Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: White Fang and Balto … Not even close

I figured that after things cooled off the dogs would lay off the drama, but no, not yet.

I am not close to being a warm weather worshiper. I don’t mind a day or two of searing sixty-seven-degrees-in-the-shade type conditions but, other than that, I’d rather opt for a double dose of fall or a six-month long spring when it eventually pirouettes over the horizon.

This last summer was a doozy and it’s tough to express just how pumped I was to watch the only raindrop that I had felt in over two months turn to a steam as it hit my skin. It was only a short sprinkle but at least it cooled off enough that Free-Range Duluth boxer briefs stopped clinging to me like an appallingly applied tattoo.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some positives to the heat. My wife’s flower garden exploded into plethora of colors blanketing the approach to our deck with aromas suggesting the fusion of Paris perfumes, exotic wildflowers and high mountain meadows.

We don’t have access to a municipality water system so it took a plethora of lugged water to keep them healthy but the effort reaped the riches of a dynamic flora display to greet our visitors.

On the downside, our two-pack of pooches considered the drought as hitting the max on a Situation Sucks meter.

We keep Howard well-trimmed over the summer but, as usual, when temperatures start matching the Seward Highway’s highest speed limit and are accompanied by an extended heat wave, the hairy grump becomes as useless as studded snow tires on a Mojave Desert dune buggy.

I remember writing once that, “Alaskan canines are supposed to be tough, right? Ol’ hero hounds like White Fang, Balto, and Lassie of the Arctic were able to survive conditions that would have given polar bears hypothermia and camels heatstroke. They were always charging around saving lives in all kinds of abhorrent circumstances while pulling sleds the size of Hummers. Those mighty mongrels were able to traverse mountain ranges, raging rivers and thousands of miles of mosquito infested tundra while subsisting on nothing but humidity for water and an occasional slurp of fish scale gruel. The cape sporting alpha beasts won so many medals they couldn’t pose for pictures during thunderstorms because of the threat of becoming deep-fried-dog-on-a-leash residue from a lightning strike.”

Well, you can eliminate H. and Princess, our prima donna miniature poodle, from slightest consideration as “real” Alaskan mutts even though they were born and raised in The Great Land.

I figured that after things cooled off and we had enough rain to urge a little green tint back into our “singed toast” lawn, the dogs would lay off the drama, but no, not yet. They still prefer the 50-degree temps that our basement provides and continue to find anything in the high 60s as whine worthy.

I guess I really can’t blame them too much. I’ll probably hit that cantankerous milestone when I reach their age in homo sapien years.

I just hope it stays as cool as it has been lately because the mutts are starting to miss out on some cool sights as the climate transforms its wardrobe into the newest fall fashions.

The sandhill cranes are gathering in expanding flocks and bugling their descents onto neighboring, newly harvested, hayfields to feed and bulk up while tutoring their colts on foraging and in-flight skills.

For the first time in years, we have hares, sporting small white spots of what will be their imminent winter coats, grazing on what’s left of our grass while a 12-member clutch of feral juvenile pheasants play hide and go seek in the wild raspberry patches.

So far, when I’ve herded the ancient and reluctant malcontents out to complete their delicates, the faunae rapidly disappear leaving behind enticing aromas that light up the canines’ elderly eyes. I think that once the visiting critters realize that their potential stalkers would probably fall asleep trying to chase them down, a truce of tolerance will prevail.

We saw such a circumstance transpire after we welcomed a rescue toy poodle into our home shortly after adopting Howard. She had been abused and was a tiny and terrified thing until she realized that she longer had to cower at a human’s approach and could trust another dog.

Until she unexpectantly died of cancer, it wasn’t unusual to see her confidently sniffing around the yard while various non threating wildlife roamed nearby. There was even an old mamma moose that would follow Little Bear around if she happened to spot her on patrol. It was an amazing thing to observe.

I’m sure that within the next few days, Princess and H. will be back to sniffing out their old haunts and acting their old abnormal selves. Until then, my bride and I will scan the skies listening for the cranes’ final cries of goodbye and watch the tree leaves turn from sun-branded browns to the natural colors of fall.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com.


• By Nick Varney, For the Peninsula Clarion


More in Life

White men and women in Kenai tended to congregate with people like themselves. This typical outing, in Kasilof, includes (far left, back row) Hans P. Nielsen, superintendent of the Agricultural Experiment Station. (Photo from the Alaska Digital Archives)
Exerting control in Old Kenai — Part 3

This is the third installment in a series about two killings that occurred in Kenai on April 8, 1918.

Pratt Museum officials pose for a photograph while practicing social distancing on the museum lawn on Friday, May 15, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. From left to right are Jennifer Gibbins, executive director; Savanna Bradley, curator, and Marilyn Sigman, naturalist in residence. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Homer Arts groups look to post-pandemic future

Signs of hope include more in-person workshops, writers residencies.

Photo from “Once Upon the Kenai” 
William N. Dawson chats with Captain Rose, of the S.S. Tyonic, in front of Dawson’s Kenai store in 1915.
Exerting Control in Old Kenai — Part 2

The second installment in a series about two killings that occurred in Kenai on April 8, 1918.

Tom Kizzia, author of “The Wake of the Unseen Object,” in a photo taken Aug. 10, 2012, near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Don Pitcher; courtesy of Tom Kizzia)
Local author’s ‘Wake of the Unseen Object’ back in print after 30 years

Literary travel book had roots in newspaper series about rural Alaska.

Victoria Petersen / Peninsula Clarion
Chicken noodle soup is a bowl of comfort during challenging times.
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Chicken soup for the stressed

Maybe you’ve been feeling stressed, and are just looking for something comfortable and nourishing.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: So, now what 2021 ?

The new year has started out in an interesting way, mainly because many of us are still dealing with some hang-around issues from the previous 365 days.

A few days after surviving an Aug. 2, 1967, crash in this single-engine Maule Rocket, Dane Parks poses near the front end of the wreckage. (Photo courtesy
Dr. Gaede drops in, Part 3

This is Part Three of a three-part story of an airplane crash more than a half-century ago.

File
Minister’s Message: Have faith; we are in good hands

Whether or not this new year will continue the wild adventure of the year most recently ended or not, we are going to make it.

My favorite breakfast bagel sandwich from my favorite neighborhood coffee shack, on Jan. 5, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Looking for a few good bagels

Simple ingredients to make your own breakfast sandwich

In the early 1890s, one of the few men willing to stand up against the bullying and brutality of Alex Ryan was the Russian Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Yaroshevich. (Photo from the Alaska Digital Archives)
Exerting control in Old Kenai — Part 1

This is a complex tale of a changing Kenai and of four men — not just the two dead ones — and their perhaps inevitable fatal collision.

The finished product should have a light, flaky crust and moist fillings, as seen here on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2020 in Crystal Falls, Michigan. Finished off with a Michigan made beer, it’s hard to find a better second lunch/early dinner on Christmas Day. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Pasties two ways

Peninsula Clarion columnist Victoria Petersen and Homer News reporter Megan Pacer team up to make the traditional hand pie.