December is upon us and the shortest days of the year are here. Three weeks until we turn the corner at the solstice.
I took some pictures of the first day of the year’s last month on my walk today.
It’s really been a hell of a year. I’ve had a lot of health issues in the back half of the year, of the “multiple ER visits” variety, leading up to abdominal surgery (a hysterectomy) in mid-November that will, I hope, fix the problem and also a number of other problems that have been dogging me at a lower level for years, dragging down my energy and causing me to lose multiple days a month to illness. I’m about two weeks out from surgery now, recovering at a reasonable pace and keeping myself fit with light walking. Like today’s walk up to the highway and back.
It snowed last night, so everything is fresh and white.
I do, in general, genuinely enjoy December despite the cold and the short days. I love the Christmas season, I love lights and gifts and Advent calendars (am I even slightly religious? no. Do I have one this year? OBVIOUSLY) and all the books/movies/TV episodes that are seasonal this month only.
So yeah – a lot of this is just finding the pleasures where I can, but there are a lot of them. Not the least being my wonderful husband, who is rarely mentioned here, but has been doing a lot of heavy lifting (sometimes literally!) through all of this. It has very much been A Year, but we’ll be starting the new one in a month, and I’m looking forward to getting back to the books.
I drove up the Elliot Highway this evening at sunset to Whitefish Campground (about mile 6 or 7) just to get out for a while. As I started back, I saw this small lake or slough with mist rising off it, so thick and white that it looked like it was smoking. Very beautiful and weird!
I parked on the shoulder of the highway and walked down to the shoreline to take some pictures, and was cheerfully doing this when I looked up and situational awareness kicked in and I realized there was a moose watching me from really not all that far away.
Quietly I walked backwards up to the car and continued to watch her for a while, and eventually spotted what I guess was her calf deeper in the swamp. No pictures of that one; it was too mist-cloaked to see very well, but I could definitely tell that it was another moose, especially when she turned and sloshed toward it, making those little grunting noises they sometimes do.
It was completely magical, one of those joyous moments that reminds me why I love living here.
Remember when I used to have guests posts, back in the day? I have one this week! Maria Schneider of Bear Mountain Books has been wonderfully supportive of the Keeley series, and I thought her magical, genre-crossing books might be interesting to some of you, so I asked her to give me something special. Over to you, Maria!
It’s gardening season again! I go out every morning to water and plant. Had just started the sprinkler, when I realized a bird had become tangled in the support strings hanging off the tomato cages used to prop up large tomato vines.
Upon closer inspection the fluttering, frantic “bird” was actually a baby dragon. “Not again,” I muttered. Dragons were so temperamental. Birds couldn’t singe me while I freed them either.
“Okay, you. Hold still.” I shut the water off, leaving the poor baby dripping. His dark blue head feathers hadn’t yet hardened into spines. Most of his iridescent scales were a mix of brown, light yellow and white. Later in life he’d probably turn more beige and sage to match the desert terrain.
I retrieved clippers from my garden cart, an old rag that used to be a kitchen towel and approached slowly. The dragon’s eyes were huge, wide orbs staring piteously up at me.
“You’re gonna hafta hold still,” I ordered. “I’ll cut you free.” Scissors would be a better tool, but I hated to leave him there, dripping, sad, and at his young age, vulnerable.
“Do not flame me,” I instructed, cutting at string behind him. This particular piece of twine wasn’t holding him at all, but he needed to adjust to my intent. Snip, Snip. The string frayed instead of cutting clean, but I kept at it. The dragon’s snout was wide open in distress.
“Gimme a couple of minutes and you’ll be free.” I ran the old towel down his back, squeegeeing his scales and accidentally smashing down a few feathers. He looked worse for it, but he barely dripped anymore. I finally freed one clawed foot. Predictably, he tried to fly, but his wing still had a cotton string running under and around. I latched onto it and half pulled, half cut the threads. He shredded the rest of the string and left a pretty good sized trench in the back of my hand from a toothy, smokey strike.
“Dammit!” I snatched my hand back. “Ease up, little one!” More cutting and suddenly he squawked, much like a bird, and bounced off the wire gate. He was still pathetically wet and in such a hurry, he splatted rather ungracefully onto the ground face-first.
A large shadow covered the sun, putting me and the little dragon in a gloomy, dark shade. The baby bobbed onto clawed feet, trilled an excited call and stared over my shoulder.
I swallowed hard, still leaning over the little guy. The clippers were a visible, threatening, but inadequate weapon.
