from the cabin and used them to cross the first flooded swale between my cabin and the tracks, which I could still walk across, but was an inch from my boot tops and rising, and I’d be carrying a heavy load coming back. I left one tied there as a ferry and took the second one to the railroad embankment. The drainage ditch there is usually only about five feet across and a foot deep, but on this day it was about ten feet across, six feet deep. I staged the second canoe there, more like a bridge than a ferry.

Flooded Talkeetna River, September 2012

View from the cockpit on launching Canoe Three.

Returning to the cabin, I re-crossed the swale with Canoe One, but played out a rope as I went, so I would be able to retrieve it from the other side. Then I launched Canoe Three into the river in front of the cabin, or actually what would normally have been the game trail along the bank through the woods, and was now whitewater. Dodging birch trees at video game speed, I sailed downstream to the bridge, which by now required ducking to get under it in the canoe. The third flooded channel was the one that came out just above Steve’s camp, separating the camp from the trail out to the tracks, and my place. I ran the canoe up this channel and arrived at my destination.

Steve had said the generator was stashed in a tree, but I found it had fallen to the ground, in danger from the rising water. I grabbed it, the gas can, and the other stuff Steve had requested and carried all that to the canoe ( Canoe Three, remember). Then I crossed to the tracks side of that slough, and walked out to the tracks. My wheeler was parked there already from two days earlier. I drove the wheeler back to Canoe Three, loaded all the swag onto the rear rack, and drove out to the tracks – leaving Canoe Three tied there to provide a ferry to Steve’s camp should either of us need it.

At the tracks, I parked the wheeler and lugged all the stuff up the embankment, across the tracks, and down the other side to where Canoe Two was waiting as a bridge across the ditch. Walking across Canoe Two, I portaged everything again, over to the swale near my cabin. There I reeled in Canoe One from the opposite side, and used it to carry it all across the final obstacle, and then a short carry to the cabin. At the cabin, I still had the fourth and final canoe tied to a tree by the door, should a quick getaway be needed. You just can’t have too many canoes.

Generator charging iPhone flood of 2012

Success! My connection to the outside world re-established. When you have canoes, a hammer, and an iPhone, you’re gonna make it.

Now I had the generator, and hence telephone capacity. I had vessels staged to reach the tracks and the Chase trail, to go south to town, north to the hills, or to go back to Steve’s if needed. Two hours had passed since I got the call from Steve.

All I needed now was for the generator to start.

First pull.

continued in part five