The Creek has been flowing for what seems like months now, but up until a couple days ago it was a foot and a half of water flowing on top of a frozen Creek bed. Over the last two days the water level has dropped at least three feet, probably because the ice underneath crumbled and melted away. Now there’s a thick band of ice along the banks, hanging above the water flowing through the middle.
This is all very different from the past two years when the water and ice all broke up at the same time, resulting in a very rapidly moving Creek filled to the top of the banks with an enormous amount of water and crushed ice. I was looking forward to that this year, but it’s been such a mild breakup that seeing the Creek suddenly drop down to summer levels is a little disappointing.
At least it’s not snowing anymore and things are starting to get green. Most of the birch trees and shrubs have buds that are just beginning to open. There are also several large Tamarack (American larch, Larix laricina) around that are beginning to show signs of leafing out. Tamarack is one of my favorite trees; a deciduous conifer that looks like an evergreen tree in summer but drops it’s leaves in winter. I’d never looked carefully at the buds in the spring—the photo isn’t the greatest representation, but what you’re looking at are the bright green leaf buds, and purplish buds that I think will turn into cones. They’re a very striking tree once their bright green foliage comes out, and I’m eager to see what happens with the cool purple buds that dot the spindly branches right now.
The photo of the Creek at the top of the post (click on the image for a larger view) is a set of nine photos joined together by the AutoStitch iPhone app into a panorama. You can see that it should have been composed of ten photos so the lower left corner could be filled in. In my mind I’d envisioned a sort of running band of photos along the Creek, but it didn’t turn out quite the way I saw it.
We’ve had four days of nearly constant, heavy rain here in Fairbanks, and the levels of the Interior rivers and streams have come very close to the levels they reached in the Flood of ‘67. So we’re currently experiencing a 30-year flood event. The Tanana, Salcha, Chena and Nenana Rivers have all reached flood stages and many residents in low lying areas near these rivers have been evacuated. The photo on the right, taken by the National Weather Service, shows some of the flooding in the Rosie Creek area. Most of the larger rivers in town are six or seven feet above their normal summer levels.
The following plot shows the hourly and cumulative precipitation from the Small Arms Range (SRGA2) weather station over the past four days. Just under three inches of rain in four days doesn’t sound like a lot when you're from other parts of the country, but Fairbanks gets an average of less than two inches a month in July and August, and our total annual precipitation (including snow) is only 10.87 inches of water. Much of the lower elevation and north-facing areas in the Tanana Valley are permanently frozen and this permafrost is quickly saturated with water. That’s why the region is so lush and green in the summer, despite almost desert-like summer rainfall totals. But once the ground is saturated, there’s nowhere for the water to go except into the streams and rivers. Usually flooding happens during breakup when all the melting snow runs off the frozen ground into the streams and ice jams in the rivers block the flow. Summer floods are more unusual.
Since Labor Day, 2007, we’ve been living around 30 feet away from a small stream, Goldstream Creek, which has risen between four and five feet since last week. If you look at my previous post, the log I’m resting my hand on in the photo is now completely submerged, which means if I were swimming out there today, the water would be over my head. The outside bank has slumped into the Creek in two places, but so far we haven’t lost any trees. The photo to the right shows the current water level, but even with the dramatic rise, it’s quite a bit below what it looked like during breakup this spring.
It’s really exciting living next to something that’s changing all the time like the Creek (plus, Kingfishers!). And now that we seem to have survived a 30-year flood event, I feel a little bit more secure that we’re not going to get inundated in the next high water event.
I’m looking forward to the Tanana Valley Fair, followed by a warmer, and drier August and September.
Once again, I’ve neglected my blog. My new job, the pressures of getting all our work done this summer, and the rest of life has kept me away.
Events: We’ve taken to swimming in the Creek. During the warmth of early June (which hasn’t returned since…) the Creek temperature rose to 65°F, and swimming was actually quite nice. I’m hoping we’ll get a few more warm days before fall so we can swim out there again.
Projects: I’ve made no progress at all on the new shed, but have repaired the bridge and got our digital antenna installed on the roof. I also replaced our chimney cap with the variety our chimney sweep prefers. Things left to do: Build the shed!, repair the glycol line that keeps the septic pipe thawed, fix and insulate the sewage treatment plant discharge pipe, reinforce the shed roofs, obtain and chop two more cords of firewood, install a heat shield behind the wood stove, get curtains for the two large downstairs windows and the sliding glass doors, and (finally) consider hiring a plumbing and heating company to replace and upgrade our system.
Books: I’ve read quite a few. Here’s a summary judgement on each:
- McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Volume 26: Enjoyable fictions, interesting format, no real standouts for me.
- The Rest is Noise: Fantastic look at the music and history of the 20th century. Alex Ross is one of my favorite New Yorker writers and this book doesn’t disappoint.
- Ambitious Brew: Interesting history of beer brewing in the United States. It dispels many of the classic beer myths (the most classic being that the big super-brewers ruined American beer, only to be “saved” by the micros), and tells a great story. Prost!
- Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A very enjoyable book with a very memorable female lead. Vida has a great abbreviated and expressive way of writing that was refreshing.
- The Echo Maker: I’ve been looking forward to this one for so long, that I think the reading of it couldn’t be anything but a disappointment. I enjoyed it as a meditation on brain injury, but I felt like the characters were a little overwrought and stiff.
The rest: Andrea continues to progress toward her goal of running the Equinox Marathon. She’s out running sixteen miles (16 miles!) right now. I’m super proud of her. Meanwhile, I’ve been bicycling to work almost every day (13 miles round-trip) and the two of us are working toward doing 100 push ups in six weeks. Maybe by the next photo of me in the Creek, I’ll be ripped.
Last weekend I brewed my favorite beer, Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale. I’m sure the beer will turn out fine, but the brew didn’t go as planned. I’m still struggling to get my mill to consistently produce a good crush, and I think my low yields this time around is almost certainly due to the mill. It’s a three roller mill; the first two rollers do a basic crush at a fixed gap, and then the grains pass between one of the top rollers and a lower roller that’s adjustable. For some reason, the grains sometimes come out between the lower roller and the wrong upper roller and they don’t get crushed a second time. Strange.
The big change with this brew was using Creek water to chill the boiled wort down to fermentation temperature. I’d assumed the Creek would still be very cold, but after pumping up twenty gallons, I discovered it was a balmy 55°F. So I pumped up another ten gallons in the hope that it would be enough to chill the wort. Not quite. I got it down to 72°F, which is pretty amazing, but I would have preferred something between 64–68°F.
Still, it was a nice relaxed brew session, and thus far Piper’s has always come out fantastic. We’ll know in about a month.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that the red cabin is starting to get too warm for primary fermentation. At our old house the garage temperature never got much above 60°F even in the summer, so I’d always do the primary fermentation in my insulated box, heated with a light bulb on a temperature controller. Luckily, we kept the old fridge that was here when we moved in and it’s keeping a nice stable 65°F on the same temperature controller I had been using to heat the fermentation chamber. Now I can ferment in the summer, and even experiment with lagering, which is a whole area of brewing that I’ve never attempted in all these years.