With my heart making more noise than the baby dragon, I dared turn my head and only my head. Like a giant scaled bear sitting on her haunches, there was mom dragon. Her gray snout wound between two juniper trees, easily capable of taking a chunk out of my butt, which was inconveniently still high in the air. I knew the rules. Humans who saw what they weren’t supposed to see had to die, lest the magical others be discovered. “Never saw a thing,” I said. “Wouldn’t dream of telling a soul.”
Her diamond eyes seemed small compared to those of the baby dragon, but that was because her head was longer than my leg. She didn’t blink, letting slit, golden eyes convey a very nasty threat. She didn’t let loose with flame, even though a mysterious forest fire that cindered me, my house and my garden would likely be blamed on an errant lightning strike. Her gaze did search the sky hopefully, but the desert of New Mexico is often devoid of clouds.
“Not a soul,” I repeated, while baby dragon fluttered, fluffed and hopped over to his mother.
A tail many times larger than the largest of rattlesnakes snaked out from behind a pinon pine, gathering junior dragon inside protective scales and muscles. His protesting squawk was a direct result of her hurry and displeasure.
I straightened. No sense dying in a bad position.
She regarded me with solemn focus before one giant, black talon stepped back. Scales rippled with desert colors, reflecting gray-brown tree limbs mixed with mottled green and blue sage speckled with chamisa yellow.
“Nary a word,” a dry, hot wind boomed.
My hair blew straight back, and the ends split from the sudden heat. “Not a word,” I agreed with a very emphatic nod.
Of course I was lying. In the dark of the night, behind closed doors, I write about dragons all the time. Dragons of Wendal is the first book of one such series. Sure, it’s billed as fiction. No need to have mom dragon come back looking for me!
It’s been extremely hazy lately with wildfire smoke, but I’m still trying to get out and enjoy the flowers. June and July are peak wildflower season – the wild roses of June are over, but the fireweed of July is just kicking off.
More flowers around the yard …
I haven’t obtained pictures of any of them, but we’ve had beavers, moose, and a variety of birds around to enjoy. I think a pair of robins are nesting near here – we haven’t seen any babies or the nest, but they’ve been around a lot, and we found a broken robin eggshell on the road. A hawk is most likely nesting nearby as well; we’ve seen it in the yard several times. There is a beaver dam within walking distance that we enjoy visiting to watch it grow.
It’s not all idyllic wilderness fun, as the gravel pit on the property between us and the highway is now actively being worked again, so there’s a lot of noise and dust, and the new work has wiped out most of the trees that had grown up over the old gravel bed. (It was being actively worked when we moved here in 2004, then went dormant around 2006 or so, so we’ve had a lot of time to get used to just being able to walk around out there.) But we knew it would happen sooner or later, and the new owners – actually neighbors of ours – have been great to deal with and very considerate about keeping the noise and dust down as much as possible. And they’ve also fixed the road, which is not state-maintained and had been falling into disrepair.
We also did some exploring back in June of old mining roads around our area. Here’s a no outlet sign on a road we just drove through from the other end …
We also got some nice views from the top of the hills, on a rare not-very-smoky day.
Forget knowing when to hold ’em. Knowing when to run is still pretty important, though.
When you’ve got a deck of cards that tilts luck in your favor, you literally can’t lose.
But that doesn’t mean you can win.
James has been hired to find out who’s killing players in the gambling event of the season, a poker tournament that will determine who controls the city’s magical underworld for the next year, in a glamorous underground casino with a rising body count.
Good thing he’s got luck on his side.
But it’s going to take a lot more than that when the killer sets their sights on James and his friends …
This book stands on its own as an urban fantasy murder mystery, but it also continues a subplot thread from the previous book, involving the magic cards that James acquired from his former mentor’s personal effects. The rest of the series is also on Amazon in ebook and print.
Winter: still wintening for all it’s worth. It’s actually snowing today. I was just out putting more seed in the chickadee feeder. Gray jay (a.k.a. camprobber) on the suet block this morning. One of my plans for this summer, now that we no longer have an outside cat and I’m getting into feeding the birds as a hobby, is to redo my backyard for more pretty little bird nooks and feeders and flowers. That’s probably going to be my main garden push this summer … at least if summer ever gets here, which seems unlikely at the rate we’re going. We still have three feet of snow.
Moose: still moosing.
They spent a few days hanging around in the general yard/driveway area, including bedding down for a while next to the plow truck.
