Today finally feels like the first day of spring. Never mind that the season actually came almost two months ago...It was a long stretch of cool, often wintry weather between March 20 and today. At that, today is a lovely 55 degrees, and we couldn't be happier. The nicest thing about this in-betweeen weather is that it keeps the bugs at bay. The sunshine is warm and pleasant, but the shade is still fairly cool. But if it means the mosquitoes and flies aren't out yet, that's fine. And I can finally sit on the porch to blog. That's saying a lot!
The days have been incredibly filled since I last wrote. March seems like one big active blur: from the steady pace of the Winter Tracks weekend, to a quick trip to St. Cloud for a sister visit and a college visit, all the way to the end of the month when we took off and went to Arizona to visit relatives and the Grand Canyon---whew! If time allows, I hope to share stories here as I go along through the summer. We came back in mid-April, and I was naively hopeful that we had missed mud season. Not to be. The snow and melt cycle continued, and I remembered all the reasons why it is fun to travel to the southwest during that month!
But now it is May, and although it's not perfect, I'm perfectly happy. We've been open for the last two weekends, first with Gunflint Green Up, and now with the fishing opener. The weekend has been a busy time for the fishermen and women. We've been hearing good things about walleye and bass and northern, and even a report or two on the trout. As I've mentioned before, those are our favorite. We're happy that folks are finding some fish out there.
The real story that I wanted to relate today, though, is not about Gunflint Lake. It has to do with the small Alaska town of Eagle. Many of you know that Greg's mom, Sharlene, and her husband Jim, have a cabin in Eagle. The town is located on the eastern straight-line border of Alaska, right on the Yukon River. Sharlene has been enjoying the opportunity to visit Eagle every year since the early 90's, as she says it reminds her of Grand Marais forty years ago. She usually spends about three months a year up there.
Unfortunately, Eagle has not being faring well this past week. In the course of the break up of the Yukon River, massive flooding occurred in town, mostly along the main street that generally sits well high above the river bed. The place that Jim and Shar own is about a mile uphill from the town center, so they have been safe. But many of their friends, and the community as a whole, have been deeply affected.
The first wave of flooding came about a week ago. Along with the water rising came huge chunks of river ice, which washed up on the banks and literally surrounded cabins, the store, motel, cafe and some historic properties. People had to evacuate in the middle of the night, and over the course of the week, the water rose and fell a few times. In washed more ice chunks. The photos in the Fairbanks News Miner are incredible. I will include a link later in this post.
By the latter part of the week, the ice jams had broken up and the water was running freely. The danger of continued flooding was over. But left behind were scores of ice chunks and blocks, some as many as twenty feet high. Eagle is very far north. It takes a while for the day to warm up there. This means that some of these ice chunks will be hanging around until well into July. The other unfortunate side of the coin is that winter returns there much sooner than in these parts. The townsfolk know that they must prepare now, even though the last winter has barely finished. It's going to be a tough road ahead.
That's the capsule version of the events. There is lots to read and see in the Fairbanks newspaper. Go to http://newsminer.com/photos/galleries/2009/may/05/2009-breakup-flooding/ for a gallery of photos. For the news articles, do a search at http://www.newsminer.com/ and you will find the stories.
Sharlene and I spoke last night again, and she says that things are moving forward as best can be expected. I can't help but be reminded of our own disaster two years ago, when the Ham Lake Fire roared through our area. Interestingly, it was two years to the day for the flooding event. In 2007, Shar and Jim had just arrived back in Eagle, when they learned of the fire. They were glued to the phone and the internet, looking for any updates they could find. Now here we were, in the opposite position, scouring the 'net, and recognizing friends and buildings in the photos we were finding. It's tough to be in that spot, watching. The sense of wanting to be there, to help in anyway we can, is such a strong one.
For Robert, that sense has such a pull that it turns in to action. Two years ago, he could no longer stand it. He called Greg and said, "I can be on a plane in two hours. I'll be there tomorrow." Greg replied, "You better get to the airport." In this case, Robert was already in Fairbanks, with plans to leave for Eagle later in the week. He planned to return to his summer job, doing maintenance for the Yukon-Charley River Preserve, an entity of the National Park Service. But first, he needed to be there early to assist in any way he was asked.
The response to the disaster has been phenomenal. I like to think that it is always this way, based on my experience here in Cook County. It was incredible the way the whole community came out to help us all during the Ham Lake evacuation. Listening to Shar, and reading the articles indicates to me that Eagle is very similar. The evacuation center is at the school in town. Meals are a community effort, with Sharlene, and Dana (a friend of Addie's) and Amanda (Robert's girlfriend, and also a friend of Addie's), amidst many other neighbors, taking their turns at cooking. Plane loads of donated supplies are coming in daily (as weather allows) from Fairbanks. Buildings are off of foundations; some even ended up in the river, headed to the Bering Sea. But folks are hanging in there, doing what they can to make things better.
One of the things that Robert and Amanda did was to rescue a little critter. They were walking around town the end of last week, surveying the damage and taking pictures. They came to a block of river ice that was about twenty feet high. Robert retrieved his ice climbing gear and made it to the top of the block. Up there, he could see the remnants of someone's roof, imbedded in the ice. Then he heard a sound, and low and behold found a cat in the insulation of the roofing. He was able to free the cat, and bring it down to Amanda. The poor little thing was plenty dirty, so they cleaned it up, and later were able to reunite it with a very grateful owner. Even little acts of kindness like this can mean so much at a time like this.
So that's the story for the day. Both Robert and Sharlene have been taking many photos, but neither has internet connection for the time being. Shar will be home in mid-June, so by then we will be able to see her pictures and hear more of the stories. In the meantime, please keep Eagle in your thoughts. It's a wonderful little town that needs all of the good wishes it can get right now.