Friday, August 19, 2016

Reindeer Farm

When you're at home, do you visit the local tourist attractions or does everyday life get in the way? I never seem to get around to enjoying all the things people come all the way to Alaska to see, but I'm trying to do better. Which is part of the reason why, after living in Anchorage for twenty-five years, I finally made a visit to the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, in the shadow of Pioneer Peak. The other reason is that I'm writing a Christmas story set at an Alaska reindeer farm, and I wanted to get a firsthand impression.

Yes, that's a buffalo in the photo. There are more than just reindeer at the farm. Dolly, a plains bison, has lived her whole life there with reindeer, and probably doesn't even know she's a bison. She was born late and only grew to half the size of a normal bison, but she's had a good life on the farm.

When we arrived, we were greeted by this lovely fellow who gave us a sniff and went back to chasing sunbeams. While we waited for our tour, we were allowed to wander over and meet a few of the other residents of the farm, including an exceedingly friendly pig who loved petting, some rather exotic-looking hens, and quite possibly the cutest animal of all time - a one-and a half month old reindeer calf. She was a surprise, born three months after all the other calves to a mother who hadn't breed during the regular rutting season, but somehow caught up later. These photos don't do her justice.

Once our guide arrived, we got to the fun part, feeding the four-month old reindeer calves alfalfa pellets. That big guy on the left is the babysitter, in the pen with the calves to teach them how to behave. Letting the tourists feed the calves is not only entertaining for the us, but helps teach the young reindeer to be comfortable around people as part of their training so that someday, they'll learn to pull sleighs. 

You may have noticed that the calves are already growing antlers. They're still in the velvet stage now. Reindeer are unusual in that both males and females grow antlers. The bulls shed theirs after the rut in the fall. The cows keep theirs until spring. That may be a clue about the sex of Santa's reindeer. Here I am holding one of the antlers after it's been shed and dried. It's heavy! It must take a huge amount of energy to lug these around. I'll bet when they shed them, the reindeer feel like they can fly. 

Reindeer, like caribou, seem to grow antlers in erratic patterns. Look at this guy. One goes straight up, but the other has a little dip, and the front parts don't match either. I saw another with a horn that dipped low over her eye, Veronica Lake style. I say like caribou, but actually reindeer and caribou are the same species. Reindeer are simply the domesticated version of caribou. We have lots of wild caribou in Alaska, but they're further north, starting around Denali National Park. These reindeer descend from European reindeer imported to Canada more than a century ago.  They're smaller than Alaskan caribou.  
Speaking of antlers, the farm also has a resident herd of elk. Unlike reindeer, the cow elk have no antlers, but the ones on this bull are magnificent, don't you think? 
It was a beautiful day to be out and about in Palmer, and if you're ever this way and would like the chance to pet a reindeer, I'd highly recommend a visit to the reindeer farm. 
So how about you? What local attractions have you been meaning to visit and haven't? Or is it just me?

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Ah, the dog days of summer. 

Time to chill out,

take it easy,  

and enjoy the season while it lasts.

Hope your summer (or winter if you're Down Under) 
has been spectacular. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Flying High

A roar in the sounds in the distance. At first I don’t notice, but the dog barks frantically, convinced she’s the only thing standing between us and total destruction. I suspect the UPS truck, but the roar gets louder and with a smile, I recognize the familiar sound just the Blue Angels tear a hole in the sky above my house. It’s air show time again.

I’m not a huge fan of crowds, loud noises, or giant machines so air shows aren’t a major draw for me. Luckily, I only live a mile or so from the base, so I get to watch the Blue Angels from the comfort of my deck as they practice their maneuvers. The only downside is they’re going so fast, I hardly have time to grab a camera before they’re gone. It’s a beautiful thing to watch those planes fly in perfect formation, like water ballet at 700 mph.

As someone who could never learn to follow a dance partner, I’m in awe of pilots who are able to fly with such precision. I’m sure they have a natural talent for flying, but it’s the hours and hours of study, training, and practice that make them able to do what they do. That’s the lesson I need to take. Talent is good, but practice makes you great. 

Now, back to work.