Yesterday they browsed slowly down the creek and we spent some time watching the lady moose try to break off a willow that was at least 15 feet tall to eat the pussy willows at its top. Eventually they drifted on and seem to be gone today.
I worked on Keeley #5 edits all this past week and will be finishing revisions this upcoming week (I hope). Kismet, the webcomic, remains on hold for now, as there have been various additional delays with family emergencies and travel and such, but I’m posting some extras to the Patreon to help make up for it, and plan to get back to regular updates in May – after I get back from the first traveling-for-fun vacation I will have taken since 2019. (Planes! Hotels! What even!)
Looking forward to spring, and all the good things that go with it …
Also posted at the Facebook group, I made myself this cute progress chart to keep track of where I am in all my various projects for current pen names.
I’m cycling back and forth between my different pen names for the first half of 2022. Right now I’m working on Metal Gladiator while noodling over some of the finer plot points in Keeley #5, and then I’ll switch back to that in February and aim for getting it off to my betas.
I looked out the window just now and the snow was coming down in astonishing thick flakes. It really shows up against the wall of the shop.
We’ve also had some moose hanging around the last few days. You can see SEVEN at once in this astonishing video taken by my husband as he was trying to get to work a couple of days ago!
The one that’s been mainly hanging around the yard lately is a yearling calf. It was out there again today.
The lovely pink light above is the sunshine on the hill opposite our house. You can see the shadow of the opposite hill where the color transitions to white. This is as close as the sun gets to us right now … but now the shadow will begin creeping down the hill as the sun rises a little earlier and gets a little higher each day, until we’ll start getting sunlight on our house around Feb. 7-8 or so.
The world ushered in the Solstice with a snowstorm over the weekend. I wandered out yesterday and took some pictures of the snow-covered world.
They’re forecasting another storm system to move in soon and dump more snow, so Orion plowed last night.
I walked up to the highway to get the mail today and found moose tracks all over the freshly plowed driveway. There’s been a moose hanging around for the last couple of weeks—we haven’t actually seen it, but it browses around the driveway most nights, based on the tracks—but I think these may have been two different sets. There were the usual single-adult-moose tracks near the house, but the tracks of an adult and a calf up near the road.
At least it’s a bit warmer that it was. It was -30F a week ago, but the last few days have been much milder. There are still a lot of long cold days ahead of us, but we hung on until the darkest night, so now the sun will start coming back.
On a less wintry note, I leave you with another of last night’s pictures—of the tiny horse herd that lives on my studio windowsill.
Let the cardening begin! I got three cards in the latest batch of mail, so I dismantled my fall table display and established a holiday card display in its place.
Taking down the fall table display meant disposing of the gourds from this year’s garden that were too underripe or over-aged to eat. Orion talked me into letting him throw them off the deck, which we decided was the ceremonial new year Tossing of the Gourds, and if your gourds go far, you get a nice year! They went far. Then I immediately had second thoughts, visualizing our property as Ground Zero of the 2022-30 Interior Alaska Invasive Pumpkin Infestation, and promptly went and found them again.
I put them at the bottom of the bird feeder instead, to see what comes to eat them.
Also, we’ve gotten several inches of light, fluffy snow lately. I put up my outdoor ornaments just a few days ago (these are just indoor ornaments that I hang in the trees every year – I’ve done it ever since Ellen Million Graphics found that someone had done it around where she lives a few years ago) and they look very fresh and seasonal.
Wild Island Horses by Liz Harman – Contemporary beach romance. (Update: this book is not currently available for sale. Please stay tuned for a future re-release.)
Meanwhile, it’s the height of summer in Alaska, with brilliant sunshine, 85F heat, and a glorious abundance of plant and animal life.
Watching the beavers at the nearby creek build their dam has been one of our most enjoyable activities this summer. We learned that beavers make noises to each other, and got to watch some juvenile beavers grow up! We do have some worries that at least some of them may have fallen victim to predators or trapping, especially since we hadn’t seen any around for a couple of weeks, but there were two out working on the dam today, so maybe they’ve just been working on dam-building upstream or something.
Other summer animal-life highlights include what I can only describe as woodpecker pecking school – with a flock of newly fledged woodpeckers practicing their pecking on the log walls of our house, including pecking so hard they kept falling off – and various other wildlife including porcupines and the first gopher I’ve ever seen here.
We’ve also enjoyed the summer’s lush wildflowers. We’re almost out of the height of wildflower season now; it’s mostly just fireweed at this point, but it’s one of my favorites.
We’re starting to get into the winding down of summer now. In a month it’ll be autumn already.